The Latest: UN Security Council demands COVID cease-fire
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, co-sponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
NYC schools chancellor exits, citing virus’ personal toll after losing 11 family members and friends. Canada regulators approve AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. Japan partly ending pandemic emergency, keeps it for Tokyo. Third US vaccine option expected in Johnson & Johnson shot; raises the question: Which shots are best?
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:
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans’ mayor says coronavirus pandemic restrictions are being relaxed, starting Friday.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office says the past 30 days have shown a sustained decrease in case counts, transmission rate, and positivity rate. The statement says groups of up to 75 may gather indoors and 150 outdoors. Restaurants, bars and other businesses can seat up to 15 people at a table.
Indoor stadiums may admit up to 15% of the maximum number of fans usually allowed, with outdoor stadiums admitting up to 25%.
New Orleans’ changes bring city guidelines closer to the state’s, the city says. New Orleans has averaged around 50 new cases a day with less than 2% of tests indicating infection. Case counts in January averaged more than 170 a day.
There were 679 people hospitalized statewide on Thursday, compared to more than 2,000 in January.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown says all Oregonians who are 16 and older will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations no later than July 1.
Health officials say people who are 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions will be eligible starting March 29. Brown says the next round of vaccine distribution will occur in multiple waves.
Currently people who are eligible for vaccine are healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities, educators, seniors 70 and older and adults in custody. On Monday, people who are 65 or older will be eligible for the vaccine.
The Vaccine Advisory Committee has stated one of their goals is to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to minority communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Last week health officials reported significant disparities. White people represent 75% of Oregonians. While they only comprise about 48% of coronavirus cases, they account for 74% of vaccinations.
MADRID — Spain’s health authorities say people under 55 who have had a coronavirus infection will only receive one of the two doses of a vaccine six months after their recovery.
Spain has fully vaccinated nursing home residents, their caretakers and frontline health workers, a total of 1.2 million of its 47 million residents. Additionally, 2.4 million have received at least one shot. Vaccination efforts are currently focused on those over 80 and police.
The new update to the country’s vaccination guidelines released Friday also state the next group to receive the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be people older than 60. AstraZeneca will be administered to those ages 45 to 55.
With 8,341 new coronavirus infections and 329 deaths for the coronavirus confirmed Friday, Spain’s pandemic tally rose to nearly 3.2 million cases and more than 69,000 deaths.
GENEVA — The U.N. health agency chief is calling on member states of the World Trade Organization to authorize the lifting of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines for wider use.
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “We can’t beat COVID without vaccine equity. The sharing problem can be addressed effectively if production is increased — and to increase production, there are trade barriers or other barriers: That has to be addressed.”
South Africa and India in October presented a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property protections on vaccines. Rich countries with big pharmaceutical industries including Britain, Switzerland and the United States have resisted or raised questions about the proposal, which would need consensus under WTO rules.
DETROIT — A Whole Foods Market store in Detroit is receiving rapid COVID-19 testing for all its 196 employees after 23 tested positive for the coronavirus.
Chief Detroit public health officer Denise Fair says the outbreak hit the store in the city’s Midtown. She says has made a commitment that no workers or close contacts of any employee who has tested positive will be allowed back to work until they have produced a negative test result.
Whole Foods Market says it is “diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities.”
Mayor Mike Duggan announced this month that food service workers, including grocery store workers who live or work in Detroit, are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s largest hospice provider is partnering with state health officials to pilot an effort to vaccinate eligible residents who rarely, if ever, leave their homes.
Agape Care and the Department of Health and Environmental Control announced they’ll launch the pilot program in Hampton and Jasper counties, largely rural areas at the southern tip of the state.
After scheduling and receiving a Moderna shot, the nurse will return 28 days later to administer the second shot.
If a live-in caregiver is also eligible, he or she can get vaccinated, too.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and major U.S. business organizations are launching a joint educational campaign to reinforce basic COVID-19 do’s and don’ts with their customers and employees.
White House coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt says it’s part of an effort to get the whole country working together to contain the virus and encourage Americans to get vaccinated.
The strategy has three parts. First, requiring masking and social distancing on business premises. That’s already the case in nearly all supermarkets, drug stores, offices and other types of commercial establishments. But masking is not always adhered to in some smaller workplaces.
Second, removing roadblocks to get employees vaccinated. Businesses could use flexible scheduling and paid time off to encourage workers to get their shots.
