The Latest: Austria warns against travel to Tyrol province
BERLIN — The Austrian federal government is warning against travel to the country’s Tyrol province amid concern over cases there of the more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.
The move by the government in Vienna came after Tyrol earlier Monday drew up a list of measures that included calls for people to avoid nonessential travel and a proposal to require negative antigen tests before people can use ski lifts.
Some 165 infections with the South African variant have already been confirmed in Tyrol and politicians have been discussing for several days whether extra restrictions are required in the region. Tyrol, which borders Germany, Italy and Switzerland, is usually a popular skiing destination — though hotels and restaurants are closed at present, meaning that’s not practical for anyone except locals.
Broadcaster ORF reported that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said everything must be done “to prevent these (virus) mutations spreading ever further.”
Austria was opening schools, shops, museums and hairdressing salons on Monday after its third lockdown.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
—The prosecutor investigating last year’s massive explosion at the port of Beirut has summoned several people for questioning as Lebanon began easing a strict 25-day nationwide lockdown.
— Virus variants are prompting new travel restrictions, dashing hopes of an industry recovery
— South Africa seeks a new virus vaccination plan after deciding not to use AstraZeneca jab, fearing it’s not effective enough against the country’s dominant variant
— Chicago’s mayor touts agreement with teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols that could avert school district strike
— Tom Brady and Tampa Bay win Super Bowl, capping NFL season that had no cancellations despite pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TAMPA, Fla. -- So much for the mayor’s order requiring masks at Super Bowl parties. Throngs of mostly maskless fans took to the streets and packed sports bars as the clock inside Raymond James Stadium ticked down on a hometown Super Bowl win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
To meet coronavirus protocols, the NFL capped the crowd at under 25,000 in a stadium that normally holds some 66,000 fans.
But outside the stadium, crowds of fans who weren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing could be seen celebrating the Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
In hopes of curbing so-called super-spreader events, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor had signed an executive order requiring people wear face coverings during the Super Bowl festivities, even while they’re outdoors.
“As I’ve told everybody we all know how to avoid COVID-19 and that’s by simply wearing a mask,” Castor told WFLA. “I’ve been yelling for the Bucs all night long, you can do it with a mask on.”
Across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman was already unhappy about a maskless party hosted by Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in a hanger at Albert Whitted Airport on Friday night. Pictures from the party posted on social media showed a densely packed event with few people wearing masks to protect against spread of the coronavirus.
BERLIN — The German government is giving its official blessing to allowing some people to jump the vaccination queue if it’s a choice between that and letting vaccines go to waste.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said new vaccination regulations that took effect Monday specifically envision limited departures from the set order of vaccinations if, for example, doses left over in the evening would go to waste.
He suggested that local authorities draw up systems allowing individuals such as health and emergency service officials, and perhaps firefighters and police, to be prioritized for such jabs.
Spahn added that he can “only recommend those who have political responsibility to set a good example” and wait their turn, given that politicians are expecting people to be patient amid a slow start to vaccinations.
According to the German government’s priority list, coronavirus vaccines were initially reserved for those over age 80, people living or working in nursing homes and hospital staff treating particularly vulnerable patients. But there have been cases of hospital managers and others getting vaccinations.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greece’s prime minister says Cyprus backs his government’s proposal for the European Union to adopt a vaccination certificate procedure by summer so that prospective vacationers inoculated against the coronavirus can freely travel to the tourism-dependent countries.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after talks with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday that he’s asking the EU to “standardize and simplify” the procedure so that vacationers can present the certificate as proof of their COVID-19 vaccination to ease their travel and re-introduce a “normality” to the tourism industries of Greece and Cyprus.
Visitor arrivals to Greece in between Jan-Nov 2020 dropped by 76.3% over the previous year. In Cyprus, where tourism revenue directly accounts for 13% of the country’s economy, holidaymaker arrivals last year slumped by 84% relative to 2019.
Last month, the International Air Transport Association which represents the world’s airlines threw its support behind the Greek proposal. In a letter to top EU officials, the Association said a vaccination certificate would boost confidence among governments to open their borders and encourage passengers to travel without the quarantine hurdle.
TIRANA, Albania - The Albanian government warned of imposing harsher lockdown measures on Monday following a recent significant rise of the newly virus infected cases.
Prime Minister Edi Rama blamed businesses and new virus mutations for the recent increase.
During the last week Albania, with a 2.8 million population, noted more than 1,000 new cases a day and deaths higher than a dozen a day.
Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said tests have been sent to be checked at the “Berlin reference laboratory” for suspected new mutations circulating in the country.
The minister reported the two-week trend to 459 per 100,000 people, adding however that it has not threatened virus-related hospital beds coverage.
One-fifth of the beds in the four virus-related hospital remain free and two-thirds of the ICUs too.
The Health Ministry reported 1,460 deaths, 85,336 positive cases from the start and 32,432 remaining active cases as of Sunday.
