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Friday October 22nd, 2021 3:24PM

The Latest: Biden urges booster shots for those eligible

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is urging those now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots to get the added protection. His plea comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday. Biden praised the decision and aimed to set aside any unease about the vaccination by saying that he would get his own booster soon.

The advisers say boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Biden urges COVID-19 booster shots for those now eligible

— WHO endorses antibody treatment for some people

— More rental aid is reaching U.S. tenants to stave off eviction

— Polish protesters warn that health care crisis is looming

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See all of AP's pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italian government workers will be heading back to offices to do their jobs after more than 18 months of remote work as part of coronavirus measures.

Premier Mario Draghi’s office says he signed a decree establishing Oct. 15 to resume in-person work. That’s the same date that all Italian workers – either in public or private employment – will need a COVID-19 Green Pass to access their workplaces.

Many public employees who serve citizens have already been working in offices. Receiving at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, having recovered from the illness in the last six months or presenting a recent negative test will secure the Green Pass.

The premier’s office says public offices “will assure that in-person return will happen in safe conditions.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg says most of the national coronavirus restrictions in the Scandinavian country will be eased.

The restrictions lifted include the requirement for serving patrons in restaurants and the 1-meter (3.3-feet) social distance rule. Eateries, bars and nightclubs will be allowed to remain open after midnight, schools and kindergartens can return to normal and “handshakes will again be allowed,” a smiling Health Minister Bent Hoeie said.

He stressed Norway will have “an increased preparedness” and local restriction will be imposed if there was a flareup.

Norway is the second Scandinavian country to end the restrictions after Denmark did so on Sept. 10.

More than 76% of Norway’s population of 5.3 million have gotten one vaccine, and nearly 70% have gotten both shots, according to official figures.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia — More than 50,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have expired in Bosnia.

Public Health Institute of Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two administrative parts, confirmed Friday it was in the process of selecting a partner to safely destroy 55,000 AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines.

The vaccines were part of a donation and two months short of the expiration date upon arrival in Bosnia, said Milka Mrdja from the Public Health Institute.

Local media reported some 350,000 additional vaccine doses in the country were set to expire in October. Only about 12% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Bosnia has the highest rate in Europe of coronavirus deaths at 4.5%, according to Johns Hopkins University. On Friday, 26 deaths were reported in the country.

The Balkan nation of 3.3 million people has registered 230,200 confirmed cases and more than 10,300 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization is recommending a pricey antibody treatment for certain coronavirus patients in the latest update to its guidelines for treating people with COVID-19.

The new guidelines, published Friday in the journal BMJ, say the two antibodies - casirivimab and imdevimab = made by Regeneron should be given to people infected with COVID-19 who are at highest risk of hospitalization and to people whose own immune systems have not mounted a response.

The U.N. health agency said the new advice was based on evidence from experimental trials, including a British-run study that is the world’s largest for testing potential COVID-19 treatments.

In the U.S., the Regeneron treatment is mostly recommended for people with mild to moderate COVID-19, to prevent them from needing hospitalization.

Activists worried that the cost of the treatment - more than $2,000 in the U.S. - means it will mostly be unavailable to people in poorer countries. Doctors Without Borders called for Regeneron to ensure the antibody drugs are accessible to needy patients and for the company to license any proprietary rights and share technological know-how for how to make them.

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SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Ministry of Health is tightening restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus amid a recent surge in new cases and deaths.

New regulations the Health Ministry announced Friday include reducing the number of people allowed to gather socially from five to two, and restricting restaurants to seating only two fully vaccinated people together.

The city-state in Southeast Asia has been lauded for its coronavirus response and has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with some 77% of its people fully vaccinated.

But in recent weeks Singapore has seen climbing case and death rates as it has sought to ease some restrictions to “transit toward a COVID-19 resilient nation.”

Its overall numbers are still very low, with 1,504 new cases reported Thursday and two more fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 70.

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MOSCOW -- Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit a record on Friday amid a steady increase in infections.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 828 new deaths on Friday, the country's highest daily number of the pandemic. The previous record of 820 daily deaths was registered on Aug. 26, and on Thursday this week the daily death toll reached 820 once again.

In all, Russian authorities have reported some 7.3 million confirmed cases and over 202,000 deaths. However, reports by the government’s statistical service Rosstat that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal much higher mortality numbers.

