WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials have authorized two more over-the-counter COVID-19 tests that can be used at home to get quick results.
The Food and Drug Administration decision this week is expected to vastly expand the availability of cheap home tests that many experts have recommended for months. The FDA says tests made by Abbott and Quidel can now be sold without a prescription. That will allow people to test themselves repeatedly at home.
The home tests allow users to collect a sample themselves with a nasal swab that is then inserted into a test strip. Results are usually available in 10 to 20 minutes.
Repeat testing is important to reduce chances of false results. Both tests can be used by adults to test children 2 years and older.
Frequent self-testing is considered key to help reopen schools, universities and offices as vaccinations ramp up.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pfizer: Vaccine effective up to 6 months later
— Biden launches community corps to boost coronavirus vaccinations
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is unveiling a coalition of community, religious and celebrity partners to promote COVID-19 shots as it seeks to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ new “We Can Do This” campaign features television and social media ads. It also relies on a community corps of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word about the safety of the three approved coronavirus vaccines.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy met Thursday with more than 275 inaugural members of the community corps to kick off the effort.
The coalition includes health groups like the American Medical Association and the National Council of Urban Indian Health, sports leagues such as the NFL, NASCAR and MLB, rural groups, unions and Latino, Black, Asian American Pacific Islander and Native American organizations
The effort begins as the U.S. anticipates a boost in vaccine supply that will make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey surpassed 40,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, setting another record for the third straight day.
The Health Ministry reported 40,806 new cases in past 24 hours, the highest since the start of the outbreak. It also reported 176 deaths, pushing the confirmed death toll to 31,713. The total number of confirmed infections in the country stands at 3.3 million.
This week, the government re-imposed weekend lockdowns amid a sharp increase in infections and also announced restrictions over the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan. However, experts warn the measures aren’t strict enough to battle the new surge.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said that the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, accounts for 75% of the infections in Turkey.
SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile has closed most of its borders to control surging coronavirus cases despite a region-leading vaccine campaign.
The government says Chilean citizens would be unable to come and go through April. Truck drivers bringing essential goods would need to show a negative test for the coronavirus. Domestically, Chileans will be limited to permits for a single trip out of the home per weekend to buy essential goods.
Chile has vaccinated more than a third of its 19 million people in less than two months, focusing on the elderly. But hospitalizations have been rising and officials say 96% of beds with ventilators are occupied.
The country has confirmed 1 million infections and 23,000 confirmed deaths.
Meanwhile, Bolivia says its border with Brazil will be restricted for a week starting Friday. Argentina tightened border restrictions last week, banning flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico.
TORONTO — The leader of Ontario announced a province-wide lockdown for four weeks because of third wave of coronavirus infections.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the measures starting Saturday will fight the spread of variants. There will be 25% capacity limit in retail stores and 50% in supermarkets. Hair salons will be closed and there will be no indoor or patio dining. Schools will remain open.
Ontario is reporting more than 2,500 new cases on Thursday and record numbers in intensive care this week. Toronto has already largely been on lock down since November.
OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will get his first coronavirus vaccination shot on Saturday at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha.
The 56-year-old governor signed up for the vaccine online and was notified this week that he was eligible for an appointment.
Douglas County on Thursday started offering vaccinations to residents who are at least 45 years old. Other parts of the state have moved to younger age groups. On Monday, the state will allow public health districts to vaccinate anyone who is at least 16 years old if they have an adequate supply of doses and appointments.
Residents can get appointments through the federal retail pharmacy program, which is making shots available through online sign-ups at Hy-Vee, Walmart and other local pharmacies in Nebraska.
BEIRUT — Sunni Islam’s top religious leader in Lebanon says getting a coronavirus vaccine or test won’t break a Muslim’s fast during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.
Sheikh Abdul-Latif al-Derian says the vaccine is intramuscular and won’t spoil the fast.
Ramadan, where able-bodied and observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, is expected to begin in two weeks. It is celebrated by all Muslim countries, whether Sunni or Shiite.
NEW YORK — Pfizer says its vaccine continues to be effective against COVID-19 up to six months later.
Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, announced updated results Thursday from their ongoing late-stage study of more than 44,000 volunteers.
The companies said the vaccine was 91% effective against symptomatic disease and was even more protective in preventing severe disease. Of 927 confirmed COVID-19 cases detected through March 13, 77 were among people who received the vaccine and 850 were among people who got dummy shots.
There were no serious safety concerns and the vaccine also appeared to work against a variant first detected in South Africa, the companies said.
The U.K. and U.S. gave the emergency green light to roll out Pfizer’s vaccine late last year followed by many other countries. The vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and up.
This week, the companies said the vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, based on a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan, which has the nation’s highest coronavirus infection rate in the past week, reported the state’s first confirmed case of a variant identified in Brazil.
The variant is considered more contagious than other strains, according to the state health department. It was found in a resident in Bay County, where local health officials were investigating the person’s exposure history.
Michigan’s seven-day average case rate is nearly 400 per 100,000 residents. State Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel expressed concern about an additional variant. Michigan previously reported finding variants identified in Britain and South Africa.
Hertel says it’s important to “do what works to slow the spread of the virus” by wearing masks, staying socially distance, avoiding crowds, washing hands and getting a vaccine. Mask mandates remain in effect and vaccines are eligible to everyone starting Monday.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo recorded 975 coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily number.
