SEOUL, South Korea -- Isolated North Korea is warning its people to brace for a prolonged struggle against the coronavirus, claiming that broadening outbreaks and muddled immunization programs in other countries show vaccines aren’t the ultimate solution.
The column published on Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper came amid questions on when and how vaccines would arrive in North Korea.
The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million vaccine doses in the first half of this year. However, COVAX has since warned of global shortages because the Serum Institute of India, which is licensed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, is putting its supplies into domestic demand while India’s virus caseload is surging.
The North has claimed a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, but outside experts have doubted the claim, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.
Rodong took an apparent shot at India’s anti-virus campaign without naming the country. It said a certain nation that had “exported vaccines it produced while publicly insisting that it considers the evil virus as defeated,” was now experiencing an explosive growth in infections driven by more contagious virus variants after it had eased social distancing.
“The cases of other countries provide further proof that vaccines aren’t an all-around solution,” the newspaper wrote.
The North has told the World Health Organization it found no infection among 24,500 people it tested through mid-April. North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilized health workers.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Russia lags behind others in its COVID-19 vaccination drive
— Russia is turning to multiple Chinese firms to manufacture Sputnik vaccine as demand soars
— Residents in Madrid vote Tuesday for a new regional assembly in an election that tests people’s resistance to lockdown measures
— Nurses wearied by pandemic duty incensed by request to help at Tokyo Olympics
— 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:
CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian prime minister said on Tuesday he is confident that flights from India will resume after May 15 following a temporary ban on air traffic due to the COVID-19 risk.
Australians who have been in India within 14 days face a potential five-year prison sentence and 66,000 Australian dollar ($51,000) fine under the Biosecurity Act if they return home during the travel pause that was announced a week ago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine Network television: “I’m confident we’ll be in a position to start resuming those repatriation flights and getting people home safely” by May 15.
Former Australian cricketer and commentator Michael Slater told Morrison through social media that the prime minister had “blood on your hands” because of the pause in travel from India.
Morrison dismissed Slater’s post as “obviously absurd.” The pause was to reduce pressure on Australia’s system of hotel quarantine for returned travelers, Morrison said.
OLYMPIA, Wash. - More people will be allowed at indoor and outdoor spectator events and indoor religious services if there are designated COVID-19 vaccination sections, under new guidance issued by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Monday.
The change — which takes effect immediately — affects capacity at sporting events, graduations and other events for counties in the second and third phases of the state’s economic reopening plan.
A vaccination card or other documentation that proves vaccination status will be needed for access to vaccination sections.
While previously there were only limited circumstances where spectator events were allowed to reach 50% capacity, under the new guidance, outdoor facilities may add vaccinated sections until their total capacity —including vaccinated and unvaccinated sections — is at 50% or 22,000 people, whichever is lower. There can be no more than 9,000 unvaccinated people at the outdoor event.
For indoor facilities, vaccinated sections can also be added until their total capacity is 50% maximum, though the maximum number must not exceed 2,000 people, and the number indoor unvaccinated spectators varies depending on the size of the room and what phase of the state’s economic opening plan a county is in.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Declaring the COVID-19 pandemic “absolutely” managed despite lagging vaccinations, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Monday she will end a state health order meant to guard against the spread of an illness that has killed nearly 11,000 people statewide.
Citing improved infection rates, fewer hospitalizations and more widespread immunizations, Ivey said the current health order recommending that people follow health recommendations and requiring some precautions for senior citizens and long-term care facilities will end on May 31.
A state of emergency declared because of the health threat will end July 6, she said in a statement.
“For over a year now, Alabamians, like people around the globe, have made sacrifices and adjusted to a temporary ‘new normal.’ We have learned much since last year, and this is absolutely now a managed pandemic. Our infection rates and hospitalizations are in better shape, and over 1.5 million Alabamians have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Ivey said.
Deaths have declined sharply across the United States in recent weeks, and Alabama has followed the trend. Hospitalizations across the state are roughly 10% of what they were in mid-January when the situation was at its most dire.
LOS ANGELES — No coronavirus-related deaths were reported to the Los Angeles County public health department on Sunday and Monday – a hopeful but artificial marker in the pandemic that ravaged the nation’s largest county.
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said the figures reflect a delay in reporting over the weekend. Sundays and Mondays traditionally have the lowest number of reported deaths but officials need to look back at the exact dates of death to determine if the county actually hit zero fatalities. Ferrer said the county has been averaging four to five deaths daily. She said Monday during a briefing that she hopes the county will soon hit an actual day of zero deaths.
“I think we’re close to getting there,” she said. “I hope we’re close to getting there.”
There have been 23,914 total deaths in LA County throughout the pandemic.
Ferrer said that vaccinations dropped about 24% last week from the week before. Between April 17 and April 23, there were more than 611,000 doses administered. Last week, only 467,000 shots were given out. About 37% of the county’s eligible population has had a shot.
Ferrer said she expects the county to move into the yellow tier on Wednesday and a new health order could go into effect on Thursday, increasing capacity at events and venues county-wide. Bars would also be allowed to open indoors and provide services at a 25% capacity under the yellow tier.
PHOENIX — Jobless people in Arizona will again be required to show they’re looking for work in order to receive unemployment benefits after Gov. Doug Ducey announced Monday he will stop waiving the job-seeking requirements.
He waived the mandate in March 2020 when some businesses were ordered to close to slow the spread of COVID-19. Ducey says it’s time to reinstate the job-seeking mandate because all adults now have access to the COVID-19 vaccine and there are plenty of jobs available.
