The Latest: Spain: 1st case of Brazilian variant in Madrid
MADRID — Spain has reported its first case of the Brazilian variant in a passenger arriving at Madrid airport.
The Madrid regional health department said Friday the 44-year-old man arrived from Brazil on Jan. 29 and had a negative PCR document but tested positive in an antibody test at the airport. He was taken to a city hospital, which later confirmed the variant.
Spain this week began tightening restrictions on flights from Brazil and South Africa owing to variants detected in those countries. It already has similar restrictions with Britain.
The 14-day average infection rate per 100,000 population continued to ease, dropping to 750 on Friday from 783 on Thursday. ICU bed occupancy by coronavirus patients remains at 44%.
On Friday, Spain reported 28,565 new coronavirus cases, resuming a downward trend. Spain has registered 2.9 million cases and a confirmed death toll of 61,386.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Pentagon OKs troops to assist with vaccines. The Biden administration plans to boost vaccine supplies, at-home tests. Senate OKs fast-track of COVID aid, heads to House. Israel, a global leader in COVID vaccinations, finds limits. “Hug tent” provides safe space to embrace in Colorado. Desperation grows as Mexico runs out of vaccines. A 76-year-old nurse practitioner in California is working to save lives during a deadly pandemic, just as her mother did more than a century ago.
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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has set a new daily record for COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care with 904 patients on Friday.
The Austrian government offered to take in five COVID-19 patients and five non-COVID patients to relieve Portuguese hospitals. The Portuguese government says it was considering the offer. Earlier this week, a German army medical team arrived in Lisbon to open eight ICU beds.
Overall, Friday was the fourth day in a row that total hospitalizations were lower, at 6,412.
Health authorities on Friday reported 234 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 9,920. The nearly 14,000 new cases was the second-highest during the pandemic, increasing the total to more than 755,000 confirmed cases
WASHINGTON — The White House says the Pentagon will deploy troops to assist Americans getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt announced Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It means about 1,000 active duty military personnel will deploy to help state vaccination centers.
President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Two are opening in California, and Slavitt says military personnel will arrive at those centers in a little over a week.
Slavitt says support from the military will support vaccination sites, helping administer thousands of shots a day. Currently about 6.9 million Americans have received the full two-dose regimen required to get maximum protection from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Tensions are running high in some state capitols over coronavirus precautions after this year’s legislative sessions began with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
The Associated Press tally shows at least 40 state lawmakers have already contracted the coronavirus in 2021. More than 330 state lawmakers have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Most of the tensions are in Republican-controlled statehouses, where Democrats have been raising concerns about GOP colleagues who don’t wear masks or practice social distancing.
The Missouri Capitol has had at least 10 coronavirus cases among lawmakers in 2021. Some lawmakers have refused to say whether they contracted the virus and aren’t required to tell legislative administrators.
Missouri’s legislature has no mask requirement, no formal contact tracing and no ability for lawmakers to vote remotely. Social distancing also is difficult in the 163-member House chamber where desks are packed tightly together.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says the European Union has faced difficulties in the rollout of the vaccination program.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in a joint news conference via video, both reaffirmed they are fully supporting the EU vaccine purchase process.
Macron says the EU hadn’t anticipated “such rapid success” of the messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that mostly produced in the United States.
Both vaccines have been the first to be approved in the EU. The AstraZeneca vaccine was authorized last week.
Macron says the EU, which has ordered a supply of about 2.3 billion vaccines, has taken steps to boost production on its soil and accelerate vaccinations.
NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium is open as a COVID-19 vaccination site and attracting lines of people from surrounding neighborhoods in the Bronx.
The megasite is being restricted to Bronx residents to boost vaccination rates in the city borough that has the highest percentage of positive coronavirus test results. The New York Yankees’ home opened for appointments for qualified residents early Friday under damp skies.
The site run jointly by the city and state expects to handle 15,000 people during its first week. It will be open seven days a week.
New York state leads the country with more than 44,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths.
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden is using the Defense Production Act to help bolster vaccine production, at-home coronavirus testing kits and surgical gloves.
Tim Manning, the White House’s COVID-19 supply coordinator, says the administration will help Pfizer clear a bottleneck around capabilities with vaccine production by giving the drugmaker first priority to needed supplies.
Manning says the U.S. is also investing in six manufacturers to develop at-home and point-of-care tests for the coronavirus, with the goal of producing 60 million tests by the end of the summer.
Manning says, “The country is well behind where we need to be in testing,” and the new contracts will help boost supply.
LONDON — The developers of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine say the shot appears to work against the variant detected in Britain late last year.
It’s similar to previously reported results by other vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna.
Andrew Pollard of Oxford University, which helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, says the shot also appears to reduce the amount of virus in people infected with COVID-19. That could potentially slow the disease’s spread. The research hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Sarah Gilbert of Oxford says it should be straightforward to tweak their vaccine to account for the variant detected in the U.K. She says vaccine manufacturers could quickly insert a new gene sequence from the variant into the virus needed to make the vaccine. Gilbert adds scientists are already in talks with regulatory agencies about how they might quickly authorize any new vaccine. It’s a similar process for seasonal flu vaccines.
Also, researchers are studying the potential effectiveness of the vaccine against the variant that arose in South Africa.
LONDON — The UK government says it will support a German biopharmaceutical company’s effort to develop vaccines to combat new variants of the coronavirus.
Tuebingen, Germany-based CureVac will produce the vaccines in the U.K. and supply the government with 50 million doses of the shots if they gain regulatory approval. It comes as public health officials around the world raise concerns about new virus variants that are possibly more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines. While viruses mutate constantly, most of the changes cause little concern. But scientists are closely tracking these mutations to make sure they quickly identify variants of concern.
