The Latest: Health experts see Portugal's virus surge easing
LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese health experts say there are signs that the country’s recent surge in COVID-19 infections is running out of steam, as political leaders consider whether to start winding down pandemic restrictions.
Senior members of the government met Tuesday with virus analysts who said in televised comments that, though infection rates remain high, the increase is slowing and the surge’s peak is close.
Portugal’s infection rate per 100,000 population over 14 days is above 400. In the hard-hit capital Lisbon and the southern Algarve tourist region, the infection rate is stabilizing.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has been rising since the start of the month, with the occupancy rate of beds set aside for the pandemic now at 78%.
The delta variant has in recent weeks accounted for almost 99% of cases.
Portugal's government is expected to decide at a Cabinet meeting Thursday whether to relax some limits on gatherings, amid complaints from owners of restaurants and bars that they are losing money.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— United Nations says COVID hitting poor and conflict-ridden nations harder this year
— With virus surge, US to keep travel restrictions for now
— Thailand sends COVID-19 patients from capital to hometowns by train
— California, New York City to workers: Get vaccine or face weekly tests
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s chief executive says the 27-nation bloc has achieved its goal of providing at least one coronavirus vaccine shot to 70% of all adults, but she’s urging people to protect themselves against the fast-spreading delta variant.
The EU, home to around 450 million people, was widely criticized for the slow pace of its vaccine rollout earlier this year. But its executive branch, the European Commission, says that 57% of adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that “these figures put Europe among the world leaders” when it comes to vaccination rates.
Von der Leyen said “the catch-up process has been very successful,” but she warned against complacency given the well-established presence in Europe of the delta variant.
She said: “The delta variant is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone - who has the opportunity - to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others.”
LONDON — The British government is easing coronavirus quarantine rules for more essential workers -- including prison guards, veterinarians and garbage collectors -- in an attempt to ease staff shortages that are hobbling some sectors of the economy.
About 26 million Britons have downloaded a health service phone app that tells them to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. With the U.K. recording tens of thousands of new virus cases a day, the system has led to acute staff shortages for restaurants and other businesses and led to gaps on some supermarket shelves.
The government said last week that food, transportation, border staff, police and firefighters could take daily tests instead of self-isolating. It said Tuesday it was expanding that system to include more jobs, including trash collectors, prison employees, veterinarians, tax collectors and defense workers.
The government said 2,000 sites would be set up to meet the increased demand for daily coronavirus tests.
One person “pinged” by the app was Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had to self-isolate after the government’s health minister tested positive. Johnson’s 10-day spell in isolation ended at midnight on Monday.
TOKYO — Tokyo reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections on Tuesday with the Summer Olympics under way.
The Japanese capital hosting the Olympics reported 2,848 new COVID-19 cases, exceeding the earlier record of 2,520 cases set on Jan. 7.
The new confirmed cases brings Tokyo’s total to more than 200,000 since the pandemic began last year.
Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, which is to continue through the Olympics until just before the Paralympics start in late August.
Experts have warned that the more contagious delta variant could cause a surge during the Olympics, which started Friday.
So far during the pandemic, Japan has kept its virus cases and deaths much lower than many other countries. As of Monday, it had reported 870,445 cases and 15,129 deaths nationwide since the start of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health. His public support ratings have fallen to around 30% in recent media surveys, and there is little festivity surrounding the Games.
BANGKOK — Authorities in Thailand have began transporting some people who tested positive for the coronavirus from Bangkok to their hometowns for isolation and treatment to alleviate the burden on the capital’s overwhelmed medical system.
A train carrying more than 100 patients and medical workers in full protective gear left the city for the northeast. It will drop patients off in seven provinces, where they will be met by health officers and taken to hospitals.
Medical authorities in Bangkok said Monday that all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients at public hospitals were full and that some of the sick were being treated in emergency rooms. Officials said they have asked army medics to help out at civilian hospitals.
“We will continue this service until no COVID-19 patients who cannot get beds in Bangkok are left,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
He said buses, vans and even aircraft might be deployed to send people back to less badly affected provinces.
Thailand initially kept coronavirus cases in check but outbreaks have flared in recent months.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Fiji’s leader is urging people to get vaccinated as the island nation contends with a devastating outbreak of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Relative to its population of less than 1 million people, Fiji’s outbreak is currently among the worst in the world.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the nation’s mission was to vaccinate 80% of adults by the end of October. About 47% of Fijians have had at least one vaccination dose.
He said “lies, misinformation, and unholy insanity” about the vaccine were endangering people.
Fiji has reported a record 1,285 new cases in its latest daily update. It has reported 193 deaths since the outbreak began in April.
Fiji has also reported a further 101 deaths of COVID-19-positive patients that it’s not classifying as coronavirus deaths because the patients had underlying conditions. Before the April outbreak, Fiji had recorded just two COVID-19 deaths.
BEIJING — The major eastern Chinese city of Nanjing recorded another 31 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, as authorities announced more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccine have been administered around the country.
The new cases bring Nanjing’s total to more than 106 over recent days. The virus circulating in the city has been identified as the delta variant, according to local officials.
The city has been carrying out mass testing and placed tens of thousands of people under lockdown. Along with near-universal indoor mask wearing, China has utilized such practices to largely contain the domestic spread of the virus.
China has also aggressively pursued vaccinations, with little word of noncompliance. The National Health Commission said 1.55 billion doses had been administered as of Sunday — exceeding the country’s population of 1.4 billion.
However, questions have been raised about the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, particularly the SinoPharm jab among older people.
That’s stirred concern for the dozens of countries that have given the Chinese company’s shots to their most vulnerable populations. Some countries now say they are prepared to provide a third shot to boost production of protective antibodies.
China on Tuesday also reported another 40 imported cases, almost half in Yunnan province along the border with Myanmar, which is facing a major outbreak.
China has 795 people currently in treatment for COVID-19. The death toll has stayed steady for months at 4,636.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-most populous city is ending its fifth pandemic lockdown Tuesday as the Victoria state government declares it has beaten an outbreak of the highly contagious coronavirus delta variant for a second time.
The five-day lockdown in Melbourne and across Victoria will allow schools, pubs and restaurants to reopen. But people will not be allowed to have visitors in their homes for two more weeks.
Meanwhile, the city of Sydney remains in lockdown indefinitely after more than four weeks. Australia’s most populous city is where the delta outbreak began in mid-June when a limousine driver was infected while transporting a U.S. air crew from the airport. The New South Wales state government reported a new daily high of 172 infections Tuesday.
South Australia state announced that its week-long lockdown will end as planned Wednesday after no new cases were recorded Tuesday.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting conflict-ridden and impoverished countries much worse this year than in 2020, with many facing higher caseloads and rising deaths.
Ramesh Rajasingham said in a closed briefing Monday to the U.N. Security Council that these surges are being fueled by a lack of access to vaccines, the easing of public health measures, increased social mixing, and the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
In his briefing obtained by The Associated Press, Rajasingham says that so far in 2021 almost three-quarters of countries needing humanitarian aid have recorded more pandemic cases or deaths than in all of 2020. He adds that in over one-third of those countries “at least three times more cases or deaths have been recorded this year compared to last.”