The Latest: Australia’s Victoria state to return to lockdown

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FILE – In this Aug. 5, 2021, file photo, an empty Swanston Street is seen at night in the Central Business District as lockdown due to the continuing spread of COVID-19 prepares to start in Melbourne. Melbourne, the city that was once Australia’s worst COVID-19 hot spot has announced a seven-day lockdown, its fourth since the pandemic began. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake, File)

MELBOURNE, Australia — The city that was once Australia’s worst COVID-19 hot spot on Thursday announced a seven-day lockdown, its fourth since the pandemic began.

The lockdown for Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state comes after a new cluster in the city rose to 26 infections, including a person who was in intensive care.

Victoria Acting Premier James Merlino said: “Unless something changes, this will be increasingly uncontrollable.”

The new Melbourne cluster was found after a traveler from India became infected with a more contagious variant of the virus while in hotel quarantine in South Australia state earlier this month. The traveler was not diagnosed until he returned home to Melbourne.

Australia’s second largest city last year underwent a second wave of infections that peaked at 725 new cases in a single August day at a time when community spread had been virtually eliminated elsewhere in the country.

That lockdown lasted for 111 days. A third lockdown that lasted for five days in February was triggered by a cluster of 13 cases linked to hotel quarantine near Melbourne Airport.

Victoria accounts for 820 of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic.

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MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Biden orders more intel investigation of COVID-19 origin, including lab leak theory

— Taiwan struggles with testing backlog amid island’s largest outbreak

— Ohio announces 1st $1 million Vax-a-Million lottery winner

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Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemicand https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MANILA, Philippines — The president of the Philippines warns he will jail village leaders and police officers who don’t enforce pandemic lockdown rules.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments Wednesday night were in response to swimming parties, drinking sprees and picnics held earlier this month in three resorts where dozens of merrymakers later tested positive for the virus.

Duterte is known for a tough approach to crime and he says he wants law enforcers to carry wooden sticks as a “permanent fixture” so offenders who resist arrest can be hit in the hands and feet with “reasonable force.”

A surge in coronavirus infections that started in March has begun to ease after the government re-imposed lockdowns in metropolitan Manila and four adjacent provinces. But daily cases are still high and a vaccination campaign is struggling with supply problems.

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LAS VEGAS — The Nevada school district for Las Vegas and the rest of Clark County says fully vaccinated students and staff are no longer required to wear masks in most situations.

The district said Wednesday the new policy will go into effect June 1 with the approval of the Southern Nevada Health District.

The change comes after the CDC recently said that people vaccinated against the coronavirus do not have to wear masks in indoor or outdoor settings.

Clark County school officials say that under the new policy, any student or staff member who is outside does not have to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Masks will still be required on school buses and at graduation ceremonies.

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is preparing to allow all-night alcohol sales again. And the city is lifting a ban on parades and its traditional “second line” marches as coronavirus vaccinations rates improve and hospitalizations for COVID-19 stay low.

The city says it will end the 1 a.m. shutdown of alcohol sales and begin taking permit applications for parades and second lines under new rules that take effect Friday.

New Orleans is also allowing gyms to operate at full capacity and removing six-foot table spacing requirements at restaurants.

Some restrictions on large gatherings will remain in place. But exceptions will be made for events at which face masks will be required and participants must provide proof of vaccination.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials have granted emergency authorization to a third antibody drug to help reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

The FDA said Wednesday it authorized the drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology for people with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 who face extra risks of severe illness, including seniors and those with underlying health problems.

There has been low demand for two similar drugs already available, due mainly to the logistical hurdles of delivering them and confusion about their availability. U.S. health officials have been trying to raise awareness of the treatments, connecting people who test positive for COVID-19 with information about nearby providers.

The drugs are delivered as a one-time intravenous infusion at a hospital or clinic and should be given within 10 days of the start of symptoms.

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NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that vaccinated kids aged 12 to 17 will have a chance to win a full ride to public universities and colleges in New York.

The state will raffle off 50 scholarships, which would cover four years of tuition, room and board, books and supplies.

New York will hold weekly drawings on Wednesday to randomly select 10 winners. Parents or guardians can enter children who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since May 12.

Schools across the country are using mascots, food trucks and prize giveaways to try to get kids vaccinated before school lets out for the summer.

Cuomo said children who get vaccinated earlier will have the best chance at winning. It’s unclear when applications for the lottery will open up, but people can sign up for notifications on a state website.

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SEATTLE — The city of Seattle is shutting down all but one of its mass COVID-19 vaccination sites next month.

Authorities announced Wednesday that the city-run sites at Lumen Field, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and North Seattle College will close in June. The decision comes as more than 76% of eligible Seattle residents have received at least one shot and 60% are fully vaccinated.

The Seattle Fire Department will continue operating its testing and vaccination site in the neighborhood south of downtown through the summer. The city’s vaccination efforts got a boost when the Lumen Field Event Center opened more than two months ago.

Since March 13, more than 97,000 vaccinations have been administered at the event center near two of the city’s large sports arenas. The city says it will continue to offer mobile vaccinations and spin up vaccination clinics as needed.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island factory once praised by former President Donald Trump for ramping up production of N95 face masks in the early days of the pandemic is laying off nearly 500 workers.

A spokesperson for Honeywell International told WPRI-TV on Wednesday that about 470 jobs at the Smithfield facility are being cut.

Employees are being urged to apply for other jobs at the company and some eligible workers will receive severance. The masks are critical safety equipment for health care workers and others even as general demand for face-coverings is diminishing as the pandemic wanes.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — The superintendent of New Mexico’s largest school district is backtracking on a promise to channel federal pandemic relief toward employee bonuses.

State auditors warned Wednesday that the proposed payments of at least $6 million could violate state constitutional provisions against giving away taxpayer dollars.

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder had said Tuesday that the constitution may prevent the district from delivering promised payments of $1,000 to full-time teachers and staff and $500 for part-timers in recognition of work since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Payments were scheduled for about 12,000 employees.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is asking U.S. intelligence agencies to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says there is insufficient evidence to conclude “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”

Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic. He held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be known, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.

The U.S. leads the world with 33.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 591,000 confirmed deaths.

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