The Latest: WHO asks experts to join virus advisory group
GENEVA — The World Health Organization has issued a call for experts to join a new advisory group to address the agency’s attempts to further investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement on Friday, the U.N. health agency says the new scientific group would provide WHO with an independent analysis of the scientific work done to date to pinpoint the origins of COVID-19 and to advise the agency on necessary next steps. The experts also will provide guidance on critical issues regarding the potential emergence of other viruses capable of triggering outbreaks, such as MERS and Ebola.
In March, a WHO-led team of international experts issued a preliminary report that deemed it “extremely unlikely” the origins of COVID-19 were linked to a laboratory. Although most experts think it’s most probable the virus jumped to humans from animals, the theory that a laboratory was involved has gained traction in recent months. An intelligence review was ordered by U.S. President Joe Biden to examine the possibility.
WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged last month it was “premature” to rule out the lab leak theory. The agency’s team leader said during a trip to China that he was worried about safety standards at a facility close to where the first human COVID-19 cases were detected in Wuhan.
WHO says it is seeking up to 25 officials with relevant expertise to apply for its new scientific advisory group by Sept. 10.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— AP-NORC poll: Vaccine requirements favored in US
— US keeps ban on nonessential border crossings to slow COVID-19
— In northeast Florida, patients rapidly filling wards are younger and sicker
— Peace Corps is preparing to resume work abroad, depending on the pandemic
Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is extending a ban on nonessential travel along the borders with Canada and Mexico to slow the spread of COVID-19.
That’s despite increasing pressure to lift the restriction. U.S. border communities dependent on shoppers from Mexico and Canada and their political representatives have urged the Biden administration to lift the ban.
Canada recently began letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens enter the country.
But the Department of Homeland Security said in a tweet Friday the restrictions on nonessential travel were still needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant. It extended the ban until at least Sept. 21.
BERLIN — Germany is declaring Crete and other Greek islands popular tourist destinations a “high-risk area” for COVID-19, meaning that many people who haven’t been vaccinated will need to quarantine upon arrival.
Germany’s national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, says Crete and Greece’s southern Aegean islands will be added to the list of “high-risk areas” on Tuesday. Kosovo and North Macedonia, as well as part of Ireland and Dominica, will be added to the list on Sunday.
However, parts of Spain, including the Canary Islands, Catalonia and the Valencia region, are being dropped from the list.
People arriving from “high-risk areas” — the lower of two German COVID-19 risk categories — must quarantine for 10 days if they haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered. That period can be cut to five days with a negative test.
ONEIDA, Wis. — Two American Indian tribes in northeastern Wisconsin will pay its members and employees to get a coronavirus vaccination.
The Oneida and Menominee tribes are offering a $500 incentive for vaccinations. That includes those who have already been inoculated.
For the Menominee Nation, members age 12 and older and tribal employees who are fully vaccinated on or before Oct. 31 are eligible to receive the incentive. Oneida tribal members and employees have until Sept. 30 to show proof of their vaccination to receive the $500.
Debbie Danforth, director of the Oneida Nation Division of Health, says the aim is 75% vaccination in the community.
DENVER — Anxiety in the United States over COVID-19 is at its highest level since winter.
The heightened worry is reflected in a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It comes amid another nationwide spike in infections, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant.
More state governments and school districts are adopting masking and vaccination requirements and the nation’s hospital bed capacity is once again stretched to the limit.
The poll shows nearly 6 in 10 Americans want vaccination mandates for those attending movies, sports, concerts and other crowded events. They also want mandates for those traveling by airplane and for workers in hospitals, restaurants, stores and government offices.
The poll shows that 41% are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or their family becoming infected with the virus. That is up from 21% in June, and similar to January’s surge at 43%.
Nearly 200 million people, or just over 60% of the U.S. population, had received at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC. Just over 50% are fully vaccinated. More than 620,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Hospitals are overflowing with COVID patients in northeast Florida, the cite of the state’s latest surge.
But the patients rapidly filling wards in Jacksonville are younger than last summer’s peak outbreak. And they’re getting sick faster.
The caseload is more than double that surge at Baptist Health’s hospitals. They’re making do by converting empty spaces, adding more than 100 beds and working overtime to persuade people to get vaccinated.
Florida accounts for 1 in 5 cases nationwide as the highly contagious delta variant spreads. Baptist’s medical director says they’re “bracing for the worst.”
Duval County, which consists almost entirely of Jacksonville, is a racially diverse Democratic bastion. Nearly one-third of Jacksonville’s population is African American.
Pastor George Davis buried six church members under the age of 35 in just 10 days. All had been healthy, all unvaccinated. Now his church members can simply walk across the hall each Sunday and talk with a medical expert about their vaccine concerns. Davis also hosted two vaccination drives, where more than 1,000 got shots.
ANKARA, Turkey — The highly infectious delta variant accounts for more than 90% of all COVID-19 cases in Turkey, the country’s health minister said Friday.
Fahrettin Koca’s comments came as COVID-19 deaths in the country are on the rise, with 216 deaths reported on Thursday. The seven-day average shows 19,900 new daily coronavirus cases, compared to 7,200 a month ago.
Koca says the recent deaths were among people who had not been fully vaccinated.
“No one whose vaccination has been completed has passed away,” NTV television quoted the minister as saying.
Koca says the government has no immediate plans to administer booster shots to people who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The country has been offering extra shots to people who received the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company early in the inoculation campaign.
Turkey has administered 87 million doses of Pfizer and Sinocac vaccines. Approximately 55% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government imposed a 10-day lockdown across the island on Friday in an attempt to contain the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown will be effective from 10 p.m. Friday until Aug. 30, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella tweeted.
