The Latest: French doctors: Don’t talk on public transport

PARIS — French doctors have new advice to slow the spread of the virus: stop talking on public transport.

The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance Friday saying people should “avoid talking or making phone calls” in subways, buses or anywhere in public where social distancing isn’t possible. Masks have been required since May, but travelers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone.

Other French experts are urging more dramatic measures – notably a third lockdown.

France’s hospitals now hold more COVID patients than in October, when President Emmanuel Macron imposed a second lockdown. Virus patients occupy more than half of the country’s intensive care beds.

Infections in France are gradually rising this month, at more than 20,000 per day. France currently has the longest virus curfew in Europe, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and restaurants and tourist sites have been closed since October.

The government has so far sought to avoid a full new lockdown. Protests are expected around France on Saturday against virus-related layoffs and to support those arrested for holding a techno rave party despite virus restrictions.

France has seen 72,647 virus-related deaths.



— UK doctors urge government to review policy of delaying 2nd virus vaccine shot for 12 weeks

— Life in the Chinese city of Wuhan back to normal a year after deadly pandemic erupted there.

— Dr. Fauci says a lack of candor about the coronavirus pandemic under President Donald Trump “very likely” cost lives.

— Japan is publicly adamant it will stage the postponed Olympics, but faces vaccine roadblocks.

— Brazil awaits vaccine cargo from India amid supply concerns. ___

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LONDON — Britain’s main doctors’ organization says it is concerned about the U.K.’s decision to give people a second dose of coronavirus vaccine up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than the shorter gap recommended by manufacturers and the World Health Organization.

The U.K., which has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, adopted the policy in order to give as many people a first dose of the vaccine as quickly as possible. So far almost 5.5 million people have received a first dose of either a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech or one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

AstraZeneca has said it believes a dose of its vaccine offers protection after 12 weeks, but Pfizer says it has not tested the efficacy of its jab after such a long gap.

The British Medical Association urged England’s chief medical officer to “urgently review” the policy for the Pfizer vaccine. It says there was “growing concern from the medical profession regarding the delay of the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the U.K.’s strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.”

Pfizer says its second dose should take place 21 days after the first. The World Health Organization says the second shots of coronavirus vaccines can been given up to six weeks after the first.


HONG KONG — Thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down in their homes Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the city.

Authorities said 16 buildings in the city’s Yau Tsim Mong district would be locked down until all residents were tested. Residents would not be allowed to leave their homes until they received test results.

“Persons subject to compulsory testing are required to stay in their premises until all such persons identified in the area have undergone testing and the test results are mostly ascertained,” the government statement said.

The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, were expected to end within 48 hours, the government said.

Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. Over 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40% of the city’s total.


WUHAN, CHINA — A year ago, a notice sent to smartphones in Wuhan at 2 a.m. announced the world’s first coronavirus lockdown, bringing the bustling central Chinese industrial and transport center to a virtual standstill almost overnight. It would last 76 days.

Early Saturday morning, however, residents of the city where the virus was first detected were jogging and practicing tai chi in a fog-shrouded park beside the mighty Yangtze River.

Life has largely returned to normal in the city of 11 million, even as the rest of the world grapples with the spread of the virus’ more contagious variants. The scourge has killed more than 2.1 million people worldwide.

Traffic was light in Wuhan but there was no sign of the barriers that a year ago isolated neighborhoods and confined people to their housing compounds and even apartments.

Wuhan accounted for the bulk of China’s 4,635 deaths from COVID-19, a number that has largely stayed static for months. The city has been largely free of further outbreaks since the lockdown was lifted on April 8, but questions persist as to where the virus originated and whether Wuhan and Chinese authorities acted fast enough and with sufficient transparency to allow the world to prepare for a pandemic.


PHOENIX — Health officials say the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona are declining despite the state having the worst infection rate in the country.

Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday that the number of patients and even the positivity test rate have dipped slightly in the last few weeks.

It was the one bright spot of news as Arizona reached a grim milestone with a pandemic death toll of more than 12,000.

That puts COVID-19 on track to eclipse heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the state.

The Department of Health Services on Friday reported 8,099 additional known cases and 229 additional deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 708,041 cases and 12,001 deaths. One person in every 141 Arizona residents was diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week.


BOISE, Idaho — Limited coronavirus vaccine availability, confusion over which Idaho residents should be vaccinated first and rumors of line-jumpers are all complicating the state’s vaccine rollout.

Members of Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee met Friday to help clarify exactly who should have first dibs on the state’s doses.

Sarah Leeds with the Idaho Immunization Program says the demand is far higher than the doses available. So far, the federal government has distributed more than 178,000 doses to Idaho. That’s a rate of about 9,970 doses for every 100,000 residents, putting Idaho near the bottom compared to the allotment given other states.

Currently, front-line health care workers, nursing home staffers, dentists, pharmacists and other medical-field staffers are eligible to be vaccinated in Idaho, as can child care workers, teachers and staffers at primary and secondary schools and correctional center staffers.

