The Latest: Biden boosts US response to COVID-19 pandemic
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is signing 10 executive orders aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic, including one broadening the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production.
Biden also signed an order Thursday mandating masks for travel, including in airports and planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation, as well as one directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states for some costs related to their COVID-19 response and to provide funds to help reopen schools.
Biden is ordering FEMA to begin setting up vaccination centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month. And he’s mobilizing the Public Health Service to deploy to assist localities in vaccinations.
The administration is trying to provide 100 million vaccine injections during the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, an initial step toward getting the country inoculated from the disease so that schools and businesses can fully reopen.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
President Joe Biden signs burst of coronavirus orders, requires masks for travel. US Chamber of Commerce supports Biden’s virus plan. Dr. Anthony Fauci vows full US engagement with WHO. Angela Merkel sees signs of coronavirus decline in Germany, but extends restrictions until Feb. 14. India sends 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TORONTO — The leader of Canada’s most populous province says he isn’t buying the excuse from Pfizer about why Pfizer deferred all its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Canada next week.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says it unacceptable that other countries are getting the doses and Canada is not.
Pfizer announced a temporary reduction in deliveries last Friday so it could upscale its Puurs, Belgium plant, which supplies all shots delivered outside the United States. Ford says that’s “crap” and says Pfizer is messing up.
Governments in Europe also say the delay is costing critical time during the early stages of the rollout to care homes and hospital personnel.
MADRID — Spain posted a new daily record of 44,357 coronavirus infections.
The Health Ministry reported 404 deaths on Thursday, increasing the confirmed total to 55,041 deaths and 2.5 million cases.
The country’s 14-day average case rate rose to 796 per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 736 on Wednesday.
Despite the numbers, government coronavirus expert Fernando Simón says the country could be reaching a plateau. But he says a decrease in new “hospitalizations and admissions to ICUs won’t be noticed for at least another week.”
ICU bed occupancy by COVID-19 patients is at 36% nationally. Two regions, La Rioja and Valencia, have occupancy rates above 50%.
PARIS — France will require people wear higher quality face masks in public, a measure likely to render many home-made cloth masks obsolete.
Government officials say the new rule will be published Friday to help slow the spread of a possibly more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
The rule will require face masks worn in public approach the standard of surgical masks in their ability to filter out most tiny particles.
Officials say most washable masks sold in French stores already meet the required standard. However, lower-quality homemade cloth masks are unlikely to make the grade.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine President Alberto Fernández was given the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for the coronavirus after local health authorities recommended its use for those 60 and older.
The 64-year-old president was given a shot by a nurse at the Hospital Posadas in Buenos Aires, the capital. Fernández assured Argentines that the vaccine, which has been distributed to the public since Dec. 29, is safe.
Argentine officials on Wednesday expanded their recommendation to cover vaccinating those 60 and older after receiving data from Russia indicating it was safe and effective for that group. Fernández will get a second dose after 21 days.
VILLA EL SALVADOR, Peru — The Peruvian government announced new oxygen-production equipment it says will assist hospitals across the country.
Oxygen has become a scarce commodity in this city of more than 508,000 during a second wave of coronavirus infections. Most of the hospitals in Peru lack the equipment necessary to produce oxygen.
The desperation has led some businesses to triple its price, forcing many to plunder their savings or sell belongings to afford it.
While some are price gauging, others are stepping in to help. In Villa El Salvador, a group of 13 friends, among them engineers, economists and lawyers, pooled their savings to recently open an oxygen plant and offer lower prices.
Peru has recorded more than 1 million confirmed cases and more than 39,000 deaths during the pandemic.
WASHINGTON — The largest business lobbying group in the U.S. is supporting President Joe Biden’s early moves to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief policy officer Neil Bradley says Biden is correct in his assessment that controlling the coronavirus is the key to fully reopening the economy.
“America must return to health before we can restore economic growth and get the 10 million Americans who lost their jobs in the last year back to work,” Bradley said. “We support the new administration’s focus on removing roadblocks to vaccinations and reopening schools, both of which are important steps to accelerating a broad-based economic recovery for all Americans.”
Biden’s predecessor had put pressure on states to quickly reopen. The U.S. is facing its most deadly wave of the pandemic, with joblessness on the rise again.
The U.S. Chamber is particularly influential with Republican Congressional lawmakers, who hold sway over Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president says Jackson Mthembu has died from the coronavirus, becoming the first cabinet minister to succumb to the disease.
The 62-year-old Mthembu in recent months had been a central figure in communicating to the public the South African government’s response to COVID-19. In announcing the death Thursday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called Mthembu “an exemplary leader.”
He tested positive on Jan. 11. Mthembu’s death comes as South Africa battles a second wave of the coronavirus that may be driven in part by a new variant of the coronavirus.
