The Latest: Sri Lanka halts trains, buses to curb virus
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka halted passenger trains and buses for four days as authorities imposed a fresh travel ban across the country, in its latest efforts to curb the escalating number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The ban is effective from Friday night until Tuesday morning. However, it will not apply to those engaged in essential services such as the health, food and power sectors, and those seeking medical treatment.
The move comes as the island’s key medical associations demand the government lockdown the country for two weeks. The associations say the actual number of coronavirus infections is more than three times the number detected.
Sri Lanka has already banned public gatherings, parties, weddings and closed schools and universities.
Health officials warn that the confirmed cases could rise further in the next two weeks because of the last month’s celebrations and shopping by the people to mark the traditional new year.
The health ministry says Sri Lanka’s total number of positive cases have reached 154,786 with 1089 fatalities.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pfizer-BioNTech pledge 2B doses to less wealthy nations
— Germany opens beer gardens, cafes; Chancellor Merkel urges caution
— IOC VP: Tokyo Olympics will be held despite state of emergency
— Sniffing Labrador retrievers join Thai coronavirus fight
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MOBILE, Ala. -- Alabama’s port city of Mobile has put on a Mardi Gras-style parade, what seemed at least a little like the Carnival celebrations canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic.
Plastic beads and other trinkets flew as nearly 30 floats from Mardi Gras groups snaked through downtown Mobile on Friday night.
Thousands of people turned out in a county and state where only about a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. Many went without masks, though health officials had urged personal responsibility.
The parade marks the commissioning of the Navy’s new ship USS Mobile, a shallow-water combat vessel manufactured in Mobile.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A medical center in Louisiana said Friday that it has identified the state’s first two cases of a COVID-19 variant which has spread widely since being identified in India.
Britain and the World Health Organization consider it a variant of concern because experts think it may spread more easily than the original virus, LSU Health Shreveport said in a news release Friday.
The health system said the two samples were among more than 2,600 for which its Center for Emerging Viral Threats has decoded the genome. That represents 56% of all viral genomic surveillance data from Louisiana, the news release said.
Overall, the lab has processed 331,000 tests, and 7,600 were positive. That’s less than 5% of Louisiana’s total tests and less than 2% of the positive tests in the state. As of Friday, Louisiana has reported 7.3 million tests and 467,800 cases of COVID-19.
At least two other variants have shown up in Louisiana — the one first identified in the United Kingdom and the one first found in Brazil.
LSU Health Shreveport said its lab found that the one first found in England remains dominant in North Louisiana, as in the rest of the United States
PHOENIX — Health officials say children in Arizona as young as 12 can get a COVID-19 vaccine when receiving other immunizations.
State Department of Health Services director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday that pediatricians, per CDC guidance, can administer the Pfizer vaccine alongside other childhood vaccines.
Previously, the CDC had recommended children wait two weeks in between vaccinations. Vaccine demand has been low statewide.
The hours and days of operations at some state vaccine pods will be modified. More than 5.6 million vaccine doses have been given out in Arizona.
The state on Friday reported 577 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 more deaths.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials are betting that the desire to win $1 million in a lottery will boost the percentage of Oregonians who are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
With only half of the people living in Oregon either fully or partially vaccinated, Oregon Lottery officials approved a plan Friday to hold a lottery. Those who have been vaccinated by June 27 will be eligible.
“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine, so don’t miss your shot to enter,” Gov. Kate Brown said.
She told reporters this is an effort to raise the percentage of adult Oregonians who get vaccinated to 70% in order to fully reopen the state.
The Oregon Health Authority says 50% of Oregonians are vaccinated, with 39% having completed the series and 11% in progress.
If Oregonians have received at least a first dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, they are automatically entered to win through the state’s vaccine database.
Other states are also trying the tactic, including New York, Maryland and Ohio.
BERLIN — Germany will require people arriving from the U.K. from Sunday onward to go into quarantine for 14 days. The decision is a response to the spread of a coronavirus variant first detected in India.
Friday’s announcement by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, that Britain is being classified as a “virus variant area” comes a week after it went back on a list of “risk areas,” which has few consequences under current rules. From Sunday, airlines and others will only be able to transport German citizens and residents from Britain.
Under current German rules, all people arriving from “virus variant areas” -- which also include India itself and Brazil -- must spend 14 days in quarantine at home after their arrival. They cannot cut that period short by testing negative. People arriving from “risk areas” can avoid a 10-day quarantine by showing a negative test result, and fully vaccinated people arriving from those countries don’t need either to test or quarantine.
Germany is gradually moving to open up more areas of public life as the latest wave of virus infections subsides and its vaccination campaign gathers pace.
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan health department has settled a lawsuit by releasing information about people in long-term care sites who died of COVID-19, attorneys for a journalist said Friday.
The department agreed to provide ages and dates of death but was unable to say whether the infection occurred at a long-term care facility “due to inadequate tracking,” the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation said.
The group in March filed a lawsuit on behalf of Detroit-area journalist Charlie LeDuff, whose public records request was denied as exempt under state law. LeDuff said he was not seeking the names of the deceased.
“We stood up to Goliath and won,” LeDuff said. “While I’m pleased that some of the records were released, the state’s overall response is alarming and disappointing.”
An email seeking comment was sent to the health department.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation often takes aggressive action to get public records.
“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” attorney Steve Delie said.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s top health official says the state no longer will require social distancing and will allow full capacity for businesses when the state reopens on June 15.
State health director Dr. Mark Ghaly says dramatically lower coronavirus cases and increasing vaccinations mean it’s safe for the state to remove nearly all restrictions next month.
Some recently reported daily infection cases have fallen below 1,000 and currently there are about 1,300 people in hospitals with the virus.
