The Latest: WHO hub in Berlin for pandemic coordination
BERLIN — The World Health Organization has inaugurated a new “hub” in Berlin meant to better prepare the globe for future pandemics.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday launched the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn says it’s part of an effort to build “a world safer from upcoming pandemics in the future.” The German government is investing $100 million in the facility.
It aims to promote better information-sharing and analysis, leading to better coordinated decision-making after the patchy global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, says “the faster we identify new infectious disease risks, the faster we can respond.”
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Micronesia’s president tells AP: Mandated vaccines to avoid spread
— Vaccinations in rural India increase amide supply concerns
— Sound bite ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ captures part of story
— France starts COVID-19 booster shot campaign for elderly
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW DEHLI — More students in India can return to a classroom for the first time in nearly 18 months.
Authorities have given approval to partially reopen more schools despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are rising.
Schools and colleges in at least six more states will reopen in a gradual manner with health measures in place throughout September. Activities have been slowly returning in India after the trauma of a ferocious coronavirus surge this year brought daily life in the country to a halt, sickened tens of millions and left hundreds of thousands dead.
A number of states returned last month to in-person learning for some age groups.
Daily new infections have fallen sharply since their peak of more than 400,000 in May. On Saturday, India recorded 46,000 new cases, the highest in nearly two months.
Meanwhile, India has dramatically increased vaccination rates in its vast rural areas, where around 65% of its nearly 1.4 billion people live in villages served by fragile health care systems. Even though demand for vaccines has been increasing in villages, supply constraints continue for the world’s largest maker of vaccines. Experts say it’s unlikely the country will reach its objective of vaccinating all adults by the end of 2021.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s health minister says rising coronavirus cases mean citizens should remain vigilant.
Adan Niedzielski commenting Wednesday on latest figures that show 366 new infections, compared to 234 a week ago, and five deaths from COVID-19.
“It’s a 50% increase, and maybe it’s good because it’s a sign that will remind us about the need for discipline because the pandemic is still with us,” Niedzielski said on radio RMF FM.
He says almost half of the 38-million nation has been fully vaccinated and should reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
“Vaccinations are a gift for us from the science and we should use it as a precaution,” Niedzielski said.
Poland has registered nearly 2.9 million infections and 75,300 confirmed deaths.
PARIS — France has started administering coronavirus booster shots to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
The move is meant to shore up their vaccine protection against the highly contagious delta variant. People can get the shot on the condition a minimum six-month period has passed since they got fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The Health Ministry says about 18 million people are eligible for the booster shot.
France has been facing increased cases since July, with a slight decrease in recent weeks — from 23,000 per day around mid-August to the current 17,000. Health officials are concerned about a reversal of the trend as children return to school on Thursday.
Almost 44 million people, or 65% of the French population, are fully vaccinated.
TIRANA, Albania — Albanian health authorities started compulsory vaccination for the medical staff, teachers, professors, and students on Wednesday.
They are obliged to hand over the vaccination passport until the end of the month or show results from periodical coronavirus tests. Those who decline will be fined ($29-$48).
The month of September is open for anyone 18 and older to get a shot. With the end of the tourist season comes the return of those entering the country to show a vaccination passport or negative virus test in the last 72 hours.
Albania has seen a significant surge of the daily virus cases in August. About one-fourth of the 2.8 million population has been fully vaccinated.
ATHENS, Greece — Staff at public hospitals have held protests around Greece on the deadline to comply with a vaccination mandate for health care workers or face suspension without pay.
The government says the measure is needed to safeguard hospitals amid a third major surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. But health care unions say it is unnecessary, noting that an estimated 95% of doctors and 90% of other staff at the country’s largest hospitals are fully vaccinated.
Infection levels spiked in August to the highest level recorded in the country, and pressure on hospitals has been building in recent weeks.
Nearly 64% of Greece’s adult population is fully vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, while the European Union average reached 70% Tuesday.
Health care unions in Greece say they support the government’s vaccination campaign but oppose mandates. A three-hour work stoppage at public hospitals is planned Thursday.
ISTANBUL — A Turkish family that lost eight members to COVID-19 over a five-month period is calling on scientists to examine their genetic make-up to determine if they are more prone to the virus.
Burak Genc, 24, was the first in the family to die, in early November last year, followed by his father Muhammet six days later. Within six weeks they were followed by four other relatives, who are believed to have contracted the virus at the funerals or during visits to pay their condolences.
Two more members of the family died in February and April. After alerting the authorities, the remaining 25 members of the family were vaccinated and they have not suffered a loss since.
According to Turkish Health Ministry data, 60% of over-18s have received two doses of vaccine. However, the country has experienced rising case numbers since restrictions were relaxed in July, and daily infections hover around 20,000. Some 21,900 cases were recorded on Tuesday and there were 252 confirmed deaths.