Daily coronavirus infections in Russia have fallen from over 20,000 in late August to about 18,000 in mid-September but started creeping up again last week. On Thursday and Friday, the state coronavirus task force reported over 21,000 new daily cases.

Despite the increase, the Kremlin is not considering the possibility of imposing a nationwide lockdown at this point, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

Hardly any restrictions are currently in place in Russia, which has had one lockdown that lasted for six weeks.

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WARSAW — Health care workers have come to Warsaw from across Poland for an around-the-clock protest outside the prime minister’s office that has gone on for nearly two weeks.

With Poland on the cusp of a fourth surge of COVID-19 infections, the nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and other health care workers are urging Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other authorities to make deep reforms to the health care system, arguing that it is in danger of collapse.

“The pandemic showed us how bad the health care system is,” said Gilbert Kolbe, a nurse and spokesman for the protest movement. “This is the last chance to do something before it will be too late. We won’t be able to avert a crisis coming in five, 10 years.”

Poland has the lowest number of working doctors in proportion to its population — just 2.4 to 1,000 inhabitants compared with 4.5 in Germany, according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics.

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NEW YORK — Hospitals and nursing homes in New York are bracing for the possibility that a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers could lead to staff shortages.

Doctors, nurses and support staff -- like food service workers and cleaners — have been given until Sept. 27 to get at least their first vaccine shot.

As of Thursday, about 90% of Northwell’s 74,000 active personnel had been vaccinated. The hospital system says it doesn’t expect full compliance and had more than 3,000 retirees, volunteers and health care students on standby, should they be needed Monday.

Some hospitals and nursing homes were preparing contingency plans Friday that included cutting back on elective surgeries and trimming medical services.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans, opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday.

The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected.

The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of exposure to the virus.

But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week.

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SYDNEY — Australia’s two largest cities are moving closer to ending lockdowns as vaccination rates climb, but leaders are warning that people should remain cautious with their newfound freedoms and that coronavirus case numbers will inevitably rise.

In New South Wales state, where an outbreak continues to grow in Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has set a target of reopening on Oct. 11 once vaccination milestones are reached.

But she said Friday it would need to be done “with a degree of caution and responsibility” because otherwise too many people would end up in hospitals. Meanwhile in Victoria State, where there is an outbreak in Melbourne,

Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been a “tremendous” increase in vaccinations and there was “no shortage of enthusiasm” among people wanting to get jabs.

Health officials in New South Wales reported 1,043 new cases and 11 deaths on Friday, while officials in Victoria reported 733 new cases and one death.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus since the start of the pandemic as people returned from the country’s biggest holiday of the year.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said more than 1,750 of the 2,434 new cases reported Friday were from the greater capital area, where officials have raised concern over an erosion in citizen vigilance despite the enforcement of the strongest social distancing rules short of a lockdown since July.

It was expected that transmissions would worsen beyond the capital region during the Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving which began on the weekend and continued through Wednesday, a period when millions usually travel across the country to meet relatives.

The restrictions in the Seoul metropolitan area prevents gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. unless the participants are fully vaccinated.

The country has now reported a daily increase of more than 1,000 for 80 straight days. It’s previous one-day record was 2,221 reported on Aug. 11.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has averaged more than 100 deaths a day from COVID-19 over the last week, statistics showed Thursday, giving it the highest death rate in the United States for the period even as hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus pandemic continue to decline.

Statistics from Johns Hopkins University show 106 deaths were reported statewide daily over the last seven days, although some of those could have occurred earlier because of a lag in reporting. Alabama’s rate of 18 deaths for every 100,000 people over the last week is far above second-place West Virginia, which had 10 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase in deaths come as hospitalizations in the state fell below 1,800 patients for the first time in a month, a change health officials said likely was due to both people getting well and dying.

While more people are getting vaccinated than before the highly contagious delta strain took hold, the state still has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, and its chief health officer said still more people need to get shots because the risk of getting infected remains high.

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NEW YORK — The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is coming into sharper focus as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots stepped to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed to vaccines as “the greatest defense that humanity has against the ravages of this pandemic.”

Ramaphosa, speaking by video link, urged U.N. member states to support a proposal to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rights established by the World Trade Organization to allow more countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries, to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” he says.

The U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Israel are among the countries administering boosters or have announced plans to do so. Namibia president Hage Geingob called it “vaccine apartheid.”

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