The Latest: UK reports lowest daily new virus cases in weeks

LONDON — The U.K. has reported its lowest number of new daily coronavirus cases since mid-December, further evidence that lockdown restrictions are working in reducing transmission rates.

Government figures show that another 22,195 new cases have been recorded, the lowest since Dec. 15.

Monday’s figure represents a big decline from the previous day’s 30,004. Though cases can be volatile on a daily basis, it’s clear that the country’s 7-day average has been falling over the past couple of weeks from near the 60,000 mark.

The U.K. saw a sharp uptick in new cases towards the end of 2020 and into the new year that was largely blamed on a new variant that first emerged around London and the southeast of England. All four nations of the U.K. have imposed lockdowns in order to address that sharp spike.

The government also said another 592 people have been reported as dying after contracting the virus, taking the total to 98,531, Europe’s highest.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Online error messages and jammed-up hotlines slow vaccine rollout for those over 80 in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state

— The European Union is pressuring the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to deliver more vaccines as promised

— Facing questions about its vaccines and its early COVID response, China is hitting back by encouraging fringe theories that may harm

— Mexican President López Obrador says he has mild COVID-19 symptoms as his country registers its highest infections and deaths

— For emergency medical technicians, the coronavirus is constant, riding with them in ambulances from patient to patient

— 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:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has lifted regional stay-at-home orders statewide in response to improving coronavirus conditions.

Public health officials said Monday the state will return to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus. The state is also lifting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

The decision comes with improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations. The lifting of the order is based on projections that the state says show improving ICU conditions, but officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine protects against worrisome emerging variants of the coronavirus but it’s taking the precaution of testing a possible booster dose against the strain discovered in South Africa.

In Monday’s announcement, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the move was out of “an abundance of caution” after preliminary lab tests suggested its shot produced a weaker immune response to that variant.

Vaccine manufacturers have been testing their shots against the mutated strains including two that first emerged in Britain and South Africa. In a study conducted with the National Institutes of Health, Moderna used blood samples from eight vaccine recipients, and some immunized monkeys, in laboratory tests against the mutated viruses.

The vaccine was effective against both variants but researchers found a six-fold drop in levels of “neutralizing antibodies” against the strain from South Africa. Moderna said while the levels still were protective, it has begun developing a booster vaccine targeted to that new strain, called the B.1.351 variant. In addition, Moderna will test if simply giving an extra dose of the original vaccine could be helpful.

Pfizer, which makes a similar COVID-19 vaccine, has previously reported that its shot also appears effective against the strain from Britain. But other research has raised questions about the variant from South Africa.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are already preparing to upgrade COVID-19 vaccines to address the variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says those variants are not only more infectious but they do not respond as well to the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK.”

”The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the UK scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today.”

Fauci said there is also “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”

Separately, at a virtual Davos Agenda meeting of the World Economic Forum on Monday, Fauci raised concerns about China’s lack of transparency and delays in opening up to international experts who are looking into the early outbreak.

“Understanding the origin would really be important and we don’t know it now,” Fauci said. “It’s a big black box, which is awful. We’re over a year into it and we still don’t appreciate it.”

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s health minister said on Monday that a negative coronavirus test result will be required from all incoming travelers.

Kostadin Angelov said that the restriction aims at preventing the spread of the new and more infectious variant of the virus after eight cases were recorded in Bulgaria.

“We will make PCR tests compulsory for all travelers that enter the country, including those from the European Union,” Angelov said.

Nonetheless, Bulgaria has seen a drop in new infections and the government announced plans to ease some restrictions.

The Balkan nation of 7 million people has reported 214,817 virus cases and 8,820 deaths.

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BERLIN — Thousands of elderly Germans are facing online error messages and jammed-up hotlines as technical problems marred the start of the coronavirus vaccine campaign for over-80s in the country’s most populous state.

North Rhine-Westphalia state, whose population of almost 18 million is bigger than many European countries, began administering shots to nursing home residents and staff last month.

But people over 80 still living at home have been left waiting for appointments to get their first shots at vast vaccine centers, and many will likely have to wait even longer.

The technical problems were an embarrassment for state governor Armin Laschet, recently elected the new head of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union is pressuring the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to deliver more vaccines to its 27 nations and stick to initial promises, especially since it has invested in enhancing production capacity.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held urgent talks with AstraZeneca’s chief Monday. EU nations are also meeting with AstraZeneca to push to ramp up production and meet contractual targets.

The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated.

