The Latest: Biden administration to send $10B to states
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is sending $10 billion to states to expand COVID-19 testing in schools, as part of its push to get more schools open five days a week before the end of the school year.
The funding is meant to help schools test symptomatic and exposed individuals, as well as establish screening testing for students, teachers and staff members to identify asymptomatic individuals in the community.
The Department of Health and Human Services is announcing the spending Wednesday, funded by the newly passed $1.9 trillion virus relief bill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also unveiling new guidance Wednesday for how different settings like schools and non-healthcare workplaces should best use available screening testing to catch asymptomatic infections.
Biden has faced challenges meeting his promise of opening a majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning by the end of his first 100 days. This month he directed states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and announced he was directing federal resources toward vaccinating educators in March.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— EU regulator ‘convinced’ AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits outweigh risk
— Brazil’s Bolsonaro names 4th health minister during pandemic
— Australia gives COVID-19 shots to virus-hit Papua New Guinea
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister has backed the idea of testing people who return from abroad even if the regions they visited aren’t considered high risk for coronavirus infection.
German airlines and travel firms have been inundated with bookings for trips to Mallorca and other Spanish tourism hotspots after they were taken off the German ‘risk list’ last week.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that it was up to individuals to decide for themselves whether it is right to go on holiday there given the current rise in infections back home in Germany.
Maas said Germany is working to expand its testing capacity and “the fact that returning tourists are tested is in everybody’s interest, including the interest of the tourists.”
BERLIN — The German government defended its decision to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying it was based on expert advice.
Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that while she understood some might be worried by the move it should be seen as a sign that “trust in our control mechanisms is justified.”
“That’s why this step could also strengthen trust” in the vaccines, she said. “Concerns are taken seriously and examined. And as soon as these concerns are cleared up a vaccine can be used again without hesitation.”
A spokesman for the Health Ministry said Germany would rely on the EMA decision for how to proceed.
“It’s clear that the EMA decision is binding and of course we will follow the EMA decision too,” said Hanno Kautz.
BOSTON — All residents of Massachusetts age 16 and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine beginning April 19.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration says that before that date, residents age 60 and older, as well as workers considered essential, can get a vaccine starting March 22. Those 55 and older can get a shot beginning April 5.
The essential workers eligible for a vaccination starting March 22 include those who work at supermarkets and convenience stores, restaurant workers, transit employees and funeral home workers.
The administration said Wednesday in a statement that it’s received assurances from the federal government “that an increased vaccine supply will be available to states soon.”
WARSAW, Poland — After the number of new COVID-19 cases exceeded 25,000 Wednesday, double of the number last month, Poland is reintroducing nationwide lockdown of shopping malls, theaters and galleries and sports centers, for three weeks starting Saturday. The time will cover Easter holidays, an important family time in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday that also schoolchildren in the lowest classes need to return to remote learning after they were the only group of learners to be allowed to return to schools last month.
Niedzielski said that tougher measures could be introduced if the current tightening does not slow down the spread of the disease.
He said the British variant was responsible for over 52% of new infections. The 25,052 new cases are the highest number since a spike in November.
Restrictions were lifted nationwide in mid-February but were reinstated in four regions this month.
The nation of some 38 million has registered some1.96 million cases of infection, including over 48,000 deaths. Some 4.6 million vaccine doses have been administered, including some 1.6 million second doses.
BUCHAREST — Romania on Wednesday recorded its highest number of COVID-19 infections in more than three months as the nation battles a third-wave of the virus.
Out of almost 40,000 tests performed nationwide, 6,186 came back positive for COVID-19, indicating a surge of infections and the highest number of positive cases in a single day since early December.
In an attempt to manage the spread of the virus, authorities are tightening restrictions at a county level if they enter a “red scenario” - meaning more than three cases of COVID-19 infection per thousand residents over a 14-day period.
The capital Bucharest and seven other counties are currently in a red scenario, which sees the closure of businesses such as restaurants, bars, cafes, and gambling centers close indoor spaces to the public.
