ROME — European Union nations kicked off a co-ordinated effort Sunday to give COVID-19 vaccinations to the most vulnerable among the bloc’s nearly 450 million people, marking a moment of hope in the continent’s battle against the worst public health crisis in a century.
Health care workers, the elderly and leading politicians got some of the first shots across the 27-nation bloc to reassure the public that the vaccinations are safe and represent the best chance to emerge from the pandemic.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” said Mihaela Anghel, a nurse at the Matei Bals Institute in Bucharest who was the first person to get the vaccine in Romania. “Open your eyes and take the vaccine.”
In Rome, five doctors and nurses wearing white scrubs sat in a semi-circle at the Spallanzani infectious diseases hospital to receive their doses.
“The message is one of hope, trust and an invitation to share this choice,” said one of the recipients, Dr. Maria Rosaria Capobianchi, who heads the virology laboratory at Spallanzani and was part of the team that isolated the virus in early February. “There is no reason to be concerned.”
Altogether, the EU’s 27 nations have recorded at least 16 million coronavirus infections and more than 336,000 deaths
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Unemployment benefits expire for millions in the U.S. as Trump rages
— EU launches huge vaccine rollout, bringing hope to the continent’s nearly 450 million people
— Millions face new UK virus restrictions; border chaos eases
— COVID-19 has engulfed prisons in Belarus that are packed with people in custody for demonstrating against the nation’s authoritarian president.
— Thailand says two new coronavirus clusters appear linked to a major outbreak among migrant workers
— A Black doctor who died battling COVID-19 complained of racist medical care on social media, prompting an Indiana hospital system to promise a “full external review.”
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight as President Donald Trump refused to signed an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.
The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo Sunday as Trump continued to demand larger COVID relief checks and complained about “pork” spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the massive measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stood to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signed the package into law or succeeded in his improbable quest for changes.
Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.
Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Trump has not been swayed in spite of the nation being in the grip of a pandemic.
WARSAW, Poland — A nurse at the main coronavirus hospital in Warsaw has gotten the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first person to be vaccinated in Poland as part of a European Union rollout on Sunday.
Alicja Jakubowska, the head nurse at the Interior Ministry hospital in Warsaw, got a shot, followed by doctors and other health workers. Vaccinations in dozens of other hospitals were scheduled to begin across the country on Sunday.
“This is a historic moment for me,” Jakubowska said. “The hospital management chose me. A nurse is the first to be vaccinated, a nod to hard-working nurses and midwives.”
Jakubowska said getting the shot is is an important step “in the return to normality.” Afterwards, she said it did not hurt at all.
ZAGREB, Croatia — A 81-year-old care home resident on Sunday became the first person to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Croatia.
Top officials attended as Branka Anicic received the vaccine before cameras. She says it felt great to be the first in Croatia to receive the vaccine and urged others to do the same.
Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says the vaccines first will go to those who are the most vulnerable and exposed to the virus. He expressed hope most people will agree to vaccination.
Croatian media have reported that many among Croatia’s 4.2 million people remain skeptical regarding the vaccines, even among doctors. Authorities have launched a campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated.
MADRID— Two women, a 96-year-old resident and a worker at a nursing home, became the first Spaniards to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Sunday morning.
The Los Olmos nursing home is located in Guadalajara near the distribution hub that vaccine maker Pfizer has in central Spain 70 kilometres (43 miles) northeast of Madrid.
“Let’s see if we can all behave and make this virus go away,” said Araceli Hidalgo, the elderly resident, after receiving her injection.
“I am proud (to receive the vaccine),” said Mónica Tapias, the 48-year-old worker. “What we want is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. We have lost some residents here to COVID, and that has been very sad. Let’s see if this can finally finish with this.”
Army trucks escorted by police cars left the company warehouse before sunrise to distribute loads of the vaccine to all the regions of mainland Spain. Military airplanes or helicopters flew crates of doses to Spain’s Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, and its north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Spain plans to receive over 4.5 million doses of the vaccine over the next three months, enough it says to immunize just over 2.2 million people.
Nearly 50,000 people have been confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in Spain. Many more are estimated to have died before a test could confirm the infection.
PRAGUE — Prime Minister Andrej Babis has kicked off the coronavirus vaccination in the Czech Republic.
Babis became the first Czech to receive a shot of the vaccine in Prague’s military hospital during the Czech public television’s live broadcast on Sunday morning.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Babis told reporters before a ceremonious start of the vaccination program. “Everything’s fine,” he added after getting a shot.
World War II veteran, the 95-year-old Emilie Repikova, sitting next to the prime minister, was the second.
The medical personnel in four hospitals in Prague and two in the second largest city of Brno will get vaccinated by the first batch of almost 10,000 vaccines by Germany’s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer in three days. The second batch of 19,500 vaccines expected to arrive next week will be distributed in all regions across the country.
The Czech Republic had 670,599 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 11,044 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has decided not to immediately enforce its toughest distancing rules in the greater Seoul area despite a surge in fresh infections.
