The Latest: South Africa cabinet minister dies from virus

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president says Jackson Mthembu has died from the coronavirus, becoming the first cabinet minister to succumb to the disease.

The 62-year-old Mthembu in recent months had been a central figure in communicating to the public the South African government’s response to COVID-19. In announcing the death Thursday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called Mthembu “an exemplary leader.”

He tested positive on Jan. 11. Mthembu’s death comes as South Africa battles a second wave of the coronavirus that may be driven in part by a new variant of the coronavirus.



NIH study in nursing homes suggests Eli Lilly antibody drug may help prevent coronavirus. President Joe Biden offers national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing. Dr. Anthony Fauci vows full US engagement with WHO. Angela Merkel sees signs of coronavirus decline in Germany, but extends restrictions until Feb. 14.

Mobile labs take U.S. vaccine studies to diverse neighborhoods. India sends 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh.

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CHICAGO — Health researchers say young children need to be careful with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially dispensers at eye level.

The researchers say they’ve seen more cases of children who got the substance in their eyes.

Studies published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology detail cases in France and India, some resulting in eye pain and cornea ulcers that ultimately healed. But a few youngsters required eye surgery and researchers say risks include blindness. Many cases involved dispensers in public places.

U.S. poison control centers also have had an increase in calls about kids exposed to hand sanitizers. While most resulted in little or no harm, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes the products should the kept out of young children’s reach.

If a child does get sanitizer in their eyes, doctors advise washing the eyes with warm water and having the youngster get an eye exam to make sure there is no damage.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending a statewide order requiring face masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Ivey announced the decision at the state Capitol on Thursday. The new order means the rule will remain in place through March 5.

Medical officials had urged Ivey to extend the order amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, which have been hindered by a limited national supply.

The state of nearly 5 million people has had 446,000 vaccine doses delivered and administered 184,000 doses.

There’s been about 430,000 confirmed cases and more than 62,000 deaths from the coronavirus in Alabama.


PHOENIX — Arizona, the state with the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country, reported nearly 9,400 confirmed cases on Thursday.

The Department of Health Services reported 9,398 cases and 244 confirmed deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 699,942 cases and 11,772 deaths.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,580 hospitalized COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds on Wednesday, down from the Jan. 11 record of 5,082.

One in 147 Arizona residents was diagnosed with the coronavirus from Jan. 13 to Wednesday. South Carolina was close behind at one in 148.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases declined from 8,884 on Jan. 6 to 6,973 on Wednesday. The rolling average of daily deaths rose from 103 to 142 during the same period. That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.


BEIRUT — Lebanon has extended a nationwide lockdown to Feb. 8 amid a rise in coronavirus infections and deaths that has overwhelmed the health care system.

The lockdown had been scheduled to end Feb. 1. Hospitals in Lebanon have registered a 91% occupancy of ICU beds. Deaths have surpassed 2,000, with between 40 to 60 daily deaths this week.

The national health committee had recommended a two-week extension. But the government decided to keep the lockdown, in place since Jan. 14, until Feb. 8.


INDIANAPOLIS — Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug helped prevent illness among residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

It’s the first major study to show an antibody medication may prevent disease. The drugmaker says residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19. Among nursing home residents only, there was up to a 80% reduction in risk.

U.S. regulators last year allowed emergency use of the antibody treatment for mild or moderate COVID-19 cases that don’t require hospitalization. It’s a one-time dose given through an IV.

The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

In the U.S., those residents account for less than 1% of the population, but nearly 40% of deaths from COVID-19. The U.S. leads the world with more than 406,000 deaths.


BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are holding a video summit amid concern the new coronavirus variants.

The leaders on Thursday will assess such measures as further border restrictions, better tracking of mutations and improved coordination of lockdowns.

The highly contagious nature of the variants is a major source of concern and has already led some EU countries to strengthen restrictions by imposing stricter curfews and more stringent mask requirements on public transportation and in shops.

The EU’s executive arm aims for 70% of the adult population across the bloc vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Since the EU doesn’t expect vaccines to be readily available before April, leaders should in the meantime find efficient ways to contain the new variants. The commission believes better tracking of the mutations with genomic sequencing, coupled with an increased use of rapid antigen tests, will be crucial.


