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Sunday February 28th, 2021 11:11PM

The Latest: Dutch municipality to test nearly 62K residents

By The Associated Press
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch municipality is planning to test all of its residents two years of age or older following a coronavirus outbreak at an elementary school that included cases of the more transmissible variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.

Lansingerland municipality’s decision to test nearly all of its 62,000 residents marks the first time such a mass test has happened in the Netherlands since the pandemic began.

The local health authority said last week that a cluster of some 75 virus cases linked to a school in the town of Bergschenhoek included 30 positive tests of the new variant.

The mass test aims to study the spread of the new variant and quell its spread in the municipality close to the port city of Rotterdam.

All elementary schools in the Netherlands are closed as part of a strict five-week lockdown that is widely expected to be extended this week.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— President-elect Joe Biden faces challenge in guiding America past the Trump era, but success on virus, economy may help

— Health expert says worst time for Britain's National Health Service is hitting now

— China says World Health Organization experts will arrive Thursday to investigate the origins of the pandemic

— A doctor using a horse-drawn cart to reach patients in mountain villages in Ukraine worries that its lockdown came too late

— India took a regulatory shortcut for a homegrown vaccine despite scant evidence of its effectiveness

— 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:

MADRID — Spain has reported more than 61,000 new coronavirus infections since the last Health Ministry update on Friday and 401 confirmed fatalities, a sharp increase that the country’s top coronavirus expert pitted on Christmas gatherings rather than the new virus variant identified in the U.K.

Fernando Simón, who leads Spain’s health emergency coordination center, says that the country has found 70 cases of the new variant.

“In our case, the evolution we are seeing,” he said “is a problem of the behavior that we’ve had in the past few days.”

Spain’s 14-day cumulative incidence, considered a good thermometer by experts of the contagion, shot up to 435 cases per 100,000 residents with Monday’s data.

Coronavirus patients are keeping busy 14% of the country’s hospital beds, a share that almost doubles to 26% in intensive care wards.

The country has recorded 2.1 million infections and at least 52,000 deaths for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools’ students are starting to return to classroom learning as doors open to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students.

The third-largest school district in the U.S. began Monday to phase-in classroom instruction after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Students in kindergarten through 8th grade will have the option to return Feb. 1. or continue with online learning. District officials haven’t provided data on exactly how many students have returned or how many teachers showed up for work.

The Chicago Teachers Union has opposed reopening plans due to concerns about the danger of contracting the coronavirus in school.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he hopes vaccinations against the coronavirus will begin later this week after authorities complete their final regulatory tests for the approval of China’s SinoVac vaccine.

“God willing, our (vaccination) campaign will begin on Thursday or Friday,” Erdogan told reporters following a Cabinet meeting.

The first shipment of 3 million doses of the SinoVac vaccine reached Turkey late last month. The country is expected to receive a total of 50 million vaccine doses.

Erdogan also said that talks were continuing with Germany’s BioNTech for the purchase of the vaccine it is jointly producing with Pfizer.

Earlier, Turkey had said it had reached an agreement for the purchase of some 30 million doses of that vaccine.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization said the recent surge in global coronavirus cases is largely due to “the increased mixing of people,” not the newly identified virus variants.

In a press briefing Monday, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said that the spike in cases in numerous countries was detected before the new variants were identified.

Van Kerkhove noted that during the summer, COVID-19 cases were down to single digits in most countries across Europe.

“We lost the battle because we changed our mixing patterns over the summer, into the fall and especially around Christmas and the New Year,” she said. “That has had a direct impact on the exponential growth that you have seen in many countries,” she said.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said while there is some evidence the new variants may be accelerating the spread of COVID-19, there is no evidence that they are driving “any element of severity.”

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government said Monday that primary school pupils of the three youngest levels will return to schools Jan. 18.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said the “very difficult decision” was taken because the number of new confirmed COVID-19 infections has stabilized and there have been no recent spikes in new cases or deaths.

Niedzielski said the health care system has substantial reserves for treating coronavirus patients, with 16,000 specialized beds still available, while the nationwide vaccination program is underway.

Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek said teachers returning to classrooms will be tested for the coronavirus this week to make sure they can resume work.

Other pandemic-related restrictions that have shuttered shopping malls, restaurants, fitness clubs, schools and universities will remain in place. People are still required to wear masks at all times outdoors and keep a safe distance.

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MILAN — Italy registered another 448 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday, bringing its confirmed pandemic case total to 79,203, with another 12,532 positive cases recorded in the previous day.

Virus deaths were down slightly from weekday trends, as fewer tests are carried out on the weekends. The second surge in COVID-19 cases has proven resilient despite months of varying restrictions aimed at quelling the contagion.

The government is considering new restrictions set to start this weekend, with the two regions where the virus was first detected in Italy in February 2020 — Lombardy and Veneto — likely to go under partial lockdown.

Nationwide, both the number of patients in intensive care and regular wards is rising, with 2,642 in intensive care and 23,603 hospitalized in other wards.

