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Saturday October 16th, 2021 8:03AM

The Latest: US to reopen land travel from Canada, Mexico

By The Associated Press
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SAN DIEGO — Beleaguered business owners and families separated by a nonessential travel ban are celebrating after the Biden administration says it will reopen U.S. land borders next month.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November.

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.

The 19-month coronavirus restrictions had economic, social and cultural impact, preventing shopping and cross-border family gatherings when relatives live on different sides of the border.

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people. “Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since getting their second vaccine dose and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Mexico has not enforced coronavirus entry procedures for land travelers.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. border residents rejoice in lifting of travel ban

— 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

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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:

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge declined Wednesday to intervene to stop Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the month.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy says none of the nine plaintiffs met the legal threshold for an injunction to halt the requirement to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29 or lose their jobs.

Levy ruled the record indicates regular testing alone is not sufficient to stop the spread of the delta variant.

“The speed of the delta variant’s transmission outpaces test-result availability,” he wrote. Daily testing, he wrote, would require use of rapid tests that are both less accurate and in short supply.

The judge concluded the plaintiffs were unable to show an injunction was in the public interest or that they had a strong likelihood of prevailing if the lawsuit moves forward. The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in August, vowed to appeal.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Doctors in Bucharest issued an open letter titled “a cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed health care system copes with record cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest wrote a letter addressed to Romanians that says the medical system has “reached the limit.”

On Wednesday, Romania confirmed 15,733 new infections and 390 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 40,461. Data from health authorities indicate that more than 90% of coronavirus patients who died last week were unvaccinated.

Hungary has agreed to provide care to several dozen COVID-19 patients from Romania in the coming days to help ease the burden on hospitals.

Dragos Zaharia, a primary care doctor at Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, thinks Romanian authorities should have enlisted a “famous personality” to lead the country’s vaccination campaign.

“Only anonymous guys are leading this fight,” Zaharia told The Associated Press. “It’s heartbreaking for us when we know that a lot of those who died could have lived, if they would have been vaccinated.”

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BOSTON — More than 800 people who work for Boston have been suspended without pay for failing to comply with the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced in August the city’s roughly 18,000 employees would be required to either show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing.

Janey says the suspended employees who didn’t meet Tuesday’s initial deadline came from five “public facing” agencies, including the public schools department, libraries, the center for youth and families, the disability commission and the age commission. Workers who continue to ignore the mandate face termination, she said. The school department alone has about 11,000 employees.

The city is making plans to deal with potential staffing shortfalls, which so far accounts for less than 1% of workers. Suspended employees can return to work by providing proof of a negative test.

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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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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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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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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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