ROME — Doctors, nurses and the elderly rolled up their sleeves across the European Union to receive the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine Sunday in a symbolic show of unity and moment of hope for a continent confronting its worst health care crisis in a century.
Weeks after the U.S., Canada and Britain began inoculations with the same vaccine, the 27-nation bloc staged a co-ordinated rollout aimed at projecting a unified message that the shot was safe and Europe’s best chance to emerge from the pandemic.
For health care workers who have been battling the virus with only masks and shields to protect themselves, the vaccines represented an emotional relief as the virus continues to kill. But it was also a public chance for them to urge Europe’s 450 million people to get the shots amid continued vaccine and virus skepticism.
“Today I’m here as a citizen, but most of all as a nurse, to represent my category and all the health workers who choose to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, the first person to be inoculated at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital in Rome.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called the vaccine, which was developed in record time, a “game-changer.”
“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory,” he said.
Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri said it was significant that Italy’s first doses were administered at Spallanzani, where a Chinese couple visiting from Wuhan tested positive in January and became Italy’s first confirmed cases.
Within weeks, northern Lombardy became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when even wealthy regions find themselves unprepared for a pandemic. Lombardy still accounts for around a third of the dead in Italy, which has the continent’s worst confirmed virus death toll at nearly 72,000.
“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night,” Arcuri told reporters.
But he cautioned: “We all have to continue to be prudent, cautious and responsible. We still have a long road ahead, but finally we see a bit of light.”
The vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer started arriving in super-cold containers at EU hospitals on Friday from a factory in Belgium. Each country was only getting a fraction of the doses needed — fewer than 10,000 in the first batches for some countries — with the bigger rollout expected in January when more vaccines become available. All those getting shots Sunday have to come back for a second dose in three weeks.
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, said with additional vaccines in development, the EU will have more shots than necessary this year and could share its surplus with the western Balkans and Africa.
“Europe is well positioned,” she insisted.
In the Los Olmos nursing home in the Spanish city of Guadalajara, northeast of Madrid, 96-year-old resident Araceli Hidalgo and a caregiver were the first Spaniards to receive the vaccine.
“Let’s see if we can all behave and make this virus go away,” Hidalgo said.
The Los Olmos home suffered two confirmed COVID-19 deaths and another 11 deaths among residents with symptoms who were never tested.
The Czech Republic was spared the worst of the pandemic in the spring only to see its health care system near collapse in the fall. In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis received his shot at dawn Sunday and asserted: “There’s nothing to worry about.” Sitting next to him was World War II veteran Emilie Repikova, who also received a shot.
Altogether, the EU’s 27 nations have recorded at least 16 million coronavirus infections and more than 336,000 deaths — huge numbers that experts say still understate the true toll of the pandemic due to missed cases and limited testing.
The vaccination campaign should ease frustrations that were building up, especially in Germany, as Britain, Canada and the United States kicked off their inoculation programs with the same vaccine weeks earlier.
As it turned out, some EU immunizations began a day early in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. The operator of a German nursing home where dozens were vaccinated Saturday, including a 101-year-old woman, said “every day that we wait is one day too many.”
In France, where many question the safety of vaccines, the French government has been cautious in its messaging and keen to ensure that it is not seen as forcing vaccinations on the public. France’s first vaccination at a nursing home in a poor area outside of Paris on Sunday was not broadcast on live television as it was elsewhere in Europe and no government ministers attended.
“We didn’t need to convince her. She said ‘yes, I’m ready for anything to avoid getting this disease,’” said Dr. Samir Tine, head of geriatric services for the Sevran nursing home where France’s first shot went to 78-year-old Mauricette.
“It’s an important day,” Tine said. “We are very eager to have a new weapon at our disposal and we are very eager to rediscover our normal lives.”
Among the politicians who got shots Sunday to promote a wider acceptance of vaccinations was Bulgarian Health Minister Kostadin Angelov. “I can’t wait to see my 70-year-old father without fear that I could infect him,” Angelov said.
After he got his shot, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared Sunday “a great day for science and the European Union.”
“We hope that, with time, even those of our fellow citizens who are suspicious of vaccination will be convinced it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new virus variant that has been spreading rapidly around London and southern England has now been detected in France, Italy, Spain, Canada and Japan. The new variant, which British authorities said is much more easily transmitted, has prompted many countries to restrict travel from Britain.
Japan announced it would temporarily ban all non-resident foreigners from entering through Jan. 31 as a precaution against the U.K.’s new variant.
Germany’s BioNTech has said it’s confident that its vaccine works against the new U.K. variant, but added that further studies are needed.
The European Medicines Agency on Jan. 6 will consider approving another vaccine made by Moderna, which is already being used in the United States.
Dr. Annalisa Malara, who diagnosed Italy’s first domestic case on Feb. 20 that confirmed Europe’s outbreak was underway, was on hand at her hospital in Codogno to encourage all Italians to get the shot.
“Today we close the circle a bit that was opened on Feb. 20,” she said.
AP journalists from around Europe contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Spain’s COVID-19 infections hit new high as regions double down on measures
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain reported a record 93,822 new coronavirus infections over the weekend, while the two-week average jumped to a new high of 885 cases per 100,000 people on Monday as regional authorities scrambled to ramp up restrictions.
Infections now total 2,593,382, while the death toll increased by 767 to 56,208, health ministry data showed.
“Spain is not doing well and we have to be aware of it,” Health Emergency Coordinator Fernando Simon told a news briefing.
Simon stressed that further measures would be needed for transmission to fall quickly and ease pressure on intensive care units after weeks of gradual tightening have failed to tame a rampant third wave.
