The Latest: New Zealand opens 1st big vaccination clinic
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has opened its first large vaccination clinic as it scales up efforts to protect people from the coronavirus.
The clinic in south Auckland will initially target household members of border workers. New Zealand has stamped out community spread of the virus and considers border workers and their families the most vulnerable to catching the disease from infectious travelers.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said that initially about 150 people a day will get vaccinated at the clinic, although the numbers will be rapidly increased. Health officials plan to open two more clinics in Auckland over the next few weeks.
“I know a lot of our old people are probably scared of getting the vaccine but getting it today, it doesn’t hurt, and it is important for everybody to get it,” said Denise Fogasavaii, the sister of an Air New Zealand employee who has already been vaccinated.
New Zealand this week announced it plans to use the Pfizer vaccine for all inoculations, and it hopes to complete its vaccination program by the end of the year.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
CDC: Fully-vaccinated people can gather without masks. The federal COVID bill will deliver big health insurance savings for many. Dutch prime minister extends country’s pandemic lockdown. — Vaccine rollout offers hope but also prompts envy, judgement and distrust. The long game: Coronavirus changed the way we play, watch, cheer.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is clearing the way for schools to reopen next month as vaccine eligibility is expanding to include shots for all teachers and other educators.
State education officials announced Monday that five-day a week in-class programs would be open to those who want them. Districts also will be required to provide virtual learning options for students who opt out.
As part of the vaccination effort, the state plans to get teachers their first shots by the end of March.
The state is making the move as part of a directive by the Biden administration. State officials have acknowledged that meeting the goal depends on the federal government increasing vaccine shipments.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials plan to start offering coronavirus vaccines Tuesday to workers in a wide range of essential industries, immediately making a vast majority of Oklahomans eligible to receive a vaccine.
Those eligible include child-care workers and students and employees at colleges, universities and vocational schools.
“This is a big step,” said Oklahoma’s Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed. “By the time we roll this group in, we’ve practically covered everyone in the state.” He said the expansion should include all but about 500,000 Oklahomans.
Oklahoma’s list of essential industries includes manufacturing, construction, communications, energy, finance, state and federal government, transportation and retail.
Oklahoma currently ranks 10th in the nation with 20.9% of its population having received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average is 18.1%.
Meanwhile, state health officials on Tuesday reported 165 confirmed new cases of coronavirus and no new deaths. That brings the total number of confirmed infections to nearly 430,000, while the state’s death count remains at 7,219.
CHEYANNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says the state will join a handful of others that have lifted mask-wearing mandates to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The changes take effect March 16.
Also being lifted are requirements for bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms, where employees must wear masks and customers not seated in small groups have to keep 6 feet apart.
Gordon cites Wyoming’s declining number of COVID-19 cases and its success in distributing vaccines as reasons to lift the restrictions.
The statewide order in place since December was set to expire next week. States including Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota and Texas also have lifted mask mandates.
HELSINKI — Estonia’s government has decided on further coronavirus restrictions due to a rapid rise in cases, especially the variant first detected in Britain, and the Baltic country will effectively enter lockdown as of Thursday.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas unveiled the new measures in an interview with the Estonian public broadcaster ERR late Monday saying “the situation with COVID-19 in Estonia is extremely critical.”
Kallas said Estonia’s pandemic situation needs to be addressed quickly to avoid further escalation and hence “we have decided to lock the country in as much as possible.”
With exception of grocery and other essential stores such as pharmacies, all stores and restaurants throughout Estonia are required to remain closed and all indoor sport activities cease as of Thursday. Restaurants will, however, be able to serve food for take-away and drive-in customers.
Kallas said the new restrictions would be in place for a minimum of one month.
The nation of 1.3 million has seen a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases n the past few weeks. The country on Monday reported 1,181 new confirmed cases putting total tally to over 76,183 cases with 667 deaths.
HONOLULU — Hawaii has detected a new COVID-19 variant in the islands, one that first emerged in South Africa.
The state Department of Health said Monday the virus, which has technical name B.1.351 was found in an Oahu resident with no travel history.
Some tests suggest the variant may be less susceptible to antibody drugs or antibody-rich blood from COVID-19 survivors.
Acting State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said in a statement that a study conducted in South Africa, where the variant was predominant, showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was effective in preventing serious disease requiring hospitalization and in preventing death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Sunday, 81 cases of the South African variant have been detected in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
Hawaii has already detected eight cases of the U.K. or B.1.1.7 variant, including two more announced Monday in an Oahu resident who traveled to the U.S. mainland and a household contact of that person.
HARTFORD, Conn. — The first Connecticut resident to be diagnosed with COVID-19 says he is still coping with health problems one year later, but the experience has brought a new optimism to his life.
Chris Tillett, a former Wilton, Connecticut, resident, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 8, 2020, and spent three weeks at Danbury Hospital, including 10 days in a coma and on a ventilator. Doctors used experimental treatments, including anti-malaria and anti-HIV drugs, in efforts to save his life.
Tillett, who was 45 at the time, a husband and father of 4-month-old twin boys, got sick after returning from a professional conference in California.
“This has been a tough year,” Tillett, who now lives in Virginia, told WVIT-TV. “I’m enjoying little aspects of life. Even when things go bad, I just choose to laugh at it now instead of letting it get me angry and upset, and like what is that gonna do for me, right? So I’ve just found, yes, definitely a new lease on life.”
