The Latest: Britain’s infection rate lowers to July numbers

News

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens at right. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

LONDON — Britain’s scientific advisers say they are confident the coronavirus outbreak is shrinking across the country for the first time in more than six months.

The government says the reproduction or R number, which measures how many people each infected person passes the virus on to, is between 0.7 and 0.9. A number below 1 means the outbreak is shrinking.

It is the first time since July that the R number has been below 1 for every region of the country.

The U.K. is in lockdown to try to curb Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, which has caused more than 116,000 deaths. The number of deaths and new infections are shrinking after peaking in January.

The government is pushing ahead with a plan to vaccinate the entire adult population. It looks on course to meet its target of giving the first of two shots of vaccine to the 15 million people at greatest risk, including everyone over 70, by Monday.

On Friday, Britain registered 15,144 new coronavirus cases to surpass 4.0 million. Another 768 deaths raised the official death toll to 116,287, the fifth highest behind the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and India.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Japan expected to approve Pfizer vaccine within days. Vaccines are key to holding the delayed Tokyo Olympics. Dr. Anthony Fauci says people must wear masks “for several, several months” to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out. The Victoria state has imposedfive-day lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel. The Australian Open will continue but without crowds. The booking site for England’s new hotel quarantine system was taken offline soon after it was launched.

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing back against critics of the country’s slow coronavirus vaccine rollout, saying vast vaccination centers set up last year will be full by April.

In an interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel acknowledged there was “disappointment” at the slow start but insisted that it was surprising there is a vaccine just one year after the virus was first discovered. Germany began vaccinating older people in December and has so far administered some 3.8 million shots. The vast vaccination centers set up in exhibition halls and sports arenas have seen few patients as many of the shots were given to people in nursing homes or hospitals before vaccine supplies slowed in Europe.

___

PHOENIX — Arizona reported more than 2,400 coronavirus cases and 172 deaths on Friday.

The Department of Health Services reports that increased the totals to 793,532 cases and 14,834 confirmed deaths.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continued to decline, with 2,396 occupying inpatient beds, down from the pandemic high of 5,082 on Jan. 11.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 6,184 on Jan. 28 to 2,758 on Thursday. The rolling average of daily deaths dropped from 149 to 130 during the same period.

___

TOKYO — Japan’s health minister says the efficacy of Pfizer vaccine was endorsed by a ministry panel, paving the way for a final approval within days.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura says a formal approval is expected Sunday. The vaccine is already administered in the U.S. and many other countries since December.

Vaccines are considered key to holding the delayed Olympics this summer. Japan is expected to receive 144 million doses from Pfizer, 120 million from AstraZeneca and about 50 million from Moderna before the end of this year, enough to cover its population.

Japan must rely on imports, many subject to the EU’s export control, and a cause for concern about supplies. Vaccines developed by Japan are still in the early stages.

About 20,000 front-line medical workers at hospitals in Japan will get their first shots beginning the middle of next week. About 3 million other medical workers will be next, followed by elderly people getting their shots in April. By June, it’s expected all others will be eligible.

___

MADRID — Several central Spanish regions are announcing some easing of curfews and restrictions on bar and restaurants.

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned that despite a significative drop in new infections in Spain, the rate of infection remained high. The 14-day caseload dropped to 540 infections per 100,000 inhabitants on Thursday from a peak of 900 two weeks ago.

With capacity limitations, the central Castilla La Mancha and Castilla y León regions on Friday re-opened food and beverage establishments after a monthlong ban.

The Madrid region is ruled by a right-wing coalition that has often clashed with the left-wing central authorities over how to best combat the pandemic. It also announced starting Thursday, it will shorten the night-time curfew by one hour and allow bars to open longer if the caseload continues to fall.

___

BERLIN — Germany’s Defense Ministry says it’s extending by six weeks the deployment of military doctors, nurses and other personnel to help Portugal with its spike in coronavirus cases.

The ministry says after discussions with Portuguese authorities, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer agreed to keep personal there into April.

An initial team of eight military doctors and 18 nurses and hygiene specialists arrived in Lisbon on Feb. 3 for a three-week deployment to help at overburdened hospitals.

Kramp-Karrenbauer says she was “convinced that particularly at this time European solidarity is indispensable.”

___

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Vaccinations have started in Bosnia with Russia’s Sputnik V shots administered in the Serb-run part of the country.

The Bosnian Serb-dominated entity called Republika Srpska has acquired 2,000 vaccines from its ally Russia. The inoculation kicked off Friday with the head of the main hospital in the northwest town of Banja Luka getting the first shot.

Bosnia consists of a Serbian run and an entity run by the country’s Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats. The two semi-autonomous regions were established in a U.S. peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 war.

The Bosnian Serbs and neighboring Serbia have traditionally close links to Moscow. The Bosniak-Croat entity dubbed Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is yet to receive vaccines via the international COVAX program.

___

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci says people will need to wear masks “for several, several months” to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out.

The government’s top infectious disease expert told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday by the time 75% to 80% of the population is vaccinated, “the level of virus in the community could be so low that you could start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures.”

But Fauci says any relaxing of safety measures needs to be done “prudently and gradually.”

U.S. government researchers have found that two masks are better than one in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but health officials have stopped short of recommending everyone double up.

Fauci says the U.S. has contracted for 600 million vaccine doses, enough to vaccinate everyone with two doses. He says as spring turns into summer, everyone should be eligible to receive a vaccine.

Fauci says, “As we go from April to May to June and then hopefully by July, we’ll be at that point where we have enough vaccine for virtually everyone.”

___

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Open will continue but without crowds after the Victoria state government imposed a five-day lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced a state-wide lockdown, including restricting residents to their homes except for work, shopping for essential supplies, caregiving and limited exercise.

