The Latest: China OKs 2 more virus vaccines for wider use

China has approved two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use, adding to its growing arsenal of shots

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has approved two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use, adding to its growing arsenal of shots.

It gave conditional approval to a vaccine from CanSino Biologics and one from state-owned Sinopharm. Both are already used among select groups of people under an emergency use authorization. China now has four vaccines to immunize its population of 1.3 billion people.

CanSino’s COVID-19 vaccine is the first developed by a Chinese company that requires only one shot. Both vaccines can be stored between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.

CanSino says its vaccine candidate is 65.28% effective 28 days after the dose is given. A Sinopharm subsidiary, the Wuhan Institute of Biologics, says its vaccine candidate is 72.51% effective.

Neither company has publicly released final testing data showing safety and efficacy.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Pfizer is studying effects of third vaccine dose as booster; Dr. Fauci says take whatever vaccine is available in the U.S.

— Medical oxygen scarce for coronavirus patients in Africa, Latin America

— Republicans solidly against $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill with decision looming on minimum wage increase

— EU summit to tackle why the 27-nation bloc's vaccine rollout has been so slow

— Follow all of 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:

MINNEAPOLIS — At least 70% of Minnesotans age 65 and older will get at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine before the state moves on to the next phase of vaccinations, according to Gov. Tim Walz.

The governor is expected to announce the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan Thursday, but it won’t happen until the 70% threshold is reached, which might be by the end of March, according to Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann.

So far, 42% of Minnesotans age 65 or older have gotten at least one shot, according to state estimates, the Star Tribune reported. The state is also vaccinating school and childcare employees in the current phase, which came after health care workers and long-term care residents were inoculated.

The next phase, once 70% of seniors get their first shot, would include workers in other essential industries, including employees in manufacturing, grocery stores, agriculture, police and fire, the postal service and public transit and those with pre-existing health conditions.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has the first confirmed case of a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant originally found in South Africa.

Health Ministry confirmed the discovery to the local CTK news agency without any details. Health authorities previously said they were testing several suspected cases of the South African variant linked to tourists who returned from Africa’s island of Zanzibar.

Starting Friday, the Czechs and foreign residents in the Czech Republic are not allowed to travel to 11 countries in Africa and Latin America amid concerns about coronavirus variants detected in South Africa and Brazil.

The Czech Republic is one of the hardest-hit European Union countries. It has recently faced a surge of a new contagious variant found in Britain.

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ROME — Italy’s northern Lombardy region asked the national government to send more vaccines to help stem the surge of new cases that are taxing the hospital system in the province of Brescia.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday. Some of the clusters of cases are traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has gone from an average of 200 to 300.

The region’s governor, Attilio Fontana, says he told the health minister during a call that Lombardy needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Already, Lombardy has revamped its vaccine strategy and is redirecting the vaccines it has on hand to Brescia and some nearby towns.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says if a coronavirus vaccine is available, regardless of which one, take it.

The top U.S. infectious disease expert told NBC’s “Today” show a third vaccine becoming available “is nothing but good news” and would help control of the pandemic. U.S. regulators announced Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19. It’s expected to be approved soon by the FDA.

Fauci warns people not to hold off on getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while waiting for the slightly more effective two-dose Pfizer or Moderna shots.

He says it’s a race “between the virus and getting vaccines into people” and “the longer one waits not getting vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or a mutation.”

Fauci says public health officials are always concerned about virus variants and stressed following public health measures of wearing masks and social distancing.

The predominant coronavirus variant in the United States is from Britain. Fauci says the vaccines distributed in the U.S. “clearly can take care of that particular strain.”

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NEW YORK — Pfizer announced it has begun studying a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, part of a strategy to guard against mutated versions of the coronavirus.

Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants that are emerging in different parts of the world. But manufacturers are starting to prepare now in case a more vaccine-resistant mutation comes along.

Pfizer said it will offer a third dose to 144 volunteers, drawing from people who participated in the vaccine’s early-stage U.S. testing last year. It wants to determine if an additional booster shot given six to 12 months after the first two doses would rev up the immune system enough to ward off a mutated virus.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, also are tweaking their vaccine recipe. The companies are in discussions with U.S. and European regulators about a study to evaluate doses updated to better match variants such as the one first discovered in South Africa.

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BUDAPEST — Hungary’s government is maintaining pandemic restrictions until at least March 15 as rising COVID-19 cases and deaths are expected to worsen in coming weeks.

Experts expect hospitalizations to increase drastically in the next two weeks as the pandemic’s “third wave” hits Hungary, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said Thursday.

The restrictions in place since Nov. 11 - including an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery service, and the closure of theatres, spas, hotels and other establishments - must be kept in place, he said.

The Hungarian government last week launched a survey asking for citizens’ opinions on lifting pandemic restrictions, and on the possibility of issuing immunity certificates to those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

Such certificates will become available after March 1, Gulyas said, and the government will later decide what special rights will be afforded to certificate holders.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s Europe unit is reporting that about one in 10 people who contracted COVID-19 continue to show “persistent ill health” 12 weeks after infection.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of WHO Europe, says much about so-called “long COVID” remains unknown, but the “burden is real, and it is significant.”

