The Latest: Portugal ponders asking EU to send medical help

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s health minister says authorities are considering asking other European Union countries for help amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases.

Portugal has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people for the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Health Minister Marta Temido says sending patients to other EU countries is not uncommon in the bloc. But, she says, Portugal has the disadvantage of being geographically remote and hospitals across the continent are under pressure from the pandemic. She says the country may instead be asking for medical workers to be sent.

Portuguese hospitals are under severe strain, Temido told public broadcaster RTP. “We have beds available,” she said. “What we’re struggling with is finding staff.”

That request may be difficult to fulfill, because all countries in the 27-nation bloc are dealing with their own pandemic strains, made more difficult now because of the emergence of virus variants.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— COVID-19 variant brings new dimension to Europe’s pandemic fight, upending plans to fight the virus

— Indonesia hits 1 million virus cases, hospitals in some hard-hit areas are near capacity

— U.S. virus numbers have dropped, but the effort to snuff out COVID-19 is becoming a race between the vaccine and the mutating virus

— Taiwan quarantines 5,000 people while looking for source of hospital cluster

— California reverses stay-at-home order as conditions improve

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began crossed 1 million on Tuesday and hospitals in some hard-hit areas were near capacity.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 13,094 on Tuesday to bring the country’s total to 1,012,350, the most in Southeast Asia. The total number of deaths reached 28,468.

The milestone comes just weeks after Indonesian launched a massive campaign to inoculate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first shot of a Chinese-made vaccine. Health care workers, military, police, teachers and other at-risk populations are being prioritized for the vaccine in the world’s fourth most populous country.

Officials say Indonesia will require almost 427 million doses, due to an estimate that 15% of doses may be wasted during the distribution process in the vast nation of more than 17,000 islands, where transportation and infrastructure are limited in places.

Jakarta continues to be hardest hit city in Indonesia.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s foreign minister says people in the Scandinavian country shouldn’t expect to be able to travel globally during Easter. as Sweden extended its advice to avoid unnecessary trips to countries outside the European Union and Europe’s Schengen travel area.

“Our assessment is that there will be uncertainty for several months globally. It is an overall assessment that is about what the situation at the destinations will look like,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Tuesday.

Linde said the recommendation to avoid trips outside the EU will last until April 15. Easter is at the beginning of April.

She added that traveling inside the 27-member EU is “in no way risk-free” although it is not advised against.

Sweden, which has opted for a much-debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of society open, has had 11,005 confirmed virus deaths and over 547,100 cases.

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LONDON — The U.K. is set to announce changes to its quarantine rules later Tuesday that could see anyone arriving in the country having to spend ten days in a hotel at their own expense.

Vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said there will be an “announcement on this issue later on today,” but would not be drawn on what the changes would entail.

The British government has been reviewing its quarantine policies amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Whether the changes will be universal and apply to everyone arriving, including British citizens, or just to those arriving from high-risk coronavirus countries, is unclear.

Zahawi told Sky News that “as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”

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BEIJING — Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as the coronavirus continues to spread in the country’s northeast.

The offer Tuesday from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

China has largely curbed the virus’ spread in most areas, but travel limits remain in place where outbreaks have been detected, including in the capital Beijing. Schools are going on break a week early and migrant workers have been told not to travel back to their hometowns.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 rose by one to 4,636 among 89,197 cases, the National Health Commission reported, with most new cases in the northeast where winter temperatures are well below freezing.

The National Health Commission on Tuesday reported 53 new cases in Heilongjiang province, with another seven in Jilin province just to the south. Beijing and the business hub of Shanghai both reported two new cases.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.

Officials said that they have not been able to identify how the husband and wife became infected after a brief hospital stay in the Taoyuan General Hospital, located in the city of Taoyuan just outside Taiwan’s capital city. The man had stayed at the hospital for three days for health problems unrelated to COVID-19, while his wife looked after him.

Those asked to quarantine include patients who were discharged from the hospital between Jan. 6-19, and their caregivers.

Taiwan is on higher alert after the latest domestic cluster, which has now seen 15 cases from the hospital in Taoyuan.

Taiwan has been applauded for its swift and sustained efforts to contain COVID-19, with just seven deaths and fewer than 900 confirmed cases, despite its close proximity to China.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Texas continues to fall from record highs as the state nears the end of what has been its deadliest month of the pandemic.

State health officials Monday reported fewer than 13,000 people were being treated for the virus in Texas hospitals, marking the seventh consecutive day of declining patient loads.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the area was “starting to see some metrics go in the right direction” as the average number of daily new cases fell by 800.

More than 34,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Texas, the second-most in the nation behind California. More than 5,000 new cases were reported statewide Monday.

Nationwide, coronavirus deaths and cases per day in the U.S. dropped markedly over the past couple of weeks but are still running at alarmingly high levels. The U.S. is recording just under 3,100 deaths a day on average, down from more than 3,350 less than two weeks ago.

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SEATTLE — Seattle has joined other cities in approving extra pay for grocery store workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council on Monday approved legislation requiring large grocery stores to pay an extra $4 an hour in hazard pay. The Seattle Times reports the legislation passed 8-0, clearing a requirement that it receive a three-quarter super-majority in order to go into effect immediately.

Mayor Jenny Durkan called the policy “a strong step forward in Seattle’s recovery.”

The new requirement applies to grocery companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to stores larger than 10,000 square feet. It does not apply to convenience stores or farmers markets.

Covered businesses will have to pay their retail employees $4 an hour on top of the pay they currently receive as long as the city’s coronavirus civil emergency remains in effect.

The California cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Berkeley have within the past month forwarded or approved similar “hazard pay” boosts for grocery workers.

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BOISE, Idaho — Legislation to end coronavirus restrictions limiting private and public gatherings to 10 people or fewer has passed the Idaho House and is headed to the Senate. But the measure faces legal and constitutional questions.

The House voted 55-15 Monday to approve a concurrent resolution aimed specifically at a Dec. 30 health order by Republican Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The 10-person limit doesn’t apply to religious or political gatherings.

Backers of the resolution say they want to remove a portion of an emergency declaration by Little but leave the declaration in place. However, the resolution targets a health order, not an emergency declaration.

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NEW ORLEANS — Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Louisiana have dropped to the lowest level since late December — prior to a post-holiday season surge that saw the number hit a record high.

Figures posted by the state health department Monday showed the number of people hospitalized with the disease caused by the new coronavirus at 1,638. The number was 2,069 on Jan. 7, higher than the peak of just under 2,000 in the first deadly surge that hit the state in early 2020.

The Louisiana numbers are similar to a national trend. The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital in the U.S. has fallen to about 110,000 from a high of 132,000 on Jan. 7.

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MINNEAPOLIS — A new Brazilian variant of the coronavirus has made its first known appearance in the United States, in a person who had recently returned to Minnesota after traveling to that country, state health officials announced Monday.

The virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant was found in a specimen from a patient who lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and became ill the first week of January, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement. Epidemiologists were re-interviewing the person to obtain more details about the person’s illness, travel and contacts.

There was no immediate indication that the variant was spreading in the state.

Viruses are constantly mutating, and new versions – called variants – often emerge. Health officials are also worried about variants that were first reported in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Researchers believe they may spread more easily than the virus that’s been sickening millions in the United States and that has caused nearly 420,000 deaths there.

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