The Latest: Colorado moves to relax virus capacity limits
DENVER — Colorado’s health department is moving to relax its statewide mask mandate and limits on gathering capacity.
Health officials say the state’s role in determining COVID-19 restrictions will lessen in favor of more local control as vaccination eligibility is extended.
For the majority of the state, masks will be required for indoor public places with 10 or more people, and the capacity restrictions remain in place.
The proposal would allow local authorities and “private entities” in the counties with the lowest coronavirus infection rates to determine whether masks would be required. It would end most restrictions on capacity for restaurants, retailers and outdoor events.
There are currently only two Level Green counties where this applies — the rural Crowley and Otero counties in southern Colorado — which means they have fewer than 15 cases per 100,000 people in a week.
Most of the state is in the next risk level up, while the Denver metro area is two levels higher than the least restrictive designation.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Fans from abroad barred from Tokyo Olympics this summer
— EU threatens AstraZeneca with export ban
— As vaccinations lag, Italy’s elderly again pay the price.
— Brazil vaccine drive faces challenges in remote communities.
Follow 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:
WARSAW, Poland — Poland reported more than 25,000 coronavirus cases Saturday, compared to less than 15,000 in early March.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski blamed the increase on the British variant of the virus, which he described as “extremely infectious and vicious.” He urged Poles to observe restrictions that were reintroduced Saturday, closing hotels, shopping malls, theaters, galleries and sports centers.
Poland’s authorities have urged people to get vaccinated, saying they’re speeding up registration of more age groups for the inoculation. They use Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Unlike many European countries, Poland never discontinued using the AstraZeneca vaccine, insisting it was medically approved and safe. However, many Poles were not turning up for their AstraZeneca inoculation and authorities blamed that on “panic” in other countries.
So far, more than 5 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines, including some 1.8 million second doses, have been administered in the nation of 38 million.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Several thousand people in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro rallied against anti-virus measures on Saturday, despite a rise in daily infections in the past weeks.
Protests in Croatia were held in the capital Zagreb and several smaller towns. Local media say participants refused to wear face masks or keep distance among themselves. while holding banners reading “Enough tyranny,” or “Give us back the flu.”
In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, several hundred people protested after the Serbian government kept bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and businesses closed this week.
The state Montenegrin RTCG television reported about one hundred people came out in the rain to protest anti-virus rules. The report says that police urged them to respect distancing.
BERGAMO, Italy — Promises to vaccinate all Italians over 80 by the end of March have fallen woefully short, amid well-documented interruptions of vaccine supplies and organizational shortfalls.
Just one third of Italy’s 7.3 million vaccine doses administered so far have gone to people in that age group. The new government of Premier Mario Draghi has pledged to accelerate the vaccination campaign. It is aiming to vaccinate 80% of the population by September.
On Friday, Draghi said Italy aimed to administer 500,000 shots a day by next month, from a current daily level of about 165,000.
Italy has recorded more than 104,000 confirmed deaths, the sixth-highest tally in the world. As of early March, two thirds of Italy’s virus-related deaths were among those over 80.
BERLIN — Several thousand people participated in the protests regarding coronavirus measures in Kassel on Saturday.
German news agency dpa says protesters have clashed with police, with officers using pepper spray and batons against people trying to break through police barriers. There were also several scuffles with counter-protesters.
In Berlin, some 1,800 police officers were on standby, but only a few dozen protesters assembled at the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate. Meanwhile, around 300 citizens gathered on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard to protest against the far-right demonstration.
TIRANA, Albania — The first Kosovar doctors and nurses on have traveled to neighboring Albania to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Albania offered to inoculate 500 Kosovo medical personnel as a gesture of solidarity. The shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being given over two days in Kukes, near the Kosovo border, where Kosovar doctors and nurses were taken by bus.
Vaccination has yet to start in Kosovo, which is expecting the first batch of vaccines from the Covax facility later this month. The government has ordered an overnight curfew and banned public gatherings of over 50 people.
Kosovo has reported 80,621 total confirmed cases and 1,744 confirmed deaths.
TOKYO — Spectators from abroad will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
The decision was announced after a meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese and Tokyo governments and other groups.
Officials say the risk was too great to admit fans from overseas during the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers say 600,000 tickets were sold to fans from outside Japan and about 4.45 million tickets were sold to Japan residents. Several surveys of the Japanese public indicated up to 80% opposed holding the Olympics and a similar percentage opposed fans from overseas.
The ban on fans from abroad comes just days before the Olympic torch relay starts Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan. It will last for 121 days, crisscross Japan with 10,000 runners and end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The Olympics and Paralympics involve 15,400 athletes entering Japan. They will be tested before leaving home, upon arrival in Japan and tested frequently while residing in a secure “bubble” in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay. Most athletes will be vaccinated, but it’s not mandatory.
