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Mon. 10:03 a.m.: Latest world virus headlines — WHO: ‘Not right’ to vaccinate young before old

A doctor inoculates Herri Rehfeld, 92, against the new coronavirus with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine today at the vaccination center at the Messe Berlin trade fair grounds on the center's opening day in Berlin, Germany. The center is the third to open in Berlin. Three more are to open in coming weeks once shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines pick up pace. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via AP, Pool)

Here are summaries of the latest Associated Press coronavirus pandemic stories worldwide, including:

— WHO: ‘Not right’ to vaccinate young, rich before old, poor;

— Japan’s prime minister vows to hold the already postponed Olympics this summer;

— Some Polish hospitals suspend vaccinations because of shortfall;

— Israel trades Pfizer vast troves of medical data for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine;

— Brazil approves two coronavirus vaccines, ones by Sinovac and Oxford-AstraZeneca;

— China’s economy grows in 2020 as it rebounds from virus, likely only major economy to expand;

— Britain vows to give all adults 1st shot of the virus by September;

— Tennis players find ways to keep fit even during hotel room quarantines in Australia;

— COVID-19 patients in short-staffed rural Arizona regularly sent on long ride to Phoenix.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief today lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or health care workers in poorer countries and charging that most vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.

“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronavirus.

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively,” he said. “But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots.”

In some of his toughest public words yet against vaccine makers, Tedros again criticized “bilateral deals” between drug companies and countries that hurt the ability of the WHO-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to all countries based on need.

“Most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting” data to WHO, he said, so it can approve vaccines for wider use.

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BEIJING — China eked out 2.3 percent economic growth in 2020, likely becoming the only major economy to expand as shops and factories reopened relatively early from a shutdown to fight the coronavirus while the United States, Japan and Europe struggled with rising infections.

Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier as consumers returned to shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas, official data showed today. That was up from the previous quarter’s 4.9 percent and stronger than many forecasters expected.

In early 2020, activity contracted by 6.8 percent in the first quarter as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of shutting down most of its economy to fight the virus. The following quarter, China became the first major country to grow again with a 3.2 percent expansion after the party declared victory over the virus in March and allowed factories, shops and offices to reopen.

Restaurants are filling up while cinemas and retailers struggle to lure customers back. Crowds are thin at shopping malls, where guards check visitors for signs of the disease’s tell-tale fever.

Domestic tourism is reviving, though authorities have urged the public to stay home during the Lunar New Year holiday in February, normally the busiest travel season, in response to a spate of new infections in some Chinese cities.

Exports have been boosted by demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical goods.

The growing momentum “reflected improving private consumption expenditure as well as buoyant net exports,” said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit in a report. He said China is likely to be the only major economy to grow in 2020 while developed countries and most major emerging markets were in recession.

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WARSAW, Poland — Some hospitals in Poland have suspended vaccination against COVID-19 after they did not get the expected deliveries of their Pfizer vaccine doses.

A government official monitoring the vaccination process, Michal Dworczyk, said today that the latest delivery over the weekend was at least 50 percent smaller than expected, and the government needs to make changes to the national inoculation schedule that began in late December.

Of some 1.5 million doses Poland has received, the government has secured half for the second jab for those who have received the first portion. The second round of inoculation should be starting this week.

Hospitals in Szczecin region, in the northwest, and in Krakow, in the south, today temporarily halted first vaccinations, saying they have not received the requested doses.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Doctors in care homes for the elderly and people with disabilities in the Netherlands have begun vaccinating residents against the coronavirus.

The health ministry said today that the care facilities aim to vaccinate 15,000 residents this week.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge says that with the help of doctors at the care homes “we are now starting to protect our elderly and most vulnerable people. They are the most important group in the vaccination strategy.”

A total of 155,000 residents of care homes are in line to be vaccinated in coming weeks.

The Netherlands began vaccinating people on Jan. 6, the last European Union country to kick off its inoculations. Since then, 75,000 health care workers have been vaccinated.

