The Latest: WHO warns delta variant taking hold in Europe

The World Health Organization’s Europe director warned that the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in India is “poised to take hold in the region,” as many countries prepare to ease restrictions and allow more social gatherings and travel across borders.

During a press briefing on Thursday, WHO’s Dr. Hans Kluge said the variant also known as the delta variant, has shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines and warned that many vulnerable populations, particularly those over age 60, remain unprotected.

“We have been here before,” warned Kluge, WHO’s European regional director. “Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence,” he said. Kluge said that spike in COVID-19 ultimately led to more lockdowns and deaths in the fall and winter of 2020. “Let’s not make that mistake again.”

Kluge didn’t say people shouldn’t travel, but urged any travelers to do so wisely. He also called for vaccination and other public health measures to be stepped up across the continent, saying even immunization coverage “is far from sufficient to protect the region.”

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Biden will unveil plans for U.S. to donate 500 million doses and will ask his fellow G-7 leaders to do the same

— Asia welcomes US vaccine donations, but Pfizer’s cold-storage requirements leave some worried

— Europe is opening up to visitors after more than a year of restrictions, but the rules vary

— Temporary side effects of vaccines are a normal sign of immune systems working

— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — Germany is sticking to its opposition to easing patent protection on COVID-19 vaccines as it goes into the Group of Seven summit.

While many developed countries with strong pharmaceutical industries hesitated or were outright opposed to the idea, the debate received a jolt last month when the Biden administration announced support for granting waivers for vaccines.

But a senior German official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules, said Thursday: “We don’t think a waiver is helpful or is actually the problem, and nothing has changed about that.”

The official noted that talks are ongoing at the World Trade Organization in Geneva and said they may achieve “improvements within the system.”

Asked whether Germany plans to announce to give more vaccine to poorer countries after the U.S. unveils plans to donate 500 million doses around the globe, the official said Germany has done “a great deal” on three tracks: sharing doses, financing purchases via the COVAX program, and exports.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Germany is prepared to donate 30 million doses by the year’s end to poorer countries “assuming, of course, that the vaccines we have ordered actually arrive.” That would be part of a broader donation of 100 million doses by the European Union.

Germany hasn’t said when the donations will start.

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MOSCOW — The Russian authorities reported a spike in coronavirus infections on Thursday, with new confirmed cases exceeding 11,000 for the first time since March.

Nearly half of Thursday’s 11,699 new infections — 5,245, the highest since January — have been recorded in Moscow, which has seen a steep increase in contagions in recent days. Russia has reported over 5.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and more than 125,000 deaths.

After lifting most virus-related restrictions last summer, Russian authorities have refused to re-impose a lockdown or other tough measures to curb the spread of the virus, arguing that the country is able to cope with the outbreak without shutting down the economy.

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been lagging behind many countries, with just over 18 million people — or 12% of the country’s 146-million population — receiving at least one shot as of last week.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s Europe director welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that the country will buy 500 million vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech for global distribution through the initiative known as COVAX, calling it “hopeful” news.

“It’s a very important announcement indeed,” said Dr. Hans Kluge during a press briefing on Thursday. He noted WHO has previously called for the most at-risk 10% of every country’s population to be immunized by September and for 30% to be protected by the end of the year.

“We welcome (Biden’s donation) very much,” he said, calling for more rich countries to follow the U.S.’ lead.

Kluge said vaccine doses are needed now, saying “it’s not only a matter of money.” He said WHO was looking forward to more vaccine announcements from the upcoming G7 summit this week.

“But at the same time, we need to look for long-term sustainable solutions … and to really drastically scale up vaccine production,” he said.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the nations of the world must set aside the “beggar my neighbor” attitude that led to squabbling over medicines and treatments for COVID-19.

Johnson said Thursday that Group of Seven leaders meeting this weekend in Carbis Bay, southwest England will commit to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022.

The British leader wrote in The Times of London that it was time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world.”

But he faces criticism because the U.K. has yet to send any doses abroad and has cut its international aid budget, citing the economic blow of the pandemic.

He said Thursday that Britain would donate “millions” of doses from surplus stocks — though he didn’t say when.

Johnson also noted that the British government helped to fund the development at Oxford University of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for 1 in 3 vaccine doses around the world.

President Joe Biden is announcing Thursday that the U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year.

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MAWGAN PORTH, England — One year ago, the U.S. was the deadliest hotspot of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the cancellation of the Group of Seven summit it was due to host. Now, the U.S. is a model for how to successfully emerge from more than 15 months of global crisis.

For President Joe Biden, who is meeting with leaders of the wealthy G-7 democracies on his first overseas trip since taking office, it’s a personal vindication of his pledge to turn around the U.S. outbreak but also a call to action to enlist other countries in the global fight.

