The Latest: Nations lauded for virus successes lag in shots
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Some of the countries praised last year for controlling the coronavirus are lagging when it comes to vaccinating their populations.
And some, especially in Asia, are experiencing surges in coronavirus cases. In Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, vaccination rates are languishing in the single figures. Not only do those three countries rank worst among all developed nations in vaccinating their people against COVID-19, they also rank below many developing countries, such as Brazil and India. Australia is also performing comparatively poorly.
That compares to the U.S., where nearly half of all people have gotten at least one shot, and Britain and Israel, where rates are even higher.
Japan has fully vaccinated only about 1% of its population. The nation is facing a significant coronavirus outbreak just 10 weeks before it is to host the already delayed Tokyo Olympics — although without spectators from abroad.
Japan went through a more traditional approval process that required an extra layer of clinical testing for vaccines that had already been tested elsewhere and widely used. Then Japan faced a shortage of medical staff to administer them.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Nurses, nonprofits, others take vaccine to homebound people
— Britain's Johnson concerned about rise of Indian virus variant in UK
— Nations once lauded for virus successes lag in vaccinations
— Driven by despair, Lebanese pharmacist looks to life abroad
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CAIRO — Egypt received its second shipment of vaccines from the international Covax initiative on Thursday.
Health Minister Hala Zayed says a shipment of 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccines had arrived at Cairo international airport from the international alliance aimed at providing vaccines to middle and low-income countries.
The new shots arrive as the country encourages citizens to register for its vaccination campaign, expanding it beyond medical and tourism workers to the general population.
Health ministry spokesman Khaled al-Megahed says the country also received 500,000 additional doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, and materials for the country to begin production of that vaccine domestically by the end of the year. These two latest shipments put the total number of vaccines at 5 million, according to the ministry.
The daily reported coronavirus cases have surpassed 1,000 in the past two weeks. Last week, the government ordered a 9 p.m. curfew for restaurants, shops, cafes and social clubs and closed public beaches and parks for the duration of the Eid holiday, which starts on Thursday and continues through the weekend.
Egypt, with a population of 100 million people, has registered more than 240,927 confirmed cases and 14,091 deaths.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Coronavirus restrictions in Bucharest will be eased after its infection rate dropped below 1.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, authorities said on Thursday.
Restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and performance halls can operate indoors at 50% capacity. Between March and May, they faced weeks of indoor closures as the capital grappled with rapidly escalating coronavirus infections.
The capital’s prefect Alin Stoica says schools in Bucharest will continue to operate partly online until the capital’s infection rate drops below one per 1,000 inhabitants. He also says it is “encouraging” that one million Bucharest residents have received at least one vaccine dose.
This week, Romania’s government extended a state of alert for 30 days. Authorities are trying to vaccinate 5 million people by June 1 in the nation of more than 19 million.
So far, Romania has confirmed more than one million COVID-19 infections and nearly 30,000 deaths.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he’s concerned about the rise in the U.K. of the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
A closely monitored study of coronavirus infections in England has found that the variant of the virus is becoming more prevalent ahead of the next big easing of the lockdown.
In its latest assessment published Thursday, Imperial College London said overall cases have fallen to their lowest level since last August following a strict lockdown and a successful rollout of vaccines. The so-called REACT study found the Indian variant was identified in 7.7% of the 127,000 cases tested between April 15 and May 3.
The next easing in England is set to take place on Monday when two households will be able to mix indoors and pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers inside, among other changes. The other nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have also laid out similar plans for the coming weeks.
The government hopes to lift most remaining restrictions on social contact in June. It’s unclear whether that will lead to a big increase in hospitalizations and deaths given most of those people deemed vulnerable have been vaccinated.
New infections are averaging around 2,000 a day across the U.K., compared with nearly 70,000 in January. There were 11 reported deaths on Wednesday. Overall, Britain has Europe’s highest confirmed death toll at more than 127,600.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has reported 13 domestic cases of COVID-19 as part of an emerging cluster of infections discovered this week across multiple parts of the island, its health minister Chen Shih-chung said at a daily press conference Thursday.
The source of infection is still under investigation for one case.
The remaining 12 cases, as well as other domestically transmitted cases discovered earlier in the week, all showed the same strain of the COVID-19 virus as the earlier cluster of cases that had started among pilots with the island’s China Airlines, health officials said.
The island on Tuesday raised its emergency preparedness, banning indoor events with more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 until early June. Stricter measures could be imposed if cases continue to rise, and outlets found in violation would be fined, Chen said.
Taiwan has counted a total of 1,256 cases of COVID-19 in the pandemic, and 12 deaths.
MADRID — Spain’s prime minister is announcing an increase in the number of COVID-19 vaccines available in his country to help achieve the national target of 33 million inoculated people by mid-August.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says Spain will receive 13 million doses from Pfizer next month. That allows authorities to ramp up their vaccination campaign to 2.7 million people a week from 1.7 million.
Sánchez says Spain has 97 days to hit its target “and overcome the pandemic we’ve lived and suffered through for more than 12 months.”
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government has banned travel throughout the country for three days in an effort to contain rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases.
The ban is effective from Thursday night until Monday morning. It does not apply to people engaged in essential services such as health, food supply and power. Those going to the airport for air travel or seeking medical treatment will also be allowed on the roads.
