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Saturday May 15th, 2021 4:16PM

The Latest: Ex-diplomat named as US Global COVID coordinator

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has appointed a former veteran diplomat and humanitarian aid chief to be a special envoy for U.S. coronavirus vaccine and prevention efforts.

Blinken announced Monday that he had named Gayle Smith to be America’s Global COVID-19 coordinator as the Biden administration ramps up its efforts to combat the virus at home and abroad.

“She’s tested. She’s highly respected. She will hit the ground running,” Blinken said. “And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years, that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.”

Smith is a former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development and has held senior State Department and National Security Council positions focused on Africa. She was active in the Obama administration’s initiatives to eradicate the Ebola virus and was most recently the president of the ONE Campaign, the organization founded by U2 frontman Bono and others to combat extreme poverty and diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

In her new job, Smith will be charged with overseeing U.S. programs to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, abroad.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A pandemic year in the life of seven New Yorkers

— Greece reopens stores despite virus surge

— India’s daily virus cases soar past 100,000 for first time

— Polish hospitals struggle with surge of virus patients

— China sees rise in coronavirus cases in city near Myanmar border

— Christians observe second Easter shaped by pandemic

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CHICAGO — An indoor event at a rural Illinois bar led to 46 cases of COVID-19, a school closure and one resident of a long-term care facility being hospitalized.

That’s according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday. The Illinois Department of Public health was notified on Feb. 17 of an outbreak.

The positive cases include 26 bar patrons, three staff members and 17 secondary cases. The report doesn’t name the establishment or local health department that investigated, but a citation in the report shows several authors work for the Douglas County Health Department.

A health department spokeswoman hasn’t commented on the report.

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington state apple industry officials say the fruit’s exports have dropped substantially compared to recent figures.

Data from the Washington Apple Commission says the state exported 18.8 million 40-pound boxes of apples from the 2020-21 crop as of last week, which is down 20.5% from this time last year and down 16.4% compared to the 2018-19 shipping season.

While nearly 28% of state-produced apples were shipped abroad, the percentage of exports for the 2020 crop is expected to drop below 25%.

Exporting apples and other crops from the U.S. has remained a challenge as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and trade issues with other countries.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says the U.N.-backed program to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people has delivered more than 36 million doses to 86 poor and developing countries to date.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that COVAX expects to allocate 201 million doses by the end of May. Still, he stressed that “the issue of vaccine inequity and unequal distribution of the vaccine remains clear for all to see and remains troubling.”

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on March 26 that “60% of the COVID vaccine supply was reserved by a handful of wealthy countries,” adding that “some developing countries may not receive the vaccine until 2024.”

Dujarric again urged greater financial support to the COVAX facility, which is part of the World Health Organization’s ACT-Accelerator program. The ACT-Accelerator said last month that despite donor contributions amounting to $11 billion, it needs an additional $22.1 billion in 2021 to fund the delivery of over 2 billion doses of vaccines, 900 million tests and up to 100 million new treatment courses.

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WASHINGTON — The White House was forced to scratch the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop President Joe Biden from giving a nod to the tradition.

The president on Monday delivered brief remarks from the White House to mark the holiday with his wife, Jill Biden, and the Easter Bunny by his side. The mythical creature was played by the president’s military aide, Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Westling.

“We look forward to next year when the White House will ring with joy the season once again and there will be an Easter Egg Roll again, God willing,” Biden said.

The event, typically held the day after Easter, usually brings 30,000 children and parents to the White House grounds. This year the Bidens had to settle for sending out thousands of 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs to vaccination sites and local hospitals.

President Rutherford B. Hayes started the White House egg roll tradition in 1878.

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MADRID — Spain’s coronavirus contagion rate and hospitalizations are gathering speed, but a top health official says the latest data may not be showing the full picture because of limited testing over the Easter holiday period.

Fernando Simón, who heads Spain’s response to the pandemic, said Monday that keeping contagion at bay is key now that Spain is receiving more supplies of virus vaccines. Over 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Spain uses for immunizing the elderly were distributed to regional officials on Monday.

Simón said that 14% of Spain’s 47-million-strong population had received at least one dose of the jab.

The 14-day cumulative incidence — a key contagion metric monitored by experts and policymakers — increased to 163 cases per 100,000 from 151 on Thursday, the first day of bank holidays over the Easter period.

Spain has recorded 3.3 million coronavirus cases and at least 75,783 deaths for COVID-19 since the beginning of outbreaks in early 2020, 85 of them reported on Monday.

