Fri. 10:29 a.m.: Latest virus headlines: Fauci says keep wearing masks even as vaccines roll out
Here are summaries of the latest Associated Press stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:
• Australian city Melbourne begins 3rd lockdown due to cluster;
• Dr. Anthony Fauci says people must wear masks “for several, several months”;
• Japan expected to approve Pfizer vaccine;
• Australian Open continues without crowds;
• Victoria state has imposes five-day lockdown in response to outbreak at a quarantine hotel;
• Booking site for England’s new hotel quarantine system taken offline;
• Germany considers penalties for people who jump the queue for coronavirus vaccines.
• COVID-19 variant in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states;
• Los Angeles temporarily closes five mass vaccination sites for lack of supply;
• U.S. health officials: Vaccinated people don’t have to go into a 14-day quarantine after exposure to an infected person.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says people will need to wear masks “for several, several months” to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out.
The government’s top infectious disease expert told ABC’s “Good Morning America” this morning by the time 75 percent to 80 percent of the population is vaccinated, “the level of virus in the community could be so low that you could start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures.”
But Fauci says any relaxing of safety measures needs to be done “prudently and gradually.”
U.S. government researchers have found that two masks are better than one in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but health officials have stopped short of recommending everyone double up.
Fauci says the U.S. has contracted for 600 million vaccine doses, enough to vaccinate everyone with two doses. He says as spring turns into summer, everyone should be eligible to receive a vaccine.
Fauci says, “As we go from April to May to June and then hopefully by July, we’ll be at that point where we have enough vaccine for virtually everyone.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Open will continue but without crowds after the Victoria state government imposed a five-day lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced a state-wide lockdown, including restricting residents to their homes except for work, shopping for essential supplies, caregiving and limited exercise.
Schools will be closed Monday through Wednesday, and there will be no gatherings permitted at homes or for sports events, weddings or religious services. Masks will be required everywhere.
Andrews says the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open could continue “because these people are at their workplace.” He adds the latest COVID-19 cases had nothing to do with the tennis quarantine program.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says the only people who will be permitted on site will be the players, their direct support team and essential staff members. The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam tournament in a year to allow sizeable crowds, with up to 22,000 people.
The cluster of cases linked to the hotel quarantine program at the Melbourne Airport grew to 13 on Thursday night. Australia, which imposed a hard lockdown early in the pandemic, has registered 909 total confirmed deaths.
TOKYO — Japan’s health minister says the efficacy of Pfizer vaccine was endorsed by a ministry panel, paving the way for a final approval within days.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura says a formal approval is expected Sunday. The vaccine is already administered in the U.S. and many other countries since December.
Vaccines are considered key to holding the delayed Olympics this summer. Japan is expected to receive 144 million doses from Pfizer, 120 million from AstraZeneca and about 50 million from Moderna before the end of this year, enough to cover its population.
Japan must rely on imports, many subject to the EU’s export control, and a cause for concern about supplies. Vaccines developed by Japan are still in the early stages.
About 20,000 front-line medical workers at hospitals in Japan will get their first shots beginning the middle of next week. About 3 million other medical workers will be next, followed by elderly people getting their shots in April. By June, it’s expected all others will be eligible.
MADRID — Several central Spanish regions are announcing some easing of curfews and restrictions on bar and restaurants.
The World Health Organization on Thursday warned that despite a significative drop in new infections in Spain, the rate of infection remained high. The 14-day caseload dropped to 540 infections per 100,000 inhabitants on Thursday from a peak of 900 two weeks ago.
With capacity limitations, the central Castilla La Mancha and Castilla y León regions today re-opened food and beverage establishments after a monthlong ban.
The Madrid region is ruled by a right-wing coalition that has often clashed with the left-wing central authorities over how to best combat the pandemic. It also announced starting Thursday, it will shorten the night-time curfew by one hour and allow bars to open longer if the caseload continues to fall.
BERLIN — Germany’s Defense Ministry says it’s extending by six weeks the deployment of military doctors, nurses and other personnel to help Portugal with its spike in coronavirus cases.
The ministry says after discussions with Portuguese authorities, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer agreed to keep personal there into April.
An initial team of eight military doctors and 18 nurses and hygiene specialists arrived in Lisbon on Feb. 3 for a three-week deployment to help at overburdened hospitals.
