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Mon. 11:29 a.m.: Latest virus headlines: Epidemiologist says guidelines to reopen schools will work until variants hit

Cars coming from Austria are stuck in traffic today at a border checkpoint on the A93 motorway near Kiefersfelden, Germany. The tightened German entry rules at the border with the Austrian state of Tyrol to protect against the spread of the coronavirus came into force Sunday night. (Matthias Balk/dpa via AP)

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

— Epidemiologist: CDC guidelines to reopen schools are fine–until variants hit;

— Variants-wary Germany turns back 5,000 at border;

— WHO: 13 Middle East nations report new variants;

— London begins enforcing 10-day quarantine for visitors;

— Spanish police crack down on parties;

— Peru minister resigns over secret vaccinations for government officials;

— Britain reaches a vaccination goal: Giving first shots to 15 million most vulnerable;

— 500 people gather in Dutch theater to test path to return to large-scale gatherings.

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WASHINGTON — A top American epidemiologist says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic are sufficient but schools will face major challenges in the coming weeks because of virus variants.

Michael Osterholm is head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and was named to Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force before Biden became president. Osterholm says there’s low virus transmission at schools, especially for younger students, but virus variants are “a real red flag coming down the road.”

Osterholm told CBS this morning he thinks a virus variant from the United Kingdom in particular is going to cause such a surge in U.S. cases over the next 14 weeks that “a lot of schools are going to be challenged to open at all.”

The CDC said Friday in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies. The nation’s top public health agency says vaccinating teachers is important but isn’t a prerequisite for reopening schools.

Osterholm says health authorities don’t have enough vaccine doses for everyone so he’d prioritize vaccinating older people over teachers.

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LONDON — Britain’s newly established quarantine hotels have received their first guests as the government tries to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from derailing its fast-moving vaccination drive.

Passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport this morning were escorted by security guards to buses that took them to nearby hotels.

Britain has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of the population, but health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.

Under the new rules, people arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Some 500 people have gathered in a theater in the central Dutch city of Utrecht for the first in a series of test events aimed at charting a path toward a post-pandemic normality for large-scale gatherings.

Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer says that, “returning to normal, whether it’s a conference with your colleagues, a sports match or a concert: everyone wants that.”

When that might be possible remains unclear. The Netherlands is in a tough lockdown until at least next month, with large-scale gatherings banned altogether, shops, bars, restaurants and museums closed and sports like professional soccer happening behind closed stadium doors.

Participants in today’s trial had to present a negative COVID-19 test result, had their temperatures taken on arrival and will have to undergo another test after attending the event.

The government says it will use data gathered at the event to help decide “how to work toward safe and responsible events” in the future.

The event came with Dutch infections on a gradual downward trend in recent weeks and vaccinations ramping up after a slow start that made the Netherlands become the last of the 27 European Union nations to begin its vaccination campaign.

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BERLIN — German authorities say police have turned back some 5,000 people at the country’s borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region since tight controls were introduced on Sunday.

Germany imposed checks to slow the spread of the British coronavirus variant from the Czech Republic and the South African variant from Tyrol. It is restricting entry to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said, by this morning, federal police had checked about 10,000 people and turned back some 5,000.

The checks have prompted strong criticism from Austria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, defended the German measures. He said that “the German government had to act here” to prevent the rapid spread of more contagious virus variants.

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BRUSSELS — The EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, is urging member states to be vigilant against scammers offering to sell fake COVID-19 vaccines as the 27-nation bloc faces delays in the supply of shots.

In a statement today, OLAF said it was made aware of a number of reports of scammers offering to sell vaccines in a bid to defraud EU governments trying to speed up the pace of vaccination.

The EU has been criticized for a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in comparison with other parts of the world, lagging behind the pace of countries like Britain or Israel. The EU commission has signed six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines, but only three of them have been approved for use so far and the delivery of shots has been disturbed by production delays.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Authorities in Serbia’s capital Belgrade today held an emergency meeting over a surge in night clubbing that has drawn thousands of partygoers in violation of rules against the new coronavirus.

Belgrade’s mayor announced stepped-up controls of clubs, cafes and other venues that are allowed to operate until 8p.m. with limited capacity. but have widely flouted government restrictions.

