The Latest: Slovakia wants tests for nearly all in nine days

·11 min read

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 Monday 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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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.K. to offer first vaccine dose to every adult by September

— Widespread vaccine skepticism hurts coronavirus vaccination efforts in Eastern Europe

— Italy faces a political crisis amid the pandemic as it anticipates European Union pandemic funds

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Follow AP’s 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:

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 neighbours 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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OTTERLO, Netherlands — Police in Amsterdam turned a water cannon on hundreds of demonstrators who were taking part in a banned protest Sunday against the Dutch government and its tough coronavirus lockdown.

Police on horseback also moved in to break up the demonstration on a large square ringed by museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam municipality said riot police took action to disperse the crowd because people weren’t adhering to social distancing measures.

“Because of the danger to public health, it is important that everybody sticks to the measures in force. The demonstrators are not doing that,” the municipality said in a tweet.

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BERLIN — Austria is extending its lockdown until Feb. 7 in an attempt to bring down still-high infection figures, as authorities worry about the possible impact of more infectious variants of the coronavirus.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Sunday that distancing rules will be toughened, with people asked to stay 2 metres apart instead of 1 metre . They will also be told to wear full protective masks in public transport and shops, rather than just fabric face coverings.

Austria’s current lockdown, its third, started on Dec. 26 and had been due to end on Jan. 24.

Kurz said Austria needs to get as close as it can to an infection level of 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over 7 days. The figure now stands at 131.

He said the plan is to reopen shops. schools and other services such as hairdressers on Feb. 8. But he said it won’t be possible to reopen restaurants and hotels in February.

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LONDON — The U.K. government plans to offer a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to every adult by September as the nation’s health care system battles the worst crisis in its 72-year-history.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday that the government will soon begin a trial of round the clock injections at some locations as it continues to add more vaccination sites to increase the pace of delivery. The National Health Service opened a mass vaccination centre on Saturday at the historic Salisbury Cathedral, where injections were accompanied by organ music.

“Our target is by September to have offered all the adult population a first dose,’’ he told Sky News. “If we can do it faster than that, great, but that’s the road map.”

Britain has more than 51 million adults in its population of 67.5 million people.

The ambitious vaccination program comes amid crushing pressures on the National Health Service. Already beleaguered hospitals are admitting another COVID-19 patient every 30 seconds, putting the service in its most precarious situation ever, said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.

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MADRID — Spain on Sunday started to administer the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at nursing homes.

Spain has administered 768,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the health ministry. Spain is also rolling out the Moderna vaccine, with less than 500 doses administered as of Friday. The government has pledged to vaccinate 70% of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants by summer.

Also on Sunday, Spain’s government appealed to a court to overturn a decision by the regional authorities in Castilla y León to start its nightly curfew at 8:00 p.m., outside the range of 10 p.m.-12 p.m. established by the nation’s state of emergency.

Health Minister Salvador Illa tells the El País newspaper that regional authorities “already have at their disposal the legal tools necessary to bend the curve” of infections. He left open the possibility of adjusting those tools, yet discarded the option of another at-home lockdown order like the one used in March and April.

Illa blamed family gatherings during the Christmas holidays for a sharp rise in infections. On Friday, Spain reported 49,197 new infections, its highest daily figure yet.

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WASHINGTON -- Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling the confusion over a federal reserve stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines to help ramp up state distribution a likely “misunderstanding.”

The government’s top infectious diseases expert says he’s not exactly sure what happened after the Trump administration said last week it would release doses right away rather than hold second doses in reserve -- only to find that no such stockpile actually existed. President-elect Joe Biden was the first to initially announce the government would immediately release the doses when he took office.

Fauci tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing distribution, explained that the government had actually started to release the second doses late last year after it became clear that vaccine production had become “consistent.”

Several governors have expressed exasperation after being assured last week that the federal government had enough vaccine stockpiled to speed up or expand state rollouts.

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INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis man and woman who were married for more than three decades died one day apart from COVID-19.

WRTV-TV reports Ernest “Ronald” and Ann Wilkins, ages 66 and 59, were married for 33 years.

Friends and family described their deep connection and said they had been planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

Ronald died Jan. 8 and Ann, a former Indianapolis school teacher, died the following day.

Health officials say Indiana logged 3,228 more confirmed COVID-19 cases and 24 additional deaths on Sunday.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — 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.

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. Doses of vaccine from China's Sinopharm arrived Saturday.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s planning minister says the country’s drug regulatory authority has approved the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and the government is trying to make it available by the first quarter of the year.

Asad Umar, who is also the head of the national agency for COVID-19, told Geo TV that the vaccine in the first phase will be administered to health workers and those aged 65 and above.

Umar said the Chinese company CanSino is also holding clinical trials in Pakistan and hoped its vaccine would also be registered next month.

He said Pakistan will get the vaccines through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or GAVI, and other alternative international sources. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being prepared in India, which has strained relations with rival Pakistan and says it will prioritize its own population.

Pakistan reported 2,521 new cases and 43 deaths in the last 24 hours.

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BEIJING — China on Sunday reported 109 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, two-thirds of them in a northern province that abuts Beijing, and no deaths.

There were 72 new cases in Hebei province, where the government is building isolation hospitals with a total of 9,500 rooms to combat an upsurge in infections, according to the National Health Commission.

China had largely contained the virus that first was detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 but has reported hundreds of new infections since December. The Health Commission on Saturday blamed them on travellers and imported goods it said brought the virus from abroad.

China’s death toll stands at 4,653 out of 88,227 total cases.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has identified the state’s first case of a coronavirus variant believed to be more transmissible than the original.

The governor’s office said Saturday the case was detected in a person in the New Orleans area.

The variant, first detected in Britain, has alarmed officials in many nations because studies indicate it may spread more easily than other viral strains. Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement saying it is urgent “that everyone double down on the mitigation measures that we know are effective in reducing the spread of the virus.”

Edwards noted that the variant has been detected in at least 15 other states.

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WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden introduced his team of scientific advisers on Saturday, saying they will lead with “science and truth. We believe in both.”

Biden is elevating the position of science adviser to Cabinet level, a White House first. He called Eric Lander, a pioneer in mapping the human genome is in line to be director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “one of the most brilliant guys I know.”

Lander is the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome.

Lander says Biden has tasked his advisers and “the whole scientific community and the American public” to “rise to this moment.”

As the rollout of coronavirus vaccines begins, the U.S. leads the world with 23.6 million cases and more than 393,000 confirmed deaths.

The Associated Press