The Latest: France adds Russia to list of banned countries
PARIS — France is adding Russia to its “red list” of countries from which travels are banned unless it is for urgent reasons as they are struggling with virus surges and worrisome variants.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Wednesday that Russia, Namibia and Seychelles are being added to the list of now 21 countries.
The “red list” notably includes India, South Africa and Brazil and implies that vaccinated travelers arriving in France must justify their trip, show a negative test and self-isolate for a week. Those not vaccinated must go on a quarantine for 10 days, risking a 1000-euro fine, equivalent to $1,194.
Attal also called for enhanced vigilance about the more contagious delta variant, first identified in India.
The delta variant is estimated to represent 9 to 10% overall in France, he said. But authorities are closely monitoring the situation in a region of southwestern France, the Landes, where 70% of confirmed infections are due to the delta variant, he added.
The epidemic situation in France has rapidly improved in recent weeks, with about 2,300 new daily infections reported each day, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Italy is banking on a huge windfall of EU pandemic recovery funds to revamp its lagging economy. The future of the eurozone may depend on how well it does.
— Due to the pandemic, Tokyo is shaping up to be the ‘no-fun’ Olympics
— Colombia hits 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, president blames anti-government protests
— US finds deaths among Medicare patients in nursing homes soared by 32% last year
— WHO plans technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines in South Africa
HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — Teenagers in Belgium aged from 12 to 15 with underlying conditions will be able to get vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The move was adopted Wednesday following a meeting of the country’s health ministers.
They said COVID-19 shots will be offered to youngsters affected by pathologies such as leukemia, Down syndrome or liver and kidney diseases because the risk they face to develop a severe form of coronavirus requiring a stay in hospital higher than the general population.
A decision has yet been taken on the vaccination of others in that age group.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A telephone line set up to allow people in the Netherlands to book a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination has been overwhelmed with callers.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge tweeted Wednesday that more than 130,000 people had attempted to call the line a total of more than 2 million times on the first morning that the government allowed anybody over the age of 18 to make an appointment for a J&J vaccination.
The J&J single-dose shot has largely been removed from the Dutch COVID-19 vaccination program because of the tiny risk of an extremely rare blood clotting disorder.
However, the government has about 200,000 J&J shots available over the next two weeks and is making them available to the public on a first-come-first-served basis.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Swedish and Danish economies are recovering quickly after last year’s deep downturn due to the coronavirus.
Sweden’s Finance Ministry said Wednesday that she expects the gross domestic product to grow by 4.7% in 2021 while Denmark’s Central Bank said in its prognosis that the GDP will increase by 3.3%.
As the spread of the virus decreases and restrictions are relaxed, household consumption in Sweden is expected to increase by 4.7% — an upward revision of 1.3 percentage points compared with the previous forecast.
Exports from Sweden also are contributing to the growth and are expected to increase by 8.9%, Andersson said.
She warned there is a risk that the shortage of certain input products and bottlenecks in transport chains may slow global trade and thus also Swedish exports.
In neighboring Denmark, the Nationalbanken boss said “the reopening of the Danish economy is in full swing” with the overall activity recovering to more or less recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government decided to donate or sell 160,000 doses of Sputnik V amid low interest to get vaccinated by the Russia-made coronavirus vaccine.
The country started to administer the vaccine on June 8 as the only the second European Union country.
Hungary was the first EU nation to use Sputnik V, which has not been authorized by the European Medicines Agency.
The government’s decision on Wednesday comes as only 14.214 people have registered to receive the two-shot vaccine in the nation of 5.4 million. Slovakia has 200,000 doses of Sputnik V available.
Slovakia will donate some of the vaccines to western Balkan countries, including Bosnia, North Macedonia and Albania. Argentina expressed an interest to buy Sputnik V from Slovakia.
A secret deal for Slovakia to purchase 2 million Sputnik V shots orchestrated by then-Prime Minister Igor Matovic triggered a political crisis in March that resulted in the Slovak government’s collapse.
ROME — Italy’s leader is pitching for tourists to start coming from the United States, Canada and Japan to give a vitally needed boost to Italian hotel and restaurant businesses.
In a speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, Premier Mario Draghi noted that Italy has recently allowed people from those three countries to now come for tourism, previously not allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourists must be vaccinated, have certification that they have recovered from the illness or have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of entering Italy.
“We want to allow them to come safely into Italy to help our hoteliers and restaurateurs bounce back after a year-and-a-half of difficulty,’’ Draghi said.
Tourism accounts for 13% of Italy’s GDP. Many restaurants and hotels were closed for months, and some hotels, including those who cater heavily to U.S. tourists, have yet to re-open.
