Topic: COVID-19

Let’s developments about the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.

Vaccine skepticism hurts East European anti-virus efforts

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Vaccines from the West, Russia or China? Or none at all? That dilemma faces nations in southeastern Europe, where coronavirus vaccination campaigns are off to a slow start — overshadowed by heated political debates and conspiracy theories.In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, vaccine skeptics have included former presidents and even some doctors. Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic was among those who said he did not want to be forced to get inoculated. False beliefs that the coronavirus is a hoax or that vaccines would inject microchips into people have spread in the countries that were formerly under harsh Communist rule. Those who once routinely underwent mass inoculations are deeply split over whether to get the vaccines at all.“There is a direct link between support for conspiracy theories and skepticism toward vaccination,” a recent Balkan study warned. “A majority across the region does not plan to take the vaccine, a ratio considerably lower than elsewhere in Europe, where a majority favors taking the vaccine.”Only about 200,000 people applied for the vaccine in Serbia, a country of 7 million, in the days after authorities opened the procedure. By contrast, 1 million Serbians signed up for 100 euros ($120) on the first day the government offered the pandemic aid.Hoping to encourage vaccinations, Serbian officials have gotten their shots on TV. Yet they themselves have been split over whether to get the Western-made Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or Russia’s Sputnik V, more divisions in a country that is formally seeking European Union membership but where many favor closer ties with Moscow.Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday greeted a shipment of 1 million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, saying he will receive a shot to show that it is safe.“Serbs prefer the Russian vaccine,” read a recent headline of the Informer, a pro-government tabloid, as officials announced that 38% of those who have applied to take the shots favor the Russian vaccine, while 31% want the Pfizer-BioNTech version — a rough division among pro-Russians and pro-Westerners in Serbia.In neighboring Bosnia, a war-torn country that remains ethnically divided among Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, politics also are a factor, as the Serb-run half appeared set to opt for the Russian vaccine, while the Bosniak-Croat part likely will turn to the Western ones. Sasa Milovanovic, a 57-year-old real estate agent from Belgrade, sees all vaccines as part of the “global manipulation” of the pandemic.“People are locked up, they have no lives any longer and live in a state of hysteria and fear,” he said. Djokovic has said he was against being forced to take a coronavirus vaccine in order to travel and compete but was keeping his mind open. The top-ranked tennis player and his wife tested positive in June after a series of exhibition matches with zero social distancing that he organized in the Balkans. They and their foundation have donated 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to buy ventilators and other medical equipment for hospitals in Serbia.Serbian Health Ministry official Mirsad Djerlek has described the vaccine response as “satisfactory,” but cautioned on the state-run RTS broadcaster that “people in rural areas usually believe in conspiracy theories, and that is why we should talk to them and explain that the vaccine is the only way out in this situation.”A study by the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, published before the regional vaccination campaign started in December, concluded that virus conspiracy theories are believed by nearly 80% of citizens of the Western Balkan countries striving to join the EU. About half of them will refuse to get vaccinated, it said.Baseless theories allege the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries. Another popular falsehood holds that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is using COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in the planet's 7 billion people.A low level of information about the virus and vaccines, distrust in governments and repeated assertions by authorities that their countries are besieged by foreigners help explain the high prevalence of such beliefs, according to the Balkans think tank. Similar trends have been seen even in some eastern European Union countries.In Bulgaria, widespread conspiracy theories hampered past efforts to deal with a measles outbreak. Surveys there suggested distrust of vaccines remains high even as coronavirus cases keep rising. A recent Gallup International poll found that 30% of respondents want to get vaccinated, 46% will refuse and 24% are undecided.Bulgarian doctors have tried to change attitudes. Dr. Stefan Konstantinov, a former health minister, joked that people should be told neighboring Greece would close resorts to tourists who don't get vaccinated, because “this would guarantee that some 70% of the population would rush to get a jab.”In the Czech Republic, where surveys show some 40% reject vaccination, protesters at a big rally against government virus restrictions in Prague demanded that vaccinations not be mandatory. Former President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce critic of the government's pandemic response, told the crowd that vaccines are not a solution.“They say that everything will be solved by a miracle vaccine,” said the 79-year-old Klaus, who insists that people should get exposed to the virus to gain immunity, which experts reject. “We have to say loud and clear that there’s no such a thing. … I am not going to get vaccinated.” Populist authorities in Hungary have taken a hard line against virus misinformation, but rejection of vaccines is still projected at about 30%. Parliament passed emergency powers in March that allows authorities to prosecute anyone deemed to be “inhibiting the successful defense” against the virus, including “fearmongering” or spreading false news. At least two people who criticized the government's response to the pandemic on social media were arrested, but neither was formally charged.Romanian Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu said he is relying on family doctors to “inform, schedule and monitor people after the vaccine” and that his ministry will offer bonuses to medical workers based on the number of people they get onboard. Asked if such incentives would fuel anti-vaccination propaganda, Voiculescu said: “I am interested more by the doctors’ view on the matter than I am about the anti-vaxxers.”Dr. Ivica Jeremic, who has worked with virus patients in Serbia since March and tested positive himself in November, hopes vaccination programs will gain speed once people overcome their fear of the unknown."People will realize the vaccine is the only way to return to normal life,” he said.___Associated Press writers Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic; Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary; and Vadim Ghirda in Bucharest, Romania, contributed.—-Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