Tillett told Connecticut Public Radio he continues to experience muscle pain, stiffness and swelling in his legs. He also had to begin taking blood pressure medication, and may have to for the rest of his life. He said red spots still cover his feet, a common lingering symptom of the virus.
Exactly one year after Tillett tested positive, more than 285,000 Connecticut residents have contracted the virus and more than 7,700 have died.
ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities have registered the country’s youngest COVID-19 victim so far, a 37-day-old baby that had been in the hospital with the virus for the past three weeks.
Athens hospital officials said the baby boy died just before midnight Sunday. He had been brought to the hospital on Feb. 13 with a nose infection and a high temperature and tested positive for the coronavirus. He was taken to an intensive care unit for COVID-19 on Feb. 18 and intubated a day later.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted his condolences to the baby’s family Monday.
“Today, unfortunately, we had the youngest victim to the pandemic in our country,” he wrote. “The virus makes no distinctions, but today the sorrow is very hard to bear.”
GENEVA — A senior World Health Organization official said that so-called “vaccine passports” for COVID-19 should not be used for international travel because of numerous concerns, including ethical considerations that coronavirus vaccines are not easily available globally.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said there are “real practical and ethical considerations” for countries considering using vaccine certification as a condition for travel, adding the U.N. health agency advises against it for now.
“Vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” Ryan said. WHO has previously noted that it’s still unknown how long immunity lasts from the numerous licensed COVID-19 vaccines and that data are still being collected.
Ryan also noted the strategy might be unfair to people who cannot be vaccinated for certain reasons and that requiring vaccine passports might allow “inequity and unfairness (to) be further branded into the system.”
CARSON CITY, Nev. — One year into the pandemic, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is still attempting to strike the right balance between keeping the state’s tourism industry afloat while also containing the coronavirus.
Sisolak said in an interview with the Associated Press he plans to use Nevada’s safety protocols as a selling point to bring tourists, conventions and trade shows back to Las Vegas.
About one in 10 Nevada residents, including the governor, have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year. More than 5,000 people have died, 63% of whom have been 70 or older.
Sisolak hopes vaccines will prevent future deaths, contain the virus and buoy the economy to pre-pandemic levels.
GENEVA — One of the Oxford University scientists who helped develop AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine disputed that simply making intellectual property rights freely available would significantly widen access to vaccines.
Agencies, including the World Health Organization, have called for pharmaceuticals to waive patent rights.
At a press briefing on Monday, Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University said freely available IP rights would not get the world “anywhere close to solving this problem” of limited vaccines, saying that “it’s not just the rights to the technology that’s needed.” Gilbert said other essential technical goods were needed, including cell banks and testing reagents.
Last year, WHO began a patent pool that asked companies to share their COVID-19 technology and know how for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Not a single company has yet joined and Gilbert said she had never heard of the initiative, despite Oxford University’s pledge to make its vaccine available to countries globally.
MILAN — Italy surpassed 100,000 dead in the pandemic, a year after it became the first country in Europe to go on lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Italian Health Ministry on Monday said 318 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 100,103, the second highest in Europe after Britain.
Italy recorded its first virus death on Feb. 21, 2020, when 78-year-old retired roofer Antonio Trevisan from a winemaking town west of Venice who had been hospitalized with heart issues died.
Italy’s total virus cases surpassed 3 million last week, with a new surge powered by the highly contagious variant that was first identified in Britain.
Nearly 14,000 new positives were recorded Monday as the number of people in ICUs rose to 2,700 — 95 more than a day earlier. Italy imposed a draconian nationwide lockdown last March 9, which continued for seven weeks and included a shutdown of all non-essential manufacturing.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will deliver his first primetime address to speak to the nation on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden would note the sacrifices and losses suffered by Americans during the last 12 months. More than 525,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.
It was March 11, 2020 when the pandemic hit home for many Americans and lockdowns began. That was the night the NBA suspended play, actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced they had tested positive and then-President Donald Trump addressed the nation.
The anniversary comes as the administration has bolstered vaccine supply, and some states have begun reopening even as worries remain about virus variants.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico on Monday expanded eligibility for vaccinations to all school teachers, early childhood educators and other staff with the goal of getting the group its first shots by the end of March.
The state is making the move as part of a directive by the Biden administration to get more schools reopened as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said last week that the ability of New Mexico to meet the timeline will depend on the federal government increasing vaccine supplies.
Collins said the state was in discussions with the White House last week about how the directive would affect vaccinations for other groups in the state. Under the plan, the state will start with educators outside of the Albuquerque area this week. The second week will involve those in the metro area, likely at a mass vaccination site.
The state already has vaccinated more than 15,000 educators as some were eligible as part of New Mexico’s first phases of the vaccine rollout.
PHOENIX — Arizona is reporting a daily number of new COVID-19 cases below 1,000 for the first time in months along with no new deaths.
State health officials on Monday said there are 783 new confirmed cases of the virus. With that latest figure, the state’s pandemic total number of cases is now at 827,237. The death toll remains 16,328.
The number of vaccine doses administered around Arizona was up to 2.1 million with more than 1.3 million people having received at least one shot. That’s more than 19% of the state’s population.
The number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide dipped to 919, the fewest since Nov. 1. The number of ICU beds used by COVID-19 patients fell to 256, the fewest since Nov. 6.