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WASHINGTON — A top U.S. public health official says young people are driving the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases, as the increasing rate of vaccination in older Americans is preventing the most serious cases among seniors.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing Monday that “cases are increasing nationally, and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults.”

She cites the increasing spread of variants, but also a rise in youth sports and extracurricular activities as contributing to the steady increase in cases over the last four weeks.

But Walensky pointed to positive developments among the most vulnerable age group, saying senior citizens’ virus deaths have reached their lowest levels since the early fall. Greater than 75% of those aged 65 or older nationally have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 55% are fully vaccinated.

“What we’re seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits as well as hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” Walensky said.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Starting Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

In addition, the state announced that teens ages 16 and 17 can also get the vaccine with parental permission.

The opening of vaccine eligibility comes days after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to get service.

New Mexico, Iowa and Nebraska are also joining the growing list of U.S. states that are opening up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to any person 16 and older. Monday marked the start of expanded eligibility in New Mexico and Iowa, and in Nebraska, all local public health districts now have the option to vaccinate residents who are at least 16 years old.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility would open up to those 16 or older beginning April 19.

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PARIS — France’s health minister warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could reach levels seen during the first crisis a year ago.

France’s hospitals have already surpassed the number of virus ICU patients seen during the second surge in November, and Olivier Veran said on TF1 television that “it’s possible we could approach” the ICU saturation levels of April 2020.

At that point, French ICUs held more than 7,000 virus patients, many in temporary facilities because demand far outstripped the country’s pre-pandemic ICU capacity. As of Sunday night, French ICUs held 5,341 virus patients, and Veran said the country has 8,000 beds ready if needed.

Veran expressed hope that France’s new infections “could reach a peak this week,” thanks to new partial lockdown measures imposed to relieve hospitals and slow fast-growing cases of the more contagious virus variant first identified in Britain.

Even if infections subside, hospitalizations will continue to grow for another two or three weeks, he said. Still, he sought to remain optimistic, insisting, “We will manage.”

Internal projections by the Paris public hospitals authority last week suggested that ICUs in the region of 12 million people may soon have to find space for more critically ill patients than ever.

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LONDON — The British government says all adults and children will be able to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks as the U.K. emerges from lockdown.

The lateral flow tests, which will be available by mail or from pharmacies, give results in minutes but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm cases of COVID-19. The government insists they are reliable and will play an important role in opening up society.

The tests are being introduced as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the next steps in the country’s road map out of its three-month lockdown.

Johnson is unlikely to tell Britons when they will be able to go abroad on vacation — currently banned by law — though the government has said it will not be before May 17.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s capital is once again facing the highest level of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus as the country struggles with a new surge in daily deaths.

State media say the measure on Monday is the third time Tehran faces a so-called code red since the pandemic began. A code red involves a ban on any travel by personal cars to and from cities, and limits working hours of many business and offices to prevent the spread of the virus.

The report comes as Iran’s daily death toll again reached three digits, after months of being under 100. On Sunday, 161 deaths were reported, bringing the registered death toll in Iran to more than 63,000, the highest in the Middle East. Iran has reported some 1.9 million confirmed cases of the virus

Also on Monday, Iran said it received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Netherlands through the global COVAX initiative. The country’s Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says the first batch includes 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

So far, Iran has vaccinated less than 2% of its more than 80 million people with vaccines imported mainly from Russia, China and India.

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TOKYO — Special coronavirus measures started Monday in Osaka and its neighboring prefectures as Japan tries to minimize the impact to specific areas where infections are rising ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi in the north have had sharp increases in daily cases since early March.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said he was alarmed by the fast-spreading new variants and urged the residents to use caution and cooperate. Serious cases are on the rise and flooding hospitals and that medical systems in Osaka are under heavy pressure, Yoshimura said. He has proposed canceling a torch relay scheduled to pass Osaka City on April 14 and is now discussing a route change.

Under the measures, effective for one month until May 5, restaurants and bars in Osaka, Nishinomiya, Amagasaki, Ashiya, Kobe and Sendai are asked to close by 8 p.m. Residents are requested to stick to basic safety measures including mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding non-essential outings.

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NEW DELHI — India has reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are returning to the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.

The Health Ministry on Monday reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.

The biggest contributor to the surge has been the western state of Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai. The state has contributed more than 55% of total cases in the country in the last two weeks.

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