The Latest: WHO planning vaccine tech hub in South Africa

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said it is in discussions with numerous companies and institutions to create a technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines in South Africa.

At a press briefing on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the consortium involves a company called Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, which will act as a hub both for making vaccines that use a genetic code of the spike protein, known as mRNA vaccines, and by providing training to other manufacturers to make these shots, including the company, Biovac Institute.

“WHO is facilitating this effort by establishing the criteria for technology transfer,” Tedros said. “We are now in discussions with several companies that have indicated interest in providing their mRNA technology.”

The German company BioNTech, which has partnered with Pfizer to makes its COVID-19 vaccine, recently announced it would scale up efforts to establish mRNA vaccine facilities across Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the new WHO effort would “change the narrative” for Africa and help enhance the continent’s ability to “take responsibility for the health of our people, for the health of Africans.”

Ramaphosa said many people in developing countries were “still struggling for access to vaccines that are made in their billions in the north.” He said it was “just not equitable and not fair” that some people were denied access to COVID-19 doses because of where they live.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Past and present collide for California’s COVID-19 nurses

— Hesitancy is undermining India’s vaccination efforts, especially in rural areas where most people live

— Thousands of Japanese companies are giving vaccines to workers, boosting nation’s slow rollout

— The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open next month

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Follow more of AP’s pandemic 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:

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to fall short of his commitment to shipping 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June because of regulatory and other hurdles, officials said as they announced new plans Monday for sharing the shots globally.

The White House announced the final allocations for the doses, with 60 million shots going to the global COVAX vaccine sharing alliance and 20 million being directed to specific partners. But fewer than 10 million doses have been shipped around the world, including 2.5 million doses delivered to Taiwan over the weekend, and about 1 million doses delivered to Mexico, Canada and South Korea earlier this month.

Officials said that while the U.S.-produced doses are ready, deliveries have been delayed due to U.S. and recipient legal, logistical and regulatory requirements. A White House official said shipments will go out as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses and the administration sorts out logistical complexities.

The excess doses are not needed in the U.S., where demand for vaccinations has plummeted in recent weeks as more than 177 million Americans have received at least one shot.

On May 17, Biden announced that “over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas. This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date — five times more than any other country — more than Russia and China, which have donated 15 million doses.”

Earlier this month, Biden announced that on top of the 80 million, the U.S. was purchasing 500 million doses from Pfizer to donate globally over the coming year, with the first deliveries expected in August.

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GENEVA — A senior World Health Organization expert said the agency would be following up with Olympic and Japanese authorities about their decision on Monday to allow domestic fans to attend the Summer Games.

At a press briefing on Monday, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan noted that Japan’s recent COVID-19 rates were lower than those seen in many other countries, including Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands.

“What we are glad of is that the rates of disease have fallen persistently and consistently in Japan over the last number of weeks,” Ryan said. “It is important that we really look at the background rate and underlying epidemiology of disease.”

Ryan said WHO had planned meetings this week with partners including the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government to discuss measures including physical distancing, diagnosis and screening, ventilation, surveillance, etc. He said the decision to allow domestic spectators at the Olympics was still provisional and could be subject to change.

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TORONTO — Fully vaccinated Canadian citizens who test negative for COVID-19 will be exempt from two weeks of quarantine when returning to the country as of July 5, officials said Monday.

Canadians and permanent residents who return to Canada will have to be fully vaccinated 14 days or more prior to arrival. Officials said those travelers must have two doses of a vaccine approved by Canada, provide a negative COVID-19 test from 72 hours before arrival, take a second test upon arrival, and have a quarantine plan in the event the arrival test comes back positive.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the first phase of easing border measures will continue to restrict entry to Canada for foreign nationals who want to enter for nonessential reasons.

The government said fully vaccinated Canadian travelers who want to be considered for the exemption from quarantine and reduced testing requirements will be required to provide evidence of their vaccination status by uploading supporting documentation into what’s called the ArriveCAN app or by signing in online at a government website.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities said quarantine requirements will soon be relaxed for travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and arrive from certain lower-risk countries.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday said the relaxation of quarantine measures will first be open to Hong Kong residents returning to the city. They must have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days, must undergo a serology test to prove they have the antibodies and must test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Hong Kong.

