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Thursday April 15th, 2021 1:15AM

The Latest: Veterans Affairs nurse vaccinated in Minneapolis

By The Associated Press
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MINNEAPOLIS — A nurse on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center was the first in Minnesota to receive a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.

Thera Witte, who works in a coronavirus unit at the hospital, said she feels honored to be the first and did not hesitate to volunteer.

“I’m feeling hopeful that this is the beginning of the end” of the pandemic, Witte said after receiving the first of two Pfizer doses. She will be vaccinated again in three weeks.

The state anticipates 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered this week to Minnesota hospitals and clinics, which will start administering them next week to health care workers at greatest risk of infection.

The coronavirus has caused at least 4,462 deaths and 381,841 known infections among Minnesotans and prompted Gov. Tim Walz to shut down bars, restaurants, fitness centers and entertainment venues for four weeks to try to slow its spread. Walz is expected on Wednesday to announce whether he will extend the order or let it expire as scheduled this Friday.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

— Pandemic backlash jeopardizes public health powers, leaders

— Pandemic scales back Christmas tradition of helicopter gift delivery in Alaska

— Sweden’s prime minister says health officials misjudged new infection wave

— EXPLAINER: Why is the EU taking so long to OK vaccine?

— U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

OMAHA, Neb. — The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Nebraska has been steadily declining over the past several weeks, but it remains at a high level that worries health experts.

Nebraska said 693 people were hospitalized with the virus on Monday. That number has been generally decreasing since the state set a record of 987 on Nov. 20, but it is still three times higher than it was on Oct. 1.

Dr. James Lawler with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security said it appears that more Nebraskans are doing things like dining out less often and wearing masks in public. And he said it helps that a number of Nebraska cities recently passed mask mandates.

“We have a vaccine rolling out, but that doesn’t change the overall picture,” Lawler said to the Omaha World-Herald. “Things could still turn south pretty easily.”

Nebraska has gone from having the fifth-highest rate of infection in the nation earlier this month to ranking 17th on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased from 1,772.14 new cases per day on Nov. 30 to 1,289.57 new cases per day on Monday.

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RAPID CITY, S.D. — The South Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol is assisting the state Department of Health in delivering the first allocation of coronavirus vaccines.

The Civil Air Patrol said it’s flying the Pfizer vaccine to smaller communities in South Dakota with its fleet of single-engine Cessna aircraft, flown by its volunteer pilots and crews. Other volunteer members will assist with mission planning and logistical support, the patrol said.

“We are proud that the State of South Dakota asked us to help them with this life-saving mission,” said Col. Nick Gengler, SDWG commander. “Since the early days of World War II, the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol has helped the state and nation with missions important to our safety and security.”

The patrol has planes and air crews in Sioux Falls, Pierre, Rapid City, and Spearfish, Pierre, and Brookings. The Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

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NEWARK, N.J. — An emergency room nurse at Newark’s University Hospital on Tuesday became the first in New Jersey to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maritza Beniquez said it was her birthday as the vaccination was administered.

“I couldn’t wait for this moment,” Beniquez said.

Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials were on hand at the hospital, where health care workers will be given the vaccine produced by Pfizer.

Murphy called the development “the first drops in a really big bucket” but also called it “a day worth celebrating.”

New Jersey is expected to get three shipments of the Pfizer vaccine this month, beginning with about 76,000 doses this week and another 86,000 next week.

The state has had nearly 16,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, the fifth-most in the country, according to the Johns Hopkins University Medicine Coronavirus Research Center.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.

Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.

“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”

The event was cheered by many on the island of 3.2 million people that recently imposed more severe measures to fight an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Puerto Rico has reported more than 107,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and more than 1,280 deaths.

Alicea was immunized a day after FedEx planes carrying more than 16,500 Pfizer vaccine doses landed in Puerto Rico, with another more than 13,600 expected later this week. The vaccine will be distributed to 65 hospitals around the island, according to Gov. Wanda Vázquez.

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CAIRO — Sudan on Tuesday said an international initiative would provide 8.4 million shots of vaccine against the coronavirus, without providing details on the type of vaccine the country would receive.

Amal al-Fateh, senior health official, told a news conference that the shots through COVAX are expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2021.

She said the first stage of vaccination would cover 20% of Sudanese, and that health workers at the forefront of the fight against the virus and elder people would be prioritized when the shots arrive.

She did not elaborate what kind of vaccine Sudan would receive.

Sudan, a country of more than 42 million people, has reported around 21,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 1,355 fatalities. The actual COVID-19 tally, however, is believed to be higher given the country’s limited testing.

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WASHINGTON: Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says President-elect Joe Biden and vice President-elect Kamala Harris should be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Speaking to ABC News, Fauci says, “For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can.”

“You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January,” he said.

Fauci said that while President Donald Trump, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early October, probably still has antibodies to the virus that will protect him for at least several months, he should get it as well to be “doubly sure.”

“You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now,” Fauci said.