Leaders across the EU are under heavy pressure for the bloc’s slow rollout of its vaccination plan, especially when compared to Israel or Britain.

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MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa is stepping down from his Cabinet position to focus on candidacy to become the chief of northeastern Catalonia in next month’s regional election.

A statement by the prime minister’s office says that Illa’s last Cabinet meeting will be on Tuesday and later his “replacement will be disclosed.”

The 54-year-old politician is facing widespread criticism from opposition parties for what they see as an electoral use of the health ministry as a political platform.

Illa announced his candidacy in December and has repeatedly said he would remain “101% focused” on the pandemic before campaigning for the Socialists in Catalonia.

A regional court last week took a preliminary decision to keep the Feb. 14 vote as scheduled, instead of pushing it back for nearly three months as the regional government had ordered.

With nearly 2.5 million infections and 55,400 deaths for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, Spain ranks among the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus in Europe.

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BERLIN — German police say hundreds of cars and pedestrians are lining up at border crossings along the Czech-German border after Germany declared the Czech Republic a high risk area in the pandemic, meaning it requires proof of a negative coronavirus test before entry.

At the crossings in Waldmuenchen and Fuerth im Wald authorities said hundreds of cars lined up on the Czech side trying to get into Germany in the early morning hours. Further backup was expected during the day Monday.

Since Sunday, people from the Czech Republic need to show negative test results no older than 48 hours every time they enter Germany.

The Czechs who commute to work in neighboring Germany formed long lines at some border crossings, waiting for required tests on the coronavirus.

The Czechs were boosting the capacity of their testing site at the crossings and elsewhere to meet the growing demand.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was scheduled to discuss the situation with his Bavarian counterpart Markus Söder.

Other Czechs who don’t work in the neighboring country on a daily basis have to have a test but also need to isolate for 10 days if they travel to Germany.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government says it will start vaccinating people for COVID-19 this week.

Sri Lanka will receive 500,000 shots of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India as a donation on Wednesday and the inoculation will begin on the next day. The vaccine will be first given to the frontline members of the health sector, military and police.

Sri Lanka has also ordered a stock of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and separatelyis supposed to receive vaccines for 20% of the population through the WHO’s COVAX program.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has taken delivery of 5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from an Indian producer.

Bangladesh has planned to buy 30 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India in phases. Bangladeshi company Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has received the consignment of 5 million doses as distributor in the South Asian country.

On Thursday, the country received 2 million doses of the vaccine as a gift from India while Monday’s vaccines were purchased.

The vaccines, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will primarily be given to frontline workers including doctors and nurses. The government says the inoculation is expected to start soon.

Since March, Bangladesh has recorded more than 8,000 deaths from coronavirus.

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SYDNEY — Australia has suspended its partial travel bubble with New Zealand after New Zealand reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in two months.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Monday the suspension would last for three days and was being implemented out of an abundance of caution. Travelers affected need to cancel or face two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she’d told Morrison she had confidence in New Zealand’s systems and processes, but it was up to Australia to decide how they managed their borders.

Health officials in New Zealand say genome tests indicate the woman contracted the virus from another returning traveler just before leaving quarantine. However, there was no evidence the virus has spread further.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the 56-year-old woman had recently returned from Europe. During her mandatory two weeks in quarantine, she tested negative twice. She developed symptoms at home later and tested positive.

Officials say the woman appears to have caught the more infectious South African variant of the virus from another traveler on her second-to-last day in quarantine, and they’re investigating how the health breach happened.

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SYDNEY — Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Residents and workers at aged-care facilities, frontline healthcare workers and quarantine workers are among the groups being prioritized for the first doses.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia has an agreement for 10 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and an option to buy more if supplies allow. It also has ordered, conditional on regulatory approval, 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which would be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

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HONG KONG — A lockdown in part of Hong Kong’s Kowloon neighborhood was lifted Monday after thousands of residents were tested for the virus.

The lockdown that began early Saturday covered 16 buildings in the working-class Yau Tsim Mong district. During the lockdown, residents were not allowed to leave their premises until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.

The district has been at the center of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with over 160 cases reported over the first three weeks in January. Higher concentrations of the virus were also found in sewage samples, prompting fears the virus could be transmitted via poorly installed plumbing systems in subdivided units that lack ventilation.

The government said in a statement early Monday that about 7,000 people were tested for the coronavirus during the lockdown, with 13 positive infections found. As of Sunday, Hong Kong has reported 10,086 cases of the coronavirus overall, with 169 deaths recorded.

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