The Latest: Study: Sputnik V virus vaccine appears safe

MOSCOW — Russian scientists say the Sputnik V vaccine appears safe and effective against the coronavirus. That’s according to early results of an advanced study published in The Lancet medical journal.

The news is a boost for the shot that is increasingly being purchased by countries around the world who are desperate to stop the devastation caused by the pandemic. Researchers say their study involved about 20,000 people and showed the vaccine was about 91% effective.

Scientists not linked to the research acknowledged that the quick rollout of the Russia vaccine was criticized for appearing to cut corners. But they said it was now clear the Russian-made vaccine was another effective shot to fight the pandemic.

Some early results were published in September, but participants had only been followed for about 42 days and there was no comparison group.

The latest study is based on research involving about 20,000 people over age 18 at 25 hospitals in Moscow between September and November. Three quarters got two doses of the Russian vaccine 21 days apart and the remainder got placebo shots.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

WHO experts visit animal disease center in Wuhan. Study: Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine appears safe, effective, Spain cancels San Fermin bull-running festival. Japan extends a state of emergency amid uncertainty over vaccine supplies and the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Major snowstorm pummels northeastern U.S., forces the cancellation of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine shots.

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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:

DODOMA, Tanzania — Tanzania’s health ministry says it has no plans in place to accept coronavirus vaccines.

That comment from Dorothy Gwajima comes just days after the president of the country of 60 million people expressed doubt about the vaccines without offering evidence.

Gwajima insisted Tanzania is safe. During a presentation, she and others didn’t wear face masks. Gwajimia encouraged the public to improve hygiene practices including the use of sanitizers

Tanzania’s government has been widely criticized for its approach to the pandemic. It has not updated its number of coronavirus infections – 509 — since April.

President John Magufuli, 61, has long asserted God has eliminated COVID-19 in Tanzania.

But authorities in Tanzania, from the Catholic church to government institutions, are telling the public and employees that coronavirus exists in the country and precautions must be taken.

The U.S. CDC in its latest travel warning on Tanzania says the country’s level of COVID-19 is “very high.” It gave no details but urged against all travel to the East African nation.

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MADRID — The Spanish government says it is tightening restrictions on flights from Brazil and South Africa after coronavirus variants were detected from those countries.

Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero says starting Wednesday for the next two weeks only flights carrying Spanish nationals or foreign residents in Spain will be allowed land. The measure also allows entry for nationals or residents of the tiny principality Andorra that lies between Spain and France.

Passengers in transit to countries outside the European passport-free Schengen zone will be allowed stop in Spain for a maximum of 24 hours but must not leave airport transit areas. Cargo, medical or humanitarian flights will also be permitted.

Spain already has similar air and sea travel restrictions with Britain.

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WUHAN, China — The World Health Organization experts have visited an animal disease center in the Chinese city of Wuhan as part of their investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

A team member says they met with staff in charge of the health of livestock in Hubei province, toured laboratories and had an “in-depth” discussion with questions and answers.

Meanwhile, WHO officials in Geneva were pushing back against suggestions the team was not getting enough access or data. The officials said the agency was continuing to ask for more data. They also said the team planned to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, considered among the major sources of information about the origins of the coronavirus.

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BUDAPEST — The first shipment of a Russian coronavirus vaccine arrived in Hungary on Tuesday.

Hungary received 40,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a video. That’s enough to treat 20,000 people.

Hungarian health authorities were the first in the European Union to approve the vaccine on Jan. 21, but the National Public Health Center must still give final approval before they can be put into circulation, he said.

“Brussels’ centralized vaccine procurement has been a failure which has risked the lives of Europeans and the swiftest restarting of the European economy,” said Szijjarto, adding that the EU’s slow rollout of vaccines had prompted Hungary to secure contracts with eastern countries like Russia and China.

On Friday, Hungary was the first EU member state to approve China’s Sinopharm vaccine, purchasing enough doses for 2.5 million people.

Hungary will receive enough doses of Sputnik V to treat 1 million people in the next three months.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland will be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people ages 18 to 60.

That comes on recommendations from medical experts, the government’s official in charge of the national vaccination program said Tuesday.

Michal Dworczyk said some 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will come to Poland next week. They are to be administered chiefly to teachers, starting as soon as the vaccine is available.