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SAN DIEGO — Dozens of cars were filing into a parking lot in downtown San Diego near its baseball stadium early Monday after the county opened a vaccination super station aimed at inoculating 5,000 health care workers a day.

San Diego was among the U.S. cities converting stadium parking lots into mass vaccination stations to try and significantly ramp up the effort to inoculate health care workers weeks after the initial rollout has fallen below expectations.

San Diego County was limiting the number to 2,500 the first day to allow medical staff from the University of California, San Diego, to work out any kinks.

So far, 12,500 health care workers in San Diego County have signed up for an appointment at the drive-thru vaccination super station near the stadium, said Heather Buschman, spokeswoman for UC San Diego Health.

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WORCESTER, Mass. — Thousands of police officers, firefighters and other first responders in Massachusetts are scheduled to get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday.

About 60 sites have been set up around the state to vaccinate an estimated 45,000 people over several weeks, state officials said.

The city of Worcester has turned its senior center into a mass vaccination site for first responders from the city and several surrounding communities. Police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel from public and private ambulance companies, and others will be given their first dose.

To make sure there are enough qualified people to administer the vaccines, UMass Medical School’s Graduate School of Nursing spent Saturday training more than 160 medical school students in intermuscular injection.

The state so far has limited vaccinations to medical professionals and nursing home residents.

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Germany’s BioNTech, which developed the first COVID-19 vaccination on the market with American partner Pfizer, says it expects to produce 2 billion doses in 2021 with ramped-up manufacturing.

Company CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin says with three manufacturing sites in the United States and three in Europe operating or coming online soon, it expects to approximately double the number of doses committed for this fiscal year.

The company said in a presentation Monday to the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that it is also looking to expand the people able to receive its vaccine to include pregnant women and children, among others.

As of Jan 10, the company says it has already shipped 32.9 million doses of its vaccine. The vaccine was 95% effective in trials.

The company’s vaccine currently has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, making delivery to remote areas difficult. But the company says it’s working on a more stable version.

___

LOS ANGELES — California has hit another grim coronavirus milestone.

Data from John Hopkins University on Monday showed the nation’s most populous state has recorded more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic started nearly a year ago.

Deaths have exploded since a COVID-19 surge began in October. It took the state six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000.

Over the weekend, the state reported a two-day record of 1,163 deaths. Hospitalizations also have exploded and many hospitals are stretched to the limit. Health officials have warned the worst is yet to come later this month.

Los Angeles County will also stop using Curative COVID-19 tests at pop-up testing sites after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that the test could produce false negatives.

The county Department of Health Services said in a statement Sunday that the change to Fulgent Genetics tests will take place this week. The department said Curative PCR tests used at the pop-up sites between Dec. 13 and Jan. 2 made up about 10% of all COVID-19 tests administered at county-supported test sites during that time.

The city of Los Angeles, meanwhile, announced that its massive COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium will transition into a vaccination center by the end of this week.

—-

JOHANNESBURG — The United States ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, spent 10 days in intensive care with COVID-19 and is now recuperating at her residence.

Marks says in a statement on Twitter that after first experiencing “fever, chills, a sore throat and fatigue,” she went into a hospital on Dec. 28 when her symptoms worsened to receive “supplemental oxygen and therapeutic treatment."

She was quickly moved to an intensive care unit where she stayed for 10 days and then spent a further three days in the COVID-19 unit, she said.

Marks said she was discharged late last week and is continuing to recuperate at the ambassador’s residence. Her condition is improving and the doctors are confident that she will eventually make a full recovery, she said.

—-

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — The Palestinian prime minister has accused Israel of “racism” for distributing coronavirus vaccines to its own citizens, including West Bank settlers, without providing them to Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh spoke at a weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday. He said Israel “boasts about the speed of vaccinating its citizens and neglects the legal responsibility to provide vaccines to the people under occupation.”

The Palestinian Authority has not publicly requested vaccines from Israel, which has launched one of the world’s fastest inoculation campaigns. Israel has already given a first vaccine dose to around 20% of its population of 9 million.

Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, told The Associated Press on Monday that Israel would consider sharing vaccines with the Palestinians once it vaccinates its own population.

—-

LONDON — England’s chief medical officer warned Monday that the coming weeks would be the worst of the pandemic for the National Health Service as he appealed to the public to strictly follow guidelines meant to prevent the spread of the disease.

Chris Whitty said political leaders are considering tightening the rules as a new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19 aggravates an already difficult situation. Hospitals are overflowing and exhausted medical staff are under strain.

“I think everybody accepts that this is the most dangerous time we’ve really had in terms of numbers into the NHS,’’ Whitty told the BBC.

English hospitals are now treating 55% more COVID-19 cases than during the first peak of the pandemic in April.

England last week entered a third national lockdown that closed all nonessential shops, schools, colleges and universities for at least six weeks. But police report many violations of rules that require people to stay home except for essential reasons.

Seven new large-scale vaccination centers were opening Monday, joining around 1,000 other sites across the country. The U.K. government’s goal is to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.

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