The Latest: Germany, France leaders urge variant vigilance
BERLIN — The leaders of Germany and France have called for vigilance to prevent the spread of a coronavirus variant that this week prompted Britain to delay a planned relaxation of pandemic restrictions.
Chancellor Angela Merkel says while Germany has low numbers of coronavirus infections, the “aggressive” delta variant could lead to a rise in new cases.
“We can’t pretend that corona is over,” Merkel said. “Even though there’s a feeling on such a warm summer’s evening that it’s all over, one can see from the example of Lisbon that things can quickly change.”
Portuguese authorities on Thursday banned travel in or out of the capital region for upcoming weekends in response to a spike in delta variant cases.
Merkel spoke ahead of a working dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron, the first time she has hosted a foreign leader in Germany since last year. Macron says the European Union will discuss at an upcoming summit how to better harmonize travel restrictions during the pandemic.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Leaders of Germany, France urge vigilance regarding virus variant
— AP-NORC poll: Many Americans resuming pre-virus activities
— Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics
— Brazil still debating dubious virus drug amid 500,000 deaths
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority is calling off an agreement whereby Israel would transfer 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to it in exchange for a similar number later this year.
The Palestinian Authority says the doses, which Israel began shipping to the occupied West Bank on Friday, are too close to expiring. Palestinian officials had come under heavy criticism on social media after the agreement was announced earlier on Friday, with Palestinians accusing them of accepting subpar vaccines and suggesting they might not be effective.
In announcing the agreement, Israel said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying the date. There was no immediate comment from Israel, which had mostly shut down for the weekly Sabbath.
So far, about 380,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 50,000 in Gaza have been vaccinated. More than 300,000 infections have been recorded in the two territories and 3,545 confirmed deaths.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Health officials in Springfield are imploring residents to get COVID-19 vaccinations as the delta variant pushes case numbers and hospitalizations higher.
Random testing of virus samples determined the delta variant, which is considered more infectious than other variants, has become dominant around the Springfield area and much of southwest Missouri. That’s according to Kendra Findley, administrator of community health and epidemiology with Greene County.
Administrators at the two largest hospitals serving the state’s southwestern region — Mercy and CoxHealth — are asking residents to get vaccinated because COVID-19 patient loads are increasing at a rate they haven’t seen during the pandemic, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Missouri ranked second among states with most new cases per capita in the past seven days. One in every 1,487 people in Missouri was diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Statewide, just 37% of Missouri’s population have been fully vaccinated.
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden will announce 300 million COVID-19 shots have been administered in the 150 days since he took office on Jan. 20.
But as Biden marks a new milestone in the fight against COVID-19 on Friday, another goal may fall short — his self-imposed target to have 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 305 million vaccine doses had been administered as of June 1O. Overall about 172.4 million people, or 51.9 percent of the total U.S. population, have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC.
About 141.6 million people, or 42.6% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
The pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. has dropped significantly from a high of nearly 2 million per day about two months ago. The administration is in the midst of a blitz to combat vaccine hesitancy, particularly in the South and Midwest.
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta on Friday to tour a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor until his assassination in 1968.
NEW DELHI — A health official says India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, wants to resume exports of coronavirus doses after its domestic needs are met.
Dr. Vinod K. Paul said in an interview with The Associated Press: “Once our immediate need of vaccinating a significant proportion of Indian people is achieved …. we would then like to play the role of serving others and providing vaccines to them.”
Paul defended the Indian government’s move to restrict vaccine exports in April during a huge surge in infections. In January, the country began exporting vaccines to more than 90 countries. But the exports were halted when infections soared in India, leaving many developing countries without adequate supplies.
New cases are finally tapering off after exceeding 400,000 a day in May, a global record. But authorities are gearing up for another possible wave of infection and are focusing on increasing vaccinations. Currently, less than 5% of India’s people are fully immunized.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in India have surpassed 29 million, while confirmed deaths have surged beyond 380,000. Experts believe both numbers are vast undercounts.
TORONTO — Canada’s public safety minister says border restrictions on nonessential travel with the United States will be extended until July 21.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the move has been made in coordination with the U.S. He says Canada’s top priority is to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic. The border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed to all nonessential travel.
The restrictions were announced in March 2020 in the early months of the pandemic and have been extended every month. There are growing calls in the U.S. to open the Canada-U.S. border for nonessential travel like tourism, but less than 20% of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated.
BRASILIA, Brazil — The official COVID-19 death toll in Brazil is about to hit 500,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States.
Official data showed some 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day in Brazil in the past week, representing one-fifth the global total. Only 11% of Brazil’s population is fully vaccinated.
Brazil’s Senate is investigating how the toll got so high, focusing on why President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government ignored opportunities to buy vaccines for months while it relentlessly pushed hydroxychloroquine. That’s a malaria drug that rigorous studies have shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19.
The nationally televised hearings have contained scientific claims, counterclaims and outright falsehoods. The skepticism has extended to the death toll itself, with Bolsonaro arguing the official tally from his own Health Ministry is greatly exaggerated. However, some epidemiologists saying the real death number is significantly higher — perhaps hundreds of thousands higher.
Bolsonaro has waged a 15-month campaign to downplay the coronavirus and keep the economy humming. He dismissed the scourge early on as “a little flu” and scorned masks. He tested positive for COVID-19 last year.
