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Sunday May 16th, 2021 8:55PM

The Latest: NKorea bows out of soccer matches, citing virus

By The Associated Press
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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean officials say North Korea has told Asia’s soccer governing body it would not participate in World Cup qualifiers scheduled to be played in South Korea next month because of coronavirus concerns.

Kim Min-soo, an official from South Korea’s Football Association, said Tuesday that the Asia Football Confederation has asked the North’s soccer association to reconsider its decision. He said the North notified the AFC of its intent to drop out of the matches on Friday.

The North’s Olympic committee said last month that it had decided to drop out of this summer's Tokyo Olympics to protect its athletes from COVID-19.

An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said Seoul still has hope the North will participate in the soccer matches, saying the events would provide a rare opportunity for sports exchanges during a period of poor bilateral relations.

The North has virtually stopped all cooperation with the South and resumed testing of short-range weapons amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

The two Koreas belong to Group H in the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. Following a monthslong delay due to the pandemic, the remaining group matches were set for June in South Korea.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— ‘Horrible’ weeks ahead as India’s virus catastrophe worsens

— FDA expected to OK Pfizer vaccine for teens within week

— Virus cases plunge and LA, San Francisco come back to life

— 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:

AMSTERDAM — The European Union’s drug regulator announced Tuesday that it has started a rolling review of China’s Sinovac coronavirus vaccine to assess its effectiveness and safety, a first step toward possible approval for use in the 27-nation bloc.

The European Medicines Agency said Tuesday that its decision to start the review is based on preliminary results from laboratory studies and clinical studies.

“These studies suggest that the vaccine triggers the production of antibodies” that fight the coronavirus “and may help protect against the disease,” the agency said in a statement.

The EMA, which so far has approved four coronavirus vaccines, added that no application seeking marketing authorization for the Sinovac vaccine has been submitted yet.

The agency said its experts will “evaluate data as they become available to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks” of the vaccine. The rolling review will continue until “enough evidence is available for a formal marketing authorization application,” the EMA said, adding that it could not predict timelines.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- The chairman of one of South Korea’s biggest dairy companies has resigned after his company was accused of deliberately spreading misinformation that its yogurt help prevent COVID-19.

Hong Won-sik and other members of his family will still retain their commanding share of Namyang Dairy Products.

“I express my sincere apology for causing disappointment and anger to our country’s people with the Bulgaris-related controversy at a time when the nation is undergoing a hard time because of COVID-19,” Hong said Tuesday, tearing up.

Namyang financed research it aggressively promoted through the media and a symposium last month which claimed that its “Bulgaris” yogurt drinks were proven as effective in lowering risks of coronavirus infections.

Namyang’s stock prices temporarily rose before South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety sued the company for false advertising, saying that the research was dubious and never involved any animal testing or clinical trials.

Police searched Namyang’s Seoul headquarters last week. Namyang’s CEO, Lee Kwang-bum, has offered to resign.

Hong said he would take “all responsibility” by stepping down as chairman. He promised not to pass on management rights to his children, which is a much-criticized traditional practice at South Korea’s family-owned businesses.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Kuwait’s government is barring unvaccinated residents from traveling abroad starting later this month, the latest attempt to tame the spiraling coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf Arab sheikhdom.

The Cabinet decision, to take effect May 22, sparked instant anger and confusion, coming just after health authorities announced that global vaccine supply shortages would force them to delay distribution of second vaccine doses. Those who received the first Pfizer-BioNtech dose must wait six weeks for their second, and Oxford-AstraZeneca recipients must wait 3-4 months.

The government said those unable to get the shot for any reason would be exempt from the new travel ban. Already, authorities have banned the entry of expatriates into the Gulf state, stranding many foreign workers and their families abroad.

Kuwait is grappling with a surge in virus cases despite its vaccination campaign and tough restrictions, including a prolonged nightly curfew. The country has recorded over 277,800 infections and 1,590 deaths.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has received its first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine following a delay in getting COVID-19 vaccines from India.

The 15,000 doses were flown in early Tuesday. Sri Lanka has ordered 13 million Sputnik doses, and Channa Jayasuma, the state minister for drug regulation, said he was hopeful Sri Lanka would receive the total order in the future.

Sri Lanka is short 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It has administered the first shot to 925,242 people, but the health ministry has about 350,000 doses, leaving people short the required second dose after a delay in getting the vaccines ordered from India.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections have spread rapidly. Sri Lanka has banned public gatherings and parties, schools are closed, and supermarkets and shopping complexes are limited to 25% of their customer capacity. It has counted 111,753 cases with 696 fatalities.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Isolated North Korea is warning its people to brace for a prolonged struggle against the coronavirus, claiming that broadening outbreaks and muddled immunization programs in other countries show vaccines aren’t the ultimate solution.

The column published by Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper came amid questions on when and how vaccines would arrive in North Korea.

The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million vaccine doses in the first half of this year. However, COVAX has since warned of global shortages because the Serum Institute of India, which is licensed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, is putting its supplies into domestic demand while India’s virus caseload is surging.

The North has claimed a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, but outside experts have doubted the claim, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.

The state newspaper took an apparent shot at India’s anti-virus campaign without naming the country. It said a certain nation that had “exported vaccines it produced while publicly insisting that it considers the evil virus as defeated,” was now experiencing an explosive surge.

“The cases of other countries provide further proof that vaccines aren’t an all-around solution,” the newspaper wrote.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - More people will be allowed at indoor and outdoor spectator events and indoor religious services if there are designated COVID-19 vaccination sections, under new guidance issued by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The change that took effect Monday affects capacity at sporting events, graduations and other events for counties in the second and third phases of the state’s economic reopening plan.

A vaccination card or other documentation that proves vaccination status will be needed for access to vaccination sections.

While previously there were only limited circumstances where spectator events were allowed to reach 50% capacity, under the new guidance, outdoor facilities may add vaccinated sections until their total capacity — including vaccinated and unvaccinated sections — is at 50% or 22,000 people, whichever is lower. There can be no more than 9,000 unvaccinated people at the outdoor event.

For indoor facilities, vaccinated sections can also be added until their total capacity is 50% maximum, though the maximum number must not exceed 2,000 people, and the number indoor unvaccinated spectators varies depending on the size of the room and what phase of the state’s economic opening plan a county is in.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization is set to decide this week whether to approve two Chinese vaccines for emergency use against COVID-19, a top WHO official says.

Such an approval would mark the first time that a Chinese vaccine had ever been granted a so-called emergency use listing from the U.N. health agency, and would trigger a broader rollout of Chinese vaccines that are already being used in some countries other than China.

Mariangela Simao, assistant director-general for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, says some “final arrangements” remain to be made before the crucial word from a WHO technical advisory group comes on the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

“We expect that we’ll have both decisions by the end of this week,” she said.

WHO has said it expects a decision on the Sinopharm vaccine to come first, and Sinovac afterward.

“We know that some countries depend on this decision to proceed with their vaccination,” Simao said.

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NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City’s subway will begin rolling all night again and capacity restrictions for most types of businesses will end statewide in mid-May as COVID-19 infection rates continues to decline.

Cuomo announced last week that the subways would close from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so trains and stations could be disinfected. The change was also intended to make it easier to remove homeless people from trains where many had been spending the night.

The overnight closure was scaled back to 2 to 4 a.m. in February.

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