The Latest: Germany’s president receives AstraZeneca vaccine

BERLIN —Germany’s president has been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot, a signal of confidence in the vaccine after the country restricted its use in people under 60.

The presidential office said in a statement that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is 65, received his first shot at a hospital in Berlin on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel said the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn’t routinely be given to under-60s because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.

The German government followed the recommendation and said the vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older. Some regions, including Berlin, then opened up vaccinations for people aged 60-70, who had previously faced a longer wait.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is 66, said this week that she would be prepared to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it isn’t yet clear whether and when that might happen.



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ROME — Doctors and nurses in Italy who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus could be reassigned or have their salaries suspended under a new decree approved by the government.

The Italian Cabinet passed the measure late Wednesday as part of its latest COVID-19 containment provisions. The obligation for health care workers to get vaccinated was included after several recent hospital outbreaks were blamed on personnel who hadn’t gotten the shot.

Italy has prioritized vaccinating medical personnel, and to date 3 million of the 10 million shots administered have gone to health care workers. Health Minister Roberto Speranza has said the vast majority of health care workers have agreed to get the free vaccine but there were some holdouts.

Another measure included in the decree rules out criminal liability for medical personnel who administer shots if the vaccinations were done correctly. Some general practitioners in Italy have shied away from giving vaccines, fearing legal exposure if their patients experience adverse reactions.


PARIS — France’s prime minister defended the government’s plans to close schools for at least three weeks and to ban domestic travel for a month to slow a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jean Castex led a parliamentary debate on the new nationwide measures as the National Assembly, France’s lower house, prepared to vote on them Thursday.

Castex told lawmakers that the government has acted “consistently and pragmatically.”

Opposition parties were expected to boycott the vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise party denounced it as a “bad April Fools’” prank.

While French schools are temporarily closed, Castex confirmed aid for families with children who rely on free school meals.


BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country will begin administering coronavirus vaccinations in doctors’ offices starting next week.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that some 940,000 doses of vaccine will be delivered to some 35,000 practices next week.

The number of weekly doses supplied to doctors will rise to about 3 million at the end of April, he said.

Germany is hoping to significantly ramp up its vaccine campaign in the coming week.

According to government figures, 11.6% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 5% of the population has received both doses.

Earlier this week, German health officials decided to halt the routine use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60 due to concerns over the possibility of a small risk of rare blood clots in younger patients.


HONG KONG — Hong Kong will resume administering the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday following a 12-day suspension over packaging defects detected in one batch, officials said.

An additional 300,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive on Friday, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip said Thursday.

Health officials said an investigation by BioNTech found no safety issues in the batch with packaging defects for some vials, as well as in a separate, unused batch of the vaccine.

“BioNTech believes that the efficacy of the vaccine has not been affected, so members of the public who have taken the BioNTech vaccine need not be worried,” said Constance Chan, Hong Kong’s director of health.

Random checks will also be stepped up to ensure that vaccine packaging is safe, she said.

The packaging defects included loose caps and leakage from some bottles. Prior to the suspension, about 151,000 people had received the Pfizer vaccine in the city.

Apart from the Pfizer vaccine, Hong Kong residents have the option to receive Chinese-made Sinovac shots, although acceptance of that vaccine has fallen after reports that several people with chronic illnesses died after getting it.

Hong Kong officials say the deaths were not directly linked to the vaccine.


LONDON — Britain’s statistics agency says around 1.1 million people in the U.K. reported having symptoms commonly associated with long COVID, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, at the beginning of March.

In a study of 362,000 people living in private households, the Office for National Statistics found that the greatest prevalence was found in people aged 35 to 69, among women, those living in the most deprived areas or working in health or social care, and individuals with a preexisting, activity-limiting health condition.

Not everyone surveyed had necessarily tested positive for the virus.

In a sub-sample assessment involving 20,000 people who tested positive for the virus between April 26, 2020 and March 6, 2021, the agency found 13.7% continued to experience symptoms commonly associated with long COVID for at least 12 weeks.

