WASHINGTON — The White House announced three cities will become federally run mass vaccination centers as part of President Joe Biden’s new goal of vaccinating 200 million Americans by the end of April.
The cities are Boston, Norfolk, Virginia, and Newark, New Jersey, according to coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients. Together, the three sites will be capable of vaccinating 15,000 people daily.
Zients says the U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2.5 million people a day, a pace that allows the nation to meet the new goal Biden announced Thursday. States are moving up the dates for younger adults to get vaccinated and the federal government is taking steps to increase the number of vaccinators and vaccine sites.
Zients says Johnson & Johnson is on track to meet its target of delivering 20 million doses of its one-shot vaccine by the end of March, with at least 11 million doses expected next week. Meanwhile, daily virus cases and hospitalizations are rising.
“It is clear there is a case for optimism, but there is not a case for relaxation,” Zients says. “This is not the time to let down our guard.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Germany urges people to stay home during Easter as cases spike
— China outlines COVID-origin findings, ahead of WHO report
— France’s Macron: No regrets for rejecting new virus lockdown
— Mexico's pandemic death toll passes 200,000
— Follow 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:
BERLIN — German health officials are urging people to stay home during the upcoming Easter break to help slow the rapidly rising numbers of new coronavirus infections.
Health Minister Jens Spahn says if infections continue unchecked, Germany’s health system could be stretched to its limit in April. The head of Germany’s disease control center says the country is just at the “beginning of the third wave” of the pandemic. Germany reported 21,573 new cases on Friday, compared to 17,482 a week earlier.
The number of new weekly infections per 100,000 people was 119 on Friday, compared to 70 two weeks ago, Spahn says.
He says more than 10% of Germans had received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in a slow rollout of vaccines in Europe.
LONDON — The European Medicines Agency has approved new manufacturing sites for coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca in a move that could significantly boost Europe’s supply of the shots.
In a statement published on Friday, the EU medicines regulator says it had approved sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland for vaccines made by the companies.
The new approvals come amid the 27-nation bloc’s struggles to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination and repeated delivery delays and manufacturing problems. In addition, the EMA says it was granting “more flexible storage conditions” to the Pfizer vaccine -- which was cleared on the basis that it needed ultra-cold freezer temperatures for storage and delivery.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s authorities have vowed strict enforcement of new COVID-19 restrictions and stiff fines, calling the situation “dramatic” as the nation registered its record number of new infections for the third straight day.
The Health Ministry says there were over 35,100 new infections and more than 440 deaths in the nation of some 38 million that has already lost 50,000 people to the pandemic.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski says the situation was “dramatic but not hopeless” and the vaccine program offers promise.
Officials urged vigilance during the Easter holiday time and family meetings. Kaminski says police will hand out fines -- ranging from 1,000-30,000 zlotys ($250-7,600) for those breaking the new regulations. The new restrictions of five people at gathering and more closures of businesses begins Saturday.
Nearly 28,000 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus on Friday, some 660 more than the previous day.
KYIV, Ukraine — Coronavirus infections in Ukraine hit a record 18,132 on Friday.
The previous record of 16,669 cases was reported on Thursday.
Ukraine, a nation of 41 million, has reported a total of more than 1.6 million coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 31,461 confirmed deaths.
Ukraine began vaccinations against COVID-19 in late February after receiving 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But reluctance to take the shots has been strong as new infections severely tax the country’s underfunded health care system.
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials eased a two-week ban on religious gatherings and allowed Lenten and Easter masses with strict coronavirus restrictions, ending an impasse with the Roman Catholic church.
The Department of Health reported 9,838 coronavirus cases Friday, the nation’s highest one-day total of the pandemic.
The government initially banned religious gatherings from March 22 to April 4, among other restrictions, as it struggled to contain an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases in the capital and outlying provinces. But the Manila archdiocese announced it would open its churches for worship with adequate safeguards, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman to warn the government could close defiant churches.
However, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced Friday that religious gatherings would be allowed once a day from April 1 to Easter Sunday with a limit of 10 percent seating capacity. He outlined other restrictions, including a ban on the gathering of people outside of places of worship.
The Philippines has reported more than 702,000 confirmed cases and 13,149 confirmed deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
SANT JOAN DESPÍ, Spain — A senior European Union official says 55 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to EU member states in the second quarter of this year, starting next month.
The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, says the bloc will receive another 120 million doses of the single-shot jabs between July and September.
Breton spoke Friday during a visit to a plant in northeastern Spain where the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is being bottled. It is one of four vaccines approved for use in the EU.
Across the bloc, 52 factories are currently churning out vaccines, according to Breton. He says the EU will be producing 2 or 3 billion doses by end of year, making it the world’s top vaccine manufacturer, and allow 70% of the EU population to be inoculated by mid-July.
BEIJING — Chinese officials have briefed diplomats in Beijing on the research into the origin of COVID-19, ahead of the expected release of a long-awaited report from the World Health Organization.
The briefing appeared to be an attempt by China to get out its view on the report. The U.S. and others have raised questions about Chinese influence and the independence of the findings, and China has accused critics of politicizing a scientific study.
The report is based on a visit by WHO team of international experts last month to Wuhan, the city in China where COVID-19 cases were first reported in late 2019.
The experts worked with Chinese counterparts and both sides must agree on the final report. It’s unclear when it will come out.
BUCHAREST, Romania — New restrictions will start Friday in Romania as the country faces a surge of coronavirus infections amid a third wave of the coronavirus.
This week Romania has recorded its highest number of daily infections in three months, hospital intensive care units have reported record patient numbers and more than 600 people have died of the coronavirus in the last five days.
