ROME — The top health care official in Sicily has resigned amid a criminal investigation into allegations he and others knowingly provided false coronavirus data to the Italian government.
Sicily’s health assessor, Ruggero Razza, denied having provided false information to avoid the area being placed in the strictest “red zone” lockdown and insisted every case and death was reported, according to a statement carried by the ANSA and LaPresse news agencies. He noted Sicily had often requested and imposed stricter restrictions than the national government.
Citing telephone intercepts, prosecutors allege a half-dozen regional officials worked to spread out COVID-19 cases and deaths over several days, from November to March, to prevent single-day reports from showing spikes that would have resulted in lockdown, the news agencies said.
The Italian government last year created a tiered system of restrictions based on daily reports from regions of new infections, deaths and virus tests performed. Based on that data, hospital capacity and other criteria, individual regions are evaluated on a weekly basis and placed in the corresponding level of restrictions.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— German drug company BioNTech increases vaccine production estimates
— More than a dozen US states to open up vaccinations to all adults
— Spanish resorts languish while Madrid hosts Europe’s parties
— One Good Thing: Migrant workers, who bore the brunt of Singapore's outbreak, get a skyline view with residents' help
— 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 — The German state of Berlin is again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for people under 60 due to reports of blood clots.
Berlin’s top health official Dilek Kalayci says the decision was taken as a precaution after the country’s medical regulator announced 31 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received the vaccine. Nine of the people died.
The Paul Ehrlich Institute says all but two of the cases involved women ages 20 to 63. Reports of an unusual form of blood clot known as sinus vein thrombosis prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month.
Some 2.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in Germany so far.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian health authorities on Tuesday received 300,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine.
The shots arrived a day after the East African country introduced stricter lockdown measures to stem a spike in infections.
Earlier in March, Ethiopia received nearly 2.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX initiative that ensures vaccine access for low- and middle-income countries.
Health Minister Lia Tadesse says her country needs more shots. The government-established Public Health Institute announced last week that it was concerned infections had reached “a critical level” amid reports that ICU beds and oxygen tanks across the country were fully occupied.
Ethiopia has confirmed 202,500 coronavirus cases and more than 2,800 deaths.
BERLIN— German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says that after ramping up its manufacturing and supply systems, it expects to manufacture this year up to 2.5 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with U.S. partner Pfizer.
The two companies had previously spoken of being able to make 2 billion doses in 2021.
Mainz-based BioNTech said Tuesday that it had delivered 200 million doses of the vaccine globally as of March 23 and signed orders for 1.4 billion doses for delivery in 2021. Discussions on further orders were ongoing, it said.
The company attributed the increased capacity to optimized production processes and the start of production at a new plant in Marburg, Germany; the expansion of its manufacturing and and supply network; and regulatory approval for six doses to be drawn from each vial, rather than five.
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife have recovered from COVID-19 and returned to their regular duties on Tuesday, three weeks after they had tested positive for the coronavirus, the president’s office said.
According to the statement, their PCR tests results were negative, and the mild symptoms of the virus that they had experienced before were now gone.
Assad, 55, and his wife, Asma, who is 10 years younger and had announced her recovery from breast cancer in 2019, had isolated themselves since testing positive on March 8.
Syria is witnessing a sharp increase in cases. This month, state media has reported intensive care units in state hospitals in the capital of Damascus were full and that medical staff have been called to stay on alert to deal with coronavirus patients.
Syria has been mired in civil war for 10 years since anti-government protests that began as part of Arab Spring uprisings turned into an insurgency in response to a military crackdown.
Syrian authorities have so far registered more than 18,000 coronavirus cases and confirmed 1,247 deaths in government-held parts of the country.
MADRID — Residents of Spain’s capital ages 60 to 65 are receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Wanda Metropolitan Stadium, home to the Atlético de Madrid football club.
People in that age group started getting vaccinated Tuesday ahead of residents 66 to 79 because Spain has yet to review new data provided by AstraZeneca about how its jab works in older recipients.
Spain is currently using the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for people over 80.
Spanish health authorities have said they hope to speed up the rollout of vaccines with the arrival of the jab developed by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, which has also been approved for use in Europe and requires one shot only.
Spain has so far fully vaccinated 2.6 million people, or nearly 10% of the target group of 27.4 million people that the government aims to inoculate by the end of September.
Cases are again on the rise in the country. The Health Ministry recorded Monday a cumulative incidence of 149 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. That’s up from 129 cases per 100,000 a week ago.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is reinstating weekend lockdowns in most of Turkey’s provinces and will also impose restrictions over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Virus infections have soared less than a month after the country divided its 81 provinces into four color-coded categories and relaxed restrictions in some provinces under a “controlled normalization” effort. The number of confirmed daily infections has since almost tripled to around 30,000, matching the record numbers reported in December.
