The Latest: US colleges can tap into COVID-19 relief fund

WASHINGTON — Colleges and universities across the nation can now start tapping into $36 billion in relief funding that Congress approved in March, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Education Department said it’s starting to steer the funding to more than 5,000 public and private colleges. The funding was included in a $1.9 trillion relief package that also included $123 billion for K-12 schools.

The higher education aid is being allocated to public and private institutions using a formula that factors in the share of low-income students they enroll. Colleges must spend at least half the funding on direct relief for students. The other half can be used on a variety of expenses related to the pandemic.

In a reversal from Trump’s policy, the Biden administration said student grants can be given to international students and those who are in the U.S. illegally.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the funding makes sure the hardest hit students “have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate and pursue their careers.”

Broadly, the guidance says colleges should use the funding to support vulnerable students, reduce the spread of the coronavirus and retain students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A jumbo pop-up hospital treating COVID-19 patients in hard-hit Mumbai has more than 2,000 beds, most of them full

WHO official strongly denies making false statements to Italian prosecutors about U.N. report into Italy’s virus response

Argentina’s doctors adapt, more learn intensive-care techniques as COVID-19 puts younger patients in hospitals

— Mexico says Russia is having production problems with its Sputnik V vaccine; Russia denies the report.

— Volunteers at Hindu temples, Muslim groups and Sikh relief organizations in US mobilize to support India during its virus surge

— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MEXICO CITY — Russia has been having so many problems producing second doses of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine that it probably will be unable to supply enough to people who already got the first dose, Mexican officials said.

It’s the latest account of production problems for Sputnik V, which the Russian government has been promising to other countries but has not been able to supply in sufficient quantities.

Sputnik is unusual among coronavirus vaccines in that the two doses are different and not interchangeable.

Mexico’s assistant health secretary, Hugo López-Gatell, said the Russians have found that the first adenovirus grows much more quickly than the second.

López-Gatell said Russian scientists are now suggesting abandoning the idea of giving the two separate Sputnik V shots several weeks apart and instead giving a second booster shot six months later.

“Over the course of months, the quantity of first doses they managed to produce got out of alignment with the quantity of second doses they were able to produce,” López-Gatell said.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund which has bankrolled Sputnik V, denied the Mexican reports.

“The manufacturing of both components of Sputnik V is being upscaled in Russia and abroad to fully meet the rising demand for the vaccine internationally,” the fund said in a statement.

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BERLIN — German investors are increasingly optimistic about the country’s economy as the latest surge of new coronavirus infections seems to be slowing, a closely-watched survey showed Tuesday.

The Mannheim-based ZEW institute said its indicator of economic expectations for Germany over the next six months increased 13.7 points in May over the previous month to a reading of 84.4, the highest value since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last time the indicator was at a higher level was in February 2000.

The increase came after an unexpected drop in April when new daily cases of coronavirus infection were much higher.

Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 6,125 newly confirmed cases on Tuesday, compared to 17,855 new cases the same day a month ago.

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BRUSSELS — As strict lockdowns are loosened across Europe and many EU citizens dream about holidays in the sun, the 27-nation bloc has yet to agree on how to quickly implement a virus certificate scheme to boost summer travel and tourism.

European affairs ministers gathered Tuesday in Brussels to assess progress in discussions with European lawmakers. A deal between the Parliament and EU countries is required in May to ensure the system will be up and running by the end of June, but several sticking points remain.

When it proposed the scheme in March, the EU Commission said coronavirus certificates would be given to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated or those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it.

EU lawmakers and nations agree on that, but the Parliament insists that COVID-19 certificates should be enough to allow EU citizens to move about freely and that EU countries shouldn’t be allowed to impose extra restrictions on certificate holders such as quarantines, tests or self-isolation measures.

That’s a major roadblock, since border controls are a national responsibility.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister said Tuesday his government is working on a plan to locally manufacture COVID-19 vaccine.

Prime Minister Imran Khan made the comments in a live chat streamed by state-owned Pakistan Television in which he answers questions from the public.

Khan provided no further details. But Pakistan is in talks with some international manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines, including China and Russia to locally manufacture vaccine.

Pakistan is currently in the middle of a third surge of infections and deaths, and Khan has urged people to adhere to social distancing. Pakistan on Tuesday reported 113 single-day fatalities for an overall death toll of 19,106.

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TOKYO — A city in central Japan is facing criticism for secretly offering a reservation for a COVID-19 vaccination to a major pharmacy chain’s executive when hundreds of thousands of elderly people elsewhere in Japan struggled to make their reservations.

The vice mayor of Nishio, Yoshihide Kondo, made reservations for the jabs for Hirokazu Sugiura, the chairman of Sugi Holdings Co. that operates over 1,400 drugstores in Japan, and his wife, in return for the company’s “contributions” to the municipality.

City officials said Tuesday they made the reservations after repeated requests from the company and apologized after the deal surfaced in the regional Chunichi newspaper. They said the reservations were canceled and the Sugiuras did not received the shots.

Under pressure to speed up Japan’s slow vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to deliver two doses for 36 million elderly people by the end of July. Japan has fully inoculated only about 1% of its population so far.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan reported seven domestic COVID-19 cases with the source of six of the infections still under investigation, its Central Epidemic Command Center said Tuesday.

Five cases were discovered in a gaming cafe in Yilan county on Taiwan’s eastern coast. Another was found in New Taipei City, just outside the capital. None of the cases had any history of international travel.

The seventh was a person already in quarantine who had been in contact with a cluster discovered in recent weeks after pilots working for Taiwan’s China Airlines tested positive. Over 30 cases have been discovered so far.

In response, health authorities said they will ban indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and ban outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.

Taiwan has been a success story throughout the pandemic, keeping deaths and cases to a minimum with strict border controls and a mandatory two-week quarantine for arrivals.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong officials have dropped a plan to mandate foreign domestic workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus, after it was criticized as discriminatory.

Officials initially proposed the plan after a foreign domestic worker tested positive for a coronavirus variant in April, with an unknown source of infection.

The plan was dropped after officials assessed public health needs, as well as the legal issues that may arise if they made vaccinations mandatory, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at a regular news briefing Tuesday.

Lam also announced a second round of mandatory tests for the city’s over 370,000 domestic workers as a precaution. The new round of testing will begin on Saturday.

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has told the World Health Organization that it has tested 25,986 people for the coronavirus through April but still has yet to find a single infection.

The WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that North Korea’s testing figures include 751 people who were tested during April 23-29, of which 139 had influenza-like illnesses or severe respiratory infections.

Experts have expressed skepticism about North Korea’s claim of a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China.

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SAN SALVADOR El Salvador — The president of El Salvador says he will donate coronavirus vaccines to seven towns in Honduras even though his own country’s vaccination effort is still struggling.

El Salvador has administered about 1.25 million shots, not nearly enough for the country’s 6.5 million people.

But President Nayib Bukele was apparently touched by appeals from mayors of seven towns in neighboring Honduras who asked El Salvador for help, claiming their own government has abandoned them. He said Monday the donations will not affect El Salvador’s vaccination drive.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have established a travel corridor for tourists who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Gulf sheikhdoms jointly announced Monday that fully vaccinated travelers will be able to fly between the countries without having to undergo mandatory quarantines.

The deal starts with Eid al-Fitr, one of Islam’s biggest holidays, at the end of this week. Travelers must demonstrate their vaccine status with approved COVID-19 health pass apps.

Similar quarantine-free travel bubbles are in effect elsewhere in the world, like Australia and New Zealand.