He stated essential services “will function as normal” during this period. Essential services include health care, utilities, security, food and transportation.
Sri Lanka has experienced an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the last three weeks. Warning that hospitals and morgues were reaching their maximum capacities, doctors and trade unions had repeatedly urged the government to lockdown the Indian Ocean island nation. The government delayed the action, citing the ailing economy.
Sri Lanka has reported 369,359 confirmed cases and 6,604 confirmed deaths in the pandemic.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania plans to donate 450,000 Moderna vaccine doses to South Korea to help the country fight the coronavirus pandemic, Romania’s Health Ministry said.
South Korea is currently in the midst of its biggest surge of daily coronavirus infections since the pandemic began and so far has fully vaccinated 21% of its population of 51 million.
Coronavirus infections are sharply climbing in Romania, which currently has the European Union’s second-slowest vaccination campaign. Only 26% of Romania’s population of more than 19 million is fully vaccinated.
In recent months, as vaccine uptake at home has waned, the Eastern European country has sold or donated several million vaccine doses to numerous countries.
KFAR SABA, Israel — Israel has made third booster shots against COVID-19 available to people age 40 and older in an effort to fight a surge of the delta variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is 49, got his jab on Friday. He pledged to share “all the data, all the information, all the insights” of the effort. Israel has been a leader in the fight against the deadly coronavirus and last month became the first country to offer booster shots. The U.S. has approved boosters for older Americans as well. They’re expected to be available next month.
About 5.9 million people of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. More than 5.4 million have received two doses, and 1.3 million have received a third dose.
After a summer of reopening, infections have continued to rise and prompted new government restrictions on gatherings. On Friday, the rate of tests that came back positive for coronavirus was 5.5%, according to government figures.
BANGKOK — Thailand passed 1 million total coronavirus infections Friday as its latest surge dropped below 20,000 daily cases for the first time in 10 days.
Thailand reported 19,851 new cases on Friday. More than 97% of the total cases in the country have been registered since April.
The outbreak connected to Bangkok entertainment venues and travel during the traditional new year in mid-April grew more serious when the delta variant was detected in crowded construction worker camps and spread into markets, communities, and families.
The government closed public places and imposed other restrictions last month, but infections and deaths remained high. On Friday, the Disease Control Department’s daily statistics report showed the average number of COVID-19 tests has fallen over the past seven days.
Apisamai Srirangsan, a deputy spokesperson for the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, says although the number of daily cases remains high, it seems quite steady.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia expanded freedoms for those fully vaccinated Friday, allowing them to dine in at eateries and visit night markets despite record high daily infections.
More businesses have been allowed to reopen as authorities this month begun to ease restrictions after nearly three months of lockdown.
It’s widely viewed as a flip-flop in policies to tackle the pandemic. Daily infections in Malaysia hit 22,948 on Thursday, more than doubled since a lockdown began June 1. The country’s total infections have surged to nearly 1.5 million while 13,000 people have died.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, a caretaker leader since he resigned Monday, also said picnics, camping and non-contact sports are allowed for those fully vaccinated. He said the decision was made as over half Malaysia’s adult population have been fully vaccinated.
Some eateries reportedly voiced concern due to high daily virus cases. The Malaysian Medical Association also said authorities should focus on ramping up vaccination to cover at least 80% of the adult population.
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s new infections exceeded 2,000 for the second straight day as officials extended the highest level of social distancing restrictions short of a lockdown in large population centers.
Seoul, Busan, Daejeon and the southern resort island of Jeju will remain under the strongest social distancing rules for at least another two weeks. The rules prohibit private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. and force nightclubs and churches to close.
Senior Health Ministry official Lee Ki-il said indoor dining hours at restaurants and cafes will be reduced by an hour to until 9 p.m.
Some experts say officials should tighten social distancing even further, such as forcing more white-collar workers to work from home and expanding the gathering restrictions to daytime hours.
SYDNEY — A lockdown in Australia’s largest city was extended through September and tougher measures to curb the coronavirus’s delta variant were imposed Friday, including a curfew and a mask mandate outdoors.
New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, reported 642 locally acquired infections in the latest 24-hour period.
Sydney has been locked down since late June due to the outbreak caused by the more contagious delta variant. Since then, 65 people have died from COVID-19 in New South Wales, included four overnight.
The Sydney lockdown was to end on Aug. 28, but the state government announced it will continue until Sept. 30. The entire state has been in lockdown since last week because the virus had spread from the city.
A curfew will apply from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday in the worst-affected Sydney suburbs. Wearing masks will be compulsory across the state outside homes. Previously, masks weren’t compulsory in all circumstances outdoors.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first coronavirus outbreak in six months has spread from the largest city of Auckland to the capital, Wellington.
Health authorities said Friday that three people in Wellington who recently visited Auckland had tested positive. They said the outbreak had grown to 31 cases.
The government also expanded the lockdown that had been put in place Tuesday after the first community case was found in Auckland. All of New Zealand will remain in lockdown until at least next Tuesday. Previously it had been a three-day lockdown for the nation and a seven-day lockdown only for certain areas.
Genome testing has linked the outbreak to an infected traveler who returned from Sydney earlier this month and was quarantined, although health authorities don’t yet know how the virus escaped quarantine.
New Zealand is continuing to pursue an elimination strategy aimed at wiping out the virus entirely.
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court has declined to block restraining orders against Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban.
The justices remanded Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal to the 3rd Texas Court of Appeal in Austin for a hearing. The court did not issue an opinion for its Thursday decision.
The move comes the same day as the Texas Education Agency dropped, for now, enforcement in the state’s public school systems of Abbott’s mask mandate ban.
In a public health guidance letter issued Thursday, the TEA said enforcement was being dropped because of ongoing court challenges to the ban.