WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to boost supplies of coronavirus vaccine and set up new vaccination sites to meet his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. It's part of a broader COVID strategy that also seeks to straighten out snags in testing and ensure minority communities are not left out.“Some wonder if we are reaching too far,” Biden said Friday. “Let me be clear, I'm convinced we can get it done.”The real payoff, Biden said, will come from uniting the nation in a new effort grounded in science.Biden spoke a day after unveiling a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to confront the virus and provide temporary support for a shaky economy. About $400 billion of the plan is focused on measures aimed at controlling the virus. Those range from mass vaccination centers to more sophisticated scientific analysis of new strains and squads of local health workers to trace the contacts of infected people.“You have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden declared. He underscored a need for Congress to approve more money and for people to keep following basic precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and frequently washing their hands.Throughout the plan, there’s a focus on ensuring that minority communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not shortchanged on vaccines and treatments.A key challenge for Biden and the nation: Vaccines are in too-short supply.Biden said he would use the Defense Production Act, a Cold War-era law, to boost vaccine supplies and work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up 100 vaccination centers around the country by the end of his first month in office.“Almost a year later, we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better," he said Friday, as U.S. deaths climbed closer to 400,000. The global toll has now reached 2 million.Biden seconded the Trump administration's call earlier this week for states to start vaccinating more seniors, reaching those 65 and older as well as younger people with certain health problems. Until now states have been focused on inoculating health care workers, and some are starting to vaccinate people 75 and older. Relatively few are providing shots to people between 65 and 75.Another carryover from the Trump administration plan: Biden said he intends to mobilize local pharmacies to administer vaccines.“Is it achievable?" he asked. "It’s a legitimate question to ask. Let me be clear. I’m convinced we can get it done.”In fact, Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert and emergency physician, said the president-elect should aim higher.“At this point, mass vaccination is our last and best chance to restoring normalcy,” she said. “There should be no expenses spared in the vaccine rollout. A hundred million in 100 days needs to be seen as only a start."Two medical groups, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Group, said Friday evening they “strongly support” the Biden plan. The strategy “will be vital to ending the impacts of COVID-19” in the U.S., the groups said.As Biden spoke, some governors blasted the Trump administration for what at least one said was “deception” in suggesting earlier this week that a reserve of vaccine doses was ready to ship, augmenting supplies. An administration official said states have still not ordered all of the doses allocated to them, and called it a problem with states' expectations.Biden committed to better communication with the states, to avoid such surprises. His plan calls for the federal government to fully reimburse states that mobilize their National Guards to help distribute vaccines.Biden's proposal comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. “We remain in a very dark winter,” he said.The political outlook for the legislation remains unclear, although a powerful business lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, welcomed its focus on controlling the pandemic. “This is not a political issue,” Biden said. “This is about saving lives. I know it’s become a partisan issue, but what a stupid, stupid thing to happen.”Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably tied to control of the coronavirus. Under Biden's multipronged strategy, about $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas. On Friday, he announced former FDA chief David Kessler as his chief science officer for the vaccine drive. Kessler has been advising Biden as a co-chair of his advisory board on the coronavirus pandemic. A pediatrician and attorney, he has emphasized a need to ease public concerns about the safety of the vaccines.With the backing of Congress and the expertise of private and government scientists, the Trump administration delivered two highly effective vaccines and more are on the way. Yet a month after the first shots were given, the nation’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start with about 12.3 million doses administered out of more than 31 million delivered, or 39%.About 10.6 million individuals have received first or second doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the American Hospital Association estimates that 246 million must be vaccinated to reach widespread or “herd” immunity by the summer. Vaccines currently available require two shots to be fully effective.Biden has called the vaccine rollout “a dismal failure so far."“We need to be getting to more than 3 million vaccinations a day, rapidly,” said Wen.Biden's plan also would provide $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration's first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus. The Biden administration also plans to launch a public education campaign to overcome doubts about vaccination.