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BERLIN — After days of pressuring the European Union’s medical regulator, Germany’s health minister said Tuesday that he has received assurances that the European Medicines Agency will approve a coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday he “welcomed” German media reports that said EMA would finalize its approval process of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23, instead of at a Dec. 29 meeting.

“Our goal is an approval before Christmas,” Spahn said. “We want to still start vaccinating this year.”

Spahn would not say from whom he had received the confirmation and the EMA could not immediately be reached for comment on exactly when it would release its findings on the approval process.

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MOSCOW — Vaccination against COVID-19 with the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine has started in all Russian regions, Russian authorities said Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to start “large-scale” vaccination in Russia two weeks ago, even though the Sputnik V vaccine is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The shots have been offered to medical workers for several months even though the vaccine was still in the middle of late-stage trials, and over 150,000 people in Russia have already been vaccinated, according to its developers.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Tuesday the vaccine has been delivered to all Russian regions, and the shots are being administered in over 1,200 medical facilities across the country. Medical workers, teachers and social workers are the first in line to get the shots.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported over 2.7 million confirmed cases in the pandemic and nearly 48,000 deaths. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine received regulatory approval in August in a move that drew international criticism, as by that time the shots had only been tested on a few dozen people.

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BRUSSELS — The Belgian cities of Brugge and Knokke-Heist are planning to introduce checks on shoppers coming from the neighboring Netherlands to avoid a scramble in their streets during the festive season.

After the Dutch government announced Monday a tough five-week lockdown comprising the closure of nonessential shops until Jan. 19, the cities close to the Netherlands border are expecting a big influx of Dutch shoppers.

“Just like the Belgians, the Dutch will want to do their Christmas shopping,” Brugge mayor Dirk De Fauw was quoted as saying Tuesday by local broadcaster RTBF. “We’ll have to be on our guard.”

In the coastal resort of Knokke-Heist, local authorities said police and stewards will manage traffic in shopping street and could close access roads to the town well-known for its endless sandy beach as they don’t have the authority to shut down the border.

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PARIS — As the holiday season approaches, French Prime Minister Jean Castex is encouraging the French to self-confine for 8 days before Christmas, rather than taking an automated coronavirus test.

Speaking on Europe-1 radio on Tuesday, Castex said such an approach prevents laboratories and pharmacies from becoming clogged. He also indicated that children can choose to skip school on Thursday and Friday so that they can begin self containment.

France on Tuesday is lifting a lockdown imposed on Oct. 28, but strict measures are still in place as infections are still high. There will be a nationwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., which will be lifted on Christmas Eve but not on New Year’s Eve. Theaters and cinemas will remain shut as will bars and restaurants.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities in Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that more than 3,000 COVID-19 cases have been detected in the country’s highly congested prisons, as infections also surge in the capital and its suburbs.

They said that 2,984 inmates and 103 guards have been confirmed to have the disease in seven prisons around the country.

Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested, with more than 26,000 inmates crowded in facilities with a capacity of 10,000.

Eleven inmates were killed in pandemic-related riots inside a prison early this month. Unrest has been growing, with prisoners demanding better facilities and care as COVID-19 cases increase. Inmates have staged several protests inside prisons in recent weeks.

Sri Lanka’s confirmed cases since March reached 33,477 on Tuesday, including 154 fatalities.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives president’s office says it is discussing how to provide a “humane response” to a request from neighboring Sri Lanka to allow burials for Muslims who die of COVID-19.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Hood said Tuesday that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has received a request from Sri Lanka to look into the possibility of allowing such burials.

“The request has been received. At present we are considering and discussions are ongoing with regard to what would be the appropriate and humane response,” Hood told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate confirmation from Sri Lanka of such a request.

Sri Lanka's government in March announced it will cremate the bodies of all people who die of COVID-19, saying the coronavirus could contaminate underground water.

Sri Lankan Muslims have urged the government to allow burials, citing their religious beliefs. They accuse the government of denying Muslims a basic right without scientific grounds, since many countries in the world allow burials.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported another 880 new cases of the coronavirus as it slipped deeper into its worst wave of the pandemic yet.

That brought the country’s caseload to 44,364 on Tuesday, which was the 38th consecutive day of triple-digit daily increases. More than 10,000 infections have been reported in the last 15 days alone, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, restaurants, churches and schools.

The death toll was at 600 after 13 COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 205 among 11,205 active patients were in serious or critical condition as fears grow over possible shortages in intensive-care units.

Critics say the country’s viral resurgence underscores the risk of encouraging economic activity when vaccines are at least months away. The government had lowered social distancing restrictions to the lowest tier in October out of concerns about sluggish growth rates despite experts warning of a viral surge during winter when people spend longer hours indoors.

The government restored some restrictions over the past weeks, such as shutting down nightclubs, halting in-person school classes and requiring restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.

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This story has been corrected to show that the French prime minister encouraged his nation to self-isolate for 8 days before Christmas, not 10 days.

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