CHICAGO — Illinois has joined the group of states offering millions of dollars in cash prizes and scholarships to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday the state will offer $7 million in cash prizes and $3 million in scholarships through a new lottery open to all residents who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Prizes will range from $100,000 to $1 million, and children can win a college savings plan worth $150,000.
Names in Illinois’ vaccination database will be automatically eligible for the lottery. Participants will be required to have a shot by July 1. Weekly drawings will begin July 8
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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Some in Washington seeking 9/11-style commission on coronavirus
— U.K. reports more than 10,000 daily virus cases, first time since Feb.
— Dr. Fauci: U.S. to spend $3B for antiviral pills for COVID-19
— CureVac CEO: Vaccine data ‘sobering’ at 47% efficacy
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will offer residents who have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 a chance to win a share of $2.3 million in cash prizes and college scholarships.
Gov. John Bel Edwards hopes financial incentives will persuade those reluctant to get the shots to change their minds.
The top winner could take home $1 million under the plans announced Thursday at a news conference that included a giant fake check and a live brass band.
Drawings will take place over five weeks, starting July 14.
The state will give away nine $100,000 scholarships to winners ages 12 to 17. Four $100,000 cash prizes and one $1 million award will be handed out to winners age 18 and older.
Registration for the drawings begins Monday at noon.
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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan will lift all indoor capacity restrictions and mask requirements next week, 10 days sooner than planned amid vaccinations and plummeting COVID-19 infections, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday.
The state’s main coronavirus order will expire at the end of Monday instead of July 1, bringing an end to mandatory 50% occupancy limits inside restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues and at indoor events like weddings and funerals. The move came days after California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could a close-to-normal summer.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said in statement issued 15 months after she first signed emergency orders to control the coronavirus. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe.”
About 4.9 million residents, or 60%, of those ages 16 and older have gotten at least one vaccine dose.
State health officials said some virus orders will remain in place to protect vulnerable populations in prisons, long-term care facilities and the agriculture industry. Guidance for schools, where many students are not yet authorized to be vaccinated, will be issued next week.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a new COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery for the state’s military, family members and veterans because the federal government wasn’t sharing individual vaccine status of those groups with the state and there were concerns they would be left out of a previously announced lottery.
The announcement comes after last week’s start of a lottery that has already had two drawings for $250,000 prizes, and also includes giveaways for college tuition assistance, airline tickets and game systems, among other prizes.
A final drawing in that lottery will be for a $1 million prize on July 13. Washington is among several states that created lotteries in hopes of increasing the pace of vaccination. The governor’s office believes the state is the first with a separate lottery for those who have been vaccinated at military locations.
The new separate lottery applies to military, military staff and family members who were vaccinated through the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, or the National Guard. A spokesman for Inslee said that the Department of Defense will be involved in circulating a form for military members to fill out.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is under pressure to get thousands of people vaccinated Thursday to meet a deadline set by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
She wanted to reopen the state July 1, as long as 60% of residents 16 and older were fully vaccinated.
Data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows 59% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, marking just a slight increase from the day before.
Some say it would be difficult hit the mark given that daily increases have amounted to just a few tenths of a percent.
The governor’s office also lifted mask requirements for youth athletes who are fully vaccinated.
WASHINGTON — There’s a push on Capitol Hill and beyond for a full-blown investigation of the coronavirus outbreak by a national commission like the one that looked into 9/11.
The proposal comes amid lingering questions over the government’s response to the crisis and the origin of the virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.
A bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine would establish such a commission.
“The death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic is more than 200 times that of the 9/11 attacks — but Congress has yet to establish a similar blue ribbon commission to investigate the vulnerabilities of our public health system and issue guidance for how we as a nation can better protect the American people from future pandemics,” Menendez and Collins wrote in an essay this week in The New York Times.
The inquiry could include a look at the origins of the virus; early warnings and other communication with foreign governments; coordination among federal, state and local agencies; the availability of medical supplies; testing and public health surveillance; vaccination development and distribution; the uneven effect on minorities; and government relief policies.
However, its prospects are unclear. Many are concerned politics will get in the way of any inquiry, as happened when Republicans came out against a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is locking down because of a massive spike in coronavirus cases among employees.
The embassy in Kabul already is on uncertain footing due to the imminent withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Now the embassy is ordering staffers into virtual isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’s already killed at least one person and sent 114 into quarantine. The embassy says in a notice to employees that most group activities, including work meetings and recreational gatherings, are banned.
The restrictions will remain in place until the chain of transmission is broken. Violators will be removed from the country on the next available flight.
HONG KONG — Coronavirus vaccine incentives offered by Hong Kong companies, including a lucky draw for an apartment, a Tesla car and even gold bars, are helping boost the city’s sluggish inoculation rate.
