US joins countries with WHO study concerns

By The Associated Press undefined
GENEVA — The United States and more than a dozen other countries are expressing concerns about a World Health Organization study into the possible origins of the coronavirus in China, pointing to delays and a lack of access to samples and data.
A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 published Tuesday says transmission of the coronavirus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and a lab leak is “extremely unlikely.”
It called for further study, and the WHO chief has said all hypotheses remain open.
After the study’s release, the State Department said 14 countries were calling for “momentum” for a second-phase look by experts and pointed to the need for further animal studies “to find the means of introduction into humans” of the coronavirus.
The countries expressed support for WHO’s experts and staff, citing their “tireless” work toward ending the pandemic and understanding its origins to help prevent a future one. But they said the study had been “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”
Critics say China’s government it took too long to allow a WHO-convened team of experts into the country earlier this year.
The State Department said Australia, Britain, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovenia and South Korea released the joint statement.
— WHO team: Patience, more studies needed of coronavirus origin
— More than a dozen US states to open up vaccinations to all adults
— German leaders meet as some halt AstraZeneca for under age 60
— US states struggle to get rent relief to tenants amid pandemic
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at, and
NEW YORK — Concerned about a wave of evictions, states announced plans last year to get millions of dollars into the hands of cash-strapped tenants.
So far, the results are mixed. Many tenants were helped through the more than $3 billion in federal coronavirus relief. Yet housing advocates say many programs fell far short of their goals. Some were overwhelmed by demand and others were undermined by burdensome criteria that denied needy renters. Last year, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas were among the states that struggled to distribute rental assistance.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in July that New York would spend $100 million in federal coronavirus relief to help cash-strapped tenants pay months of back rent and avert evictions.
By the end of October, the state had doled out about $40 million, reaching only 15,000 of the nearly 100,000 people looking for help. More than 57,000 applicants were denied because of criteria set by New York lawmakers that many say was difficult to meet.
That included tenants showing they were paying over 30% of their income toward rent. Applicants also had to show a loss of income from April to the end of July, when some saw an increase from extended unemployment and other benefits.
New York has since expanded the program’s eligibility and will reconsider applicants who were initially denied.
TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Pfizer has moved up its vaccine delivery schedule so Canada will receive 5 million more doses in June.
Trudeau expects every adult who wants a vaccine to get one by the end of June. The prime minister says Canada’s vaccine procurement has been heavily weighted toward getting Pfizer and Moderna doses.
On Monday, Canada suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under age 55 following concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots.
Trudeau says Canada is getting a million Pfizer vaccines every week over the next two months and the number will rise to 2 million a week for the month of June.
Canada doesn’t have domestic production and gets its Pfizer and Moderna doses from Europe. Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada will start getting Johnson & Johnson vaccines by the end of April.
PHOENIX — Arizona’s confirmed death toll from the coronavirus outbreak is approaching 17,000.
The state on Tuesday reported 586 cases and 23 more deaths, increasing the pandemic totals to 841,078 cases and 16,941 confirmed deaths.
Arizona’s death toll ranks 13th among the states by total deaths and sixth among the states in deaths per 100,000 population, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
The COVID-related hospitalizations dropped to 549 on Monday, far below the pandemic record of 5,082 on Jan. 11, according to the state’s pandemic dashboard.
Nearly 2.1 million people, 29.1% of the state’s population, have received at least one dose. Almost 1.3 million are fully vaccinated.
TIRANA, Albania — Albania has involved the military medical personnel to help in a mass inoculation campaign ahead of the summer tourism season.
Albania acquired 192,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine Sinovac after Prime Minister Edi Rama’s visit to Turkey last week. Albania has administered 10,000-20,000 inoculations a day since last weekend, aiming to reach half a million by June.
Forty military doctors and nurses have been assisting to make the shots available to people older than 70, according to Defense Minister Niko Peleshi.
Albania, which as a population of 2.8 million, has signed contracts for a total of 2.5 million vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinovac. It is working on securing new vaccine contracts to fully inoculate the population by spring 2022.
Albania has registered nearly 125,000 coronavirus cases and 2,227 confirmed deaths, according to health authorities.
GENEVA — Members of an international team that wrote a study into the origins of COVID-19 with Chinese colleagues say it is only a “first start” and more needs to be done.
They appealed for patience as reams of information continues to pour in. The team emphasized that hypotheses, including a possible laboratory leak theory, cannot be fully ruled out.
Team leader Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization says its members remain “open-minded” as it formally presented its long-awaited first-phase look into the possible outbreak the coronavirus. The virus has left nearly 2.8 million people dead and damaged economies and livelihoods since it first emerged in China.
Ben Embarek says international team members faced political pressure from “all sides,” but insisted “We were never pressured to remove critical elements in our report.” He also pointed to “privacy” issues in China that prevented sharing of some data, saying such restrictions would exist in many countries.
Joined by several other members of the 17-member international team for a news conference, Ben Embarek says, “where we did not have full access to all the raw data we wanted, that has been put as a recommendation for the future studies.”
Ben Embarek says it was difficult to know when — if at all — the exact origin of the pandemic will come to light. He says one hypothesis, pushed hard by the Trump administration, that the virus may have leaked from a laboratory wasn’t likely, but “not impossible” either.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian authorities say more than 1 million people in the Balkan country have been fully vaccinated.