EXPLAINER: Italy faces a political crisis amid a pandemic

MILAN (AP) — Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is testing his already low popularity by provoking a political crisis that could bring down Italy's coalition government at a critical juncture in the coronavirus pandemic. Renzi orchestrated the resignations of two ministers from his tiny but key Italia Viva party. The outcome of his power play will become clearer this week, when Premier Giuseppe Conte addresses both houses of Parliament. If Conte makes a successful bid for support, he could go on to form what would be his third coalition government since Italy's 2018 election. RENZI’S POWER PLAYThis is not Renzi’s first foray as an iconoclast shaking up Italian politics. He became premier in 2014 by out-maneuvering and unceremoniously deposing then-fellow Democratic Party member Enrico Letta as Italy's leader. Renzi himself fell from power nearly three years later after gambling his popularity on a constitutional referendum that failed. Now, the 46-year-old former Florence mayor might bring down Conte. He broadly accuses the premier of not properly managing the coronavirus crisis. Renzi says he is only following his conscience, at great political cost. “Italia Viva did not start the crisis. It has been going on for months,’’ he asserted during a press conference last week. Renzi, a senator for the Italia Viva party, supported Conte during an earlier, failed power grab by Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party that was part of Conte's first government.New polls show junior coalition partner Italia Viva has the support of just 2.4% of survey respondents, down from a high of 6.2% at the party’s inception. Italia Viva was created in September 2019 when Renzi bolted the Democratic Party he once ran. He brought with him two Cabinet members, giving himself the kind of leverage he employed last week.CONTE’S NEXT MOVEWith the resignation of the Italia Viva ministers, Conte is working to shore up support in parliament among independent lawmakers. He still has the backing of the Democratic Party and the 5-Star Movement, which have criticized Renzi’s move as irresponsible. Conte will make his case in the lower house on Monday and to the Senate on Tuesday. A voice vote will take place after each appearance, tantamount to a vote of confidence. If he fails to secure enough backing, Conte would likely submit his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella. In that case, a technical government could be put in place. Analysts believe an early election is the least likely outcome, due to the difficulty of holding a political campaign and election during the pandemic. There are also concerns that the right-wing opposition would gain strength, and possible lead a new government. The current majority would like to hold on at least until January 2022, when a new president must be chosen.Conte may survive to lead what would be his third government by cobbling together enough support in both houses. And it is still possible that Italia Viva will restore its backing.WHAT'S AT STAKEItaly expects to have 222 billion euros ($268 billion) in European Union economic recovery funds to manage, money that is crucial to modernizing the country and its limping economy. While Conte had wide support during Italy's devastating go-round with the coronavirus in the first half of 2020, cracks in his popularity have appeared during the even more deadly fall resurgence. Four months into the government's system of tiered restrictions, new confirmed daily infections remain stubbornly high, and Italy's pandemic death toll of 81,800 is the second-highest in Europe after Britain. Conte's government also is under fire for not keeping high schools open during the pandemic, a decision mostly tied to inadequate transportation to allow for social distancing. And there are concerns that Italy does not have enough medical personnel to carry out the country's vaccination campaign. But the crisis was ultimately spurred when Conte presented a plan that would have put himself in charge of managing the EU recovery funds. Political analyst Wolfgang Piccoli called it “the ultimate mistake,’’ setting up Renzi’s move to reassert his own “prominence.”Italians are showing little patience for the political infighting when the nation’s priority is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and rolling out the vaccines that many hope will end the nation's long coronavirus nightmare. In a new poll, 42% of Italians said they didn't understand what provoked the latest government divisions. ___Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Players in lockdown after positive virus cases in Australia