The U.S. recently surpassed 600,000 confirmed deaths.
GENEVA — Top World Health Organization officials warned about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Africa, saying a “huge number” of countries have been forced to suspend giving second doses of coronavirus vaccines because of short supplies.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cited a 52% rise in coronavirus cases and a 32% rise in deaths in Africa related to the pandemic in the last week, “and we expect things only to get worse.”
A growing number of wealthy countries have pledged to share billions of doses, but WHO officials say time is of the essence.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a top adviser to the WHO chief, estimated more than 30 or 40 countries initially set to receive second doses of AstraZeneca doses won’t be getting them right away. He says the U.N. health agency was working with manufacturers for more doses.
Aylward says countries in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia “have all been hit hard by this.”
ROME — Italy will require five days of quarantine for travelers arriving from Britain, starting on Monday.
Under an ordinance signed on Friday by Health Minister Roberto Speranza, those travelers must take a COVID-19 swab test upon arrival in Italy.
Officials are concerned about an increase of COVID-19 cases in Britain involving the delta variant, which has been detected in only a small number of cases in Italy.
Italy also will allow entry from the United States, Canada and Japan for those who meet the requisites for a European Union Green Certificate. Those requisites include vaccination, documented recovery from COVID-19 or a negative swab test performed within 48 hours of arrival in Italy.
TOKYO — The top medical adviser to the Japanese government says the safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is without any fans.
Dr. Shigeru Omi issued his suggestions in a report to the government and organizers. Fans from abroad have already been banned. Organizers are to announce early next week if some local fans should be allowed.
His suggestions seem at odds with organizers and the International Olympic Committee. Reports suggest organizers want to allow up to 10,000 fans in some venues. Ticket sales were to account for $800 million in income. Much of it will be lost and government entities will have to make up the shortfall.
Japan has registered 14,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. Only 15% of Japanese have at least one COVID-19 vaccination. Much of the public has been opposed to holding the Tokyo Olympics, which start July 23.
WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky says she expects the delta variant will become the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States. The delta variant, first detected in India, has become dominant in Britain.
“As worrisome as this delta strain is with regard to its hyper transmissibility, our vaccines work,” Walensky told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday. She encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and “you’ll be protected against this delta variant.”
Walensky says next week an advisory committee will look at reports of heart inflammation among some 300 people under age 30 who received a coronavirus vaccine.
“Over 200 million doses of vaccine have been given, and really, these events are really quite rare,” said Walensky, adding heart issues generally improve with rest and standard medications.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has kissed two World War II veterans on the cheeks, returning to a tradition that was abandoned at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
French authorities have recommended people to avoid “la bise,” the custom of giving kisses of greeting, to avoid spreading the virus. Macron kissed the veterans on Friday while wearing a mask.
The president, who had COVID-19 in December and since been vaccinated against the disease, awarded the Legion of Honor to Leon Gautier, 98, a member of a French elite unite that took part in Normandy D-Day landings in 1944 and fellow World War II veteran Rene Crignola, 99, during a ceremony marking Gen. Charles De Gaulle’s June 18, 1940 appeal for the people of France to resist the Nazis.
The French government this week announced a relaxation of virus restrictions, including allowing people to forego masks outdoors. A nighttime curfew is set to end on Sunday.
MADRID — Spain is planning to scrap its requirement to wear face masks outdoors.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says the government will pass a measure next week to life the requirement starting June 26.
Sánchez called the move “a very important announcement for the 47 million people in our country.” He added: “This will be our last weekend wearing masks outside.”
Some regional authorities have in recent weeks urged the Spanish government to drop the outdoor mask requirement, which has become increasingly unpopular as temperatures rise with the approach of summer.
MOSCOW — Confirmed coronavirus cases in Moscow hit a daily record Friday and increased nearly 30% from the day before.
Authorities reported 9,056 new cases in Russia’s capital, the city’s highest daily surge since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In all of Russia, 17,262 new infections were registered Friday, the highest daily tally since early February.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said this week that Moscow was seeing the effects of new virus variant that is “more aggressive, more difficult to tolerate, spreads faster.”
In response to the soaring case numbers, Moscow authorities imposed an 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants and made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for individuals working in retail, education, health care, public transportation and other trades that provide services to a large number of people.
On Friday, Sobyanin extended the bar and restaurant curfew until the end of the month and temporarily banned entertainment events with more than 1,000 spectators. The mayor also announced that a dozen restaurants in Moscow will become “coronavirus-free” by allowing only vaccinated customers.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country has given a first coronavirus vaccine shot to more than half of the population. But authorities are urging people to remain cautious because of the prospect of the more contagious delta variant spreading.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday that 41.5 million people — or 50.1% of Germany’s total population — has received at least one vaccine dose. He said that 29.6% of the population is now fully vaccinated.
Germany has averaged more than 800,000 shots of vaccine per day over the past week. Spahn said it should be possible to offer everyone who wants to get vaccinated a shot “within a few weeks.”
But officials pointed to Britain’s experience with the delta variant, first discovered in India, as grounds for caution.
Spahn said: “The question won’t be whether delta also becomes the dominant variant in Germany and continental Europe, but … when and under what conditions.”