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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 11:17AM

The Latest: Incentives help some Americans get vaccinated

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK -- Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to energize the slowing vaccination drive and get reluctant Americans to roll up their sleeves.

Some involve free beer, doughnuts and savings bonds. These small promotional efforts have been accompanied by more serious and far-reaching efforts by officials in cities such as Detroit, where they’re going door-to-door or paying people $50 to drive others to get vaccinated.

Public health officials say the efforts are crucial to reach people who haven’t been vaccinated yet — whether they’re hesitant or have trouble making an appointment or getting to a vaccination site. Most older Americans are fully vaccinated, so the effort is moving into a new phase.

So far, 43% of the population in the U.S. has received at least one shot, while 30% is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

(This item has been corrected to indicate 43% of U.S. population, not adults, is vaccinated.)

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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

— President Macron: France to reopen cafes, museums May 19

— 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:

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials are again loosening coronavirus restrictions, announcing restaurants, bars and other businesses can soon operate at 100% capacity.

That’s an increase from 75%. The looser rules take effect Friday.

There are still some important restrictions. While the statewide mask mandate in Louisiana is being dropped, New Orleans is maintaining mask requirements. Businesses will have to maintain social distancing. Varying limits remain at stadiums and indoor arenas. But other indoor gathering limits are increasing from 150 people to 250. And outdoor gatherings of 500 people will be allowed, up from 250.

The easing of rules comes as the city, which was an early hot spot for COVID-19, continues to experience vaccination rates increase, while new cases and the percentage of positive tests remain low.

City officials stressed that caution is still necessary until more people are vaccinated. Louisiana ranks 48th in the nation with at least one shot (32%) and 42nd for fully vaccinated people (24%), according to the CDC.

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NEW YORK — Health experts are still cautioning against attending big sporting events during the pandemic but say there are ways to make it safer if you go.

They say outdoor stadiums are safer than indoor arenas. Venues that limit attendance and require masks are safer as well. Some teams are also requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for the coronavirus. Once at the stadium, experts say to avoid indoor bars, restaurants and box seating.

The CDC reminds if you feel sick or are waiting for results of a coronavirus test, stay home.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy grew at a brisk 6.4% annual rate last quarter — a show of strength fueled by government aid and declining coronavirus cases as the nation rebounds with unusual speed from the pandemic recession.

The report Thursday from the Commerce Department estimated the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — accelerated in the January-March quarter from a 4.3% annual gain in the final quarter of 2020.

Growth in the current April-June period is expected to be faster still, potentially reaching a 10% annual pace or more, powered by an increase in people willing to travel, shop, dine out and otherwise resume their spending habits.

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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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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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