The Latest: Czech govt bars travel to countries with variant

PRAGUE — The Czech government is barring its citizens and residents from traveling to countries hit by highly contagious coronavirus variants and is tightening rules for face coverings.

Starting Thursday, people are required to wear better masks in places where large numbers gather, including stores, hospitals and public transportation.

Cloth masks will no longer be good enough and medical-grade masks, safety respirators or two surgical masks will have to be used instead.

The changes come as one of the hardest-hit European Union countries faces a surge of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant originally found in Britain.

As of Friday, Czechs and foreign residents are not allowed to travel to 11 countries amid concerns over coronavirus variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil.

The Cabinet is also preparing new restrictions that Prime Minister Andrej Babis indicated should include limits on movement.

The country's day-to-day increase in new confirmed cases reached 13,657 on Wednesday, about 2,700 more than a week ago. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.2 million cases with 19,835 deaths.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Medical oxygen scarce for coronavirus patients in Africa, Latin America

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Flu virtually disappears in U.S. this season, with COVID-19 precautions likely preventing both illnesses

Qantas expects to resume international flights in October, after Australian population is vaccinated

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ISLAMABAD—Pakistan will resume regular classes five days per week at all schools from March 1 amid a steady decrease in COVID-19 deaths and cases from coronavirus.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood made the announcement Thursday on Twitter.

Pakistan closed cases in November amid a surge in infections. Later schools were opened in phases, but regular classes had not been allowed.

Authorities said Wednesday that they will allow opening of parks, cinemas and indoor dining and wedding receptions from March 15.

Pakistan has reported 12,772 deaths from the coronavirus.

Pakistan is currently vaccinating health workers and elderly people using the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan will begin slightly easing restrictions on foreign visitors coming to the island beginning Monday.

The Central Epidemic Command Center says foreign nationals wishing to come to Taiwan for business can apply for special permission at the island’s representative offices abroad.

They will need to show negative coronavirus test results obtained three days before they travel and will be tested again after undergoing two weeks of quarantine. Travelers from a list of countries and regions classified as being of low or medium risk for COVID-19 can apply for shortened quarantine periods of between five and seven days.

Those include New Zealand, Macao, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Rule changes will also allow for foreigners in travel groups to change flights in Taiwan, and make it easier for Chinese nationals to visit for personal reasons and for Chinese students to return to Taiwanese institutions of higher education.

Taiwan instituted stricter measures on Jan. 1 to guard against variants of the coronavirus. The island of 23 million has recorded just 946 cases and nine deaths from COVID-19.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes says a member of the Alaska House has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

She asked members and staff not to enter the Capitol on Thursday unless necessary to allow for contact tracing and cleaning to occur. Further details weren’t immediately available.

The announcement came the same day that Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office announced he had COVID-19. His office says the 59-year-old Republican is in quarantine at his home in the Wasilla area with mild symptoms.

A Dunleavy spokesperson says the governor will work from home as he has been since entering self-quarantine on Sunday because of an recent virus exposure.

At least nine U.S. state governors have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s success in battling the coronavirus has unleashed an unanticipated problem: skyrocketing house prices.

When the pandemic first hit, most experts predicted house prices would fall. Instead, prices have risen by more than 19% over the past year, putting them out of reach for many people wanting to buy their first home.

The government, which has come under increasing criticism for its response to the housing squeeze, on Thursday announced the first of what it says will be a series of moves to address the issue by ordering the nation’s central bank to consider the impact on house prices when making decisions.

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr said it welcomed the new directive, which is “in tune” with its own advice to the government.

New Zealand has managed to stamp out community spread of the virus, allowing most aspects of life to return to normal, and its economy has rebounded strongly as a result. GDP grew by a record 14% in the December quarter, erasing most of the virus-induced contraction from earlier last year. Unemployment remains at a relatively low 4.9%.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is reporting another 806 deaths from coronavirus during the winter surge, pushing California’s toll above 50,000, or about one-tenth of the U.S. total from the pandemic.

The county, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, said Wednesday that it checked backlogged death records and found the deaths, most of which occurred between December and early this month.

Johns Hopkins University puts California’s overall COVID-19 death toll at 50,890. The grim figure comes just days after the U.S. recorded a half-million deaths.

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