The Latest: WH: Vaccinations rise in hard-hit virus states

WASHINGTON — The White House says COVID-19 vaccinations are increasing in states hit hard by the delta variant.

Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients says several states with the highest proportions of new infections are seeing residents get vaccinated at a higher rate than the nation as a whole.

Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada. The delta variant, which spreads more aggressively, now accounts for an estimated 83% of cases nationwide. It is the predominant coronavirus strain in every region.

Although health officials are warning the U.S. is at another critical juncture in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— EU donating 200M doses of coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations

— Tokyo’s new virus cases near 2,000, day before Olympics open

— China rebuffs WHO’s terms for further COVID-19 origins study

— Germany’s Merkel cites rising virus cases, urges vaccination

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Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — In the last two weeks, three Southeast Asian nations have surpassed India’s peak per capita death rate as a new coronavirus wave tightens its grip on the region.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation with some 270 million people, reported 1,449 deaths on Thursday, its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Malaysia’s national lockdown measures have not brought down infections. The country of some 32 million witnessed daily cases rise above 10,000 on July 13 for the first time and they have stayed there.

In Myanmar’s largest city, graveyard workers have been laboring day and night to keep up with the grim demand for new cremations and burials.

Health care systems struggling to cope and governments scrambling to implement new restrictions to slow the spread, fueled by the delta variant.

Vaccinations are sluggish but have been picking up. There are also growing concerns that China’s Sinovac jabs are less effective against the delta variant. Both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines.

The vaccination rate in Malaysia remains low, with nearly 15% of the population now fully inoculated. The government hopes to have a majority vaccinated by the end of the year.

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ATLANTA — Atlanta Public Schools will implement a “universal mask wearing” policy in all school buildings when the new school year starts Aug. 5.

In a statement, the school system of about 50,000 students cited the dangers of the delta variant of the coronavirus and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Just 18% of eligible students in the Atlanta school system are fully vaccinated and 58% of its employees are either fully vaccinated or plan to be, officials say.

The school system notes the pediatrics academy recommends all students and staff wear masks — regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.

“Given our low vaccination rates and increasing community spread, the CDC acknowledges that universal masking would be appropriate,” the school system says.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union medicines regulator is adding a rare neurological disorder as a “very rare side effect” of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency says a warning about Guillain-Barré syndrome will be added to the J&J product information.

The decision comes just over a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also added a new warning to the J&J vaccine about Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, it’s not entirely clear the shot caused the problem.

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks some of its nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis that typically is temporary. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the syndrome each year, according to the CDC.

The regulator’s safety committee said it looked at 108 cases of the syndrome worldwide through Jun 30, when more than 21 million people had received the vaccine. There was one reported death among the cases.

The committee said it considered that a “causal relationship” is possible between the J&J vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome. The European regulator says the benefits of J&J vaccine “continue to outweigh the risks.”

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has approved travel bans to Britain, Turkey, Georgia and Cyprus to reduce the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

The cabinet approved the decision Thursday. If authorized by the government, the travel bans will take effect on July 30.

Under the measure, travel to those countries by Israeli citizens will be prohibited unless approved by an exceptions committee. Vaccinated persons returning to Israel will be required to undergo a coronavirus test and remain in isolation until it comes back negative. Those unvaccinated will be required to remain in quarantine for a week before undergoing a coronavirus test.

The Health Ministry recorded 1,336 confirmed cases of coronavirus on Thursday. Israel has recorded rising coronavirus cases in recent weeks even though most of the population — 56% of its 9.3 million people — has received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union says it will donate more than 200 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to middle and low-income countries before the end of the year.

That’s double the initial amount the 27-nation bloc had planned to deliver, mainly through COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to provide shots to poorer countries around the world.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the EU “takes its responsibility in helping the world fight the virus, everywhere. Vaccination is key – that’s why it is essential to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide.”

According to the EU, COVAX so far has delivered 122 million doses to 136 countries. The EU also says it is providing assistance to African countries to help them manufacture vaccines and medicines to reduce the continent’s dependence on imports.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Jill Biden is leading the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where new coronavirus infections just hit a six-month high.

The first lady departed Washington on Wednesday and arrived in Alaska, where she promoted COVID-19 vaccinations. About 52% of Alaska residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

“Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we know that this last push is really the hardest of all,” Biden said while visiting the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. Getting more people vaccinated will mean making the case “person by person,” she said.

Biden is set to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday. Her schedule includes dinner with the prime minister, meeting the emperor and attending Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony.

