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Wednesday June 23rd, 2021 4:57AM

The Latest: France orders school closure, travel ban

By The Associated Press
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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a one month domestic travel ban to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Macron says efforts are needed as “the epidemic is accelerating.” The move is a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures were seen as a last resort.

Paris hospital officials warned they’d have to start refusing patients for lack of space. The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months the figure has been that high.

Previous nationwide lockdowns in France were in March and October 2020.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— COVID-19 pushed total US deaths beyond 3.3 million last year

— Pfizer says vaccine is safe in kids as young as age 12

— 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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CHICAGO — Chicago officials are warning if the number of coronavirus cases keep climbing, they’ll stop letting baseball fans into Wrigley Field, along with limits on bars and restaurants.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications made the announcement a day before Thursday’s Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, can allow up to 25% of their capacity when they open for fans for the first time since 2019.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials on Tuesday reported 2,404 coronavirus cases, including 17 more deaths. More than 1.2 million residents have contracted the virus and there’s been 21,273 confirmed deaths.

Health officials say hospitalizations have increased almost daily since falling to a one-year low on March 12. Hospitalizations totaled 1,396 beds on Monday, the most since late February.

The state reported more than 2.1 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated, about 16.6% of the population.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota announced it will open COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone over age 16 on Monday.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s announcement on Wednesday came amid a recent uptick in cases statewide. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 34%, according to Johns Hopkins University.

State health officials say 43% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine and about 65% are fully vaccinated.

As those over 16 become eligible, more than 400,000 people in the state can receive a vaccine.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 39,302, a record high for a second straight day.

The Health Ministry reported 152 more deaths, pushing the confirmed death toll to 31,537. The total number of confirmed infections stands at 3.3 million.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government re-imposed restrictions, including weekend lockdowns, amid a sharp increase in the number of infections less than a month after the measures were relaxed. The government has also announced restrictions over the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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NEW YORK — A new report says U.S. deaths last year topped 3.3 million for the nation’s highest annual death toll, including about 375,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report Wednesday. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of U.S. deaths, after heart disease and cancer. Overall, the death rate was up nearly 16% compared to the previous year. The COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanic people.

There have been more than 551,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, the highest tally in the world.

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BERLIN -- The European Medicines Agency says there is “no evidence” that would support restricting use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population despite reports of rare blood clots associated with the shot.

The comments Wednesday by the head of the European Union regulator contradict the advice given a day earlier by an expert panel in Germany that prompted the government there to restrict the use of the shot in people under 60.

EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said the agency’s assessment was based on 62 cases of unusual blood clots, including 14 deaths, worldwide reported to EMA by March 22. She says her agency continues to study reports of new cases as they come in and will provide a further assessment next week.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he’ll be vaccinated against COVID-19 next week but doesn’t want it to become a “spectacle.”

The president had the coronavirus in January and says a recent blood test showed he still had antibodies in his system, but doctors recommended he get vaccinated.

The 67-year-old leader was criticized early in the pandemic for not conveying the gravity of the situation. He has consistently refused to push for strict lockdowns used in other countries, calling such tactics “authoritarian.”

Mexico aims to get everyone over age 60 vaccinated by April.

The country has recorded more than 202,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths, although the government puts the actual toll at more than 322,000.

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MADRID — Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias says the country is “at a critical moment” after a key contagion indicator reached a level deemed high risk by authorities.

Facing another serious outbreak since the start of the pandemic, Spain surpassed 150 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, a level that authorities consider high risk.

Darias says the upswing in contagion was linked to the spread of the possibly more contagious variant first identified in Britain, which she says accounts for 60% to 70% of all cases.

Spain reported more than 8,500 cases and 154 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 since Tuesday. The coronavirus has officially claimed 75,459 lives in Spain.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Ukraine’s capital is suspending most public transportation and school classes because of sharply rising coronavirus deaths.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko says schools would be closed Monday for two weeks. Over the past day, the city of 2.9 million recorded 1,100 new infections and 35 deaths.

Ukraine on Wednesday reported its highest single-day death toll of 407. Ukraine began vaccinations late February, but only about 230,000 people have received the shots due to widespread reluctance.

Overall, there’s been more than 1.6 million cases and 32,825 confirmed deaths.

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STOCKHOLM — The Swedish prime minister is urging citizens to avoid big gatherings over Easter to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the government was extending current coronavirus restrictions on opening hours of bars and restaurants and urged local authorities to keep non-essential services closed.

The number of COVID-19 infections in Sweden has surpassed 800,000 as the country reported 8,431 new cases with 35 deaths in the past 24 hours. That’s increased the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 804,886 and 13,465 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Sweden, unlike most other European countries, opted to keep its society open with few restrictions. However, the government has taken a harder stance in the past months and imposed several restrictions.

Sweden, a nation of 10 million, has vaccinated 1.1 million people with at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s top health official says as many as 800,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered across the country amid a spike in deaths and confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Faisal Sultan says Pakistan will expand its vaccination program to people who are above 50 years.

Sultan made his televised comments after receiving another 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from Beijing.

The development comes two days after Pakistan reported 100 deaths from the coronavirus, its highest single-day toll since December.