The city of 7.5 million, which hasn’t experienced a major outbreak, is battling vaccine hesitancy driven by multiple factors, including fears of serious side effects, a mistrust of the government and a lack of concern from residents.
There have been fewer than 12,000 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Just 16% of people in Hong Kong have been fully vaccinated. But since the first incentives were announced at the end of May, there has been a surge in bookings. Nearly 600,000 of the 3 million shots given since February came in the last two weeks.
More than 450,000 people signed up on the first possible day for the chance to win the one-bedroom condominium, worth $1.4 million in one the world’s most expensive property markets. Registrations began this week and will remain open until September, when the draw will take place. Proof of vaccination is required to claim the prize.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities say the first delta variant in the community has been detected in Sri Lanka.
Dr Chandima Jeewandara, Director of immunology and molecular medicine of the Sri Jayewardenepra University says the delta variant has been detected in five samples collected from the capital Colombo. Dr. Jeewandara says it’s the first community detection. Previously, two people were found to be infected with the delta variant in a quarantine facility.
The delta variant was first identified in neighboring India and is considered a more transmissible version of the disease.
Sri Lanka has seen a sharp increase of positive cases and deaths since April because of the celebrations and shopping by the people during the traditional new year festival.
Sri Lanka’s total confirmed positive cases have reached 230,692 and 2,374 confirmed deaths.
NEW YORK — The U.S. Open tennis tournament will allow 100% spectator capacity throughout its entire two weeks in 2021.
This comes a year after spectators were banned from the Grand Slam event in New York because of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Tennis Association made the announcement Thursday. The U.S. Open, held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, is scheduled to start on Aug. 30.
The U.S. Open will be the first Grand Slam tournament to have full attendance since the Australian Open in January-February 2020, before the start of the pandemic. More than 700,000 people attended the two-week U.S. Open in 2019.
On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said many of the state’s remaining social distancing rules would be eased because 70% of its adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Slovakia coach Stefan Tarkovic says defender Denis Vavro and a member of the team’s coaching staff have tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the European Championship match against Sweden.
They are the first positive tests for COVID-19 to have been announced since Euro 2020 started.
Tarkovic says Vavro has no symptoms and is isolating. He didn’t disclose the name of the coach. Testing took place on Wednesday.
The game against Sweden is in St. Petersburg on Friday.
LONDON — The U.K. has recorded more than 10,000 daily coronavirus infections for the first time in nearly four months, likely the result of the spread of the more contagious delta variant.
Government figures Thursday reported 11,007 daily cases, the highest daily amount since Feb. 19.
The variant, which accounts for around 95% of all new cases in the U.K., is considered by government scientists to be between 40% to 80% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain.
The spread of the variant upended plans for the lifting of all restrictions on social contact next week. Instead, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed the easing by four weeks to July 19.
Most of the new infections are among younger age groups who have not received a vaccine. The U.K.’s vaccine rollout will be extended to all adults over age 18 on Friday.
ROME — With just over 50% of the Italian population having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, right-wing leader Matteo Salvini is pressing for an end or easing of nationwide mask-wearing rules.
Salvini says he lobbied Italian Premier Mario Draghi on Thursday to end the rule requiring masks “at least outdoors as soon as possible.”
Salvini urged Italy to follow the example of neighboring France, which a day earlier announced the end of the mask-wearing requirement outdoors except in crowd situations. In France, more than 59% of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
As of Thursday, 27% of Italy’s population over age 12 has been fully vaccinated. Italy’s daily numbers of confirmed cases, ICU admissions and deaths have been dropping in recent weeks.
WASHINGTON — The United States is devoting more than $3 billion to advance development of antiviral pills for COVID-19 and other dangerous viruses that could turn into pandemics.
The pills would be used to minimize symptoms after infection. They are in development and could begin arriving by year’s end, pending the completion of clinical trials.
Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the plan Thursday at a White House briefing. Fauci says the new program would invest in “accelerating things that are already in progress” for COVID-19 but would also work to innovate new therapies for other dangerous viruses.
Several companies, including Pfizer, Roche and AstraZeneca, are testing antivirals in pill form.
LONDON — Britain’s government is extending its coronavirus vaccine program to all those over the age of 18, as figures show 80% of adults in the country have received their first dose.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says everyone over 18 can start booking their vaccine appointments on Friday.
More than 42 million first vaccine doses have been delivered in the U.K. since the rollout began more than six months ago. About 30.4 million have received both doses.
Britain’s government is racing to vaccinate all adults before July 19, the date officials set for the lifting of England’s final remaining lockdown restrictions.
The U.K. has experienced a resurgence of infections, driven by the more transmissible delta variant. There were more than 9,000 new cases reported Wednesday, though deaths have remained low.
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