Serbian police said they detained five people over the weekend after breaking up two big parties in different parts of the city. A party in central Belgrade gathered about 1,000 people and the other, held in a new part of the city, around 600, police said.

Before the virus outbreak, Belgrade was known for its wild nightlife that centers on clubs situated on rafts on the capital’s two rivers, the Danube and Sava.

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BEIRUT — Coronavirus case numbers are stabilizing in parts of the Middle East but the situation remains critical, with more than a dozen countries reporting cases of new variants, the World Health Organization said today.

Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of the Middle East, said in a press briefing from Cairo that at least one of the three new coronavirus variants was reported in the 13 countries in the region. He did not name the countries.

All three of the new variants are more contagious, according to WHO.

Al-Mandhari said there are nearly 6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the region and about 140,000 deaths. WHO urged people to continue taking precautionary measures against the virus.

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MADRID — Police across Spain have wrapped a weekend of cracking down on parties and boozing in public contravening restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Large parties ignoring social distancing, mask wearing and existing curfews were closed down in Ibiza, northeastern Tarragona and many other parts of the country, which has only recently slowed down the sharp increase of contagion seen after the end-of-year celebrations.

In Madrid alone, police fined 450 people for street alcohol consumption in groups and busted 418 illegal parties in entertainment venues and private homes from Friday to Sunday, including a rave in a warehouse with 55 adults and 11 minors who were not wearing masks and were using drugs.

The National Police also found over 50 people in a small apartment rented for tourists in the center of the Spanish capital.

The parties are increasingly better organized to attract foreign visitors and avoid scrutiny, the local police say, with no cash exchanged and payments via phone. In contrast with much of Europe, where entertainment venues have been closed, bars and restaurants in Madrid are allowed to open until 9 p.m.

Spain has managed to lower its 14-day rate of infection per 100,000 residents, from nearly 900 cases in Jan. 27 to less than 500 on Friday, but experts are warning against relaxing restrictions too fast, given that COVID-19 wards in hospitals are still grappling with high occupation rates.

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BERLIN — Officers trying to bust a clandestine Carnival celebration in eastern Germany were left red-faced when most of the revelers escaped police on skis.

German news agency dpa reported today that police in the town of Marienberg, near the border with the Czech Republic, received information that about 100 people were partying Sunday without abiding by the requirements to wear face masks or respect minimum social distancing.

Police were unable to determine how many people had broken the law, however, because their arrival prompted a hasty on-ski departure by most of the party-goers.

Saxony, where Marienberg is located, has the second-highest infection rate of Germany’s 16 states. Germany has restricted entry from the neighboring Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol state to prevent the spread of variant viruses from those countries.

Police across Germany have broken up numerous Carnival celebrations across the country in recent days.

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HARARE — Zimbabwe has received its first COVID-19 vaccines with the arrival early today of an Air Zimbabwe jet carrying 200,000 Sinopharm doses from China.

It is one of China’s first shipments of vaccines to Africa, after deliveries to Egypt and Equatorial Guinea.

The first Sinopharm vaccines are a donation from China to the southern African country. President Emmerson Mnanagagwa’s government has purchased an additional 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine that are expected to arrive early next month, according to state media.

Mnangagwa, in a Twitter post, said the Chinese vaccines will be administered to Zimbabweans this week.

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown today, health officials said they’d found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived.

New Zealand’s largest city was hurriedly placed into a three-day lockdown Sunday after three unexplained virus cases were found. It’s the country’s first lockdown in six months and represents a setback in its largely successful efforts to control the virus.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the negative test results since the first three were found was an encouraging start, but cautioned a fuller picture of the outbreak wouldn’t emerge until Tuesday, when the results from an expanded testing regimen would be known.

New Zealand also announced its first batch of vaccine had arrived. Officials said the shipment of about 60,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech would initially be prioritized on border workers.

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LISBON, Portugal — A French medical team is due to start work today at a hospital in Portugal, which for more than three weeks has been the country in the world with most COVID-19 deaths by size of population.

The French doctor and three nurses arrived amid signs that a month-long lockdown, which is being extended to at least March 1, is paying off.

