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Friday March 5th, 2021 11:58PM

The Latest: Calif governor signs $7.6B virus relief package

By The Associated Press
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a $7.6 billion coronavirus relief package. The new laws will give at least $600 one-time payments to 5.7 million people while setting aside more than $2 billion in grants for struggling small businesses.

Newsom signed the law as Congress is debating a much larger stimulus package for the nation. California’s stimulus package will give up to $25,000 grants to small businesses with revenues between $1,000 and $2.5 million.

Most people will get the $600 payments by claiming the California earned income tax credit on their state tax returns.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

The White House says states will get 14.5M doses of vaccine this week. Drug executives face questions f rom Congress at hearing on vaccine supply. Some British rush to book holiday plans amid plans to gradually end lockdown. What happens when COVID-19 causes a person to lose their sense of smell? Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed but experts say it's still moving slowly. “One Good Thing” keeps on giving to those in need, helpers.

— 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:

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered the lowering of flags for five days starting Tuesday to honor the thousands of lives lost due to the coronavirus.

Arizona’s death toll from the coronavirus passed 15,000 last week. Nationwide, the virus has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

Arizona on Tuesday reported 1,184 more cases and 148 confirmed deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 810,658 cases and 15,650 confirmed deaths.

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and rolling seven-day daily averages of new cases and deaths have continued a downward trend.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is criticizing the lack of access to coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poor.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “More than 210 countries are yet to administer a single dose.” Tedros spoke at an event organized by the charity Global Citizen, whose issues include the coronavirus and climate change.

“Vaccines will help to bring the pandemic under control, but we will still be left with many of the same problems that existed before,” Tedros says.

John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said no country on its own could solve such problems. He described the upcoming November meeting on climate change in Glasgow as “our last best chance to get on track and get the job done.”

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WASHINGTON — States will receive about 14.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week, marking a nearly 70% increase in distribution of doses over the last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines has hampered the pace of vaccinations -- and that was before extreme winter weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses this past week.

The number of doses states will receive will increase from the 8.6 million a week they received during Biden’s first week in office. Last week, the White House announced that states would receive 13.5 million doses of the vaccine.

The White House announced last week that it’s in the process of doubling to 2 million the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies. Psaki also noted White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told governors on Tuesday that pharmacies will see an increase in allocation by about 100,000 doses this week.

President Joe Biden has said that every American who wants a vaccination can get one by the end of July.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center will allow hundreds of fans to attend some sports and entertainment events starting Tuesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced stadiums and arenas with a capacity of 10,000 people or more can reopen with limited spectators for sports and entertainment. Both outdoor and indoor arenas can reopen at 10% of their normal capacity.

Barclays Center has about 17,700 seats for basketball games and plans to fill 300 seats. The New York Knicks and New York Rangers say they plan to host about 2,000 fans at Madison Square Garden, which has a maximum capacity of about 20,000. All staff and spectators must receive a negative coronavirus lab test within 72 hours of the event.

The plan has drawn concern from public health experts who point to high rates of COVID-19 infections, the higher risk of transmission indoors and the threat of more contagious variants.

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WASHINGTON — The top developers of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines are facing questions from Congress about limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic.

The pace of vaccinations is picking up nationwide, but demand for the shots continues to outpace limited supplies distributed by the U.S. government. The Energy and Commerce Committee panel began hearing testimony from the five companies with contracts to supply COVID-19 shots to the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

Johnson & Johnson revealed ahead of the hearing that initial supplies of its one-shot vaccine will be limited to 20 million doses by the end of March. The company plans to tell lawmakers it faces “significant challenges” in scaling up production.

However, federal health officials say a total of 700 million doses is still slated for delivery by late July. That would be enough to reach the goal of providing enough shots for every American adult.

The pandemic has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

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LONDON — Britons rushed to book overseas vacations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled plans to slowly ease a national lockdown.

That boosted optimism that travel restrictions will be removed in time for the summer holiday season. TUI, the U.K.’s largest tour operator said bookings increased six-fold Monday, the company’s busiest day in more than a month.

Discount airline easyJet said demand for flights more than tripled, and package holiday company Thomas Cook said traffic on its website increased 75%.

Still many business leaders were disappointed at the slow pace of re-opening of some sectors, with some restrictions expected to remain in place until June 21.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek health authorities have reported a spike in new coronavirus cases, about half of which were in the greater Athens region.

A total 2,147 new infections were recorded Tuesday, up from 880 a day earlier despite the ongoing lockdown. It brings the total to just over 180,000.

Authorities also recorded 22 new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total to 6,343 confirmed deaths.

A total 357 people are intubated in intensive care units.

