The Latest: Paris may face new lockdown as ICUs fill up
PARIS — Officials say the Paris region may be headed toward a new lockdown as new variants of the virus fill up intensive care units and limited vaccine supplies drag down inoculation efforts.
Special medical planes dispatched patients from the Paris area to less-saturated regions over the weekend.
“If we have to lock down, we will do it,” the head of the national health agency, Jerome Salomon, said on BFM television Sunday. “The situation is complex, tense and is worsening in the Paris region.”
Salomon acknowledges that a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew “wasn’t enough” in some regions to prevent a spike in cases, notably of the variant first identified in Britain.
The French government has been relying on curfews for months — along with the long-term closures of restaurants and some other businesses — to try to avoid a costly new lockdown. But localized outbreaks are raising questions about the government’s virus-fighting strategy.
Salomon says France has more people in intensive care for COVID-19 and other ailments – about 6,300 — than the overall number of ICU beds it had going into the pandemic.
France has reported 90,315 virus-related deaths, among the world’s highest death tolls.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— A year after the first coronavirus shutdowns, public records have become harder to get in many U.S. states and cities. Some of the nation’s governors routinely block access to public records, keeping the public in the dark about key decisions involving the coronavirus pandemic. And as state legislatures livestream proceedings, most no longer allow people inside their chambers to observe, and some still do not allow people to testify remotely at committee hearings where legislation is shaped. Educators have helped millions of students get online for distance learning, but a year into the pandemic, millions of others remain without internet access because of financial hurdles and logistical difficulties. Many Africans are rethinking big, bountiful weddings amid the economic ravages of the pandemic, a big change on a continent where weddings are sometimes seen as key in cementing relations between communities.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser says he doesn’t understand why some people are refusing a vaccine proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “I just can’t comprehend what the reason for that is when you have a vaccine that is 94 to 95% effective and it is very safe. I just don’t get it.”
Fauci commented on NBC’s “Meet the Press” after he was asked to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy. Polling shows divides by race and politics, with Black Americans and supporters of former President Donald Trump expressing more skepticism about the vaccines.
The issue of vaccine hesitancy is important because most Americans must be vaccinated in order to defeat the virus.
Fauci said vaccines have rescued the U.S. from smallpox, polio, measles and other diseases.
He said, “We’ve got to disassociate political persuasion from what’s common sense, no-brainer public health things.”
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Newly vaccinated Massachusetts residents were treated to a mini concert Saturday when famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought out his instrument after getting his second shot.
Richard Hall of the Berkshire COVID-19 Vaccine Collaborative spoke to the The Berkshire Eagle. He said Ma took a seat along the wall of the observation area Saturday at Berkshire Community College and played for about 15 minutes, saying that he “wanted to give something back.”
The quick concert came a year after Ma started posting recordings of himself using the hashtag #SongsOfComfort on social media.
“In these days of anxiety,” he wrote on Twitter on March 13, 2020, “I wanted to find a way to continue to share some of the music that gives me comfort.”
Since then, Ma also has played surprise pop-up concerts for essential workers.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Several hundred musicians and others affected by anti-virus measures have rallied in central Belgrade to protest the weekend closure of all non-essential businesses aimed at curbing rising infections.
The crowd gathered on Sunday outside the Serbian parliament building, carrying banners reading “Let us work!” or “We don’t accept life without music.” They demanded more help from the state after a year of crisis that has left many without income.
Authorities have banned all concerts and left open this weekend only food stores, gas stations and pharmacies as they struggle to contain days-long surge of over 4,000 daily new infections.
Doctors have warned that hospitals are filling up and urged a strict lockdown but authorities have been reluctant to shut down the economy. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says further measures are necessary, but no details were immediately known.
Officials are hoping that ongoing vaccination also will help put the outbreak under control. Serbia has vaccinated 1.2 million people with at least one dose of either China’s Sinopharm vaccine, Pfizer-BioNTech, Russia’s Sputnik V and Astra-Zeneca. More than 700,000 people in the country of 7 million have received both doses.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia is remembering some 4,000 victims of COVID-19 in the Alpine country with a ceremony marking the anniversary of the first recorded death in the coronavirus pandemic.
Top officials and religious community leaders on Sunday gathered at a cemetery in the capital Ljubljana where they were set to plant a willow tree and express sympathy with the relatives of the people who died after contracting the coronavirus.
Authorities have said that the vast majority of the fatalities were recorded among the elderly and the care home residents.
The country of around 2 million people has recorded more than 200,000 coronavirus infections. Slovenia has had a curfew in place along with a ban on gatherings and other anti-virus measures.
BERLIN — A German airline says it is laying on extra flights to Mallorca over the Easter period after the lifting of a German travel warning for the Spanish island prompted a big increase in bookings.
Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said on Friday that it was removing parts of Spain — including the Balearic Islands — from its list of “risk areas” effective Sunday. People arriving in Germany from such areas must go into quarantine.
