By The Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is stopping flights to and from the United Kingdom from Saturday, blaming a COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. for a devastating surge in new Portuguese cases.
The move comes a week after the British government halted flights to and from Portugal in an effort to prevent a variant found in Brazil from reaching the U.K. The Portuguese government labeled that decision “absurd.”
Portugal has the highest seven-day average rate in the world of new cases per 100,000 population and the highest rate of new deaths, according to data collated through Thursday by Johns Hopkins University.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa announced after a video summit of European Union leaders late Thursday that only repatriation flights for citizens wanting to return home would be allowed between Portugal and the U.K..
Tens of thousands of British people, often retirees, reside in Portugal, while hundreds of thousands of Portuguese have gone to work in Britain in recent years.
Portugal blames the rise on the appearance of a more contagious variant first identified in southeast England.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Lucky few hit COVID-19 vaccine jackpot for rare extra doses
— New Chinese film praises Wuhan ahead of lockdown anniversary
— Brazil awaits vaccine cargo from India amid supply concerns
— The leader of Canada’s most populous province says he isn’t buying the excuse from Pfizer about why Pfizer deferred all its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Canada next week.
— Public health experts are blaming COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.
— President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic says the United States will again fund the World Health Organization and join its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe. ___
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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — More than 50,000 people have died after contracting the coronavirus in Germany, a number that has risen swiftly over recent weeks even as infection figures are finally beginning to fall.
The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday that another 859 deaths were recorded over the past 24 hours, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 50,642.
Germany had a relatively small number of deaths in the pandemic’s first phase, but that has changed this winter. Hundreds of deaths, sometimes more than 1,000, have been reported daily in the country of 83 million people. Germany hit the 40,000 mark on Jan. 10.
Among other European countries, the U.K., Italy, France and Spain, all of which have smaller populations, still have higher death tolls.
And Germany, which is currently in a lockdown, is now seeing infections drop after they peaked in December. The Robert Koch Institute reported 17,862 new cases Friday — down from 22,368 a week ago. That brought Germany’s total so far to a bit over 2.1 million.
The number of new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days stood at 115.3, after reaching nearly 200 a month ago. It’s still well above the government’s target of a maximum 50.
BEIJING — Shanghai has imposed lockdowns on two of China’s best-known hospitals after they were linked to new coronavirus cases.
Outpatient services have been suspended at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center and Renji Hospital, both of which have been cordoned off along with some surrounding residential communities.
China now finds itself on guard against new clusters of coronavirus infections that have been emerging largely in the country’s frigid north.
Lockdowns have been imposed in parts of Beijing and other cities following outbreaks, schools are letting out early and citizens have been told to stay home for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
China hopes to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by the middle of February.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to wiggle out from its worst wave of the pandemic.
The 346 new cases reported Friday brought the national caseload to 74,262. There have been 1,328 deaths related to COVID-19.
Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The tougher rules were imposed to slow a virus surge that erased months of hard-won gains. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.
Daily infections have slowed to around 400 to 600 in recent weeks.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89% capacity in Mexico City, which is the current center of the pandemic in Mexico.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s top health officer says coronavirus vaccinations will be restricted for only state residents amid “extremely limited” supplies of vaccines.
In a two-page advisory, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees advises counties to prioritize available doses to Florida residents, including so-called snowbirds who reside in the state part-time. The advisory says people seeking vaccination must provide a driver’s license or other document, such as rental leases and utility bills.
Florida was one of the first states to open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over age 65.
So far, 41,000 of the 1.2 million people who have been vaccinated in the state were marked as out-of-state residents, but the data makes no distinction between visitors and “snowbirds.”
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky has reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths as the governor presses the federal government to provide the state with more vaccine.
Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday the state recorded 58 more coronavirus-related deaths, pushing the total for the pandemic above 3,300. He called it a “staggering” loss and said a U.S. flag will be placed on the statehouse grounds Friday for each Kentuckian who has died from the virus.
As Kentucky has ramped up its vaccination campaign, demand has outpaced supply. That prompted Beshear this week to ask the federal government to double the state’s vaccine allotment. He said Thursday: “You give it to us, we can get it in people’s arms.”
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says the federal government has given too much coronavirus vaccine to pharmacies, which are struggling to use all their doses quickly.
Cox has mandated that vaccine doses be used within seven days. He said Thursday that public health departments are nearly meeting that benchmark but pharmacies partnered with the federal government are far behind.
The governor says that “this is a problem across the country.”
One factor is billing private insurance, which will cover part of the cost of a vaccine but going through the process takes longer.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi has opened a drive-thru site for coronavirus vaccinations in the state capital, which officials hope will make shots more accessible to African-Americans, who have received the vaccine in much smaller numbers than whites.
The operation that opened Thursday at Smith-Wills Stadium is the first in the capital, and 19th drive-thru for the state. The Jackson area is the state’s most populous and has a Black majority.
The centers offer shots for health care workers, people 65 and older, and people who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. Vaccinations are also continuing at long-term care facilities.
The state health department says only 15% of vaccinations administered so far in Mississippi have been to Black residents, with around 70% going to white residents.
SEATTLE — Amazon says it will host a one-day vaccination drive in Seattle this weekend looking to inoculate as many as 2,000 people.
The tech giant said Thursday that it is partnering with Virginia Mason Medical Center for the effort Sunday.
Anyone eligible for the vaccine, including those over 65 years old and front-line health care workers, will be able to attend the pop-up clinic at Amazon’s South Lake Union campus after registering for a vaccine wait list on Virginia Mason’s website. Virginia Mason will provide the vaccine and volunteers and schedule people for their second shots before they leave.
Meanwhile, Washington state health officials say they are moving ahead with plans to open four mass vaccination sites next week despite logistical concerns that include questions about vaccine supply.
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Some of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems are warning people that there isn’t enough coronavirus vaccine in the state to meet surging demand.
Pennsylvania expanded eligibility for the vaccine this week to include people age 65 and over as well as younger people with serious health conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously been directing the vaccine to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Some 3.5 million people are now eligible to receive one of the two approved vaccines. But hospital officials said Thursday that the state’s weekly allotments are still extremely limited and there is no indication when the vaccine might begin arriving in sufficient quantity to allow them to increase the number of people getting shots.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi legislators are changing some of their work habits to try to avoid a repeat of last year’s coronavirus outbreak at the state Capitol when about four dozen lawmakers tested positive and a few were hospitalized.
In normal times, it’s common for lobbyists, journalists and state agency leaders to sit or stand shoulder to shoulder to watch legislators work during committee meetings. The goal now is to put more space between people.
Small rooms that crowd easily are now off-limits. And House and Senate leaders said Thursday that committees will conduct some business online starting next week.
Legislators will able to debate and vote on bills through a meeting app commonly used by businesses.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is back in the White House briefing room.
Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, was tasked by President Joe Biden to give an update on the coronavirus pandemic after largely being sidelined in recent months by former president Donald Trump.
Fauci said the new administration would “be completely open and honest” in dealing with the pandemic and, in an implicit rebuke to the Trump administration, said everything now would be “based on science and evidence.”
He also said in the Biden administration, the rule would be “if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess.”
Fauci, who repeatedly attacked by Trump for breaking with his rosy view of the pandemic, provided an update on the new, more contagious strains of the virus, which has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.
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