The government is expected to increase fines for not respecting lockdown rules.
Mask wearing is mandatory indoors and outdoors while no more than 10 people can gather at one place, something that has never been respected in coffee bars and restaurants, including political gatherings, despite the 10 p.m. 6 a.m. (2100-0500 GMT) curfew hours.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea’s capital says it will give pet dogs and cats free coronavirus tests if they come into contact with infected humans and show symptoms.
Seoul official Park Yoo-mi told an online briefing that pets found infected with the virus must be quarantined at their homes or a city-run facility for 14 days.
The central government last week released guidelines on virus tests on pets, after a cat in the southeastern city of Jinju became the country’s first animal confirmed to have COVID-19. The cat belongs to a mother and daughter who were among dozens of confirmed patients associated with a Jinju religious facility.
Park said officials are ready to conduct free tests of pets starting Monday.
Seoul officials say authorities will test pets, not all animals, because they are in close contact with humans. Other local governments plan to launch similar tests for pets.
South Korea’s tally of newly confirmed coronavirus cases fell below 300 on Monday for the first time in more than two months as authorities slightly eased physical distancing rules. Officials began allowing restaurants, coffee shops, indoor gyms and other facilities outside the densely populated Seoul region to stay open an hour longer.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lanka health ministry said Monday it would receive the first part of the COVID-19 vaccines provided under the U.N.-backed COVAX program this month.
Dr. Hemantha Herath said under COVAX, Sri Lanka is expected to get 8 million doses, enough to cover 4 million people, 20% of the Indian ocean island nation’s population. He did not name which vaccine Sri Lanka was getting.
Led by the World Health Organization, a coalition for epidemic preparedness known as CEPI and a vaccine alliance called GAVI, COVAX was created to distribute COVID-19 vaccines fairly. Countries can join either to buy vaccines or to get donated shots.
On Sunday, Sri Lanka announced they would begin inoculating the public against the COVID-19 beginning next month. At present, the ministry is conducting a vaccination drive to inoculate about 250,000 frontline health workers and selected military and police officers.
ZAGREB, Croatia - Croatia has launched its vaccination campaign with AstraZeneca shots, imposing none of the age limits that have been put in place by some other European Union countries.
Many EU states have been cautious with the AstraZeneca jab, recommending it for those under 65 because there was little data on how effective it is on older people.
“No vaccine gives 100% protection,” epidemiologist Bernard Kaic said. “If someone wants to take some other vaccines, no one will force them to take this one.”
Two Croatian retiree unions have asked the national coronavirus response team to delay the vaccination of older people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing the decisions made in Germany, France, Poland and several other EU states.
Croatia has recently seen a drop in new COVID-19 cases that has been attributed to partial lockdown measures, leading to the reopening of some schools for students on Monday.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s strategy to counter the coronavirus pandemic continues to bear fruit as the number of patients in intensive care units has dropped below 300 for the first time since October.
The number of new infections has reached a plateau, with new daily cases between 2,000 and 2,500, while coronavirus-related deaths are decreasing.
The country with 11.5 million inhabitants has been severely hit by the virus, which has killed more than 21,352 people in Belgium. But it has coped well with a surge of new virus variants despite keeping schools and many stores open.
Bars and restaurants have been closed since October and traveling abroad for holidays is currently banned. As of Monday, there were 1,676 coronavirus patients in Belgian hospitals, including 299 in ICUs.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan’s military says the People’s Liberation Army in neighboring China has given a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine to Pakistan’s armed forces.
However, the army will contribute all of the donated vaccine to health workers, saying they are the real heroes because they have been “fighting against the pandemic and saving precious lives,” it said.
It praised the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government for donating the vaccine, which it did not identify.
About a week ago, Beijing donated 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to Pakistani authorities, who are using it to vaccinate front-line health workers.
Pakistan has reported 12,026 deaths among 555,511 cases of the coronavirus.
PORTLAND, Maine — America’s lobster exporters recovered from the Trump-era trade war with China to have a good 2020.
But the industry is approaching one of the most critical times of the year with trepidation because of the coronavirus.
Lunar New Year is typically one of the busiest parts of the calendar for America’s lobster shippers, who send millions of dollars worth of the crustaceans to China.
The holiday this year is Feb. 12, and industry members say they are prepared for a weak year.
Shipping is complicated this winter by the threat of the virus.
BEIJING — China appears to have stamped out its latest coronavirus outbreaks centered on the northeast, reporting no new cases of local infection in its latest daily report.
The National Health Commission said Monday that 14 newly confirmed cases had been brought from outside the country but no new cases were registered in the provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin that have seen China’s latest clusters.
While China has relaxed some social distancing rules, extensive testing, electronic monitoring and periodic lockdowns remain in place.
The country has reported 4,636 deaths among almost 90,000 cases since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.