The announcement comes amid a shortage of quarantine hotel rooms in the city. Current quarantine restrictions can require arrivals from various countries to serve between seven to 21 days of quarantine at designated hotels, and many of the city’s hotels are booked through August.

Officials said the arrangement could begin on June 30, and that it is looking to open a similar arrangement for non-residents later.

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LONDON — Dozens of people have ignored advice not to travel to Stonehenge for the annual summer solstice celebrations, which were cancelled Monday due to coronavirus concerns.

English Heritage, which looks after the Neolithic monument, had planned a live feed of the sunrise at Stonehenge for the second year in a row. But the organization said that program had to be interrupted because of safety concerns after “a number of people have chosen to disregard our request to not travel to the stones this morning.”

Thousands of people who tuned in to watch the sunrise at the stones online ended up watching pre-recorded footage before the live feed returned around 5 a.m.

Video from Britain’s PA news agency and elsewhere showed dozens of people gathering inside the stone circle, with some scaling a low fence to climb inside the restricted area to reach the stones. Some were seen dancing and others held a banner that read “Standing for Stonehenge.”

English Heritage said it was “disappointing” to see people “act in a way that put themselves, our staff and the police at risk” during a pandemic.

The summer solstice typically draws tens of thousands of people to the stone circle in southern England to celebrate the longest day of the year.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian health authorities announced the country’s largest one-day jump in new coronavirus infections on Monday, as the country’s number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began crossed 2 million.

The Health Ministry said it had confirmed another 14,536 new infections and 294 deaths. Along with the more than 2 million infections, Indonesia has reported more than 54,950 deaths, both the most in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has seen infections surge in recent weeks, a climb that has been blamed on travel during last month’s Eid al-Fitr holiday as well as the arrival of new virus variants, such as the the Delta version first found in India.

The surge is putting pressure on hospitals like those in Jakarta — where 80% of hospital beds are full — and has added urgency to the government’s plans to be inoculating 1 million people each day by next month. Authorities have so far only fully vaccinated 12.3 million of Indonesia’s 270 million people and partially vaccinated another 10.9 million others.

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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month.

Organizers on Monday set a limit of 50% of capacity up to a maximum of 10,000 fans for all Olympic venues.

The decision was announced after talks occurred online with local organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of metropolitan Tokyo.

The decision contradicts the country’s top medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, who recommended last week that the safest way to hold the Olympics would be without fans. He had previously called it “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during the pandemic.

The Tokyo Games are set to open on July 23.

Fans from abroad were banned several months ago. Officials say local fans will be under strict rules. They will not be allowed to cheer, must wear masks, and are being told to go straight home afterward.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s COVID-19 figures have dropped very significantly, with 73 new cases reported Monday and one death of a coronavirus patient with other coexisting health issues.

The daily numbers released by the Health Ministry are the lowest in 16 months. The last time there was a two-digit daily infection number was in early March 2020. On June 14, there were 140 new cases reported.

However, the figures Monday tend to be lower than the weekly average because of irregular reporting during the weekend.

The most new cases, over 30,000 daily, were reported in early April.

Almost 11.2 million people in the nation of 38 million have been fully vaccinated and another 15.3 million have received one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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NEW DELHI — Every adult in India is now eligible for a free vaccine paid for by the federal government.

The changed role for the federal government starting Monday ends a complex system of buying and distributing vaccines that overburdened states and created inequities in who got the shots.

The switch comes as coronavirus cases continue to drop. India registered 53,256 new infections and 1,422 deaths in the last 24 hours, the lowest in nearly three months. That raises its totals past 29.8 million cases and 386,000 deaths, though both are likely undercounts.

The lagging vaccination drive, marred by delays and shortages, prompted the revised strategy.

Earlier, states and the private sector had to procure jabs themselves and provide them to younger adults. Now, the federal government will procure 75% of all vaccines directly from manufacturers and provide them to the states for free. The remaining 25% will be purchased by the private sector.

Only about 5% of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people are fully immunized, and experts hope the new policy will help end supply issues and make vaccines more accessible.

Meanwhile, more cities and states are easing restrictions. Starting Monday, parks, restaurants and bars can open in New Delhi with some restrictions on capacity and timings. The southern state of Telangana has lifted its lockdown, while neighboring Karnataka state eased restrictions in 16 more districts. Even though some states have extended curfews, they have allowed shops and offices to open with limited capacity.

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