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PHOENIX — Exhausted nurses in rural Yuma, Arizona, are regularly sending COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to hospitals in Phoenix when they don’t have enough staff.

The so-called winter lettuce capital of the U.S. also has lagged on coronavirus testing in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.

But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County, which is the hardest-hit county in one of the hardest-hit states. The area’s only acute care hospital has no other facility to turn to nearby as it competes for medical workers nationwide.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish police have cracked down on a group of 17 people who were found ice bathing naked in a lake near Roskilde, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Copenhagen.

Everyone in the group, aged between 26 and 51, was charged with violating Denmark’s restrictions that forbid the gathering of more than five people in public. Police said they will all receive a fine. First time offenders get fines of 2,500 kroner ($405).

The incident occurred Sunday morning, police said.

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s top health official, who has led the state throughout the coronavirus pandemic, is leaving for a job with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President-elect Joe Biden.

Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, has been nominated as deputy secretary of the federal agency.

Palm will work to fulfill Biden’s pledge to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and speed up the rate of vaccinations.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg says Norway could consider introducing a curfew “if the infection gets completely out of control.”

“We still have control over the infection, but we have no guarantees that it will continue to be so,” Solberg told Parliament today.

She said that people in the Scandinavian country “must prepare to live with different degrees of infection control measures until the summer, maybe even longer.”

Norway has reported 58,651 confirmed infections and 521 deaths.

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MELBOURNE — With no way out, tennis players in lockdown are figuring out ways to keep themselves fit within the confines of their Melbourne hotel rooms as they prepare for the Australian Open.

Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian Open in 2016, spent her birthday in quarantine today. At times in the past, she’s spent the day playing or preparing for matches in the later stages of the tournament.

This year, with the season-opening Grand Slam event not starting until Feb. 8 because of travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to settle for a message posted on social media by Australian Open organizers to mark the occasion.

Kerber is among the 72 players doing hard quarantine for 14 days after a five positive coronavirus tests were returned from charter flights that brought almost 1,200 players, coaches, officials and media to Melbourne for what has previously been dubbed the Happy Slam.

That means those players won’t be allowed to leave their hotel rooms or practice for 14 days, creating a two-speed preparation period for the tournament. Others in less rigorous quarantine will be allowed to practice for five hours daily.

Those outdoor sessions started today in Melbourne. A smaller group of players who landed in the South Australia capital of Adelaide, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are also allowed outside to practice under bio-secure protocols.

Players such as Yulia Putintseva and Belinda Bencic initially complained in social media posts about being ill informed of the quarantine rules but have found ways to practice indoors by hitting balls against walls and windows and setting up other unique sessions.

Some players have expressed anger at being classified as close contacts merely for being on board charter flights with people who later tested positive. But local government, tennis and health authorities have said all players were warned of the risks well in advance.

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JERUSALEM — After sprinting ahead in the race to inoculate its population against the coronavirus, Israel has struck a deal with Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine.

Proponents say the deal could allow Israel to become the first country to vaccinate most of its population, while providing valuable research that could help the rest of the world. But critics say the deal raises major ethical concerns, including possible privacy violations and a deepening of the global divide that enables wealthy countries to stockpile vaccines as poorer populations, including Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, have to wait longer to be inoculated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who is stumping ahead of the country’s March elections as Israel’s vaccinator-in-chief — said earlier this month that he reached the deal with Pfizer’s chief executive to speed up vaccine deliveries to Israel.

“Israel will be a global model state,” he said. “Israel will share with Pfizer and with the entire world the statistical data that will help develop strategies for defeating the coronavirus.”

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told The Associated Press the government will turn over data to “see how it influences, first of all, the level of the disease in Israel, the possibility to open the economy, different aspects of social life, and whether there are any effects of the vaccination.”

Pfizer’s vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, has received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union’s regulatory agency and is believed to provide up to 95 percent protection against COVID-19. But much remains unknown, including its long-term protection and whether it can prevent transmission of the virus.

