The Latest: Minnesota calls in Guard to help at hospitals

ROBBINSDALE, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz said Friday he’ll use the Minnesota National Guard to help alleviate staffing shortages at hospitals and care facilities that are struggling to cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated Minnesotans.

The governor announced plans at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale for alleviating bottlenecks caused by overstretched staffs that prevent hospitals from moving recovering patients to transitional and long-term care facilities.

More than 400 Minnesota hospital patients are currently waiting for beds to open up at other care centers and taking up space needed for incoming patients, he said.

Walz said the number of National Guard soldiers who will be deployed to help out and their exact roles have yet to be determined.

Hospitals across Minnesota report that they’re at or near capacity, with intensive care and pediatric beds in short supply. They’re currently treating just over 1,000 COVID-19 patients. But hospital officials said the problem is not just due to the coronavirus, but also other serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, trauma and scheduled surgeries.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

Russia struggles to meet global orders for Sputnik V vaccine

— Made in India virus kits boost testing, and local industry

— FDA panel endorses lower-dose Moderna COVID shot for booster

— FDA panel endorses booster shot for J&J vaccine

— FDA unlikely to rule on Merck’s COVID pill before December

— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico judge has denied a request by dozens of scientists and others at Los Alamos National Laboratory who sought to block a vaccine mandate.

Workers risk being fired if they don’t comply with the lab’s Friday afternoon deadline.

The case comes as New Mexico extends its mask mandate for indoor spaces.

While the vaccination rate among adults in New Mexico hovers around 71.5%, the rate among lab employees is much higher. Still, 114 workers sued, saying the mandate violates their constitutional rights and that lab management has created a hostile work environment.

Attorneys for the lab argued that being vaccinated is a condition of working there.

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BERLIN — The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech say they have requested that their coronavirus vaccine be licensed for children aged 5 to 11 across the European Union. If authorized, it would be the first opportunity for younger children in Europe to be get immunized against COVID-19.

In a statement on Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech said they had submitted data to the European Medicines Agency, including late-stage results from a study testing their COVID-19 vaccine in more than 2,200 children aged six months to 11 years, using a lower dose than what’s normally given to adults.

The companies said those results showed a “strong immune response” in the children and that the vaccine was also found to be safe. There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines licensed for use in children younger than 12 in Europe or North America; the shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are authorized for children 12 and older in the European Union.

Earlier this month, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to green light their vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11.

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ISLAMABAD— The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said on Friday that Washington is sending an additional 9.6 million doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to Islamabad in partnership with the COVAX global vaccine initiative.

According to an embassy statement, the latest donation brings the total number of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the U.S. government to the Pakistani people to more than 25 million.

It said “these Pfizer vaccines are part of the 500 million Pfizer doses the United States purchased this summer to deliver to 92 countries worldwide, including Pakistan.

It said the United States is the single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global COVID-19 vaccines access.

The latest development comes amid a steady decline in the fourth wave of coronavirus in Pakistan which has reported 28,228 fatalities from coronavirus among 12,62,771 cases since last year.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — The operator of a sprawling federal nuclear reservation in South Carolina says the vast majority of its 5,500 workers are now vaccinated against COVID-19 after the company mandated the shots.

But nearly 80 Savannah River Site employees who have refused to get inoculated are suing Savannah River Nuclear Solutions over the requirement, arguing the stipulation flouts South Carolina law because it amounts to illegally practicing medicine.

In a complaint filed Thursday in South Carolina state court, the workers said they wanted a judge to stop the federal contractor from instituting the mandate, which requires employees to get vaccinated against the highly contagious virus by a fall deadline or face firing.

The workers skeptical of the vaccine’s efficacy and safety appear to represent a small fraction of those employed by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which has held a U.S. Department of Energy contract to manage and operate the old nuclear weapons complex south of Aiken since 2008.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is expected to announce Friday that it will lift travel restrictions on Nov. 8 for fully vaccinated individuals arriving in the U.S. by air travel or by crossing land borders, according to a White House official.

Foreign nationals will be able to travel to the U.S. if they show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel. The policy change was announced in September, but the White House is announcing Friday the date when it will take effect.

The White House announced earlier this week it would lift restrictions on fully vaccinated foreign nationals for non-essential travel at U.S. land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico in early November. Land and ferry travelers will be required to present proof of vaccination to officials upon request.

The official, who was granted anonymity to speak on a policy that had not yet been publicly announced, said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has informed airlines that all FDA-approved and authorized vaccines, as well as those that have an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization, are acceptable. The CDC plans to issue guidelines on acceptable proof of vaccination in the coming weeks.

— By Alexandra Jaffe

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PARIS — COVID-19 tests in France are no longer free for unvaccinated adults unless they are prescribed by a doctor.