Officials are tightening restrictions in localities based on the coronavirus incident rate to try to slow the spread while avoiding a complete lockdown.
Six counties in Romania are currently above the four in 1,000 threshold, while only the western Timis County is above 7.5. In Bucharest, the infection rate reached 6.67 on Friday.
Romania has recorded more than 926,000 cases and 22,835 confirmed deaths. It has administered 2.6 million doses of vaccine.
KRNJACA, Serbia — Serbia has started vaccinating migrants amid a coronavirus outbreak despite a widespread inoculation campaign.
The first of some 530 registered migrants who have applied for the coronavirus shots received their first doses of the AstraZeneca jabs in a suburb of Serbia’s capital Belgrade on Friday.
Serbia, a top European nation in the number of administered coronavirus shots per capita, is among the first Western Balkan country to start vaccinating migrants who are considered a highly vulnerable group in the pandemic.
Earlier this month, a migrant camp in neighboring Bosnia experienced a major coronavirus outbreak.
There are thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia stuck in Serbia and Bosnia as they attempt to cross into neighboring European Union member Croatia on their way to Western nations.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s government is extending its mandatory work-at-home order through the end of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The government says even if the current state of emergency decree allowing lockdowns is lifted, people must still work from home if they can.
Also, companies must have staggered working hours for staff to avoid large gatherings.
NEW YORK — Coronavirus contact tracing programs across the U.S. scaled back their ambitions as cases surged in winter, but New York City has leaned into its $600 million tracing initiative.
The city hired more tracers during the holiday season surge and in early March hit its goal of reaching at least 90% of people who test positive, a mark it hadn’t reached since around Thanksgiving. Last week, the number hit 96%.
Overwhelmed tracing programs elsewhere confronted the wave by switching to automated calls, limiting the types of cases they trace or telling infected people simply to reach out to their contacts themselves.
There’s some debate among public health experts over whether local governments should cut back on contact tracing and focus more on vaccination. However, contact tracing follow-up could help answer whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Rutgers University says it will require all students be vaccinated for the coronavirus before arriving for classes in the fall.
The university says assurances from the federal government of vaccine supply for all Americans prompted them to make the decision. The university says students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students participating in online-only classes will not be required to be vaccinated.
Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs, says the vaccine is the key “to the return of campus instruction and activities closer to what we were accustomed to before the pandemic.”
Rutgers says it has received approval from the state of New Jersey to administer vaccines on campus to faculty, staff and students once vaccine supplies are available to the university.
Faculty and staff are strongly urged to receive the vaccination and students enrolling at Rutgers who are under 18 will be advised to receive the Pfizer vaccine because it’s approved for people age 16 and up.
BERLIN — The German air force is flying dozens of ventilators to Brazil, which has been severely hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
Soldiers loaded 80 ventilators onto an Airbus A310 MRTT at the military section of Cologne-Bonn Airport on Friday morning.
They are being flown to the Amazon metropolis of Manaus, where hospitals have been overwhelmed by the large number of COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen and ventilators.
ROME — The Vatican is providing shots to 1,200 local poor people during Holy Week.
Next week’s vaccine drive follows an initial round of inoculations by the Vatican health service for area homeless people using some of the Pfizer shots the Vatican city-state bought for the pope, Vatican employees and their families.
In a statement Friday, the office noted Francis has urged everyone to get vaccinated as an exercise in collective well-being. Francis has also called for society’s most vulnerable and fragile to have priority since they are among the most exposed to the virus and least able to get medical care if they get sick.
PARIS — France’s president says he has nothing to be sorry about for refusing to impose a third virus lockdown earlier this year, even as his country is now facing surging infections that are straining hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus are dying every week.
Emmanuel Macron’s government has stressed the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic stretches into a second year.
“We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn’t have the explosion of cases that every model predicted,” he said late Thursday night. “There won’t be a mea culpa from me. I don’t have remorse and won’t acknowledge failure.”
For months, France has championed a “third way” between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and closing all restaurants, tourist sites, gyms, large shopping malls and some other businesses.
Many doctors and scientists have been urging the French government for weeks to impose stronger restrictions, notably because of the more contagious and more dangerous virus variant first identified in Britain.
France has recorded the fourth-highest number of virus infections in the world, and among the highest death tolls, at 93,378. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions because of a new surge of critically ill virus patients.
BUDAPEST — Officials in Hungary will loosen pandemic lockdown restrictions despite daily COVID-19 deaths breaking previous records for the fifth time this week.
New daily cases in Hungary reached 11,265 on Friday, breaking a record set less than a week ago. A new high of 275 deaths was recorded in the country of fewer than 10 million inhabitants. The surge has given Hungary the highest per capita death rate in the world in the last two weeks.
“We are living through the most difficult weeks of the pandemic,” Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said in a radio interview Friday morning as he announced the numbers.
Hungarian officials nevertheless are loosening lockdown restrictions currently in place. In the Friday interview, Orban announced that non-grocery shops, which are currently closed, will be allowed to reopen with area-based maximum capacity limits.
As of Friday, 1.8 million people had received at least a first dose of a vaccine, giving Hungary the second-highest vaccination rate in the European Union.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister is supposed to be under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. But now he's facing criticism on social media for meeting with his media team only five days after testing positive.
A photo of Imran Khan and members of his media team, all wearing masks, was tweeted by Information Minister Shibli Faraz on Thursday.
Criticism of the face-to-face meeting as irresponsible continued as Pakistan on Friday reported one of its highest number of virus cases in the past eight months, with
Cabinet member Faisal Javed has responded to critics by saying the prime minister was fine and will soon start coming to his office.