The Latest: UK announces small step out of lockdown
LONDON – The British government has announced a small step out of lockdown — allowing nursing home residents to have a single friend or family member visit them indoors.
Residents and their visitors will be able to hold hands, but not hug. The change takes effect March 8. For months, nursing home residents have only been able to see loved ones outdoors or through screens.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will announce a “road map” out of lockdown on Monday. The government has stressed that reopening will be slow and cautious, with store reopenings or outdoor socializing unlikely before April, though children will go back to school from March 8.
Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring. Britain has had about 120,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.
The new measures apply in England. In other parts of the U.K., nursing home visiting rules vary, with Scottish residents able to have two visitors from March 8.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Biden defends progress on COVID-19 as weather delays 6 million shots
— EXPLAINER: How have storms affected COVID-19 vaccinations?
— Powdering sleeping beauty’s nose: Virus eases Louvre works
— Toronto’s lockdown extended until at least March 8
— Airlines plan to ask passengers for contact-tracing details
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:
HELSINKI — Denmark has temporarily closed some border crossing points with Germany and stepped up checks at others due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and a rise in virus variants in the the northern German town of Flensburg, just off the Danish border.
The Danish justice ministry said late Friday that an increasing number of infections and virus mutations have been detected in Flensburg, just some seven kilometers (4 miles) from the border with Denmark.
The Danish justice ministry said officials police will significantly intensify border controls at the Danish-German border. Local authorities in Germany said Saturday on Flensburg’s webpage that the town’s coronavirus incidence rate was running at 193 per 100,000 people.
Dozens of cases of mutated coronavirus, mostly the variant first detected in Britain, have been detected in Flensburg, a town with some 90,000 inhabitants, in the past days.
UNITED NATIONS — Britain has circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia, an appeal first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.
The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”
It would recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The draft follows up on British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s appeal to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday to adopt a resolution calling for local cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico says it will get its first shipment of the Chinese Coronavac vaccine Saturday and by Monday will receive its first lot of the Russian Sputnik V shot. Both shipments are expected to consist of about 200,000 doses.
Health officials say the first shipments of the Chinese and Russian vaccines will be used in low-income neighborhoods of Mexico City or its suburbs.
Mexico is currently using the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines and has applied almost 1.6 million doses of those.
The country will now be faced with the logistical challenge of handling four different vaccines, all of which require two doses. In addition, the Sputnik first shot is different from the second and is not interchangeable.
LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California expects to reopen campuses this fall, joining the state’s major public universities in planning to resume on-campus life curtailed by COVID-19.
USC President Carol Folt issued an online letter Friday that said she is “cautiously optimistic” because virus cases are down and vaccinations are ramping up. USC and other universities nationwide were forced to switch to online learning last March.
Both the University of California and California State University systems also have said they plan to reopen their campuses this fall if conditions permit.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Despite historic winter weather across the country causing shipment delays and forcing mass vaccination sites to reschedule appointments, Oregon health officials said Friday that the state’s vaccination timeline is still on schedule.
While more than 10,000 vaccine appointments were canceled last week, beginning Monday people 70 and older will be eligible to receive doses of vaccine and people 65 and older will be eligible March 1.
During the past week, Oregon averaged more than 14,000 vaccinations per day. As of Thursday, 12% of the state’s population has been vaccinated with first doses and 5% of residents have been fully vaccinated.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Alberto Fernández asked Argentina’s health minister to resign after a well-known local journalist said he had been given a coronavirus vaccination preferentially after requesting one from the minister, a government official said Friday.
The president “instructed his chief of staff to request the resignation of health minister” Ginés González García, who is in charge of the government’s COVID-19 strategy, said the official, who was not authorized to release the information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. He did not say who would replace González García as health minister.
The scandal erupted when journalist Horacio Verbitsky, whose stories and columns on a website and on the radio are seen as pro-government, said he called the minister to request a vaccinination and González García summoned him to the Health Ministry where he received a Sputnik V vaccine shot Thursday.
“I decided to get vaccinated. I started to find out where to do it. I called my old friend Ginés González García, whom I have known long before he was a minister,” Verbitsky told a local radio station. “I went to the ministry and the team of vaccinators was there.”
Fernández’s government has been harshly criticized for Argentina’s slow vaccination operation.
TRENTON, N.J. —The winter storm that brought snow, ice and frigid temperatures across the country this week has disrupted COVID-19 vaccine distribution in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.
Murphy, a Democrat, said he has asked the facilities run by the state to extend hours because of the delay.
The delayed shipments mean some vaccination appointments will likely have to be canceled and rescheduled, according to the governor, though some facilities may have enough shots on hand to keep up. New Jersey’s vaccination rate has roughly been keeping pace with the country overall, which stands at nearly 5% of the population having gotten both shots.
NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey — Johnson & Johnson has applied to the World Health Organization for an emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccines, which should help speed up its use in countries around the world.
J&J said Friday that its Janssen-Cilag International subsidiary has submitted to the WHO the last testing data needed on its vaccine’s efficacy and safety, completing the New Brunswick, New Jersey company’s application for an emergency use listing.
Obtaining that listing will expedite access to J&J’s single-dose vaccine for United Nations procurement agencies and scores of countries. The listing also is required for Johnson & Johnson to supply doses of its vaccine to what’s called the COVAX Facility, a WHO-backed project to ensure equitable access to vaccines for about 190 low- and middle-income countries. Johnson & Johnson in December agreed to provide up to 500 million doses of its vaccine to COVAX through 2022.
“If we are to end the global pandemic, life-saving innovations like vaccines must be within reach for all countries,” Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels said in a statement.
The company is supplying the vaccine at not-for-profit prices during the pandemic’s acute phase.
Besides requiring only one dose, J&J’s vaccine can be stored for at least three months at standard refrigerator temperatures, making it a good fit for poor and rural areas and developing countries that lack infrastructure for the ultracold storage some other COVID-19 vaccines require.
Interim results from a 44,000-volunteer late-stage testing found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 in Latin America and 57% effective in South Africa, where a more-contagious variant is spreading. It was 72% effective in the U.S.
Testing also indicated the vaccine was 85% protective against the most serious symptoms — and starting 28 days after their shot, researchers found no one who got the vaccine needed hospitalization or died.