Grand Slam champions are among the 47 players in hard lockdown after four positive tests for COVID-19 emerged from two of the charter flights bringing players, staff, officials and media to Australia for the first tennis major of the season.Some players were angry at being classified as close contacts merely for being on board those flights with people who later tested positive and, therefore, forced into a harsher quarantine than the broader group of players who’ll be allowed out of their rooms to practice for up to five hours per day.But local health authorities have said all players were warned of the risks in advance. And any players considering bending the rules have been warned. Breach quarantine regulations and there’s the prospect of heavy fines or being moved to a more secure quarantine complex with police stationed at their doors.Three cases were announced Saturday and Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar told a news conference on Sunday that there’d been a fourth positive test involving a person flying in for the Australian Open. So far, none has involved a player.Three cases emerged from the flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, officials said, including a member of the air crew, a coach and the latest being a member of the TV broadcasting team. The other case was a coach who took the charter flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne. All four had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia. All four have now been transferred to a health hotel.Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, posted on social media to say he was on the flight from Abu Dhabi and had test positive.Two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori were reported to be on the flight from Los Angeles. All passengers from both of those flights are in hard lockdown.Cassar, who is also in charge of the state’s prisons, said there’d been cases of people “testing” the quarantine procedures, triggering a warning and a conversation with the state’s police, but no attempts to escape quarantine.“There’ll be zero tolerance for that behavior,” Cassar said. “This is designed to make people safe. We make no apologies for that.”Several players in quarantine, including Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan complained in social media posts that the rules seemed to have changed between what they saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed in Melbourne.Cirstea posted on Twitter: “If they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia ... I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive.”But government officials have rejected those claims.“There’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” Cassar said. “This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”Tennis Australia confirmed there were 24 players on the flight from Los Angeles and 23 on the flight from Abu Dhabi. Those were among 17 charter flights from seven international destinations bringing up to 1,200 players, coaches, staff and officials into Australia for the tournament.Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told Australia's Nine Network that organizers and players were forewarned there'd be a “significant risk” of restrictions being imposed on players if there were positive COVID-19 cases.“We did make it very clear in the beginning,” Tiley said. “Now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those who won’t be able to practice.“It’s a tough situation. We’ve got to do whatever we can to make it as fair as possible for those player that are in lockdown."British player Heather Watson said on Twitter that she and others who arrived from Abu Dhabi "are NOT allowed out (of) our rooms.” She posted the notification that she and others who were on the flight received informing them of the quarantine.“We are aware of the major impact this has on your preparation for the Australian summer,” the notification said, pledging “to do everything we can to mitigate this impact.”Being unable to leave their room would mean the only workouts they'd be able to have would be on an exercise equipment left in the rooms of all of the players.Other players will be allowed to train under strict conditions and with supervision for up to five hours a day, although those practice sessions in Melbourne had been delayed while health authorities waited to receive all the coronavirus tests.Five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and American Madison Keys haven't traveled to Australia after testing positive in mandatory pre-flight checks.Tiley said there were no plans to delay the Australian Open any further — it’s already starting three weeks later than usual — although organizers were reviewing the schedule for the warmup tournaments starting Feb. 1 to find ways to make it easier for those players in strict quarantine to prepare.Tickets are on sale for the tournament, although the crowd capacity at Melbourne Park will be limited.Australia's international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances. Each of Australia's states and territories has its own border and quarantine rules, and those can change on very short notice.Victoria state, which has as its capital Melbourne, accounted for 810 of Australia's 909 deaths from COVID-19, most of those during a deadly second wave three months ago which resulted in curfews and lockdowns for the city.Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. Those players flew straight to Adelaide to begin their hotel quarantine period. So far, there's been no COVID-19 cases reported from the quarantine in Adelaide.___ AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa contributed from Brisbane, Australia.___More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Chinese city reports coronavirus found on ice cream

