Thursday July 29th, 2021 1:40PM

The Latest: Death threats made to Italy's health minister

By The Associated Press
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ROME — Police in Italy have seized computers and other devices allegedly used by four Italians to send death threats and offensive emails to the country's health minister to protest his firm stance on coronavirus lockdowns.

The Carabinieri health police said Friday that the emails were sent between October and January from foreign computer servers and contained violent threats of retaliation against Health Minister Roberto Speranza and his family, “including explicit death threats.”

The four Italians, who are from four different Italian cities and range in age from 35 to 55, were placed under investigation for making “aggravated threats,” according to a Carabinieri statement.

Speranza has been part of the Italian government's “rigorist” camp advocating for tough restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. He has enjoyed high popularity marks in national polling throughout the pandemic. He was one of the handful of Cabinet ministers who retained their jobs after Mario Draghi became premier in February.



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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Police in Slovakia are bolstering checks at the country's borders during the Easter holidays to enforce pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Authorities said Friday that “maximum numbers” of police officers have been joined by military personnel at all border crossings with neighboring European Union members, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Police say the officers are checking every person entering the country. Slovakia requires people arriving in the country from abroad to quarantine.

Law enforcement agencies also are increasing travel checks between Slovakia's counties to enforce tight restrictions on movement within the country.

At the same time, the government decided to allow people to visit churches during Easter, although religious services are banned in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

In the neighboring Czech Republic, the government is allowing people to attend Easter services after 9 p.m., which is the time an overnight curfew begins to curb coronavirus infections.


LONDON — The British government is adding four more countries — Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines — to its travel ban list amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus.

The Department for Transport said the latest restrictions will take effect in England from April 9.

Under the terms of the travel bans, international visitors who have departed from or traveled through through the countries in the preceding 10 days will be refused entry into England.

British and Irish nationals, and those who have residence rights in the U.K., can enter but must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, at their own expense.

When the four countries are added, there will be a total of 39 nations on the government’s so-called “red list.” They include Brazil and South Africa, where two of the variants of the virus have been identified.

The other nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have similar lists to those that apply in England.


MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos marked Good Friday, one of the most solemn holidays in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, with deserted streets and churches following a strict lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Major highways and roads were eerily quiet after religious gatherings were prohibited in metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region of more than 25 million people back under lockdown this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

Police-enforced curfews in the capital region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal were expanded to 11 hours starting at 6 p.m.

The Philippines has imposed some of the world’s longest police- and military-enforced coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns. It started to reopen the battered economy and allowed non-essential businesses to resume, including shopping malls, video game arcades and beauty shops, to ease unemployment and hunger. But infections surged back alarmingly last month.

President Rodrigo Duterte reimposed a lockdown in the country’s most populous region this week, allowing only workers in essential businesses, government security and health personnel and residents on urgent errands to leave home.


MADRID — Spain wants to speed up coronavirus vaccination in April with the delivery of increasing numbers of doses.

Over 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses are being distributed to the country’s regions on Friday, while health officials expect an additional batch of 1.2 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vacccine on Monday.

The shipments are arriving as infections are stubbornly rising once again, leading to fears of another major resurgence. Spain’s 14-day cumulative cases per 100,000 people, a key metric of the pandemic, has creeped up over 150, above the level considered “high risk.”

With the new AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech shipments, Spain will be receiving in less than a week the equivalent of one-fifth of the doses delivered so far. Ever since the vaccine rollout began in late December, the country has been supplied nearly 10 million of the close to 70 million it is due under the European Union’s vaccine purchase framework.

That has meant that 2.8 million people have been fully vaccinated and an additional 2.7 million have received their first dose, although the slow rollout until now has meant that Spain has missed by far its target of vaccinating 80% of the people older than 80 by the end of March.

Regional officials had been complaining that the main bottleneck in the vaccine rollout was the limited supply of doses.

Health Minister Carolina Darias late Thursday encouraged regions to keep vaccinating during weekends and holidays, adding that the new shipments of vaccines gave no excuses.


BEIJING — A Chinese border city hit by a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 began a five-day drive Friday to vaccinate its entire population of 300,000 people.

State broadcaster CCTV showed people lining up and getting vaccinated in Ruili, where 16 cases have been confirmed since Tuesday. Twelve of them are Chinese and the other four are nationals of Myanmar, which lies across the border.

A city Communist Party official told CCTV the previous day that 159,000 doses of vaccine had arrived in the city.

Television footage showed vacant streets as officials ordered people to home quarantine and closed non-essential businesses. The city has also said it would tighten controls around the porous border to try to stop anyone crossing illegally from Myanmar.

China has largely eradicated local transmission of COVID-19 and quickly rolls out strict measures whenever a new cluster emerges.

This is the first time China has tried to vaccinate an entire city in response to new outbreak. The move comes as the government ramps up a nationwide vaccination drive.


BRUSSELS — The European Union is struggling to show complete coronavirus vaccination solidarity among member nations, after a week of negotiations over the distribution of extra doses exposed fissures on Friday.

Five EU nations that struggled most to get their vaccination drive going were given extra doses from an alliance of 19 other countries. Three nations weren’t part of the deal, however, showing the difficulties of compromise politics when COVID-19 cases are surging again.

Late Thursday, a deal was reached on how to distribute an early batch of 10 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses with Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia receiving a proportionally large number of doses. Austria, along with the Czech Republic and Slovenia, didn’t get additional shots.

At an EU summit last week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticized the allocation of shots in the 27-nation bloc, saying that some countries were receiving more than their fair share at the cost of others.

Under the joint procurement program set up by the European Commission, doses are allocated on a pro rata basis, but some nations are taking less than their share. A large majority of EU members think the system is working well, but said some nations made a mistake to focus on AstraZeneca shots instead of diversifying their vaccine portfolios.

Overall, the EU continues to lag well behind nations like the United Kingdom and United States when it comes to vaccinations.


WASHINGTON— The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized two changes to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that can provide extra doses from each vial.

The agency said late Thursday it approved new vials from Moderna that can contain up to 15 doses each, compared with the original vials designed to hold 10 doses. Additionally, regulators said providers can safely extract up to 11 doses from the original 10-dose vials. Those changes will be added to instructions for health care workers.

The dosing updates should help bolster U.S. supplies and speed vaccinations as the U.S. nears 100 million inoculations against COVID-19. President Joe Biden has vowed to provide enough shots to vaccinate all U.S. adults by late May and recently set a new goal of administering 200 million injections within his first 100 days in office.

Moderna said in a statement it plans to begin shipping the new 15-dose vials in coming weeks. The company submitted updated data to FDA showing how much vaccine can be extracted from each vial using different types of syringes.


LOS ANGELES — California has administered more than 18 million doses as of Thursday and 6.7 million people are fully vaccinated. But the governor warned that getting to herd immunity may take months and depends on supply.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state administered 2.5 million shots last week, which is about the amount California expects to receive next week.

The state of nearly 40 million residents is coming back to life as more business sectors reopen following a crushing winter surge. California’s case and death rates remain low but cautious health officials have asked people to continue wearing masks and maintain social distancing rules in order to avoid another surge.


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.


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.

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