The Latest: UN agency says air pollutants dropped in 2020
GENEVA — The U.N. weather agency says the world experienced a brief, sharp drop in emissions of air pollutants last year amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Meteorological Organization, releasing its first air quality and climate bulletin on Friday, said the decline was especially noticeable in urban areas, but it cautioned that reductions in pollution were patchy.
Many parts of the world showed pollution levels that outpaced air quality guidelines, and some types of pollutants emerged at even higher levels, the Geneva-based agency said.
WMO cited drops in average nitrous oxide levels of up to nearly 70% during full lockdowns last year, compared to the same periods from 2015 to 2019. But ozone levels, for example, stayed at similar levels or even rose.
“A pandemic is not a substitute for sustained and systematic action to tackle major drivers of both population and climate change and so safeguard the health of both people and planet,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— With ICUs at Idaho hospital full, doctors brace for need to conserve resources for patients most likely to survive
— Kim orders tougher epidemic prevention after North Korea turned down some vaccines
— Britain sends Australia 4 million Pfizer doses in swap as it copes with delta surge
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — The European Union says it’s reached an agreement with drugmaker AstraZeneca to end their legal battle over the slow delivery of the Anglo-Swedish company’s coronavirus vaccine.
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, said Friday that AstraZeneca made a “firm commitment” to deliver a total of 300 million vaccine doses by next March.
The commission says the agreement involves the pharmaceutical company providing 135 million doses by the end of this year plus another 65 million doses in the first quarter of 2022.
Brussels says the deliveries would respect an advance purchasing agreement the EU reached with AstraZeneca a year ago. Tens of millions of doses already have been supplied to EU member nations, but not as many as the 27-nation bloc expected.
AstraZeneca was seen as a key pillar of the EU’s vaccine rollout. The legal tussle over delivery obligations tarnished the company’s image, but the commission has no issue with the quality of the firm’s vaccines.
BERLIN — Schools, care homes and kindergartens in Germany will soon be able to demand that their employees tell them whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The country’s governing parties agreed late Thursday to endorse the authorization for employers, citing the need to protect particularly vulnerable sections of the population from infection.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the agreement was “an important first step.” He urged the center-left Social Democrats to give up their opposition to expanding the measure to other employers.
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea will extend coronavirus restrictions in the greater capital area for at least another month as the nation grapples with its worst surge a few weeks before its biggest holiday of the year.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol on Friday acknowledged the prolonged virus restrictions were hurting livelihoods but said the pace of transmissions was too “dangerous” for officials to consider easing distancing measures.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 1,709 new COVID-19 cases, the 59th consecutive day it has confirmed more than 1,000. Only 38% of South Korea’s population of more than 51 million is fully vaccinated.
The Level 4 rules enforced in Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas are the highest level short of a lockdown and prohibit private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m.
But Kwon said the limit will be raised to six people if at least four of them are fully vaccinated, All indoor dining at restaurants and cafes will be banned after 10 p.m.
Kwon said officials will limit occupancy in trains and passenger vessels during the Chuseok holiday period, the Korean version of Thanksgiving. The holiday falls on Sept. 21.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The number of new coronavirus cases in New Zealand fell significantly on Friday, raising hopes among health officials that they have contained an Auckland outbreak of the delta variant.
Officials recorded 28 new local cases, down from 49 a day earlier and more than 80 a day during the peak last month.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the results were encouraging, but the job was not yet done.
Auckland remains in a strict lockdown while other parts of the country are also in lockdown but have eased some restrictions.
New Zealand has opted for a strategy of trying to eliminate the virus entirely, while at the same time trying to increase vaccination rates. About 48% of the population of 5 million have had at least one dose.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has begun vaccinating 20-somethings as it nears full vaccination of older people and struggles with a surge of delta variant infections.
The health ministry says 3.7 million people are in the 20-30 age group and they plan to complete their inoculation before the end of October.
Nearly 14.6 million of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are older than 30 and will be fully vaccinated this month.
Sri Lanka has expedited the inoculation drive as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging. Doctors and trade unions have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities.
The island nation imposed its most recent lockdown on Aug. 20 and it will run through Monday.
Sri Lanka has confirmed 444,130 infections and 9,400 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began.
LAS VEGAS — Nevada hospitals are seeing a severe shortage of nurses and some northern Nevada hospitals are nearly out of staffed beds for patients, state health officials said Thursday.
Nevada had a shortage of nurses even before the pandemic, when each wave of cases and crush of hospitalizations left nurses demoralized and drove some to leave the profession.
Nevada, like other states, is struggling to attract traveling nurses to help bolster their staffs.
Dr. Chris Lake with the Nevada Hospital Association said Thursday the issue has been compounded by the number of people who are unvaccinated and end up in the hospital or intensive care unit.
About 53% of all eligible Nevadans are fully vaccinated.
Lake said northern Nevada has been further squeezed by the major wildfire bearing down on South Lake Tahoe, which prompted the city’s hospital to evacuate dozens of its patients to nearby hospitals.
ATLANTA — U.S. states with high COVID-19 vaccination rates are protecting children from hospitalization, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Cases, emergency room visits and hospitalizations are much lower among children in communities with higher vaccination rates,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday at a White House briefing.
In August, the hospitalization rate among children was nearly four times higher in states with the lowest vaccine coverage compared to states with high coverage, Walensky said.
The hospitalization rate in unvaccinated adolescents was nearly 10 times higher in July than among fully vaccinated adolescents, Walensky said, citing a second study. Both papers are set to be published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Children under age 12 are not yet eligible for the shots. Vaccination of adults and teens slows the spread of the virus in a community, making it less likely a child will catch it from someone close to them.
O’FALLON, Mo. — Children are making up an increasing number of patients filling Missouri hospitals during the summer COVID-19 surge, and some doctors worry that the return to school will lead to more illnesses.
The fast-spreading delta variant combined with low vaccination rates across Missouri to create a new wave of the COVID-19 outbreak that began in June and still persists. One difference this time: Children are more prone to get sick.
The number of children in the St. Louis region hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a record 31 on Wednesday before dipping slightly to 27 on Thursday. Ten of the sick children, ages 18 and under, remain in intensive care units.
In the Kansas City area, Children’s Mercy Hospital reached its capacity on Monday. Dr. Barbara Pahud, director of research for infectious diseases, urged parents to have their kids take precautions as they return to school, including vaccinations for those 12 and older.