The Latest: WH: $1,400 individual checks may arrive soon

WASHINGTON — The White House says the $1,400 direct payments for most Americans funded by the American Rescue Plan will start showing up in bank accounts as early as this weekend.

Press secretary Jen Psaki says the government will make the first direct deposits this weekend. She says payments will continue throughout the next several weeks.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in the Oval Office on Thursday.

Besides the $1,400 direct payments to individuals, the plan includes money to help distribute coronavirus vaccines, provide relief to homeowners and renters, help reopen schools, provide aid to state and local governments, and an expansion of the child tax credit, among other features.



— AP poll: 1 in 5 in US lost someone close to them in pandemic

— A year after declaring a pandemic, World Health Organization is struggling to fight vaccine nationalism and to keep up with the rapidly evolving science around COVID-19

— Four former US presidents and first ladies urge getting shots in ad

— Austria targets one hard-hit region with mass vaccinations to fight virus variant first found in South Africa

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at, and



WASHINGTON — Marking a year of loss and disruption, President Joe Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion relief package he says will help the U.S. defeat the coronavirus and nurse the economy back to health.

The signing came hours before Biden delivers his first prime-time address since taking office on Jan. 20. He’s aiming to steer the nation toward hope and recovery from a pandemic that has killed more than 529,000 Americans.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office.

His speech on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic is expected to mourn the dead and project optimism about the future.


PARIS — The hospitals in Paris have intensive care units at near capacity and some are preparing to move coronavirus patients to other regions.

Health Minister Olivier Veran says, “We are trying to liberate beds. We don’t know when or where the peak will be.”

France has been registering around 20,000 new infections a day for several weeks, despite a 6 p.m. nationwide curfew and the closure of many businesses.

The variant first identified in Britain now makes up two-thirds of all new infections in France. It appears to be causing a larger proportion of serious cases sending people to intensive care than the original virus, Veran says.

The number of virus patients in French hospitals reached its lowest level in two months, but the number of virus patients in ICUs is at the highest level since November. They now occupy some 80% of all of France’s standard ICU capacity.

Veran urged French people “not to let down our guard.” France has reported nearly 90,000 deaths from the coronavirus, seventh highest in the world.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza has received 40,000 vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates through a rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The 40,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V were delivered through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt on Thursday.

The shipment was organized by Mohammed Dahlan, a former ally of Abbas who went into exile in the United Arab Emirates in 2011 after the two had a falling-out. Dahlan organized the delivery of 20,000 doses of the same vaccine to Gaza last month.

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has only managed to secure 12,000 doses, including 2,000 donated by Israel. His forces were driven out of Gaza when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007, confining his authority to parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Hamas takeover. Authorities in Gaza have reported more than 54,000 coronavirus cases, including 564 deaths.


BELGRADE, Serbia — Moscow and Belgrade have agreed to produce Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines in Serbia starting in May, which would be the first such manufacture of the Russian shots in Europe.

The deal reached in Moscow on Thursday calls for the production of 4 million vaccines this year that would initially only be packaged in a Belgrade facility before full autonomous production is established in the later stages, Serbian government minister Nenad Popovic says.

Russia has signed a similar deal for production of Sputnik V in Italy. Russian authorities say are working on 20 similar collaborations in Europe and the Sputnik V vaccine has been registered in 45 nations worldwide.

Sputnik V has not yet been approved for use in the EU, but the body’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency, started a rolling review of the vaccine last week.


WASHINGTON — About 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to the coronavirus.

That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research a year after the start of the pandemic. The public’s worry about the virus is dropping even as people still in mourning express frustration at the continuing struggle to stay safe.

Communities of color were hardest hit by the coronavirus. The AP-NORC poll found about 30% of African Americans and Hispanics know a relative or close friend who died from the virus, compared with 15% of white people.

While vaccines offer real hope for ending the scourge, about 1 in 3 Americans don’t intend to get one. The most reluctant: Younger adults, people without college degrees, and Republicans.

The staggering death toll from the coronavirus has reached more than 529,000 people in the U.S.


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation officials cited a declining number of coronavirus cases in announcing a public health order allowing a “soft reopening” of some businesses with restrictions.

T he daily curfew for residents of the tribe’s reservation from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. will remain in effect under a separate new health order, officials announced. Both orders will take effect Monday.

Officials cited testing availability, hospital capacity and contact tracing in addition to the decrease in new cases as factors in the transition to a status allowing some businesses to reopen with capacity limits.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says it’s a carefully crafted reopening at no more than 25% capacity.

The tribe, with a vast reservation that stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, reported 13 coronavirus cases and one death. That increased the pandemic totals to 29,900 confirmed cases and 1,205 known deaths


PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 60 additional deaths from COVID-19 and with 1,835 newly confirmed cases after three straight days of fewer than 1,000 cases.

The figures released Thursday increased the state’s pandemic totals to 830,465 cases and 16,464 confirmed deaths.

The rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 1,559 on Feb. 23 to 1,239 on Tuesday. %he rolling average of daily deaths declined from 105 to 52 during the same period, according to data from the state’s coronavirus dashboard and Johns Hopkins University.

In other developments, Phoenix plans to start returning city workers to their offices later this month. Prescott is launching a program to reimburse large local healthcare providers for the costs of administering COVID-19 vaccinations.


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Organizers say a veteran Iditarod musher was removed from the race Wednesday after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

The organizers say Gunnar Johnson, 52, of Duluth, Minnesota, was withdrawn from the event at the McGrath, Alaska, checkpoint.

Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, working with epidemiologist Dr. Jodie Guest, made the decision to remove Johnson based on the rules set in the race’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. The organizers say the asymptomatic Johnson is disappointed and said his 14-dog team looked great.


RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke University is seeing an uptick in the coronavirus following reports of positive cases stemming from students attending fraternity parties and events.

Administrators warn a curfew could be implemented or in-person classes could be halted if case numbers continue to worsen. UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University have seen more cases since the start of the pandemic.

Of the 102 undergraduate students who tested positive for the coronavirus from March 5-9, Duke says most “either have a known Greek affiliation and/or are first-year male students in the Class of 2024.”

Duke linked the cases to rush activities and off-campus parties hosted by fraternities, including Greek organizations that recently severed their affiliations with the university.

Campus officials warned in a message to students that those who host parties and flagrantly violate safety protocols could be suspended or expelled.

Duke will increase surveillance testing for all undergraduates and require those returning from travel to clear two rounds of testing before they can return to a physical classroom.


WASHINGTON — Four former U.S. presidents are urging Americans to get vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 doses are available.

Two public service announcements from the Ad Council and the business-supported COVID Collaborative feature Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter along with first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter.

All have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. One ad features photos of the former presidents and their spouses with syringes in their upper arms as they urge Americans to “roll up your sleeve and do your part” by getting vaccinated.

Obama, 59, says he’s looking forward to visiting his mother-in-law, “to hug her, and see her on her birthday.” Bush, 74, talks about “going to opening day in Texas Rangers stadium with a full stadium.”


AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency has authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine, giving the European Union’s 27 nations a fourth licensed vaccine to try to curb the pandemic amid a stalled vaccination drive in the bloc. I

n a decision issued Thursday, the EU medicines regulator said it was recommending the vaccine be authorized “after a thorough evaluation” of J&J’s data found it met the criteria for efficacy, safety and quality.

The head of the regulatory agency says, “with this latest positive opinion, authorities across the European Union will have another option to combat the pandemic and protect the lives and health of their citizens.”

The EMA has already approved COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the J&J shot in late February. Health experts hope that having a one-dose vaccine will speed efforts to immunize the world against COVID-19, given the arrival of new variants in recent months.


WARSAW, Poland — New lockdowns have been ordered in two regions of Poland, one on the border with Germany and the other surrounding Warsaw, to fight a surge in coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski says the restrictions would be in effect March 15-28, saying they are needed as infections spike. The new lockdowns in the Lubuskie and Mazowiecki provinces come after two other lockdowns in northern Poland were recently imposed.

Earlier Thursday, the government reported over 21,000 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily number since November.

Authorities say Poland is in a third wave of the virus caused by the more transmissible virus variant first found in England. The numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are also growing amid a shortage of health care workers.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The medical personnel from Belgium and Denmark are coming to Slovakia to help the struggling health system cope with coronavirus patients.

The Health Ministry says three doctors and five nurses from Denmark and two doctors and a nurse from Belgium are expected to arrive on Friday. They will all be based at the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica.

One of the hardest-hit European Union country asked other EU nations last month to send their medical staff to Slovak hospitals. A group of 14 doctors and nurses from Romania have been already working in Slovakia. At the same time, three Slovak COVID-19 patients have been transported for treatment to Germany while another five have been hospitalized in Poland.

The nation of 5.4 million has more than 331,000 confirmed cases and 8,244 confirmed deaths.


GENEVA — When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic one year ago, it did so only after weeks of resisting the term and maintaining the highly infectious virus could still be stopped.

A year later, the U.N. agency is still struggling to keep on top of the evolving science of COVID-19, to persuade countries to abandon their nationalistic tendencies and help get vaccines where they’re needed most.

WHO waved its first big warning flag on Jan. 30, 2020, by calling the outbreak an international health emergency.

Only when WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared a “pandemic” six weeks later, on March 11, did most governments take action, experts say. By then, it was too late, and the virus had reached every continent except Antarctica.

The agency made some costly missteps along the way: It advised people against wearing masks for months and asserted that COVID-19 wasn’t widely spread in the air. It also declined to publicly call out countries — particularly China — for mistakes that senior WHO officials grumbled about privately.

Globally, there’s been 118 million coronavirus cases and 2.6 million confirmed deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads the world with 29 million cases and more than 529,000 deaths.


DENVER — Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Denver on Tuesday to highlight the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed by Congress.

The vice president’s office says details on the visit by Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are still being worked out. Harris’ trip is part of an ambitious campaign by President Joe Biden’s administration to showcase the relief bill.

The campaign includes travel by the president, first lady Jill Biden and Cabinet secretaries. The U.S. House gave final congressional approval to the massive relief package along a near-party-line vote on Wednesday.

Harris’ office said she will address the aid package’s many aspects, among them an extension of $300 weekly emergency unemployment benefits into September and the shoring up of state and local government finances. Biden plans to sign the measure Friday.


SEATTLE — The city of Seattle will open a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site on Saturday, with the aim of eventually inoculating 22,000 people each day.

The site at the Lumen Field Event Center will run seven days a week. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says at full capacity, the operation will be the largest civilian run vaccination site in the country.

In January 2020, Snohomish County reported the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States.

Currently, vaccination eligibility is limited to people over 65, teachers and licensed childcare providers. The state Health Department says so far more than 750,000 people in Washington have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

More than 5,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Washington state, which has more than 345,000 confirmed cases.


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