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The Latest: Ireland reaches half million vaccinations

·14 min read

LONDON — Ireland has given out half a million coronavirus vaccinations about two months after the first inoculation.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin says the health department announced the figure on Saturday. It includes both first and second doses and comes 63 days after the first shot was given to a Dublin senior citizen.

“Good news,” Martin tweeted. “The vaccines are having a significant impact on mortality and serious illness.”

Ireland has experienced a spike in infections at the start of the year after getting through the early days of the pandemic.

With a population of 4.8 million, Ireland has reported 222,169 cases and 4,405 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. It’s one of the 10 European countries where the British variant of the virus is dominant.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— California OKs reopening of ball parks, Disneyland

— Europe struggles as infectious variants power virus surge

— Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama gets coronavirus vaccine

— CDC Study: Mask mandates helps slow spread, indoor dining precarious

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CHICAGO — The first case of the Brazil variant in Illinois has been detected in a Chicago resident, health officials say.

City and state public health officials say Northwestern University researchers found the so-called P.1 variant in a test sample from a Chicago resident who came down with the disease. The infected person told contact tracers they hadn’t recently travelled outside Illinois.

The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travellers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It appeared in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states.

Evidence suggests this variant can spread more easily than most currently circulating strains of the coronavirus, health officials say. The variants from Britain and South Africa have previously been identified in Illinois.

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BERLIN — Coronavirus patients from hard-hit Slovakia are arriving in Germany for treatment.

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany says the first two patients were expected to arrive at Dortmund airport Saturday on board a chartered plane. They will be treated at a hospital in the city.

More patients may follow in the coming days. German news agency dpa reported that North Rhine-Westphalia says it has offered to take in a total of 10 patients from Slovakia.

Patients from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have previously gone to Germany for treatment during the pandemic.

The number of people in Germany needing intensive care has declined significantly in the past two months.

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STOCKHOLM — Police has dispersed hundreds of people who had gathered in central Stockholm to protest against coronavirus restrictions set by the Swedish government.

Swedish authorities say Saturday’s demonstration was illegal because it was held without permission.

Police say on their website they cut short the gathering when number of participants exceeded what is currently allowed at public gatherings under Sweden’s pandemic laws.

Video footage aired on Swedish media showed a sizable group of people without masks gathering to the Medborgarplatsen square in Stockholm city centre , not far from the Old Town.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish health ministry statistics show a significant increase in coronavirus cases in Turkey’s largest cities and alarming rates in Black Sea provinces.

A weekly, provincial map of infections shared by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca showed more than 111 positive cases identified in Istanbul per 100,000 people in the past week. That rate was about 60 the week of Feb. 6. Cases in Ankara and Izmir were also on the rise.

This week, Istanbul was categorized as a “high risk” city for COVID-19. Restaurants and cafes have re-opened and weekend lockdowns were reduced to only Sundays except for “very high-risk” cities. Istanbul residents filled the streets and restaurants, many ignoring mask and social distancing rules.

Northeastern provinces along the Black Sea have been categorized as “very high-risk,” where restrictions continue. The seven-day average of cases across the country rose back above 10,000 this week, bringing the total number of cases to more than 2.7 million and the confirmed death toll to 28,901.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has cleared a path for fans to hit the stands at opening day baseball games and return to Disneyland nearly a year after coronavirus restrictions shuttered major entertainment spots.

The state relaxed guidelines for reopening outdoor venues. COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have plunged, and vaccination rates are rising. New rules allow concert stadiums and sports arenas to reopen with limited attendance on April 1.

This week, the seven-day average rate of positive results from tests dropped to 2.2%, a record low.

Theme parks can reopen in counties that have fallen from the state’s most restrictive tier. In all cases, park capacities will be limited, and coronavirus safety rules such as mask-wearing requirements will apply.

More than 10 million doses had been given in the three months since the first vaccination, the Department of Public Health says. Just over 3 million people have been fully vaccinated, or about 10% of the population 16 and older.

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WASHINGTON — Senators have worked through the night on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill, dispensing with a variety of mostly Republican amendments in a marathon series of votes without substantially changing the overall package.

Approval of the bill is expected later, although the timing is uncertain, after Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin reached a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits.

That compromise is backed by President Joe Biden. Once the Senate finishes work on Biden’s foremost legislative priority, the bill would return to the House for final approval. The package is aimed at battling the pandemic and nursing the economy back to health.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor extended the mask mandate for another month and state Health Officer Scott Harris is recommending people keep wearing masks in public after it expires.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended Alabama’s mask order until April 9. Harris says he hopes April 10 will look a lot like April 9 across the state.

“There is nothing magical about the date of April 9. We don’t want the public to think that’s the day we all stop taking precautions,” he says.

Alabama has the second-highest positivity rate in the nation at 19.9%. State health officials urge people to maintain precautions, particularly during spring break and Easter gatherings, as the state tries to ramp up vaccinations.

So far about 14% of the state’s 4.9 million people have received at least one shot. Harris says they expect to deliver another 750,000 shots before the mask mandate expires. This week, the state reached 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

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MILAN — Europe recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, according to the World Health Organization.

Among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school with alarming speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year. The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, says the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The British variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very skeptical” about prospects of people travelling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.

Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections. But many issues have yet to be addressed.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Funke newspaper group in an interview published Saturday that he is “very skeptical as far as travel at Easter is concerned.” Easter falls on the first weekend in April this year.

But he says he expects “that we can talk in a significantly more relaxed way about travel and leisure from Whitsun,” on May 23.

Braun says Germany could return to full normality in the summer — if vaccine manufacturers keep to their delivery pledges and no new coronavirus mutation arises “that raises questions over the whole success of vaccination.”