In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting late Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 58 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara, were now designated as “red” or “very high-risk” areas and would be subject to lockdowns on both Saturdays and Sundays. Nighttime weekend curfews across the country would continue, he said.
Nighttime curfews that are in place across the country would continue, he said.
JERUSALEM -- Israel has reopened its border crossing with neighboring Egypt for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Israeli authorities on Tuesday started allowing 300 citizens per day to enter and exit for the purpose of tourism in the Sinai Peninsula, provided they pass coronavirus tests before each crossing and are vaccinated against COVID-19 or recovered from it.
Before the pandemic, Sinai’s beaches were a popular destination for Israeli tourists. In March 2020, Israel closed the Taba border crossing to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign has seen over 50% of the population inoculated against the coronavirus and the reopening of the country’s economy.
Israel has recorded over 832,000 cases of coronavirus and at least 6,188 deaths in the pandemic.
BERLIN — Germany is extending virus-related border controls along its border with the Czech Republic by a further 14 days but ending entry requirements for people coming from the Austrian region of Tyrol.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Tuesday the number of coronavirus cases was still too high on the Czech side of the border.
People wanting to enter Germany from the Czech Republic or Tyrol are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test and go into quarantine for 14 days.
Seehofer said border police will also start doing spot checks along Germany's borders with Denmark, France and Poland, particularly after Easter.
LONDON — More than 20 heads of government and global agencies have called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations.
In a commentary published on Tuesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda called for “a renewed collective commitment” to reinforce the world’s pandemic preparedness and response systems, that would be rooted in WHO's constitution.
“We are convinced that it is our responsibility, as leaders of nations and international institutions, to ensure that the world learns the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote. Although they called for “solidarity” and greater “societal commitment,” there was no indication any country would soon change its own approach to responding to the pandemic.
But there are few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.
Last week, Tedros pleaded with rich countries to immediately donate 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so immunization campaigns could start in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. Not a single country has yet publicly offered to share its vaccines. Of the more than 459 million vaccine doses administered globally, most have been in just 10 countries — and 28% in just one.
LONDON -- Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton have signed an open letter penned by comedian and author Lenny Henry to urge wider take-up of coronavirus vaccines among Black people in Britain.
In the letter, Henry acknowledged the “legitimate worries and concerns” that some Black people may hold about the vaccines, which are evident in figures showing far lower take-up of the vaccines than among white Britons.
Henry said the signatories to the letter are “asking you to trust the facts” about the vaccines, not least from Black doctors and scientists, “not just in the U.K. but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa.”
Figures from Britain’s Office for National Statistics estimate that the vaccination rate so far among Black Africans is 58.8% — the lowest among all ethnic minority groups. The estimated rate for people identifying as white British is 91.3%.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi has received his first COVID-19 shot, getting the AstraZeneca vaccine at one of Rome’s main inoculation hubs.
Draghi and his wife, Maria Serenella Cappello, arrived Tuesday at the Termini station vaccination center that is being run by the Italian Red Cross. Video released by the premier’s office showed the couple entering the tents and then chatting in socially distanced seats as they presumably wwaited the required 15 minutes after receiving the shot.
Draghi, 73, had said last week that he intended to get the AstraZeneca vaccine after Italy joined other European countries in issuing a temporary ban on the shots pending further review by the European Medicines Agency.
Italy is only managing to vaccinate around 200,000-250,000 people a day, half of what officials say is necessary to reach the goal of inoculating 80% of residents by September.
BERLIN — New rules requiring all people flying to Germany to show a negative coronavirus test result before they board their plane have come into effect.
The rules, which were announced last week, took effect early Tuesday and are set to run until May 12. Travelers must show their airline a negative result in German, English or French from a test conducted no more than 48 hours before their planned arrival in Germany to board flights.
Airline crews and children under 5 are exempted. If people test positive, they have to remain where they are under local quarantine rules and at their own expense.
It’s up to airlines to check whether passengers have tested negative, though German federal police may conduct checks on arrival. The rules do not apply to other means of transport.
The German government characterizes the change as a precautionary move to prevent the virus from spreading. It follows a much-criticized surge in bookings to the Spanish island of Mallorca after a German travel warning was lifted.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that it will receive a donation of 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China this week.
Authorities say the vaccine will first be given to Chinese citizens in Sri Lanka. There are several thousand Chinese working at various projects in the country.
Government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said the vaccine will be given to Sri Lankans once the country receives a clearance from the World Health Organization.
He said WHO has not yet recommended the universal use of Sinopharm.
Sri Lanka has so far received 1,264,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and has inoculated 903,467 people.
It has approved three vaccines: Oxford-AstraZeneca, Russia's Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm.
Sri Lanka has decided to buy 7 million doses of Sputnik V.