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Battling a COVID-19 resurgence driven by a more infectious variant, South Africa is preparing to roll out its first vaccines to frontline healthcare workers.A delivery of 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to arrive imminently at Johannesburg's international airport and there are plans for jabs to be given to doctors and nurses starting next week.Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said South Africa intends to vaccinate 67% of its 60 million people in 2021, starting with the most vulnerable health workers. He is expected to speak about the arrival of the vaccines later Wednesday.The start of South Africa's vaccination drive, one of the first in Africa, comes as the country has the continent's highest numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. South Africa's 1.4 million cumulative cases, including 41,797 deaths, represent about 40% of the cases reported by all of Africa's 54 countries. The shipment of vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India is expected to arrive by air freight from Mumbai, India, according to local media. The first 1 million doses are to be followed by 500,000 doses in February.The initial vaccines will not cover all of South Africa's 1.25 million healthcare workers, so the first round will go to those with the highest risk in intensive care units, especially those performing intubations, health experts said.South Africa's department of health has appointed the Biovac Institute, a pharmaceutical and vaccine firm based in Cape Town, to “import, store, and distribute the 1.5 million doses of Covishield vaccine procured by the government from the Serum Institute of India,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. Covishield is the name for the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India.South Africa's vaccination campaign comes as the country appears to have passed the peak of a resurgence of COVID-19 that in the past month saw confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise to nearly double the numbers in the country's initial surge in July last year.South Africa's 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has halved, dropping from 32 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 12 to 16 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 26, according to Johns Hopkins University.The country's deaths have also begun decreasing, with the 7-day rolling average of daily deaths declining from 0.92 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 12 to 0.85 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 26.The variant identified in South Africa as 501Y.V2 was a major factor in the resurgence, as it is more transmissible, according to health experts. The variant quickly became dominant in the Eastern Cape province, accounting for more than 90% of the new cases there in December, and spread to the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.The large numbers of people traveling to South Africa's coastal areas and attending family and social gatherings during the holiday season also contributed to the resurgence, according to experts.The first phase of South Africa's vaccination campaign is to be followed by the inoculation of 16 million people including the remaining healthcare workers, the elderly and those with comorbidities. A third phase is planned to vaccinate another 22.5 million in order to reach the goal of 40 million people.The vaccines for the nationwide campaign, the largest in the country's history, will be sourced through the international COVAX facility, the African Union which has purchased 270 million vaccine doses to be distributed across the continent, and South Africa's purchase of vaccines directly from manufacturers.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The success of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in war-ravaged Syria depends on their availability and distribution and may initially cover only 3% of the population, a World Health Organization official said Tuesday. Akjemal Magtymova, WHO's representative in Syria, said the country is eligible to receive vaccines for free through the global COVAX effort aimed at helping lower-income countries obtain the shots. But Magtymova couldn't say when the first shipment would arrive, how many vaccines were expected, or how they would be rolled out in a divided country still at war. The COVAX rollout is expected to begin in April.Magtymova spoke to The Associated Press in the capital Damascus amid concerns over the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines across the country, where the health care sector has been devastated by a decade of war and remains divided into three rival parts. Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued Tuesday, urged international aid groups to do what they can to help secure the widest and most equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines possible across Syria.The international rights group has accused the Syrian government of repeatedly withholding food, medicine and aid from political opponents and civilians. It said there is no guarantee the 2 million people living in rebel-controlled northeast Syria would receive the vaccination. The Syrian government has said very little about its vaccination plans. Syria's health minister said earlier this month that among the most important conditions for Syria’s acquisition of the vaccine is to ensure that it does not “impact Syria’s sovereignty.” Magtymova said the Syrian government's application under the COVAX program would cover 20% of the population but that supply of vaccine doses might not come immediately. Syria is expecting an allocation of the AstraZeneca vaccine because it does not have the facilities to keep Pfizer vaccines in the deep freeze necessary to preserve them.