The Latest: WHO: Report on virus origins delayed a week

GENEVA — A World Health Organization spokesman says a widely expected report by a team of experts who travelled to China to look into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is “likely” to be pushed back until next week.

Spokesman Christian Lindmeier says the report was “simply not ready” and the team members who have been working with Chinese officials to draft it “want to get it right.”

“What we hear from the technical experts — from the mission members — is that the report mostly likely now will come out next week,” Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing on Tuesday.

The U.N. health agency previously revised its plans to first publish a summary report, then a longer version, opting instead to issue a single full report. The team leader, WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek, said this month the plans were to release the report in the week of March 15.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Caution ahead of Tokyo Olympic torch relay next week

— Moderna begins study of COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12

— EU regulator ‘convinced’ AstraZeneca benefit outweighs risk

— Thailand’s PM receives AstraZeneca vaccine as much of Asia shrugs off reported blood clots in Europe

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — France’s health minister is praising the AstraZeneca vaccine as a “precious tool” against the coronavirus and hopes the government will quickly rescind its decision to suspend its use.

France is among European countries waiting for the European regulator to clear up any doubts about reported side effects. France suspended shots of the vaccine on Monday, while the European Medicines Agency investigates reports of blood clots.

The agency said Tuesday it remains convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks, and it expects to issue a recommendation about its use on Thursday.

Veran also reiterated complaints voiced by France about delays in deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He says deliveries expected in the coming three weeks are “infinitesimal — I weigh the word — compared to the promises that were made.”

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NEW DELHI, India — India pharmaceutical company Gland Pharma has agreed to make 252 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in India.

Gland Pharma is a subsidiary of Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma. This is the second deal for manufacturing between Russia’s sovereign fund and an Indian company. Earlier, it had said that Indian company Hetero Biopharma would make 100 million doses of the vaccine annually. India has been pledged 125 million doses.

According to this agreement, Gland Pharma will make the vaccines in its facilities and then fill it into vials. The company is likely to start production between July and September, while deliveries are estimated to take place between October and December.

In November, Russia’s sovereign fund had announced a pact with another Indian drugmaker, Dr. Reddy’s, to conduct trials and distribute the doses.

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BOSTON — U.S. guidelines for students kept 6 feet apart in schools are receiving new scrutiny from federal health experts.

State governments and education officials working to return as many children as possible to the classroom. The distancing guidelines have remained a major hurdle for schools as they aim to open with limited space.

As more teachers receive vaccinations, the distancing guidelines have remained a major hurdle for schools as they aim to open with limited space.

Amid new evidence that it may be safe to seat students closer together, states including Illinois and Massachusetts are allowing 3 feet of distance, and others including Oregon are considering it. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday the agency is exploring whether children can be seated closer together than previously recommended. The CDC said in February that schools could safely operate during the pandemic with masks and suggested 6 feet and physical distancing “should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.”

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The coronavirus vaccine will be available to anyone in Ohio 16 years and older by the end of the month, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday.

A significant increase in vaccine supplies expected in the state warrants the eligibility expansion, the governor said. Currently, Ohioans 50 and older are eligible, along with a variety of others such as nursing home residents, front line medical workers, and people with certain congenital health issues.

Beginning Friday, people 40 and older and those suffering from heart disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity will be eligible. All those over the age of 16 will be eligible beginning March 29.

More than 2.3 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Ohio as of Monday, or about 20% of the population, according to the state Health Department. About 1.4 million people have completed the vaccination process, or about 12%.

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TOKYO — Organizers plan to exercise extreme caution when the Olympic torch relay starts next week. They know any stumble could imperil the opening of the Tokyo Games in just four months.

The relay is scheduled to begin on March 25 from northeastern Fukushima prefecture. It will crisscross Japan for months, with 10,000 runners carrying the torch. It’s also a symbolic curtain raiser for the postponed Olympics. Organizers say they will stop or reroute the torch if needed.

Japan has registered about 8,600 deaths from the coronavirus, far fewer than most countries its size of 126 million people. But there is strong opposition to the Olympics, and much of it is due to the fear of large crowds spreading the virus. Fans along the roadsides watching the torch relay will be asked to social distance, wear masks and quietly cheer.

Organizers are expected to announce soon if fans from abroad can attend the Olympics. Athletes will operate in a bubble, be tested regularly and some already will be vaccinated.

The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23 and feature 11,000 athletes. The Paralympics follow on Aug. 24 with 4,400 athletes.

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TORONTO — Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization is changing the recommendation on the AstraZeneca vaccine so seniors can get it.

Canadian health authorities continue to say AstraZeneca remains safe a day after several European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use its over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients. The company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization initially recommended people 65 and over be prioritized for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna because more evidence from trials was available regarding their efficacy on seniors, compared with AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

But National Advisory Committee on Immunization chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh now says two studies from Britain are why they changed the recommendation to allow Canadians 65-plus to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Authorities in Serbia have announced a nationwide lockdown for the rest of the week, closing bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and businesses.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says the measures will be reviewed on Monday. Serbia is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections despite a mass vaccination effort with shots from Sinopharm, Pfizer, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca.