“All others are banned from leaving their houses and traveling on the roads,” said Gen. Shavendra Silva, the army commander and head of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak.
Health officials are grappling with a surge in cases since last month. The country has already banned public gatherings and parties, and has closed schools and restricted public transport.
Officials warn that cases could rise further in the next two weeks because of celebrations and shopping by people last month to mark the traditional new year.
The health ministry has confirmed 131,098 cases, including 850 fatalities.
FÁTIMA, Portugal — The Catholic shrine at Fátima in Portugal has allowed 7,500 worshippers to attend two annual Masses marking the day when three illiterate shepherd children first reported seeing visions of the Madonna.
Traditionally, around 100,000 people come for the two Masses at the small rural town’s huge shrine on the night of May 12 and morning of May 13, though last year it remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The capacity was quickly reached on both Wednesday and Thursday, leaving hundreds outside the shrine’s gates, which were guarded by police.
Like the shrine at Lourdes, France, Fatima draws millions of pilgrims from around the world every year to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima, or to pray for help.
Portuguese Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça presided over the ceremonies and told the faithful he hoped that the suffering over the past year of the pandemic “can help to make us better: more spiritual, more human and more fraternal.”
MULTAN, Pakistan — Pakistan’s foreign minister is warning that the next two months are crucial for the country's coronavirus outbreak and people must continue observing social distancing.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the comments Thursday after Eid al-Fitr prayers in the city of Multan. He noted the COVID-19 situation is bad in neighboring India, where record numbers of infections were reported in recent weeks. On Thursday, authorities reported 126 new deaths and 3,235 new infections.
He said Pakistan has had a decline in cases since last month, when troops were deployed to force people to adhere to social distancing rules. Qureshi praised troops and police for playing a key role along with health workers in combatting the coronavirus.
Earlier, Muslims thronged mosques for Eid al-Fir prayers across the country. Although some worshippers were carefully spaced one meter (3 feet) apart, most violated social distancing rules.
Pakistan has reported 19,336 deaths and 870,703 coronavirus cases since last year.
NEW ORLEANS — Children as young as 12 can expect to start getting Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine Thursday in Louisiana.
The state health officer made the announcement Wednesday after federal advisers endorsed the vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. Dr. Joseph Kanter said that “we are very excited about the opportunity to protect additional age groups and their families with this highly safe and effective vaccine.”
Kanter says the health department expects to release its formal notice Thursday morning and any clinic or other outlet that has Pfizer vaccine can start giving it to kids 12 and up immediately after that.
More than 1,500 clinics, hospitals and pharmacies in Louisiana have the Pfizer vaccine. It is the only coronavirus vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people this young.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has reached a supply agreement for 25 million doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.
Moderna said Thursday that the deal includes 10 million doses of vaccine against the initial coronavirus strain to be delivered in 2021 and 15 million doses of an updated variant booster to be delivered in 2022.
The vaccines have yet to be approved by the Australian regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Pfizer and AstraZeneca are the only coronavirus vaccines approved for use in Australia so far.
All three vaccines require two doses.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he expects the first Moderna vaccines to arrive in Australia in the last three months of 2021.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland is allowing all Indoor and outdoor venues to resume normal operations this weekend.
Gov. Larry Hogan Hogan says the remaining capacity and distancing restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted on indoor and outdoor dining Saturday.
Hogan says the restrictions also will end for all other indoor entertainment venues and conventions and for outdoor entertainment, art and sports venues, though the mandate for mask use remains in place.
The governor said Wednesday that the state’s indoor mask mandate will be lifted when 70% of Maryland adults receive at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. As of Tuesday, the state had 65.4% vaccinated.
The governor says “our plan is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day.”
NEW YORK — U.S. health advisers have endorsed use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in kids as young as 12.
The Food and Drug Administration earlier in the week cleared the expanded use of Pfizer’s shots, citing evidence the shots worked as well in those 12 to 15 years old as those 16 and older.
Kids in some places are already rolling up their sleeves.
But much of the nation was waiting for Wednesday’s recommendations from advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many states will be shipping doses to pediatricians and even to schools.
Pfizer is not the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects, data the FDA will need to scrutinize.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly says Kansas state government offices will return to normal operations in mid-June after more than a year of having many employees work remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kelly said Wednesday that state employees and visitors to their offices still will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. She says agency directors can allow people to work from home, particularly when social distancing is not possible.
The changes take effect the week of June 13, which means Monday, June 14 for most workers.
The largest union for state employees expressed support for Kelly’s move, saying her policy would be flexible and contained safety measures. Kansas House Speaker and Olathe Republican Ron Ryckman Jr. responded to the Democratic governor’s move by saying, “It’s about time.”
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will terminate its participation in the federal government’s pandemic-related unemployment assistance program.
Utah is the latest of several states ending the $300 weekly federal benefit paid on top of state benefits. Gov. Spencer Cox said Wednesday that those extra federal benefits will end in Utah on June 26.
About 28,000 Utah residents are receiving the $300 benefit, and $12.4 million is being paid out by the federal government each week.
Utah has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates of 2.9%. The Department of Workforce Services says there are at least 50,000 job openings in the state.