The Latest: US to allow more people to get coronavirus shots

International

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus performs a morning exercise with a sword at a public park in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Lockdowns have been expanded and a major political conference postponed in a province next to Beijing that is the scene of China’s most serious recent COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration says it will speed up delivery of the shots after a slow start to the mass coronavirus vaccination campaign

Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced two major changes. First, the government will no longer hold back required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply.

Second, states should immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older, and younger people with certain health problems.

That aligns with President-elect Joe Biden’s approach, who earlier called for the government to stop holding back doses. On Monday, the government had distributed about 25.5 million doses, but only about 9 million people had received their first shot.

The U.S. leads the world with 22.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 376,000 confirmed deaths.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

China says the World Health Organization experts will begin their fact-finding visit this week in the central city of Wuhan where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. A second lawmakerforced into the Capitol lockdown tests positive. She criticized Republican lawmakers who declined a mask when offered during the lockdown, calling it “selfish idiocy.”

Tokyo residents are questioningholding the Olympics in July because of the coronavirus pandemic. India has started shipping COVID-19 vaccine to cities. The EU regulator is considering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be licensed to the 27-nation bloc.

— Follow AP’s 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:

TULUM, Mexico — Mexico had a span of two weeks over the Christmas holiday where it seemed like tourism had returned.

Quintana Roo state — home to Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Tulum — received 961,000 tourists during that stretch, down only 25% from the previous year.

But there’s concern the winter holiday success could be fleeting, because it came as coronavirus infections in both Mexico and the United States — the main source of the foreign tourists — were reaching new heights.

The positivity rate of coronavirus tests in the state is nearly 50%. The weekly number of deaths quadrupled from the week before Christmas to the week after, according to federal government data.

Mexico has recorded more than 134,000 confirmed deaths. That’s the world’s fourth-highest death toll, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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MINNEAPOLIS — A former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to the neck of George Floyd for several minutes will be tried separately from three other former officers accused in his death, according to scheduling orders filed Tuesday.

Derek Chauvin will stand trial alone in March due to the coronavirus pandemic while the other three former officers will be tried together in the summer, according to the orders filed in Hennepin County District Court.

Judge Peter Cahill cited the limitations of physical space during the coronavirus pandemic for his order to split the defendants’ trials. It is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel that four defendants say would be present, Cahill wrote.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Data from the Alaska Department of Corrections show that more than 40% of the people incarcerated in Alaska have been infected with the coronavirus.

Alaska Public Media reported that case counts have exceeded 100 inmates in at least six Alaska prisons. Corrections department facilities Director Jeremy Hough says the state’s inmate testing program has conducted an average of four tests per person since the pandemic began.

ACLU of Alaska Advocacy Director Michael Garvey says prison officials haven’t done enough to contain the disease spread, which is compounded by long-running overcrowding.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Thousands of Alabama football fans partied in streets and ignored coronavirus safety guidelines after their team defeated Ohio State 52-24 for the national championship.

Students and others poured out of jam-packed bars near campus late Monday, traffic cameras and images posted on social media show.

Many of the fans screaming and cheering as they pressed against each other in the street didn’t wear face masks. The scene was exactly what officials feared before the game as they urged people to watch at home and privately celebrate, the Tuscaloosa News reported.

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TOKYO — The president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has tried to reassure the public that the postponed games will open in six months.

Two polls in the last few days show just over 80% of Japanese people surveyed think the Olympics should be canceled or postponed or believe they won’t take place as coronavirus cases surge in Japan.

More than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from 200 nations and territories normally attend an Olympics. It’s not clear if fans can attend in Tokyo.

In a “New Year’s” address, the 83-year-old Tokyo Olympics president Yorhiro Mori says: “Spring will always come, morning will surely come even after long nights.”

Optimism from organizers has been quelled by a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding areas declared last week. Japan has controlled the virus relatively well, but cases are rising with about 4,000 deaths in Japan attributed to the coronavirus.

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WASHINGTON — A second Democratic member of the House who was forced to go into lockdown during last week’s violent protest at the Capitoal has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington says she has tested positive and criticized Republican members of Congress who declined to wear a mask when it was offered to them during the lockdown. Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period.

Jayapal says too many Republicans have refused to take the coronavirus seriously, calling it “selfish idiocy.” She’s asking for fines for lawmakers who don’t wear a mask at the Capitol.

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BEIJING — China says World Health Organization experts will begin their fact-finding visit this week in the central city of Wuhan where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that the experts would fly from Singapore to Wuhan on Thursday. Other details of their schedule haven’t been announced and the central government’s National Health Commission offered no further information.

The visit has been expected for months and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week expressed frustration that arrangements were taking so long to finalize. After China announced the visit Monday, Tedros said the scientists, who hail from several nations, would be focusing on how COVID-19 first jumped to people.

An Associated Press investigation recently found that China has been strictly controlling all research into the origins of the coronavirus, and the WHO team will have its agenda and any visits within China approved by the Chinese government. China has dismissed calls for an independent investigation, while promoting fringe theories that the virus may have actually been brought to China from outside.

