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Sunday October 17th, 2021 12:16AM

The Latest: WHO: Global cases decline, Europe deaths rise

By The Associated Press
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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of global coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.

In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic published on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says there were about 2.8 million new cases and 46,000 confirmed deaths in the last week, a drop of 7% and 10% respectively. Europe reported a 7% rise in cases, while all other world regions reported a decrease.

WHO says Europe also had the biggest rise in deaths in the previous week, with 11% more COVID-19 deaths. WHO says the highest numbers of new cases in Europe were reported in Britain, Turkey and Russia.

The biggest drops in cases came in Africa and the Western Pacific, where case numbers fell by 32% and 27%, respectively. Deaths in both regions fell by more than a third.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— FDA grapples with timing of booster for J&J COVID-19 vaccine

— Russia, WHO differ on when approval will come for Sputnik V

— Families of COVID-19 patients ask hospitals to rethink visitor policies

— US to reopen land borders in November to fully vaccinated travelers

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is wrestling with how to decide on booster doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Other manufacturers want to offer boosters six months after primary vaccination. But J&J proposed a range of times, from two months to six months. In a review posted Wednesday, FDA scientists didn’t reach a firm conclusion, citing shortcomings with J&J’s data.

On Thursday and Friday, an FDA advisory panel will recommend whether to back boosters of both the J&J and Moderna vaccines. An extra dose of Pfizer’s vaccine already is available to certain Americans.

Pfizer and Moderna have provided the majority of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines. More than 170 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with those two-dose shots while less than 15 million Americans got the J&J shot.

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MOSCOW — The head of the Russian sovereign fund bankrolling the shot says Russia is ready to provide up to 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

That’s despite the lack of WHO approval and Sputnik V vaccine production issues that are drawing concerns worldwide. Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev and the World Health Organization had vastly different takes Wednesday on when the Russian vaccine would get WHO’s stamp of approval.

Sputnik V is already being used in 70 countries around the world despite not yet authorized by the U.N. health agency. Some officials in countries, especially in Latin America, have expressed concerns they aren’t getting the vaccine’s second shot in time to properly innoculate their people.

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MIAMI — Families of COVID-19 patients are asking hospitals to rethink visitor policies a year and a half into the pandemic, which has killed 716,000 people in the U.S.

The relatives say they’re being denied the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time. Doctors also are increasingly telling hospitals to relax restrictions to allow patients to see their families.

Hospitals in at least a half-dozen states have loosened restrictions governing visits to COVID patients. Others, however, are standing firm, backed by studies and industry groups that indicate such policies have been crucial to keeping hospital-acquired infections low.

The University of Utah Health this year announced its hospitals would allow up to two adult visitors for the entire hospital stay with protective equipment and recently vaccinated or recovered from the virus. Many hospitals have made exceptions only for coronavirus patients who are about to die.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization released a proposed list of 25 experts to advise it on the next steps in searching for the origins of the coronavirus after its earlier efforts were slammed for accommodating China, where the first human cases were detected in late 2019.

In a statement on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says its proposed experts — including some who were on the original team that went to Wuhan to probe the origins of COVID-19 — would be subject to a two-week public consultation period. Among the suggested members of the new team are Marion Koopmans of the Netherlands and Thea Fischer of Denmark, who were on the WHO team that visited China in February. In a recent commentary, Koopmans, Fischer and others said the search for the origins of COVID-19 had “stalled” and Chinese officials were still refusing to hand over some raw data.

After the WHO-led team completed its China visit, the experts released a report concluding the possibility the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan lab was “extremely unlikely,” prompting criticism from outside scientists that the theory had not been properly vetted. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later acknowledged it had been “premature” to dismiss the lab theory.

Numerous health experts and scientists have called for an independent investigation to be conducted beyond WHO, pointing out the agency has no authority to compel countries, including China, to cooperate. China has said it welcomes further investigations of the coronavirus’ origins, but in other countries. A recent review of U.S. intelligence ordered by President Joe Biden found inconclusive evidence whether the coronavirus originated in a laboratory.

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CHICAGO — The head of the Chicago police officers’ union has called on its members to defy the city’s requirement to report their COVID-19 vaccination status by Friday or be placed on unpaid leave.

