The Latest: More rules for returning New Zealand travelers

Health News

FILE – In this photo Nov.30, 2020 file photo the logo of French drug maker Sanofi is picture at the company’s headquarters, in Paris. French drug maker Sanofi said Wednesday it will help manufacture 125 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by rivals Pfizer and BioNTech, while its own vaccine candidate faces delays. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Travelers returning to New Zealand will face stricter rules at quarantine hotels as health authorities investigate how up to three people got infected with the coronavirus while isolating at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.

The people were released before testing positive and were potentially contagious, but so far testing has shown no evidence the virus has spread in the community. New Zealand has managed to stamp out community transmission of the virus.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Thursday that as an interim measure, travelers would need to stay in their hotel rooms for the final days of their 14-day mandatory quarantine, and would also face stricter controls around leaving their rooms at other times.

Health authorities believe the three people at the hotel caught the virus from another returning traveler, who had the South African variant.

Meanwhile, Australia has extended its suspension on quarantine-free travel from New Zealand for another three days. Australia is requiring New Zealanders to quarantine for 14 days in hotels upon arrival.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

The Biden administration is projectingas many as 90,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks. The 27-nation EU is coming under criticism for the slow rollout of its vaccination campaign. AstraZeneca and EU to meet in Brussels to talk over vaccine production delays. U.S. boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages. IOC, Tokyo Olympics to unveil rule book for beating pandemic.

— 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:

BEIJING — China saw a slight drop in cases of domestic transmission, although clusters remain stubbornly persistent in the country’s frigid northeast.

The World Health Organization experts who have been in quarantine since their arrival in Wuhan two weeks ago are expected soon to conduct field visits as part of a worldwide investigation into the origins of the coronavirus that was first detected in the central Chinese industrial center in late 2019.

The National Health Commission said Thursday that 41 new cases of domestic transmission had been reported over the previous 24 hours, down from 55 on Wednesday 69 the day before.

A total of 1,820 people were in treatment for COVID-19 and another 988 being observed in observation after testing positive but displaying no symptoms of the virus. China has reported a total of 4,636 COVID-19 deaths from among 89,326.

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Note this version has been corrected with details on the WHO team’s quarantine.

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia will ban flights from Brazil effective Friday over concerns of a variant of the coronavirus that is circulating in that country.

Colombia President Ivan Duque on Wednesday announced the 30-day measure. No flights will take off from Colombia to Brazil either.

In addition, anyone who arrived from Brazil to Colombia between Jan. 18 and Wednesday will have to quarantine for 14 days.

The Brazil P.1 variant was first identified in four travelers who were tested at an airport outside Tokyo. It contains a set of mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.

Colombia has recorded more than 2 million cases and over 52,100 deaths of COVID-19.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama health officials said Wednesday that the more highly transmissible COVID-19 variant seen in the United Kingdom has been found in the state.

The Alabama Department of Public Health said the variant is thought to be more contagious. It is the first time the variant has been identified in the state, although it has been detected in at least 24 other states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.

The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom in late 2020.

Health officials said the variant was found in two children and one adult in Alabama. Two cases are in Montgomery County and one is in Jefferson.

This variant is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, but state health officials said it “has not definitively been linked to worse outcomes of the disease.”

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Health officials in New Mexico said Wednesday that schools may have to make do with aggressive virus testing and limited vaccinations for elderly teachers, if they want to begin reopening soon.

New Mexico Health Secretary Tracie Collins said that schools can find some safety assurances by adding rapid-result tests that look for COVID-19 proteins, called antigens.

“Regarding schools reopening, you know we’re going to prioritize teachers getting a vaccine who are 75 and older,” Collins told a panel of state legislators Wednesday. “As far as the testing piece, we do have options for rapid antigen testing that we can combine. … We’ve got some things we can do to reopen these schools with a little more security behind us.”

She and Human Services Secretary David Scrase say the vaccine bottleneck is at the federal level in the supply chain, as local hospitals clamor for doses to inject at mass inoculation clinics.

“All schools can still open but if you’re in what we’re calling a red county, you would be tested much more often than you would in a yellow or green,” Scrase said, referring to color codes for infection rates.

New Mexico’s governor announced this week that all schools have the option to reopen classroom teaching on Feb. 8. The vast majority of students are confined to online learning currently.

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TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister says the President of the European Commission has reassured him any vaccine export controls the EU enacts won’t impact shipments of Canada’s doses from Europe.

Trudeau says he spoke to EU President Ursula von der Leyen who he says told him transparency measures taken by the EU will not affect Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccine deliveries from Europe.

The EU has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, and warned pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule. All of Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come from Europe.

Canada isn’t getting any deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine made in Europe this week, shipments are set to resume next week.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health will receive an approximately 16% increase in coronavirus vaccine per week during the next three weeks, deputy state health commissioner Keith Reed said Tuesday.

The announcement comes on the same day the health department reported a new one-day record of 65 deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

The increase in vaccines is in line with President Joe Biden’s announcement that the U.S. is ramping up deliveries of the vaccine to provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall. Oklahoma expects to receive just more than 103,000 doses per week from the federal government, an increase from just under 85,000 last week, Reed said.

“This allows us to take a look at what’s going to happen the next three weeks, it helps us to understand how much vaccine supply we have that we can support bringing on some other pandemic providers,” such as local pharmacies, to provide vaccinations, Reed said.

The record increase of 65 deaths is three more than the previous one-day record reported on Jan. 6, according to health department records. The health department also reported 2,686 new virus cases Wednesday for totals of 3,388 deaths and 379,110 cases since the pandemic began.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday extended a trio of executive orders allowing for curbside alcohol sales, a halt to evictions and a requirement for people to remain at home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

North Carolina’s modified stay-at-home directive that was set to expire on Friday will now remain in place until Feb. 28, while the eviction moratorium and allowance for the sale of “to-go” or delivery of mixed beverages remains in place through March 31.

