The Latest; Italy imposes new virus restrictions in Sicily

MILAN — New virus restrictions were in effect Monday in the southern region of Sicily, the first region in Italy to have its status shifted since a summertime loosening.

Sicily has been reporting more than 1,000 new cases of virus every day since the middle of August, and has exceeded the threshold for number of hospital and intensive care beds occupied.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said shifting Sicily to a yellow zone from a white zone “is the confirmation that the virus has not yet been defeated, and that the priority is to continue to invest in the vaccine campaign and on prudent and correct behaviors by each of us.”

The new restrictions come as Italians begin to wind down summer holidays, with Sicily as a popular destination.

People in Sicily are now required to wear masks outdoors and seating in restaurants is limited to four people at a table, even outdoors.

There are no limits on movements and no curfews, as during yellow zones in previous waves.



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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s European branch says he agrees with the top U.S. infectious diseases expert that a third dose of coronavirus vaccines can help protect the people most vulnerable, and it shouldn’t be seen as a “luxury booster.”

Dr. Hans Kluge cited “deeply worrying” levels of high transmission, saying 33 countries among the 53 in the WHO Europe region have reported an increase in case counts of 10 percent or more over the past two weeks.

Kluge said he spoke this month with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert, and said they shared the same conviction that “a third dose of vaccine is not a luxury booster, taking away from someone who is still waiting for a first jab.”

“It’s basically a way to keep the people safe — the most vulnerable,” said Kluge, quickly adding that wealthy countries with excess vaccine doses “need to share” them with countries lacking them.

At WHO headquarters in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other top officials have called for a moratorium on booster shots, saying doses should first be shared to help vaccinate vulnerable populations in countries that are lacking them.


RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian health officials have begun vaccinating high school students between ages 16 to 18 in the occupied West Bank with a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Gaza health authorities are expected begin vaccinating the same age range later this week as part of an expected two-week blitz of all 255,000 secondary school students in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Health Ministry says at least 843,500 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have received a single dose of the vaccine, and more than 452,400 people have received two doses. New infections have risen sharply in the West Bank following the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant.

Last week, Palestinian health officials in Gaza and the West Bank received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine donated by the United States through COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative.

But the territories remain far behind neighboring Israel. Less than half the population of the West Bank has received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine while in Gaza the figure is around 15%.

Israel, which launched one of the most successful vaccine campaigns, has faced international criticism for being slow to provide the Palestinians with vaccines. It says that previous diplomatic agreements mean that Israel is not responsible for vaccinating the Palestinians.


PARIS — Some 2 million French workers in restaurants and other service jobs must now show a health pass to go to work, as part of government virus-fighting efforts.

The public is already required to show the pass to go to French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public venues.

Starting Monday, all staff members must also show the pass, which requires proof of vaccination, a fresh negative virus test or recovery from COVID-19. Those who don’t risk suspension or other punishment, and businesses that don’t comply face potential fines.

Nearly 72% of French people have had at least one virus dose and more than 64% are fully vaccinated. A small but vocal minority of people who oppose vaccinations or the health pass system have held weekly protests around the country since July.

France recorded the second-highest number of infections in Europe over the past month, but its summer spike in cases has started to subside since the government imposed stricter vaccination and other virus rules. The country has reported more than 114,000 virus-related deaths.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has reported its first coronavirus vaccine death.

A health board that monitors vaccine safety said Monday a woman died from myocarditis after taking the Pfizer vaccine. The board said the woman likely developed the condition because of the vaccine, although she had other medical issues which may have contributed.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said myocarditis was a very rare side effect and there was clear evidence that taking the vaccine was much safer than being infected with COVID-19.

Health authorities have so far administered vaccines to more than 2 million New Zealanders. The board declined to answer questions from The Associated Press, including the woman’s age and the date of her death, citing protocol because a medical examiner, known as a coroner, is investigating the case further.

Also Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland would remain in strict lockdown for at least two more weeks and the rest of the country for at least one more week, but with slightly fewer restrictions, as the nation battles an outbreak of the delta variant.


SINGAPORE — Singapore has fully vaccinated 80% of its population, reaching a milestone that would make the country “more resilient to COVID-19,” according to a top government official.

Singapore’s 80% vaccination rate among its 5.7 million population ranks it among the most vaccinated countries in the world.

“It is the result of the collective effort of many people working behind the scenes, and the people of Singapore coming forward to take care of themselves and the people around them,” said Singapore’s health minister Ong Ye Kung in a Facebook post Sunday.

Singapore already began easing coronavirus restrictions earlier this month, allowing those who are fully vaccinated to dine at restaurants. It will also open travel lanes with Germany and Brunei that would allow vaccinated travelers from these countries to visit Singapore without having to serve a mandatory quarantine period.

Singapore has reported 67,304 coronavirus infections so far, with 55 deaths.


SYDNEY — Australia’s success in protecting its Indigenous peoples from the pandemic has ended with the death of a man in his 50s.

The man, who was not vaccinated against COVID-19, died in Dubbo Base Hospital west of Sydney in New South Wales state on Sunday, state government official Scott McLachlan said Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month that among the most significant achievements of Australia’s pandemic response were the fact that COVID-19 had been kept out of Outback Indigenous communities and no Indigenous Australian had died from the virus.

The Australian government last year restricted travel to Outback Indigenous communities because their people are considered particularly vulnerable to disease.

Indigenous Australians account for 3% of the population and have poorer health, lower education levels and shorter life expectancies than other ethnic groups. Indigenous adults account for 2% of the Australian population and 27% of the prison population.

Australia has been relatively successful in stamping out COVID-19 clusters in the past. But a delta variant outbreak that started in Sydney in June and has locked down New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory is proving more stubborn.

Four people died of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing Australia’s death toll from the pandemic to more than 1,000. Just 6.3% of Indigenous people in the Dubbo area are fully vaccinated, compared with 26% of the general population.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The number of new coronavirus cases in New Zealand has fallen significantly for the first time since an outbreak was detected nearly two weeks ago.

Officials hope it is an indication that a strict nationwide lockdown might be working to halt the virus’s spread.

Health authorities on Monday reported 53 new community cases, down from 83 a day earlier. Some of that decrease may have been attributable to fewer tests being completed.

New Zealand’s government is pursuing an elimination strategy in which it tries to stamp out the virus entirely whenever it appears. The government put the country into the toughest form of lockdown after the first case of the current delta-variant outbreak was detected Aug. 17.


ATHENS, Greece — Clashes erupted in Athens on Sunday evening between the police and some participants in a protest rally against COVID-19 vaccinations.

Police estimate the participants in the rally in central Syntagma Square at between 7,000 and 8,000.

As the last of the speeches denouncing government plans to make vaccinations for health workers and students mandatory were finishing, some youths attacked police standing before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier next to the Greek Parliament with bottles, firecrackers and some firebombs.

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse protesters, who shouted obscenities at the police and against Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

While over 5.7 million people in Greece’s population of 10.7 million have been fully vaccinated, there has been a recent resurgence of cases and hospitalizations, almost entirely fueled by the delta variant and mainly affecting the unvaccinated.

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