The Latest: Wisconsin vaccine plan excludes grocery workers

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An Indian boy awaits customers as he sells face masks on a street in Hyderabad, India, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s plan for the next phase of coronavirus vaccinations covers essential workers, including teachers, child care providers, law enforcement officers and hospital staff who aren’t on the front lines.

In Wisconsin, it doesn’t include grocery store employees, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the states’ second phase of COVID-19 vaccinations. Grocery store owners, who thought their employees would be included in the next phase, are upset.

Tim Metcalfe owns three Metcalfe’s Market stores, one in Wauwatosa and two in Madison, wrote an open letter to the committee that plans Wisconsin’s vaccination phases.

“Grocery workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and are as critical to our food supply as farmers. While our company takes every safety precaution possible for our team, the reality is that this team has been exposed to members of the public every day and put at increased risk of infection for nearly a year now.”

The Wisconsin State Journal reported the state said that the CDC’s guidelines were overly broad for who qualifies as a “front-line essential worker.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has repeatedly blamed limited access to vaccines on the federal government, not on shortcomings of statewide planning. Several Republican lawmakers have put the blame specifically on Evers’ administration.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Expert panel says bothChina and the WHO should have acted faster to prevent the pandemic

— Surging infections give Spain’s new emergency hospital in Madrid a second chance to prove its worth

— Germany’s Merkel meets with state leaders to ponder tougher virus restrictions

— High numbers of new infections are making the virus genetically diverse and each mutationthreatens to undo progress

— Dubaipromotes itself as the ideal vacation spot but the pandemic is shaking its economy

— Hospital chaplains are on the front lines, helping patients unable to see families

__Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BRUSSELS — The European Union is urging member states to speed up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure that at least 80% of the most vulnerable people to the virus — those over the age of 80 — are vaccinated by March this year.

In non-binding recommendations published Tuesday, the EU’s executive Commission also called on the 27 EU member states to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination so that 70% percent of the adult population across the bloc is vaccinated by the summer.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii is assisting about 800 residents of American Samoa traveling through Oahu to their island home, which was cut off by the coronavirus.

The U.S. territory located 2,200 miles south of Hawaii in the Pacific closed its borders March 13 to protect the islands from COVID-19.

The order by American Samoa Democratic Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga stranded residents who were in Hawaii and other states. Those travelers can now return home, but must first stop in Hawaii to undergo COVID-19 screening.

Honolulu is using the parking lot at the Waikiki Shell outdoor concert venue to conduct the virus tests.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials say Alaska’s coronavirus contact tracing effort is rebounding after several months of hiring and several weeks of decreased daily cases.

Anchorage Daily News reports that state officials say great improvements have been made since November.

At that time, the contact tracing corps was overwhelmed and people testing positive were asked to reach out on their own to those they may have infected.

Public Health Nursing Chief Tim Struna of the Alaska Division of Public Health says contact tracers can now investigate reports within a day after receiving notice of new virus infections.

State officials say there are now about 500 contact tracers.

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BERLIN — Swiss authorities have started mass testing residents and visitors in St. Moritz after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the upscale skiing resort.

People were asked to register online and come in for free tests to a local gym and a beverage store on Tuesday, after two luxury hotels were put under quarantine Monday. All schools, kindergartens and skiing schools were closed.

Officials said at least two dozen cases were detected in the two hotels, which local media identified as the Palace and the Kempinski hotel.

The Kempinski said late Monday that health authorities had confirmed cases of the mutated coronavirus among the hotel’s employees.

“Local health officials have ordered that all guests and staff at the hotel should be quarantined to minimize exposure to the public,” a spokeswoman for Kempinski told The Associated Press. “The hotel is strictly following the advice of the local health authorities and World Health Organization guidelines.”

All people in St. Moritz who were 5 and older were asked to participate in the test, which was voluntary. Swiss media reported that the variant detected in St. Moritz was first found in South Africa.

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LISBON, Portugal — Local councils in Portugal are sending out teams to gather votes from people in home quarantine and from residents of nursing homes ahead of a presidential election on Sunday.

Authorities have taken exceptional measures to ensure voting is possible during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the fact the country is in lockdown.

For 48 hours beginning Tuesday, crews wearing protective clothing went to collect the votes of people who had registered for the service. However, fewer than 13,000 people — about 15% of those eligible — signed up for the service, officials said. Some voters complained that they were given little notice of the service.

On Sunday, 12,000 polling stations will be open, 2,000 more than usual, to help avoid large gatherings. Early voting last Sunday drew a record turnout.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway has pledged to help fight the global pandemic by donating vaccines to low-income countries as soon as the vaccines are approved, its foreign aid minister said Tuesday.