Japan is officially spending $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics. Several government audits say the actual cost may be twice that much. All but $6.7 billion is public money, and a University of Oxford study says these are the most expensive Olympics on record.
Japan has recorded 8,800 confirmed deaths to COVID-19 and controlled the virus better than most countries.
BERLIN — The European Union’s executive arm is increasing its pressure on pharmaceutical companies to speed up their vaccine delivery to the continent as virus numbers are rising again in many member countries.
The European Commission says AstraZeneca in particular could face export bans to countries outside the EU if it didn’t quickly deliver the promised amount of vaccines to the 27-nation bloc.
“We have the possibility to ban planned exports,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday in an interview with German media group Funke.
She said the commission had sent a “formal reminder” to AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is one of three vaccines that’s approved in the EU. However, its usage has been overshadowed by several problems, including a slow start, recurring delivery problems and a temporary ban for several days earlier this week in many of the bloc’s member countries after reports of blood clots in some recipients of the vaccine.
Most countries in the EU resumed giving shots of AstraZeneca again Friday as infection numbers were spiking again across the continent.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested positive for the coronavirus, two days after he received his first vaccine dose.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, Khan’s special assistant on health, said Saturday the prime minister has quarantined himself at his private home on a hilltop in the Islamabad suburbs.
There has been a spike in COVID-19 in the capital and in eastern and northern Pakistan where authorities have reported 42 new deaths and 3,876 new cases of COVID-19 during past 24 hours across the country, taking the total deaths to 13,799 and total infected cases to more than 623,000.
Since February, Pakistan has been using a COVID-19 vaccine donated by neighboring China. Health workers have been vaccinated and now older people are receiving the jab.
Media reports say a private Pakistani pharmaceutical company has imported 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, but it was unclear at what price the vaccine will be available to people.
SAN FRANCISCO — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says a lot of pandemic deaths could have been prevented in California if the state had focused earlier on vaccinating people in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Garcetti also said Friday the federal and state governments haven’t given local officials like him enough freedom to inoculate who they feel are most at risk.
Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom are fellow Democrats and close friends. And while the mayor didn’t name Newsom, his comments ultimately are criticism of the governor and his initial tightly constrained approach to vaccinating residents by age and profession.
Newsom has since pivoted and set aside 40% of all doses for people in the state’s poorest areas.
WASHINGTON — The White House is canceling the annual Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesman for first lady Jill Biden said Friday the White House will mark the holiday by sending out 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs in the coming days to vaccination sites and local hospitals.
President Rutherford B. Hayes started the tradition in 1878.
There have been a few other times when the event was either moved off the White House grounds or cancelled. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson suspended the Egg Roll, and Franklin Roosevelt did the same during World War II. President Harry Truman scratched the Egg Roll from 1948 to 1952, because of food rationing and renovations at the White House.
President Dwight Eisenhower restored the event in 1953.
ATLANTA — President Joe Biden has paid a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used the appearance to celebrate his administration reaching the benchmark of injecting 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine since his inauguration.
Biden met with scientists at the CDC in Atlanta on Friday to express his gratitude for their work trying to stop the coronavirus, while also learning about variants of the virus and the unfolding medical situation.
Biden pumped his fist as the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said the 100 million vaccine-threshold had been reached.
The president told CDC staff: “We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and we will for a long, long long time. You are the army, you are the navy, the marines, the coast guard … you are the frontline troops.”
PHOENIX — Arizona’s top health official says state-run outdoor vaccination sites will switch to nighttime operations or shut down next month in anticipation of hotter temperatures.
State Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ said Friday that officials are already eying indoor venues to replace the parking lot operations at State Farm Stadium in Glendale and Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The state has already identified a site in Mesa that will replace the vaccination clinic at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
The University of Arizona site in Tucson, however, will continue administering vaccines outdoors.
State Farm Stadium will only give out doses between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. starting April 4.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will have to apply an “emergency brake” to reverse some recent relaxations of pandemic restrictions as coronavirus infections accelerate.
Germany’s national disease control center says new infections are growing exponentially as the more contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in Britain has become dominant in the country.
Under an agreement with state governors two weeks ago, Merkel is supposed to reimpose restrictions in regions where the number of new weekly cases rises above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants. The nationwide average stood at 95.6 on Friday.
Merkel said that “unfortunately, we will have to make use of this emergency brake.”
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says Italy won’t hesitate to adopt its own vaccine strategy — including evaluating the Russian vaccine Sputnik on its own — if the Europe Union’s response is not adequate.
Speaking Friday evening, Draghi emphasized that European coordination has “great added value,” but said that if the response regarding the health of Italians wasn’t working “then we need to go on our own.”
Italy’s premier defended the decision to join Germany and France in temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while European regulators ran additional checks, despite the possibility that may discourage some people from accepting the Anglo-Swedish vaccine. The 73-year-old premier said he would take that vaccine himself when his age group’s turn arrives.