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Monday May 17th, 2021 9:25PM

The Latest: WHO head raises questions about vaccines

By The Associated Press
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The head of the World Health Organization said the emergence of new COVID-19 variants has raised questions about whether or not existing vaccines will work, calling it “concerning news” that the vaccines developed so far may be less effective against the variant first detected in South Africa.

At a press briefing on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said South Africa’s decision to suspend its vaccination campaign using the AstraZeneca vaccine is “a reminder that we need to do everything we can to reduce circulation of the virus with proven public health measures.”

He said there were some important caveats in the study South Africa cited part of the rationale to delay COVID-19 immunization, noting the study’s small sample size and the fact that it was done mostly in younger, healthier participants. Tedros also called for manufacturers to be ready to quickly adapt their vaccines so that they would remain effective.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will virtually tour the mass COVID-19 vaccination site set up at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

__Poultry workers in Delaware are now prioritized as essential employees under the state’s Phase 1B of vaccine distribution

— South Africa seeks a new virus vaccination plan after deciding not to use AstraZeneca jab, fearing it's not effective enough against the country's dominant variant

— Tom Brady and Tampa Bay win Super Bowl, capping NFL season that had no cancellations despite pandemic

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic 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:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Sikhs of Dubai have traded their spiced rice and dal for what has become a coveted prize: 5,000 shots of the Chinese-made vaccine offered to people of all ages and backgrounds.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges to previously unseen heights in the UAE, residents are scrambling to get vaccines in the world’s second-fastest inoculation drive.

A core tenet of the world’s fifth-largest religion with over 50,000 adherents in the United Arab Emirates is “langar,” the practice of serving hot, home-cooked vegetarian food to anyone in need. It can be a lifeline in Dubai, where millions of low-paid workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere power the service-heavy economy.

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WASHINGTON — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fall around the country, federal officials are warning states not to relax restrictions on dining out and other social activities that can lead to more spread of the virus.

“We have yet to control this pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Monday. The three waves of infection last year showed that the virus does rebound when people more mobile.

Walensky said she would discourage any idea or move that would relax restrictions on social distancing. The nation is coming down from the wave of infections that began in November and crested in January, but Walensky says the background level of cases remains dangerously high.

White House officials say they are communicating their concerns to state governors and public health departments, but senior adviser Andy Slavitt says it would be counterproductive to detail those conversation in public.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci is cautioning against deviating from the two dose regimen for the approved coronavirus vaccines, warning that delaying the second dose in an effort to speed vaccinations to more people could increase the number of potentially dangerous variants.

Speaking at a White House briefing, the nation’s top infectious disease expert expressed concern that the immune response to the virus may be weaker without the “booster” shot. He added that, “The way viruses respond to pressure, you could actually be inadvertently selecting for more mutants by a suboptimal response.”

Fauci said altering the three-week interval between doses for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna shot should only be recommended after rigorous scientific study. But he said that the months it would take to gather the data would largely render the outcome “moot.”

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador returned to his daily morning news conferences following a two-week absence after catching the coronavirus, but vowed not to wear a mask or require them.

López Obrador revealed Monday that he received experimental treatments, which he described as an “antiviral” medication and an anti-inflammatory drug. The president revealed he twice tested negative in rapid tests widely used in Mexico, before a more thorough test — apparently PCR — came back positive.

López Obrador has held the news conferences almost every working day for more than two years, and this was the longest he has been absent from them.

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Parents of schoolchildren learning from home shouldn’t necessarily count on reclaiming the dining room table any time soon.

After seeing two academic years thrown off course by the pandemic, school leaders around the country are planning for the possibility of more distance learning next fall at the start of yet another school year.

“We have no illusions that COVID will be eradicated by the time the start of the school year comes up,” said William “Chip” Sudderth III, a spokesperson for Durham, North Carolina schools, whose students have been out of school buildings since March.

President Joe Biden has made reopening schools a top priority, but administrators say there is much to consider as new strains of the coronavirus appear and teachers wait their turn for vaccinations.

And while many parents are demanding that schools fully reopen, others say they won’t feel safe sending children back to classrooms until vaccines are available to even young students.

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ISLAMABAD — A top Pakistani health official on Monday announced the results of clinical trials of Chinese COVID-19 vaccine CanSino Biologics, saying tests done on 30,000 Pakistanis showed the vaccine had nearly 75 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic cases of coronavirus.

Faisal Sultan said analysis of the data of clinical trials done in Pakistan in recent months also indicate the Chinese vaccine had 100 percent efficacy in preventing severe disease.

The announcement comes hours after Pakistan’s military said the People’s Liberation Army in neighboring China had given a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine to Pakistan’s armed forces. However, the army will contribute all of the donated vaccine to health workers.

About a week ago, Beijing donated 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to Pakistani authorities, who are using it to vaccinate front-line health workers.