On Sunday, just over 4,800 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, down from a Feb. 1 peak of close to 7,000. There were 795 virus patients in intensive care, a drop from a peak of 905 on Feb. 5.

Johns Hopkins University says the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Portugal has fallen from 2.82 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 31 to 1.63 deaths per 100,000.

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JERUSALEM — A large-scale Israeli study has pointed to the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections with the coronavirus.

Clalit, the largest of Israel’s four health care providers, released a study Sunday that compared infections in 600,000 Israelis who had received the vaccine compared to 600,000 who were not immunized.

The study found a 94 percent drop in symptomatic infections and a 92 percent drop in serious cases of the disease among those vaccinated. It said “the efficacy of the vaccine is preserved in every age group,” particularly a week after the second dose of the vaccine.

The researchers said the preliminary findings of the ongoing research “is aimed at emphasizing to the population that has yet to vaccinate that the vaccine is highly effective and prevents serious illness.”

Israel launched its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December. Since then, over a quarter of the population — 2.5 million people — have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and over 42 percent have received the first shot, according to the Health Ministry.

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BUDAPEST — The first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China will arrive Tuesday in Hungary, the first country in the European Union to approve the Chinese vacccine.

In a video on Facebook today, State Secretary Tamas Menczer said 550,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm will be transported by jet from Beijing, enough to treat 275,000 people with two doses each. The first shipment will undergo testing by the National Public Health Center before inoculations begin, Menczer said.

Hungary earlier broke with the EU’s common vaccine procurement program by approving the vaccine on Jan. 29, and has purchased 5 million doses. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has said he would choose to take the Sinopharm jab himself.

The vaccine’s developer says it is nearly 80 percent effective, but has not yet released stage 3 clinical trial data. Around 30 million people worldwide have received the Sinopharm vaccine, including half a million ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, Hungary’s non-EU neighbor to the south, Menczer said. Hungary has also approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and began administering it in hospitals in the capital of Budapest last week.

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PRAGUE — Long lines of trucks and other vehicles have formed on two major highways leading from the Czech Republic to Germany due to tight border controls on the German side.

Germany on Sunday implemented the controls on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province in an effort to stem the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

The new restrictions limit entry from those areas to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others who have to register online and show a negative coronavirus test and be quarantined for at least 10 days on arrival. No one else is allowed to enter Germany.

Sunday was quiet on the roads but today was a different story.

The queue reached 23 kilometers (14 miles) on the D8 highway to the German state of Saxony while the line on the D5 highway to the state of Bavaria was about 15 kilometers (9 miles) long.

Three Czech counties on the border with Germany and Poland are in a complete lockdown after a surge in a more contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Britain.

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MANILA, Philippines — The approval for many Philippine movie theaters, video game arcades and other leisure businesses to reopen has been postponed another two weeks after mayors expressed fear it will bring new coronavirus infections.

They’ve been closed since last year in most of the Philippines, which has suffered a pandemic-wrought recession since.

The government had announced it would allow them to reopen today, but the delay came after a meeting of local Manila and national officials.

Philippine officials said mayors and health officials should draw rules to ensure safety amid the easing of quarantine restrictions in more public areas, including museums, libraries, parks and historical sites.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque later said in a televised news briefing that the reopening of movie houses would be moved to March 1 to allow more time to craft safety guidelines.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Health officials are urging tougher coronavirus restrictions and a partial lockdown in parts of Sri Lanka after patients were confirmed to have a more contagious variant.

Patients in several parts of the Indian Ocean island nation have been confirmed to have a variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom, health officials said Saturday.

“There is a greater risk of spreading the new variant into others areas unless tough and effective measures including lockdowns are taken immediately as already the number of positive cases are rising,” President of the Public Health Inspectors Association Upul Rohana said today.

Sri Lanka had a one-month lockdown last March when the first positive case was detected. A lockdown in the capital and its suburbs was imposed again in October after two fresh outbreaks erupted.

Sri Lanka has now confirmed 75,653 cases with 397 fatalities.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will begin vaccinating its population against COVID-19 next week after its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine was delivered today.