CAIRO — The number of daily COVID-19 cases confirmed in Egypt has grown steadily in recent weeks amid relaxed precautionary measures and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
The Health Ministry reported Tuesday 279 cases in 24 hours and nine deaths, compared to 194 cases and seven deaths on the same day last week.
The delta variant first was detected in Egypt in July. Daily reported cases have gone up as authorities relaxed restrictions, allowing concerts and other large events where few participants wear face masks or maintain a distance from others.
Authorities have reported a total of 288,440 confirmed cases and 16,736 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic, but the actual numbers are believed much higher due to limited testing.
JERUSALEM — Palestinian health authorities are launching a vaccination drive for students in the Gaza Strip ages 16-18 as the territory contends with a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Health officials began giving the Pfizer vaccine in Gaza Strip schools on Wednesday and aim to inoculate more than 100,000 students in the coming weeks. Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank began a similar drive on Tuesday.
The Gaza Health Ministry reported six deaths and more than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest number since a new wave of infections began in August.
Less than half the population of the West Bank has received a first vaccine dose, and around 15% of Gaza’s population has gotten a first shot.
The Palestinians received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine last week donated by the United States through COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative distributing vaccines to poorer nations.
ROME — The Italian government has vowed to crack down on demonstrators threatening to block train tracks as a rule requiring COVID-19 tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic travel.
Starting Wednesday, passengers on domestic flights, trains traveling between regions and some ferries must show a so-called “Green Pass” certifying that they’ve had a least one dose of vaccine, tested negative in the past 48 hours or recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months.
Local buses, trams and subways are exempt from the rule, which was announced weeks ago.
Some 70% of Italy’s residents who are 12 or older and eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated. But confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen during the summer as the delta variant drives up transmission rates.
BERLIN — Authorities in Germany’s capital have started offering booster shots against COVID-19 to vulnerable groups.
Dozens of mobile teams will be visiting elder care homes in Berlin starting Wednesday to administer third vaccine doses to residents.
Several other German states already are offering boosters to older adults or people who are immunocompromised. Those groups received their first shots six months ago.
Germany has seen a drop in public demand for vaccinations, with about 60% of the population fully vaccinated so far. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the country plans to more than double the number of doses it donates to poor countries this year to 70 million amid a supply glut.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway has reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases of the pandemic, surpassing a record set Friday.
The Norwegian Directorate of Health says the Scandinavian country confirmed 1,796 new cases in 24 hours. The number recorded Friday was 1,552.
“It has increased faster than we expected,” Camilla Stoltenberg, chief of the Norwegian Directorate of Health, told broadcaster NRK.
Many cases can be attributed to infections spreading in schools, she said.
The government has kept some restrictions in place until more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has proposed a U.N.-backed immunization program send its allotment of almost 3 million doses of a Chinese-made vaccine to countries with severe COVID-19 outbreaks while it continues to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus.
UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX program, said Tuesday that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health has communicated that the 2.97 million Sinovac shots COVAX planned to deliver to the North may be sent elsewhere.
The North Korean ministry also said it will “will continue to communicate with COVAX Facility to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months,” UNICEF said in an email to The Associated Press.
COVAX had allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots to the North but delivery has been delayed. Experts say North Korea remains focused on tough quarantines and border controls to keep out the virus, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.
The North claims not a single confirmed case of coronavirus, despite widespread skepticism.
JERUSALEM — Israel commenced a new school year on schedule despite a surge in new cases of coronavirus and concerns about students spreading infections.
Around 2.4 million elementary and high school students returned to classrooms Wednesday, while around a quarter million in communities with high infection rates remained home to learn remotely.
Masks are mandatory in classrooms and teachers are required to have received a COVID-19 vaccine or hold a negative test upon entry to schools.
The Health Ministry reported a single-day record of nearly 11,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the country grapples with a fourth wave of infections. More than 700 people are in serious condition in Israeli hospitals, straining the country’s healthcare system.
Israel’s cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks despite a world-leading vaccination drive, with nearly 60% of its population receiving at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Last month, the country started giving booster doses to its population of 9.3 million.
BANGKOK — Shopping malls, restaurants, parks and schools reopened in Thailand’s capital on Wednesday after the government eased restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
A surge that began in April sent new cases and deaths soaring, and department stores, restaurants, parks and other gathering places in Bangkok were ordered to close in July.
At Bangkok’s upmarket Iconsiam mall, customers were greeted by staff and given hand sanitizing gel. Shoppers were instructed to register via an app, while staff must take rapid COVID-19 tests on a regular basis.
The Thai government has come under intense criticism for its failure to secure timely and adequate supplies of vaccines, leaving the country vulnerable to infections. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and several Cabinet members are the target this week of a no-confidence debate in Parliament over the issue.
The government says 90% of Bangkok’s 7.69 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine and 22% are fully vaccinated.