The Democratic governor’s extensions come as prominent state Republicans expressed their frustrations over a new coronavirus vaccine distribution strategy from Cooper’s administration that critics argue has prioritized speed over equity.

During a news conference, Cooper reiterated his desire to distribute the doses received by President Joe Biden’s administration quickly and equitably.

“The top priority in our state is getting vaccines to people as quickly and as equitably as possible,” Cooper said. “As of today, North Carolina has administered 99.8% of all the first doses that we have received from the federal government.”

Top Republican lawmakers on Wednesday signaled more scrutiny of the vaccine rollout.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters it makes no sense why state officials couldn’t distribute doses to ensure vaccine appointments occur as scheduled. Instead, Berger said, some older residents whose appointments were canceled may have to wait a month longer to obtain a shot.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan and the Washtenaw County Health Department asked students Wednesday to avoid leaving their residences to slow the spread of COVID-19 and a more contagious variant.

There have been 175 COVID-19 cases in the student population since the new semester started on Jan. 19 and 14 of those cases have been a variant, according to a news release from the Washtenaw County Health Department.

The stay-in-place recommendation is effective immediately and will run through Feb. 7. The university and county health department are asking students to limit leaving their residence to going to classes, getting food, work and other necessary in-person activities.

The health department said in the news release that if the case counts continues to rise, stricter measures will have to be applied.

The recommendation came just days after the state health department recommended the university pause all athletics after several individuals linked to athletics tested positive for COVID-19 and the university complied.

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin will become one of only 10 states without statewide mask mandates if the Assembly votes as scheduled Thursday to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ order, but masks will still be required in some of its largest cities thanks to local ordinances.

More than two dozen public health organizations, as well as state and local health officials, have urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to reconsider the scheduled vote. Wearing masks is one of the pillars of recommendations from health experts worldwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, along with physically distancing and avoiding crowds.

The move comes as Wisconsin lags in distribution of coronavirus vaccines, health officials warn about the spread of contagious new variants and total deaths due to COVID-19 near 6,000.

Republican lawmakers contend that Evers exceeded his authority by issuing multiple health emergencies, and mask orders, rather than coming to the Legislature for approval every 60 days.

TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the President of the European Commission has reassured him any vaccine export controls the EU enacts won’t impact shipments of Canada’s doses from Europe.

Trudeau says he spoke to EU President Ursula von der Leyen who he says told him transparency measures taken by the EU will not affect Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccine deliveries from Europe.

The EU has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, and warned pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule. All of Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come from Europe.

Canada isn’t getting any deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine made in Europe this week, shipments are set to resume next week.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman said Wednesday that the state plans to divert thousands of unused doses of coronavirus vaccine from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to other state-enrolled vaccinators in Missouri to help the slower-than-expected vaccination process.

Spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the administration has requested the return of 25,000 doses from CVS and Walgreens, which would then be re-routed to county health departments, medical hospitals and clinics and hundreds of other state-approved vaccinators.

CVS and Walgreens were tasked with providing vaccinations at long-term care facilities under a Trump administration plan unveiled in December. Jones said Missouri’s new plan won’t affect shots for workers and residents at those facilities that have been ravaged by COVID-19.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is projecting as many as 90,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks.

That warning came Wednesday as the administration held its first televised science briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic. In the briefing, experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of vaccines.

The administration is examining additional ways of speeding vaccine production, a day after President Joe Biden announced the U.S. plans to have delivered enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of summer.

Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says there’s concern about virus variants. But he says vaccines provide a “cushion” of effectiveness, adding the government was working with pharmaceutical companies on potential “booster” shots for the new variants.

The Biden administration is asking citizens to recommit to social distancing measures and mask-wearing, pointing to scientific models that suggest those practices could save 50,000 lives over the coming months.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that the coronavirus lockdown in England will remain in place until at least March 8.

In a statement to lawmakers, Johnson also confirmed new restrictions for travelers arriving in England from countries deemed to be high-risk. He says the U.K. remains in a “perilous situation” with more than 37,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, nearly double the number during the previous peak in April.

While dashing any hopes that students would return to classrooms after a mid-February school break, Johnson says the March 8 aspiration is based on progress on the vaccination front.

On Tuesday, the U.K. became the fifth country to record more than 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is preparing to roll out its first vaccines to the country’s frontline health care workers.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says a delivery of 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to arrive at Johannesburg’s international airport on Monday. There are plans for shots to be given to doctors and nurses starting in mid-February. Mkhize says South Africa intends to vaccinate 67% of its 60 million people in 2021, starting with the most vulnerable health care workers.

South Africa has 1.4 million confirmed cases and 41,797 deaths, representing about 40% of the cases reported by all of Africa’s 54 countries.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has reported a new one-day record of 65 deaths from COVID-19.

The previous one-day record of 62 was reported Jan. 6, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The department also reported 2,686 new cases Wednesday for totals of 3,388 confirmed deaths and 379,110 cases since the start of the pandemic.

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NEW ORLEANS — Coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings are easing a bit in New Orleans, but bars in the city will stay closed through the Mardi Gras season. City officials say a ban on public events will be eased Friday. Indoor gatherings of up to 10 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed. Capacity limits on restaurants — and bars that provide restaurant food service — will go from 25% to 50%.

Also, New Orleans education officials said students in kindergarten through eighth grade will begin returning to class on Monday. Most high school students will continue online learning until later in February.

The easing of restrictions comes as local authorities report that the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has dropped below 5%. Statewide hospitalization numbers also have been falling in recent weeks.

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

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