Kramp-Karrenbauer says she was “convinced that particularly at this time European solidarity is indispensable.”
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Vaccinations have started in Bosnia with Russia’s Sputnik V shots administered in the Serb-run part of the country.
The Bosnian Serb-dominated entity called Republika Srpska has acquired 2,000 vaccines from its ally Russia. The inoculation kicked off today with the head of the main hospital in the northwest town of Banja Luka getting the first shot.
Bosnia consists of a Serbian run and an entity run by the country’s Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats. The two semi-autonomous regions were established in a U.S. peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 war.
The Bosnian Serbs and neighboring Serbia have traditionally close links to Moscow. The Bosniak-Croat entity dubbed Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is yet to receive vaccines via the international COVAX program.
BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company CureVac says it has begun submitting data on its coronavirus vaccine to the EU regulator with the aim of speeding up the approval process.
The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency confirmed today that it has begun a review of the vaccine and that early laboratory and clinical studies indicate it triggers an immune response against the virus.
Tuebingen-based CureVac is still conducting further trials of the vaccine, but the rolling review process means EMA will be able to reduce the amount of time needed to decide whether to approve it once all the necessary data has been submitted. The same approach led to the approval of vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
CureVac’s vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as those made by Pfizer and Moderna.
The company said the vaccine is currently being trialed in healthy adults in Europe and Latin America.
LONDON — The booking site for England’s new hotel quarantine system was taken offline soon after it was launched, in the latest teething trouble for the pandemic-fighting program.
The portal went down Thursday afternoon. A message on the site this morning said: “We’ll be back soon.”
Starting Monday, arrivals from a “red list” of 33 countries must quarantine in government-approved hotels for 10 days at a cost of 1,750 pounds $2,400).
The measure is intended to stop new variants of the coronavirus reaching the U.K. But critics say it has come too late, and is too lax. People in quarantine will have meals delivered to their rooms but will be allowed outside briefly for fresh air.
Australian epidemiologist Michael Toole said letting people out of their rooms was “very risky.” Australia has seen several virus outbreaks linked to quarantine hotels.
British Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins said “we are confident that the measures that we have in place, ready to go on Monday, are strong and that they will help to protect our country against any of these new variants that are being found.”
WARSAW, Poland — Online cameras show skiers on mountain slopes in Poland today as some of the anti-COVID-19 restrictions are temporarily lifted for two weeks. Hotels, cinemas, theaters and casinos are allowed to open, but only to half of their capacity. Ski slopes and outdoor sports facilities like football pitches or tennis courts can resume business, but not fitness clubs or restaurants, which can only do takeaway food.
Owners of ski lifts and accommodation in Poland’s southern mountain region welcomed the decision as giving them a chance to at least partly make up for the losses they have suffered due to the lack of skiers and tourists amid the pandemic lockdown.
The government has said it will extend the opening of businesses if there is no spike in new infections after the two trial weeks.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says he will consider introducing penalties for people who jump the queue for coronavirus vaccines.
Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin today that there had been several such reports in recent days and the government would discuss with parliament “whether sanctions in this area could make sense.”
Spahn had previously downplayed the issue of queue jumping, but persistent reports have surfaced of senior officials in hospitals and cities getting the vaccines before doctors and nurses. This week the Catholic bishop of Augsburg acknowledged receiving the vaccine, despite being far down the priority list.
Patient rights campaigners warned Spahn last year that Germany’s complicated vaccination system could open the door to corruption and queue jumping, but the ministry rebuffed repeated calls for criminal penalties.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia is opening its borders for travelers arriving from other European Union states if they have proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
The measure which takes effect on Saturday will allow passengers to avoid quarantine requirements and the need for negative coronavirus tests, officials said.
The measure calls for a written proof that two jabs have been administered and that at least 14 days have passed since the second one.
Additionally, all EU citizens who have doctors’ confirmation that they have recovered from the virus in the past six months will also be allowed in without restrictions.
The conditional lifting of the restrictions comes as the Alpine country of 2 million people sees a gradual decrease of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
The easing of measures also includes the lifting of travel restrictions within Slovenia and reopening of some schools and most shops.
The 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remains in place.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is getting more help from its European Union partners to ease pressure on hospitals crunched by the pandemic, with France and Luxembourg the latest countries to offer medical workers.
