ALBANY, N.Y. — New York lawmakers have created a $2.1 billion fund to aid workers who lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic but were excluded from other government relief programs because of their immigration status.
The program is the largest of its kind in the U.S. It passed this week as part of the state budget.
The fund will give payments of up to $15,600 to workers living in the country illegally who weren’t eligible for federal stimulus checks, unemployment aid or other benefits.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 109.9 million people, or 33.1% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 64.4 million people, or 19.4% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 57,627 on March 24 to 65,936 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 867 on March 24 to 987 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
— Governments give varying advice on AstraZeneca vaccine
— Tokyo governor asks for emergency virus measures
— In Peru, authorities allowed secret burials of virus victims
— Pandemic-weary chefs, cooks enjoy serving from home
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey continued to report record-high COVID-19 infections.
The Health Ministry confirmed 55,941 new daily cases and 258 fatalities Thursday, pushing the overall death toll to 33,204.
The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has also been steadily increasing, reaching 2,615 on Thursday, the ministry figures showed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-imposed weekend lockdowns and announced the closure of cafes and restaurants during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to stem the surge, but experts warn that more stringent measures are needed.
Around 75% of the infections have been traced to the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, according to the health ministry.
At the same time, the country has begun vaccinating its tourism sector workers in a bid to support an industry that suffered heavily from the coronavirus outbreak last year.
A Tourism and Culture Ministry statement says employees of airline companies, airports, hotels and travel agencies as well as professional guides, had started to receive their first COVID-19 shots. Turkey has pinned hopes on the upcoming summer holiday season a severe decline in tourism revenues last year.
ROME — Italy’s leader says the nation must concentrate on getting 100% of its oldest and most fragile people vaccinated against COVID-19 to be able to quickly re-open the country in terms of economic activity.
Premier Mario Draghi said despite a slowdown of administering vaccines during the Easter holidays and some delays in receiving the doses from vaccine manufacturers, he was confident that Italy will meet his goal of 500,000 vaccine injections per day by the end of April. That would have the country in line to have 80% of its citizens vaccinated by the end of September.
Earlier in the week, a demonstration by frustrated restaurant and other business owners turned violent outside Parliament, and elsewhere in Italy, hundreds of angry protesters blocked traffic on a key north-south highway.
The country is also setting the stage to welcome back tourists from abroad, starting with those who have certificates attesting to their vaccination against COVID-19.
Draghi at a news conference Thursday evening noted that fellow Mediterranean tourist destination countries like Spain and Greece have been priming themselves for foreign tourists’ return after travel bans during the pandemic thwarted vacations. Draghi said Italy, too, must gear up.
Italy’s tourism minister hopes to promote some of the country’s small islands, like Capri, as “COVID-free” to encourage tourists to return.
MIAMI — The state of Florida has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to demand cruise ships start sailing.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis says the no-sail order is outdated and hurts the state because the industry generates billions for the economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines last week for companies on how to respond in the event of coronavirus cases but has not lifted its no-sail order.
The CDC shut down sailing last year when several coronavirus outbreaks were tied to ships worldwide. DeSantis says cruising has resumed in much of the world, forcing Americans to fly to other ports.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president says he plans to get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to boost confidence in the shot.
The vaccine is one of several being used for people over 60 in Mexico’s current round of vaccinations. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador say the benefits far outweigh any risks of a rare blood-clotting disorder.
The 67-year-old Mexican leader has been on-again, off-again about getting vaccinated. He was infected with the coronavirus in January. On Monday, he said he wouldn’t get a vaccine because his doctors told him he still has a high level of antibodies.
Spain has limited the AstraZeneca shot to those over 60 and Belgium to those over 55. In Britain, authorities say the shot shouldn’t be given to adults under 30 where possible.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Russia asked Slovakia to return its Sputnik V vaccines “due to multiple contract violations.”
The official Twitter account of the Sputnik V vaccine says Slovakia’s drug regulator “in violation of existing contract” tested Sputnik V “in a laboratory which is not part of the EU’s Official Medicines Control Laboratory network.”
The Slovak State Institute for Drug Control says the network of EU certified labs tests only the vaccines registered in the EU, which is not the case of Sputnik V.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic was in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the deliveries of Sputnik V to Slovakia. So far, 200,000 shots have been delivered in a deal for 2 million.
The Russian announcement was published just hours after the Slovak regulator said it has not received enough information about the Russian vaccine from its producer to assess its benefits and risks.
Sputnik V has not been approved for use in the EU. The body’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency has started a review of the vaccine.
The Slovak drug agency says the Sputnik V vaccine reviewed by the EU is different from the one sent to Slovakia.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s governor has asked Japan’s central government for permission to implement emergency measures to curb a coronavirus variant ahead of the Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he plans to place Tokyo under emergency virus measures after consulting with experts on Friday.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike says she asked the government to allow her to issue binding orders under a new virus prevention law enacted in February, It includes a penalty for business owners who defy measures and compensation for those who comply. Tokyo came out of a state of emergency in late March.
