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Saturday December 4th, 2021 9:33PM

The Latest: EU to hold hearing in case against AstraZeneca

By The Associated Press
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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch says the first hearing in its legal case against coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca will take place in a Brussels court on May 26.

The European Commission says it’s taking the British-Swedish firm to court for failing to respect the vaccine delivery commitments in its contract with the 27-nation bloc.

AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU, which the Commission signed on behalf of the member countries last August, foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries.

The company had hoped to deliver 80 million doses in the first quarter of 2021, but only 30 million were sent. According to the Commission, the drug maker is now set to provide 70 million doses in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.

AstraZeneca says it will “strongly defend” itself in court.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Attendance will be limited as Biden gives his first presidential address to Congress

— India's death toll passes 200,000 as country endures its darkest chapter of the pandemic yet

— Vaccination teams in Italy visit homebound to give vaccine shots

— Samsung heirs' inheritance plan includes a specialized hospital for treating infectious disease

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— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — The head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says Europe can achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus within the next four months.

While the exact threshold required to reach that critical level of immunization remains a matter of debate, experts say a level above 70% would significantly disrupt transmission of the coronavirus.

BioNTech developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. partner Pfizer.

BioNTech’s chief executive, Ugur Sahin, says “Europe will reach herd immunity in July, latest by August.”

He says data from people who have received the vaccine show the immune response gets weaker over time, and a third shot will likely be required 9-12 months after the first and again every 12-18 months.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese vaccine makers are looking at mixing their shots and whether a booster shot could help better protect against COVID-19.

Sinovac and Sinopharm, the two manufacturers that combined have exported hundreds of millions of doses globally, say they’re are considering combining their vaccines with those from other companies.

This month, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, said current vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus and mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness.

Gao later tried to walk back his comments, saying he was talking in general about improving vaccine efficacy. Sinopharm says its vaccines are 79% and 72% effective, respectively. Sinovac is said to have a 50% efficacy rate.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — Tens of thousands of people left the Nepalese capital Wednesday, a day ahead of a 15-day lockdown imposed by the government because of spiking coronavirus cases in the country.

The lockdown will be imposed in most of the major cities and towns in the country starting Thursday. The government says both public and private vehicles won’t be allowed on the streets and grocery and essential stores will be open only for a few hours.

Schools are closed, public and private gatherings are banned.

Information Minister Parbat Gurung says the land borders will be closed to foreign nationals, but citizens of neighboring India will be allowed with a negative test and 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel.

Nepal has recorded 312,699 confirmed cases and 3,211 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says it’s likely as coronavirus cases go down, guidelines aimed at protecting people against the spread will be loosened.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they are in a large crowd of strangers.

Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday as cases decrease, “you are definitely going to see the CDC come back and be more flexible.” Fauci says, “They’re going to be pulling back on some of the restrictions — guarantee it.”

The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. has not increased during the last two weeks, according to data through April 27 from Johns Hopkins University.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tells ABC’s “Good Morning America” she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the coronavirus situation in the U.S., as cases appear to have “plateaued.”

But she says the virus is opportunistic, so health officials need to make sure there’s uniform vaccination across the country and there aren’t any largely non-vaccinated communities.

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NEW DELHI — The COVID-19 death toll in India has topped 200,000 during a surge in the pandemic.

The health ministry on Wednesday reported 3,293 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing India’s total deaths to 201,187.

The country also reported 362,757 new infections, a global record, which raised the overall total past 17.9 million cases.

India has the fourth most deaths, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico. The current surge is sending its health systems toward collapse. Hospitalizations and deaths have reached record highs.

Patients are dying because hospitals’ oxygen supplies have run out. Fires at overwhelmed crematoriums are lighting up night skies.

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TOKYO — Japanese officials are asking the people to stay home during a string of “golden week” holidays beginning Thursday in a nationwide effort to curb the rapid resurgence of coronavirus cases less than three months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike warned Thursday that the infection rate could explode if people continue to travel, dine out and meet with others during the holidays.

“We are at a crucial turning point,” Koike said. “In order to slow the infections and keep them from becoming explosive, we must reduce the people’s movement.”

Koike urged people to stay home and avoid barbecuing and drinking outdoors even though bars and restaurants serving alcohol are closed under emergency measures imposed Sunday. She also asked employers in Tokyo to allow up to 70% of their employees to work from home.

Tokyo reported 925 new confirmed cases on Thursday, its highest daily number since late January.

Experts from a Tokyo prefectural task force said a rapid spread of the more contagious virus variant first detected in Britain could send daily cases as high as 2,000 within two weeks.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland is gradually lifting pandemic restrictions starting Saturday and aiming to allow restaurants and hotels to reopen at 50% capacity next month.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday this “cautious” plan was possible as a result because a decreasing number of new coronavirus cases and deaths suggest “the third wave is probably receding.”

Morawiecki said that immunization has a crucial role in overcoming the pandemic and noted that he has received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Saturday is the start of a long holiday weekend in Poland, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said open-air sports centers will open that day for events of up to 50 people and indoors sports facilities can open at half their normal capacity.

On Tuesday, shopping malls, theaters, cinemas, art galleries and churches will be permitted to open at reduced capacity. Hotels and spas will be able to serve customers at 50% capacity with the exception of their restaurants.