Dworczyk dismissed comments by the head of teachers’ union, Slawomir Broniarz, who said some teachers would prefer to be given Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, believing they are more efficient. The AstraZeneca vaccine has a reported efficacy rate of about 60 to 70%.

Last week Germany said it wouldn’t be giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65, citing insufficient data collected on its efficacy.

In February, Poland is expected to receive some 1.4 million dozes of the Pfizer vaccine and some 350,000 doses of Moderna. More than 1.2 million people have received the Pfizer or Moderna shots, and 200,000 have received the second dose.

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MADRID — The northern Spanish region of Navarra has announced the cancellation of the famed annual San Fermín bull-running festival in Pamplona for a second year in a row of because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“An international festival like San Fermín, in which millions of people come to Navarra, is not going to be possible,” said regional President María Chivite on Tuesday.

The nine-day festival in July is easily Spain’s most international event. The festival was popularized by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” and up to last year’s cancellation had last been called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Last year, many residents of Pamplona dressed up in the traditional white clothes and red scarves to mark the July 6 festival start but there were none of the usual popular street parties.

Spain has seen least 59,000 confirmed virus deaths.

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PARIS — Algeria will begin producing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine “within the coming weeks,” according to the head of Algeria’s national agency for pharmaceuticals.

The first batch of 50,000 doses of Sputnik V was flown to Algeria from Russia on Thursday, a tenth of what had been previously announced by the North African government. A cargo of 50,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses arrived on Monday.

The head of the national agency for pharmaceuticals, Kamel Mansouri, said Algeria and Russia were in advanced discussions over Sputnik V and the vaccine would be manufactured at the government-owned SAIDAL facility.

“It is time that Algeria, a country that imports vaccine, be able to produce it on site to respond to the needs of the vaccination campaign, and to export in a second phase,” he said Tuesday on national television.

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BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities say face covers like bandannas or scarves will no longer be authorized but the use of medical-grade FFP2 masks will not be made mandatory in the country to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, virologist Yves Van Laethem said these protections were tolerated last year when masks were short in supply but can’t be used anymore because their filtering capacity is not stringent enough.

Van Laethem said that homemade masks that properly cover one’s mouth and nose remain authorized. He said FFP2 masks are not recommended for the general population, notably because they are expensive, uncomfortable and not reusable.

Infection numbers have plateaued in Belgium over the past 10 weeks, with new daily cases between 2,000 and 2,500.

Belgium has vaccinated 280,000 people so far, 3% of the population over 18. It has been hard-hit by the pandemic, with over 21,000 confirmed virus deaths.

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VIENNA — Austria is toughening entry requirements in an effort to prevent the spread of contagious coronavirus variants.

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday that the country will require weekly tests for cross-border commuters, who also will have to register under a “pre-travel clearance system,” the Austria Press Agency reported. New arrivals also won’t be able to cut their 10-day quarantine short by testing negative.

Nehammer also said checks by police and health officials in Austrian ski resorts will be stepped up after authorities discovered scores of visitors in illegally booked accommodations.

On Friday, police in St. Anton checked 44 properties and filed complaints against 96 people, among them Britons, Danes, Swedes, Romanians, Germans, Australians, Poles and Irish citizens. While ski slopes are open to locals in Austria, hotels are closed to tourists.

Austria plans to loosen some coronavirus restrictions next week, opening schools, museums, hairdressers and nonessential shops.

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HELSINKI — Estonia says it will let passengers arriving into the country with proof of a COVID-19 vaccination skip its travel quarantine requirement.

Health officials of the Baltic country say that proof isn’t restricted only to vaccine suppliers approved in the European Union but proof from any of the global vaccine suppliers would be accepted. The move takes effect Tuesday.

However, Estonia’s Health Board said the certificate of vaccination from foreign citizens has to meet certain criteria, including language. Vaccination certificates must be in either in Estonian, Russian — which is widely spoken in Estonia — or English.

Hanna Sepp, head of the Health Board’s infectious diseases unit, told the Estonian public broadcaster ERR that the certificate has to indicate the disease against which the person has been vaccinated, when the vaccine was formulated and which manufacturer’s vaccine was used. It also has to include data on the issuer of the vaccine and the vaccine batch number.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Children in classes up to fourth grade will return to school Feb. 8 in Denmark after the country has seen a steady reduction in new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said it was “a careful reopening,” adding the Scandinavian country is still dealing with the virus variant first reported in Britain that has been spreading in Denmark despite overall declining number of new infections.