The first lady leaves Tokyo on Saturday and is slated to visit a vaccination clinic in Hawaii on the trip back to Washington.

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TOKYO — Tokyo has hit another six-month high in new coronavirus cases, one day before the Olympics.

The 1,979 new cases Thursday are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on Jan. 15.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee have been determined to hold the Olympics despite the pandemic. Suga placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply risen.

Spectators are banned from all Olympic venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.

The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until Aug. 22, after the Olympics end on Aug. 8.

About 23% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, considerably short of the level believed necessary to have a meaningful effect on reducing the risk in the general population.

Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 confirmed deaths, most of them this year.

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CONAKRY, Guinea — The African country of Guinea has pulled out of the Olympics, citing the coronavirus.

The decision will keep five athletes from competing at the Tokyo Games. Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow made the announcement in a letter Wednesday addressed to the president of the Guinean Olympic committee. He blamed the virus and its variants.

Guinean Olympic committee secretary general Ben Daouda Nassoko told The Associated Press only days before the statement that funds had just been released for the delegation to go to Tokyo. The five athletes impacted by the decision are a freestyle wrestler, swimmers, and a track and judo participant.

Guinea has participated in the Olympics 11 times but has never won a medal. North Korea is the only other country to have pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics, also citing concerns related to the coronavirus.

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DELHI, India — India’s government has dismissed a recent study which estimated that the country’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, calling it “misleading” and “fallacious.”

On Tuesday, new research by the Center for Global Development estimated excess deaths — the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected — to be 3.4 million to 4.7 million since the pandemic began. It said an accurate figure may “prove elusive” but the true death toll “is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count.”

On Thursday, the health ministry released a statement saying the methodology in the study was misleading and strongly cautioned against attributing all of the excess deaths to COVID-19.

Most experts believe India’s official toll of more than 418,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has continually dismissed these concerns as exaggerated. On Thursday, India registered over 41,000 new cases and more than 507 official deaths. After a devastating surge earlier this year, confirmed infections in India have been on the decline, but authorities have warned that another surge is likely to hit in the coming months.

Overall, India has the world’s second-highest caseload with more than 31 million confirmed infections.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — African countries next week will begin receiving the first of 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine they are purchasing themselves, according to the African Union special envoy on vaccine acquisition.

Strive Masiyiwa told journalists that 6 million doses will begin to ship next week and 45 African countries should receive their first shipment by the end of August. Masiyiwa says all doses should be delivered by September 2022.

The 400 million doses represent the collective effort by African countries to pursue doses outside the global COVAX project aimed at delivering vaccines to low-and middle-income nations, The COVAX effort has fallen behind in deliveries because India has imposed export controls on vaccines.

Because of vaccine nationalism around the world, Masiyiwa says there is “no possibility” the African continent can meet its goal of vaccinating 60% of its population of 1.3 billion by the end of this year. Less than 2% of the vaccines administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization, while the Africa CDC says 29 of the continent’s 54 countries are now experiencing a “severe third wave” of infections.

Separately, the United States says this week it has shipped 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses to Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia and Senegal, and another 1.2 million doses go this week to Cameroon, Lesotho, Niger, Zambia and Central African Republic. The deliveries are part of a U.S. donation of some 25 million doses to African nations.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says coronavirus infections in Germany are rising at worrying speed. She is appealing to citizens to get vaccinated and persuade others to do so.

Germany’s infection rate remains low compared to other European countries but has been rising steadily since it bottomed out at 4.9 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents on July 6. On Thursday, that rate stood at 12.2.

Slightly over 60% of the German population had received a first dose of vaccine by Thursday, while 48% were fully vaccinated. But the vaccination campaign has slowed in recent weeks.

Merkel told reporters Thursday that infections are rising with “worrying momentum” and that “we have exponential growth.”

Merkel said that “we all want our normality back” but “for this we need significantly more vaccine protection.” She said that every vaccination counts toward bringing life back to normal for everyone.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 1,842 newly confirmed coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours — setting a new pandemic single-day record for the second straight day.

The cases announced Thursday raised the country’s total caseload to 184,103, with 2,063 deaths from COVID-19.

The new cases include 270 sailors who were recently flown home after a large-scale outbreak on their destroyer engaging in an anti-piracy mission off East Africa.

South Korea has seen a spike in infections in recent weeks amid a slow vaccination campaign, lax public vigilance and the spread of more contagious delta variant. The country’s daily caseload has been above over 1,000 for 16 consecutive days.

Health officials say they are discussing whether to extend the toughest distancing restrictions imposed on the densely populous Seoul metropolitan area.

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