PHILIPPINE SEA — The U.S. 7th Fleet that operates throughout the Indo-Pacific says 96% of its personnel have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The fleet said in a news release that more than 14,000 of its service members had received their full doses of the vaccine, which it began administering on January 5.
“We are in a pandemic and our principle weapon for ending this and saving lives is the vaccine,” vaccine coordinator Capt. Joseph F. Penta was quoted as saying. “We owe it to ourselves, our family and country to make every effort to stop the pandemic.”
Receiving the vaccination was voluntary and medical personnel were on hand to answer any questions about the process, the release said.
The 7th Fleet operates 50-70 ships and submarines and regularly interacts with forces from 35 other countries. It deploys to the South China Sea, where China has been pressing its claim to virtually the entirely strategic waterway.
Last April, more than 500 crew members aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the virus and one died after the ship docked in Guam. That came amid a crisis during which the Navy’s civilian leader fired the ship’s captain after accusing him of too widely distributing a letter calling for more urgent action to deal with the outbreak. The administration official resigned shortly after coming under criticism for the firing.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 109.9 million people, or 33.1% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 64.4 million people, or 19.4% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 57,627 on March 24 to 65,936 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 867 on March 24 to 987 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
— Governments give varying advice on AstraZeneca vaccine
— Tokyo governor asks for emergency virus measures
— In Peru, authorities allowed secret burials of virus victims
— Pandemic-weary chefs, cooks enjoy serving from home
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SAN FRANCISCO -- More California counties are opening up vaccines to younger adults, a week ahead of the state’s schedule.
At the same time, California public health officials warned Thursday of decreases in supply because of a national reduction of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state has received about 2.4 million doses this week, but it expects 2 million next week and 1.9 million doses the week after.
Santa Clara County and Fresno County are the latest to open up vaccinations to everyone 16 and up.
A mass vaccination site at California State University, Los Angeles announced it would take adults on a walk-up basis because of excess appointments. It had to start turning people away Thursday.
Hartford, Conn. -- A major decline in the amount of Johnson & Johnson vaccine has required Connecticut officials to revamp some distribution plans, including at college campuses before students leave for the summer break.
Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Gov. Ned Lamont, said Connecticut had originally planned on giving college students the opportunity to get the one-dose vaccine, realizing there wouldn’t be enough time to administer them a second dose of the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna.
But the state recently learned that its expected shipment of 20,000 J&J doses next week will drop to 6,000 and then down to 2,000 the following week. The decline in supply comes after the company had to discard 15 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine last month because the batch did not meet quality standards.
Geballe said the state now plans to give students at least the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna while they’re in Connecticut and then have the students get their second dose in their home state.
Geballe said Lamont has been working with the White House and other governors to encourage them to do the same, noting available supplies will be greater in most states in May and June.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont is preparing to welcome the return of Amtrak passenger rail service and inter-city bus services to the state, the Agency of Transportation announced Thursday.
Amtrak service, which was suspended last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will resume July 19.
The resumption of service comes as Vermont is preparing for its post-pandemic reopening. Gov. Phil Scott has announced plans for the state to be largely reopened by July 4, if current vaccination rates continue.
“With the Governor’s announcement this week of the Vermont Forward Plan to re-open Vermont fully during the next few months, we now have a target date for when we will be able to safely resume Amtrak and transit services in July,” Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said in a statement.
Amtrak requires 90-days of notice to resume passenger rail service.
The Amtrak Vermonter travels between St. Albans and Washington and runs through Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Amtrak Ethan Allen Express runs between New York City and Rutland, via Albany, New York.
Intercity bus service provided by Vermont Translines and Greyhound, are also set to resume in July.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has opened a coronavirus vaccine hotline to help people schedule immunization appointments and connect those reluctant about getting the shot to medical professionals who can answer questions.
The hotline launched Thursday is reachable at 1-855-453-0774. It’s part of the Louisiana health department’s ongoing outreach work to bolster vaccination rates in a state where the administration of shots in arms lags much of the nation.
Hotline hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Anyone age 16 and older in Louisiana is eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York lawmakers have created a $2.1 billion fund to aid workers who lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic but were excluded from other government relief programs because of their immigration status.
The program is the largest of its kind in the U.S. It passed this week as part of the state budget.
The fund will give payments of up to $15,600 to workers living in the country illegally who weren’t eligible for federal stimulus checks, unemployment aid or other benefits.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey continued to report record-high COVID-19 infections.
The Health Ministry confirmed 55,941 new daily cases and 258 fatalities Thursday, pushing the overall death toll to 33,204.
The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has also been steadily increasing, reaching 2,615 on Thursday, the ministry figures showed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-imposed weekend lockdowns and announced the closure of cafes and restaurants during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to stem the surge, but experts warn that more stringent measures are needed.
Around 75% of the infections have been traced to the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, according to the health ministry.
At the same time, the country has begun vaccinating its tourism sector workers in a bid to support an industry that suffered heavily from the coronavirus outbreak last year.
A Tourism and Culture Ministry statement says employees of airline companies, airports, hotels and travel agencies as well as professional guides, had started to receive their first COVID-19 shots. Turkey has pinned hopes on the upcoming summer holiday season a severe decline in tourism revenues last year.