BEIJING (AP) — The coronavirus was found on ice cream produced in eastern China, prompting a recall of cartons from the same batch, according to the government.The Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd. in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus, a city government statement said. There was no indication anyone had contracted the virus from the ice cream. Most of the 29,000 cartons in the batch had yet to be sold, the government said. It said 390 sold in Tianjin were being tracked down and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas.The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said.The Chinese government has suggested the disease, first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, came from abroad and has highlighted what it says are discoveries of the coronavirus on imported fish and other food, though foreign scientists are skeptical.

California congressman tests positive for coronavirus

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California congressman contracted the coronavirus before he could get a second dose of vaccine that would have improved his immunity.Democratic Rep. Lou Correa announced Saturday he tested positive upon returning home from Washington, D.C., prompting him to self-quarantine away from his family.His office said he received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 19 and has not received the second shot that would have boosted his immunity to about 95%. “While this diagnosis will prevent me from attending the much-anticipated inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, I look forward to working with the new administration to unite our country and help the millions of people devastated by the pandemic," Correa said in a statement.Correa, who represents central Orange County, is the latest House member to report testing positive since dozens of lawmakers huddled together for protection during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York said Thursday he contracted the coronavirus even after getting the second dose of the vaccine.Correa’s office said he was not in the secure room but was outside assisting Capitol Police. He was confronted later last week by a group of Donald Trump supporters, some not wearing masks, at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.The vaccine is about 52% effective after the first dose, Pfizer-BioNTech said. The efficacy of the vaccine rises to about 95% after the second dose.