Germany-based travel operator TUI said on Friday that it was moving up the start of flights from some German airports to Mallorca by six days to March 21.
Lufthansa’s budget airline, Eurowings, said Sunday that many flights were booked out within hours of the announcement. It said it is expanding its so-far limited program of services to Mallorca by adding another 300 flights over the Easter period. Passengers to Mallorca require a negative coronavirus test. The German foreign ministry is still advising, though no longer warning, against nonessential tourist travel there.
Germany’s own lockdown is set to stay largely in place until at least March 28, and prospects of further relaxation are uncertain as infections are rising again. Hotels in Germany haven’t been allowed to accommodate tourists since early November.
ISLAMABAD — Amid a third wave of the coronavirus that is gripping Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and the northern part of the country, Pakistani health and administrative authorities have imposed a partial lockdown in affected areas.
Punjab authorities fined scores of marriage halls and restaurants for violating restrictions imposed again to fight the virus.
Officials in the capital, Islamabad, warned citizens that they must wear face masks and maintain social distancing in public.
Pakistan has reported 605,200 cases, including 13,508 deaths.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has begun to raffle permits for some of its most desirable hunts to help with a nearly $2 million revenue loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Friday that the permits will allow buyers to hunt species such as brown bears, caribou or musk ox.
The raffle is the first of its kind in Alaska. Other states such as Arizona and Wyoming have implemented similar systems. In Wyoming, the raffle has raised more than $1 million this year.
The Alaska permit raffle is open to residents and nonresidents and will be open through April. Winners will be announced on May 1.
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University issued a quarantine order for all of its undergraduates effective Saturday night due to a coronavirus outbreak caused by students who attended recruitment parties, the school said.
The university said in a statement that all undergraduate students will be forced to stay-in-place until at least March 21. Suspension or dismissal from the school are potential punishments for “flagrant or repeat violators.”
Over the past week, the school has reported more than 180 positive coronavirus cases among students. There are an additional 200 students who may have been exposed and have been ordered to quarantine.
The school said in the statement that the outbreak was “principally driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective living groups.”
Duke said it would provide a policy update on Thursday.
LOS ANGELES — Coronavirus hospitalizations in California’s most populous county have slipped below 1,000 for the first in four months.
The number of patients with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County hospitals hit 979, the lowest since Nov. 23. There are 3,250 people hospitalized statewide, a drop of more than 85% since peaking around 22,000 in early January.
Case rates also remain low and much of the state is preparing for some restrictions to be lifted in the coming days.
State officials announced Friday that 13 counties would be eligible to open restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and museums at limited capacity on Sunday.
On Monday the state is opening up vaccinations to an estimated 4.4 million people ages 16-64 with disabilities and certain health conditions, including severe obesity, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease at stage 4 or above and Down syndrome.
ROME — The new Italian government says it aims to have 80% of the population vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September.
Premier Mario Draghi’s office on Saturday announced more goals of the national vaccination program, which only recently has started picking up its pace after delays in vaccine deliveries and other logistics slowdowns.
Just under 2 million people in Italy – or roughly 3% of the population – had been fully vaccinated as of Saturday.
On Monday, much of the country, including Rome’s region, Lazio, will be put under tougher restrictions on citizens’ movements outside the home. Hospitals are struggling with an increase of ICU admissions for COVID-19 patients. Daily new caseloads of confirmed infections have soared above 20,000 in recent days, including on Saturday, with the Health Ministry reporting 26,062 cases.
Italy has now tallied some 3.2 million cases in the pandemic. After Britain, Italy has Europe’s second-highest known death toll, with 101,881 dead.
PHOENIX — Arizona on Saturday reported 262 new cases of COVID-19 — the lowest one-day total since September at the trough between the summer and winter surges.
The state has now recorded 823,094 cases and 16,546 deaths with the 27 newly reported. Hospitalizations for the disease dropped to 814, down from the Jan. 11 pandemic peak of 5,082, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
The state also reported fewer than 1,000 additional cases on three of the previous six days.
But the state Department of Health Services announced late Friday it has detected three cases of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in Brazil. It’s unclear how widespread that variant is in Arizona, but studies indicate vaccines are effective against it, the department said in a news release.
Also Friday, Gov. Doug Ducey said Arizona can meet President Joe Biden’s goal to offer vaccinations to everyone who wants one by May as long as the federal government supplies enough vaccines.
WASHINGTON – Commercial air travel appears to be on the upswing despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The Transportation Security Administration said its agents screened more than 1.3 million passengers at airport security checkpoints nationwide on Friday.
Spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said in a tweet that the last time the number was that high was March 15, 2020 – about a year ago.
Public health officials generally have cautioned against commercial travel.
Farbstein included a reminder in her tweet, saying “if you choose to fly, wear that mask!”
President Joe Biden marked Thursday’s first anniversary of the pandemic with a prime-time address to the nation in which he said he expects to have enough coronavirus vaccine for all Americans by May 1.