LONDON — British regulators have approved the world’s first coronavirus human challenge trial, in which volunteers will be deliberately exposed to the virus to study how infection spreads.
The government said Wednesday that the U.K.’s clinical trials ethics regulator has approved the trial and it will start within a month. The aim is to develop more effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.
Researchers are seeking up to 90 volunteers aged 18-30, who will be exposed to COVID-19 “in a safe and controlled environment.” The study will try to determine the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.
Young people are being asked to volunteer because they have the lowest risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. Participants in the study will be monitored 24 hours a day.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Japan begins COVID-19 vaccination drive amid Olympic worries
— Pfizer and BioNTech finalize deal to supply European Union with 200 million more doses of their vaccine
— Native Americans embrace vaccinations and other virus containment measures
— Latinos in U.S. face fear and other barriers to getting COVID-19 vaccines
— South African health care workers eagerly await Johnson & Johnson vaccine jabs
— Pandemic stresses take a huge toll on college students, who struggle to pay for food and housing as jobs and internships dry up
— 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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the hard-hit Czech Republic are rising and putting hospitals under even greater pressure, even as new cases are falling in some parts of Europe.
Three Czech counties on the borders with Germany and Poland have been under a complete lockdown due to a high occurrence of a contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in Britain. Health Minister Jan Blatny said Wednesday that if infection trend continues, the lockdowns might need to be expanded to other parts of the country in the coming weeks.
With 6,171 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and 1,196 in intensive care, the country’s health system is reaching its limits, Blatny said.
He said the ministry is considering ordering medical students to work in hospitals and planning to ask neighboring countries to treat Czechs once the hospital capacity reaches 90%.
The nation of 10.7 million had over 1.1 million confirmed cases with 18,596 deaths.
BERLIN — Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they have finalized an agreement to supply the European Union with another 200 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine.
The U.S. and German companies said in a statement that the doses come on top of the 300 million vaccine doses initially ordered. The EU’s executive Commission has an option to request a further 100 million doses.
They said the 200 million doses are expected to be delivered this year, with an estimated 75 million of them in the second quarter.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first of three so far to be approved for use in the EU, which faces criticism for a slow start to its vaccination campaign compared with countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States. The other two EU-approved vaccines are from Moderna and AstraZeneca.
BERLIN — Authorities in Berlin have opened the German capital’s fifth coronavirus vaccination center, located inside an indoor cycling arena.
The Velodrom, which was built as part of Berlin’s failed bid for the 2000 Olympics, started with just 120 vaccinations Wednesday. The goal is to steadily increase that number to up to 2,200 per day.
The vaccine rollout in Germany has been slower than in Britain and the United States, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged that everybody who wants to get the shot will be offered one by the end of the summer.
Berlin’s top health official, Dilek Kalayci, stressed that all three vaccines authorized in the European Union are effective.
She was responding to reports that some medical staff have expressed reservations about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine that’s currently reserved for under 65s, rather than those made by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka has confirmed its cricket tour of the West Indies will happen later this month after uncertainties following the team’s coach and a leading batsman testing positive for COVID-19.
Sri Lanka Cricket said in a statement that the team will leave for Antigua on Feb. 23 and play matches beginning March 3 at two venues there — the Coolidge Cricket Ground and Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium — in a bio-secured environment.
There had been uncertainty about the tour after team coach Mickey Arthur and batsman Lahiru Thirimanne tested positive for COVID-19. The tour was confirmed after repeat tests were conducted on the rest of the squad.
STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government warned Wednesday of possible local lockdowns for the first time in the pandemic as it fears a new wave following an increase of cases in some regions after weeks of a relatively stable spread of the coronavirus.
“The situation is still serious,” Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said. “There is a clear risk of a third wave.”
In recent weeks, nationwide numbers in Sweden have been dropping slowly but certain regions are now on the rise.
She added that Sweden didn’t plan a shutdown today but “we do not intend to wait until it is too late.”
Last month, the Swedish parliament adopted a temporary COVID-19 -pandemic law that would allow, among other things, the closing of shopping centers and shops, and a halt to public transport and public activities to curb the spread of the virus. Those breaking it would face a fine.
Sweden has so far adopted reasonably mild coronavirus restrictions without enforced lockdowns and relied mainly on citizens’ own social distancing and other measures to fight the pandemic.
UNITED NATIONS -- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says he will urge the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
Britain holds the council presidency this month and Raab is chairing a virtual high-level meeting of the U.N.’s most powerful body on the problem of ensuring access to vaccines in conflict areas on Wednesday. Diplomats said 11 foreign ministers are expected to speak, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
“Global vaccination coverage is essential to beating coronavirus,” Raab said ahead of the meeting. “That is why the U.K. is calling for a vaccination cease-fire to allow COVID-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones and for a greater global team effort to deliver equitable access.”
British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward stressed that it is in all countries’ interests to ensure that people in hostile areas and vulnerable situations are vaccinated because “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday that Mexico will stress the importance of equal access for all countries to COVID-19 vaccines at the council meeting.
He was sharply critical that countries that produce the vaccine have high vaccination rates while Latin American countries have problems obtaining doses.
TOKYO — Months after other major economies, Japan has begun giving its first coronavirus vaccines to front-line health workers. Many are wondering if the campaign will reach enough people, and in time, to save a Summer Olympics already delayed a year by the worst pandemic in a century.
Despite recent rising infections, Japan has largely dodged the kind of cataclysm that has battered other wealthy countries’ economies, social networks and healthcare systems. But the fate of the Olympics, and the billions of dollars at stake should the games fail, makes Japan’s vaccine campaign crucial. Japanese officials are also well aware that China, which has had success eradicating the virus, will host next year’s Winter Olympics, something that heightens the desire to make the Tokyo Games happen.