In a separate study between Feb. 17 and March 14, the agency found that around 22% of Black or Black British adults were hesitant about taking a coronavirus vaccine,. That’s around half the level of hesitancy that the agency found for the period between Jan. 13 and Feb. 7.


BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says he personally would be prepared “without hesitation” to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, but it isn’t his turn yet.

On Tuesday, Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel said AstraZeneca shots shouldn’t routinely be given to under-60s because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.

The German government followed the recommendation and said the vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older, although exceptions can be made in consultation with doctors.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is 40, was asked Thursday whether he would be prepared to get the vaccine. He replied: “Yes, I would get vaccinated without reservation and without hesitation with AstraZeneca too.”

He said cases have to be looked at individually. Spahn said there are situations where there is a risk of a blood clot but “because I, without having consulted intensively with a doctor, don’t see this risk for me, I personally would be prepared” to take the vaccine.

But Spahn, who defended this week’s decisions, noted that his turn to get vaccinated is some way off.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development says his country is importing 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, the first purchase that comes after initial donations.

Half a million doses arrived Wednesday and the rest later Thursday.

The announcement by Asad Omar comes as Pakistan reported 4,974 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day jump since June last year.

China began donating vaccines to Pakistan in February, and since then only health workers and older people have received the shots.

In an effort to contain the spread of the disease, Pakistan has expanded the partial lockdown in cities with a high positive rate.

Pakistan has reported 672,931 cases and 14,530 confirmed deaths.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reviewing whether to approve rapid coronavirus tests that can be taken at home and produce near-immediate results as another tool to fight the pandemic.

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said Thursday there’s a need to provide convenient and accessible tests that people can use regularly because the virus is often transmitted by people with no or mild symptoms.

Health authorities had previously been reluctant to expand the use of rapid antigen tests and other forms of fast testing, which could produce results within 30 minutes but are less accurate than standard laboratory tests.

However, Kwon said the country may need more tools as it has struggles to slow the spread of the virus following a devastating winter surge, with around 300 to 500 new cases still being reported every day.

He said that real-time PCR tests, which involve health professionals administrating nasal and throat swabs and lab machines genetically analyzing the samples, would remain the country’s gold standard even if officials approve rapid tests for public use.

South Korean officials also said Thursday that the country will issue a smartphone app this month that verifies a person has been vaccinated. While Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun raised the possibility that the app could be used as a vaccine passport, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency officials said countries would first have to agree on an international standard for screening travelers for vaccination.


BEIJING — Health officials in China say six more people have become ill with COVID-19 in a southwestern Chinese city on the border with Myanmar. That brings the confirmed total in the Yunnan province city of Ruili over the past two days to 12, including three Myanmar citizens.

The Yunnan Health Commission said Thursday that 23 other people have tested positive for the coronavirus without showing symptoms of illness. Of those, 13 were Chinese and 10 were Myanmar nationals.

Officials say more than 20,000 tests have been administered so far. City authorities plan to test Ruili’s entire population of about 210,000 people, and require them to quarantine at home for one week.

The residential compound where the infections were found has already been locked down.

China has largely eradicated local transmission of coronavirus and takes strict measures whenever a new cluster emerges.


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — People magazine reports that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says she tested positive for the coronavirus and is urging people to guard themselves in the pandemic, such as wearing masks in public.

It is not clear when Palin tested positive, but the magazine quotes her as saying other members of her family tested positive, too.

According to the magazine, Palin says her case shows that “anyone can catch this.” She urges vigilance and says people should “use common sense” to avoid spreading the coronavirus and other viruses.


QUEBEC CITY — The Quebec government is putting three cities in the Canadian province into lockdown beginning Thursday following a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Wednesday that schools and non-essential businesses will close and the curfew will be moved ahead to 8 p.m. in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau. He says the situation is alarming.

The new restrictions do not affect the Montreal area.

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario is expected to announce new pandemic restrictions Thursday amid a new wave of infections.

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