Kosovo has started vaccinations this week after getting some 24,000 AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX program, which will be used for medical personnel and people over 80.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti has asked neighboring Albania to help with the vaccination of the schoolteachers. Authorities are asking people to respect mandatory mask wearing, not gather in crowds of more than 50 and observe the overnight curfew.
Kosovo has recorded 91,405 confirmed cases and 1,884 confirmed deaths.
BUCHAREST, Romania — A record 1,434 COVID-19 patients are occupying intensive care units, a number increasing in consecutive days and putting hospitals under serious pressure in Romania.
Additional mobile ICUs will be available to supplement hospitals, which are facing unprecedented strain during a third wave of coronavirus infections.
“Over 650 patients have already been treated in these (mobile) units and unfortunately this number continues to increase,” says Raed Arafat, head of Romania’s Department for Emergency Situations.
Authorities introduced new restrictions to help reduce the spread of the virus last Sunday. More than 3 million vaccines have been administered.
Romania has confirmed more than 958,000 cases and 23,674 deaths.
WASHINGTON — The opening day baseball game between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns.
Washington was scheduled to host New York at Nationals Park on Thursday night.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday that one of his team’s players had tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, before the team left spring training camp.
Rizzo said four other players and one staff member were following quarantine protocols after contact tracing determined they were in close contact with the person who tested positive. Rizzo didn’t identify those involved.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on citizens to help ease the strain on nurses and doctors caring for the rising number of COVID-19 patients by respecting pandemic rules over Easter.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 24,300 newly confirmed cases in the past day, and 201 deaths. The head of the Robert Koch Institute has warned the country is seeing a third surge in infections fueled by more contagious virus variants that have come to dominate the outbreak in Germany.
Speaking in a video address, Merkel said this “needs to be a quiet Easter.”
Germany has recorded more than 2.8 million COVID-19 cases and 76,543 deaths since the start of the outbreak, fewer than most other large European countries.
But there’s been frustration about the slow pace of its vaccination program, with only about 11.6% of the population having received at least one shot.
LONDON — The director of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says immunization campaigns against COVID-19 across the continent are “unacceptably slow” and jeopardizing efforts to stop the pandemic.
In a statement on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge says vaccines “present our best way out of this pandemic” but noted that to date, only 10% of Europe’s population has received one dose and that only 4% have been fully protected with two doses.
“As long as coverage remains low, we need to apply the same public health and social measures as we have in the past, to compensate for delayed schedules,” Kluge says. He warned European government against having “a false sense of security” for having started their immunization campaigns and noted Europe remains the second-most affected region in terms of new cases and deaths.
“The region’s situation is more worrying than we have seen in several months,” said WHO’s Dr. Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s emergency manager. She warned people not to gather in large groups over the coming Easter weekend.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland reached a record 35,251 coronavirus cases on Thursday.
The Health Ministry says 621 more deaths were registered. The previous case record was 35,143 on Friday.
Hospitals in the southern Silesia region have run out of COVID-19 beds and patients are being directed to other regions. The situation is also difficult in the central region, including Warsaw.
The government has sped up the inoculation in the nation of 38 million and opened the registration of persons between age 40 to 60 on Thursday.
So far, almost 6.3 million vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — have been administered. More than 2 million are fully vaccinated.
In Poland, there’s been 2.4 million cases and nearly 54,000 confirmed deaths.
DAKAR, Senegal — Africa is unlikely to meet its targets for vaccinating the continent against COVID-19 if supply delays from a key Indian manufacturer continue, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Dr. John Nkengasong says officials hope the problems at the Serum Institute of India will be temporary otherwise “it would definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people.”
More than half of the 29.1 million vaccine doses received by African nations have come through the global COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines. COVAX has largely used the AstraZeneca vaccine, because it is cheaper and requires ordinary refrigeration.
But the Serum Institute of India recently announced as many as 90 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine destined for COVAX worldwide will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections among the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Nkengasong says it isn’t yet known what impact the uncertainty might have for scheduling second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in African countries.
TOKYO — Japan has designated Osaka and two other areas for coronavirus control steps as infections in those areas rise ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Osaka, neighboring Hyogo and Miyagi in the north have had sharp increases in daily cases since early March. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga designated the three prefectures for pre-emergency status under a new intensive prevention law beginning Monday. The measure lasts until May 5.
Health experts have raised concerns about the burden on health care and Osaka’s rapid spike, with many cases linked to new variants of the virus from Britain.
Japan had scaled down its partial and non-binding state of emergency that began in January. It lifted the state of emergency in the Tokyo area on March 21, fully ending the measures aimed at slowing the coronavirus and relieving pressure on medical systems treating COVID-19 patients.
GENEVA — The head of the World Trade Organization is calling for efforts to expand the ability for developing countries to manufacture vaccines.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for a framework that would allow developing countries “some automaticity and access to manufacture vaccines with technology transfer” in future pandemics and decried the current coronavirus “vaccine inequity.”
“The idea that 70 percent of vaccines today have been administered only by ten countries is really not acceptable,” she said after hosting French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
The call came as scores of WTO member states have backed efforts led by South Africa and India to have the trade body grant a temporary waiver of its intellectual property pact to help boost production of coronavirus vaccines.
Some wealthier countries and those with strong pharmaceutical industries oppose the idea, saying it would crimp future innovation.