In the video posted online Tuesday and first reported on by the Chicago Sun-Times, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara vowed to take Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to court if it tries to enforce the mandate, which requires city workers to report their vaccine status by the end of the work week. After Friday, unvaccinated workers who won’t submit to semiweekly coronavirus testing will be placed on unpaid leave.

Catanzara suggested if the city does enforce its requirement and many union members refuse to comply with it, “It’s safe to say that the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up.”

Lightfoot has a press briefing later Wednesday.

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BUDAPEST -- Hungary has agreed to provide care to several dozen COVID-19 patients from neighboring Romania in the coming days.

Romania has struggled with record coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says his country would accept 50 Romanian patients into two intensive care clinics in the Hungarian cities of Szeged and Debrecen, both near the Romanian border.

“The burden on the health care system in Romania is already at its limit in many cases,” Szijjarto said.

In Romania, Only 34% of adults have been fully vaccinated, compared to a European Union average of 75%.

On Wednesday, Romania confirmed 15,733 new infections and 390 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 40,461.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported a record 984 daily coronavirus deaths amid a slow vaccination rate.

It’s marked several record daily death tolls in the past few weeks. Infections have soared to near all-time highs, with 28,717 confirmed cases reported Wednesday.

The Kremlin has attributed the mounting contagion and deaths to slow vaccinations. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday about 29% of the country’s nearly 146 million people were fully vaccinated.

President Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to speed up the vaccination rate on Tuesday, but he also has cautioned against forcing people to get the shots. Health experts have attributed the slow pace of vaccination to widespread vaccine skepticism and disinformation.

The Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown similar to the one during the first months of the pandemic that badly crippled the economy and dented Putin’s ratings. It has delegated the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

The increased infections have increased the pressure on Russia’s health care system. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 11% of Russia’s 235,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in serious or critical condition.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has confirmed more than 7.8 million cases and 219,329 deaths -- the highest death toll in Europe. Russia trails the U.S (718,000), Brazil (601,000) India (451,000) and Mexico (283,000) in confirmed global deaths.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania received 5,200 doses of monoclonal antibodies from Italy to assist with a rapid surge of infections amid low vaccination rates.

Coronavirus infections in Romania, a European Union nation of 19 million, have skyrocketed in the last month from around 2,000 daily cases to pandemic highs of nearly 17,000 this week. It registered 442 deaths on Tuesday, the highest toll since the start of the pandemic.

The antibodies, which are used to treat COVID-19 patients in the early stages of a coronavirus infection, were brought to Bucharest from Milan by the Romanian Air Force on Tuesday evening, Romania’s defense ministry said in a statement.

The ministry says the aid is part of a request Romania made last week to the EU for help through its EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Romania has fully vaccinated only 34% of adults, the second-least vaccinated country in the EU behind Bulgaria. Romania has confirmed more than 1.3 million cases and 40,461 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new rules, announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country. By mid-January, essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner."

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

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SEKE, Zimbabwe — The Apostolic church is one of Zimbabwe’s most skeptical groups when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. It is also one of the southern African nation’s largest religious denominations.

But many of these Christian churches, which combine traditional beliefs with a Pentecostal doctrine, preach against modern medicine and demand followers seek healing or protection against disease through spiritual means like prayer and the use of holy water.

Some secluded Apostolic groups believe vaccines are linked to Satanism. To combat that, authorities have formed teams of campaigners who are also churchgoers to dispel misconceptions about the vaccines in their own churches.

While slow and steady might be best in dealing with some religious hesitancy, the situation is urgent in Africa, which has the world’s lowest vaccination rates. Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated 15% of its population, much better than many other African nations but still far behind the United States and Europe.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden’s administration’s mandate that employers with 100 or more workers require coronavirus vaccinations or institute weekly virus testing has moved one step closer to enforcement.

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finalized the initial draft of the emergency order and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. That’s according to the Department of Labor.

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will conduct a standard review of the regulation.

Officials didn't immediately provide an estimate for the OMB examination. The agency has 90 days to review the rule or send it back to OSHA for revision. Text of the proposed order won’t be published until OMB completes its review.

Owing to the bureaucracy surrounding the rulemaking process, President Joe Biden has encouraged businesses to implement mandates ahead of the final rule being implemented.

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