The Latest: WHO backs use of AstraZeneca vaccine for virus

Nation and World News

A nurse injects a patient with a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday March 19, 2021. The suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in several European countries over the past week could fuel skepticism about the shot far beyond their shores, potentially threatening the rollout of a vaccine that is key to the global strategy to stamp out the coronavirus pandemic, especially in developing nations. (AP Photo/ Diomande Ble Blonde)

GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s expert committee on coronavirus vaccines says its review of the AstraZeneca vaccine indicates it has “tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths.”

In a statement published Friday, the U.N. health agency said “the available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions” and the reported rates of blood clots after vaccination with COVID-19 shots are in line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions.

WHO says while some very rare clots have been detected after a few people received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe, “it is not certain that they have been caused by vaccination.”

Similar to advice issued by the European Medicines Agency and governments across the continent this week, WHO says health officials and patients should be vigilant in monitoring any potential side effects from vaccines and report them.

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— CDC changes school guidance, allowing desks to be closer

— AstraZeneca vaccinations resume in Europe after clot scare

— Happiness Report: World shows resiliencein face of COVID19

— Tokyo Olympics ready to announce ban on fans from abroad

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Follow 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:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s opening COVID-19 vaccines to people age 50 and older on Monday.

The governor says the next step will be opening vaccines to anyone, likely before May 1. The governor’s announcement came a day after Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he’s opening vaccination sites to anyone 40 and older.

DeSantis criticized the decision on Friday.

“It’s not his decision to make,” DeSantis said. “Orange County is below the state average in seniors vaccinated. They’re at 63%. Trying to do healthy 40-year-olds over finding maybe some more seniors, to me, would not be the direction I would go.”

On Friday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she would open her county’s sites to those 40 and older.

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WARSAW, Poland — Countries across Europe are resuming vaccinations with the AstraZeneca shot.

Leaders sought to reassure their populations it is safe following brief suspensions that cast doubt on a vaccine that is critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.

France’s prime minister rolled up his sleeve to get the shot Friday, as did a handful of other senior politicians across the continent.

Inoculation drives in Europe have repeatedly stumbled and several countries are now re-imposing lockdowns as infections rise in many places. The suspensions came after reports of blood clots in some recipients of the vaccine. On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency said the vaccine doesn’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s Health Ministry announced the country’s second and third confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

The third death was a 46-year-old Cambodian man who was admitted to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in the capital Phnom Penh on March 9 and diagnosed with the coronavirus the next day.

The second victim, whose death was announced earlier Friday, was a 62-year-old Cambodian woman who was admitted Wednesday and had underlying health issues including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Cambodia on March 11 confirmed its first death from COVID-19 as it battles a new local outbreak that has infected hundreds of people. The victim was a 50-year-old man Cambodian man who became infected last month while working as a driver for a Chinese company in the coastal city of Sihanoukville.

Cambodia has confirmed 1,578 cases of the coronavirus.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland decided Friday to pause the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for a week out of precaution while the Nordic country is investigating two suspected cases of blood clots.

Two women in their 20s “have reacted and we do not know why,” said Hanna Nohynek of the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare.

On Friday, the head of the Danish Health Agency said Denmark would wait another week before saying whether or not it would resume the vaccine. Norway and Sweden officials have said the same.

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NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are relaxing social distancing recommendations for schools, saying students can sit as close as 3 feet apart in classrooms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, announced Friday, signal the agency’s turn away from the 6-foot distancing recommendation.

The new guidelines advise at least 3 feet of space between desks in elementary schools, even in towns and cities where community spread is high, so long as students and teachers wear masks and take other precautions.

It recommends 3 feet in middle and high schools, so long as there’s not a high level of spread in the community. If there is, spacing should be at least 6 feet.

The CDC says 6 feet should still be maintained in common areas, such as school lobbies, and when masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.

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TOKYO — Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee are poised to make it official that most fans from abroad will be prohibited from attending the postponed Olympics because of the coronavirus.

The announcement is expected to come after “five-party” talks this weekend with the IOC, local organizers, the Japanese government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the International Paralympic Committee.

Sponsors with tickets who wish to attend are expected to get some type of exemption.

About 4.5 million tickets have been sold to Japan residents. About 1 million have been sold abroad. Before the postponement a year ago, organizers said a total of 7.8 million tickets would be available for the Tokyo Games.

The Olympics and Paralympics will involve 15,400 athletes from more than 200 nations, most operating inside a ’bubble” linking venues, training facilities, and the Olympic Village. Ten of thousands of others will a arrive and operate outside the bubble — officials, judges, sponsors, media, VIPs and broadcasters.

There is widespread skepticism in Japan about holding the Olympics, and particularly about admitting fans from abroad because of the coronavirus.

The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23. The Paralympics follow on Aug. 24.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark officials will wait another week to determine if they’ll resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Scandinavian nation was the first European country to pause the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We need, together with the Danish pharmaceutical authorities and domestic experts, to dig deeper into these things,” said Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Agency, stressing it is his agency, not the Danish Medicines Agency, that decide on pausing a vaccine.

Denmark stopped the use of the AstraZeneca on March 11. Norway and Sweden then followed. Officials in those countries have said they’ll wait a week before announcing whether to resume the AstraZeneca vaccinations.

