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Saturday December 4th, 2021 6:12AM

The Latest: Kansas considers relief fund for businesses

By The Associated Press
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TOPEKA, Kan. — State legislators in Kansas are working on a plan for setting aside potentially several hundred million dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to pay businesses harmed by restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would set up a state fund to pay claims from businesses that either were shut down or had their operations curtailed by state restrictions.

The measure also would require counties and cities that imposed restrictions to set up similar funds. The state, cities and counties would be required to set aside 25% of their federal COVID-19 relief funds that aren’t dedicated to a specific purpose.

The measure is designed to end the threat that the state, counties and cities could face a larger total payout from lawsuits from business owners.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

VACCINES: More than 93.6 million people, or 28.2% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 51.5 million people, or 15.5% of the population, have completed their vaccination.

CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 53,670 on March 14 to 63,239 on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,363 on March 14 to 969 on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— Hungary first in European Union for vaccinations, and deaths

— ICU cases creep toward new peak in French virus surge

— AP Exclusive: Pandemic means far fewer eyes on kids’ welfare

— Merkel blames German ‘perfectionism’ for current virus woes

— AP Interview: Japan urges EU to ensure stable vaccine export

— Dear Normal: Were you really that great in the first place?

— Happy Monday: England embarks on major easing of lockdown

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— 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:

ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor says he plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the state.

Gov. Brian Kemp says that his administration will outline plans to rescind remaining coronavirus restrictions.

Those include capacity limits, restrictions on large-scale gatherings and dozens of safety guidelines for restaurants, bars, entertainment and other venues, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The move is a “critical step” in moving the state back to normalcy, Kemp said. He pointed to recent declines of new infections and rising numbers of Georgians getting vaccinated.

The changes are expected to take effect Thursday, the newspaper reported.

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NEW YORK — The top public health agency in the U.S. has added drug addiction to the list of conditions that can increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

It means people with alcoholism or addiction to other drugs can be counted as a priority group for vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

The change means there are now 17 conditions that can qualify for COVID-19 vaccines. Besides drug addiction, the CDC also added Down syndrome, dementia and other neurological conditions, liver disease, HIV infection, stroke and Type 1 diabetes.

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DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has announced that residents over age 16 will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine starting Friday.

All Colorado residents who want vaccines will be able to get them by mid to late May, Polis said on Monday.

The Democratic governor says there will be six mass drive-in sites for the state’s eligible population and four mobile bus clinics to distribute vaccines to underserved communities.

He says more than 1 million Colorado residents have been fully vaccinated and over 1.5 million have received their first vaccine doses. Despite expanded eligibility, Polis says vaccine providers have been ordered to prioritize people in higher risk groups.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Public health officials in Iowa acknowledged some counties have already started providing COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals ages 16 and older a week before Gov. Kim Reynolds plans to make all adult Iowans officially eligible for the shots.

The state had planned to open vaccines to people 16 and older starting next Monday.

Iowa is currently eighth in the nation for the percent of its population that is fully vaccinated at 19%, or 598,935 people out of 3.1 million.

Nationally, 15.8% of the U.S. population — or roughly 52.6 million people — are fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Like many U.S. states, Iowa is seeing a recent increase in virus activity, reporting on Monday 110 new confirmed cases and seven additional deaths.

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MADRID — With the number of new COVID-19 cases in Spain creeping higher, officials are urging people to prevent the pandemic from surging out of control by complying with restrictions on movements and gatherings over Easter.

Fernando Simón, who heads the country’s pandemic response, said he believed Spain can keep a lid on the slow but steady rise while a vaccination campaign continues, as long as people remain disciplined over the Easter break.

Spain reported an incidence rate of 149 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. That’s up from 129 cases per 100,000 a week ago. That key pandemic indicator reached a peak of 900 at the end of January before dropping amid limits on travel and gatherings. This month the indicator levelled off and in recent days has started ticking higher.

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson says it’s agreed to provide up to 400 million doses of its one-dose COVID-19 vaccine to African countries, starting this summer.

The drugmaker said under its agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, the company will provide up to 220 million vaccine doses for the African Union’s 55 member countries, with delivery beginning in the July-to-September quarter. The trust will be able to order 180 million additional doses from J&J, for a total of up to 400 million shots through 2022.

The company’s vaccine still must receive authorization from regulators in the African countries, but the World Health Organization approved it for emergency use on March 12.