Israel, home to some 9.3 million people, is considered an ideal place for studying these questions. Its mandatory universal health care is provided by four publicly funded HMOs with meticulously digitized medical records. This centralized system has helped Israel administer more than 2 million doses of the vaccine in under a month. Israel has also purchased doses of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.

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PARIS — France today began a campaign to inoculate people over 75 against coronavirus, as its death toll rose past 70,000 over the weekend.

There is increasing concern that delays in delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might hinder the drive to vaccinate in France and beyond. French authorities have already been criticized for the country’s slow pace in delivering shots, especially compared to Britain, Germany and Italy.

French health authorities have been worried over polls showing that the majority of French people are wary of vaccines against COVID 19, so they may have been surprised by the number of people who have signed for shots, reserved for those 75 and older or with a high health risk.

The health agency reported that more than 500,000 appointments scheduled for the first of two shots until Feb.14 have overwhelmed its system. An internet site set up as one other way to make vaccine appointments was receiving up to 20,000 connections a minute, the agency said.

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BRUSSELS — The new variant of COVID-19 first detected in Britain is now starting to gain a foothold in Belgium, officials say, with cases reported several northern schools on top of an outbreak in a nursing home.

“The variant has settled into our country,” pre-eminent virologist Marc Van Ranst told HLN network. “Like in other nations, it is getting traction.”

The town of Houthulst in northwestern Belgium shot up to the top of the country’s infection rate with 1,207 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days after a spike in cases at a nursing home this year left over 100 people infected. Tests showed the new variant was to blame.

In the Antwerp area, two schools reported cases over the weekend and closed today for a week due to the new variant. Authorities said students, teachers and their families should all quarantine for ten days.

Belgium has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, seeing 20,435 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — Britain is to expand the rollout of its coronavirus vaccine program by offering jabs to those over the age of 70 in areas where those deemed to be the most vulnerable have already received their first dose.

More than 3.8 million people across the U.K. — more than 5 percent of the population — have already received their first dose of vaccine.

The early phase of the vaccination program has been focused on the most vulnerable groups — those over the age of 80, residents in nursing homes and their carers, and staff in hospitals.

Britain is also opening another 10 mass vaccination centers this week. And a pilot program to provide 24-hour vaccinations will commence in London hospitals by the end of January.

Britain’s vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the normal daytime slots work “much more conveniently” for those over the age of 80 but that nighttime appointments may be handier for those in lower age groups.

Britain, which has Europe’s highest virus-related death toll at nearly 90,000, is aiming to have offered a first dose of vaccine to the four groups deemed most vulnerable to COVID-19 by mid-February.

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BERLIN — Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest and one of Europe’s main hubs, saw passenger numbers drop to their lowest level in over three decades last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Operator Fraport said today that the airport handled some 18.8 million passengers in 2020, 73.4 percent fewer than the previous year. Fraport CEO Stefan Schulte said that “passenger volumes dropped to a level last seen in 1984.”

But he said cargo traffic reached almost at the same level as in 2019, despite the loss of capacity in passenger planes’ holds.

Schulte said that Fraport expects passenger traffic to “rebound noticeably” in this year’s second half as vaccinations lead to the lifting of travel restrictions. But he said it will still be a “difficult year” and passenger numbers in Frankfurt in 2021 are expected to reach only 35 to 45 percent of the 2019 level.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country will step up its monitoring of coronavirus variants amid concern that some mutant version could spread faster or cause more serious illness.

Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin today that he is ordering laboratories to sequence the genome of 5 percent of positive samples, or up to 10 percent if case numbers fall.

Spahn noted that Britain, where one apparently more contagious variant was first detected last year, has a very strong surveillance network.

German officials have expressed worry about the sharp rise in cases seen in Britain and Ireland in recent weeks.

Germany’s disease control agency said there 7,141 newly confirmed cases and 214 deaths in the country over the past day, though numbers reported over the weekend are often incomplete.

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BEIJING — A Chinese province grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases is reinstating tight restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening violators with criminal charges.

The notice from the high court in Hebei province did not give specifics, but said all types of social gatherings were now being regulated to prevent further spread of the virus.