BOGOTA — Colombia reached 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 this week, becoming just the tenth country in the world to hit the unwanted milestone.
The South American nation of 50 million has been registering a growing number of daily cases since April and over the past seven days it had the world’s third-highest per capita death rate from COVID-19, according to data published by Oxford University.
President Iván Duque blamed antigovernment protests that began at the end of April for many of the fatalities, saying that “more than 10,000 deaths could have been avoided” if Colombians had not held large gatherings over the past seven weeks.
But epidemiologists in Colombia said it’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the protests had on the current surge in COVID-19 deaths.
“The protests definitely played a role” in coronavirus contagion, said Diego Rosselli, a professor of epidemiology at the Javeriana University in Bogota. “But at this moment putting any number on how many deaths they caused is mere speculation.”
NEW DELHI — Three Indian states have been asked to strengthen containment measures, increase testing and vaccinations after the federal government classified a newly identified version of the virus that is closely related to the delta variant as a ‘variant of concern’.
Viruses mutate all the time and not all changes are worrisome. But this classification implies that there is some evidence the variant has genetic tweaks that allow it to spread more easily, make people sicker or vaccinations less effective.
The delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread to many parts of the world, is more infectious and vaccines are slightly less effective against it. This new variant, named delta plus, has an additional genetic tweak that could allow it to evade the human immune system.
Around 40 cases of the delta plus variant has popped up in three Indian states -- Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.
SYDNEY — Pandemic restrictions tightened in Sydney as the delta variant cluster has increased.
Residents who live in the worst-effected parts of Sydney cannot travel outside Australia’s largest city “unless it’s absolutely essential,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Masks are compulsory outside homes, patrons must be seated while drinking in bars and household visitors are limited to five people.
The cluster began last week when a Sydney airport limousine driver tested positive. He was not vaccinated and is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew. The cluster had grown to 31 cases by Wednesday.
Queensland and Victoria states, that share borders with New South Wales, have banned travelers from much of Sydney. South Australia and Western Australia states have banned travel from anywhere in New South Wales, except for travelers with exemptions for approved purposes.
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said travelers who were already in the air when the ban was announced could either go into hotel quarantine when they arrived in Perth or fly back.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is introducing obligatory 7-day quarantine for people arriving from the U.K. because of the rise in the delta coronavirus variant there. People who are fully vaccinated are exempt from the quarantine requirement, which takes effect Wednesday.
After seven days of isolation, a COVID-19 test can be done and if it is negative, the quarantine is lifted.
There's considerable traffic between Poland and the U.K., with hundreds of thousands of Poles living and working there.
Quarantines are also obligatory in Poland for people arriving from India, Brazil and South Africa.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said among some 11.7 million fully inoculated Poles, most have received the Pfizer vaccine, which has shown strong efficacy against the delta variant.
There have been 90 confirmed delta variant infections in Poland and at least one person has died.
HOUSTON — More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine have been fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the vaccine requirement.
A spokesperson for Houston Methodist hospital system said 153 employees either resigned in the two-week suspension period or were terminated on Tuesday.
The case over how far health care institutions can go to protect patients and others against the coronavirus has been closely watched. But it won’t be the end of the debate.
Earlier this month, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit filed by 117 employees over the requirement. The hospital system’s decision in April to require the vaccine for workers made it the first major U.S. health care system to do so.
The Houston Methodist employees who filed the lawsuit likened their situation to medical experiments performed on unwilling victims in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes called that comparison “reprehensible” and said claims made in the lawsuit that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous are false.
HAGATNA, Guam — Guam is launching a vaccine tourism program to encourage citizens of neighboring countries and Americans living in East Asia to come get inoculated against COVID-19.
The Pacific Daily News reports the first group of three travelers was arriving on a charter flight from Taiwan. The Guam Visitors Bureau says this is a prelude to bigger groups to come.
The program is aimed at jump-starting Guam’s tourism industry which has suffered from a decline in travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 vaccination rates in places like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been low compared to the U.S. territory, where vaccines are easily available.
ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor says he will end the state’s public health state of emergency on July 1, more than 15 months after he initially declared it because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republican Brian Kemp made the announcement Tuesday, signing a fresh extension of the extraordinary powers granted to him by lawmakers that will expire at 12:00 a.m. on July 1.
“Thanks to those efforts, more Georgians are getting vaccinated, our economic momentum is strong, and people are getting back to normal,” Kemp said in a statement. “We have emerged resilient, and I thank all Georgians for doing their part.”
Kemp becomes the latest in a series of governors nationwide to wind down emergency powers.
This was the first use of Georgia’s public health emergency law. It grants Kemp sweeping powers to suspend laws and state regulations. The governor says he will hold on to some extraordinary powers, saying he will issue a different kind of emergency order.