But the people who are charged with giving out the vaccine — local health departments, pharmacies and medical care providers — have different interpretations of exactly who is included in each category.


RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services says some 1,280 of its coronavirus vaccine doses have been discarded for various reasons.

“Only 0.1% (or 1,280) of the 1.1 million doses which have entered the state thus far have become unusable for any reason and we have not received reports of significant batches being lost,” the department said in a statement to The Associated Press.

On Thursday, the state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, had estimated the waste to be “in the tens of doses.”

Doses being administered at county health departments, clinics, hospitals and other places could be tossed out due to a vaccine being stored too long in a freezer or not being administered in a timely manner once it has been taken out of a freezer.

The health department said providers are using low dead-volume syringes are designed to maximize the amount of doses it can get out one multi-dose vial.

North Carolina expects to continue getting about 120,000 new first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each week.


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is reporting a one-day record of 764 COVID-19 deaths but the rate of new infections is falling.

The deaths reported Friday by the California Department of Public Health top the previous mark of 708 set on Jan. 8. In the last two days California has recorded 1,335 deaths.

Hospitalizations and newly confirmed cases have been falling, however, and health officials are growing more optimistic that the worst of the latest surge is over.

The 23,024 new cases reported Friday are less than half the mid-December peak of nearly 54,000. Hospitalizations have fallen below 20,000, a drop of more than 10% in two weeks.


PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown on Friday defended her decision to reject federal guidelines and prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine before the elderly, stating that if all of Oregon’s seniors were vaccinated first teachers would likely not be vaccinated before the school year and many students would not return to in-person learning.

In officials from the Oregon Health Authority presented a new vaccination timeline that delays the eligibility for seniors 65 to 69 years old to be vaccinated until March 7 and those 70 to 74 pushed back to Feb. 28.

Last week, Oregon officials announced a change to the vaccine distribution — instead of vaccinating teachers and seniors at the same time, teachers would be vaccinated beginning Jan. 25 and people 80 or older beginning Feb. 8.


SAO PAULO — Sao Paulo state, which has posted the greatest number of COVID-19 deaths of any Brazilian state, has tightened its restrictions on activity until Feb. 7 with the 8 p.m. closure of non-essential businesses.

The reopening of schools, previously planned for Feb. 1, was postponed by a week.

Health authorities also announced local hospitals could run out of intensive-care beds in 28 days, which forced them to reassign 1,000 beds for COVID-19 patients.

Sao Paulo state is home to 46 million people, and has recorded almost 51,000 deaths from the virus —almost one fourth of the total in Brazil, where cases and deaths of coronavirus are surging again.

Also on Friday, Brazil’s health regulator authorized the emergency use of 4.8 million of China’s CoronaVac vaccines bottled by Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute. Six million shots were previously made available by Butantan, and another 2 million Oxford-AstraZeneca shots are expected to arrive from India on Friday.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s state health officer said a low supply of vaccine is the largest hindrance to getting people vaccinated for COVID-19.

Alabama health officials were expecting to get more than 112,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses a week based on conversations with federal officials when Operation Ward Speed began last year. Instead, officials said, the state is getting about 50,000 to 60,000 doses a week.

Dr. Scott Harris said federal officials later said the 112,000 figure was not a promise but a figure that the state should use in its planning.

Alabama has approved more than 883 pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other providers to do vaccinations but only 364 have received any vaccine. He said only about 117 providers will get vaccine this week because of the limited available supply.


WASHINGTON — White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about a potential pause in vaccinations in New York, where the state is reporting a shortage in vaccines available for first doses.

Psaki says the White House has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “look into what is possible” to address the situation in New York. But she stressed the administration will defer to the judgment of medical experts.

“Clearly we don’t want any states to run out of access to vaccines,” Psaki says, adding the Biden administration aims to avoid supply crunches going forward.


LONDON — AstraZeneca says it will ship fewer doses of its coronavirus vaccine to the European Union than anticipated due to supply chain problems.

The company is waiting for the European Medicines Agency to approve its vaccine, which could happen when the EU regulator meets on Jan. 29.

AstraZeneca’s statement said “initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.”

It adds: “We will be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes.”

Regulators in Britain, India and several other countries have already given the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine the green light.


WASHINGTON — New research finds full doses of blood thinners such as heparin can help moderately ill hospitalized COVID-19 patients avoid the need for breathing machines or other organ support.

The preliminary results come from three large, international studies testing various coronavirus treatments and haven’t yet been published. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and other sponsors released the results Friday to help doctors decide on appropriate care.

Nearly all hospitalized COVID-19 patients currently get low doses of a blood thinner to try to prevent clots from forming.

The new results show that “when we give higher doses of blood thinners to patients who are not already critically ill, there is a significant benefit in preventing them from getting sicker,” said Dr. Matthew Neal, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and one study leader.

However, the researchers say these drugs don’t help and may harm people who are more seriously ill.

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