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Monday September 20th, 2021 3:38PM

The Latest: Macron: France to reopen cafes, museums May 19

By The Associated Press
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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says France will reopen cafe and restaurant terraces on May 19 as well as museums, cinemas, theaters and concert halls under certain conditions.

The decision comes as the country is slowly starting to step out of its partial lockdown despite high numbers of infections and hospitalizations.

Macron detailed Thursday a four-step plan to reopen the country and revive its economy. The ban on domestic travel will be lifted next week, Macron confirmed. The curfew, now in place from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., will be maintained.

On May 19, restaurants and cafes will be able to welcome customers outdoors, with tables of maximum six people, and the curfew will be pushed back to 9 p.m. Cultural places and sport facilities will also reopen, with a limit of 800 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors.

The plan allows foreign tourists on June 9 if they have a certificate of vaccination or a PCR test. On June 30, the finals stage would involve the end of the nighttime curfew and lifting of most restrictions.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— New York City mayor expects city to reopen by July 1

— India sets another record with new cases as it gears up to expand vaccinations to all adults

— As many as one-third of Mexicans may have been exposed to virus in 2020, blood tests indicate

— San Francisco Bay Area artist spreads love, smiles through her ‘heartwork’

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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:

AMSTERDAM — The European drug regulator says it is evaluating an application to use a rheumatoid arthritis drug to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients who need extra oxygen.

The European Medicines Agency say it is evaluating baricitinib, which is sold under the name Olumiant, to treat patients aged 10 years and older.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization in November for baricitinib, in combination with remdesivir, for the treatment COVID-19 patients needing extra oxygen.

The drug blocks the action of enzymes that play a role in causing inflammation. The EMA says it is thought that the drug could help reduce inflammation and tissue damage in COVID-19 patients.

The agency will assess data submitted by Eli Lilly, the company that markets the drug, including two large randomized studies in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The evaluation is expected to be completed by July.

The drug has been authorized in the 27-nation European Union since 2017 for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and moderate to severe eczema.

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to tie the lifting of coronavirus restrictions to the state’s vaccination rate, setting four benchmarks.

About half of residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose, but the state has become a national hotspot for coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

Under the “MI Vacc to Normal” plan, indoor capacity limits at restaurants and other venues will be lifted once 65% are vaccinated. At a 70% rate, the gatherings and face mask order will go away unless unanticipated circumstances arise.

The state health department could delay easing restrictions in regions where a seven-day case rate reaches more than 250 per million residents.

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ROME — Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed an ordinance allowing entrance into Italy only to Italian citizens among travelers who recently were in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

Concern in Italy is growing over rampant transmission of the coronavirus in India. A few days earlier, Speranza had issued orders permitting entrance also to non-Italians who are residents in Italy on condition all arriving travelers self-quarantine and be tested.

Many from the three Asian countries have Italian residency permits since they work on farms, hotels and restaurants. Last week, health authorities in Lazio, the region including Rome, started systematic screening of hundreds of Indian nationals who work on farms and live in close quarters.

So far, only two confirmed COVID-19 cases with the variant found in India have been detected in Italy. They involve an Indian man and his daughter, who recently returned from their country to their home in northeastern Italy.

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BUCHAREST — Romania’s capital of Bucharest launched its first drive-thru vaccination center on Thursday as authorities look to speed up the country’s inoculation campaign against COVID-19.

After the drive-thru center opened in the capital’s Constitution Square, dozens of cars queued up as people without appointments looked to receive a shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I chose to come to the drive-thru because I didn’t manage to get the vaccine at the center where I initially made my appointment,” Gabriela Mihalache, a medical student. “It took less time here.”

Bucharest became the fourth city in the Eastern European country to open a drive-thru vaccination center this week.

Next week, around 3,000 family doctors are set to join the push to inoculate Romanians at their practices.

Since the authorities introduced tighter virus-control measures last month, coronavirus infections have fallen dramatically from around 6,000 a day to 2,000.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expects the city to “fully reopen” by July 1, with the lifting of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions.