Restaurants, bars scramble for propane amid pandemic winter

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — With coronavirus restrictions forcing bars and restaurants to seat customers outside in the dead of winter, many are scrambling to nab erratic supplies of propane that fuel space heaters they’re relying on more than ever to keep people comfortable in the cold.It's one of many new headaches — but a crucial one — that go with setting up tables and tents on sidewalks, streets and patios to comply with public health restrictions.“You’re in the middle of service and having staff run up and say, ‘We’re out of propane!’" said Melinda Maddox, manager of a whiskey tasting room in Colorado.Propane long has been a lifeline for people who live in places too remote to get natural gas piped to their homes for heat, hot water and cooking. This winter, 5-gallon (18-liter) propane tanks have proven a new necessity for urban businesses, too, especially in places like the Rocky Mountains, where the sun often takes the edge off the chill and people still enjoy gathering on patios when the heaters are roaring.The standard-size tanks, which contain pressurized liquid propane that turns to gas as it's released, are usually readily available from gas stations, grocery stores or home improvement stores. But that's not always the case lately as high demand leads to sometimes erratic supplies.“I spent one day driving an hour around town. Literally went north, south, east, west — just did a loop around Fort Collins because every gas station I went to was out. That was frustrating,” said Maddox, who manages the Reserve By Old Elk Distillery tasting room in downtown Fort Collins, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Denver.Nearly all states allow at least some indoor dining, but the rules nationwide are a hodgepodge of local regulations. In Fort Collins, indoor seating at bars and restaurants is limited to 25% of normal capacity, so there's a strong incentive to seat customers outside despite the complication and expense.Local propane tank shortages result not just from higher demand but household hoarding similar to the pandemic run on toilet paper and other goods. One national tank supplier reported a 38% sales increase this winter, said Tom Clark, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Propane Association.But Clark says the supply is there, it just may mean searching a bit more than normal. If there are 10 suppliers in a neighborhood, “maybe 1 out of 10 may be out of inventory. Certainly, you can find propane exchange tanks if you look around,” Clark said.Franklin, Tennessee-based tank manufacturer Manchester Tank has been paying workers overtime and boosting production in India to meet demand, company President Nancy Chamblee said by email.So far, the surge in demand for small-tank propane hasn't affected overall U.S. propane supply, demand and prices, which are running similar to recent winters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.But trying to find a steady supply of propane can cost already-stressed businesses time and money they lack in the pandemic. Gas stations are better than home improvement stores for propane tank runs because you can park closer, said Maddox, but shops that refill tanks are best because it's cheaper and not as complicated as trying to run every tank dry.“The issue there is it takes longer,” Maddox said. “You just have to build that into your day and say OK, it’s going to take 40 minutes instead of 25 minutes.”Across the street, Pour Brothers Community Tavern owners Kristy and Dave Wygmans have been refilling tanks for their 18 or so heaters and fire bowls at a supplier at the edge of town after a nearby shop stopped offering refill service.They discovered that propane tanks carry a date-of-manufacture stamp. Propane shops won't refill tanks older than 12 years unless they have been re-certified in five-year increments.“We’re learning more and more about propane," Dave Wygmans said.They also have gained insight into the market for space heaters, which more than doubled in price last fall due to surging demand, and outdoor furniture for their street-parking-turned-outdoor-patio area that can seat up to 44 people, Kristy Wygmans said.Their employees also had to quickly learn to hook up propane tanks and light heaters, needed in a place where temperatures can plunge well below zero (minus 18 Celsius) in winter.Keeping customers comfortable has taken on a new dimension outdoors, Dave Wygmans said.“Before it was just drinks and food, right? And now, we think the priority is drinks and food but maybe the customer thinks the priority is the heat. And so now we have to balance one more priority that some customers might care about," he said."It’s almost like another service that we’re providing is outside heat,” Wygmans said.___Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver.

Pandemic interrupts longtime Isle Royale wolf, moose study

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — One of the world's longest-running wildlife field studies has fallen prey to the coronavirus pandemic.Since 1959, a research team has spent most of the winter observing the interplay between wolves and moose at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. But this year's mission has been scrapped to protect the scientists and support personnel from possible exposure to the virus, Superintendent Denice Swanke said Friday.Experts from several universities, the park service and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa had planned to assess how an effort to rebuild the wolf population is affecting the ecosystem.The remote park is closed from Nov. 1 to April 15. The winter researchers use a single cabin, which wouldn't allow for social distancing. Also factoring into the decision to cancel the expedition were the border closure between the United States and Canada, and a shortage of flight resources to bring supplies, Swanke said.The park service and partners will try to document wolf population changes this summer using remote cameras and other techniques, Swanke said. But they won't have the benefit of aerial observations that can be done only during winter, when the animals are easier to spot.“There will just be a hole in the data that nothing can be done about,” said John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, one of the biologists who have produced annual reports about the wolves and moose that roam the island park, as well as its other wildlife and vegetation.Wolves are believed to have crossed ice bridges from the mainland to the island in the mid-20th century. They established packs and helped keep the moose from overpopulating their habitat.When inbreeding all but wiped out the wolves in recent years, officials began airlifting in others from the U.S. and Canadian mainland.The most recent count last year put their numbers at 12 to 14. The moose herd was estimated to number 1,876.