Authorities on Monday reported 652 additional COVID-19 cases in Arizona and no additional deaths from the virus.
Over 2.9 million residents have received at least one shot with almost 2.3 million people fully vaccinated.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities in Sri Lanka have imposed tough restrictions including banning public gatherings, weddings, parties and limiting the number of attendees at funerals and restaurants as the latest move to contain the spreading of the COVID-19.
Health officials have warned that the next three weeks are crucial for Sri Lanka as the number of positive cases are rapidly increasing.
Additionally, authorities have closed schools until further notice — and supermarkets and shopping complexes will allow only a maximum of 25% of the total number of customers that could be accommodated in the space available at a given time.
Health officials have warned that the confirmed cases could go up rapidly in the next three weeks because of the celebrations and shopping by people during the traditional new year festival that fell on April 14.
Sri Lanka’s total number of positive cases has reached 111,753 with 696 fatalities.
PRAGUE — The Czechs will be able to breathe freely as the government is further easing coronavirus restrictions amid new infections’ decline in one of the hardest-hit European countries.
Starting next Monday, people in the Czech Republic will be allowed to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces if they stay at least two meters from other people.
At the same time, car dealerships, tanning salons, shooting ranges, travel agencies, shoe repairs, tattoo parlors and many other services will get back to business the same day.
The government previously decided to reopen all stores that date.
The nation of 10.7 million had 1.63 million confirmed cases with 29,365 deaths.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization is set to decide this week whether to approve two Chinese vaccines for emergency use against COVID-19, a top WHO official says.
Such an approval would mark the first time that a Chinese vaccine had ever been granted a so-called emergency use listing from the U.N. health agency, and would trigger a broader rollout of Chinese vaccines that are already being used in some countries other than China.
Mariangela Simao, assistant director-general for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, says some “final arrangements” remain to be made before the crucial word from a WHO technical advisory group comes on the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.
“We expect that we’ll have both decisions by the end of this week,” she said.
WHO has said it expects a decision on the Sinopharm vaccine to come first, and Sinovac afterward.
“We know that some countries depend on this decision to proceed with their vaccination,” Simao said.
NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City’s subway will begin rolling all night again and capacity restrictions for most types of businesses will end statewide in mid-May as COVID-19 infection rates continues to decline.
Cuomo announced last week that the subways would close from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so trains and stations could be disinfected. The change was also intended to make it easier to remove homeless people from trains where many had been spending the night.
The overnight closure was scaled back to 2 to 4 a.m. in February.
BOSTON — Massachusetts plans on closing four of its seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach to reach the roughly 30% of the state’s eligible population that has not yet received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday.
The state will instead send more doses to 22 smaller regional sites, expand mobile vaccination efforts, and bring vaccine clinics to senior centers, YMCAs, houses of worship and other community sites, the Republican governor said.
While there has been some hesitancy among people who have not yet been vaccinated, more often that not, it’s a matter of convenience, Baker said, and he wants to make it as easy as possible to get a shot. The state can change it focus because it is on target to reach its goal of getting more than 4 million people vaccinated by the end of May.
GENEVA — Top scientists at the World Health Organization are highlighting signs that vaccination against COVID-19 is reducing transmission, and that vaccination of about half of a country’s population is followed by “significant reductions” in cases.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said such evidence about coverage rates has turned up even as a colleague bemoaned how countries that have not had access to vaccines are trailing behind -- and are facing growing rates of hospitalization.
WHO has repeatedly expressed concerns about a lack of equity in access to vaccines -- with many rich countries able to obtain them, and many poorer countries getting few doses or none.
Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 at WHO, also pointed to some “hopeful signs that vaccination is also reducing transmission” -- even if studies into the matter are not completed.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa received its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine when 325,260 doses arrived at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, officials confirmed Monday.
A sample of the doses will be tested for quality control before they are distributed around the country. Several more deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive in the coming weeks as South Africa expects nearly 4.5 million doses of the vaccine by the end of June and it expects 30 million doses by the end of the year.
South Africa is also expecting delivery of 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for its mass vaccination campaign which aims to inoculate 40 million of South Africa’s population of 60 million people by February 2022.
So far South Africa has inoculated just over 317,000 of its 1.2 million health care workers. South Africa has by far the most cases and deaths of COVID-19 in all of Africa. South Africa has a cumulative total of more than 1.58 million confirmed cases, including more than 54,000 deaths, representing more than Africa’s 4.5 million reported cases, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention South Africa.
MILAN — Medical experts and politicians expressed concern Monday about a possible spike in virus contagion after thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main Piazza Duomo after Inter Milan claimed the Serie A title for the first time since 2010.
A crowd estimated at up to 30,000 people gathered in the heart of Milan Sunday, chanting and singing, setting off flares and fireworks, just a week after six months of virus restrictions began lifting in much of Italy. Many wore masks, but they were pulled down below their noses.
The head of Italy’s national health council, Franco Locatelli, told SKY TG24 that such scenes need to be avoided during a pandemic that has claimed 121,000 dead in Italy.
Virologists expressed concern of a possible spike in two weeks, adding hopes that the vaccine campaign that has covered most over-70s will protect those most vulnerable to serious consequences of the virus.
Regional officials said it was impossible to control a crowd of that size while the province’s top law enforcement official said they considered closing the large piazza but did not due to safety concerns of moving the crowd into smaller spaces with fewer exit points.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.