De Blasio told MSNBC the city will be ready for stores, offices and theaters to open at full strength. He cited improved COVID-19 vaccination rates and decreasing hospitalization rates.

But it is unclear whether the mayor has the power to say when schools, restaurants and offices can open at full capacity. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has maintained throughout the pandemic that those decisions are his alone.

De Blasio says the goal remains for Broadway theaters to open fully in September. He says he hopes some smaller productions can open by July.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian health authorities say an Indian variant of coronavirus has been confirmed in a person who recently arrived from the South Asian country.

The detected variant — known as B.1.617.2 — was discovered in Romania’s central Brasov County in a 26-year-old. Authorities say it differs from the variant that could be responsible for the catastrophic epidemiological situation currently unfolding in India.

The variant case in Romania was part of an outbreak among eight people who arrived recently from India. Five have tested positive for coronavirus, and three negative.

An epidemiological investigation is ongoing, authorities say.

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PRAGUE — The first case of the Indian variant of the coronavirus has been confirmed in the Czech capital of Prague.

The city’s health authority says the person who tested positive is an India national. Authorities who have been tracing the person’s contacts have called on the public to wear adequate face masks and stick to the social distancing rules.

The announcement comes two days after the Czech government barred the citizens from traveling to India, a country where coronavirus infections have hit record high levels. Only the Czech nationals and permanent residents in the Czech Republic are allowed to return home from India.

Besides the one confirmed case in Prague, there’s another suspected case of the Indian variant in the country.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says Congo wants to give back some 1.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses so they can be distributed to other African nations.

Africa Centers for Disease Control Director John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday there is “a lot of vaccine hesitancy” in the vast country. He said there is a five-week timeline to get the doses administered elsewhere.

Nkengasong said Congo is working with the COVAX project aimed at distributing doses to low- and middle-income nations to hand over its unused supplies. He expressed hope that the doses can reach other people quickly in what he called “an extremely critical time.”

African countries largely rely on doses from COVAX, but Nkengasong said the crisis in India means further doses for Africa could be affected for weeks or months. The Serum Institute of India makes the doses that COVAX delivers to African nations, but India has banned exports as it grapples with a devastating resurgence of infections.

Nkengasong said he’s not aware of other countries saying they’re unable to use their vaccine doses, but urged any there are not to wait until the last moment to hand them back.

He said other countries in Europe, North America and Asia “can have their luxury” of vaccine options but “we do not have choices.”

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ISLAMABAD — After weeks of hesitation, Pakistanis are now rushing to COVID-19 vaccination centers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths devastate neighboring India.

Most Pakistanis had avoided registering for free vaccines since the government started offering them in March.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said Thursday that more than 100,000 shots were administered for a second consecutive day. He said it was encouraging that residents were showing interest in getting inoculated against the virus.

According to Umar, people over age will be eligible for vaccines starting Monday.

Pakistan on Thursday reported 151 virus-related deaths in 24 hours, one of the country’s highest daily death tolls of the pandemic.

Since last year, Pakistan has reported 17,680 deaths from COVID-19 among 815,711 cases

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says the continent is “watching with total disbelief” what is happening in India as it struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong warned that the African continent, which has roughly the same population as India and fragile health care systems, “must be very, very prepared” because it could see the same scenario now unfolding in the South Asian country.

“We need to regroup urgently,” Nkengasong says. “We do not have enough health care workers. We do not have enough oxygen."

Africa’s vaccine situation is also closely linked to India, the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low- and middle-income countries.

The vaccine export ban India adopted while coping with devastating domestic outbreaks “has severely impacted the predictability of the rollout of vaccination programs and will continue to do so for the coming weeks and perhaps months,” Nkengasong says.

He says just 17 million vaccine doses have been administered across the African continent for a population of some 1.3 billion.

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MADRID - More than 40 nongovernmental organizations are urging Spanish authorities to ensure that homeless people and migrants without authorization to be in Spain aren’t left out of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination plans.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, said they sent a letter to Health Minister Carolina Dias on Thursday asking for the urgent adoption of promised legislation that would plug gaps in Spain's mass vaccination program.