The nation-wide curfew last week was also changed from 11pm-6am to 10pm-5am.
So far Romania has recorded more than 874,000 COVID-19 infections, 21,787 people have died, and it has administered more than 2.2 million vaccines.
DETROIT — A nurse staffing COVID-19 vaccinations at a downtown Detroit convention center has been detained by police for suspicion of stealing two doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Detroit Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry says the woman was stopped Monday after another staff member at the TCF Center saw her take two syringes.
The nurse is employed by a firm that contracts with the city. Berry says no one missed getting vaccinated.
Detroit police officers are among about 200 people staffing vaccinations at the center.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus says it intends to purchase from Russia 50,000 doses of the Sputnik coronavirus vaccine to make up a shortfall in vaccine supply.
Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said on Wednesday that Cyprus could purchase more Sputnik vaccine doses if the European Union approves its use relatively quickly.
Koushos said the Cyprus government is in direct contact with Russian authorities about the Sputnik dose purchase, adding that Cyprus could be supplied with significant amounts if the vaccine receives EU approval.
Earlier this week, Cyprus temporarily suspended AstraZeneca vaccine shots until March 18. Scheduled vaccinations with the other EU-approved vaccines - Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna - will carry on without interruption.
SEATTLE — Health officials in Washington state have extended COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to people in the next phase.
Those added on Wednesday include grocery store workers, transit workers and first responders.
KOMO-TV reported that the Washington State Department of Health estimates 740,000 more residents will now be eligible for shots, raising concerns for people who were already eligible but have not yet been be inoculated.
Officials said this week that the state was allotted about 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses or about 11,000 doses for a county like Snohomish County.
About 2.5 million doses have been administered in the state, with 1.3 million people receiving the first shot and 250,000 fully vaccinated.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway has seen a spike in cases, prompting Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoeie to say that “we are now setting a record that no one wants to set.”
“In the last 24 hours, we have seen 1,156 new cases in Norway,” Bent Hoeie said, adding that official figures show that there have been 5,337 new cases since last week. “This is the highest number we have had since the beginning of the pandemic.
The capital city of Oslo and surrounding region “represent 80% of all (new) cases in Norway,” said Bjoern Guldvog, head of the Norwegian Directorate of Health.
Norway has in recently weeks chiefly opted for local restrictions and recommendation with Hoeie saying that “we want as far as possible to avoid stricter restrictions where there is little infection.”
Oslo has banned more than two visitors in private homes and ordered education in upper school classes as well as universities to switch to distant learning. Restaurants and bars, and non-food shops have also been closed.
CAIRO — Libyan health officials said Wednesday that the variant strain of the coronavirus first detected in South African has now been confirmed in the conflict-wrecked country.
The National Center for Disease Control said at least 15 cases have been reported in the western city of Misrata, along with two more cases of another variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
The U.K. variant was first detected in Libya on Feb. 24.
The center suggested that the new variants were among the causes of a recent, speedy surge in the confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North African country.
Viruses are constantly mutating, and numerous variants have emerged. These variants spread more easily and quickly.
Libya has yet to receive vaccines against the virus,
The center announced Wednesday at least 1,054 confirmed cases and 16 fatalities, bringing the tally in the country to 148,175 including 2,422 deaths.
However, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s parliament has approved a law mandating electronic bracelets for all arrivals to Israel who are required to quarantine due to the coronavirus.
The new law states that people sent to quarantine at home must wear the tracking bracelet to ensure compliance. If they refuse, they must quarantine in a state-run hotel.
The contentious requirement passed a final vote in the Knesset 4-1 on Wednesday, with only five of the parliament’s 120 members voting on the bill. Critics, including the sole dissenting lawmaker, said that it violates individuals’ privacy.
At the same time, the country’s Supreme Court struck down a series of measures restricting the entry and exit of Israeli citizens from the country, saying those limitations were illegal.