The country has vaccinated more than 1.2 million people with at least one dose. Authorities have launched a campaign to boost the process, including opening more vaccination sites throughout the country.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia has reported significant increases in daily new cases and deaths from the coronavirus.

Authorities say 1,606 cases have been confirmed compared to several hundred reported in the past days. The data in the past 24 hours confirmed 53 deaths.

A key hospital in the capital of Sarajevo has declared an emergency situation and requested staff return from vacations. Doctors have warned that the Sarajevo University Hospital has been rapidly filling up. A parliament session dedicated to the health crisis will be held on Thursday.

Bosnian Serbs have received Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines and crossed over to neighboring Serbia for shots. The entity run by the Bosniaks and Croats have used several thousand AstraZeneca vaccines donated by Serbia while waiting for shipments from the international COVAX program.

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BRUSSELS — Virologist Yves Van Laethem says Belgium’s decision to keep using AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is based on scientific advice.

Speaking Tuesday, Van Laethem says, “we wanted to remain as scientific as possible,” referring to the decision by a growing number of European countries to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after some recipients had blood clots.

Van Laethem says AstraZeneca shots have been massively used in the EU, with about 5.5 million doses injected.

“There are no signal that we are exceeding the expected normal rate of thromboembolic pathologies in the general population,” he says.

Van Laethem adds AstraZeneca’s vaccine has proved its “extreme efficiency,” prompting the Belgian authorities’ decision to continue using it in people over 65.

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission says it has sealed a deal with Pfizer to speed up the dispatching of 10 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine over the next three months.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says speeding up the pace of deliveries across the 27-nation bloc would bring the total number of Pfizer doses in the second quarter to over 200 million.

“This is very good news,” Von der Leyen says. “It gives member states room to maneuver and possibly fill gaps in deliveries.”

The announcement comes amid a shortage of vaccine supplies in Europe and as a growing number of European countries — including now Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after some recipients had blood clots. The company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame for the blood clots.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has approved another COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, adding a fifth shot to its arsenal.

The announcement came from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology. The vaccine was approved for use in Uzbekistan on March 1. The last phase of clinical trials is ongoing. No peer-reviewed data is publicly available about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.

It’s a three-dose shot, with one month each between shots, a company spokesperson says. Like other vaccines China has developed, it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.

China has been slow in vaccinating its population of 1.4 billion people, despite having four vaccines approved for general use. The latest numbers, according to government officials at a press briefing Monday in Beijing, is 64.9 million doses of vaccines have been administered. They’ve mostly been given to health care workers, those working at the border or customs, and specific industries.

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna announced Tuesday it is beginning a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12 — one that will include babies as young as 6 months.

The announcement comes exactly a year after the first adult received a test dose of the shot, created at the National Institutes of Health. It’s now being used across the U.S. and in multiple other countries.

Moderna also has tested the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds but hasn’t yet released the findings. The study in younger children will be more complex, because researcher need to determine whether to us smaller doses than in adults and adolescents.

The study aims to eventually enroll about 6,750 children in the U.S. and Canada. That’s after a phase-in portion to determine the best dose to test in children age 2 and older and the right dose in those younger than 2.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden is pausing the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a precautionary measure amid concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe.

“The decision is a precautionary measure,” Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said in a statement.

The move by the Swedish Public Health Agency was to remain in effect until an investigation by the European Medicines Agency into suspected side effects is complete.

A growing number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame for the blood clots.

Sweden has stood out for its comparatively mild response to the pandemic. The country avoided lockdowns and relied instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control cases. As of Tuesday, more than 13,140 people had died from the coronavirus. It’s far more per capita than Sweden’s neighbors but fewer than other European countries that implemented strict lockdowns or curfews.

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UNITED NATIONS — China’s U.N. ambassador says China is donating 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to U.N. peacekeepers, with priority given to those serving in Africa.

Ambassador Zhang Jun sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informing him of the donation, China’s U.N. Mission said Monday. It follows the announcement by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of Beijing’s intention to donate vaccines at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Feb. 17.

The mission said “China attaches great importance to the safety and security of peacekeepers” and the donation “is a further step to make China’s vaccines a global public good, and also a demonstration of China’s firm and continuous support to the U.N. and multilateralism.”

Last month, the U.N. thanked India for offering 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. currently has a dozen peacekeeping operations, half in Africa with a total of about 100,000 peacekeepers.

There was no immediate word on what the U.N. plans to do with the two offers.

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NEW YORK — Two new studies add evidence that a virus variant first detected in Britain is more deadly than the previous dominant form.

Other research had already demonstrated the strain is more transmissible, but a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature suggests the U.K. variant may also be associated with an increased risk of death.

Comparing cases in more than 1 million people infected in England, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death was about 55% higher for those with the new variant versus the previous one.

For men in their 50s or 60s, that meant the risk of death went from 0.06% to 0.09% with the new strain.

In a University of Exeter study published in the British journal BMJ last week, researchers followed about 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases, matching pairs of participants on age, sex and other factors. They also found those with the U.K. variant were at higher risk of death during the study.

The variant has been found in all but a few states in the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain later this spring.

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