BRUSSELS — The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is urging countries to ramp up primary coronavirus vaccine programs and downplayed the need for booster shots among the general public.
The EU’s infectious diseases agency says approved vaccines are “currently highly effective” in limiting the impact of COVID-19. But the agency says extra doses should be considered for people with weak immune systems.
On Wednesday, France became the first large EU country to give booster shots to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions amid the spread of the delta variant. Spanish health authorities are considering similar action.
Many countries are struggling to administer first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and the World Health Organization had called for a moratorium on boosters. It also urged governments to donate vaccines to needy countries.
The European Commission said Thursday the bloc has enough shots on order should boosters be broadly required.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— J&J vaccines made in Africa will stay in Africa
— EU agency says to focus on vaccines first not booster shots
— India schools cautiously reopen even as COVID-19 warnings grow
— 12 million French children back to school, wearing masks
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus will begin administering booster shots against COVID-19 to people over 65, those with weakened immune systems and health care professionals.
Cypriot Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela made the announcement on Thursday after the European Union’s infectious diseases agency urged countries to focus on their primary vaccination programs and downplayed the need for booster shots.
Hadjipantela says booster shots will be given to those who are eligible once a six-month period elapses from the time they completed their vaccination. He says expanding the booster shot program to include other age groups will depend on the recommendation on a committee of medical experts.
The minister says Cyprus has the second-lowest COVID-19 mortality rate behind Finland among all EU member states. Currently 74% of Cyprus’ adult population is fully vaccinated, while 78% has received at least one shot.
KAMPALA, Uganda — The African Union’s COVID-19 envoy says vaccine doses produced by a plant in South Africa will no longer be exported to Europe after the intervention of South Africa’s government.
Strive Masiyiwa told reporters Thursday that South African drug manufacturer Aspen, which has a contract with Johnson & Johnson to assemble the ingredients of its COVID-19 vaccine, will no longer ship vaccine doses out of the continent and that millions of doses warehoused in Europe will be returned to the continent.
“That arrangement has been suspended,” he said, adding that J&J doses produced in South Africa “will stay in Africa and will be distributed in Africa.”
He said the issue had been “corrected in a positive way,” with Aspen’s arrangement with Johnson & Johnson changing from a contract deal to “a licensed arrangement” similar to the production in India of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Masiyiwa said the Aspen product will be “African branded.”
Johnson & Johnson was criticized heavily for shipping doses to countries in Europe, which have already immunized large numbers of their people and have even donated vaccines to more needy countries.
Africa has fully vaccinated under 3% of its 1.3 billion people. Vaccine production within the continent is seen as key to meeting the stated target of vaccinating 60% of the people.
The continent has reported more than 7.8 million cases, including 197,150 confirmed deaths.
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s health minister says the country will introduce stricter control measures for the coming two months because of a rise in coronavirus cases.
Stoycho Katsarov says the situation is serious but still not out of control. Katsarov says the school year will start on Sept. 15 with in-person classes but might switch to online learning if the coronavirus situation deteriorates.
He says remote work is recommended where possible. Language centers, as well as dance and art schools remain open, but with limited attendance. Restaurants and cafes will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Only six people per table can be seated and the staff must wear masks. Nightclubs and discos will be closed.
Bulgaria has seen a surge of daily virus cases over the past month, while only 17 percent of the Balkan country’s 7 million people have been fully vaccinated, placing it last in the European Union.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg called the situation in her country “challenging” and says they had “miscalculated and therefore now were addressing the situation” after the Scandinavian country in recent days has seen a spike in new cases, chiefly among those ages 13 to 19.
“There is now a lot of infection among children and young people,” says Solberg, adding school children aged between 12 and 15 would be offered one shot of a vaccine.
She says the infection was unevenly distributed across Norway and “we believe it is right to meet local outbreaks with local measures.”
A further opening of Norway is on hold until more adults receive the vaccine.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A man in New Zealand who had tested positive for the coronavirus faces criminal charges after he escaped from an Auckland quarantine hotel and returned home, according to authorities.
In New Zealand, people who test positive for the virus are routinely required to isolate in hotels run by the military. Authorities believe the man escaped early Thursday and was on the run for about 12 hours before police — dressed in full protective gear — arrested him about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters it wasn’t yet clear how the man escaped the hotel, although closed circuit cameras showed a man hiding in a bush when a security guard walked past.
Under a new COVID-19 law passed last year, the man could face a fine or up to six months in jail if found guilty of failing to comply with a health order. New Zealand is currently battling an outbreak of the delta variant in Auckland.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Authorities have ended many of the restrictions imposed in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and surrounding districts, allowing movie theaters, gymnasiums and sporting venues to open up for the first time since the pandemic hit last year.
The notice by Kathmandu District Administration Thursday said schools and colleges would remain closed until further notice.
Restaurants will be allowed to have guests dining in and stores can now open late. There's no restriction on the movement of vehicles.
The latest lockdown was imposed in April when cases of COVID-19 spiked to a record high, causing shortages of hospital spaces, medicine, oxygen and medicines. There are still thousands of new cases reported daily and only about 15%of the population of have been fully vaccinated despite the inoculation campaign starting in January.
The health ministry says there's been 848,209 confirmed cases in Nepal and 10,770 confirmed deaths.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s king and queen are partially confining themselves after a member of the royal family tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Royal Palace says King Philippe and Queen Mathilde “decided, as a precautionary measure, to limit their contacts in the days to come, in line with the health regulations in force.”
The palace statement provided no details about who might have tested positive.
TOKYO — Moderna Inc. and its Japanese partner are recalling more than 1 million doses of the U.S. drug maker’s coronavirus vaccine after confirming that contamination reported last week was tiny particles of stainless steel.
Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is in charge of sale and distribution in Japan of the Moderna vaccine. The two companies said an investigation at a Spanish factory that produced the vials in question concluded the contamination occurred in the process of putting stops on the vials.
The companies on Aug. 26 announced suspension of 1.63 million doses produced at the line after reports of contamination. Japanese officials said about a half million people had received shots from the Moderna vials before the problem surfaced.
The trouble comes at a time Japan is pushing to accelerate vaccinations amid rising infections that are straining the Japanese health care system.
Pharmaceutical and health ministry officials say they do not believe the high-grade stainless steel poses health risks.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has received its first Pfizer coronavirus vaccine after a prolonged purchasing process gave rise to a political blame game with China.
Taiwan couldn't buy the vaccine directly from BioNTech, the German company that partnered with U.S.-based Pfizer to develop the vaccine. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking the deal while China denied any interference.
Two private companies and a Buddhist organization stepped in to buy the vaccine doses and donate them to Taiwan. The doses arriving Thursday will be given to youth ages 12 to 17.
Taiwan has been using AstraZeneca, Moderna and the domestically made Medigen vaccine to give 43% of its population at least one dose.
TORONTO — Ontario is the fourth Canadian province to announce residents will have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus to enter restaurants, theaters, gyms and other indoor public venues.
Premier Doug Ford says the vaccination certificate program will take effect Sept. 22.
Initially, residents will show a PDF or printout of the vaccination receipt they received when they got their shots, along with a government-issued piece of ID such as a photo health card or driver’s license.
The province is expected to launch a system in late October that will send everyone a QR code to accompany their vaccination receipt. It will launch an app that will allow service providers to scan the QR codes as proof of vaccination.
British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba have also implemented some form of vaccine certificate program.