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SAO PAULO — A minority of Brazilians will be able to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine if an association of private clinics can close a deal to bring 5 million shots to Latin America’s most unequal country.

President Jair Bolsonaro, under fire for his government’s handling of the pandemic, has promised not to interfere.

Amid the government’s stumbling vaccine rollout, many moneyed Brazilians want to find a swift path to vaccination, sparking backlash from some public health experts and igniting debate on social media, editorial pages and talk shows.

There has been concern globally that the privileged could game the system to get themselves vaccinated before others. Brazil has had its reports of line-jumpers, too, but the nation stands apart because maneuvering isn’t only done in the shadows.

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LISBON, Portugal — Hopes are rising in Portugal that the worst of a devastating pandemic surge might be over, as the number of COVID-19 deaths reported Monday was the lowest in three weeks.

The country’s pandemic picture is mixed, however, as hospital admissions rose for the first time in a week. Still, the spread of COVID-19 has by some metrics been slowing since the end of January.

Portugal became the world’s worst-hit country last month, with a deluge of new daily deaths and cases engulfing the public health system. Data collated by Johns Hopkins University on Monday showed Portugal still recording the most daily deaths per 100,000 population and having the world’s fourth-highest rate of new cases.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s left-wing opposition leader has accused the country’s prime minister of showing contempt for lockdown rules after attending a large outdoor lunch gathering.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on a weekend visit to the Greek island of Ikaria attended an outdoor lunch hosted by a local lawmaker. A video of the event posted on social media showed at least 25 people in attendance, while traditional island music, with drums and bagpipes, could be heard in the background.

The government toughened lockdown measures at the weekend, expanding curfew hours to start at 6 p.m. in greater Athens and Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections that started in late January.

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s biggest city wrote nearly 50 tickets to people who weren’t wearing masks on city sidewalks on Super Bowl Sunday.

Charleston’s emergency mask ordinance requires people to wear masks outside at all times with a few exceptions, including socially distant exercise.

Police officers and officers from Charleston’s Tourism and Livability department combined to patrol bars and restaurants and issued at least 47 tickets.

The tickets are $100 for a first offense and get more expensive with each additional violation.

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TAMPA, Fla. — So much for the mayor’s order requiring masks at Super Bowl parties. Throngs of mostly maskless fans took to the streets and packed sports bars as the clock inside Raymond James Stadium ticked down on a hometown Super Bowl win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

To meet coronavirus protocols, the NFL capped the crowd at under 25,000 in a stadium that normally holds some 66,000 fans.

But outside the stadium, crowds of fans who weren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing could be seen celebrating the Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.

In hopes of curbing so-called super-spreader events, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor had signed an executive order requiring people wear face coverings during the Super Bowl festivities, even while they’re outdoors.

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BERLIN — The Austrian federal government is warning against travel to the country’s Tyrol province amid concern over cases there of the more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

The move by the government in Vienna came after Tyrol earlier Monday drew up a list of measures that included calls for people to avoid nonessential travel and a proposal to require negative antigen tests before people can use ski lifts.

Some 165 infections with the South African variant have already been confirmed in Tyrol and politicians have been discussing for several days whether extra restrictions are required in the region. Tyrol, which borders Germany, Italy and Switzerland, is usually a popular skiing destination — though hotels and restaurants are closed at present, meaning that’s not practical for anyone except locals.

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BERLIN — The German government is giving its official blessing to allowing some people to jump the vaccination queue if it’s a choice between that and letting vaccines go to waste.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said new vaccination regulations that took effect Monday specifically envision limited departures from the set order of vaccinations if, for example, doses left over in the evening would go to waste.

He suggested that local authorities draw up systems allowing individuals such as health and emergency service officials, and perhaps firefighters and police, to be prioritized for such jabs.

Spahn added that he can “only recommend those who have political responsibility to set a good example” and wait their turn, given that politicians are expecting people to be patient amid a slow start to vaccinations.

___

NEW YORK — New York City’s public middle school buildings will open this month after being closed since COVID-19 cases began to surge in November.

City officials said Monday that the 62,000 students in grades 6 through 8 whose families have chosen in-person learning will be back in their classrooms on Feb. 25.

Families in New York City’s massive public school system were given the choice of all-remote learning or a hybrid system with students in their classrooms part time when when the school year started in September, but rising coronavirus cases prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio to close all school buildings on Nov. 19.

___

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Sikhs of Dubai have traded their spiced rice and dal for what has become a coveted prize: 5,000 shots of the Chinese-made vaccine offered to people of all ages and backgrounds.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges to previously unseen heights in the UAE, residents are scrambling to get vaccines in the world’s second-fastest inoculation drive.

A core tenet of the world’s fifth-largest religion with over 50,000 adherents in the United Arab Emirates is “langar,” the practice of serving hot, home-cooked vegetarian food to anyone in need. It can be a lifeline in Dubai, where millions of low-paid workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere power the service-heavy economy.

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