ROME — Italy’s leader says the nation must concentrate on getting 100% of its oldest and most fragile people vaccinated against COVID-19 to be able to quickly re-open the country in terms of economic activity.
Premier Mario Draghi said despite a slowdown of administering vaccines during the Easter holidays and some delays in receiving the doses from vaccine manufacturers, he was confident that Italy will meet his goal of 500,000 vaccine injections per day by the end of April. That would have the country in line to have 80% of its citizens vaccinated by the end of September.
Earlier in the week, a demonstration by frustrated restaurant and other business owners turned violent outside Parliament, and elsewhere in Italy, hundreds of angry protesters blocked traffic on a key north-south highway.
The country is also setting the stage to welcome back tourists from abroad, starting with those who have certificates attesting to their vaccination against COVID-19.
Draghi at a news conference Thursday evening noted that fellow Mediterranean tourist destination countries like Spain and Greece have been priming themselves for foreign tourists’ return after travel bans during the pandemic thwarted vacations. Draghi said Italy, too, must gear up.
Italy’s tourism minister hopes to promote some of the country’s small islands, like Capri, as “COVID-free” to encourage tourists to return.
MIAMI — The state of Florida has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to demand cruise ships start sailing.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis says the no-sail order is outdated and hurts the state because the industry generates billions for the economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines last week for companies on how to respond in the event of coronavirus cases but has not lifted its no-sail order.
The CDC shut down sailing last year when several coronavirus outbreaks were tied to ships worldwide. DeSantis says cruising has resumed in much of the world, forcing Americans to fly to other ports.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president says he plans to get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to boost confidence in the shot.
The vaccine is one of several being used for people over 60 in Mexico’s current round of vaccinations. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador say the benefits far outweigh any risks of a rare blood-clotting disorder.
The 67-year-old Mexican leader has been on-again, off-again about getting vaccinated. He was infected with the coronavirus in January. On Monday, he said he wouldn’t get a vaccine because his doctors told him he still has a high level of antibodies.
Spain has limited the AstraZeneca shot to those over 60 and Belgium to those over 55. In Britain, authorities say the shot shouldn’t be given to adults under 30 where possible.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Russia asked Slovakia to return its Sputnik V vaccines “due to multiple contract violations.”
The official Twitter account of the Sputnik V vaccine says Slovakia’s drug regulator “in violation of existing contract” tested Sputnik V “in a laboratory which is not part of the EU’s Official Medicines Control Laboratory network.”
The Slovak State Institute for Drug Control says the network of EU certified labs tests only the vaccines registered in the EU, which is not the case of Sputnik V.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic was in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the deliveries of Sputnik V to Slovakia. So far, 200,000 shots have been delivered in a deal for 2 million.
The Russian announcement was published just hours after the Slovak regulator said it has not received enough information about the Russian vaccine from its producer to assess its benefits and risks.
Sputnik V has not been approved for use in the EU. The body’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency has started a review of the vaccine.
The Slovak drug agency says the Sputnik V vaccine reviewed by the EU is different from the one sent to Slovakia.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s governor has asked Japan’s central government for permission to implement emergency measures to curb a coronavirus variant ahead of the Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he plans to place Tokyo under emergency virus measures after consulting with experts on Friday.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike says she asked the government to allow her to issue binding orders under a new virus prevention law enacted in February, It includes a penalty for business owners who defy measures and compensation for those who comply. Tokyo came out of a state of emergency in late March.
Tokyo’s step follows Osaka in western Japan, which recently declared a medical emergency after its hospitals became overwhelmed with cases.
Tokyo reported 545 cases on Thursday. Koike says she’s concerned by the rapid spread of variants, especially one originally detected in Britain.
NEW YORK — Planned Parenthood announced it is launching a $2 million campaign to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and combat disinformation about it.
Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO, says communities of color will be a primary focus of the campaign, given that they make up about 40% of the organization’s patient base and have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19.
Planned Parenthood says it will deploy campaign organizers across at least 12 states. It will aim to have at least 1.5 million conversations with people about the vaccine, through phone calls and in-person door knocking.
Planned Parenthood says its health centers are already administering vaccines in Minnesota, Montana, New York, California, and Washington, with more states to come.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame says it will require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.
University officials notified the campus community of the requirement in a letter Wednesday. It says it will accommodate documented medical or religious exemptions to vaccinations. The announcement came in advance of Notre Dame opening a clinic Thursday to administer the Pfizer two-dose vaccine.
Notre Dame officials encouraged students to be vaccinated at the clinic in the coming weeks. Spokesmen for Indiana University and Purdue University say neither institution is requiring the vaccine.
ROME — The Vatican Museums are aiming to reopen to the public starting on May 3, depending on status of the coronavirus.
The Museums, which include a visit to the Sistine Chapel with its frescoes by Michelangelo, cited the “still uncertain scenario” from the coronavirus pandemic in saying that date was being set “for the moment.” With Italy struggling for months to contain a third surge of coronavirus infections, museums and archaeological sites in the country are currently closed and appear likely to stay so throughout April under current government measures.
When Italy re-opened museums last spring after a first wave of infections eased, the Vatican did likewise. With tourists from many countries outside the European Union, such as the United States, still not allowed to enter Italy, crowds remained thin.