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The Latest: India finds new cases of a coronavirus variant

February 17, 2021 GMT
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A police officer stands guard on a nearly deserted Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Coronavirus-related limits on access to Bourbon Street, shuttered bars and frigid weather all prevented what New Orleans usually craves at the end of Mardi Gras season — streets and businesses jam-packed with revelers. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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A police officer stands guard on a nearly deserted Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Coronavirus-related limits on access to Bourbon Street, shuttered bars and frigid weather all prevented what New Orleans usually craves at the end of Mardi Gras season — streets and businesses jam-packed with revelers. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says it has received a request from Johnson & Johnson for its one-shot coronavirus vaccine to be authorized.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Amsterdam-based medicines regulator for the European Union said it could issue an opinion by the middle of March provided that company “data on the vaccine’s efficacy, safety and quality are sufficiently comprehensive.”

It is the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to seek approval in the EU, after earlier shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca were all given the green light. But unlike those vaccines, the J&J vaccine requires only a single dose.

Preliminary results from a large trial in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa suggested J&J’s vaccine was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe COVID-19. The shot is also being vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose expert panel will meet on Feb. 26 to publicly debate the vaccine’s data.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

South African health care workers eagerly await Johnson & Johnson vaccine jabs

Pandemic stresses take a huge toll on college students, who struggle to pay for food and housing as jobs and internships dry up

— U.S. Hospitals still ration medical N95 masks even as stockpiles swell by millions

— Vaccine delays leave grocery workers feeling expendable

India’s dramatic fall in virus cases leaves experts stumped

— Explaining the UN vaccine plan for poor countries as it nears rollout

— 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:

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OSLO, Norway — The Norwegian government said Tuesday that it is removing most of the restrictions in its capital, Oslo, and nine surrounding municipalities that were imposed to contain the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain.

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The situation “is now so clear that the government has decided to end the regional measures,” Health Minister Bent Hoeie said. The restrictions will be lifted Thursday at midnight.

Last month, the government announced measures in the capital area that included closing shopping centers and other non-essential stores, halting organized sports activities, and ordering schools to rely increasingly on remote teaching.

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission says it expects Moderna to make up a shortfall in deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine by next month.

EU Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonella told reporters that Moderna told E.U. authorities about delays in vaccine deliveries for this month, but that “it’s likely” the U.S. company “will be caught up in March.”

Spanish media reported on Tuesday that Spain will be receiving just under half of the 400,000 Moderna doses it was expecting this week. The Spanish Health Ministry told the AP that a similar reduction has been announced across Europe.

World Health Organization experts recommend that the two doses of the Moderna vaccine be taken 28 days apart, but say that giving the second shot can be extended to 42 days.

Delivery delays have considerably slowed down the rollout of vaccines in the 27-nation bloc and sparked criticism against the EU’s vaccine strategy in several member states.

The EU commission has signed six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines, but only three of them have been approved for use so far.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium’s health authorities are urging residents to refrain from buying COVID-19 vaccines online, in shops or directly in the streets from unknown sellers.

Sabine Stordeur, who co-chairs Belgium’s vaccination task force, told a news conference on Tuesday that those doses are very often fake vaccines primarily originating in Russia.

She said their efficacy and security have not been approved and that the only safe and effective vaccines are administered in vaccination centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

Belgium is using the three coronavirus vaccines approved so far in the European Union that include Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. More than 370,000 people have received a COVID-19 shot in the country with 11.5 million inhabitants.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia now leads the world in COVID-19 deaths by size of population following a surge of a highly contagious coronavirus variant.

Despite a tough lockdown, the seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 fatalities in Slovakia has risen from 1.68 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 1 to 1.78 deaths per 100,000 people on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Portugal, which topped the global table for more than three weeks, dropped to second with 1.48 deaths per 100,000.

The Health Ministry says another 111 people died of COVID-19 on Monday for a total of 6,063 in the nation of 5.4 million.

Slovakian government authorities have said that the fast-spreading coronavirus variant of first identified in Britain has become the dominant in the country.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says the coronavirus variant first reported in Britain represents nearly half of analyzed cases in the country during the second week of February.

Heunicke posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday that he understands the growing need to re-open the country, but “we need to follow the plan of gradual steps so that we maintain epidemic control.”

Earlier this month, Danish schools resumed in-class teaching of kids from pre-school to the fourth grade amid a steady decrease of COVID-19 infections.

Denmark in December extended restrictions that shuttered all shops except food stores and pharmacies and put a ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

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BUDAPEST— A shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine produced in China arrived in Hungary Tuesday morning, making the country the first in the European Union to receive a Chinese vaccine.

A jet carrying 550,000 doses of the vaccine, developed by the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, landed in Budapest after flying from Beijing. The shipment is enough to treat 275,000 people with the two-dose vaccine, head of the Epidemiology Department of the National Public Health Center, Dr. Agnes Galgoczy, said at a press conference.

Hungary expects to receive 5 million total doses of the Sinopharm vaccine over the next four months. The country has sought to purchase vaccines from countries outside the EU’s common procurement program, claiming that delays in the bloc’s rollout is costing lives.

The Sinopharm vaccine, which the developer says is nearly 80% effective, is already in use in Hungary’s non-EU neighbor Serbia, where around half a million ethnic Hungarians have already received the jab.