Expo 2020 unveils key pavilion in Dubai as pandemic surges

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai on Saturday unveiled the signature pavilion for the upcoming Expo 2020, the world's fair that is scheduled to open later this year even as the global pandemic that forced its postponement continues to rage.The Terra Pavilion, which features a towering 130 meter-wide (426 feet) canopy blanketed with thousands of solar panels, is part of the sheikhdom's push to rally enthusiasm for the high-stakes expo amid the pandemic that has pummeled its economy. The massive structure, devoted to environmental sustainability, rises from the fairgrounds on the desert outskirts of Dubai, where construction workers still scurry around national pavilions in various stages of completion.Dubai’s Expo 2020 is expected to draw 25 million visitors and a flurry of business deals. The event represents a $7 billion bet by the city in the United Arab Emirates to boost international tourism and investment. The yearlong delay puts even more pressure on the event to spur Dubai’s service-heavy economy, which was sputtering before the pandemic thanks to a shaky real estate market.It appears that the organizers are leaving nothing to chance. Saturday’s media tour of the gleaming pavilion was tightly controlled, with dozens of press officers instructing photographers to shoot only from specific angles that showed off the building’s best features and obscured nearby pavilions still covered with scaffolding and clouds of plaster dust.The Terra Pavilion, which cost over $272 million, is designed to produce as much electricity as it uses, making it both energy and carbon neutral. It will supply and treat all of its own water, capturing rain in a vast underground cistern.The 25,000 square-meter pavilion boasts immersive experiences of forests and oceans as well as interactive exhibits guiding visitors through the history of environmental decline and dangers of overconsumption. The vast eruption of climate-controlled steel and glass teems with butterflies, lizards and insects. Thick clumps of reeds lining the building filter air conditioning wastewater for reuse. While the theme of sustainability may seem at odds with spending billions of dollars on the construction of hundreds of buildings designed to last only for the fair's six months, the event's planners insist Expo Dubai is different. “The theme of thinking about the future, thinking about changing our attitudes and being aware about environmental challenges is our number one concern," said Mohamed al-Ansaari, vice president of communications at Expo 2020.He noted that 85% of the site's trash will be diverted from landfills and 80% of new buildings will live on after the event as educational centers, residential buildings or offices. The other 20% of the structures belong to individual countries that may decide whether to raze, abandon or recycle their pavilions. The Terra Pavilion aims to draw 3,000-5,000 people a day starting next week, said its director John Bull, when it will open its doors with great fanfare even as the coronavirus pandemic surges to unprecedented heights in the UAE. Virus countermeasures like thermal checks, social-distancing squares and loads of hand sanitizer aim to ensure safety. As for the fair's opening in October 2021, organizers have voiced nothing but optimism for Expo Dubai to become one of the first places where the world can reunite after defeating the pandemic with mass vaccination.“After months of isolation and uncertainty, this event will be the opportunity to showcase and motivate solidarity on the human level,” declared Reem Ebrahim al-Ashimy, the Expo’s director general and the Emirati minister of state for international cooperation.Meanwhile, the effect of the virus across the wider Expo construction site remains unclear. Press officers confirmed that COVID-19 cases had been reported among workers, but referred further questions to email. They did not respond to requests for comment on infections or construction-related fatalities on the site. Officials from Expo also tried to have journalists sign forms that implied they could face criminal prosecution for not following their orders, and refused to allow filming of workers on the grounds.