Finally, using business platforms like websites and some products to echo public health advice about getting vaccinated and wearing masks.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and leading associations of minority-owned businesses are participating in the effort.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas is lifting most of its coronavirus safety restrictions, except for the state’s mask mandate.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the decision as he extended the public health emergency he declared last year because of the pandemic. Hutchinson is extending the order until the end of March.
The rules being lifted include capacity limits for restaurant, bars, gyms and large venues.
Hutchinson has faced pushback from some fellow Republicans in the Legislature over the virus safety rules.
Hutchinson says the mask mandate will be lifted at the end of March if the state’s positivity rate is below 10%, with at least 7,500 tests on an average daily basis. If the state has fewer tests, the mandate would end if hospitalizations are below 750 patients.
On Thursday, Arkansas had a test positivity rate of about 10% and reported 522 patients hospitalized because of COVID-19.
WASHINGTON — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm that recent gains against the coronavirus may be stalling.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the CDC is looking at data that COVID-19 cases have been increasing the past three days, but more time is needed to see if that is a blip or the start of a trend.
Walensky spoke at the White House coronavirus briefing Friday, noting virus mutations spreading in the U.S. are among the CDC’s biggest concerns. Along with a more transmissible strain first detected in Britain, scientists here are tracking variants in New York and California, which also appear to spread more easily.
“We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us,” says Walensky, stressing now is not the time to relax protective measures like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.
Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since the January peak that followed the winter holidays. Deaths have also declined. But Walensky says those gains could be in jeopardy because the background level of cases is still too high.
PARIS — French authorities have ordered a local weekend lockdown starting on Friday evening in the French Riviera city of Nice and the surrounding coastal area to try to curb the spread of the virus.
Nice reported this week a rate of almost 800 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people, nearly four times the national average.
The measure comes in addition to a national 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. The northern port of Dunkirk is under similar restrictions. In both places, numbers of infections have spiked and hospitals are overwhelmed, with some patients being transferred to other French regions.
Nice mayor Christian Estrosi announced the ban on the beaches and the famous Promenade des Anglais esplanade to ensure the restrictions will be fully respected. The weekend lockdown also includes nearby coastal towns of Cannes and Antibes.
WAILUKU, Hawaii — Maui Health has announced plans to increase the number of first-dose coronavirus vaccination appointments, while Kauai has widened the availability of vaccine doses.
The Maui News reports that the nonprofit health care organization for Maui and Lanai says it will raise the number of weekly vaccines to 3,000 beginning next week and 4,000 the following week.
Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda says the organization is nearing completion of the final 1,000 of 5,000 appointments that were rescheduled after clinics closed in January because of vaccine shortages. Additionally, Kauai County has opened its vaccine distribution to residents aged 75 and over.
TORONTO — Canadian regulators have authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.
Health Canada on Friday approved the vaccine to be used in people 18 and over. It’s the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by Canada, following those from Pfizer and Moderna.
Some countries, including France, have authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine only for use in people under 65, saying there is not enough evidence to say whether it works in older adults. Belgium has authorized it only for people 55 and under.
Canada and many European countries have been struggling to vaccinate people as quickly as Britain, Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere.
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Ivory Coast has become the second country in the world to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX initiative.
It has received 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccines are part of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines sent by COVAX, which was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to doses.
The first COVAX shipment was sent to Ghana on Wednesday, marking the beginning of what has been called the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
WASHINGTON — Democrats are ready to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through the House on Friday.
That win is expected despite a setback on Thursday that means a minimum wage boost is unlikely to be in the final version that reaches President Joe Biden.
A near party-line vote seemed certain on the relief measure in the House. It represents Biden’s first crack at his initial legislative goal of acting decisively against the pandemic.
In the year since the coronavirus has taken hold, it has stalled much of the economy, reshaped daily lives and killed half a million Americans.
TOKYO — A state of emergency set up to curb the coronavirus in Japan will be lifted in six urban areas this weekend and remain in the Tokyo area for another week.
The government minister in charge of pandemic measures told a government panel about the changes, though the official decision hasn’t been announced.
Worries about health risks have raised doubts about the Tokyo Olympics, postponed from last year and set to start in July. Officials have said the games are on, even if the vaccination effort is not completed.
The state of emergency began in January and centered around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8 p.m. Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown but has managed to keep infections relatively low compared to other developed countries, with deaths related to COVID-19 at about 7,700 people.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong has begun administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public, kicking off its mass inoculation targeting all 7.5 million residents.
People age 60 and older and health care workers are among some 2.4 million people prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong.
The government said Friday registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.
Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.
Hong Kong has struck deals to buy 22.5 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.