Germany has given 5.7% of its population a first dose of vaccine and 2.8% two doses. A fall in new coronavirus cases has stalled as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain spreads.

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DHARMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, has received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.

Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward.

Ten other people who live in the Dalai Lama’s residence were also vaccinated, Gupta said. All eleven received the Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and manufactured by India’s Serum Institute.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka says it will receive 264,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines on Sunday as its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX Facility.

The vaccines, which are being delivered through UNICEF, mark the first allocation of 1.44 million doses of vaccines from the COVAX Facility the Indian Ocean island nation will receive, said the ministry of health. The doses will be procured in stages until May.

Sri Lanka has so far received 1 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in neighbouring India, which donated half of the doses. Sri Lanka purchased the balance from India’s Serum Institute.

Sri Lanka began its inoculation drive in January, giving the vaccine first to front-line health workers. So far, more than 600,000 of the country's 22 million people have been vaccinated.

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TORONTO — The head of the vaccine program for Canada’s most populous province expects to get every adult in Ontario a first vaccine shot by June 20.

Ontario and provincial governments in the country are extending the interval between the two doses of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines to four months rather than three to four weeks so they can quickly inoculate more people.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier says by the first day of summer he wants everyone in Ontario who is eligible to get a dose. Hillier says the first dose offers an incredible level of protection.

Canada is also getting a fourth vaccine to prevent COVID-19 as the country’s health regulator has cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.

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HELENA, Mont. — Educators in Montana will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines next week through a federal partnership with pharmacies.

President Joe Biden announced the program earlier this week, with the goal of vaccinating all teachers and child care staff by the end of March. The federal vaccine program is open to Montana educators even as the state has not made its vaccine allotment available to teachers.

Montana was one of at least a dozen states that had not prioritized teachers as of Biden’s announcement.

The Missoulian reported Friday that in Missoula County, Granite Pharmacy has enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all 2,000 county teachers.

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CHASKA, Minn. — Minnesota Health officials say they are recommending a two-week pause on youth sports in Carver County, after the county has seen a recent outbreak of a variant of the COVID-19 virus.

Health officials said that since late January, the county has recorded at least 68 cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. Those cases have been linked to sports including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and others. Health department data shows from Feb. 24 through Thursday, there was a 62% increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

Health officials recommend a two-week, county-wide pause in youth school and club sports starting Monday.

Due to the risk that the outbreak has spread to other counties, health officials are also recommending that other youth sports participate in active screening, weekly testing of athletes and coaches, and hold no gatherings before or after games.

They also recommend strict enforcement of proper masking. ___

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Gov. Henry McMaster lifted mandates Friday on face coverings in South Carolina’s government office buildings and restaurants, leaving it up to state administrative officials and restaurant operators to develop their own guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order essentially reversed similar guidance from the governor issued in July, when McMaster made it a requirement that anyone entering a state office building, as per guidelines developed by the Department of Administration. At that time, McMaster also issued a similar edict for restaurant-goers and employees.

But, given South Carolina’s declining number of COVID-19 cases, as well as the rising number of residents who have been vaccinated against the virus, McMaster said it was time to begin loosening more mandates - while still maintaining his recommendation that all South Carolinians wear face coverings in public settings where social distancing isn’t an option.

The move is the latest in McMaster’s latest efforts to undo many of the restrictions instituted with the aim of curbing the pandemic. Late last month, he lifted restrictions on late-night alcohol sales and gatherings of more than 250 people, encouraging people “to make responsible decisions.”

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LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is marking a year since COVID-19 was detected in the state as a “ sombre milestone and anniversary.”

The Democratic governor issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the first presumptive positive case of the coronavirus was detected in Nevada. In the year since, the state has reported 295,460 cases of the virus and 5,020 deaths.

Sisolak says while the pandemic was one of the greatest challenges the state has ever faced, Nevada has not been broken and is working to overcome all the big challenges it faces, including the big hit to the state’s tourism industry.

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NEW YORK — A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus, and allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths.

The CDC released the study Friday. It looked at counties placed under state-issued mask mandates and at counties that allowed restaurant dining — both indoors and at tables outside. The agency’s director says it shows decreases in cases and deaths when people wear masks. And it found increases in cases and deaths when in-person restaurant dining is allowed. The study was released just as some states are rescinding mask mandates and restaurant limits.

The scientists found that mask mandates were associated with reduced coronavirus transmission and improvements in new cases and deaths increased as time went on.

The reductions in growth rates varied from half a percentage point to nearly 2 percentage points. That may sound small, but the large number of people involved means the impact grows with time, experts say.

Reopening restaurant dining was not followed by a significant increase in cases and deaths in the first 40 days after restrictions were lifted. But after that, there were increases of about 1 percentage point in the growth rate of cases and later 2 to 3 percentage points in the growth rate of deaths.

Gery Guy Jr., a CDC scientist who was the study’s lead author, says the delay could be from the restaurants not reopening immediately and because many customers may have been hesitant to dine in right away.

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NEW YORK — Movie theatres in New York City are reopening, returning film titles to Manhattan marquees that for the last 12 months read messages “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.”

As of Friday, cinemas in the city are operating at only 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 per auditorium. As in other places, mask wearing is mandatory, seats are blocked out and air filters have been upgraded.

For a theatrical business hit by the pandemic, the resumption of moviegoing in New York is a crucial first step. Screens had been closed for almost a year.

Less than half of movie theatres are open nationwide, but reopenings are picking up.

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This story was first published on March 6, 2021. It was updated on March 8, 2021 to correct the first name of Rick Hillier, the retired general overseeing Ontario province’s vaccine program.

The Associated Press