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LISBON, Portugal — The office of the Portuguese president says that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tested positive for coronavirus although the veteran politician has no symptoms.

The 72-year-old Rebelo de Sousa, who took office in 2016, is seeking a second term in the country’s presidential election on Jan. 24.

A laboratory test with the so-called PCR technique late on Monday revealed that the president was positive for the virus, despite an antigen test having come out negative earlier in the day, his office said in a statement.

The president is self-isolating in a residential area in Belem, in the west of central Lisbon and has suspended all his agenda for coming days, it said.

As the head of state, the president is largely a figurehead in Portugal, where the prime minister and his cabinet are in charge of the day-to-day affairs. He wields large influence nevertheless, and he holds the authority to appoint the prime minister and dissolve parliament.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says it has received an application from AstraZeneca and Oxford University to authorize their coronavirus vaccine.

The Amsterdam-based regulator says it would assess the request at an accelerated pace because the vaccine is already part of a rolling review.

The EU agency has already authorized rival vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna.

The AstraZeneca vaccine received emergency authorization in Britain last month.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The small Pacific nation of Micronesia has reported its first case of the coronavirus after a crewmember on an arriving ship tested positive.

Home to 100,000 people, Micronesia had been among a dwindling handful of island nations to have avoided the virus altogether.

In an address to the nation, President David Panuelo said many people had heard the “alarming news” but the case has been contained at the border.

Panuelo said one crewmember aboard the government ship Chief Mailo had tested positive after the ship had returned from the Philippines following more than a year of drydock repairs.

He said the crewmember has been isolated on board, that all other crew remain on board, and that the ship is being monitored daily by law enforcement.

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NEW DELHI — India has started shipping COVID-19 vaccines to multiple cities, four days ahead of the nationwide inoculation drive.

The first consignment of vaccines developed by the Serum Institute of India left the Indian city of Pune on Tuesday. The vaccines rolled out from Serum Institute of India’s facility in temperature-controlled trucks to the city’s airport from where they were loaded into private air carriers for distribution all over the country.

Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri called the shipping of vaccines a “momentous mission.”

Beginning Saturday, India will start the massive undertaking of inoculating an estimated 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers. The effort will then turn to inoculating around 270 million people who are either older than 50 or have secondary health conditions that raise their risks of dying from COVID-19.

The first vaccine shipments contain the COVISHIELD vaccine made by the Serum Institute and developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will soon require that travelers from most countries show negative coronavirus tests before they leave for New Zealand.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand is in a fortunate position to have stamped out community spread of the virus, but takes nothing for granted.

The new rules will require travelers to have a negative test within 72 hours of departure.

The rules will be imposed on travelers from the U.S. and the U.K. beginning Friday and most other countries soon after. Travelers from Australia and some Pacific nations will be exempted.

Until now, New Zealand has relied on placing new arrivals into a mandatory two-week quarantine.

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CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada is making changes to its distribution plan for coronavirus vaccines in an effort to get shots into residents’ arms more quickly.

The state received its first vaccine shipment four weeks ago but has been struggling to get people inoculated at the rate officials initially anticipated.

Public health officials announced plans Monday to replace the state’s distribution plan and direct providers to concurrently vaccinate high-risk groups. That includes residents with underlying medical conditions and front-line workers the state deems essential, such as teachers, service industry workers, state legislators and mining industry workers.

The plan also lowers the age threshold for priority distribution from 75 to 70.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials have created a website to help people find where they can get antibody drugs for COVID-19, medicines that may help prevent serious illness and hospitalization if used early enough after infection occurs.

Two of these drugs — from Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — have been authorized for emergency use in the U.S. but red tape, health care staff shortages and other problems have prevented many patients and doctors from getting them.

Department of Health and Human Services officials said Monday that only 25% of the more than 641,000 treatment courses distributed to states and local health sites have been used as of last week.

A big problem has been finding a place that has the drugs. The web site includes a tool where people can find locations administering the treatment within 50 miles. Doctors will determine if patients meet the criteria. Treatment must start within 10 days of first symptoms.

The drugs are free, although people may be charged a fee for the IV infusion, a one-time treatment that takes about an hour.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut will open its first mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the University of Connecticut’s football stadium within the next 10 days as the state prepares to administer shots to residents ages 75 and older, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.

Rentschler Field in East Hartford will be providing mass vaccinations along with about a half-dozen other large sites that will open over the next two weeks to provide the shots, the governor said.

Vaccinations also will be available at private providers’ offices and health clinics. Connecticut also plans to offer the shots through mobile vaccination units for poor and other underserved communities.

Health care workers have been among the first to be vaccinated in Connecticut, and the state recently finished vaccinating nursing home residents.

Advanced registration for vaccinations for people 75 and older is scheduled to begin Thursday, with the group receiving shots beginning next Monday, Jan. 18.

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that Texas will be able to rapidly increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations by using new mass hubs for getting shots, but the effort is still limited by the supply of medicine coming from the federal government.

Texas is one of several states opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people.

The state has seen a surge in newly confirmed coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. State health officials report more than 13,000 coronavirus patients currently in hospitals statewide, and nearly 30,000 deaths since the pandemic started.

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