They say people without the social security cards needed to register for vaccine shots risk being left out, though the organizations acknowledged that some regional governments have taken local steps to address the problem.

Ensuring the equitable, non-discriminatory distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been an issue in many parts of the world during the pandemic.

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LISBON, Portugal -- The head of the World Health Organization says more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally but 82% of them were given in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says just 0.3% of all vaccines administered so far were given to people in low-income countries.

“That’s the reality,” Tedros told an online health conference hosted by Portugal on Thursday.

He said access to vaccines “is one of the defining challenges of the pandemic” and that public health is “the foundation of social, economic and political stability.”

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BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it expects to receive the results of trials of its coronavirus vaccine in younger children by September.

BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 shot with U.S. partner Pfizer, has already submitted data from trials in children ages 12-15 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and plans to do so for the European Medicines Agency, which regulates drugs for use in the 27-nation European Union. .

The company said it expects results from trials in children ages 5-12 “as early as July” and in those younger than 5 in September.

BioNTech said requests for regulatory approval would depend on the results of the trials.

The company is one of the main suppliers of coronavirus vaccines in Europe and North America.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has begun administering fast-track COVID-19 vaccines to athletes, coaches and others expected to attend the Tokyo Olympics.

The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee says about 100 people received the first doses at a state-run Seoul hospital on Thursday, the first day of the country’s prioritized vaccination program for its Olympic delegation.

The committee says a total of 930 players, coaches, officials and other support staff will be given either Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games set to begin in July.

Athletes can receive the vaccines if they have already secured berths at the Olympics or may do so in qualification tournaments. This means some may get vaccinated who don’t go to the Games.

South Korea aims to send about 800-900 people to the Olympics, 350 of them athletes and coaches in 27 events. Committee officials expect to finalize the Olympic delegation in late June when all qualifying tournaments are finished.

The Sports Ministry says about 150 athletes and coaches hoping to attend the Tokyo Paralympics will separately get virus shots on Friday and May 4. Those also include athletes who are still under qualifying events.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — Offices were closed, markets were shuttered and vehicles were forced off the streets in Nepal’s capital on Thursday as authorities imposed a 15-day lockdown because of spiking cases of COVID-19.

The lockdown was imposed in most of the Himalayan nation’s major cities and towns. In Kathmandu and surrounding districts, police set up checkpoints and were stopping drivers and pedestrians. Several vehicles were impounded for defying the lockdown.

Residents rushed to neighborhood grocery stores for supplies in the morning when authorities allowed them to open for a few hours. Tens of thousands of people had rushed out of Kathmandu in the past two days to avoid the shutdown.

Both international and domestic flights were operating on schedule. The government has closed the land borders to foreigners, but citizens of neighboring India can enter with a negative coronavirus test and proof of a hotel booking for a 10-day quarantine.

Nepal’s health ministry has recorded 312,699 infections while 3,211 people have died from COVID-19.

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna announced Thursday it is beefing up global manufacturing of its COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to produce up to 3 billion doses in 2022.

The company predicts supplying between 800 million and 1 billion doses worldwide this year. But it’s looking ahead as much of the world still will need a first round of COVID-19 vaccinations next year — and to be ready if and when people may need a booster shot.

Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for use by adults in the U.S., European Union and multiple other countries. The company expects data soon from a U.S. study of the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, and has begun testing the shots in younger children. Also underway are studies of doses tweaked to better match a worrisome mutated version of the coronavirus.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is extending an already monthlong lockdown by two weeks as the country’s worst coronavirus infection spike starts to ease but remains alarming.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks Thursday night that the second-most restrictive lockdown level will now run through May 14 in metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces, a region of more than 25 million people. Mayors, however, cut a nine-hour night curfew in metropolitan Manila to six hours to help battered businesses.

Duterte is warning mayors and village chiefs that they face jail if they don’t prevent gatherings and other events that violate the pandemic restrictions.

Confirmed coronavirus infections in the Philippines soared past 1 million Monday, with deaths now at more than 17,000, the second highest in Southeast Asia.

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