Schools will be closed Monday through Wednesday, and there will be no gatherings permitted at homes or for sports events, weddings or religious services. Masks will be required everywhere.

Andrews says the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open could continue “because these people are at their workplace.” He adds the latest COVID-19 cases had nothing to do with the tennis quarantine program.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says the only people who will be permitted on site will be the players, their direct support team and essential staff members. The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam tournament in a year to allow sizeable crowds, with up to 22,000 people.

The cluster of cases linked to the hotel quarantine program at the Melbourne Airport grew to 13 on Thursday night. Australia, which imposed a hard lockdown early in the pandemic, has registered 909 total confirmed deaths.

___

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Vaccinations have started in Bosnia with Russia’s Sputnik V shots administered in the Serb-run part of the country.

The Bosnian Serb-dominated entity called Republika Srpska has acquired 2,000 vaccines from its ally Russia. The inoculation kicked off Friday with the head of the main hospital in the northwest town of Banja Luka getting the first shot.

Bosnia consists of a Serbian run and an entity run by the country’s Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats. The two semi-autonomous regions were established in a U.S. peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 war.

The Bosnian Serbs and neighboring Serbia have traditionally close links to Moscow. The Bosniak-Croat entity dubbed Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is yet to receive vaccines via the international COVAX program.

__

BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company CureVac says it has begun submitting data on its coronavirus vaccine to the EU regulator with the aim of speeding up the approval process.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency confirmed Friday that it has begun a review of the vaccine and that early laboratory and clinical studies indicate it triggers an immune response against the virus.

Tuebingen-based CureVac is still conducting further trials of the vaccine, but the rolling review process means EMA will be able to reduce the amount of time needed to decide whether to approve it once all the necessary data has been submitted. The same approach led to the approval of vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

CureVac’s vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as those made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The company said the vaccine is currently being trialed in healthy adults in Europe and Latin America.

___

LONDON — The booking site for England’s new hotel quarantine system was taken offline soon after it was launched, in the latest teething trouble for the pandemic-fighting program.

The portal went down Thursday afternoon. A message on the site Friday morning said: “We’ll be back soon.”

Starting Monday, arrivals from a “red list” of 33 countries must quarantine in government-approved hotels for 10 days at a cost of 1,750 pounds ($2,400).

The measure is intended to stop new variants of the coronavirus reaching the U.K. But critics say it has come too late and is too lax. People in quarantine will have meals delivered to their rooms but will be allowed outside briefly for fresh air.

Australian epidemiologist Michael Toole said letting people out of their rooms was “very risky.” Australia has seen several virus outbreaks linked to quarantine hotels.

British Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins says “we are confident that the measures that we have in place, ready to go on Monday, are strong and that they will help to protect our country against any of these new variants that are being found.”

___

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia is on track to manufacture and administer its own version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, the health minister said on Friday.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was speaking at biotechnology company CSL Ltd.’s plant in Melbourne where the first doses are nearing completion.

The first of Australia’s 20 million doses of German manufactured Pfizer vaccine is to be administered in late February.

The first of the 1.2 million doses of overseas-made AstraZeneca vaccine is to be available in Australia by early March, although the Australian regulator has yet to approve it.

The government maintains that Australia’s relatively low incidence of COVID-19 does not justify emergency vaccine approvals.

The government expects that everyone among Australia’s population of 26 million who wants to be vaccinated and is over the age of 16 will have access to a vaccine by October.

___

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first coronavirus vaccine doses are due to arrive in the country next week, with border workers getting inoculated from Feb. 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday.

New Zealand regulators gave provisional approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month.

Ardern says it’s pleasing to get the first doses ahead of Pfizer’s initial schedule, given the pressures on global demand.

New Zealand has no community transmission of the virus and the nation’s 12,000 border workers are considered the most vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease because they interact with arriving travelers, some of whom are infected.

However, New Zealand’s success in stamping out the virus also means it will need to wait longer than many other countries to get vaccine doses for the general population. Officials say they will hope to begin general inoculations in the second half of the year.

___

A COVID-19 variant first identified in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states and several other countries, a study published Thursday suggests.

The variant accounted for about 44% of Southern California cases as of late January, nearly double from a month earlier, the study said. It was first identified in a single case in July and reemerged during a holiday surge in cases in the Los Angeles area.

More research is needed to determine if the variant spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants or causes more disease, said study co-author Jasmine Plummer, a Cedars-Sinai researcher.

The paper was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, wrote in an accompanying editorial that new variants likely will continue to emerge until spread of the virus is reduced.

___

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles is temporarily closing five mass vaccination sites including Dodger Stadium for lack of supply as the state faces continuing criticism over the vaccine rollout.

Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city will exhaust its supply of Moderna first doses — two are required for full immunization — forcing it to close drive-through and walk-up vaccination sites Friday and Saturday.

They may not reopen until the city gets more supplies, perhaps next Tuesday or Wednesday. Smaller mobile vaccination clinics will continue operating.

Garcetti says Los Angeles uses about 13,000 doses in a typical day but received only 16,000 this week.

California has recorded the most confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. with 45,496, edging past New York’s toll of 45,312, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Other coronavirus numbers are improving in the state.

The seven-day test positivity rate has fallen to 4.8%, and the most recent daily number of confirmed positive cases was 8,390, down from 53,000 in December.

___

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are now recommending that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus don’t have to go into a 14-day quarantine after exposure to an infected person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly posted the updated guidance this week. It says vaccinated people may skip quarantine if they are asymptomatic, and if their contact with an infected person came at least two weeks after receipt of the final dose in the two-shot vaccination series and within three months of receipt of that last dose.

The recommendation is similar to what the CDC has said about people who developed immunity after being infected with COVID.

___

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Don't Miss