The Latest: Syrian President Assad, wife test positive
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife have tested positive for the coronavirus, the president’s office said Monday, with both having only mild symptoms of the illness.
In a statement, Assad’s office said the first couple did PCR tests after they experienced minor symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 illness. It said Assad, 55, and his wife Asma, who is 10 years younger and announced her recovery from breast cancer in 2019, will continue to work from home where they will isolate between two to three weeks.
Both were in “good health and in stable condition,” it added.
Syria, which marks 10 years of war next week, has recorded nearly 16,000 virus cases in government-held parts of the country, including 1,063 deaths. But the number of cases and deaths is likely much higher, given limited access to testing particularly in areas of northern Syria outside of government control.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— With huge virus aid package for nation in sight, Democrats debate filibuster changes
— From vote to virus, misinformation campaign targets Latinos in US
— UK schools reopen widely, backed by frequent virus testing
— Russia finds its Sputnik V vaccine in hot demand overseas but questions arise over whether it can produce the millions of vaccine doses ordered
— Vaccine rollout offers hope but also prompts envy, judgement and distrust
— 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:
TEL AVIV, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has vaccinated 5 million people against the coronavirus and predicted it would be “the first country to exit” the crisis.
The prime minister is aiming to vaccinate Israel’s entire adult population by the end of April, which he says would mean “we are out of the corona crisis.”
He spoke Monday alongside Health Minister Yuli Edelstein as the country pushed ahead with the reopening of its economy ahead of the March 23 election.
Israel is home to 9.3 million people. Although the country is one of the world’s leaders in the fight against the pandemic, Israel has come under criticism for not doing more for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Human rights groups and many Palestinians say that as an occupying power, Israel is responsible for providing vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel says that under interim peace accords reached in the 1990s, it does not have any such obligation. Israeli officials have said the priority is vaccinating Israel’s own population first.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he is feeling better after contracting the coronavirus last month. Dunleavy said last Friday that his voice still gets slightly hoarse if he talks for too long, but that his other symptoms are now mild.
He had a bad headache, fever, chills and body aches for a several days, he said. The Republican was scheduled to finish his isolation period last Saturday.
The state health department says there have been more than 56,000 coronavirus cases and 301 virus-related deaths in the state as of last Friday.
DETROIT — Students in Michigan’s largest school district returned to classrooms for in-person learning Monday for the first time in months.
Detroit schools stopped face-to-face learning in November because of rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. High schools statewide were also told to suspend in-person learning at that time.
Despite the resumption of in-person classes, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said many teachers have declined to participate. Teachers who agree to work inside classrooms will get a quarterly bonus of $750.
Vitti said online learning has been a challenge for many students but still will be offered.
“Some are doing well but many have been disengaged, have become chronically absent, have disconnected completely,” he said.
The district has about 50,000 students.
WORCESTER, Mass. — Hundreds of nurses at a central Massachusetts hospital have walked off the job after failing to reach an agreement with management over pandemic staffing levels.
Nurses and their supporters gathered outside St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester at dawn Monday holding signs that said “Safe Staffing Now” and “Picketing for our Patients and our Community.”
The strike started after negotiations with Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which owns the hospital, broke down.
Nurse Marlena Pellegrino, co-chair of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, says in a statement: “We are sad to see that Tenet holds so little value for our patients, yet we are resolved to do whatever it takes for as long as it take to protect our patients, as it is safer to strike now than allow Tenet to continue endangering our patients every day on every shift.”
The hospital has about 800 nurses.
LONDON — British children returned to school on Monday after a two-month closure, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he aimed to get the country “ moving closer to a sense of normality.”
As part of the plan, millions of high school and college students coming back to U.K. classrooms will be tested for the first few weeks. Authorities want to quickly detect and isolate asymptomatic cases in order to avoid sending entire schools home.
“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far,” Johnson said as he urged people to get vaccinated.
High schools and colleges could reopen in phases to allow for testing. The U.K. government has distributed nearly 57 million rapid “lateral flow” test kits to schools across the country, but there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests, which may result in pupils being forced to self-isolate unnecessarily.
But Susan Hopkins, a director at Public Health England, told the BBC that evidence from testing over the past eight weeks suggested less than 1 in 1,000 tests resulted in a false positive.
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with nearly 125,000 COVID-19 deaths.
BUDAPEST — Hungarians on Monday awoke to a new round of strict lockdown measures aimed at slowing a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths powered by virus variants.
A rapid rise in pandemic indicators since early February prompted Hungary’s government to announce the new restrictions, including closing most stores for two weeks and kindergartens and primary schools until April 7. Most services are also required to cease operations, and the government urged businesses to allow employees to work from home. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and tobacconists can stay open.
Hungary’s high schools have been remote learning since November and its bars, restaurants and gyms have been closed since then as well.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that the strain on the country’s hospitals will soon surpass any other period in Hungary since the pandemic began, and that failing to impose harsher restrictions now would result in a “tragedy.”
“The next two weeks will be difficult … but if we want to open by Easter, we’ve got to close down,” Orban said Friday on a Facebook video.
The number of patients on ventilators in Hungarian hospitals has more than doubled in the last two weeks, with 806 patients on Monday compared to the previous peak of 674 in early December. Deaths have also risen sharply to nearly 16,000 confirmed deaths overall.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is fast approaching its targets for lifting a national COVID-19 lockdown, just weeks after it was the world’s worst-hit country by size of population.