“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines reach people in the world’s poorest countries isn’t just about being charitable or acting on a moral imperative. It’s also in the best interest of every country to do so,” Dag-Inge Ulstein, the Norwegian minister for International Development, told The Associated Press.

“If the virus is circulating in one country, the rest of the world remains at risk.”

Ulstein gave no timeframe or figures for vaccine quantities but said the roll-out will take place “in parallel to the current vaccination of the Norwegian population.”

Norway’s move came a day after WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities around the world.

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GENEVA — A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization has criticized China and other countries for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier and questioned whether the U.N. health agency should have labeled it a pandemic sooner.

In a report issued Monday, the panel led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said there were “lost opportunities to apply basic public health measures at the earliest opportunity” and that Chinese authorities could have applied their efforts “more forcefully” in January shortly after the coronavirus began sickening clusters of people.

“The reality is that only a minority of countries took full advantage of the information available to them to respond to the evidence of an emerging pandemic,” the panel said.

The experts also wondered why WHO did not declare a global public health emergency sooner. The U.N. health agency convened its emergency committee on Jan. 22, but did not characterize the emerging pandemic as an international emergency until a week later. At the time, WHO said its expert committee was divided on whether a global emergency should be declared.

“One more question is whether it would have helped if WHO used the word pandemic earlier than it did,” the panel said.

WHO did not describe the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic until March 11, weeks after the virus had begun causing explosive outbreaks in numerous continents.

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BRUSSELS — The head of Belgium’s COVID-19 vaccination task force said more than 100,000 people have gotten a vaccine shot so far.

Speaking during a press conference Tuesday, Dirk Ramaekers said the figure equates to about 35% of the first group prioritized by Belgian health authorities, which includes nursing home residents and staff, as well as hospital staff and other frontline workers.

Belgium health authorities are using shots manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the two vaccines that have been approved so far in the European Union. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots to be fully effective.

The second phase of the vaccination campaign is expected to start in March and will involve people over 65 years old and high-risk patients, starting with the eldest and working towards the youngest.

Infections numbers have reached a plateau in Belgium since the end of November, with new daily cases between 2,000 and 3,000. According to virologist Yves van Laethem, new infections among people over 80 have dropped 20%.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities say they will fully reopen the country for tourists beginning Thursday, in a bid to revive the island nation’s lucrative tourism industry that has been badly hit by the pandemic.

Authorities say the country’s two international airports will be fully operational from Thursday.

The Indian ocean island nation closed the country and the two airports for tourists in March when the first wave of the COVID-19 surfaced.

Under the new program, tourists must be tested at home within 72 hours of their flight. They are then tested when they arrive at their hotel and again seven days later. They will be allowed to travel in 14 tourism zones in a “travel bubble,” without mixing with the local population. About 180 hotels have been earmarked to provide accommodation for the tourists.

The government launched a one-month pilot project on Dec. 26 to bring down tourists and under that, 1500 tourists from Ukraine visited Sri Lanka in a “travel bubble.”

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PARIS — The head of France’s state rail company has sounded the alarm over the future of the Eurostar train service, which connects the U.K. with continental Europe and has been hurt badly by the halt to travel during the pandemic as well as Brexit.

Jean-Pierre Farandou, the CEO of SNCF, which owns 55% of Eurostar, told France Inter radio on Tuesday that “the situation is very critical for Eurostar.”

Passenger numbers on the cross-Channel train service — which reaches U.K., France, Belgium and Holland — have been down 95% since March and are currently believed to be less than 1% of pre-pandemic levels.

It comes days after U.K. business leaders called for a British government rescue of the Channel Tunnel rail operator as border closures designed to stop a contagious virus variant threatened to push the service toward the brink of collapse.

Farandou noted that “today, there is one round trip that runs between London and Paris, and one other that runs between London and Brussels-Amsterdam. And these trains are 10% full.”

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GERMANY — Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding a virtual meeting Tuesday with the governors of Germany’s 16 states to discuss the country’s pandemic measures amid concerns that new mutations of the coronavirus could trigger a fresh surge in cases.

The country’s infection rate has stabilized in recent days, indicating that existing restrictions may have been effective in bringing down the numbers. On Tuesday, the country’s disease control center reported 11,369 new virus infections and 891 new deaths, for an overall death toll of 47,622.

The government tightened the country’s lockdown in early January until the end of this month. However, surging infections in Britain and Ireland, said to be caused by a more contagious virus variant, have experts worried that the mutation could also spread quickly in Germany if measures are not extended or even toughened. .

While restaurants, most stores and schools have already been closed and those shutdowns are likely to be extended, there’s also talk about possible nightly curfews, an obligation to wear the more effective FFP2 or KN95 masks on public transportation, and a push to get more people to work at home.

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