While tests remain free for vaccinated adults and all children under 18, adults who have not gotten their shots will have to pay 22-45 euros ($25-$52) to get tested as of Friday.

The government introduced the change as a complement to the COVID-19 passes that have been required in France since the summer. To get a pass, people need to show proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or recent recovery from the virus.

The passes are required to visit tourist sites, for hospital visits and on domestic train trips and flights. The pass requirement, announced in July, helped boost France’s vaccination rate.

Over 49 million people, or about 74% of the population, are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in France. Everyone age 12 and older are eligible for shots.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s daily number of new coronavirus infections and deaths surged to another record on Friday, a quickly mounting figure that has put a severe load on the country’s health care system.

The government’s coronavirus task force reported 32,196 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 999 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Death tolls have set daily records over the past few days, approaching 1,000 as infections spread amid a sluggish vaccination rate and Russian authorities’ reluctance to toughen restrictions that would further cripple the economy.

The government said this week that about 43 million Russians, or about 29% of the country’s nearly 146 million people, is fully vaccinated.

The Kremlin has also ruled out a nationwide lockdown like the one early in the pandemic that badly hurt the economy, eroding President Vladimir Putin’s popularity. Instead, it has delegated the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

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LONDON — British health officials say 43,000 people in southwest England may have been wrongly told they don’t have the coronavirus because of problems at a private laboratory.

The U.K. Health Security Agency says a lab in Wolverhampton, central England has been suspended from processing the swabs after reports of false negatives. The faulty results are among tests processed at the Immensa Health Clinic Lab between early September and this week.

The issue was uncovered after some people who were positive for COVID-19 when they took rapid tests went on to show up as negative on more accurate PCR tests.

One local authority, West Berkshire Council, has told people who were tested at the government-run Newbury Showground site between Oct. 3 and 12 and were told they were negative to get tested again.

Britain conducts about 1 million coronavirus tests a day and reported almost 40,000 new infections a day over the past week.

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ROME — Protests have erupted in Italy as a new anti-coronavirus regulation took effect requiring all workers to show a health pass to get into their places of employment.

Police were out in force, schools planned to end classes early, and embassies issued warnings of possible violence on Friday amid concerns that anti-vaccination demonstrations could turn violent, as they previously did in Rome. Opponents say the requirement infringes on their rights.

The so-called “green pass” shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months. Italy already requires it to access all sorts of indoor activities for weeks, including dining indoors, visiting museums and theaters and on long-distance trains.

But the workplace requirement has sparked heated debate and opposition in a country that was the first in the West to experience a critical COVID-19 outbreak and where vaccination rates are among the highest in Europe.

All workers, from business executives to bartenders, must show a pass to go to work. Not even the Vatican was spared: Three Swiss Guards quit and another three were suspended after they refused to get vaccinated before the Vatican’s green pass requirement went into effect.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is vaccinating 18- and 19-year-olds against the coronavirus as it expands the shots to students.

After beginning with older people, Sri Lanka has now vaccinated 57% of its 22 million population.

Vaccinations with the Pfizer shot began Friday for about 24,000 people in the 18-19 age group in the capital Colombo and suburbs. Officials say inoculations in Colombo will be completed within 21 days and they’ll start giving doses in other parts of the country next week.

Sri Lanka lifted a six-week lockdown on Oct. 1 after COVID-19 cases and deaths declined. But schools remain closed, unessential trips outside the home are restricted, public gatherings are banned and there are restrictions on transport.

At the peak, Sri Lanka was counting 3,000 daily infections and more than 200 deaths. Daily cases are now below 1,000 and deaths under 100.

The Indian Ocean island nation has reported more than 529,000 cases and 13,408 deaths.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean officials will partially ease virus restrictions in the hard-hit capital region starting next week to address a battered economy and pandemic fatigue.

Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said Friday the limit on private social gatherings in the greater Seoul area will be expanded to eight people if at least four of the participants are fully vaccinated and that the rules will be employed regardless of the time of day.

The capital Seoul and the nearby metropolitan areas have been under the country’s strongest social distancing measures short of a lockdown since July, which limited gatherings to six people after 6 p.m. if at least four were fully vaccinated. Gatherings between people who aren’t fully vaccinated had been capped to two but Lee said that limit will be expanded to four starting Monday.

Capital area residents who are fully vaccinated will also be allowed to attend baseball and soccer games, which had been played out in empty stadiums. Lee said professional sports teams in the region will be able to sell 30% of the seats in outdoor venues and 20% of the seats in indoor venues to fans who are fully vaccinated.

The country confirmed 1,684 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, its 101st day of over 1,000, with most of the infections reported in the capital area. About 62% of a population of more than 51 million have been fully vaccinated.