The Seoul area, which has been the heart of a recent viral resurgence, is currently under the second highest distancing rules. There have been calls for raising the restrictions to the highest level as the current curbs haven’t showed much significant effects. But the government was reluctant to do so because of worries about the economy.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Sunday the government will maintain the current level restrictions in the Seoul area until Jan. 3 and that it’ll see how the outbreak develops this week before determining whether to adjust the curbs. He says the third highest level of distancing rules imposed in other regions will also remain in place until Jan 3.
Kwon says South Korea has logged an average of 999 new cases each day last week, 690 of them in the Seoul area.
Earlier Sunday, South Korea reported 970 new cases, bringing the total to 56,872, with 808 deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Persian Gulf state of Oman has launched its COVID-19 inoculation campaign, with the sultanate’s health minister receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
State-run media reported that the first batch of 15,600 doses was flown in industrial freezers to Muscat International Airport last week to vaccinate a priority group of older adults, health care workers and those with underlying health conditions starting on Sunday.
Another 28,000 doses of the vaccine by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are expected to arrive next month.
Oman says it aims to vaccinate 60% of its roughly 5 million people.
The virus outbreak in Oman has infected over 128,000 people and killed more than 1,400.
TOKYO — Japan is barring entry of all non-resident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.
The Foreign Ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through Jan. 31.
Last week, Japan banned non-resident foreigners coming from Britain and South Africa after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days — five from Britain who tested positive at airports and two others in Tokyo.
Japan is also suspending the exemption of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.
Japan is struggling with surging cases since November. It has confirmed a total of 217,312 cases including 3,213 deaths, up 3,700 from the previous 24-hour period. Tokyo alone reported 949 cases, setting a new record, despite calls by experts for people to spend a “quiet” holiday season.
TORONTO — Officials in Canada’s most populous province have confirmed the first two known Canadian cases of of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom.
The province’s associate chief medical officer says that the cases are a couple from Durham Region, just east of Toronto, with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.
The new variant is believed to spread more easily and faster than the original version of the disease but is not believed to be more deadly.
The provincial government said in a news release that is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines approved by Health Canada will be any less effective against the new variant.
ST. LOUIS — Missouri set a new record for patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Christmas Day as the pandemic surges.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that there were 2,862 patients hospitalized statewide, eclipsing the previous record of 2,851 on Nov. 18.
Meanwhile, the seven-day average for new cases is 2,213 each day.
“It is here, it is spread in the community, and we’ve got to make sure that that spread slows,” said St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern. “Our fates are in our own hands, and really, it’s not difficult to wear that mask.”
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to 15,000 people who work or live at long-term care facilities, state officials announced Saturday.
Beginning Sunday, the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains and Vida Pharmacy in Albuquerque will administer doses of the Moderna vaccine at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state, officials said.
“Sunday marks a monumental day in our fight with this deadly pandemic. It signifies a step towards protecting our seniors and securing their safety,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, cabinet secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
The statement noted that people receiving vaccinations will need two doses from the same manufacturer administered several weeks apart.
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has topped 80 million.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University reported the mark Saturday morning after 472,000 cases were recorded Christmas Day. The number of deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic across the globe stands at 1.75 million.
The U.S. is by far the leader among nations in cases of coronavirus illness, reporting nearly 18.8 million Saturday. India follows with 10.2 million; Brazil has counted 7.45 million. There have been more than 330,000 deaths in the U.S., 190,000 in Brazil and 147,000 in India.
There have likely been many more cases of the coronavirus that have not been counted for a variety of reasons, including under-reporting, asymptomatic infections and lack of co-operation with contact tracers.
PHOENIX — Arizona has reported more than 5,000 additional known COVID-19 cases for the 10th straight day, as the surge put a pandemic-high number of virus patients in intensive care beds across the state.
The state Department of Health Services reported 6,106 additional known cases and 15 more deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 493,041 cases and 8,424 deaths.
Arizona has the third-worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the United States over the past week, behind California and Tennessee.
Quebec reports 2,225 new COVID-19 cases, 67 deaths as hospitalizations decline – The Record (New Westminster)
MONTREAL — Quebec is reporting 2,225 new COVID-19 cases and 67 further deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
The number of hospitalizations dropped for a second day, this time by 22 for a total of 1,474 patients, with four fewer patients in intensive care for a total of 227.
Health Minister Christian Dube tweeted that all Quebecers need to continue to follow public health rules to ensure cases and hospitalizations go down.
The province’s Health Department reported 2,430 more recoveries, for a total of 210,364.
Quebec currently has 21,640 active cases.
The province has now reported 240,970 confirmed infections and 9,005 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2021.
The Canadian Press
2 COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba as province announces 180 more cases – CBC.ca
There are 180 new COVID-19 cases in Manitoba on Saturday and two more people have died from the illness, the province says in a news release.
