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Thursday April 15th, 2021 7:26PM

The Latest: Thailand has 1st case of Britain virus variant

By The Associated Press
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BANGKOK — Health officials in Thailand have confirmed the country’s first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain.

The variant was found in customers of nightlife venues in the capital of Bangkok. The virus threat comes at a particularly vulnerable time for Thailand. Next week, Thais celebrate the traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday. It usually means an exodus of people from cities to visit relatives in other provinces, risking further spread of the virus.

Less than 1% of the country’s 69 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Just 274,354 people had received a first vaccine dose and 49,635 a second dose, according to the World Health Organization.

The government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration announced Wednesday it had confirmed 334 new coronavirus cases, bringing Thailand’s total to 29,905 cases and 95 confirmed deaths.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— EU agency: No restrictions on AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 18

— More than a half million Americans gain health insurance under Biden

— Hungary lifts some restrictions despite coronavirus death spike

— Even as many U.S. states and schools reopen, many students still learn remotely

— Follow 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:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government says more than a half million Americans have already taken advantage of the Biden administration’s special health insurance sign-up window that’s tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that 528,005 people newly signed up for government-sponsored private plans from Feb. 15 to Mar. 31.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates about 3 million people lost coverage because of the pandemic. Some experts estimate numbers in the range of 5 million to 10 million.

The government anticipates even more consumers will gain coverage in coming months. That’s because millions of people recently became eligible for pumped-up taxpayer subsidies toward their premiums under President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief legislation.

Biden reopened the law’s heath insurance markets as a backstop from job losses during the pandemic. The virus aid package helped delivered a health insurance price cut by making taxpayer subsidies more generous and allowed more people to qualify for financial assistance.

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported 27 coronavirus deaths, raising the state’s pandemic death toll above 17,000.

The state also reported 750 confirmed cases, increasing the state’s totals to 846,230 cases and 17,023 confirmed deaths.

Arizona ranks 12th highest among U.S. states in the number of COVID-19 deaths and sixth highest in the rate per 100,000 of population, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

The state’s death toll topped 17,000 five weeks after reaching 16,000 on March 2, a sharp deacceleration from the 12 days after the toll reached 15,000 on Feb. 17.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths dropped in the past two weeks from 32 on March 22 to 9.3 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona increased during the same period, rising from 480 to 628.

The COVID-19-related hospitalizations continued to hover in the 500-600 range, with 574 patients occupying inpatient beds on Tuesday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

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MADRID — Several regions in Spain are bringing back some coronavirus restrictions.

The health ministry reported 8,788 new infections and 126 confirmed deaths on Wednesday, with some regions announcing curbs to stop the spread of the virus.

Authorities say a more contagious mutation first detected in Britain is the main vehicle for contagion.

The average daily caseload over 14 days was 167 cases per 100,000 people. It was 127 cases on March 16.

Hospitalizations have been on the rise.

In Catalonia, where there’s more than 200 infections per 100,000 residents, authorities have announced a travel ban beyond one’s home county and limits on social gatherings starting Friday.

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WASHINGTON — The federal government is expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to all federally qualified community health centers.

White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt announced the development Wednesday, which expands opportunities for underserved communities to find vaccines in their communities.

There are roughly than 1,400 of the health centers nationwide, which serve communities both hardest hit by the coronavirus and the most difficult to reach for vaccination.

The White House says the health center program is essential to ensuring equity in vaccine distribution. A majority of doses distributed by the community health centers have gone to racial and ethnic minorities, the White House says.

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WASHINGTON — A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain is now the most common strain circulating in the United States.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says the strain, formally known as B.1.1.7, is “now the most common lineage circulating in United States.”

The strain has been shown to be more transmissible and infectious among younger Americans, which Walensky says contributed to rising case counts in recent weeks.

Walensky says new outbreaks have been tied to youth sports and day care centers. She particularly encouraged states with rising caseloads to curtail or suspend youth sport activities to slow the spread of the virus.

The U.S. leads the world with 30.8 million confirmed cases and more than 556,000 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — The European Union’s drug regulator says it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder but says the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks.

In a statement released Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency placed no new restrictions on using the vaccine in people 18 and over.

The EMA says most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination. The agency says based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors.

Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the United Kingdom, where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EMA, the World Health Organization and numerous other health authorities have repeatedly stated the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective and the protection it offers against COVID-19 outweighs the small risks of rare blood clots.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 20,954 cases reported.

The record Wednesday comes as the country is in one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date. It follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, when millions traveled to vacation spots across the country and congregated in homes in defiance of government health guidelines.

For months, Iran has struggled to curb the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the Middle East. The case count Wednesday brought the total number of infected to 1.98 million, according to official figures. Iran Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says another 193 people had died in the past 24 hours, raising the confirmed death toll to 63,699.

The country’s vaccine rollout lags, with only some 200,000 vaccine doses administered in the nation of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization. COVAX delivered its vaccine first shipment to Iran on Monday from the Netherlands, containing 700,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

Tehran, the capital, and 250 cities and towns are declared “red zones,” which have the most severe restrictions in place and the highest virus positivity rate. Over 85% of the country now has the “red” or “orange” infection status, authorities say.

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PARIS — The switch to online learning for all France’s 12 million pupils hasn’t been smooth.

Many children couldn’t connect Wednesday and teachers scrambled to find solutions after more than seven months of in-person classes.

Paris prosecutors opened an investigation into possible hacking into key systems. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced a cyberattack on a state distance-learning network and blamed overwhelmed private networks and servers for other glitches. But frustrated parents are blaming bad planning.

“There were too many people connected at the same time,” Esther Baumad of Open Digital Education, a leading online teaching platform, told broadcaster France-Info.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government sent all children back to school full-time in September to reduce learning gaps and allow parents to return to work. But amid a new virus surge fueled by a more contagious variant first identified in Britain, Macron last week ordered schools closed nationwide and imposed new travel restrictions.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths in Ukraine hit a new record on Wednesday. According to health authorities, 481 people died over the past 24 hours and 5,587 were hospitalized.

Infections and deaths have been spiking in Ukraine for several months, putting a severe strain on the country’s teetering health care system.

“The situation, without overstating it, can be called critical,” says Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who added hospitals there will soon reach at capacity.

On Monday, the Kyiv authorities have imposed tighter lockdown restrictions in the city, shutting down schools and kindergartens and restricting the use of public transport.

So far only 320,000 people have received their first vaccinations due to widespread reluctance. On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a deal to buy 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which are expected to be delivered by the end of the year.

A nation of 41 million, Ukraine has reported more than 1.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 35,498 deaths.

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BERLIN — A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel is supporting calls for a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country grapples with a rise in coronavirus cases.

German state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, have taken differing approaches. Some back limited reopening steps and others advocate a stricter shutdown. Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Merkel’s party, is calling for a 2-3 week “bridge lockdown” to control infections while vaccinations are ramped up.

Merkel spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer says, “every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right.” She says numbers of new cases aren’t particularly good, and a rise in the number of occupied intensive care beds “speaks a very clear language.”

Laschet also called for the next meeting between Merkel and governors to coordinate restrictions to be moved up from next Monday but has hit resistance from his colleagues.

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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will not run through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week because of rising coronavirus cases.

The move is a setback for the Tokyo organizers who began the relay two weeks ago from northeastern Fukushima prefecture with 10,000 runners planning to crisscross Japan over the course of four months. Organizers say runners and the torch will be involved in some event in an Osaka city park on April 13-14, the days the relay was to cross the entire prefecture.

Osaka reported 719 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. About 70% of hospital beds available in Osaka have already been occupied, officials say.

The postponed Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to begin July 23.

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