He said the highly contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain was not responsible for the surge and only accounted for around 5% of current infections, although it could become the dominant variant by March.
With Spain’s 14-day incidence of the virus more than tripling from a month ago, regions have raced to curb infections – although national law bars them from imposing the harshest restrictions like home confinement.
Health Minister Salvador Illa, meanwhile confirmed he would step aside to run for election in Catalonia after leading Spain’s response to the pandemic.
Regional Policy Minister Carolina Darias, who has worked closely with Illa, is most likely to step in, a source close to the government said. Illa’s replacement will be announced on Tuesday, the prime minister’s office said.
The regions brought in a range of restrictions. Galicia imposed limited people to socialising only with members of their own household and ordered non-essential businesses to close at 6 p.m. for three weeks.
Regional leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo urged citizens to stay at home from 8 p.m.
Valencia and Murcia banned gatherings of more than two people. Madrid will bring forward a curfew by an hour to 10 p.m. and deploy drones and extra police to ensure compliance.
“It’s terrible because things were getting better, people were going out, but this is creating fear again,” said Baldomore Curas, manager of a bar in central Madrid.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Inti Landauro, Belen Carreno, Nathan Allen, Joan Faus, Elena Rodriguez and Michael Gore; Writing by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)
Ontario reports 1,958 new coronavirus cases; 43 new deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Ontario reported 1,958 new COVID-19 cases and 43 more deaths as the number of hospitalized patients held roughly steady and active infections continued to decline.
Ontario reported 2,417 cases on Sunday and 2,359 on Saturday.
“Locally, there are 727 new cases in Toronto, 365 in Peel and 157 in York Region,” Health Minister Christine Elliott wrote on Twitter.
The seven-day average of daily cases fell from 2,460 to 2,371.
Provincial labs processed about 36,000 test specimens in the past 24 hours, generating a positivity rate of at least 5.4 per cent.
There have been 5,846 deaths and 227,494 recoveries from coronavirus infection since Jan. 25, 2020.
Another 23,620 active cases remain in Ontario, and that number is down approximately 2,000 in the past week.
Twenty-seven of the deaths reported on Monday involved residents of the long-term care system.
There were at least 1,425 patients receiving care in Ontario hospitals on Monday, according to local public health units and hospital networks, and the Critical Care Services of Ontario report from Sunday said there were 415 adult patients in intensive care across Ontario, along with one child.
ICU occupancy has held roughly steady for the past two weeks.
About 283 people were breathing with the help of a ventilator.
Michael Garron Hospital intensivist Dr. Michael Warner said that admissions to hospital appear to be stabilizing, but the situation could worsen dramatically because of the highly infectious B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom.
“I think it is great that case numbers are coming down, we can’t dispute that, and ICU admissions are stable around 415 for the past week or so. I guess that is good but we can’t let our guard down. And we really have no idea how much B117 and other variants are circulating in Ontario or Canada,” he said.
On Sunday, officials in Simcoe-Muskoka said they detected what is likely to be Ontario’s 21st case of the B.1.1.7 variant, in a retail store worker who had contact with residents of a Bradford long-term care home.
“As long as planes keep on landing in Canada and as long as there is no mandatory quarantine, in some kind of federal facility the front door is still open and new variants can enter.”
Public Health Ontario is conducting a “point-prevalence study” of all positive samples collected on a given day last week to see how many cases of the UK variant are circulating in the community.
Elsewhere in the GTA, Durham Region reported 62 new cases, Hamilton reported 55 new cases, and Halton Region reported 54 new cases.
Meanwhile, supply restrictions continue to limit the number of additional COVID-19 vaccinations administered per day.
Elliott said about 6,000 more doses were administered on Sunday, bringing the total to about 292,000 injections to date.
Ontario focuses on COVID-19 vaccines for long-term care residents amid dose delay – Toronto Star
TORONTO – Ontario is pausing COVID-19 vaccinations of long-term care staff and essential caregivers so that it can focus on administering the shots to all nursing home residents amid a shortage of doses.
The province announced the change of focus on its vaccination plan Monday as it deals with delays in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with no shots expected to arrive this week.
The government said the shift will mean some of the most vulnerable seniors will receive the first dose of the vaccine by Feb. 5.
“To reduce the risk of severe illness and death for the most vulnerable populations, health officials are accelerating the vaccination of long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care residents across Ontario,” the government said.
The government had initially promised to complete the vaccination of all long-term care home residents, staff and caregivers by Feb. 15.
Health-care workers who have already received their first dose will still get a second, but the province said that shot may be delayed by up to 42 days depending on supply.
The province said Monday it has administered the first dose of the vaccine in 479 long-term care homes, and 540 retirement homes.
The government said it expects 26,325 Pfizer-BioNTech doses next week, which are far fewer than the amount originally expected.
A total of 286,110 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province so far.
The government also said it will reallocate vaccines to ensure that 14 public health units that have not yet received the vaccine can begin to immunize residents in long-term care this week.
Ontario is reporting 1,958 new cases of COVID-19 today and 43 more deaths linked to the virus.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on the government to give the first vaccine shot to all long-term care residents by Friday.
“We have to do far more than just wait for the vaccine in long-term care homes,” Horwath said in a statement. “Especially with the more infectious B117 variant knocking at the door of long-term care homes.”
Liberal health critic John Fraser said the government’s plan will save lives, but chided it for moving slowly on the vaccine rollout.
“Let’s be clear though, Ontario didn’t need to be in this position,” he said in a statement. “Ontario had enough supply to vaccinate all 72,000 long-term care residents by the end of December 2020. Yet our limited vaccine supply has not been getting to those who need it most.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021.
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