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Monday October 18th, 2021 6:58AM

The Latest: France's go-slow vaccination strategy backfires

By The Associated Press
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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ Health Ministry says that a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected among confirmed coronavirus infections on the island nation.

The ministry said on Monday the country’s Institute of Neurology and Genetics identified the variant VOC 202012/01 in one of 24 samples collected from individuals who had contracted COVID-19 in the last week of December.

The ministry said due to the small number of samples, it’s unclear how widespread the variant is within the community and that more checking will be required to determine that.

On Sunday, the ministry said that the new variant had been identified in 12 of 19 samples from COVID-19 infected persons who had arrived to Cyprus from the United Kingdom between Dec. 6-20.

U.K. health officials are struggling to control the spread of the new variant that is more contagious than previous variants.

Cyprus, with a population of around 900.000 on Monday announced 665 new COVID-19 infections out of nearly 13,500 tests, raising the overall tally to 24,639 cases. Deaths as a result of the coronavirus have reached 133.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— UK takes big step on the vaccine front, starts giving out first coronavirus vaccine shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca

— Congress has convened for a new session, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place

— Fauci says faster vaccination rate offers a ‘glimmer of hope,' says Biden's pledge of 100 million shots in his 1st 100 days is achievable

— Vaccines are a distant thought in Somalia, where coronavirus is spreading with little being done to stop it

— Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine

— 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:

SANTA FE, N.M. — More than 230,000 New Mexicans have signed up since the state launched its vaccination registration website two weeks ago, state officials said Monday.

The New Mexico Department of Health said the site has been updated to allow people to complete a comprehensive profile that includes personal medical conditions, employment information and other data.

The site was created to help manage distribution once more vaccines become available. Those who register will be notified when they become eligible and shots are available in their area.

State officials believe it’s the only system of its kind in the country.

New Mexico also plans to launch a call center to provide additional support for those who want to register or ask questions about the process.

“Our highest priorities remain the same: ensuring that vaccine goes to those who are most exposed to infected people or infectious materials, and preventing vaccine from going to waste,” Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in a statement issued Monday.

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MADRID — Spain is reporting 30,579 new coronavirus infections and 241 confirmed deaths following a 4-day data reporting hiatus over an extended holiday.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday that despite distortions for slower reporting during the New Year and the weekend, Monday’s figures confirm a sharp contagion trend that is also being felt in new hospitalizations.

Spain has recorded nearly 2 million infections and more than 51,000 deaths for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

Fearing that the country will follow the sharp increase that other European nations are seeing, authorities in several Spanish regions have been recently tightening restrictions on movement, business activity and social gatherings.

Northeastern Catalonia, home to 6.6 million, will ban all but essential travel out of its municipalities during 10 days starting on Thursday, closing shopping centers and allowing only sales of essential goods on weekends. These are in addition to existing restrictions on the activities of bars and restaurants, as well as on cultural events.

More restrictions have also spread to other areas in the south of the country, around the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, where authorities are trying to confirm if a spike in cases could be related to a new coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K.

Illa said that, barring more logistical problems, authorities are confident that vaccination levels will reach “cruising speed” by next week, once the holiday period is over. Spain has received nearly 720,000 vaccine doses from Pfizer and BioNTech and has so far administered just over 80,000.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek nursery and primary schools will reopen on Jan. 11 after conducting online lessons for nearly two months under the country’s second lockdown.

The education ministry said Monday that secondary school pupils would continue to do distance learning starting Jan. 8 after the end of the Christmas and New Year holidays, with a view to resuming in-person attendance when possible.

Greece saw a spike in new infections, deaths and intensive care hospitalization in November, which prompted a new lockdown. Matters have since improved.

Authorities reported 427 new confirmed infections on Monday — a considerable improvement from a high of more than 3,500 in November. Another 54 deaths were reported, compared with a daily record of 120 in November.

The overall death toll in the country of nearly 11 million is about 5,000.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — The superintendent of South Carolina’s public schools said Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus, was experiencing “mild symptoms” but would continue to do her work from home.

In a tweet, Molly Spearman said that she learned on Sunday she had tested positive for the virus on Dec. 31 and “is fortunate to have only mild symptoms.”

Spearman said she had already been quarantining after her husband and son tested positive earlier last week. While isolating, Spearman said, “I plan to continue to work from home and meet virtually as so many others in the education community have done this school year.”

A spokesman for the Education Department said Monday that Spearman was primarily experiencing fatigue and had participated in several virtual meetings during the day.

Spearman, 66, has been chief of South Carolina’s public school system since 2015. News of her diagnosis came on the day that the state’s 780,000 public school children returned to school following the holiday break. Some schools are holding in-person instruction, while many are using a hybrid of in-person and virtual schooling amid the ongoing pandemic.

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PARIS — France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired. Only about 500 people were vaccinated in the first week, rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

President Emmanuel Macron is holding a special meeting with top government officials Monday to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.

The slow rollout was blamed on mismanagement and staffing shortages during end-of-year vacations.

It was also attributed to a complex consent policy designed to accommodate broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.

Doctors and opposition politicians pleaded Monday for speedier access to vaccines.

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ROME — Italy registered considerably fewer confirmed new coronavirus infections on Monday, but it also saw a roughly 25% day-to-day reduction in the number of swab tests performed, a not uncommon development after a weekend.