Earlier this week, drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said it would invest in CureVac for the development of new vaccines targeting emerging variants, using its messenger RNA technology to attack the disease. GSK said it plans to invest 150 million euros ($181 million) in the project.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece has approved the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use in people under 65.
The health ministry says the country’s National Vaccination Committee unanimously approved the vaccine’s use for people 18 to 64 and recommended a 12-week interval between the first and second doses.
The committee says the guidance could be amended as more data on the vaccine becomes available.
Vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to begin in Greece after Feb. 12, according to the secretary general of primary healthcare Marios Themistokleous.
Greece, a country of 11 million people, is currently vaccinating those 80 and over, as well as health care workers. A total of 359,723 shots have been administered, with 68,464 people having received both doses of the vaccine.
PARIS — France is urging people to use the option of working from home.
Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne told Bleu radio on Friday as many as 2.5 million workers who could “easily work from home” are going to the office instead. “If your job can be done remotely, you should be working remotely five days a week.”
The government has been urging work from home for those professions that allow it since the coronavirus resurged in October. But unlike during France’s first lockdown last spring, many offices have stayed open.
The government plans to step up inspections of companies to ensure that anyone able to work from home is doing so.
France has imposed 12-hour-a-day nationwide curfew but has stopped short of imposing a third lockdown because current virus infections have stabilized, although cases remain high.
France has registered 3.3 million cases and 78,000 confirmed deaths, the third highest in Europe and seventh globally.
LONDON — Britain’s drug regulator says the coronavirus vaccines being used across the country appear safe and that “the benefits continue to far outweigh any risks,” according to its latest monitoring data.
In a statement published on Friday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency say of the more than 10 million COVID-19 vaccines administered, there have been 22,820 reports of suspected side effects, for a rate of about 3 per 1,000 doses.
The figures are based on vaccines given to people from Dec. 9, 2020, to Jan. 24. The COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in Britain are made by Pfizer, and AstraZeneca, which were both approved for use in December.
“The vast majority of side effects are mild and all are in line with most types of vaccine, including the seasonal flu vaccine,” the agency said. It noted the most commonly reported side effects were sore arms and mild flu-like symptoms.
Last month, Norwegian authorities told doctors to consider whether the risks of the Pfizer vaccine were warranted before giving the shot to extremely frail or terminally ill patients. The recommendation came after there were deaths reported of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The European Medicines Agency issued a report last week saying it had no evidence the Pfizer vaccine was responsible for the deaths and it appeared safe and effective.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan official says Russia has offered to help produce its COVID-19 vaccine locally and the government is looking into the possibility of packaging it in two factories.
Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva. secretary to the ministry of COVID-19 prevention, told media that Russia made the offer during negotiations for vaccines.
“We have two good factories in Sri Lanka, and we are studying…(if) we are able to bring the Sputnik V vaccine here and vial it. If we manage to do that, we will move from being a country that imports vaccines to an exporter of vaccines,” he said.
Sri Lanka has so far approved only the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic use and has received 500,000 doses from India, which produces the jab developed in Britain under license.
China has offered Sri Lanka a grant of vaccines, but the ones developed in China have not been approved by Sri Lankan regulators yet.
Sri Lanka has reported a total of 67,115 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 339 deaths.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s prime minister says hotel, theaters, ski lifts, swimming pools and other facilities will be allowed to reopen with conditions starting next week.
Prime Minster Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday that the country’s existing pandemic restrictions have led to a “fragile stabilization” in the number of new COVID-19 cases but the number of deaths, around 400 daily, remains “very disturbing.”
He says that’s why the government is acting with caution and lifting restrictions in small steps.
Starting Feb. 12, indoor facilities like hotels and theaters will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity and strictly adhere to infection-control measures such as social distancing and mask use. Hotels will be able to offer food only through room service.
Restaurants and fitness centers will remain closed.
Morawiecki said decisions on opening more businesses are conditioned on how well people observe the rules for curbing infections.
A nation of some 38 million, Poland has confirmed over 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, including almost 39,000 deaths.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says first batches of the newly authorized AstraZeneca vaccine for will be delivered to the country’s 16 states Friday.
Jens Spahn said the addition of a third vaccine would “make a real difference” to Germany’s immunization campaign, which has so far been sluggish compared to the United States or Britain.
But Spahn said that, for now, the AstraZeneca shot will only be given to people aged 18-64, due to lack of data on older age groups.
He cited the additional vaccine as one of several positive signs for the country’s fight against the pandemic, along with the fact that for the first time in two months Germany has fewer than 200,000 people infected with COVID-19 and the nationwide number of newly confirmed cases per week has dropped to 80 per 100,000 inhabitants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Thursday that the target remains 50 cases per week for every 100,000 people.
Klaus Cichutek, the head of Germany’s medicines regulator, said his agency doesn’t currently recommend stretching the time period between first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as practiced in Britain, where about 10.5 million people have received a first shot, compared to 2.1 million in Germany.
BUDAPEST — Hungary could be the first country in the European Union to administer a Russian COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during a radio interview that health authorities were performing the final tests on the vaccine Sputnik V, and that a Chinese shot produced by state-owned company Sinopharm was also undergoing late-stage evaluations. Hungary has purchased 2 million doses of the Russian and 5 million doses of the Chinese vaccine.
All people over the age of 60 who wish to be vaccinated will receive an injection by March 15, Orban said, adding that around 2 million Hungarians could be vaccinated by April 1. That’s roughly 20% of the population.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis will meet Orban in Budapest on Friday where the leaders will discuss Hungary’s experiences with Sputnik V, according to a tweet by Babis.