“We have to see a staged approach," Magtymova said. “Maybe first is three percent of the population, which could be mainly targeting the health work force who are day in and day out meeting COVID patients and then it will expand to ... other categories of the population."Syria has recorded more than 14,000 virus cases and around 925 deaths. An additional 21,000 people have been infected and nearly 400 died in opposition-held areas in northern Syria. The numbers are thought to be much higher. Although WHO provides the Health Ministry with medical and lab equipment and testing kits, testing remains low, particularly in the north.Magtymova said Syria saw its numbers peak in the middle of August and is now witnessing a second wave that started around mid-December, adding that numbers were currently plateauing. “We don’t have any anecdotal evidence that the occupancy is exceeding the available number of beds,” she said.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nic Hague and William Karlsson each had a goal and two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights returned to action after being sidelined due to COVID protocols and beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 Friday night.Vegas was playing for the first time since Jan. 26 after being shut down due to the NHL's virus protocols. The Golden Knights showed no signs of rust for a team that hadn’t played and practiced just twice.Hague opened the scoring 50 seconds in with the game's first shot. Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault followed with goals 62 seconds apart later in the period.Cody Glass also scored for Vegas, while Marc-Andre Fleury improved to 4-0-0 after making 27 saves. Fleury has allowed just five goals in his first four starts of the season.Austin Wagner scored his first goal of the season for the Kings, while Dustin Brown scored his fourth, all on the power play. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Calvin Peterson combined to make 32 saves. Quick allowed Vegas’ first four goals.Vegas’ efficiency was off the charts in the first 20 minutes, as it scored three goals on four high-danger chances, nine shots on goal, and 11 scoring chances.The Golden Knights waited a little longer to attack in the second period, this time striking 95 seconds in. Karlsson took a two-line pass from Marchessault, waltzed into the zone, and beat Quick with a wrist shot that ended the night for Los Angeles’ starter on the first shot of the period.Later in the second, Glass welcomed Peterson to the game when he punched home a rebound during Vegas’ first power-play opportunity of the contest.Wagner and Brown scored their goals in the third period, ruining Fleury’s bid for back-to-back shutouts.WHAT’S NEXT?Vegas and Los Angeles close their two-game series at T-Mobile Arena in a matinee clash on Super Bowl Sunday.___More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government says it won’t be making routine immigration enforcement arrests at COVID-19 vaccination sites. Vaccination sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and generally off limits for enforcement actions, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Monday. It says arrests would only be carried out under “the most extraordinary of circumstances.” It was the latest example of a softer tone on illegal immigration under President Joe Biden, whose administration has quickly moved to reverse major immigration policies of his predecessor.In its statement, DHS said it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to receive the vaccine when they are eligible and that the agency and its federal partners “fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.”DHS also oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is working with other parts of the federal government to set up vaccination sites around the country. The U.S. government previously considered health clinics as well as schools and places of worship as sensitive locations where it would generally not carry out enforcement actions. Over the years, that prompted some people to take refuge in churches to avoid deportation.
Which COVID-19 tests are required for international travel?It depends on where you're going.In an effort to limit the spread of new coronavirus variants, many countries are requiring incoming travelers to show a recent negative test.The U.S., for example, will accept results from either a test that detects the genetic material of the virus — considered the most sensitive type of test — or a rapid test that looks for viral proteins called antigens. The tests must have been taken no more than three days before departing for the U.S.Health professionals usually give more sensitive lab tests via a nasal swab that take a day or more to yield results. Rapid tests have a turnaround time of about 15 to 30 minutes and are increasingly used to screen people at testing sites, offices, schools and nursing homes. For some rapid tests, users can swab themselves at home. With either test, the U.S. requires electronic or printed proof of the negative result from a medical laboratory. That means that even if you plan to get the faster test you’ll likely need to see a health care provider who can provide documentation.England has a similar setup, accepting results from both types of tests. But health authorities there are imposing extra requirements, including that the tests meet certain thresholds for accuracy. Travelers are told to check to make sure their test meets the standards.After countries instituted varying requirements, officials in the European Union agreed to standardize requirements across the 27-nation bloc.___The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: [email protected] many variants of the coronavirus are there?What are the different types of coronavirus tests?Can I take painkillers before or after a COVID-19 vaccine?