In late-stage testing, J&J’s vaccine prevented about 67% of symptomatic infections with the coronavirus and was 85% effective at preventing severe disease, beginning 28 days after vaccination.

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WASHINGTON — CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is making an impassioned plea to Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19, warning of a potential “fourth wave” of the virus as cases in the U.S. rose 10% over the last week.

Speaking during a White House briefing, Walensky grew emotional as she reflected “on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.”

She added: “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared.”

Walensky appealed to elected officials, community leaders and everyday Americans to maintain social distancing measures and mask-wearing. She said, “Just please hold on a little while longer.”

She added: “We are not powerless, we can change this trajectory of the pandemic.”

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BOSTON — Hotels in the Boston area were hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than just about any other major U.S. city, and hospitality industry officials said the recovery could take years.

The Boston Globe reported that the occupancy rate in Boston and Cambridge fell to less than 26% last year, driving revenue per available room — the performance measure used in the industry — down more than 80%, according to the hotel consultant Pinnacle Advisory Group.

Only New York fared worse. The area’s hotels are projected to hit 42% occupancy this year, half of what it was in 2019, while hotel revenues aren’t expected to get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

About 8,000 hotel employees in the area are still out of work. More than a dozen hotels in Boston and Cambridge remain closed, including the 1,200-room Sheraton Boston Hotel, the biggest property in the city.

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority received a shipment of 100,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.

Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said the Sinopharm vaccines that arrived in Ramallah will “greatly contribute to speeding up the community vaccination campaign.”

Earlier this month the PA received 62,000 coronavirus vaccine doses through a World Health Organization partnership designed to help poor countries. The PA has also received 2,000 doses from Israel and 10,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, have received 60,000 doses from a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the United Arab Emirates.

Israel has come under international criticism for not sharing more of its vaccines with the Palestinians. Israel has said its priority was vaccinating its own citizens, but recently began vaccinating the estimated 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank who work in Israel and Jewish settlements.

The PA has said it would secure its own supplies of vaccines.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is extending a federal moratorium on evictions of tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved to continue the pandemic-related protection, which had been scheduled to expire on Wednesday. The moratorium is now extended through the end of June.

The moratorium, initially put in place last year, provides protection for renters out of concern that having families lose their homes and move into shelters or share crowded conditions with relatives or friends during a pandemic would further spread the highly contagious coronavirus.

To be eligible for protection, renters must earn $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate that they’ve sought government help to pay the rent; declare that they can’t pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm they are likely to become homeless if evicted.

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INDIANAPOLIS — State health officials opened up COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to all Indiana residents 30 and older.

The Indiana Department of Health said the state’s latest vaccine expansion makes the vaccine available to more than 840,000 additional Hoosiers.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb had announced last week that the state would also open up vaccine eligibility for all residents 16 and older, starting Wednesday.

Indiana had previously limited eligibility to Hoosiers who are 40 and older, along with healthcare workers, long-term care residents, first responders and educators up to grade 12. Other school workers such as classroom aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers are also eligible.

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BERLIN — Germany’s medical regulator says it has received reports of 21 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute said in an email Monday to The Associated Press that seven people affected by the blood clots have died.

The incidence of an unusual form of blood clot in the head, known as sinus vein thrombosis, prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month. After a review by medical experts. the European Union’s medical regulator EMA recommended that warnings about possible rare side effects should be added to the vaccine information provided for patients and doctors.

Most EU countries have since resumed use of the vaccine.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute said that of the 21 cases reported in Germany until March 25, 12 also involved an abnormally low level of platelets in the patients’ blood.

Of the 21 cases, 19 were in women ages 20 to 63, while two were in men ages 36 and 57.

During the period covered by the reports, some 2.27 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were administered in Germany.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland is transferring new COVID-19 patients from the region of Silesia to neighboring Opole amid a sharp rise in cases.

Health Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz said there was also increasing numbers of cases in the central Mazovia region that includes Warsaw, and in the south-central Kielce region, with more than 80% of beds taken.

A temporary hospital was to be opened Monday at the Pyrzowice Airport, in Silesia’s main city of Katowice.

The temporary hospital at Warsaw’s National Stadium is also ready to take in more patients and is urging better triage and logistics, said hospital director Artur Zaczynski. Reports speak of patients having to wait for long hours in ambulances to be admitted to COVID-19 hospitals. The Health Ministry said it was increasing the total number of COVID-19 beds by 3,000 this week, to around 39,000, while almost 30,000 of them were taken Monday.

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