The Latest: CDC: Schools can reopen without teacher shots
WASHINGTON — The Director of the CDC says schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated for the coronavirus.
As some teachers’ unions balk at resuming in-person instruction before teachers are inoculated, Dr. Rochelle Walensky says, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” Walensky cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients called on Congress to pass additional funding to ensure schools have the resources necessary to support reopening.
President Joe Biden has pledged to ensure nearly all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the first 100 days of his administration.
Teachers are prioritized as “essential workers” under the CDC’s vaccination plans, though many have yet to receive doses as the nation continues to face a supply shortage of the vaccine.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Dr. Fauci says watch Super Bowl at home with household to avoid spreading coronavirus. Japan to enforce mandatory coronavirus orders with fines. British officials say Oxford study backs up their decision to delay second vaccine shot for up to 12 weeks. World Health Organization investigators visit Chinese virus lab that’s subject of speculation about coronavirus origins. Czech Republic hits 1 million virus cases, smallest nation to do so. Italy sees most snow in years but the pandemic has shut down ski resorts to all but elite racers.
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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — The federal government is opening two coronavirus vaccination sites in East Oakland and East Los Angeles, two of the hardest-hit communities.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the sites will launch at the Oakland Coliseum and at California State University, Los Angeles. The facilities will be staffed primarily by officials from the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Zients called those sites “just the beginning” of the Biden administration’s push to speed the pace of vaccinations, particularly in area suffering the brunt of illnesses and death.
NEW YORK — New York City’s health commissioner says he has been infected with the coronavirus.
Dr. Dave Chokshi says he was recently tested, received a positive diagnosis, and has mild symptoms.
He was named New York City health commissioner last August after Mayor Bill de Blasio clashed with previous commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. Chokshi previously served in the Louisiana Department of Health during Hurricane Katrina.
He has appeared in public service announcements urging New Yorkers to follow coronavirus protocols for mask wearing and maintaining social distance.
MELBOURNE — All competition at six Australian Open tuneup events scheduled for Thursday was called off after a worker at one of the tournaments’ Melbourne quarantine hotels tested positive for COVID-19. Players preparing for the year’s first Grand Slam tournament must isolate at their hotels until they test negative for the illness caused by the coronavirus. The Australian Open is scheduled to begin Monday.
Any players, coaches or officials who quarantined at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne were deemed to be casual contacts of the 26-year-old infected man and required to remain in their hotels until they test negative.
The political leader of Victoria state called a late-night news conference to announce the case and urge anyone with symptoms in Melbourne to get tested. Daniel Andrews says he doesn’t expect any disruptions to the Australian Open.
TOKYO — Japan enacted legislation allowing officials to enforce coronavirus measures by punishing violators of mandatory orders with fines.
This comes as the country struggles to slow the latest wave of infections amid growing uncertainty about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine considered key to holding the Olympics this summer.
The legislation was passed by the parliament and enacted into law the day after Prime Minister Yoshihide extended an ongoing non-binding state of emergency in Tokyo and nine other urban areas by one month until March 7.
Under the revised laws that take effect next week, restaurants, bars and other business owners that defy mandatory orders for shorter service hours or closures can be fined up to 300,000 yen ($2,860). Fines of up to 500,000 yen ($4,760) can be imposed on patients who refuse to be hospitalized, and up to 300,000 ($2,860) to those who refuse to cooperate with health authorities in contact tracing and other surveys.
Daily new cases have declined since January, but serious cases are still putting pressure on hospitals, experts say. The health ministry reports Japan had 393,836 confirmed cases and 5,912 confirmed deaths on Tuesday.
STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government says starting Saturday there will be an entry ban to Sweden for foreigners without a negative test within the past 48 hours.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says it’s an effort to contain the virus variants, “otherwise you will not enter the country.”
The move will affect the more than 1,600 kilometers (995 miles) long land border with Norway but also the border with Finland.
Last month, Norway temporarily closed its border with Sweden for the first time since 1954 to limit the spread of the mutation. Only Norwegian nationals and foreign nationals residing in Norway will be allowed to enter the country with a few exceptions.
WASHINGTON — When it comes to Super Bowl parties during this pandemic year, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s says to “just lay low and cool it.”
President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser says during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to invite people over for watch parties because of the possibility that they’re infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others.
He says big events like Sunday’s game in Tampa, Florida, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always a cause for concern. Fauci says the best thing people can do is watch the game on TV at home with the people in your household.
The NFL has capped the game attendance at 22,000 because of the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates.
GENEVA — A U.N.-backed program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to the neediest people worldwide has announced plans for an initial distribution of more than 100 million doses by the end of the first quarter.
The COVAX Facility says it aims for nearly 200 million doses by the end of June. Most of the vaccines in the first phase will be from AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.
Another 1.2 million doses of a vaccine from Pfizer are expected to be shared by 18 countries in the first quarter.
The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout needs “emergency use” approval by the World Health Organization, which is expected in mid- to late February. The rollouts are contingent on regulatory approvals and the readiness of nations to receive the vaccines, which recently have been in short supply worldwide.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Several thousand owners of restaurants, bars and other businesses shut down during the coronavirus pandemic have rallied in Croatia against the government measures.
The protests on Wednesday in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, was organized by an association of entrepreneurs who are demanding they be allowed to work while respecting the anti-virus rules.
Croatian businessmen say they have been devastated since they were ordered to close late last year during a surge in cases in the country.
