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Saturday May 28th, 2022 6:51AM

Live updates: Poland sees 775 deaths, highest toll this fall

By The Associated Press
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WARSAW, Poland — Poland on Wednesday reported 775 deaths from COVID-19 over the past day, the highest death toll in this latest wave of infection.

The last time the nation in central Europe recorded such a high number was in the spring, while vaccines were still being rolled out and when the region was a global hot spot for infection and death.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry said that most of those who died in the past 24 hours were not vaccinated.

The European Union nation of 38 million has now reported nearly 93,000 virus deaths. It has a vaccination rate of 54.8%.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

__ COVID-19 case drop may show South Africa's omicron peak has passed

— As COVID-19 fueled the drug crisis, Native Americans hit the worst

— Biden pivots to home tests to fight omicron surge as Christmas nears

— Omicron casts a new shadow over economy's pandemic recovery

— Parents, schools face another reckoning over pandemic

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.

Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint — far from conclusive yet — that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.

South Africa has been at the forefront of the omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.

After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province — South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria — the decrease started earlier and has continued.

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PARIS — French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Wednesday that omicron infections are spreading fast and that the coronavirus variant will become the dominant infection in the last days of 2021.

Speaking to BFMTV, Veran ruled out additional restrictions on public life and said the government’s main effort to stop the spread of the virus is a robust vaccination campaign, including vaccination of children aged 5-11 that started on Wednesday.

“It’s time to start vaccinating children,” Veran told the morning news program on BFMTV after 350 vaccination centers opened around the country to start administering shots to young children. Children need the consent of one parent to be vaccinated.

More than a thousand in every 100,000 children aged 6-10 are infected with coronavirus, according to government figures that were last updated Dec. 6.

Currently, 145 children are hospitalized in France for severe illness due to COVID-19 and 27 children are receiving medical treatment in intensive care units, the heath minister said.

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NEW YORK — Kathryn Malara, a Brooklyn teacher, lingered on a street, filled with dread about going to her job.

“I’m sitting in my car terrified to walk into school,” she wrote on Twitter just before taking a deep breath and heading to her classroom. “Cases exploding. People I really care about are sick & frightened.”

The quick spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has stirred another angst-ridden reckoning about whether in-person schooling is worth the risk. Malara and other teachers worry about endangering their health by entering crowded schools. Frustrated parents wonder how to keep their children safe and whether campuses could become superspreader sites.

“It’s creeping back up again, and I don’t like this. I’m worried. Lives are at stake here — not just my son’s life,” said Starita Ansari, a public school parent in Manhattan who is keeping her 10th grader home after being rattled by the latest COVID-19 infections at his school.

On Monday, a fifth of New York City’s public school students skipped in-person classes, an indication of the anxiety spawned by the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in New York state, which in recent days has broken infection records.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark said Wednesday that people between 18 and 39 can book their booster shot four and half months after the second shot, a month earlier than planned.

“We need to prevent both infection and disease with the omicron variant. That is the reason,” said Soeren Brostroem, head of the National Board of Health.

“We have a situation where hospitalization rates are rising from week to week and we expect that increase to continue and we expect it to put pressure on our healthcare system,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Denmark on Wednesday recorded more than 13,000 new cases.

The Scandinavian country has changed its testing strategy, saying only a representative sample will be checked for omicron. Anne-Marie Vangsted of Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said it it is “no longer necessary for citizens to know whether it is omicron, as they must relate to the infection in the same way as before.”

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BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control center says the omicron variant could be dominant in the European Union’s most populous country in one to three weeks.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Wednesday there have been about 540 confirmed and 1,848 suspected cases of omicron so far. But he noted those cases are one to two weeks old, because of the time need to report and sequence cases.

Wieler said: “The trend is crystal-clear. With a doubling time (for cases) of about three days, the new variant could in the next one, two, at the latest three weeks already account for the majority of all infections in our country.”

Germany’s federal and state governments agreed on Tuesday to introduce new restrictions by Dec. 28, limiting private gatherings to 10 people, shutting nightclubs and removing spectators from major events like soccer games

Wieler called for caution before that. He said Christmas “should not be the spark that sets off the omicron fire” and urged Germans to meet as few people as possible and refrain from unnecessary travel.

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LONDON — England has trimmed the self-isolation period for vaccinated people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to seven days in many cases provided two negative lateral flow tests are taken.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Wednesday the decision to shorten the period from 10 days to seven will help limit the disruption to people’s daily lives.

“I think this is a very sensible, balanced and proportionate take,’’ he told the BBC. “Of course this new variant is spreading very rapidly, it is disrupting many people’s lives. It is great that when people do get infected that they are properly isolating, I think that clearly helps prevent infection.’’

The U.K. Health Security Agency says starting Wednesday vaccinated people who receive negative lateral flow tests on day six and day seven of their self-isolation period will no longer have to self-isolate for the full 10 days. The tests must be taken 24 hours apart and the first test must be taken no earlier than day six.