Hebei has had one of China’s most serious outbreaks in months and it comes amid measures to curb the further spread during February’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

Hebei recorded another 54 cases over the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said today, while the northern province of Jilin reported 30 cases and Heilongjiang further north reported seven.

Beijing had two new cases and most buildings and housing compounds now require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Foreign Ministry says the United Arab Emirates has decided to suspend visa exemptions for Israelis amid surging numbers of coronavirus cases.

The measure will make it harder for Israelis to fly to the UAE, where they have traveled in droves recently. The two countries established ties last year and until recently the UAE was one of the few countries Israelis could travel to without having to self-quarantine for two weeks.

But both countries have seen their coronavirus infections spike in recent weeks, prompting the change in travel requirements.

Dubai has remained open to foreign tourists who came in the tens of thousands to celebrate holidays and New Year’s in the United Arab Emirates, sending coronavirus cases surging to new heights. The UAE has shattered its daily infection record for six consecutive days over the past week.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said today that following the change, entry visas to each country will be required for traveling Emiratis and Israelis until July.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has started reopening schools in phases after about two months of closure despite a steady increase in infections and fatalities from the coronavirus.

Wearing masks, children entered schools today with smiles on their faces, as teachers welcomed them back to their classes.

To lower the spread of the virus, students are being kept at a distance from each other in classrooms.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood wished good luck to students who return to their classes.

Pakistan has reported 10,997 deaths from the coronavirus among 521,211 cases since February, when the first case was detected in the country.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel says it has recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began as it continues to battle a spiraling outbreak.

The Health Ministry said today that 4,005 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic. The grim milestone comes as Israel is in its third nationwide lockdown, with schools, shops, malls and other non-essential businesses closed until at least the end of this week. Daily case numbers have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which was tightened last week and could be extended.

The lockdown comes as Israel has unleashed a rapid vaccination campaign, with some 2 million people, or more than one in five Israelis, already having received the first dose of the vaccine.

The country has identified more than 550,000 total virus cases.

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MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone, with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination program amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines has been negotiating with seven Western and Chinese companies to secure vaccines but the effort has been fraught with uncertainties and confusion.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is launching a project to test almost all citizens for the coronavirus in nine days.

The government hopes the nationwide testing will speed up a recovery from the latest wave of the infections, make it possible for students to return to school in February, help the health system and ease restrictions that harm the economy.

The nationwide testing is set to start today and will be completed on Jan. 26. It’s not mandatory, but all people who want to go to work will need to have a negative test for the coronavirus beginning Jan. 27.

Slovakia entered a tough lockdown before Christmas that includes a round-the-clock curfew.

The exceptions include necessary trips to work, to do business or see doctors. People are also allowed to do necessary shopping in the stores that are the closest to their homes.

Close to 3,500 people have died of the virus in the country of 5.4 million.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s health regulator on Sunday approved the urgent use of coronavirus vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, enabling Latin America’s largest nation to begin an immunization program that’s been subject to months of delay and political disputes.

Brazil currently has 6 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days, and is awaiting the arrival of another 2 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and partner Oxford University.

On Saturday night, the health regulator Anvisa rejected an application for use of a Russian vaccine called Sputnik V, submitted by Brazilian company União Química. Anvisa said it didn’t evaluate the application because it didn’t meet minimum requirements to start an analysis.

Vaccination in Brazil is beginning later than neighbors such as Argentina and Chile despite a robust public health system and decades of experience with immunization campaigns. The process to present and approve the COVID-19 vaccines was fraught with conflict, as allies of President Jair Bolsonaro sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinovac shot backed by his political rival, Sao Paulo state’s Gov. João Doria.

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WASHINGTON — Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the coronavirus pandemic will get worse before it gets better, projecting another 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the first five weeks of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union,” Klain said Biden was inheriting a dire situation, saying even with vaccines, “It’s going to take a while to turn this around.”

Biden has set a goal of injecting 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office, a goal Klain said they were on pace to meet.

Klain added he believed there was enough supply of the pair of vaccines currently granted emergency approval to ensure that those who have received their first shot will get the required second.

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