The regulations limiting the number of people entering the country per day to 3,000, and requiring those unvaccinated to receive approval from a committee to leave the country, will expire Saturday and cannot be renewed.
GENEVA — A top World Health Organization expert on vaccines says people should feel reassured that even if health authorities turn up a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine, such cases are “very rare.”
Dr. Kate O’Brien, who heads WHO’s department of immunizations and vaccines, said the U.N. health agency and the European Medicines Agency are trying to investigate the possibility of a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca shots. The potential side effect has prompted some countries -- mostly in Europe -- to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A WHO committee on vaccines is looking into the issue.
The current “benefit-risk assessment” from the European Medicines Agency and WHO is for countries to continue giving people AstraZeneca shots, she said. Both WHO and EMA are expected to present updated recommendations on Wednesday or Thursday.
O’Brien said in general “vaccine recommendations are dynamic,” and are reviewed over days, months, and years. She noted that blood clots occur regularly in the population.
Dr. Annelies Wilder-Smith, a technical adviser to a WHO expert panel on vaccines, noted that studies on the J&J vaccine involving some 42,000 people turned up 10 cases of blood clotting in the placebo group -- slightly more than half of all participants -- and 14 cases among those who were administered the vaccine. She called that difference “not statistically significant.”
NEW DELHI — India says it’s going ahead with administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine with “full vigor” as it has seen no signs the vaccine causes blood clots in recipients.
Government health expert V.K. Paul said Wednesday that India’s Health Ministry was aware of the potential blood clot issue but that “today, there is no concern at all.”
He said around 10 European countries have paused giving the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution.
Paul spoke as coronavirus infections have jumped acutely in several parts of India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday ordered ramping up of surveillance and testing to stop an emerging “second peak” of coronavirus infections. Modi warned that the country was at risk of a nationwide outbreak if authorities did not curb the stop the localized surges.
The Health Ministry said confirmed cases in 125 of India’s more than 700 districts jumped by 100-150% in the past two weeks.
Modi said infections have spread from bigger to smaller cities and pose a danger to villages where vast multitudes of people live.
On Wednesday, India reported 28,903 new confirmed infections after slipping to under 10,000 per day in February. The daily numbers brought the country’s total case count to 11.4 million. Wednesday, the third-highest number in the world behind the United States and Brazil.
India started its vaccination drive on January 16 and has so far given 35.1 million doses across the country. It approved the emergency use of the AstraZeneca vaccine and another vaccine produced by the Indian company Bharat Biotech.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is suggesting that some Americans who are unwilling to get vaccinated for the coronavirus are unpatriotic.
Speaking to ABC News in an interview that aired Wednesday, Biden said he had hoped to get politics out of the nationwide vaccination campaign, and that he’s been surprised by some who are refusing to get shots.
Biden said: “I just don’t understand this sort of macho thing about I’m not going to get the vaccine, ‘I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it.’”
The president added: “Why don’t you be a patriot, protect other people?”
Biden emphasized that the three vaccines authorized for use in the United States are safe and essential to getting the country past the pandemic. He noted that the biggest change in his life since getting vaccinated on TV in December was, “I can hug my grandkids now.”
WARSAW, Poland — Government officials in Poland have voiced alarm over a rapid spike in confirmed coronavirus cases and indicated that nationwide measures could be adopted if the trend continues.
Poland reported 25,052 confirmed new cases on Wednesday and 453 COVID-19 deaths, about twice as many from a single day than there were at the end of last month.
Almost 2,200 out of the nation’s 3,000 ventilators are taken and the number of hospital beds filled by COVID-19 patients is the highest since the start of the pandemic, at more than 21,500, out of some 30,000 available.
The statistics are raising expectations of a return to a full nationwide lockdown. The government banned leaving home except for essential needs the last time there were over 25,000 new daily cases.
Polish media say another ban on leaving home might include during the April 4-5 Easter holiday.
Poland, which has a population of 38 million, has registered nearly 2 million virus cases and 48,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.