There was no change to the guidance for unvaccinated positive cases or unvaccinated close contacts of people who test positive, who must still self-isolate for 10 days.

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WASHINGTON — Fighting the omicron variant surging through the country, President Joe Biden announced the government will provide 500 million free rapid home-testing kits, increase support for hospitals under strain and redouble vaccination and boosting efforts.

At the White House on Tuesday, Biden detailed major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan, his hand forced by the fast-spreading variant. Yet his message was clear that the winter holidays could be close to normal for the vaccinated while potentially dangerous for the unvaccinated.

His pleas are not political, he emphasized. He noted that former President Donald Trump has gotten his booster shot, and he said it’s Americans’ “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.

“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” the president said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

Biden chastised social media and people on cable TV who have made misleading statements to discourage people from getting vaccinated.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s drugs authority has granted emergency use approval for the country’s first locally-developed COVID-19 vaccine, TURKOVAC.

In a televised address, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said mass production of the vaccine — which uses the “inactivated virus” technology — began on Wednesday immediately after its approval by the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency.

Turkey hopes to export the vaccine globally.

“With the (start) of the production of TURKOVAC, we will be pleased to share our vaccine with the whole of humanity,” Erdogan said.

He urged people who have not yet been vaccinated to start making appointments. Speaking from the vaccine’s production facility, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said hospitals would begin administering the vaccine within a week or 10 days.

The vaccine, which was developed by Turkey’s Erciyes University, began its late stage trials in June. Officials have said the trials have yielded good results, especially as a booster shot. There was no information on its effectiveness against the omicron variant.

Around 82% of Turkey's adult population has received two vaccine doses. The number of new daily infections hovers around 20,000, while the daily death toll is around 200.

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HELSINKI — Finland is tightening existing coronavirus restrictions, including stepping up border checks, restricting restaurant opening hours, as well as boosting vaccinations to slow down the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

The Finnish government led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin decided late Tuesday that the Nordic nation of 5.5 million would further step up COVID-19 vaccinations. About 15% of Finland’s population haven’t yet received any vaccination shot.

The government said it would, effective Thursday, restrict the use of the European Union’s COVID-19 certificates in “high risk” environments including nightclubs, karaoke restaurants, bars and mass events where there is no seating.

In practice, this means that these venues will either face limited opening hours or be shut down.

Effective Dec. 28, Finland will require negative coronavirus tests from passengers arriving from the European Union. In addition, visitors will also need to demonstrate that they have been fully vaccinated or recovered from the illness in the past six months. The restriction remains valid until Jan. 16.

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VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian Pacific Coast province of British Columbia is closing bars, nightclubs and gyms because of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Starting at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centers and dance studios will have to close, and all seated events will be reduced to 50% capacity. Indoor gatherings, including weddings, are being cancelled.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the risk posed by omicron is “fundamentally different” than other variants and it more easily infects those who are vaccinated or have had COVID-19.

She said the province is seeing “explosive outbreaks,” with a large number of people being exposed at the same time. There’s also been a spike in cases among those aged 18 to 35.

The French-speaking province of Quebec announced Monday that it is closing bars, cinemas, gyms and spas because of a record number of coronavirus cases.

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NEW YORK — The NHL will withdraw from the Winter Olympics after the regular-season schedule was disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

As a result, men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics will go on without NHL players for the second consecutive time.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because an announcement had yet to be made on the NHL pulling out of Beijing.

The league informed the players’ association on Tuesday that it was retaining its right to withdraw from Olympic participation because there was a material disruption to the season, and the union was not going to dispute the decision, the person said.

— By John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Amid a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced $100 million in emergency funding Tuesday to ramp up hospital and nursing home staffing and make more testing, treatments and vaccines available.

“As I have been warning for the past few weeks, we are entering another pivotal moment in the fight against COVID-19,” Hogan said.

Hogan said he’s also mobilizing the Maryland National Guard to provide support personnel to expand testing sites and hours.

The emergency funding includes $50 million to stabilize hospital staffing and another $50 million to expand the availability of COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines at hospitals and nursing homes, Hogan said. The state also will provide $30 million for schools to purchase testing resources, he said.

Hogan is working from home after testing positive on Monday.

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NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans is shortening parade routes for the upcoming Mardi Gras season because there are fewer police officers, medics and other first responders to handle the crowds, officials said Tuesday.

The city canceled Mardi Gras parades this past February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 parade crowds are considered a big reason that New Orleans was an early pandemic hot spot.

“The big news and the best news is that Mardi Gras is returning to the city of New Orleans and to the world in 2022,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.

Weeks of Carnival season parades lead up to Fat Tuesday, which will be on March 1.

Cantrell also noted that “if things go wrong in our city,” she might have to change its plans for Carnival and Mardi Gras. But she said she is confident the city can make it through the omicron variant, flu season and the holiday season.

With 80% of its residents fully vaccinated, New Orleans is a national leader, she said.

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