The Portuguese health ministry says France is sending a doctor and three nurses, while Luxembourg is providing two doctors and two nurses.
The health ministry said in a statement late Thursday the medics should arrive next week.
The German army sent eight doctors and 18 nurses earlier this month to help at a Lisbon hospital.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and in intensive care fell Thursday for the third straight day, but Portugal’s seven-day average of daily deaths remained the world’s highest, at 1.97 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine.
The five-day lockdown will be enforced across Victoria state to prevent the virus spreading from the state capital Melbourne, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says.
Only international flights that were already in the air when the lockdown was announced would be allowed to land at Melbourne Airport.
A population of 6.5 million people will be locked down from 11:59 p.m. until the same time on Wednesday because of a contagious British variant of the virus first detected at a Melbourne Airport hotel has infected 13 people.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia is on track to manufacture and administer its own version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, the health minister said today.
Health Minister Greg Hunt was speaking at biotechnology company CSL Ltd.’s plant in Melbourne where the first doses are nearing completion.
The first of Australia’s 20 million doses of German manufactured Pfizer vaccine is to be administered in late February.
The first of the 1.2 million doses of overseas-made AstraZeneca vaccine is to be available in Australia by early March, although the Australian regulator has yet to approve it.
The government maintains that Australia’s relatively low incidence of COVID-19 does not justify emergency vaccine approvals.
The government expects that everyone among Australia’s population of 26 million who wants to be vaccinated and is over the age of 16 will have access to a vaccine by October.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first coronavirus vaccine doses are due to arrive in the country next week, with border workers getting inoculated from Feb. 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.
New Zealand regulators gave provisional approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month.
Ardern says it’s pleasing to get the first doses ahead of Pfizer’s initial schedule, given the pressures on global demand.
New Zealand has no community transmission of the virus and the nation’s 12,000 border workers are considered the most vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease because they interact with arriving travelers, some of whom are infected.
However, New Zealand’s success in stamping out the virus also means it will need to wait longer than many other countries to get vaccine doses for the general population. Officials say they will hope to begin general inoculations in the second half of the year.
A COVID-19 variant first identified in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states and several other countries, a study published Thursday suggests.
The variant accounted for about 44 percent of Southern California cases as of late January, nearly double from a month earlier, the study said. It was first identified in a single case in July and reemerged during a holiday surge in cases in the Los Angeles area.
More research is needed to determine if the variant spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants or causes more disease, said study co-author Jasmine Plummer, a Cedars-Sinai researcher.
The paper was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, wrote in an accompanying editorial that said new variants likely will continue to emerge until spread of the virus is reduced.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles is temporarily closing five mass vaccination sites including Dodger Stadium for lack of supply as the state faces continuing criticism over the vaccine rollout.
Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city will exhaust its supply of Moderna first doses — two are required for full immunization — forcing it to close drive-through and walk-up vaccination sites today and Saturday.
They may not reopen until the city gets more supplies, perhaps next Tuesday or Wednesday. Smaller mobile vaccination clinics will continue operating.
Garcetti says Los Angeles uses about 13,000 doses in a typical day but received only 16,000 this week.
California has recorded the most confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. with 45,496, edging past New York’s toll of 45,312, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Other coronavirus numbers are improving in the state.
The seven-day test positivity rate has fallen to 4.8 percent, and the most recent daily number of confirmed positive cases was 8,390, down from 53,000 in December.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are now recommending that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus don’t have to go into a 14-day quarantine after exposure to an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly posted the updated guidance this week. It says vaccinated people may skip quarantine if they are asymptomatic, and if their contact with an infected person came at least two weeks after receipt of the final dose in the two-shot vaccination series and within three months of receipt of that last dose.
The recommendation is similar to what the CDC has said about people who developed immunity after being infected with COVID.
SAN FRANCISCO — A surge of COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley, has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students in residence halls and bar them from outdoor exercise.
The university says more than 400 mostly undergraduates have tested positive since an outbreak started in mid-January. A weekly breakdown shows about 200 positive tests since the start of February.
A lockdown initially put in place for Feb. 1-8 has been extended through at least mid-month. Among the strict new rules are a ban on outdoor exercise that goes beyond state guidelines encouraging people to get outside to exercise.