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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 2:32PM

The Latest: Merkel: EU needs to redouble vaccine production

By The Associated Press
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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Union’s problems with getting coronavirus vaccines have underscored the need for the bloc to redouble its vaccine production efforts.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday ahead of an EU summit to talk about the issue, Merkel acknowledged that the vaccination rollout in Germany has not gone as quickly as hoped. Still she rejected criticism that not enough shots had been ordered, instead saying it was more about how many vaccines had been delivered.

She says: “We can see clearly that British facilities are producing for Great Britain. The United States isn’t exporting, and therefore we are dependent upon what can be produced in Europe.”

Germany has registered more than 75,000 total confirmed deaths. The country’s disease control center reported 22,657 new confirmed cases Thursday, up from 17,504 daily cases a week ago.

“We are in the third wave and again seeing exponential growth,” Merkel says.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— 1 report, 4 theories: Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin

— Poland reports daily record of over 34,000 cases

— Bolsonaro under fire as Brazil hits 300,000 virus deaths

— Hong Kong vaccination drive struggles to gain public trust

— Follow 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:

LONDON — The European Medicines Agency said its expert safety committee is continuing to evaluate cases of people who develop blood clots after receiving at least one dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

The EU medicines regulator say it was convening a meeting of experts on Monday to provide additional information into their analysis, including outside experts in blood clots, virology, neurology and infectious diseases. Two members of the public will be included in the group.

The EMA says the group’s conclusions would add to the agency’s ongoing investigation, with an updated recommendation expected in early April. Last week, the EMA said the AstraZeneca vaccine was not linked to an overall increase in the risk of blood clots, but couldn’t rule out a connection to some very rare clots.

It recommended that an additional warning be added to the vaccine’s leaflet and doctors and patients take extra steps to monitor possible side effects.

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland’s government has ordered schools to be closed and public gatherings halted after the detection of six coronavirus cases believed to be the variant first detected in Britain.

“We need to hit the brake,” Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir says.

The government ordered all schools closed, as well as gyms, swimming pools, theaters, cinemas and bars. Restaurants, shops and hairdressers can remain open in a limited capacity. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned for three weeks.

Iceland has registered just 5,384 cases and 29 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, according to the government website. But in the past week, six people were infected with the British variant, which authorities say is more transmissible. There was no apparent link between the six people.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Belarus has started mass production of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia, the country’s authorities announced Thursday.

Belarus’ state pharmaceutical company, Belmedpreparaty, will be producing up to 500,000 doses of the shot a month. The company’s CEO Sergei Belyaev says the first batches will be available in late April.

Belarus was the second country after Russia to grant regulatory approval to Sputnik V.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has not imposed a lockdown or other coronavirus restrictions. He has advised citizens to avoid catching it by driving tractors in the field, drinking vodka and visiting saunas. His attitude has angered many Belarusians and added to the public dismay over his authoritarian rule.

The country of 9.5 million has recorded nearly 315,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,193 confirmed deaths.

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BAGHDAD — Iraq has received the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines through the international COVAX program.

Iraq’s Health Ministry says 336,000 doses of the vaccines landed in Baghdad international airport, with more shipments expected to arrive over the coming weeks.

The country has been registering record numbers of daily infections, including Thursday when the Health Ministry reported 6,513 cases and 33 deaths. A total of 15,196 vaccines have been administered, according to the World Health Organization.

So far, it has received 50,000 doses as a donation from China to immunize health care workers.

Iraq, with a population of 40 million and a health system battered by decades of conflict, has registered 815,605 confirmed cases and 14,128 confirmed deaths.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Health officials report dozens of fully vaccinated people have contracted the coronavirus in Minnesota.

The state has identified 89 coronavirus infections in people who have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Star Tribune.

State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann says the fraction of fully vaccinated people who still contract infections was expected. Clinical trials suggested the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is about 66% effective.

Ehresmann told the Star Tribune the cases represent less than one-tenth of 1% of people who have been fully vaccinated. About 800,000 Minnesotans are fully vaccinated.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The first shipment of Pfizer vaccines has arrived in Bosnia through the international COVAX program.

A small plane carrying 23,400 doses of the vaccines on Thursday landed in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo while an additional shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines is expected in the evening.

Bosnia so far has received Russian Sputnik V vaccines in the Serb-dominated part of the country and a donation from Serbia of 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca in the Bosniak-Croat entity.

Bosnia has had among the highest death rates in the Balkans. Struggling to contain an ongoing surge in infections, Bosnia has imposed a lockdown in most of the country.

Many Balkan countries are facing a rise in infections that is attributed largely to the British variant of the virus.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine reported a 16,669 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the highest number during the pandemic.

The Health Ministry on Thursday says 363 people died the previous day, up from the previous record of 342 the day before. Several regions and the country’s capital have introduced severe lockdown restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

The nation of 41 million people has reported nearly 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 31,000 confirmed deaths.

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BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are meeting to look for ways to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations across the 27-nation region amid a shortage of doses.

There’s also been increases in cases, a feud with Britain and internal quarrels among the EU. Less than 5% of the EU’s 450 million residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ahead of Thursday’s summit, the bloc’s executive arm proposed strengthening export controls for coronavirus shots. The European Commission’s goal is to force vaccine manufacturers to deliver the doses agreed to in their contracts.

