The Latest: Poland, church urge distancing during services
WARSAW, Poland – Amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases, Poland’s health care and Catholic Church authorities have appealed to all parish priests to strictly observe the limit of attendance and distancing at church services, and especially during next month’s Easter holiday.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski and Secretary General of Poland’s Episcopate, Bishop Artur Mizinski said in the appeal Wednesday they were driven by concern for the “life and health of all Poles.”
“We must not remain indifferent in the face of the rising number of new infections,” they said and stressed the need to “strictly observe the rules and sanitary requirements.”
They said that was the necessary condition to avoid new restrictions that would be tougher than the current lockdown of hotels, shopping malls, theaters and sports centers.
On Wednesday, the 38-million nation recorded its highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the pandemic, reaching almost 30,000. There were 575 deaths.
Like in shops, only one person per 15 sq. meters (161 sq. feet) can be allowed inside, at a 1.5 meter (5 feet) distance from others, and wearing a mask.
There have been reports that not all churches observe the rule. Photos have been circulated of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other officials failing to observe the required distance at a memorial Mass for Kaczynski’s late mother in a church in Starachowice, central Poland.
Easter, this year on April 4-5, and the week leading to it, are a time when people daily throng to churches for prayers and Mass.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 85.4 million people, or 25.7% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 46.3 million people, or 14% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 56,045 on March 9 to 53,308 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,557 on March 9 to 940 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
— Dr. Fauci: Positive signs with vaccinations, but U.S. not turning corner yet on coronavirus
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— 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:
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will end its limits Monday on which adults can receive the coronavirus vaccine, giving access to anyone 16 and older who wants to schedule an appointment.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards made the announcement as vaccine supplies grow and immunization appointments go unused. Louisiana is joining a growing list of states that are throwing open vaccine access to any adult interested in a shot.
Edwards says Louisiana also will significantly ramp up its large community vaccination events to try to reach more people and make it easier for them to obtain the immunizations.
BOISE, Idaho — The governor of Idaho has said COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will be open to all Idaho residents 16 and up starting April 5.
Republican Gov. Brad Little made the move three weeks ahead of schedule. He also said people with at least one medical condition will be able to get the vaccine starting Monday, about two weeks ahead of schedule.
Currently eligible for the vaccine are those 55 and older, healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, first responders, K-12 teachers and school staff, and frontline essential workers.
WAILUKU, Hawaii — A hospital on Maui had to throw out nearly 1,400 vaccine doses after a refrigerator thawing the vials did not properly seal.
A low-temperature refrigerator holding doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Maui Memorial Medical Center was not closed properly, and the vaccines were compromised over the weekend. Officials at the hospital said enough supply remains to keep all current vaccination appointments.
Vaccines are locked in a freezer before being transferred to the low-temperature refrigerator to be thawed. The doses were put in the refrigerator on Friday in preparation for this week’s vaccinations. Staff members discovered the door was not sealed on Monday.
Hawaii has distributed 832,800 coronavirus vaccines, or about 58,819 for every 100,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 16% of the state’s population has completed their vaccination.
BERLIN — Austrian authorities plan to close nonessential shops and businesses such as hairdressers in three eastern regions from April 1 to April 6 over Easter as they attempt to flatten a rise in coronavirus infections.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that the aim is a “cooling-down phase” in the capital, Vienna; the surrounding province of Lower Austria; and neighboring Burgenland province, on the Hungarian border.
The three eastern provinces are a cause of particular concern because of the rapid spread of a more contagious virus variant first detected in Britain.
Austria has an overall infection rate of 247 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. The rate is closer to 300 in the eastern provinces. The national rate is more than twice that in neighboring Germany, where authorities initially decided on a five-day nationwide shutdown over Easter but then abandoned the idea because of logistical and legal concerns.
NEW YORK — More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, 70% of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Also, COVID-19 deaths have dipped below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November. Dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks.
More than 43% of Americans 65 and older — the most vulnerable age group, accounting for an outsize share of the nation’s more than 540,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The number of older adults showing up in emergency rooms with COVID-19 is down significantly. Vaccinations overall have ramped up to 2.5 million to 3 million shots per day.
The outlook in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the deteriorating situation in places like Brazil and Europe. At the same time, public health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci in the U.S. are warning it’s too early to declare victory and relaxing social distancing and other measures could easily lead to another surge.
MADRID — Spain’s top health official has warned the country is at risk of another spike in coronavirus infections that has already struck many parts of Europe.
“We are facing a decisive moment,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said after meeting with Spain’s regional health chiefs on Wednesday. “We must invert this tendency. We have to intensify our efforts.”