In a policy brief released on Thursday, WHO Europe urged policymakers to do more to acknowledge and treat long COVID, which can bring severe fatigue, chest pain, heart inflammation, headache, forgetfulness, depression, loss of smell, recurrent fever, diarrhea and ringing in the ears.

It said available data showed that about one in four people with COVID-19 show symptoms about a month after testing positive, while one in 10 experience symptoms after 12 weeks.

Kluge told reporters that the coronavirus is still spreading at “very high rates” across the 53-country European region, citing two variants of concern. However, he said fewer than 1 million new cases have been reported for a second straight week and transmission is slowing.

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PARIS — Family doctors in France have started giving COVID-19 vaccine shots vulnerable people between the ages of 50 and 64 as the country works to speed up its vaccination program against the coronavirus.

Vaccines administrated by doctors are reserved to those with pre-existing health condition that make them more susceptible to complications of COVID-19 if they become infected.

France has started its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27 in nursing homes. Since then, it has opened hundreds of vaccination centers across the country to provide vaccines to people over age 75 and health care workers.

Making vaccines available to the next category of recipients through family doctors starting Thursday marks the next step in the vaccination rollout. Doctors are allowed to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine at their practice offices or at patients' workplaces.

French authorities have reported over 85,000 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the highest tolls in Europe.

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ALGIERS, Algeria — Algeria’s national public television network says the country has received a batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China to help fight the pandemic.

Images broadcast on TV showed a military jet carrying the Sinopharm vaccines had landed on Wednesday evening in the presence of Algerian Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer and Chinese Ambassador Li Lianhe.

China has donated 200,000 vaccines to Algeria.

They come in addition to the North African nation’s purchase of 50,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Algerian has reported 2,967 coronavirus-related deaths and more than 112,000 confirmed cases.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland plans to reintroduce a state of emergency that would allow the Nordic country to close restaurants for a three-week period starting March 8 as it fights the variant first discovered in Britain.

“I know you’re tired. So am I. But we have to be strong and now the situation is more difficult,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin told a press conference on Thursday. The variant “is more difficult to tackle, the old tools are not enough. Closed borders are not enough.”

The new measures require students over 13 to switch to distance learning and halts their leisure activities. A public meeting ban for more than six people is introduced and people are urged to avoid private gatherings. People in Finland would still have to work remotely and wear face masks.

A formal text will be presented next week before parliament.

In March, Finnish lawmakers adopted the emergency powers to tackle the coronavirus crisis. The country has seen 757 virus deaths in the pandemic

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BERLIN — A silver lining to coronavirus lockdown measures: with fewer motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians out on the streets, German authorities are reporting the lowest number of traffic fatalities since they started keeping statistics.

The Federal Statistical Office reported Thursday that in 2020, 2,724 people died due to traffic accidents in Germany, 10.6% fewer than in 2019 and the lowest number since the Wiesbaden-based agency started keeping such tallies more than 60 years ago.

“This is in particular due to the fact that due to the coronavirus pandemic, significantly fewer kilometers were driven on German roads in 2020 than the previous year,” the agency said.

The numbers were particularly low during the early part of the year and at the end of the year when Germany had instituted strict lockdown measures, and ticked upward in the summer when the measures were relaxed.

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PRAGUE — The Czech government is barring its citizens and residents from traveling to countries hit by highly contagious coronavirus variants and is tightening rules for face coverings.

Starting Thursday, people are required to wear better masks in places where large numbers gather, including stores, hospitals and public transportation. Cloth masks will no longer be good enough and medical-grade masks, safety respirators or two surgical masks will have to be used instead.

The changes come as one of the hardest-hit European Union countries faces a surge of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant originally found in Britain.

As of Friday, Czechs and foreign residents are not allowed to travel to 11 countries amid concerns over coronavirus variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil.

The Cabinet is also preparing new restrictions that Prime Minister Andrej Babis indicated will include limits on movement.

The country’s day-to-day increase in new confirmed cases reached 13,657 on Wednesday, about 2,700 more than a week ago. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.2 million cases with 19,835 deaths.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director is warning it would be a “fatal mistake” if the developed world takes the attitude of “we’ll vaccinate our people, and people in other parts of the world can take care of their own."

John Nkengasong, speaking Thursday to reporters, added that “it’s in no one’s interest we continue to be in this tense situation” and said more could have been done to address the global COVID-19 vaccine inequality.

But he celebrated that Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive vaccines via the global COVAX effort aimed at distributing doses to low-income countries. He said he hoped vaccinations would start Thursday in Ghana and that vaccine deliveries to other African countries will arrive in the coming days.

Africa over the past month has seen a decrease in the number of new cases after a strong resurgence in infections driven by a more infectious variant of the coronavirus discovered in South Africa. The continent surpassed 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths this month.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan will resume regular classes five days per week at all schools from March 1 amid a steady decrease in COVID-19 deaths and cases from coronavirus.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood made the announcement Thursday on Twitter.

Pakistan closed classrooms in November amid a surge in infections. Later schools were opened in phases, but regular classes had not been allowed.

Authorities said Wednesday that they will allow opening of parks, cinemas and indoor dining and wedding receptions beginning on March 15.

Pakistan has reported 12,772 deaths from the coronavirus. Pakistan is currently vaccinating health workers and elderly people using the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.

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