WASHINGTON — Federal agents have seized more than 10 million fake N95 masks in recent weeks.
It’s the result of an ongoing investigation into counterfeits sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies.
Officials say the most recent seizures occurred Wednesday when Homeland Security agents intercepted hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse that were set to be distributed.
Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs, urging them to stop using the medical-grade masks.
Officials encouraged medical workers and companies to go to 3Ms website for tips on how to spot fakes.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Japan begins COVID-19 vaccination drive amid Olympic worries
— Fidelity Charitable says record year of donations falls short of need during pandemic.
— Native Americans embrace vaccinations and other virus containment measures.
— COVID-19 bill would scale up ability to spot virus mutations.
— Latinos in U.S. face fear and other barriers to getting COVID-19 vaccines
— 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:
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is shifting its vaccine distribution guidance to dissuade people from traveling long distances to receive a COVID-19 shot in the state.
Under updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarifying travel policies, North Carolina has enacted stricter vaccination policies to improve North Carolinians’ access to the vaccine.
The move aims to give greater preference to in-state residents who have struggled to book appointments and come in for shots due to the high demand, but loopholes still allow for people to travel into the state without having to provide ID, proof of residency or proof of employment.
People living out of state could also explain to vaccine administrators that they are eligible for shots because they work or spend a significant time in North Carolina or continue to receive ongoing health care in the state.
NEW YORK — New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.
The lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James comes just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block it from happening. In its own lawsuit filed Friday, Amazon said that unannounced inspections by the New York City sheriff’s office found its New York warehouse went above and beyond safety requirements.
On Wednesday, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel added that the attorney general’s lawsuit doesn’t present an accurate picture of Amazon’s response to the virus.
In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” and retaliated against employees who raised alarms.
The lawsuit involves two Amazon facilities in New York City that employ more than 5,000 workers. It alleges that Amazon failed to disinfect those facilities when infected workers had been present; didn’t contact workers when they were exposed to the virus; and made employees work so much that they didn’t have time to disinfect their workstations or stay socially distant.
TORONTO — Canada’s largest city is asking the province of Ontario to extend a lockdown order for at least two more weeks instead of having it expired as planned on Monday.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said she has never been as worried about the future as she is now because of coronavirus variants.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said leaders need to ensure the current lockdown is the city’s last. Schools just reopened in Toronto while retail stores are scheduled to open Monday.
Canada is poised to receive millions of vaccine does this spring.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is facing a temporary shortage of booster shots of the Moderna vaccine because providers inadvertently used them as first doses, setting back the state’s already stumbling vaccine rollout.
The error could mean more than 100,000 people will need appointments rescheduled, state health officials said Wednesday.
Acting state health secretary Alison Beam said between 30,000 and 60,000 people who need the booster shot will have to wait one to two more weeks. Another 30,000 to 55,000 of the initial dose of the Moderna vaccine will also have to delayed.
The second-dose shortage does not affect the Pfizer vaccine.
Second doses of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are typically administered 21 and 28 days apart, respectively, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to allow the time between shots to be delayed up to six weeks.
MADRID -- Spain will place those arriving from Brazil and South Africa in quarantine for 10 days in a new bid to stem the propagation of coronavirus variants from those countries.
Health Minister Carolina Darias said Wednesday Spain has registered 613 cases of the British variant, six of the South African type and two of that from Brazil.
Spain has already restricted arrivals from all three countries to Spanish nationals and foreign residents in Spain. It also insists on negative PCR tests from within the previous 72 hours as well as anti-body tests on arrival.
The ministry Wednesday said Spain’s COVID-19 pandemic figures continued their positive downward trend, with the 14-day incidence rate falling to 349 per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 385 a day earlier and far below the near 900-case high at the end of January.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says it will spend more than $1.4 billion to boost testing supplies and coordination as U.S. officials aim to return more students to the classroom.
The White House says it will spend $815 million to increase U.S. manufacturing of testing supplies that have been subject to frequent shortages for months, including materials used in laboratories and for rapid point-of-care tests.