Teens tutor peers online to fill need during pandemic

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — When her suburban Dallas high school was forced to move online last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Charvi Goyal realized that the schoolmates she’d been informally tutoring between classes would still need extra help but wouldn’t necessarily be able to get it. So she took her tutoring online, as well.Goyal, a 17-year-old high school junior from Plano, roped in three classmates to create TutorScope, a free tutoring service run by high schoolers for other kids, including younger ones. What started with a handful of instructors helping friends’ siblings in their hometown has blossomed into a group of 22 tutors from Texas, Arizona, and Ohio that has helped more than 300 students from as far away as South Korea.“I could foresee that schools were going to go virtual. And with that there were a couple of problems because the interactions between students and students, and students and teachers would be weakened,” Goyal said. TutorScope provides the one-on-one support that teachers have traditionally given while roving the aisles of their classrooms but now often can’t because of the time and technology constraints posed by online schooling. On a night near the end of the fall semester, tutor Avi Bagchi worked with 7-year-old twins Monika and Massey Newman on a reading comprehension lesson about discerning between fact and opinion. During their half-hour video chat, the 16-year-old Plano High School student provided the children from nearby Corinth with examples — it’s a fact that the pen is red but an opinion if one doesn’t like it — and reined them in when they got off topic a bit: Can’t it be a fact that someone holds an opinion?“I love candy. That’s a fact ...” said Massey, “... because it’s true,” he and his sister said in unison.Their mother, social worker Sarah Newman, said the twins’ TutorScope sessions have been really helpful and have freed up her and her 17-year-old son to focus on their own work.“With these tutors, I realize they have time,” she said. “I think they are very patient with these younger kids, which I do not even have as a mother. I have patience in other things, (but) I don’t have patience in the teaching.”Newman discovered TutorScope a few weeks into the fall semester on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social media app, and signed up her twins for sessions, which can be up to an hour each week per subject.“At the time I was even looking for tutoring for them, like private tutoring, and every spot that I hit was too costly for those two kids. I’m like, I can’t afford it,” Newman said.TutorScope isn’t the first nonprofit to offer online tutoring and is just one of the workarounds people have come up with to educate kids during the pandemic, from a teacher in Nigeria who grades homework from around the world to a so-called sidewalk school in Mexico that offers online instruction to children, including some stuck at the border awaiting decisions on U.S. asylum requests. What makes the TutorScope effort unique is the bond between the teenage volunteers and the peers they’re helping. “We kind of want to keep the whole ‘for students by students’ thing really prominent since it provides a sort of solidarity. Because everyone is going through the same thing, you know that your tutor is also having the same struggles learning right now that you are,” Goyal said.The group accepts donations from adults but limits volunteers to students, including at least one college undergrad.Now in their third semester, the TutorScope board has secured nonprofit status from the IRS and persuaded a software company to give them free access to a scheduling platform. Jessica Ding, 16, manages the website and parent emails, Angelina Ehara, 17, coordinates public outreach and social media, and Kaustubh Sonawane, 16, runs the signup process.The tutors, for their part, get experience that will look great on a college or job application — no small thing with many other extracurriculars shelved during the pandemic. They also get a sense of whether they might want to teach full-time or run a business or an NGO someday. New tutors undergo limited training: they watch recordings of tutoring sessions. But Goyal’s main request from prospective volunteers is a passion for helping the kids they tutor progress.“Our system is pretty scalable. The only thing we really need to manage (2,000) students would be more tutors,” Goyal said.Although the pandemic has forced many students to retreat inward, Goyal said working with others on a big project has allowed her to look outwards.“My confidence level has increased,” said Goyal, adding that she’s made friends with kids from her school whom she’s never met in person. Furthemore, running a growing nonprofit “does help with the boredom” of being stuck at home, she said.___Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/viaCedar.