The commission also wants to make sure a principle of export reciprocity is enforced with countries that are producing vaccines.

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GENEVA — A team of international and Chinese scientists is poised to report on its joint search for the origins of the coronavirus first detected in China.

Four theories are being considered, and one is the clear frontrunner: That the virus first emerged in humans by way of a bat and then an intermediate host.

The lengthy report is being published after months of wrangling, notably between the U.S. and Chinese governments, over how the outbreak emerged, causing politics to overshadow a scientific search.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the report will be released after its publication was delayed earlier this month. The coronavirus has killed more than 2.7 million people and stifled economies worldwide.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government has decided to keep its suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccines for three more weeks.

Denmark paused the use of the AstraZeneca as a precautionary measure on March 11 after reports that a 60-year-old woman died with blood clots in several parts of her body a week after she received the vaccine. The death of a second person in Denmark who died after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine also was reported.

Danish health authorities say they have no evidence the vaccine was responsible for either death. Norway and Sweden also have paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Several European countries that had suspended using the vaccine have resumed administering it after the European Union’s drug regulator said it was safe. The European Medicines Agency has said the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can be administered with a closer evaluation of the blood clot cases.

About 150,000 people in Denmark have gotten a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as the prime minister prepared to give details of harsher restrictions for the Easter period.

Poland’s Health Ministry reported over 34,000 new confirmed cases on Thursday, thousands more than the nearly 30,000 cases that set a daily record on Wednesday. Poland also registered 520 more virus-related deaths.

In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is driven by the highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain. The country’s vaccine rollout is proceeding too slowly to hold back the latest surge in infections.

The higher numbers also come as the government has made it easier for people to get tested for COVID-19, dropping its earlier requirement for a doctor’s referral and allowing people to request a test online.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is set to announce Thursday the details of new restrictions for the week before and the week after Easter.

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KAMPALA, Uganda — The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control says he is concerned by reports that the Serum Institute of India is suspending major exports of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in order to meet rising domestic demand.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said Thursday that he “truly feels helpless that this situation is going to significantly impact our ability to fight this virus.”

He said that “without ramping access to vaccines we will be challenged, continue to be challenged. Lives will be lost.”

“The battle has to be a collective battle,” Nkengasong said, adding that he remained hopeful “that the power of humanity will prevail.”

The BBC and Reuters have reported that the Serum Institute of India is temporarily suspending vaccine exports to meet local demand amid a rise in confirmed virus infections in India.

The Indian vaccine manufacturer is the source of the AstraZeneca shots being shipped to Africa under the COVAX initiative working to ensure access for low- and middle-income countries. At least 28 of Africa’s 54 countries had received over 16 million doses via COVAX as of Thursday.

Nkengasong said: “There is absolutely no need, absolutely no need for us as humanity to go into a vaccine war to fight this pandemic. We will all be losers.”

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BUDAPEST — Hungary set a new record for daily deaths on Thursday with 252, bringing the country's total to nearly 19,000 in the country of fewer than 10 million.

Additional lockdown measures introduced on March 8 have not yet produced results as the number of new infections and hospitalizations continue to dwarf previous peaks set in December, and hospitals have reported capacity problems as intensive care units fill up.

Hungarian authorities may extend digital education for primary school and kindergarten students beyond the current April 7 deadline to slow the latest powerful surge in infections.

A government official said in an interview Thursday that the deadline might have to be extended in light of record-breaking new cases and deaths that has given Hungary the highest death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world in the last two weeks.

“I consider it out of the question that the digital (education) system will remain until the end of the school year, but we’d be somewhat optimistic to think the April 7 opening is set in stone,” State Secretary Zoltan Maruzsa told Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The coronavirus has interrupted the process of forming a new Dutch government, with one of the two “scouts” mapping out possible coalitions testing positive for COVID-19.

The government information service says that talks scheduled Thursday have been canceled following the positive test recorded by Kajsa Ollongren, who is also caretaker interior minister and deputy prime minister in the outgoing coalition.

Ollongren is the second member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Cabinet to test positive this week, following state secretary for economic affairs and climate Mona Keijzer.

The coalition talks are expected to take weeks or months following last week’s general election. Rutte’s conservative VVD party won the most seats in the lower house of parliament but will likely need to enlist other parties to gain a majority in the 150-seat legislature.

The two coalition “scouts” had been scheduled to meet Rutte and Sigrid Kaag, leader of the centrist D66 party that finished second in the election.

The government information service says officials are looking into “how and when the talks can resume.”

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s president said he hoped his country will soon overcome the coronavirus pandemic but asked people to continue adhering to social distancing rules.

President Arif Alvi made his comments in a televised speech Thursday after witnessing a military parade in the capital, Islamabad.

Authorities provided face masks to all those who witnessed the military parade.

His comments came shortly after Pakistan reported 3,946 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, one of the highest increases in recent months.

On Thursday, Pakistan also reported 63 additional deaths from coronavirus, increasing the country’s total fatalities to 14,028 among 640,988 cases since last year.

Alvi’s remarks came a day after Pakistan’s top health official Faisal Sultan said his country will purchase 1 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and 60,000 doses of the vaccine made by Chinese company CanSino Biologics.

A day ago, Pakistan government ordered the closure of schools in the capital, Islamabad and in several high-risk cities until April 11.

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