NEW YORK — More potential COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic still are being tested, and some researchers are driving mobile labs into neighborhoods to recruit diverse volunteers.

With scarce supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots, proving whether additional vaccines work is critical. So is ensuring they’re tested in communities of color that are hard-hit by the coronavirus yet have questions about vaccination.

A U.S. program offers researchers RV-sized mobile clinics that help volunteers enroll in studies of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines without having to visit a doctor’s office. At the same time, researchers can answer general vaccine questions from those passing by.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister says Beijing has promised to provide 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine by Jan. 31.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi says his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi gave made this commitment during a phone conversation on Thursday. He says China is providing the first shipment of half million doses of vaccine without charge.

He hoped Pakistan will get another 500,000 doses of vaccine from China next month.

However, Qureshi didn’t specify which vaccine China would give to Pakistan.

Also Thursday, Qureshi took twitter, saying “with encouraging results of Chinese vaccine and our historic relationship, Pakistan has approved emergency use authorization of SinoPharm.”

The announcement comes a day after a top Pakistan said its talks with the manufacturers of Sinopharm and Cansino vaccines were at an advanced stage.

Pakistan has reported 54 confirmed deaths and 2,363 cases in the past 24 hours. Since the pandemic began, Pakistan has registered 11,157 confirmed deaths from and 527,146 infections.


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks for travel.

Biden will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.

Biden administration officials say a coordinated nationwide effort is needed to defeat the virus. They’re also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up vaccination centers, aiming to have 100 up and running in a month. Biden ordered the CDC to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser on the coronavirus, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization.


BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says there are promising signs that coronavirus infections are declining in Germany and that fewer people require intensive care. But she says Germany “has to take very seriously” the risk posed by a more contagious variant first detected in Britain.

Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday decided to extend the country’s lockdown by two weeks until Feb. 14 and tighten some measures, for example requiring surgical masks — rather than just fabric face coverings — in shops and on public transport.

On Thursday, Germany’s disease control center says 20,398 new cases were reported over the past 24 hours, nearly 5,000 fewer than a week ago. The number of new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days stood at 119, the lowest since the beginning of November — though still well above the level of 50 the government is targeting. There were 1,013 more deaths, bringing Germany’s confirmed total so far to 49,783.

Merkel said it’s important to prevent the new variant, which has been detected in Germany but isn’t yet dominant, from spreading. She pointed to the danger of a “third wave” of infections but said “there is still some time” to ward off that danger.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey expanded its COVID-19 inoculation campaign to include people 85 and older.

The country of 83 million rolled out its vaccination drive a week ago, starting with health care workers as well as nursing home residents and their caregivers. More than 1 million people received the first of two doses of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac pharmaceutical company in the first week.

On Thursday, the more frail among those aged 85 and above were receiving their shots at home, while others made their way to health centers.

Turkey has so far received 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is scheduled to receive between 25 and 30 million more doses, although there has been no word on when the additional doses will arrive.

Turkey has reported close to 2.4 million infections and more than 24,000 confirmed deaths since March.


DHAKA, Bangladesh — India sent 2 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh, a gift likely to foster bilateral relations further between the two South Asian neighbors.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Health Minister Zahid Maleque received the consignment from Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami in Bangladesh’s capital.

The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will be given to frontline workers, including doctors and nurses. The government says the inoculations are expected to start early next month.

Momen praised India for the gesture, saying, ‘This proves the true friendship between Bangladesh and India.”

Bangladesh usually balances diplomatically between two Asian powers — China and India — as both countries are close allies. Officials say Bangladesh is also expecting to have Chinese vaccines in the future.


GENEVA — President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the United States will cease reducing U.S. staff counts at the World Health Organization and pay its financial obligations.

Fauci says the U.S. will become fully engaged with the U.N. health agency to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told the WHO’s executive board meeting in Geneva via videoconference. The administration announced just hours after Biden’s inauguration that the United States would revoke a planned pullout from the WHO in July that had been announced by the Trump administration.

Fauci’s quick commitment to WHO — whose response to the coronavirus outbreak was repeatedly berated by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic.

He also referred to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, as “my dear friend.”


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