GENEVA — Japan’s prime minister announced another $800 million to the U.N.-backed program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries, a four-fold increase of Japanese funding to the COVAX program.
Yoshihide Suga spoke as Japan co-sponsored a fundraising event for COVAX with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which helps run the program. The program managers are seeking about $2 billion more to reach a target of $8.3 billion for its effort to fund free vaccines for low- and middle-income countries around the world.
“Now is the time for us to act,” said Suga through a translator, leading a parade of world and humanitarian leaders who announced pledges and commitments on Wednesday. He says the additional $800 million will bring Japan’s contribution to $1 billion.
Leaders from Australia, Austria, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were among those citing their efforts to build momentum for greater equity in access to vaccines that the World Health Organization — another key COVAX partner — says is badly lacking.
Among those facing vaccine shortfalls are many of the 92 low- and middle-income countries and territories in the Advanced Market Commitment part of the COVAX program.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— AstraZeneca starts deliveries of Thailand-made vaccines
— EU eyes revamp of ID check-free zone to improve travel flow
— Sinovac vaccine restores one Brazilian city to near normal
— Mexico boosts confirmed death toll by 4,272 to 227,840
— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — The European Union wants to revamp Europe’s ID check-free travel area after coronavirus restrictions placed new strains on tourism, travel and business throughout the bloc.
The travel zone is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks.
But government-imposed coronavirus restrictions have hampered free movement. That’s on top of other measures put in place by some countries to restrict migration and counter extremist attacks.
The EU plan is to boost external border controls, and police and security cooperation. The EU Commission says better monitoring of the way countries manage their borders would help build trust.
BANGKOK, Thailand — AstraZeneca’s partner in Thailand has started its first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines after concerns they were behind on their production schedules for the country and parts of Southeast Asia.
Siam Bioscience says the first locally produced AstraZeneca doses were delivered Wednesday to Thailand’s Ministry of Health ahead of the June 7 start of the country’s official mass vaccination program.
It didn’t say how many doses were delivered. AstraZeneca signed with Siam Bioscience last year to be its vaccine production and distribution center in Southeast Asia. It says the vaccines would be ready for export to other Southeast Asian countries in July.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Officials in the Norwegian capital of Oslo have decided to temporarily suspend the traditional celebrations for high school seniors who drive around in buses and drink, after at least 540 people are quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak tied to the festivities.
Oslo and Norway’s top medical authority have “made an urgent decision to stop all celebrations for a week,” the city said, according to Norwegian news agency NTB.
The celebrations, known as russ in Norwegian, are a major cultural phenomenon across the Scandinavian country. Participants wear colored overalls and matching caps, with some buying a used vehicle — a bus, a van or a car — which they scribble on with paint and drive around in. Drunkenness and public disturbances are often linked to the celebration.
Jorunn Thaulow, responsible for the infection tracing team in the western part of Oslo, told the Avisa Oslo newspaper that most of the cases are related to five buses used by the partying students. She says it’s affecting almost all high schools in the western part of Oslo, which has nearly 700,000 residents.
Norway soon will begin to vaccinate people between 18 and 44.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s plummeting numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths have allowed the government to ease more restrictions and allow for conferences and exhibitions, indoor playgrounds and higher attendance at family events like weddings.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday latest figures show that the pandemic is “easing off,” allowing for the new rules to take effect Sunday for a two-week trial period.
Conferences, fairs and trade exhibitions can be organized, and indoor playgrounds can open, provided there are no more than one person per 15 sq. meters (160 sq. feet.) The limit of people allowed at entertainment and family events was raised to 150, from previous 50, with fully vaccinated people not counting in that limit. However, discos remain closed.
Also, public transport can now fill to 75% of capacity, up from the previous 50% of capacity, but masks remain obligatory.
Poland’s average daily number of infections has gone under 1,000 and of deaths is under 100, compared to almost 30,000 new daily infections and over 700 deaths in April. Some 7.3 million Poles are fully vaccinated, and another 13 million have received the first jab.
MELBOURNE, Australia — A pandemic lockdown in Australia’s second largest city will be extended for a second week due to concerns over a growing cluster of coronavirus infections.
Victoria state acting Premier James Merlino on Wednesday confirmed that Melbourne will remain in lockdown for seven more days from Friday, but pandemic restrictions will be eased elsewhere in the state.
Merlino says that “if we let this thing run its course, it will explode.”