A big problem as the vaccines roll out — first to medical workers, then the elderly and then, possibly in late spring or early summer, to the rest of the population — are worries about shortages of the imported vaccines Japan relies on, and a long-time reluctance among many Japanese to take vaccines because of fears of relatively rare side effects that have been played up by the media in the past.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A lockdown in the New Zealand city of Auckland will end at midnight, the government announced Wednesday after concluding a coronavirus outbreak had been contained.
“This is good news,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
The nation’s largest city was put into lockdown on Sunday after three unexplained cases were found in the community. It was the first lockdown in six months in a nation which so far has managed to successfully stamp out the spread of the disease.
The move to end the lockdown came as health authorities said the outbreak had grown by three cases to six in total. But Ardern said the additional cases were to be expected because they involved close contacts.
Ramped-up testing indicates the outbreak hasn’t spread far. Laboratories processed more than 17,000 individual tests on Tuesday, authorities said, and they also tested wastewater samples, which came back negative.
NEW DELHI — Health officials in India say cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa and Brazil have been found in India.
They said Tuesday that the variant was detected in four travelers last month. Over 150 cases of another variant first detected in the United Kingdom have previously been found in India.
Cases in India have been falling dramatically and uniformly across the country for months. But the detection of the more infectious variants comes amid some worrying but so far isolated outbreaks.
A cluster of over a 100 cases has been detected in the southern India city of Bengaluru at an apartment complex. Another spike was detected by health officials in several pockets of Maharashtra state, including in Mumbai, the country’s financial capital.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s government says the Central American nation will receive its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine from India on Wednesday.
The office of President Nayib Bukele says the shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive on a flight from an Indian plant where it is produced.
Bukele’s office says the first doses will be used to vaccinate health care workers. The office did not say how many doses will be in the shipment, but says it will be used to vaccinate “thousands” of health care professionals.
The country has recorded about 58,000 coronavirus infections and 1,758 deaths from COVID-19 so far in the pandemic.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico has topped 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 175,000 deaths, though officials concede that the country’s extremely low rate of testing means the real figures are much higher.
The Health Department said Tuesday that 8,683 more cases and 1,329 more deaths had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours.
Mexico’s 175,986 test-confirmed deaths so far is the third-highest toll in the world, behind the U.S. and Brazil. But estimates of the country’s excess deaths for 2020 suggest the real death toll from the pandemic is more than 220,000.
And excess death figures for January and early February — when the highest wave of cases came — have not yet been posted.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 621 new coronavirus cases. It’s the country’s biggest daily jump in more than a month and is causing worries about a viral resurgence amid relaxed distancing rules.
Earlier this week, South Korea slightly eased its stringent distancing rules after the caseload showed a gradual decline for weeks. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the greater Seoul area are now allowed to stay open an hour longer, while dining curfews elsewhere are lifted.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun is urging people not to lower their guard. He says the rules were relaxed to help struggling small business owners, not to ease the fight against the virus.
The numbers reported Wednesday raised South Korea’s total caseload for the pandemic to 84,946, with 1,538 deaths.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city will relax its third pandemic lockdown, with authorities saying they have contained the spread of a coronavirus cluster centered on a hotel.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews says most of the pandemic restrictions in Melbourne will be lifted at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday after no new infections were detected in the latest 24-hours period.
The Victoria state government has yet to say whether spectators will be allowed to return to the Australian Open tennis tournament under the same conditions as before the five-day lockdown.
The lockdown has been enforced across Victoria to prevent the virus spreading from Melbourne, which is the state capital.
BOGOTA, Colombia — A shortage of hospital beds during the coronavirus pandemic has led architects in Colombia to design portable, inflatable chambers for coronavirus patients that can be placed in gyms or parking lots.
The domes — each 5 meters (16-feet) wide — can house two patients and are connected by inflatable hallways. Tubes help circulate air, which can cycle through 16 times an hour, according to the architects.
Developers around the world have devised other inflatable or pop-up structures to cope with the wave of COVID-19 patients, some for small wards, others for a few patients and some for individuals.
The version at Bogota’s La Salle University includes eight, interconnected domes that can house 16 patients, and costs around $15,000, according to researchers. Units can be added or subtracted as needed.
NEW ORLEANS — Mardi Gras joy is muted this year in New Orleans as authorities seek to stifle the spread of the coronavirus.
Bars were forced to close during the final weekend of the season, parades that generally start 12 days before the big day have been stilled, and Mayor LaToya Cantrell is promising a crackdown on large crowds.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the annual pre-Lenten bash celebrated along much of the Gulf Coast, with the biggest bashes in heavily Catholic New Orleans. Last year’s revelry is now believed to have contributed to an early surge that made Louisiana a southern COVID-19 hot spot.
Tourism officials are stressing safety for those who do come to this year’s celebration, while showcasing the house floats and online attractions to keep the city on the mind of future post-pandemic tourists.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration is increasing coronavirus vaccine supplies sent to states to 13.5 million doses per week.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says that represents a 57% increase from when Biden took office nearly a month ago on Jan. 20.
Psaki also says the administration is doubling, to 2 million doses per week, the amount of vaccine being sent to pharmacies across the country as part of a program to extend access into neighborhoods.
Jeff Zients, Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, made the announcements during a regular White House call with governors on Tuesday.
Psaki says the administration is monitoring severe weather across parts of the country that has forced some vaccination centers to close temporarily, and that could jeopardize the viability of the vaccines.