The Latest: UN: Pandemic reduced migrants by 2M by mid-2020

UNITED NATIONS — A new U.N. report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of international migrants by 2 million by the middle of 2020 because of border closings and a halt to travel worldwide — an estimated 27% decrease in expected growth.Clare Menozzi, principal author of the report by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division, told a news conference Friday that for the second half of 2020 “we have a sense that it will be probably comparable, if not more so.”She said international migration had been projected to grow by 7 to 8 million between mid-2019 and mid-2020.But the border closures and travel clampdown starting in March, as the pandemic circled the globe, meant zero growth for four months, and an estimated 2 million reduction in the expected number of international migrants, Menozzi said.By August 2020, Population Division Director John Wilmoth noted, “there had been more than 80,000 travel restrictions imposed by 219 countries or territories across the world.”Over the last two decades, growth in the number of international migrants has been robust.Wilmoth said that according to the latest estimates, “the number of international migrants worldwide reached 281 million persons in 2020, up from 173 million in 2000,” They account for just 3.6% of the total global population, he said.__THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive— U.S. governors complain over pace of COVID-19 vaccine shipments— Biden: We’ll ‘manage the hell’ out of feds’ COVID response— Study: In pandemic era, older adults isolated but resilient— China builds hospital in 5 days after surge in virus cases___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:Mexico posted a record spike in coronavirus cases on Friday, with 21,366 newly confirmed infections, about double the daily rate of increase just a week ago. The country also recorded 1,106 more deaths.It was unclear if the spike was due to the presence of the U.K. virus variant, of which only one case has so far been confirmed in a visiting British citizen.The country has now seen almost 1.61 million total infections and has seen registered over 139,000 deaths so far in the pandemic. The country’s extremely low testing rate means that is an undercount, and official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000. So little testing is done that 8% of all those who got a test later died during recent weeks; normally, only people with severe symptoms are tested.___BEIJING — China on Saturday reported 130 new confirmed coronavirus infections and no deaths.The National Health Commission said 90 of those confirmed cases were in Hebei province, adjacent to Beijing, where the country’s biggest recent outbreak occurred.Another 23 cases were in Heilongjiang province in the northeast, the commission said.There were 15 infections that were determined to have been contracted abroad.China’s death toll stands at 4,635, with a total of 88,118 confirmed cases, the commission said.___SALEM, Ore. - Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that plans to vaccinate Oregon residents over 65 starting next week would have to be delayed and scaled back substantially as she accused the Trump administration of backtracking on a promise of more than 100,000 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal reserve.State health officials announced this week that vaccine eligibility would be expanded to educators and seniors beginning Jan. 23. However, following news that there is “no federal reserve” of doses, Brown said she has limited vaccinations to educators beginning Jan. 25 and to people 80 or older on Feb. 8 — with a 12-week rollout to reach all seniors who are 65 and over.“I am shocked and appalled that the federal government would set an expectation with the American people, on which they knew they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Brown said.The governor said Friday that she was told late Thursday by Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the leader of the “Operation Warp Speed” federal vaccine effort, that states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week “because there is no federal reserve of doses.”___MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers blasted federal officials Friday for promising to release the remainder of their COVID-19 vaccine stockpile when it apparently was already exhausted, calling the pledge a “slap in the face.”Evers has been taking pointed criticism from Republican legislators for weeks over the slow pace of Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout. He told reporters on a conference call on Friday that Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Health Services Secretary Alex Azar told governors this week that they planned to release whatever vaccines the federal government had been holding in reserve to speed inoculations. But federal officials have since said the stockpile was exhausted when those promises were made and governors can’t expect any windfall shipments. The news has escalated tensions and uncertainty about the sluggish pace of inoculations and who’s responsible for it. Evers accused Pence and Azar of misleading governors.“It was just plain old obfuscation,” Evers said. “I was told by the vice president, a couple days ago, and the secretary of health services that they’re opening the gates, we’re going to send you the remainder of what was stockpiled. I guess they may have been telling the truth because it’s zero.”A total of 213,056 people had been vaccinated in the state as of Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said. That’s about 0.036% of the state’s population.___BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday said he will drop a statewide mask requirement as well as limits on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues, citing a dramatic drop in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.The Republican governor said he will allow an executive order to expire on Monday, as scheduled.“The fight is far from over but we can certainly see the light of the end of the tunnel from here,” he said. Burgum issued the executive order on Nov. 13 and had extended it once.Burgum earlier this month had eased restrictions on food service establishments that let them operate at 65% capacity.North Dakota ranked among the worst states in the nation for coronavirus spread for several weeks this fall, but cases have been in decline for weeks.___WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden issued a rebuke of Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks while sheltering in crowded rooms during last week’s violent insurrection on the Capitol.“What the hell’s the matter with them?” Biden asked, adding that “it’s time to grow up.”Dozens of lawmakers were ushered off the House floor to an undisclosed location as a mob of Donald Trump supporters descended on the Capitol last week to protest Biden’s election win. Democrats say Republicans refused to wear masks, with some even resisting when Delaware Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester tried to pass them out to the crowd.Five members of Congress announced they tested positive for the coronavirus after being taken to a safe space when the riot began.