Victoria officials said Wednesday that the state recorded six new locally acquired coronavirus cases, bringing the latest outbreak to 60 active infections. The lockdown is the fourth for Melbourne, which has 5 million residents.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico says a clinical review of past deaths has led officials to raise the country’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll by 4,272, to a total of 227,840.
The adjustment announced Tuesday is largely one of record keeping, because even government officials acknowledge the true death toll is far higher.
Because the country of 126 million people does so little testing, many Mexicans have died at home or never got a test. So the government searches death certificates for mentions of symptoms related to COVID-19.
Those analyses of excess deaths related to COVID-19 now stand at over 348,750, which gives Mexico one of the highest per capita rates in the world.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska has begun offering coronavirus vaccinations at airports in a move that had been expected for the start of the summer travel season.
The state health department said as of Tuesday, vaccine eligibility has been expanded to include anyone in Alaska who is at least 12 years old, including visitors from other states or countries. Prior eligibility was for those who live or work in Alaska.
Vaccines will be offered outside the areas secured by the federal Transportation Security Administration at airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana University modified its COVID-19 vaccination requirement, making it optional that students and employees provide proof of getting the shots as school officials changed a policy that had drawn protests from many state officials.
Indiana University said under the revised requirement students and employees would be able to attest to their vaccination without having to provide immunization documentation as was required under the previous policy.
The university also said a form would be available Wednesday for those requesting vaccine exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
President Michael McRobbie said the university’s primary concern has been ensuring the health and safety of its students and staff. He added: “This requirement will make a ‘return to normal’ a reality for the fall semester.”
The changes come after the state attorney general issued last week a non-binding opinion that the policy was illegal under a new state law banning state or local governments from requiring vaccine passports.
TORONTO — Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization says people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine for the first dose can be offered either Pfizer or Moderna for the second.
The advice affects more than two million Canadians who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before provinces stopped using it for first doses last month.
The vaccine is potentially linked to a very rare but serious blood clotting syndrome. In Canada, 41 confirmed or suspected cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia have been diagnosed and five people have died.
Several European countries are giving Pfizer or Moderna as second doses to AstraZeneca recipients, including Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Spain.
NACI’s published report says AstraZeneca recipients can be offered the same vaccine if they want it, or can be given either Pfizer or Moderna. The guidance is not binding but most provincial governments have indicated they were waiting for the information before setting their policies.
NEW YORK — Health researchers estimate that during the early months of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic, 7,000 to 10,000 more kidney disease patients died than normally would.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the report Tuesday.
The researchers focused on about 800,000 patients who early last year had kidney failure. About 60,000 of them died between the beginning of February and the end of August last year.
The researchers compared those numbers to trends in the same patient population during other recent years, and concluded such deaths had risen by as much as 10,000. Patterns of where the patients died were similar to maps of where COVID-19 hit the United States in the first months of the pandemic. But the authors say more research is needed to determine what drove the increase – whether it was due to coronavirus infections, difficulty accessing medical care or other reasons.
Overall, between Feb. 1, 2020 and May 15, 2021, the CDC reports that the nation saw about 643,000 more deaths than usual.
WASHINGTON — The Memorial Day weekend has produced the two busiest days for U.S. air travel since early March 2020.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said about 1.96 million people passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints on Friday, and 1.90 million did so on Monday. Tuesday was also expected to be busy, as travelers returned home after the Memorial Day weekend.
Analysts expect travel to continue rising slowly now that many Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and airlines are adding more flights.
In May, an average of 1.6 million people a day were screened at U.S. airports, down one-third from the 2.4 million people a day who went through TSA checkpoints in May 2019.
LONDON — London’s Heathrow Airport has reopened a terminal that was mothballed during the coronavirus pandemic to handle passengers now arriving from high-risk countries. Critics say the action should have been taken sooner.
Britain has barred travelers from a “red list” of 43 coronavirus hotspots including India, Brazil and Turkey. U.K. nationals and residents returning from those countries face a mandatory 10-day quarantine in a hotel. Other travelers coming from “amber list” countries like the United States can do their mandatory 10-day quarantine at home in the U.K.
Critics have complained that red list passengers have been using the same massive airport arrivals hall as travelers from other destinations, though in separate lines, since the hotel quarantines were introduced in February.
Starting Tuesday, red list arrivals will pass through the airport’s Terminal 3, which was closed in April 2020 as international air travel plummeted.
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