Holding banners reading “#Let us work” or “It’s enough,” the demonstrators called for the resignation of the economy minister over what they described as “discriminatory” measures during the outbreak.
Croatia has registered more than 230,000 confirmed cases and 5,088 deaths.
BERLIN — A German military medical team is heading to Portugal to help that country deal with a spike in coronavirus cases.
The team of 26 doctors and nurses was flying to Portugal Wednesday from Wunstorf, in northern Germany. Dr. Ulrich Baumgaertner, the head of the military’s medical service, said the team will help at a civilian hospital in Lisbon.
Baumgaertner told reporters before the team’s departure: “It’s clear that significantly more capacity is probably needed there, but we can only give small, but we hope important, help from the limited resources we have.” He said the team is also taking material such as ventilators.
Portuguese hospitals are under intense pressure because of a surge that has given the small country one of Europe’s highest infection rates. The country has seen over 13,000 deaths in the pandemic.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has surpassed a milestone of 1 million confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday that the day-to-day increase in new infections was 9,057 cases for a total of more than 1 million. The country of 10.7 million people has registered 16,683 virus-related deaths.
The number of new infections has fallen since they reached a record high of almost 18,000 in early January, but they have stagnated in recent days at still dangerously high levels despite a strict lockdown.
Currently 93,043 people are ill with COVID-19 in the Czech Republic, with 1,002 of them in intensive care. The numbers are putting the health system of the Central European nation under heavy pressure.
LONDON — Britain’s health chief said Wednesday that a new study suggesting that a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks supports the government’s strategy of delaying the second shot so more people can quickly be protected by the first dose.
Britain’s decision has been criticized as risky by other European countries, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study “backs the strategy that we’ve taken and it shows the world that the Oxford vaccine works effectively.”
Hancock’s comments came after Oxford University released a study showing the vaccine cut the transmission of the virus by two-thirds and prevented severe disease.
The study has not been peer-reviewed yet and does not address the efficacy of the other vaccine currently in use in the U.K., made by Pfizer. Pfizer recommends that its shots be given 21 days apart and has not endorsed the U.K. government’s decision to lengthen the time between doses.
The U.K. has already given at least one vaccine shot to 10 million people.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has launched the second stage of its national vaccination plan as it struggles to get on top of a pandemic surge that has made it the world’s worst-hit country by size of population.
Health services began Wednesday inoculating some 900,000 people over 80 years of age, or over 50 with underlying health problems, during the next two months.
Prime Minister António Costa said in the first phase during January more than 400,000 people were vaccinated, mainly residents and staff of nursing homes, frontline health workers and security forces.
“We are now making a big leap forward,” Costa said of the second phase.
He said the challenge of the third phase of the plan, when the rest of the population is due to be inoculated, depends on how quickly manufacturers can provide vaccines.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Health Ministry says it is widening its COVID-19 vaccination campaign to all of its citizens over the age of 16 starting on Thursday.
Israel is leading the world in vaccinations per capita, and as of Wednesday’s announcement has given 3.2 million people their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. More than 1.8 million people have received two doses of the vaccine.
At the same time that Israel has vaccinated around a third of its population, the country is under a nationwide lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and new cases continue to mount at a troubling rate. Government statistics have also pointed to a drop in the number of daily vaccinations in recent weeks.
The Health Ministry has reported over 664,000 cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 4,890 deaths from the disease. More than a quarter of those deaths — 1,423 — were in January alone.
BERLIN — Germany-based ticketing firm CTS Eventim says concert organizers should be able to require that customers show they’ve been vaccinated in order to attend events.
Chairman Klaus-Peter Schulenberg told German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche that “once enough vaccine is available and everyone can get vaccinated, then private event organizers should have the possibility to make vaccination a precondition for entry to events.”
In an interview published Wednesday, Schulenberg said CTS Eventim, which has numerous subsidiaries across Europe, said its systems have been modified so they can read vaccine records. The company is itself in charge of organizing the vaccine drive in Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said every adult will be offered a vaccine by Sept. 21.
Germany’s disease control agency said there were 9,705 newly confirmed cases and 975 deaths in the past day.
COPENHAGEN — Denmark’s government said Wednesday it is joining forces with businesses to develop a digital passport that would show whether people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, allowing them to travel and help ease restrictions on public life.
Finance Minister Morten Boedskov told a news conference that “in three, four months, a digital corona passport will be ready for use in, for example, business travel.”
“It is absolutely crucial for us to be able to restart Danish society so that companies can get back on track. Many Danish companies are global companies with the whole world as a market,” he added.
Before the end of February, citizens in Denmark would be able to see on a Danish health website the official confirmation of whether they have been vaccinated.
“It will be the extra passport that you will be able to have on your mobile phone that documents that you have been vaccinated,” Boedskov said.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen a severe reduction in international travel as countries try to contain the spread of the virus.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities have started vaccinating frontline health workers against the coronavirus amid a steady decline in confirmed cases and fatalities.
Wednesday’s start of the vaccine campaign comes days after Pakistan received half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.
At a ceremony in Islamabad, Pakistan’s minister for planning and development paid tribute to the health workers, saying they were “real heroes” as they put their lives at risk in the fight against COVID-19.
Pakistan has said it plans to vaccinate 70% of the country’s high-risk population by the end of the year.
Also Wednesday, Pakistan reported 1,384 additional virus infection in the past 24 hours and 56 deaths. Pakistan has reported 11,802 deaths since the pandemic began.