The latest deaths are two men: one in his 70s from the Southern Health region and one in his 80s from the Winnipeg health region, the release says.
Just under half the new cases on Saturday — 83 — are in the Winnipeg health region, the release says. There are also 69 new cases in the Northern Health Region, which has seen a sharp uptick in cases this week due to outbreaks in several communities, health officials have said.
A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Lynn Lake Hospital, the release says, while an outbreak previously declared in Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks General Hospital’s 4U4-7 unit is now over.
Lynn Lake, a small northwestern Manitoba town of fewer than 500 people, was already dealing with an outbreak of its own. As of Wednesday, the community had 121 known active cases of the illness.
The health district that includes Lynn Lake now has a total of 145 active cases, according to the province’s data portal.
The remaining new cases are spread out between the Southern and Interlake-Eastern health regions (with 10 each) and the Prairie Mountain Health region (with eight).
The update comes one day after the provincial government asked people for their input on the possibility of lifting some pandemic restrictions next week.
Manitoba’s current public health orders banning most gatherings and the sale of non-essential goods are set to expire on Friday.
Because of a data error, one previously reported death has been removed from Manitoba’s totals, the release says. That brings the province’s COVID-19 death toll to 761.
Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate increased slightly to 10.2 per cent, up from 10 on Friday. In Winnipeg, that rate dropped from 7.2 per cent on Friday to seven per cent.
There are now 283 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Manitoba — down by one from Friday — including 36 who are in intensive care, one more than Friday.
The province reminded people to check restrictions in other regions before they go anywhere if they have to travel. In Ontario, new public health rules say people can only go to another residence or cottage in the province for less than 24 hours to do essential business, the release says. If they stay any longer, they may have to stay and self-isolate for 14 days.
There have now been 27,322 COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba. To date, 23,575 are considered recovered, while another 2,986 are still listed as active — though health officials have recently said that number is inflated by a data entry backlog, and there are likely only about half as many active cases.
There were 2,043 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Friday, which brings the total number completed in the province to 450,104.
Canada says first COVID-19 vaccine for refugees in Jordan offers glimmer of hope – Powell River Peak
OTTAWA — Canada’s international development minister says the world’s first inoculation of a refugee against COVID-19 this week is an important milestone in ending the pandemic everywhere.
Karina Gould told The Canadian Press in a statement that it was encouraging to see the rollout of new vaccinations because “it brings an early glimmer of hope to the most vulnerable people right across the globe as we fight this terrible pandemic.”
A woman living in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid who had fled northern Iraq became the first United Nations registered refugee to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
Before the pandemic, Canada committed $2.1 billion in security, humanitarian and development funds to help Jordan and neighbouring Lebanon cope with the massive influx of refugees they face due to the crises in Syria and Iraq.
Since the pandemic began, Canada has committed more than $865 million to the ACT-Accelerator, a global effort to ensure low- and middle-income countries have equitable access to medical treatments during the pandemic. It has also committed $220 million to its partner initiative, the COVAX Facility, to help buy vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries.
“While we’re fighting for the health of our own citizens, I am committed to ensure we’re not leaving the rest of the world behind,” said Gould, who was appointed Friday as the co-chair of the COVAX international engagement group.
The appointment will see Gould working with the Indonesian foreign minister, the Ethiopian health minister and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has emerged in the last two decades as the major distributor of vaccines to poor countries.
“Canada has invested $865 million into global health efforts against COVID-19 and continues to make equitable access to a vaccine and health solutions to the pandemic a reality for all, including refugees living in precarious conditions,” said Gould.
In an updated mandate letter released Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Gould to work with new Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and other cabinet colleagues to “reinforce international efforts to ensure that people around the world have access to health interventions to fight COVID-19, including vaccines, therapeutics and strengthened health systems.”
Rema Jamous Imseis, the Canadian representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said if refugees aren’t vaccinated, they run the risk of infecting people in their host countries.
“If you want to defeat the pandemic, you have to include refugees in the vaccine rollout around the world,” she said.
“That’s sort of the bigger context and what we’re doing is calling on all governments, Canada included, to ensure that refugees and other displaced populations are included.”
Jordan is also the home to the Zaatari refugee camp, one of the world’s largest, less than 15 kilometres from the Syrian border. It is home to almost 80,000 people, including more than 40,000 children, fleeing the carnage of Syria’s decade-long civil war and the unrest sparked by Islamic militants in Iraq.
Canada has deployed hundreds of military personnel to northern Iraq and neighbouring Kuwait as part of a Western effort to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Canada supplies the commander of the NATO training mission in northern Iraq that is trying to professionalize Iraqi security forces to protect its own citizens from ISIL.
“COVID has essentially been an emergency on top of an emergency for refugees around the world,” said Jamous Imseis.
“Canada came out early and strong as one of the donors to the COVAX initiative,” she added.
“But we also need Canada to use its influence with his friends and other countries around the world to ensure that that basic principle of equitable and global access to vaccines for everyone is something that we’re all working towards.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021.
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