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CHISINAU, Moldova — Moldova’s President Maia Sandu says the country will receive nearly 100,000 vaccines by the end of March.

He expects 46,350 will be delivered via the COVAX initiative and 50,000 doses will be donated by neighboring Romania.

The former Soviet republic, like many countries in Europe, is experiencing a third wave of the coronavirus. This week, Moldova recorded all-time highs in cases.

Moldova, a country of 3.5 million, has recorded more than 210,000 cases and 4,472 confirmed deaths. Some 18,593 vaccines have been administered, according to officials.

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ROME — Italy’s pharmaceutical agency has formally lifted its temporary ban on AstraZeneca vaccinations after the European Medicines Agency ruled the shots were safe and effective.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the first jabs would be administered, but officials said Friday the speed with which they were proceeding with the administrative restart of AstraZeneca shots was a sign of their confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

The head of prevention at the Health Ministry, Dr. Giovanni Rezza, told a press conference that Italy only reluctantly halted the campaign out of an abundance of caution. But he said Italy needed to ramp it back up quickly to make up for lost time now that EMA had ruled.

He said Italy needed to more than double the 200,000 vaccinations per day the country had reached before the suspension to reach its goal of inoculating 80% of the population by September.

Top Italian public health officials held a press conference Friday to insist on the safety of the AstraZeneca shot in a bid to build confidence among the general population. They also defended their decision to suspend it as purely precautionary and done in consultation with other European countries in an effort to give EMA a chance to definitively rule on it.

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BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities are urging residents to limit their social contacts to a bare minimum and to opt for remote working to the greatest extent possible to prevent another wave of coronavirus infections.

Virologist Yves van Laethem says the number of positive virus cases in Belgium rose by a third over the past week, or 3,226 confirmed daily cases on average.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 also rose by 27% over the same period, and Van Laethem warned the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units could reach a critical level by April 10 if the pace of infections does not slow down.

The trends led the Belgian government to move up a meeting of Belgium’s Consultative Committee, which on Friday is expected to reconsider its decision to relax public health restrictions starting next month.

A total of 22,624 people have died of coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country of 11.5 million residents. The number of virus-related deaths reported daily dropped by more than 10% in the past week, which officials attributed to an intensive vaccination campaign in nursing homes.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines reported its highest daily jump in coronavirus cases Friday at more than 7,100.

Officials shut down movie houses, video game arcades and cockfighting arenas anew amid an alarming surge in infections.

The cases reported by the Department of Health Friday brings the total number of infections to more than 648,000 and 12,900 confirmed deaths. The totals are the second highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has been gradually reopening businesses to revive the economy and ease unemployment and hunger but it has started to roll back those actions after infections spiked this month. Manila’s economy has been hit by one of the worst recessions in the region due to more than a year of lockdowns, quarantine restrictions and business shutdowns.

Other businesses and activities being suspended from Friday to April 4 were driving schools, libraries, museums, cultural centers and some tourist attractions in metropolitan Manila and other key cities under a general quarantine.

The government has also decided to temporarily ban the entry of foreigners for a month, except diplomats and authorized officials of international organizations, starting Monday. Officials have blamed the infection spike to the spread into the Philippines of coronavirus strains from other countries and public complacency.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is opening up a bit more, allowing upper school classes and vocational education to return to classes if there is no local outbreak, and increasing the number of people who can gather outdoor to 10, up from five.

At the same time, the ceiling for people who can attend leisure activities and competitions organized by local sports clubs is raised from 25 to 50. Religious services can be held outdoor with a maximum of 50 people, but indoor services are still banned.

In neighboring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg apologized for holding a birthday party last month in a restaurant with 13 people for her 60th birthday, thereby violating a recommendation of maximum 10 people gathering for one event.

“If you think you know the rules, you don’t check them, and I thought I knew them. I apologize for not knowing them well enough,” Solberg told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

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BUDAPEST — Officials in Hungary have extended lockdown restrictions for another week as a surge of the coronavirus pandemic breaks records each day.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says lockdown measures would be maintained for at least a week, starting from Monday. Those include business and school closures, and a nighttime curfew

“The epidemiological experts say this is not the moment when we can ease the restrictions currently in place,” Orban says.

Lockdown restrictions, which have been in place since Nov. 11 and were tightened further two weeks ago, could be gradually lifted once Hungary has vaccinated 2.5 million people, about a quarter of its population, Orban says. As of Friday, nearly 1.5 million people had received at least a first shot. Hungary, a country of nearly 10 million people, has the second-highest vaccination rate in the European Union.

Hungary reported 10,759 coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.

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BERLIN — Germany is resuming vaccinations with the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca, following a recommendation by European regulators that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

Authorities in Berlin say two large vaccination centers that offer the AstraZeneca shot to people in the German capital will reopen Friday, and people whose appointments were canceled this week can get the vaccine over the weekend without making a new appointment.

The suspension of the AstraZeneca shot further slowed Germany’s already sluggish vaccine campaign this week. So far, about 10 million doses have been administered in the country of 83 million people, with 8.4% of the population receiving at least one shot and 3.7% getting both doses.

Germany’s disease control agency reported 17,482 cases overnight and 226 confirmed deaths.

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

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