Staff at schools will undergo regular testing and parents will be required to wear facemasks on school sites.

Denmark has recorded 2,145 deaths and 198,960 cases.

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PRAGUE — The economy in the Czech Republic experienced a record decline in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The preliminary figures from the Czech Statistics Office released on Tuesday show that the Czech economy contracted by 5.6% last year compared with the previous year.

It is the worst result for the economy since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

In the last quarter of 2020, the economy expanded by 0.3% compared with the previous quarter, mainly due to demand for Czech goods from abroad. The office said local household consumption and investments were down throughout the year.

The export-oriented Czech economy relies heavily on car production, an industry badly hit by the pandemic.

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BERLIN —The German language’s English language import of the year for 2020 is —surprise! — “lockdown.”

A jury of academics on Tuesday announced that the word, which has been ubiquitous in German since the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe nearly a year ago, has been chosen as “Anglicism of the year.” Previous winners include “fake news” in 2016.

The runners-up were a string of pandemic-related terms that also have become established in German: “social distancing,” “superspreader,” “homeoffice,” “homeschooling” and “shutdown.”

The jury cited the “central role” that “lockdown” played in discussions of measures to combat the pandemic and its “quick integration” into Germans’ vocabulary. It pointed to the appearance of offshoots such as “lockdownbedingt” (because of the lockdown) and “lockdownaehnlich” (similar to a lockdown).

Germany is currently in its second lockdown. Infection figures in the country have fallen, but it’s unclear whether restrictions will be loosened in mid-February, when it is currently due to end.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has reported the first death of a doctor due to COVID-19.

Health authorities said the 31-year-old doctor at a government hospital on the outskirt of Colombo died Tuesday while receiving treatment in an Intensive Care Unit.

Sri Lanka’s first COVID-19 patient was detected last March, and since then 332 people have died of the coronavirus out of 64,982 confirmed cases.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The deadliest month yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: Cases and hospitalizations are plummeting, while vaccinations are picking up speed.

The question is whether the nation can stay ahead of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus.

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 443,000, with more than 95,000 lives lost in January alone. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.

As the calendar turned to February on Monday, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months. New cases of infection are averaging about 148,000 day, falling from almost a quarter-million in mid-January. And cases are trending downward in all 50 states.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. government says it won’t conduct immigration enforcement arrests at coronavirus vaccination sites around the country.

In a statement Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said vaccine sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and will not be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

DHS says it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to get vaccinated when they are eligible under local rules.

ICE has previously included health care facilities as well as churches among the sensitive locations where arrests would generally not be carried out.

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WASHINGTON — The White House is tamping down expectations for a potential boost in vaccine distribution if Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot is approved by federal regulators.

Andy Slavitt, the White House’s deputy COVID-19 coordinator, told reporters that the single-dose shot would undoubtedly help the Biden administration meet its goal of 300 million vaccinated Americans by the end of summer. But he says: “The expectation should not be that there’s an immediate, dramatic shift.”

The pharmaceutical company reported strong results for the efficacy of its vaccine on Friday and is expected to file for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days.

Johnson & Johnson is contracted to provide 100 million doses by the end of the second quarter.

Slavitt says he did not anticipate an even distribution, but that most doses “would come towards the end of that contract.”

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WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says the government awarded a $231-million contract to scale up production of a COVID-19 home test recently authorized by U.S. regulators.

For months, health experts have stressed the need for fast, widespread home testing so that people can screen themselves and avoid contact with others if they have an infection. But the vast majority of tests still require a nasal swab performed by a health worker that must be processed at high-tech laboratories.

The test kit from Australian manufacturer Ellume allows users to swab themselves at home and check their status in about 20 minutes. It’s one of only three tests that consumers can use themselves, and the only one available without a doctor’s prescription.

Ellume said Monday it would use the contract to construct a U.S. manufacturing plant and deliver 8.5 million tests for federal use. It did not specify a timeframe for delivery.

Also on Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down in recent weeks, but three mutations that are causing concern have been detected in the U.S.

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