Officials also announced $650 million to setup regional testing “hubs” around the country to help coordinate testing at K-8 schools, universities, homeless shelters and other gathering places.
The U.S. failure to provide fast, widespread testing is one of the most enduring stumbles in the federal government’s response to COVID-19. As a candidate, Biden said his administration would deliver free, comprehensive testing at a national scale. He has asked Congress to provide $50 billion for testing in the stimulus bill before lawmakers.
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York is set to let amusement parks open in early April and overnight camps open this summer as long as they submit reopening plans to the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that arcades and other indoor family entertainment centers can open with 25% capacity starting March 26. Outdoor amusement parks can open with a third of their normal capacity by April 9, while day and overnight camps can start planning for reopening this summer.
New York is seeing a drop in infections statewide, though at a slower pace than the nation. But the governor said the overall statewide drops are enough to allow New York to bring back recreational industries.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is vaccinating on average 1.7 million Americans per day for the coronavirus, up from under 1 million a month ago.
New figures from the White House show the steady increase in the pace of vaccinations over President Joe Biden’s first month in office.
Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.
The pace of first dose vaccinations has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.
Biden is on track to blow past his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office — though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.
WASHINGTON — The White House says drugmaker Johnson & Johnson has just a “few million” doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in inventory ready to be distributed, should the Food and Drug Administration grant it emergency approval.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients is looking to lower expectations for the impact of approval for the promising, one-dose vaccine, which could happen in the next several weeks. The company has contracted to provide 100 million doses — enough for 100 million Americans — by the end of June.
Zients says, “We’re going to be started only with a few million of inventory.” He adds the Biden administration is working to expedite the vaccine deliveries as much as possible.
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Rio de Janeiro halted new vaccinations against COVID-19 for a week starting Wednesday due to a shortage of doses, one of a growing number of Brazilian cities that have run low on supplies and are demanding help from Brazil’s federal government.
City officials said they will continue to deliver second doses to those who have already been injected once, but have paused new shots for the elderly.
Officials say vaccines for new recipients ran out partly because they had pushed forward their schedule by one week after receiving a fresh lot of doses. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Monday that additional shots won’t be delivered before next week.
“We are ready and we have already vaccinated 244,852 people,” he said on his official Twitter profile. “We just need the vaccine to arrive.”
ATLANTA — Snowy and icy weather across much of the nation has “significantly” delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to Georgia, state health officials said Wednesday.
Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that normally would have arrived the first part of this week were held back by the manufacturers due to the winter weather, The Georgia Department of Public Health said in a statement.
As a result, health departments and other vaccine providers have been forced to reschedule appointments, the agency said. When those shots can be administered will depend on when vaccine shipments resume and when they arrive in Georgia, health officials said.
Delays are expected to continue through the week, officials said.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the country will soon begin to ease restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus in provinces where infection rates are low.
In a televised speech following a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Erdogan said that in March Turkey’s provinces would be divided into four categories according to infection levels and the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. Restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns, would start to be lifted in regions where infections are tailing off.
Measures to help ease the hardship suffered by restaurants and cafes which have been hurt by the lockdowns would be announced in the coming days, he added.
The country has been imposing nighttime curfews during the week and full lockdowns at weekends. Restaurants and cafes have been allowed to offer takeout meals only.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Workers at the mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium have now given out 65,878 coronavirus shots, enough to fill every seat at the home of the New England Patriots.
Brigitte Peters, 79, of Uxbridge, received two tickets to the team’s 2021 home opener for getting the landmark shot on Tuesday evening. It will be her first Patriots game.
She said she was excited to tell her grandchildren about the tickets, and the vaccination process was easy and painless.
“It couldn’t have been better, I didn’t even feel it,” she said. “It was so easy.” The site operated by CIC Health opened Jan. 18 and started by administering about 300 vaccines per day. It is now giving about 4,000 shots per day, and plans to continue expanding.
PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine’s attorney general has warned state health care providers against administering COVID-19 vaccines to ineligible people.
Attorney General Aaron Frey said Tuesday he issued the advisory in response to reports of improper administration of the vaccines. Officials in Maine, including Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, recently chastised MaineHealth for providing coronavirus vaccinations to out-of-state consultants hired to fight an effort to unionize nurses.
MaineHealth has called its decision to vaccinate the consultants a mistake. Frey said providers are required to follow the state’s protocols about who is eligible for the vaccine. Maine is still in an early stage of rolling out the coronavirus vaccine and is focusing on older residents and health care providers.
Frey said providers who ignore the state’s protocols risk hurting the public trust in the response to the pandemic.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka announced Wednesday its restriction on travelers from Britain entering the country due to the new variant of the coronavirus has been lifted immediately.
The foreign ministry said passengers from Britain no longer must submit to a 14-day quarantine and PCR tests.
Sri Lankan health authorities have found patients with the British variant from several parts of the country despite the restrictions.
There are 77,553 COVID-19 reported in Sri Lanka including 409 deaths.
LOZNICA, Serbia — Dozens of Bosnian Serb medical workers have crossed into neighboring Serbia for vaccination as Belgrade seeks to show solidarity in the region after launching mass inoculation in the country.
The vaccination on Wednesday took place in three Serbian towns that are close to the border with Bosnia. Officials say several hundred health staff from Republika Srpska, which is the Serb-run half of Bosnia, will receive jabs daily.
More than 2,000 Bosnian Serb health workers have applied for vaccination in Serbia, which has mainly used China’s Sinopharm vaccines, along with Russia’s Sputnik V and to a lesser extent Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.
So far, Serbia has vaccinated more than 600,000 people and has started administering second doses. The Balkan country has been among the top countries in Europe when it comes to vaccination rate.
BERLIN — The Swiss government plans to start relaxing the country’s coronavirus restrictions on March 1, allowing shops to reopen with limited capacity.
Health Minister Alain Berset said Wednesday that the federal government also is proposing to reopen museums, libraries and some other leisure facilities, with mask-wearing and distancing rules, and allowing groups of up to 15 people to meet outdoors. He said a final decision will be made next week.
Restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural institutions in Switzerland have been closed for weeks, though the country didn’t shut down skiing -- unlike its neighbors. Berset said it has been able to halve new infections in a month but needs to be cautious in reopening -- with new steps being taken roughly every four weeks.
President Guy Parmelin said that “lifting all the measures in one go would be unrealistic and dangerous at this point -- it would risk quickly reducing the nothing the results we have obtained until now.”
BRUSSELS — The European Union announced that it has agreed to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 and was injecting almost a quarter of a billion euros (almost $300 million) into efforts to counter the threat of coronavirus variants that are spreading on the continent.
The news came hours after Pfizer and BioNTech said they had signed a deal to deliver an additional 200 million doses of their vaccine to the bloc.
The EU Commission said its second contract with Moderna provides for an additional purchase of 150 million doses in 2021 and an option to purchase an additional 150 million in 2022. Should the EU have enough supplies by then it will consider donating the vaccine shots to lower and middle-income countries.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark could reopen large part of the society if people get tested twice a week, the Danish government said Wednesday as it announced it had bought 10 million of a new type of quick coronavirus tests.
Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said Denmark has bought 10 million of the new tests where the cotton swab isn’t being stuck so high up in the nose but only a few centimeters. The first batch of 400,000 had already arrived. The name of the test was not immediately available.
“They are just as good and accurate as the ones” we have been using, Heunicke said.
The Dutch government also said it is pumping more than 8.5 billion euros ($10 billion) into schools and universities to support students and teachers hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Denmark has been keeping all shops except food stores and pharmacies closed as well as banning public gatherings of more than five people. Cafes and restaurants also remain closed but can still sell takeout food. Gyms, public libraries, beauty parlors and hairdressers are shut until Feb. 28.