Greece remains in lockdown until the end of February. It’s unclear whether the restrictions will be extended. So far, about 750,000 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

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JERUSALEM — Israel says it has decided to share a small quantity of its coronavirus vaccines with the Palestinians and other unidentified countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says although Israel has purchased vaccines for its own population, it has accumulated a small surplus of unused COVID-19 vaccines. “Therefore, it has been decided to assist Palestinian Authority medical teams and several of the countries that contacted Israel with a symbolic quantity of vaccines,” it said.

Early this month, Israel transferred 2,000 doses of Moderna vaccines to the Palestinians for West Bank medical workers. In all, it has pledged to share 5,000 doses.

Israel has come under some international criticism for not sharing significant quantities of vaccines with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel says under interim peace accords from the 1990s, it is not responsible for providing health care to Palestinians in those areas.

Israel has already given at least one dose of the vaccine to roughly half of its 9.3 million people, one of the highest per capita rates in the world.

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LISBON, Portugal — A second team of Germany army medics has arrived in Portugal to help with intensive care patients during the pandemic.

A COVID-19 surge in January made Portugal the worst-hit country in the world by size of population. The surge has ebbed, but hospitals are still under pressure.

The eight German doctors and 18 nurses arrived Tuesday to relieve a previous team that flew to Portugal at the start of February.

A handful of medics from France and Luxembourg are also helping at Portuguese hospitals.

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STOCKHOLM — Authorities in Sweden’s capital of Stockholm urged people to use face masks when on public transportation, shops and workplaces.

“We want people to use face masks in public transport around the clock, especially during rush hour,” says the city’s infection control doctor Maria Rotzen Ostlund. Stockholm has had a 27% infection increase in recent weeks.

Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell says Sweden “unfortunately is seeing an upswing again,” adding the variant first reported in Britain “has increased at a very fast pace.”

Sweden has reported 12,713 confirmed deaths. It’s totaled 642,099 confirmed cases, an increase of 10,933 cases since Friday.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Hundreds of Romanian policemen have marched in protest of planned austerity measures that may freeze salaries in the public sector.

The Romanian government has announced a strict budget this year to counter the fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s economy. The austerity package is yet to be approved in Romania’s parliament.

The measure has angered workers’ unions in the public sector, particularly the medical workers who have carried much of the burden of the outbreak while treating COVID-19 patients.

Other public staff unions also have announced protests. They are demanding annual salary increases remain intact and bonuses be introduced in some cases, particularly for the health staff in COVID-19 wards or the families of medical workers who died in the pandemic.

Romania has registered nearly 800,000 coronavirus cases and more than 20,000 confirmed deaths in the country of 19 million.

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BUDAPEST — Officials in Hungary are urging people to trust in the vaccines already approved by the country ahead of a planned rollout Wednesday of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China.

General practitioners around the country will receive 55 doses each of the Sinopharm vaccine and have been instructed to give them to their oldest patients, state secretary Dr. Istvan Gyorgy says.

He says 275,000 people will receive the Chinese shot this week. Hungary will be the first country in the European Union to administer a Chinese vaccine despite polling that shows trust in the Sinopharm vaccine is low among Hungarians.

“Every vaccine available in Hungary is safe and able to provide protection against virus infection,” says Gyorgy of the country, which also uses Pfizer, Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines.

Hungarian officials expect the Sinopharm vaccine, which received final approval last week, will provide a sharp increase in the country’s vaccination rate. Gyorgy says as many as 368,000 people could be inoculated this week, compared with 457,000 receiving a shot since vaccinations started in December.

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BEIRUT — The World Bank threatened to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon over what it said were violations by members of Parliament who were inoculated without registering in advance.

The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people. The vaccination campaign in the country began on Feb. 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 shots of Pfizer-BioNTech.

Parliament’s secretary general Adnan Daher was quoted by state media denying that the 16 legislators had jumped the line, which prioritizes medical workers and residents at least 75 years old. Daher said all the legislators who received in inoculation had registered and were properly in line. In January, Lebanon’s government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registration platform.

Lebanon has registered more than 356,000 total coronavirus cases and 4,387 confirmed deaths

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BERLIN — Germany is extending strict checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province until March 3.

The checks were introduced on Feb. 14 in a bid to reduce the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants that have taken hold in those areas. Germany is limiting entry to its own citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

German border police have turned back thousands of people since the checks started.

The restrictions initially were imposed for a 10-day period. The Interior Ministry told news agency dpa Tuesday that they are being extended.

Germany has rejected criticism from the European Union’s executive Commission about the measures. Its minister for Europe, Michael Roth, on Tuesday rejected suggestions that Germany’s wasn’t keeping to EU law and said its actions are “in keeping with Schengen,” the rules of Europe’s passport-free travel zone.

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