The state Serbian RTS television is quoting the government as saying the threshold was reached on Tuesday. It was not clear how many more people have received only the first dose.
The country of 7 million people has had vaccination drives, primarily with Sinopharm vaccines, followed by Pfizer, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca.
Last weekend, Serbia vaccinated some 22,000 people from the Western Balkan region as most other nations face shortages and late starts of their vaccination programs.
However, Serbia is facing a surge in new infections and hospitalizations. More than 5,000 people have tested positive in the past 24 hours and 39 have died.
Nearly 600,000 cases and more than 5,270 deaths have been reported since the start of the pandemic.
NEW YORK — More than a dozen states will open vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of COVID-19 shots for tens of millions of Americans amid an increase in coronavirus cases.
States opening eligibility to anyone ages 16 and older on Monday included Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Ohio, North Dakota and Kansas.
Meanwhile, the director of the CDC warned of another wave of infections after cases in the U.S. rose 10% over the last week. Several Northeastern states and Michigan have seen the biggest increases, with some reporting hundreds or thousands more new cases per day than two weeks ago.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York state residents over 30 are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, and everyone over 16 will be eligible starting April 6.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A senior leader of Pakistan’s ruling party says the country’s prime minister Imran Khan has “fully recovered” 10 days after he tested positive for coronavirus.
Faisal Javed, an aide to Khan, took to Twitter to say the prime minister has gradually resumed his official work and was building up his work routine as per doctors’ advice. Javed says Khan tested positive on March 20.
Khan in a recent video message acknowledged he tested positive for coronavirus because he didn’t adhere to social distancing rules in recent weeks. On Monday, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi also tested positive.
Asad Omar, a cabinet minister who oversees Pakistan’s response to coronavirus, says his country will import in bulk the CanSino Biologics vaccines from China for packaging 3 million doses in Pakistan.
Pakistan reported 100 deaths from COVID-19 in the last day, its highest single-day toll since December.
Pakistan has reported 663,200 confirmed cases and 14,356 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
CONCORD, N.H — New Hampshire is getting nearly $30.7 million in additional federal money to support COVID-19 vaccines to correct a CDC formula that previously shortchanged small states.
U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan say the money is coming from the December federal aid package, as well as the latest one, known as the American Rescue Plan.
The amount includes an installment Tuesday of more than $12.7 million through the December funding package, and nearly $18 million will arrive through subsequent installments starting in April.
In total, the state will have received nearly $43 million to boost vaccinations, Shaheen and Hassan, both Democrats, said in a statement.
The funding comes in addition to $40.9 million in school-focused vaccination funding from the current plan.
ROME — Italy has imposed a five-day quarantine on people entering from other EU countries in a bid to deter Easter getaways and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza says he signed the new ordinance Tuesday. It requires a virus test before arriving in Italy, five days of quarantine once here and another virus test to get out of quarantine for anyone entering Italy from the EU.
Lobby groups, including those representing tour operators, had cheered the now-closed loophole that allowed Italians to travel to low-risk countries for pleasure.
Italy has long required quarantine for people arriving from non-EU countries, though exceptions abound, including for residents returning from short work trips and those flying on flights with tests at departure and arrival.
MADRID — Spain has tweaked its mask-wearing policy to make them mandatory in all outdoor activities, including exercise, swimming pools or beaches.
Masks were already mandatory in all public spaces, including outdoors, when a distance of less than 1.5 meters (5 feet) couldn’t be kept between people.
The official gazette published on Tuesday a national order that eliminates the social distancing exception starting on Wednesday.
Coronavirus cases are again on the rise, leading to concerns the country could be facing the fourth major COVID-19 resurgence since the pandemic began at a time when Spain is trying to speed up vaccination of its adult population.
The Health Ministry recorded 149 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days on Monday. That’s up from 129 cases per 100,000 a week ago.
LONDON — More than 20 heads of government and global agencies have called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations.
But there are few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders who included British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Premier Mario Draghi and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda called for, in a commentary published Tuesday, “a renewed collective commitment” to pandemic preparedness and response that would be rooted in WHO’s constitution.
“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,” Tedros said during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide “a framework for international cooperation and solidarity” and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks.
However, International regulations governing health and implemented by WHO already exist and can be disregarded by countries with few consequences. China, Russia and the United States didn’t join in signing the statement.
HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese court has sentenced a flight attendant to two years of probation for violating COVID-19 quarantine rules and spreading the virus to others, becoming the first person in the country to stand trial for such offenses.
State media reported the flight attendant was found guilty Tuesday of the charges for leaving his home during a mandatory home quarantine after he returned from a trip to Japan while working for the national carrier Vietnam Airlines.
At least three people associating with Hau, including the teacher, later tested positive for the virus, the newspaper said. The outbreak led several schools to temporarily close and more than 2,200 people in the chain of contact were told to quarantine and practice social distancing.
Vietnam has reported 2,594 confirmed coronavirus cases and 35 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
BERLIN — The German state of Berlin is again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for people under 60 due to reports of blood clots.
Berlin’s top health official Dilek Kalayci says the decision was taken as a precaution after the country’s medical regulator announced 31 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received the vaccine. Nine of the people died.
The Paul Ehrlich Institute says all but two of the cases involved women ages 20 to 63. Reports of an unusual form of blood clot known as sinus vein thrombosis prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month.
Some 2.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in Germany so far.