More than 142,000 doses had arrived at Sydney airport, the government said. Health care, aged care and quarantine workers will be among the first to be vaccinated from Feb. 22.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will also be among the first to receive a dose in a bid to raise public confidence in the program.

Australia decided against accelerating the vaccine regulator’s approval process in order to increase public confidence that the Pfizer product was safe.

So far, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use in Australia. But the regulator is expected to also approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine soon.

Australia is contracted to receive 20 million Pfizer doses and to receive or manufacture at home 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska will no longer require travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test when arriving in the state, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said when outlining plans for the state to transition into a recovery phase.

The announcement came after the state’s emergency declaration expired Sunday.

Dunleavy ordered his commissioners and state employees to continue following the policies that were in place under the declaration. However, officials will spend the next several weeks reviewing which policies are still needed.

“My administration will begin moving Alaska, its economy and our lives forward through this transition and recovery process,” Dunleavy said. “Make no mistake about it, the virus may be with us for some time. But the data shows that the worst is most likely behind us.”

Alaska has had 54,282 total cases of the virus, and 280 Alaskans have died.

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LONDON — The U.K. announced Sunday that it had reached its goal of giving at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to the most vulnerable people in the country, increasing pressure on ministers to clarify when they will ease a lockdown imposed in early January.

More than 15 million people, or 22 percent of the U.K. population, have received their first shot. The figure includes most people in the government’s top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents. Over 537,000 of them have also received their second dose.

“15,000,000! Amazing team,” Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart and three syringes. “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.”

Britain ranks behind only Israel, 73 percent, the Seychelles, 53 percent, and the United Arab Emirates, 51 percent in the percentage of people who have received one dose, according to Oxford University. The U.S. is fifth at 15 percent.

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LIMA, Peru — Peru’s foreign minister resigned Sunday amid an uproar over government officials being secretly vaccinated against the coronavirus before the country recently received 1 million doses for health workers facing a resurgence in the pandemic.

President Francisco Sagasti confirmed that Elizabeth Astete stepped down and told the local television channel America that Peruvians should feel “outraged and angry about this situation that jeopardizes the enormous effort of many Peruvians working on the front line against COVID.”

The scandal erupted Thursday when former President Martín Vizcarra, who was dismissed by Congress on Nov. 9 over a corruption allegation, confirmed a newspaper report that he and his wife had secretly received shots of a vaccine from the Chinese state pharmaceutical company Sinopharm in October. Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti resigned Friday after legislators accused her of concealing information

Sagasti said on Twitter that during Vizcarra’s administration, an extra 2,000 doses of the vaccine had been received from Sinopharm and that “some senior public officials were vaccinated.”

New Health Minister Oscar Ugarte said Sunday night that Sagasti ordered the resignation of all officials who secretly received the Chinese vaccine. Ugarte said an investigation is underway to identify officials who were secretly vaccinated in September.

Astete, who led the Peruvian negotiations to buy the 1 million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine, said Sunday in a letter that she was vaccinated with the first dose Jan. 22. “I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose.”

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ROME — The Italian government on Sunday abruptly delayed opening Italy’s beloved ski season because a coronavirus variant was detected in a good portion of recently infected persons in the country.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza’s ordinance forbidding amateur skiing at least until March 5 effectively kills the hopes of ski lift operators and resort owners that they would be able to salvage part of the season. The ski business is a big source of winter tourism in Italy and the news came on the eve of the expected opening.

A ministry statement noted that analyses of virus samples indicated that a variant first found in Britain is sickening 17.8 percent of recently infected people in Italy.

France and Germany have adopted similar measures in the ski sector due to the “worry for the spread of this and other variants of the virus,” the statement said.

The ski industry swiftly lamented that they have repeatedly prepared slopes and lifts, only to have been denied permission to open, including just before the year-end holidays.

The day-old government of Premier Mario Draghi promised to quickly compensate the sector for economic losses.

Speranza was also the health minister in the previous government and is advised by a commission of technical and scientific experts about what activities can be safely allowed during efforts to rein in COVID-19 contagion.

Italy, with more than 93,000 confirmed virus deaths, has Europe’s second-highest known death toll in the pandemic after Britain.

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