Health experts told Portugal’s president and prime minister in a televised meeting Monday that the 14-day rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people should fall to the goal of 60 by next week. It is currently 141.
The country’s so-called “R” number, showing the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus to, stands at 0.74 — among Europe’s lowest.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care had dropped to 240, which is roughly the maximum at which the national health service can cope, and is forecast to fall to 120 by the end of the month.
The government on Thursday will unveil a phased plan for lifting the lockdown introduced in mid-January. Most restrictions, such as the closure of stores, restaurants and cafes, are expected to stay until after the Easter break, amid hopes that tourists will be able to return in May.
BERLIN — Germany is looking to ramp up the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after authorities last week gave the green light for it to be administered to people 65 and over.
Hundreds of thousands of doses have been gathering dust in recent weeks due to the restrictions on who could get the vaccine and misgivings among some who were eligible. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Germany has received 2.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot so far but administered just 721,000.
Berlin is opening a sixth vaccine center Monday at the former Tempelhof airport in the center of the city that will administer only the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Germany’s vaccine campaign has lagged behind Britain and the United States. By Sunday, Germany had given out 5.2 million vaccine doses, with 2.5 million people or about 3 % of the population fully vaccinated.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF that he expects Germany to be able to administer up to 10 million shots a week by the end of the month.
ROME — The Italian health ministry has officially approved using the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for healthy people over age 65, citing limited vaccine supplies and the need to vaccinate people who might be vulnerable to complications.
The order was signed Monday. The European Medicines Agency had approved AstraZeneca for all age groups, but some nations like Italy and Germany initially limited it to under 65s due to what they called limited data.
Those limitations are one of the reasons why the 27-nation European Union has lagged so far behind Britain and the United States in vaccinating its people. Millions of doses of AstraZeneca have piled up across Europe, waiting to be given out.
JERUSALEM — After delays, Israel started vaccinating Palestinians who work inside the country and its West Bank settlements on Monday, more than two months after launching an immunization blitz of its own population.
Palestinian laborers who crossed into Israel at several West Bank checkpoints received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine from Magen David Adom paramedics. The vaccination drive orchestrated by COGAT, Israel’s military agency coordinating government operations in the West Bank, had been beset by postponements.
Some 100,000 Palestinian laborers from the West Bank work in Israel and its settlements, which are widely seen internationally as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Israel has administered over 8.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to its population of 9.3 million. Over 3.7 million Israelis — more than 40% — have received two doses of the vaccine. But until Monday, Israel had provided few vaccines for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a move that has underscored global disparities and drawn international criticism.
HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam administered its first COVID-19 doses Monday to the front-line workers who made the nation’s relative success in controlling the pandemic possible — health workers, contact tracers and security forces who handled quarantine duties.
The Southeast Asian nation of 96 million people has a goal to inoculate at least half of the population by the end of the year.
Thousands of doctors, nurses and technicians working at hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 patients lined up in the morning and received the first jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I have been waiting for this day for a long time,” nurse Nguyen Thi Huyen said after she got her injection. Huyen has been caring for COVID-19 patients at a tropical disease hospital in Hanoi the past year. Health protocols have limited her time with family, among other challenges.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.N. children’s agency says Afghanistan has received nearly half a million coronavirus vaccine doses via the global COVAX initiative.
War-torn Afghanistan received 468,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on Monday, the first shipment through COVAX, UNICEF said in a statement.
The vaccines were made by the Serum Institute of India, and arrived in the capital of Kabul aboard an Emirates flight, UNICEF said. More vaccines will arrive in the coming weeks and months.
India previously donated 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Afghanistan.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka— Sri Lanka’s government has ended a yearlong work-from-home program for public employees due to the pandemic.
Employees were ordered to report back to their workplaces starting Monday in order to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of public services,
At the start of the pandemic last year, the government imposed a lockdown across the island nation for more than a month, and temporarily closed some government departments.
As a precaution, a limited number of employees were allowed to go to work, while in some institutions, employees had been permitted to work from home since last April.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand says it will now use only the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its population against the coronavirus, departing from earlier plans to use four different vaccines.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the strategy Monday, saying the decision was based on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness. She said this would make it easier and fairer for all New Zealanders to have access to the same vaccine.
However, the strategy may also be driven in part by delays in getting vaccines approved. So far, New Zealand’s medical regulators have approved only the Pfizer vaccine and are reviewing two other shots.
Ardern said New Zealand has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to inoculate all 5 million residents with the required two doses each. She said most of the doses are expected to arrive during the second half of this year.
New Zealand has so far completed inoculations of only a few thousand people, mainly border workers. The country has stamped out community spread of the virus.
SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean province near the capital of Seoul has ordered local business owners and farmers to have all foreign employees tested for the coronavirus in the next 15 days, targeting tens of thousands of workers.
The mass testing campaign is the most significant step South Korean officials have taken yet to stem transmissions among migrant laborers, who often face harsh working and living conditions that health authorities say make them more vulnerable to infections.
The order issued Monday by Gyeonggi province Gov. Lee Jae-myung covers at least 85,000 legally hired migrant workers, with fines up to 3 million won ($2,600) for noncompliant employers.
The order also requires employees to ensure their undocumented workers get tested too. The province has encouraged these workers to come forward, saying they won’t be reported to immigration authorities if they are tested before March 22.
South Korea has confirmed more than 92,000 virus cases, including 1,642 deaths.