Pakistan has reported 667,957 cases and 14,434 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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TIRANA, Albania — The European Commission has given 90 million Euro ($105 million) to Albania to help Tirana “limit the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.”

A statement from the European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations says Albania become the eighth country to receive a disbursement from the 3 billion Euro ($3.5 billion) for 10 non-EU neighboring member countries.

A second installment of 90 million Euro is expected later this year if Albania fulfills some “policy conditions (which) relate in particular to improving governance or enhancing social protection.”

The pandemic in Albania caused a GDP fall of -3.31% in 2020 compared to a year earlier, according to the Institute of Statistics.

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MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, ruling the Democrat exceeded his authority by issuing the order.

The 4-3 ruling from the conservative-controlled court is the latest legal blow to attempts by Evers to control the coronavirus. It comes after Republicans in the Legislature voted to repeal the mask mandate in February, only to see Evers quickly re-issue it.

The court last May struck down Evers’ “safer at home” order, saying that his health secretary didn’t have the authority for such an order. Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places were also blocked by a state appeals court in October.

In the latest case, the court ruled that any public health emergency issued by Evers is valid for just 60 days and can’t be extended without legislative approval.

Evers had argued that he can issue multiple health emergencies because of the changing nature of the ongoing pandemic. The mask order first took effect in August and Evers extended it four times since then, most recently on Feb. 4.

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SEATTLE — A legal-aid group in Washington state has sued the state Department of Corrections, demanding that state prison inmates immediately receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The Seattle Times reported that Columbia Legal Services filed the class-action lawsuit on Tuesday seeking an order that would also ban direct contact with inmates by employees and contractors who refuse to be inoculated.

The lawsuit claims the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate about 15,000 inmates violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Agency spokesperson Jacque Coe said the department will continue to follow the state published vaccine phase schedule, which is based on age, underlying conditions and other factors.

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BEIJING — Chinese health officials are pushing to expand the search for the origins of the coronavirus beyond China, one day after the release of a closely watched World Health Organization report on the issue.

They also are rejecting criticism that China didn’t give the international experts on the WHO team access to enough data when they visited the city of Wuhan earlier this year. The search for the origins of the virus has become a diplomatic feud. The U.S. and other Western nations have repeatedly raised questions about delays, transparency and data access, while China has promoted theories that suggest the virus may have come from elsewhere.

Liang Wannian, the head of the Chinese team that worked with the WHO group of experts, says the experts agreed that the place where the first case was identified is not necessarily where the virus emerged.

“Based on this scientific consensus, we should have a broader viewpoint in terms of sourcing,” he said.

Experts agree the virus could have come from elsewhere, with neighboring countries in Southeast Asia a prime possibility.

The WHO report concluded that the virus was most likely carried by a bat, which infected another animal that infected a human. Researchers haven’t been able to trace the bat or the intermediate animal yet, but suspicion has fallen on bat habitats in southwest China or nearby Southeast Asia.

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GENEVA — The U.N. health agency says coronavirus cases globally rose for a fifth straight week, with counts in Africa and the Americas now ticking up after holding mostly steady for weeks.

Deaths climbed in every region except Africa. The World Health Organization says the number of new deaths rose 5 percent to more than 64,000 over the last week — a second straight weekly increase after falling or staying nearly flat for weeks.

Europe and the Americas still account for about four-fifths of all cases and deaths. The U.S. leads the world with 30.3 million coronavirus cases and nearly 551,000 deaths.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union said member states will have received 107 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this week.

The 27-nation bloc, which has secured more than 2 billion doses through contracts with various manufactures, initially expected far more shots in the first quarter. But delays in the deliveries and production issues with Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca have slowed down the rollout of vaccines in the region.

EU commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant says AstraZeneca is expected to have delivered about 29.7 million of doses, close to its revised target of 30 million, but far from the 120 million doses initially expected by the EU.

Despite the delays in deliveries, the EU’s executive Commission is sticking to its target to vaccinate 70% of the EU adult population by the end of the summer.

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NEW YORK — Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12.

The announcement Wednesday marks a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before the next school year.

Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic.

In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in the coming weeks plan to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European regulators to allow emergency use of the shots starting at age 12. Results are expected soon from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds.

Children represent about 13% of COVID-19 cases documented in the U.S.

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GENEVA — A top official with the World Health Organization says there’s “very little evidence” to suggest that three highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus cause more severe COVID-19 disease.

Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, also says generally, the performance of vaccines against “the more severe end of the spectrum of disease” is stronger than against either infection or mild disease.

Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, head of a WHO panel of immunization experts, saus two Chinese vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm, which the U.N. health agency is assessing, have so far demonstrated “levels of efficacy that would be compatible with the requirements of WHO.”

He says those levels would be at least 50-percent effective and “preferably close to or above 70 percent.”

Craviato noted many national regulators have already approved the two vaccines for use, even without an emergency use listing that the Chinese manufacturers are seeking from WHO. Such a listing would allow them to be included in the U.N.-backed global vaccine rollout program known as COVAX.

A WHO decision on any emergency use listing for the two Chinese vaccines could come at the earliest next month, the agency says.

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