Darias says the spread of the more contagious variants is pushing up infections across Spain. A nightly curfew and other restrictions on movement had put a cap on infections until two weeks ago, when the figures started to increase.
Darias made her appeal alongside Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who said police will be extra vigilant to enforce bans on travel between regions and unauthorized social gatherings for next week’s Easter holidays.
“Our goal is to save lives,” says Grande-Marlaska. Also Wednesday, thousands of Spaniards lined up to get AstraZeneca shots again, the latest country to restart the vaccine after its credibility suffered a series of recent setbacks.
Spain reported more than 7,000 infections in the past 24 hours and 320 deaths, increasing the confirmed death toll to more than 74,000.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has received approximately 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and will begin administering shots next week.
Turkey’s health minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter that Turkey received delivery of some 750,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and 700,000 more arrived on Wednesday. Turkey is set to receive a total of 4.5 million doses of the vaccine.
Turkey rolled out its vaccination program in January after authorities approved the emergency use of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company. More than 14 million shots have been administered so far. Some 6 million people have received their two doses.
The country of 83 million aims to provide vaccines to 50 million people by the fall.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t ready to say the nation has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, despite about 2.5 million Americans getting vaccinated each day.
The government’s top infectious disease expert says he often gets asked that question. His response: “We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.”
At the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Fauci says the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases in the country. It’s hovering around an average of 55,000 and up slightly in recent days. While that is clearly much better than the 250,000 daily cases at the peak of the winter wave, it’s uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID wave of last summer.
“When you are at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner,” Fauci adds.
On the plus side, along with the growing level of vaccinations, Fauci is underscoring recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. There’s also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That’s the age group most vulnerable to the disease.
BRUSSELS — Belgium is reintroducing strict lockdown measures in response to a surge of new coronavirus infections.
The government announced schools would be closed on Monday and residents would have limited access to non-essential businesses starting Wednesday night.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo says the virus variant first identified in Britain is likely taking a heavy toll on the health of the country’s people. Confirmed cases increased 40% in the last week and hospital admissions rose 28% following a long stable period.
Under the new rules, non-essential shops can remain open but customers will need to book appointments. Hairdressers and beauty parlors must close until April 25.
PARIS — France’s culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to be infected as the nation faces a third surge of infections.
Roselyne Bachelot announced last weekend that she had tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The latest surge has been likely propelled by the highly contagious virus variant first seen in Britain.
ICUs in the Paris region as well as in northern and southeastern France are filling up.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was infected months ago but never hospitalized, on Tuesday announced an acceleration of the country’s vaccination campaign. Now all people over 70 are eligible to get a vaccine shot.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has recorded 342 deaths, its highest daily death toll from COVID-19.
The country’s Health Ministry says that’s up from the previous high of 333 on Tuesday. Ukraine began vaccinations in late February after receiving 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Reluctance to take the shots is strong even as new infections severely tax the country’s underfunded medical system. There have been 30,773 confirmed deaths in Ukraine during the pandemic.
BRUSSELS — The European Union is moving toward stricter export controls to ensure there are more COVID-19 vaccine supplies for the bloc.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on the eve of a summit of the 27 leaders that it has a plan ready to guarantee more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens before they can be shipped for exports.
EU nations have been specifically stung by the United Kingdom, which has received some 10 million doses from EU plants while they say nothing came back from Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken in the past few days to European leaders, including von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Vaccines are an international operation,” Johnson says, adding that the U.K. would “continue to work with European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.”
The EU has been insisting that two AstraZeneca plants in Britain should also be part of the EU deliveries.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has dropped plans for a five-day shutdown in Germany over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism.
She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans. Merkel announced the decision after calling a hastily arranged videoconference with Germany’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions.
The same group had come up with the unexpected plan for deeper restrictions over Easter, which was announced early Tuesday. The plan was to make Thursday, the day before Good Friday, a “rest day,” with all shops closed, and only allow supermarkets to open on Easter Saturday.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi decried various interest groups getting their members COVID-19 vaccines before adults older than 80.
Draghi told the Senate not all the nation’s regions are following the Health Ministry’s directives that give priority to older age groups. Said Draghi: “Some (regions) are neglecting their elderly in favor of groups that proclaim priority” based on their lobbying ability.
Draghi expressed satisfaction of vaccination in nursing homes, telling lawmakers that 86% of care home residents have received at least one vaccine dose. He also says Italy will aim to reopen all primary and nursery schools nationwide, possibly after Easter, even in regions with the strictest COVID-19 restrictions