Hungary has also agreed to purchase 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which hospitals began administering in Budapest last week.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch court has ordered the government to end the curfew it imposed last month to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, saying the ruling coalition was not entitled to use emergency powers to enforce the restrictive measure.

In a written statement, The Hague District Court on Tuesday called the curfew a “far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy” that also indirectly curtails the rights of freedom of assembly and demonstration.

The court adds that “This requires a very careful decision-making process.”

The government extended the 9 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew to March 2 last week. It used a law allowing it to bypass the usual legislative process in emergencies.

However, the court says the introduction of the curfew did not require the use of the fast-track process as it had been discussed at length during the coronavirus crisis.

The Dutch government said it is studying the ruling.

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PARIS — The long lines of young people waiting for food aid that stretch through Paris neighborhoods several times a week are a dramatic symbol of the toll the coronavirus has taken on France’s youth.

On a recent evening, Leïla Ideddaim waited to receive a bag of food, along with hundreds of other French young people who are unable to make ends meet. She saw the chitchat that accompanied the handout as a welcome byproduct, given her intense isolation during the pandemic.

The 21-year-old student in hotel and restaurant management has seen her plans turned upside down by the virus crisis. With restaurants and tourist sites shuttered and France under a 6 p.m. curfew, her career prospects are uncertain. Odd jobs that were supposed to keep her going during her studies hard to come by.

The pandemic has devastated economies the world over. In France, the economic fallout has weighed particularly heavily on young people — and their woes have only been compounded by disruptions to their studies and social interactions.

Nearly a quarter of French young people can’t find work — two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate and one of the highest in the European Union’s 27 nations. Many university students now rely on food aid and several organizations have rallied to meet the need.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s regulator on Tuesday approved the AstraZeneca vaccine as its second for use against COVID-19.

Pfizer’s product will be available in Australia next week. It will be given in two doses three weeks apart, while AstraZeneca’s will be administered in two doses 12 weeks apart.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the regulator, found the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and effective.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the AstraZeneca vaccine will prevent serious COVID-19 illness.

Morrison will be vaccinated with the Pfizer product and Hunt with AstraZeneca in a demonstration of confidence in both vaccines.

Australia has contracted 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and 50 million of those will be manufactured in Australia.

The government has also secured 20 million Pfizer vaccines for a population of 26 million.

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ELANDSDOORN, South Africa — After testing thousands of people for coronavirus, South African nurse Asnath Masango says she can’t wait to get vaccinated.

“So many people, I test them and within days they have passed away,” said Masango. “I want protection.”

Health care workers at the Ndlovu Care Group in rural northeastern South Africa are eagerly awaiting the first jabs of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will be given out to medical staff starting this week.

That’s despite the fact that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — unlike the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines — has not been approved for general use anywhere in the world.

No matter, say many South African health workers who are enthusiastic about getting the J&J jab, which comes amid a huge shift in the government’s vaccination strategy.

South Africa, with nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 including more than 47,000 deaths, has had 41% of Africa’s reported cases.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported no new virus cases in the community for a second day, raising hopes a lockdown in Auckland will be lifted Wednesday.

The three-day lockdown of New Zealand’s largest city was the nation’s first in six months.

Lawmakers say their final decision on whether to lift the lockdown will depend on any new information or cases that crop up over the next day.

The lockdown was prompted by the diagnoses of three family members, but how they got it remains a mystery.

The mother in the family works at a catering company that does laundry for airlines, and a possible link to infected passengers is being investigated. So far, other people at her workplace have tested negative, officials said.

Health officials have ramped up testing, administering more than 15,000 tests on Monday and processing the results of nearly 6,000.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Dr. Anthony Fauci has won the $1 million Dan David Prize for “defending science” and advocating for vaccines now being administered to protect people from the coronavirus.

The Israel-based Dan David Foundation on Monday named President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser as the winner of one of three prizes. It said he had earned the recognition over a lifetime of leadership on HIV research and AIDS relief, as well as his advocacy for the vaccines against COVID-19.

In its statement, the private foundation did not mention former President Donald Trump, who undermined Fauci’s follow-the-science approach to the pandemic. But it credited Fauci with “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis.”

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GENEVA — It’s nearly launch time for COVAX, the United Nations’ unprecedented program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines for hundreds of millions in need around the globe.

More than two months after countries like Britain and the United States started immunizing their most vulnerable people, the U.N.’s health agency gave its approval to a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which should trigger the release of hundreds of millions of doses by COVAX.

COVAX missed its own target of starting vaccination in poor countries at the same time as immunizations were rolled out in rich countries, and numerous developing countries have signed their own deals to buy vaccine, fearing the program won’t deliver.

The World Health Organization and partners hope COVAX can finally start shipping out vaccines later this month.

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines on Monday and will soon begin to vaccinate its population of 50 million people, the third largest in Latin America.

The government says it aims to vaccinate 35 million people this year including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who are currently living in the South American country.

On Monday, a yellow DHL plane carrying Colombia’s first 50,000 vaccines arrived at Bogota’s international airport and was welcomed personally by President Ivan Duque and his health minister. The shots were supplied by Pfizer, which has a contract to sell 10 million vaccines to Colombia.

Colombia will be one of the last countries in Latin America to start vaccinations.