California was the first state to issue a statewide shutdown as the virus emerged in March 2020. At the start of 2021, it was the nation’s epicenter. There’s been nearly 63,000 confirmed deaths from the virus in California, the most of any state in the nation.
BANGKOK — Thailand is using dogs to sniff out the coronavirus during its recent surge in cases.
Angel, Bobby and Bravo are among six Labrador retrievers trained by researchers at the veterinary faculty of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University to sniff out a unique odor that people with coronavirus produce in their sweat, the researchers say.
Since May 10, the three have tested more than 1,000 samples from college staff, students and people outside the university.
The results so far are impressive. After a few seconds of sniffing sweat samples placed in metal containers, the dogs can tell which people have the virus. If there’s no trace of infection, the dog will walk pass the sample. If it is positive, it will sit in front of it.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to behave responsibly as large parts of the country relax more pandemic restrictions at the start of the Pentecost weekend.
She says caution is needed to avoid further shutdowns. German regions have gradually started easing restrictions recently as new coronavirus cases decline steadily, accompanied by an accelerating vaccination campaign.
Beer gardens, cafes and restaurants in Berlin and elsewhere started serving customers outdoors for the first time in months on Friday — provided they present a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccination certificate.
By Friday, most of Germany’s 400 cities and counties had a weekly case number below the threshold of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants that triggered strict lockdown measures. But top officials stressed the need to remain vigilant.
The country’s disease control agency reported 8,769 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday and 226 deaths. Germany has reported 87,128 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
NEW YORK — A study of schools in Georgia suggests improving ventilation seemed to slow the spread of the coronavirus about as much as masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday published the study online. It’s based on surveys last fall of 169 Georgia elementary schools, which had taken various steps to control the spread of the virus.
The researchers concluded coronavirus case rates were 37% lower in schools that required teachers and other staff members to wear masks, compared to schools that did not. Meanwhile, rates were 39% lower in schools that took steps to improve ventilation, like opening windows and doors, using fans, or using air filtration systems.
Schools that used high-efficiency particulate absorbing filtration (HEPA) systems had case rates that were about half as high as those that didn’t.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Gov. Phil Scott says Vermont will lift all remaining pandemic-related restrictions ahead of the July 4 plan if the state reaches 80% of eligible people vaccinated against COVID-19.
That would mean nearly 28,000 more residents need to get the shots. He says Vermont leads the nation with over 70% of residents ages 12 and older getting at least one dose.
He says people between the ages of 18-29 can help accelerate the timeline the most. It’s a group lagging in vaccination rates.
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama and actor Eva Longoria are joining a social media chat next week about COVID-19 vaccines and the pandemic’s effects on women, particularly women of color.
Made to Save, the United State of Women, Supermajority and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are hosting Monday’s event on Facebook Live.
Organizers say the event is part of a week of activity designed to address concerns among women about the vaccines and to encourage women to get vaccinated and to help others get their shots, too.
Made to Save is a national public education campaign working to build public trust in the COVID-19 vaccines. Made to Save and United State of Women are part of Civic Nation, which is chaired by Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.
ROME — American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech have pledged to deliver 2 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to middle- and low-income countries over the next 18 months.
The companies, which together developed the first vaccine to be authorized for use in the United States and Europe, made the announcement Friday at a global health summit in Rome co-hosted by the European Union’s executive arm and Italy.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says they expect to provide a billion of the doses this year and another billion in 2022.
It was unclear whether the deliveries would take place through the U.N.-backed COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries, or if nations would get the doses at a reduced price.
The summit is drawing the Group of 20 industrial and emerging market nations, the heads of international organizations and representatives of global health bodies.
As vaccination campaigns continue to progress in the Western world, poorer countries are struggling to acquire supplies. This week, the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about the small number of doses that have reached Africa.
BEIRUT — Lebanon has relaxed coronavirus restrictions as reported infections and deaths continue to decline.
The government is allowing cinemas and theaters to reopen at reduced capacity for the first time in more than a year.
A government pandemic committee recommended the relaxed measures on Friday, a day after Lebanon recorded its lowest one-day death rate in months. Only seven COVID-19 related deaths and 394 cases were reported on Thursday.
The committee also allowed organizing weddings, conferences and trade shows at reduced capacities, but urged professional syndicates to delay holding elections for another month until the downward trend is confirmed.
So far about 10 % of the nearly 6 million people living in Lebanon have received at least one vaccine since February.
The World Health Organization says the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes Lebanon, has reported a decrease in cases in the last two weeks in 17 out of 22 countries in the region.
Lebanon has registered nearly 538,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,660 confirmed deaths.
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand announced its national vaccination rollout for next month and its first locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus variant discovered in India.
The government says it will begin its nationwide vaccination campaign on June 7.
An official says 15 cases of the Indian variant were found in a camp for construction workers in Bangkok. The government has banned the arrival of any non-Thais from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal to help prevent the spread of the variant.
The government says a national state of emergency will be extended to the end of July to help contain the virus.
TOKYO — The IOC vice president in charge of the Tokyo Olympics says the games will open in just over two months even if the city and other parts of Japan are under a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus cases.
John Coates spoke on a virtual hookup with Tokyo organizers after three days of meetings. The Olympics are set to open on July 23. Coates says the Olympics will go on even if local medical experts advise against it.
He says advice from the World Health Organization assured him that “all of those measures that we are undertaking are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure games in terms of health.”
Recent public opinion polls indicate 60-80% of Japanese oppose hosting the Olympics. Coates suggested public opinion might improve as more Japanese get fully vaccinated. That figure is now about 2%.
IOC officials say they expect more than 80% of the residents of the Olympic Village, located on Tokyo Bay, to be vaccinated and largely cut off from contact with the public. About 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes – who arrive in August -- are expected to attend. No international fans are allowed.