With 10,800 new COVID-19 cases, Italy’s pandemic tally of confirmed infections rose to 2,166,244. There were 348 deaths since Sunday, one more than in the previous 24-hour period, according to Health Ministry figures.

With a known death toll of 75,680 as of Monday, Italy, along with Britain, has registered the highest count of pandemic dead in Europe.

The Italian government is weighing whether to extend, lift or modify partial lockdown measures which apply during the holiday period, which ends on Jan. 6. Separately, operators of cinemas, gyms, pools and other businesses currently shuttered are pressing for permission to re-open when a government decree, aimed at limiting opportunities for crowding, expires on Jan. 15.

Italy has been struggling to rein in the transmission of coronavirus infections, which surged in fall after a significant summer reduction in cases.

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LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal has begun inoculating staff and residents of elderly care homes against COVID-19.

Officials said Tuesday they hope to vaccinate the target of 200,000 people at care homes by the end of February.

Last week, frontline health workers were the first in Portugal to be vaccinated.

From next month, vaccines will also be available for people aged 50 or more with underlying health problems, such as lung or heart deficiencies, before being extended to the rest of the population.

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LONDON — Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says that from Tuesday, people in Scotland are legally required to stay at home except for essential reasons to curb a renewed surge of coronavirus infections.

Sturgeon told lawmakers Monday that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for at least the whole of January to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.

Under the new lockdown rules, which are broadly similar to those imposed during the first peak of the pandemic in spring, people can go out for exercise but can only meet one other person from another household. School closures are extended until February except for children of key workers and children under social care.

Sturgeon said: “I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”

Scotland, which has its own devolved government, has often imposed stricter coronavirus restrictions than those in England throughout the pandemic.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a televised news conference Monday evening and says Parliament will meet on Wednesday. He previously said that more severe restrictions are coming.

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BERLIN — Austria is effectively lengthening a national shutdown by a week until Jan. 24 after the government abandoned plans to allow people to open up shops and other facilities to people who had tested negative for the coronavirus.

Austria’s current lockdown, its third, started on Dec. 26. Its original plan was to have restaurants, nonessential shops and haidressers, among others, reopen from Jan. 18 for people who could prove they had tested negative for COVID-19.

But the Austria Press Agency reported Monday that Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that wouldn’t be possible due to resistance from the country’s opposition to the concept of people “testing themselves free.”

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BOSTON — Authorities say dozens of positive coronavirus cases have been traced back to Christmas services at a Massachusetts church.

The Woburn Board of Health has been working with the state to notify people who attended one of four services Dec. 23 and 24 at Genesis Community Church in Woburn, Mayor Scott Galvin tells The Boston Globe.

The mayor says the church is cooperating with authorities. Officials say at least 44 cases have been traced to the church.

Genesis in a statement says it is encouraging anyone who attended the services to get tested, whether symptomatic or not, and helping those who need to quarantine to prevent further transmission. Services are now being held online.

The church statement says: “We are deeply saddened to learn that people within Genesis tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to make sure this does not spread any further.”

Under state guidelines, houses of worship are limited to 25% of capacity. The church said it took proper precautions, including preregistration to attend and requiring masks and social distancing.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch health ministry says it is bringing forward the start of its coronavirus vaccinations by two days, with the first shots being administered Wednesday.

The government has faced criticism for its late start in delivering vaccinations while other European Union nations already have begun.

The ministry said Monday that the first shots will be given Wednesday to care home staff and frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

The program will start at a central vaccination location in the town of Veghel, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Amsterdam, for care home staff, and in hospitals for frontline health care workers.

Over the subsequent days, it will expand to many other locations across the Netherlands.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says impatience in Germany with what is widely being perceived as a slow start to coronavirus vaccinations is understandable, but things will improve.

Spokesman Steffen Seibert also said Monday that the government stands by its decision last year to have the European Union order vaccines for the whole 27-nation bloc.

Nearly 265,000 vaccinations had been reported to Germany’s national disease control center by Monday, a week after the campaign started. But some critics are pointing to faster clearance of vaccines and inoculation campaigns in other countries including the U.K., the U.S. and Israel and faulting the EU’s strategy in ordering vaccines.

Seibert told reporters that “the impatience and the many questions people are now asking are entirely understandable.” He said that “some things can and will improve.”

Seibert said that choosing to order vaccines along with Germany’s EU partners “was and is the right way” to proceed. He said that for a country in the middle of Europe with many borders, “everyone for themselves cannot be the way.”

Health Ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz said 1.3 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine were delivered to Germany before the end of 2020 and another 670,000 are due on Friday. Germany has 83 million people.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities on Monday announced that the schools will partially reopen from next week, after they had been closed for nearly three months due to a COVID-19 surge.

Accordingly, primary classes will commence on Jan. 11 while Grade 11 is expected to resume on Jan. 25. However, the education ministry has decided not to commence schools in the capital Colombo and it’s suburbs from where COVID-19 cases are still detected from those areas.

Sri Lanka closed schools in October when the second wave of the COVID-19 erupted after two clusters — one centered on a garment factory and the other on a fish market — emerged in and around Colombo.

In November, schools in some areas reopened, but they were also again closed for the school holidays in December.

Sri Lanka has also banned public gatherings and imposed restrictions on public transportation.

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