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated for COVID-19.The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. The appeal was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.The draft “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”It would recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.” The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, follows up on British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s appeal to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday to adopt a resolution calling for local cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability.“Cease-fires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past,” Raab said. “There’s no reason why we can’t... We have seen it in the past to deliver polio vaccines to children in Afghanistan, just to take one example.”At Wednesday’s council meeting, Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, saying 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every nation vaccinated as soon as possible.The U.N. chief told the high-level council meeting that 130 countries have not received a single dose of vaccine and declared that “at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. As manufacturers struggle to ramp up production of vaccines, many countries complain of being left out and even rich nations are facing shortages and domestic complaints.Guterres’ appeal for cease-fires last March to deliver COVID-19 medical items received some initial support, but the cease-fires were almost always short-lived. While speed of developing vaccines has been impressive, COVAX has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries late last year. WHO says COVAX needs $5 billion in 2021. The draft resolution calls for the COVID-19 vaccination plans of countries to include “those at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and the most vulnerable, including frontline workers, older people, refugees, internally displaced people, stateless people, migrants, persons with disabilities, among others, as well as people living in areas under the control of any non-state armed group.”The proposed measure calls for increased scientific collaboration on new variants of COVID-19. It asks Guterres to report at least every 90 days on all impediments to the COVID-19 response, including vaccination programs, in countries where conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are occurring.It's not clear whether the resolution will be adopted. Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said Wednesday that humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies need the full backing of the council to be able to carry out their job. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, objected to the council focusing on equitable access to vaccines, saying this went beyond its mandate to preserve international peace and security. He indicated Moscow was not interested in a new resolution.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — California hospitals struggling with a skyrocketing coronavirus surge are trying to prepare for the possibility that they may have to ration care for lack of staff and beds — and hoping they don't have to make that choice.The state avoided surging cases for months, but now the virus is raging out of control there and across the nation in the wake of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings that authorities say vastly spread infections. Only Arizona tops California in cases per resident.The state this week ordered hospitals in the hardest-hit areas to delay many elective surgeries in order to free up space. In Los Angeles County, Methodist Hospital of Southern California convened an in-house triage team that makes daily evaluations “about the severity of critically ill patients that allows us to distribute resources to those who need it the most,” chief strategy officer Cliff Daniels said. The hospital isn't rationing care “and we hope we don't get there," Daniels said. However, guidelines posted on the hospital’s website warn: “If a patient becomes extremely ill and very unlikely to survive their illness (even with life-saving treatment), then certain resources ... may be allocated to another patient who is more likely to survive.”Los Angeles County, the nation's most populous with 10 million residents, is one of nearly two dozen in Southern California and the agricultural Central Valley that have essentially run out of intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients. Health officials warned Wednesday that hospitalizations will continue for at least the next three weeks as people who ignored social distancing rules to gather for Christmas and New Year's Eve fall ill.Hospitals statewide with room have been told to accept patients from others that have exhausted their ICU beds but in fact most of the state is reporting struggling to provide ICU beds, with non-COVID-19 patients spilling into corridors, tents and cafeterias.To the north, officials in Santa Clara County, with about 2 million residents, say 100 infected people a day are winding up in hospitals. “And as awful as it is, it could get worse,” said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the county’s director of Healthcare System Preparedness. “We haven’t had a situation where two people are out of breath and one person gets a ventilator. We could get there.”California reported its second-highest number of daily coronavirus deaths Wednesday with 459 lives lost, bringing the death toll to 2,504 in the last week as more than a quarter-million new weekly cases portended a continued overwhelming crush.Vaccinations being administered at what Gov. Gavin Newsom has said is too slow a pace will take weeks or months to slow the spread. About 12% of people who test positive for COVID-19 eventually are likely to need hospital care, authorities have estimated. “The numbers are extraordinary,″ said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. “We’re not going to dodge this math. We need the state’s help.”State officials also should override decisions by many county health officers that prevent recovering coronavirus patients from being released to skilled nursing facilities, despite fears that they could spread the virus, Coyle said. “Focus on nothing other than saving lives for the next few weeks,” Coyle said.L.A. County, which is recording more than 200 deaths a day, has seen a rate of new COVID-19 cases nearly double that of December, health officials said. More than 8,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 — with a fifth of them in intensive care — and more than a third of adult hospital beds are occupied by virus patients, said Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director.“This is a health crisis of epic proportions,” Ferrer said.___Thompson reported from Sacramento. Associated Press reporters Bob Jablon in Los Angeles, Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed.