Tokyo’s step follows Osaka in western Japan, which recently declared a medical emergency after its hospitals became overwhelmed with cases.
Tokyo reported 545 cases on Thursday. Koike says she’s concerned by the rapid spread of variants, especially one originally detected in Britain.
NEW YORK — Planned Parenthood announced it is launching a $2 million campaign to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and combat disinformation about it.
Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO, says communities of color will be a primary focus of the campaign, given that they make up about 40% of the organization’s patient base and have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19.
Planned Parenthood says it will deploy campaign organizers across at least 12 states. It will aim to have at least 1.5 million conversations with people about the vaccine, through phone calls and in-person door knocking.
Planned Parenthood says its health centers are already administering vaccines in Minnesota, Montana, New York, California, and Washington, with more states to come.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame says it will require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.
University officials notified the campus community of the requirement in a letter Wednesday. It says it will accommodate documented medical or religious exemptions to vaccinations. The announcement came in advance of Notre Dame opening a clinic Thursday to administer the Pfizer two-dose vaccine.
Notre Dame officials encouraged students to be vaccinated at the clinic in the coming weeks. Spokesmen for Indiana University and Purdue University say neither institution is requiring the vaccine.
ROME — The Vatican Museums are aiming to reopen to the public starting on May 3, depending on status of the coronavirus.
The Museums, which include a visit to the Sistine Chapel with its frescoes by Michelangelo, cited the “still uncertain scenario” from the coronavirus pandemic in saying that date was being set “for the moment.” With Italy struggling for months to contain a third surge of coronavirus infections, museums and archaeological sites in the country are currently closed and appear likely to stay so throughout April under current government measures.
When Italy re-opened museums last spring after a first wave of infections eased, the Vatican did likewise. With tourists from many countries outside the European Union, such as the United States, still not allowed to enter Italy, crowds remained thin.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A patchwork of advice is emerging from governments across Europe and farther afield, a day after the European Union’s drug regulator said there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare clotting disorder.
However, the agency maintained its guidance that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used in all adults. Regulators in the EU and Britain stressed the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people. But some countries are limiting its use among certain age groups.
Experts are concerned the confusing messages about the vaccine could dampen enthusiasm when Europe and many other parts of the world are facing surging cases.
Dr. Sabine Straus, chair of the EU regulator’s Safety Committee, said the best data was from Germany, where there was one report of the clots for every 100,000 doses given. That’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.
The EU agency says most of the cases reported were in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination, though it was unable to identify specific risk factors based on current information.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia reported a surge of 3,217 coronavirus cases on Thursday, nearly double the previous day.
There have also been 36 confirmed deaths on Thursday and Wednesday.
Health authorities announced “massive” vaccination in the capital Zagreb on Wednesday, but of 1,500 people invited for the AstraZeneca shot, only about half showed up.
Croatian officials on Thursday tried to alleviate concerns, saying the vaccine is safe and they’ll continue to administer it without age restrictions.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says the European Medicines Agency “was clear, benefits of the vaccine are higher than the risks of aftereffects.”
IQUITOS, Peru — Almost a year ago, dozens of people who died of COVID-19 were secretly buried in a field in Iquitos, a city in Loreto state in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.
Local authorities approved the burials but never told the families, who believed their loved ones were in a local cemetery — and only months later discovered the truth.
In Peru, and in Latin America, it is the first known case of authorities concealing the fate of dozens of COVID-19 victims, and there’s been no explain for the clandestine burials. The local government didn’t reply to several requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Family members told AP that at least 403 people were buried in the field.
The pandemic hit Peru and Iquitos hard, starting in April 2020. In the early days, the only two hospitals in the area lacked sufficient space to attend to COVID-19 patients.
Peru has reported more than 52,000 confirmed deaths, including 3,200 in Iquitos, a city of 550,000 people.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has hit a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting 22,586 new cases.
The country is grappling with a spike following the Persian New Year holiday. Iran, is in the midst of a major surge after millions defied government guidance to gather and travel during Nowruz, the nation’s biggest holiday.
The new case count Thursday pushes Iran’s total during the pandemic over 2 million. The additional 185 reported deaths increased the confirmed total to 63,884 deaths in the country of 83 million.
LONDON — Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program is beginning to break the link between infection and serious illness or death, according to the latest results from an ongoing study of the pandemic in England.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that COVID-19 infections dropped about 60% in March as national lockdown measures slowed the spread of the virus. People 65 and older were least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination program, which initially focused on older people.
The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, “suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.”
But researchers also urged caution, saying that infection rates leveled off at the end of the study period as the government began to ease the national lockdown and children returned to school.
The next step in lifting England’s third national lockdown is scheduled for April 12, when nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.
The Imperial College study conducts swab tests on a random sample of people across England each month. The latest round tested more than 140,000 people from March 11-30.