In a speech on the eve of the summit, Biden on Thursday will unveil plans for the U.S. to donate 500 million vaccine doses around the globe over the next year, on top of 80 million he has already pledged by the end of the month. U.S. officials say Biden will also include a direct request to his fellow G-7 leaders to do the same.

“We have to end COVID-19, not just at home — which we’re doing — but everywhere,” Biden told American servicemembers Wednesday on the first stop of his three-country, eight-day trip, adding that the effort “requires coordinated, multilateral action.”

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ oil-rich capital of Abu Dhabi says it will limit access to public spaces, including malls, gyms, hotels, parks and beaches, to those who can prove they’ve been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19 in recent days.

The new “green pass” restrictions, to take effect June 15, requires all visitors to public spaces and businesses to present their color-coded vaccination and coronavirus test status on the government health app. The unvaccinated must have tested negative for the coronavirus within the last three days, while those who have received one dose must have been tested in the last week. Other venues now requiring the green pass include restaurants, swimming pools, cinemas and museums.

The neighboring city-state of Dubai already has introduced some vaccination-related restrictions, opening mass entertainment and sporting events to those who have received the shot.

The UAE has relied heavily on the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine However, the daily infection count in the country continues to climb, surpassing 2,000 new cases on Wednesday.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will continue to recommend AstraZeneca shots for people older than 50 after reporting the death of a 52-year-old woman from blood clots in her brain that have been blamed on the vaccine.

The death confirmed on Thursday was the second fatality in Australia blamed on the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which 3.6 million doses have been administered in the country since March. The first was a 48-year-old woman who died in April.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said AstraZeneca remained the recommended vaccine for people over 50 years old because the risk of the rare clotting complication is reduced with age. A number of countries have set age limits on who should be given the AstraZeneca vaccine because of the clotting issue.

Australian authorities also on Thursday declared the only other COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Australia, Pfizer, was safe for pregnant women. The decision was based on a study of 123,000 women who became pregnant shortly before or after they were vaccinated.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danes who have fewer new coronavirus cases in recent weeks are ditching masks unless standing up in public transportations and have increased seating capacity up to 25,000 people at soccer matches.

However, the Danish Football Association said they could not increase seating for Saturday’s kickoff European Championship game in Copenhagen in which Denmark plays Finland. As for the next two Group B games of the Euro 2020 tournament in Copenhagen, 25,000 people will be able to attend each match, DBU said. Danes play Belgium on June 17 and Russia on June 21.

Lawmakers agreed Thursday to ease some restrictions, including gradually extending the opening hours for restaurants and bars, first to midnight and later to 2 a.m. Nightclubs will reopen on Sept. 1

Europe’s digital coronavirus passport will remain mandatory until Oct. 1.

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BEIJING — China has suspended import of a number of frozen seafood products from India after traces of the coronavirus were detected on the packaging.

China for months has been warning of the possibility the virus could be spread to people as food is harvested or produced, then frozen to be imported to consumers abroad, although experts say the amounts of virus present virtually zero chance of infection.

The General Administration of Customs said samples taken from the packaging of fish and shrimp from six firms had tested positive for coronavirus and imports from the companies would be suspended for a week.

China on Thursday reported six new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 in the southern city of Guangzhou, where it has enacted strict measures including community isolation, travel restrictions and the closure of indoor entertainment venues to contain the country’s latest outbreak. The cluster has been blamed on the delta variant of the virus that was first identified in India.

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WASHINGTON — Medicare is announcing a significant increase in what it will pay to vaccinate homebound older people against the coronavirus as, part of the Biden administration’s “last mile” effort to get shots in the arms of as many Americans as possible.

Officials said Wednesday the program will pay roughly $35 more per dose when enrollees are vaccinated at home. For a two-shot regimen that means Medicare will pay $150, or about $70 more than currently.

Medicare estimates 1.6 million people 65 and older may have trouble getting to pharmacies or vaccination centers because of obstacles to leaving home. These can include physical impairments as well as neurologic disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Local health departments in many communities have already launched efforts to locate and vaccinate homebound older people, who remain at risk because visitors may unwittingly bring the virus into their homes.

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TORONTO — Canada’s health minister says fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents who test negative for the coronavirus will soon be exempt from a two-week quarantine when returning to the country.

Officials expect that to happen in early July.

Air travelers who have received shots at least 14 days before entering Canada will be able to skip a stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel but will still have to stay in isolation until a virus test comes back negative.

Currently, arriving air travelers are required to spend three days in quarantine at a hotel at their expense and then complete their two weeks in self-isolation. They will be required to take a test upon arrival in Canada, and remain in isolation until the test comes back negative.

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