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand on Monday discovered a record 914 new cases of the coronavirus, all in Samut Sakhon province near Bangkok where a major outbreak began in December. The new cases shot the national total past 14,000.The previous high was on Jan. 4, when 745 cases were reported, mostly in Samut Sakhon among migrant workers from Myanmar. The province is a center for fishing and industry. The first case reported in the recent surge was detected there in mid-December at a major seafood market, which has been closed.Any new cases in other provinces will be announced in Tuesday. National totals are announced the day after test results, but Samut Sakhon health officials officials released local results on Monday, the same day they began mass proactive testing in the province, targeting up to 10,000 people a day for a week.They said 844 new cases were detected Monday through pro-active testing and 70 discovered in hospitals. Thai nationals accounted for 119 cases and migrant workers for 795. Earlier Monday, Health Ministry officials had announced 187 new cases nationwide, bringing the total to 13,687. Two deaths pushed the death toll to 75. The Samut Sakorn figures were announced in the afternoon and not yet officially added to the national total.Cases linked to the Samut Sakhon outbreak have spread to more than 60 of Thailand’s 78 provinces. A cluster of cases also occurred among itinerant gamblers who gathered at illegal gambling dens.Restrictions to control the spread of the disease were reimposed in most provinces, including Bangkok, where schools were closed and restaurant hours limited, among other measures.Samut Sakhon Gov. Veerasak Vijitsaengsri was hospitalized with the coronavirus before the New Year, and remains in critical condition with severe lung damage, according to the Bangkok hospital where he was admitted.
WASHINGTON (AP) — House lawmakers may have been exposed to someone testing positive for COVID-19 while they sheltered at an undisclosed location during the Capitol siege by a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump.The Capitol's attending physician notified all lawmakers Sunday of the virus exposure and urged them to be tested. The infected individual was not named.Dr. Brian Moynihan wrote that “many members of the House community were in protective isolation in the large room — some for several hours” on Wednesday. He said “individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”Dozens of lawmakers were whisked to the secure location after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol that day, breaking through barricades to roam the halls and offices and ransacking the building.Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period. No further details were provided on which person has tested positive for the virus.Some lawmakers and staff were furious after video surfaced of Republican lawmakers not wearing their masks in the room during lockdown. Newly elected Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a presidential ally aligned with a pro-Trump conspiracy group, was among those Republicans not wearing masks.Trump is now facing impeachment after having incited supporters who were rallying near the White House before they marched to the Capitol. The House could vote on impeachment in a matter of days, less than two weeks before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building and many other officers were injured. A woman from California was shot to death by Capitol Police and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.Authorities on Sunday announced the death of a 51-year-old Capitol Police officer. Two people familiar with the matter said the officer’s death was an apparent suicide. Officer Howard Liebengood had been assigned to the Senate Division and was with the department since 2005. He is the son of a former Senate sergeant-at-arms.It was not clear whether his death was connected to Wednesday's events.The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. ___Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.