A week later, outdoor restaurants and event venues will be allowed to open to half of their capacity. Face masks will no longer be required outdoors when distance can be observed, Niedzielski said.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese vaccine makers are looking at mixing their jabs and whether a booster shot could help better protect against COVID-19.

Sinovac and Sinopharm, the two Chinese manufacturers that combined have exported hundreds of millions of doses all over the world, say they’re are considering combining their vaccines with those from other companies.

Earlier this month, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, said that current vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus and mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness.

Gao later tried to walk back his comments, saying he was talking in general about improving vaccine efficacy.

China National Biotech Group has a plan for future “sequential use” of their vaccines, Li Meng, the head of international cooperation for the company, said Wednesday at an international conference.

The company, a subsidiary of state-owned Sinopharm, made two inactivated COVID-19 vaccines and a third in clinical trials.

Sinovac, a private company based in Beijing, also said they were in preliminary discussions with investigators, including China’s Center for Disease Control, about combining the doses of their vaccine, CoronaVac, with others.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities on Wednesday reported 201 deaths from coronavirus, the country’s highest single-day toll of the pandemic.

According to National Command and Control Center, 5,292 new cases of infection were reported in the past 24 hours.

Since last year, Pakistan has reported 17,530 deaths from COVID-19 among 810,231 cases.

The current surge has forced the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to deploy troops to help ensure people follow social distancing rules in cities hard hit by coronavirus cases.

Pakistan is planning a lockdown in the worst-hit cities in the first week of May. Khan has resisted demands for a nationwide lockdown, citing its economic impact, but he has also warned that he will be forced to impose a lockdown if people do not stop violating social distancing rules.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s daily reported cases of coronavirus have surpassed 1,000 for the first time in months amid a surge in infections in the Arab world’s most populous country.

The Health Ministry recorded 1,003 cases and 61 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Hala Zayed said the country of over 100 million people has experienced a “slight but continual” spike in confirmed cases in recent weeks. She said authorities have registered a weekly increase of up to 10% in some areas.

Egypt has reported more than 224,500 cases, including at least 13,168 deaths. However, the actual number of cases, like elsewhere in the world, is thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.

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BEIJING — A Chinese airline that Indian news reports say was carrying medical supplies to India says it has suspended cargo flights due to concern about its upsurge in coronavirus infections.

Sichuan Airlines said in a statement Wednesday flights were temporarily suspended due to “recent sudden changes in India’s coronavirus epidemic situation.”

The airline didn’t respond to questions about what its flights carried, but Indian news reports said cargo included oxygen concentrators needed by hospitals for patients who have trouble breathing.

India is engulfed in the world’s biggest upsurge of coronavirus infections. The country reported 362,757 new cases on Wednesday, a new global daily record. Some patients have died because crowded hospitals have run out of oxygen.

“Safety plans such as epidemic prevention are being re-evaluated and new safety plans for cargo flights are being considered,” Sichuan Airlines said.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A health expert says a variant first identified in Britain is driving the current outbreak in Sri Lanka, which confirmed its highest number of daily new cases Wednesday.

Tests from three areas confirmed the B117 variant was the strain of the coronavirus circulating in the country, said Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of Sri Jayewardenepura University in Sri Lanka.

He spoke as Sri Lanka reported 1,111 COVID-19 cases were detected during the last 24 hours — the highest number in a day since the virus was first detected on the Indian Ocean island nation in March 2020.

Health officials have warned of a potential surge to follow the traditional new year festival in mid-April.

The government has closed schools all over the country and half of the state workforce is to work from home. Several dozen villages are under lockdown around the country.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will provide India with oxygen concentrators, COVID-19 diagnostic kits and other aid items to help the South Asian nation with the world’s worst surge in coronavirus infections.

Health official Yoon Taeho said Wednesday the government will also allow irregular flights to bring back South Korean nationals from India. He says those returning will undergo virus tests three times and be placed under a quarantine.

Yoon didn’t elaborate on the amount of aid items South Korea will send to India. The country’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the amount of material it was considering sending to India would be “considerable.”

Earlier Wednesday, South Korea reported 775 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 120,673, with 1,821 deaths.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s pandemic deaths have risen above 345,000, though officials say most states in the country are not seeing any rebound in coronavirus cases.

Only the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo, home to the resort of Cancun, has seen an uptick in cases as has the Pacific coast state of Colima.

The government announced plans Tuesday to start vaccinating people between the ages of 50 and 59. Previously, only front-line health care personnel, teachers and those over 60 had been eligible for the shots.

The government has administered 16.7 million doses to date, a small amount given the country’s population of 126 million.

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HONOLULU — A child who traveled to Hawaii with his vaccinated parents has died after contracting COVID-19.

The Hawaii Department of Health said Tuesday that the boy was younger than 11 and had a known underlying medical condition before being infected with the coronavirus.

It was the first coronavirus-related death of a child in that age range in Hawaii, which has had a total of 479 deaths linked to COVID-19.

The state Department of Health says the child began to show symptoms shortly after arriving in Hawaii and was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Officials say the child’s parents were fully vaccinated and were tested for the coronavirus before traveling to Hawaii.

Officials are giving no further information about the case was released because of privacy laws.

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