CHICAGO — Health researchers say young children need to be careful with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially dispensers at eye level.
The researchers say they’ve seen more cases of children who got the substance in their eyes.
Studies published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology detail cases in France and India, some resulting in eye pain and cornea ulcers that ultimately healed. But a few youngsters required eye surgery and researchers say risks include blindness. Many cases involved dispensers in public places.
U.S. poison control centers also have had an increase in calls about kids exposed to hand sanitizers. While most resulted in little or no harm, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes the products should the kept out of young children’s reach.
If a child does get sanitizer in their eyes, doctors advise washing the eyes with warm water and having the youngster get an eye exam to make sure there is no damage.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending a statewide order requiring face masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Ivey announced the decision at the state Capitol on Thursday. The new order means the rule will remain in place through March 5.
Medical officials had urged Ivey to extend the order amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, which have been hindered by a limited national supply.
The state of nearly 5 million people has had 446,000 vaccine doses delivered and administered 184,000 doses.
There’s been about 430,000 confirmed cases and more than 62,000 deaths from the coronavirus in Alabama.
PHOENIX — Arizona, the state with the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country, reported nearly 9,400 confirmed cases on Thursday.
The Department of Health Services reported 9,398 cases and 244 confirmed deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 699,942 cases and 11,772 deaths.
According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,580 hospitalized COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds on Wednesday, down from the Jan. 11 record of 5,082.
One in 147 Arizona residents was diagnosed with the coronavirus from Jan. 13 to Wednesday. South Carolina was close behind at one in 148.
Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases declined from 8,884 on Jan. 6 to 6,973 on Wednesday. The rolling average of daily deaths rose from 103 to 142 during the same period. That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.
BEIRUT — Lebanon has extended a nationwide lockdown to Feb. 8 amid a rise in coronavirus infections and deaths that has overwhelmed the health care system.
The lockdown had been scheduled to end Feb. 1. Hospitals in Lebanon have registered a 91% occupancy of ICU beds. Deaths have surpassed 2,000, with between 40 to 60 daily deaths this week.
The national health committee had recommended a two-week extension. But the government decided to keep the lockdown, in place since Jan. 14, until Feb. 8.
INDIANAPOLIS — Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug helped prevent illness among residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.
It’s the first major study to show an antibody medication may prevent disease. The drugmaker says residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19. Among nursing home residents only, there was up to a 80% reduction in risk.
U.S. regulators last year allowed emergency use of the antibody treatment for mild or moderate COVID-19 cases that don’t require hospitalization. It’s a one-time dose given through an IV.
The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations.
In the U.S., those residents account for less than 1% of the population, but nearly 40% of deaths from COVID-19. The U.S. leads the world with more than 406,000 deaths.
BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are holding a video summit amid concern the new coronavirus variants.
The leaders on Thursday will assess such measures as further border restrictions, better tracking of mutations and improved coordination of lockdowns.
The highly contagious nature of the variants is a major source of concern and has already led some EU countries to strengthen restrictions by imposing stricter curfews and more stringent mask requirements on public transportation and in shops.
The EU’s executive arm aims for 70% of the adult population across the bloc vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Since the EU doesn’t expect vaccines to be readily available before April, leaders should in the meantime find efficient ways to contain the new variants. The commission believes better tracking of the mutations with genomic sequencing, coupled with an increased use of rapid antigen tests, will be crucial.
NEW YORK — More potential COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic still are being tested, and some researchers are driving mobile labs into neighborhoods to recruit diverse volunteers.
With scarce supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots, proving whether additional vaccines work is critical. So is ensuring they’re tested in communities of color that are hard-hit by the coronavirus yet have questions about vaccination.
A U.S. program offers researchers RV-sized mobile clinics that help volunteers enroll in studies of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines without having to visit a doctor’s office. At the same time, researchers can answer general vaccine questions from those passing by.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister says Beijing has promised to provide 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine by Jan. 31.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi says his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi gave made this commitment during a phone conversation on Thursday. He says China is providing the first shipment of half million doses of vaccine without charge.
He hoped Pakistan will get another 500,000 doses of vaccine from China next month.
However, Qureshi didn’t specify which vaccine China would give to Pakistan.
Also Thursday, Qureshi took twitter, saying “with encouraging results of Chinese vaccine and our historic relationship, Pakistan has approved emergency use authorization of SinoPharm.”
The announcement comes a day after a top Pakistan said its talks with the manufacturers of Sinopharm and Cansino vaccines were at an advanced stage.
Pakistan has reported 54 confirmed deaths and 2,363 cases in the past 24 hours. Since the pandemic began, Pakistan has registered 11,157 confirmed deaths from and 527,146 infections.