The Latest: SKorea to give shots to elders in long-term care

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will start administering coronavirus vaccines to hundreds of thousands of elders in long-term care settings this month after authorities approved the use of shots developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for adults 65 years old and older.

The decision by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was based on encouraging data from England and Scotland where the vaccines demonstrated effectiveness in lowering hospitalizations and death rates in the age group.

South Korean authorities had delayed the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for people over 65 when they launched the country’s mass immunization campaign last month, citing what they saw as insufficient laboratory data.

The decision faced criticism from health experts, who accused the government of risking the safety of people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. The country will be chiefly dependent on locally produced Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines during the first months of its vaccination campaign.

The KCDC says some 376,000 workers and residents over 65 at long-term care hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and rehab centers will begin receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots this month.

About 35% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 were linked to these long-term care facilities.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— What’s inside the newly passed $1.9T relief bill for Americans

— Dr. Fauci: US virus shots ramping up toward immunity

— WHO report on Wuhan virus mission expected soon

— AP source: US to buy additional 100M J&J doses

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— Follow 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:

ALASKA — Alaska has dropped restrictions on who can get a COVID-19 vaccination, opening eligibility to anyone 16 or older who lives or works in the state.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who highlighted his own bout with COVID-19 in making the announcement Tuesday, says Alaska is the first U.S. state to remove eligibility requirements.

The lifting of restrictions was announced days after the state had vastly expanded eligibility. But with open appointment slots, health officials wondered Monday if many people realized they qualified.

Officials also cited the volume of vaccine coming into Alaska and wanting to get as many shots into arms as possible.

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NEW MEXICO – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation say New Mexico can expect to receive around $9 billion from the pandemic relief package approved by Congress.

They say the funding will go toward everything from direct payments for individuals to investments in broadband, debt relief for farmers and expanding the child tax credit.

They say tribal communities and public schools will see over $1 billion each, while the state and local governments will share in about $2 billion. Lujan Grisham said the package will address the state’s systemic poverty issues by creating universal benefits and lifelong assistance.

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SAO PAULO — Brazil has topped 2,000 daily deaths by COVID-19 for the first time, as the country’s second wave of the coronavirus continues to grow amid a collapse of the health system in several mid-sized cities.

The Brazilian health ministry said 2,286 deaths were registered in the last 24 hours. The previous record had been set on Tuesday with 1,954 deaths.

The grim figure put Brazil’s total death toll at more than 270,000.

Earlier Wednesday, President Jair Bolsonaro, who has long downplayed the risks of the virus, wore a mask in an event at the presidential palace in capital Brasilia for the first time in months.

He also sanctioned a bill that makes the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines easier. So far less than 5% of Brazilians have been gotten their shots against the disease.

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ATLANTA — Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine criteria starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults who are overweight or have serious health conditions, making more than two-thirds of Georgians who are 16 and older eligible for vaccination.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Wednesday as Georgia continued to post worst-in-the nation vaccination rates, raising questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to put shots in arms.

“We will continue to encourage all eligible Georgians not to wait to get their dose,” the Republican governor said. “This vaccine, as we have said many times, is safe, is effective, and it’s our ticket back to normal.”

Georgia has only given 17.5% of its overall population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

Georgia disputes that second number, saying it’s given 74% of doses shipped. But even the state’s numbers show it has more than 850,000 doses on hand. At the rate shots were given in Georgia last week according to state numbers, that’s more than three weeks of supply.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A year into the coronavirus pandemic, more people can now spend time with family members and friends in South Carolina nursing homes and residential care facilities after state officials updated visitation guidelines Wednesday.

Most of the state’s nursing homes will have to allow in-person, indoor visitation after federal authorities approved the changed guidelines, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced.

“Too many South Carolinians have been prohibited from visiting their loved ones in long term care facilities because of overburdensome federal guidelines,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. “Prioritizing the physical health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is critically important, but we must also protect their mental and emotional health.”

Under the new criteria, facilities must let visitors indoors if community spread of the virus is low in the county where the facility is located, no residents or staff have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, and the facility is following other virus prevention measures.

These facilities will continue to require visitors to wear face masks and practice social distancing. They also must limit the number of visitors and the length of visits.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — As Iowa ramps up vaccinations to include everyone between age 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, state officials acknowledged Wednesday they would rely on an honor system with no validation required when someone claims to qualify for a shot due to a health issue.

The state is allowing adults to get vaccinated if they have any one of several conditions the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention considers higher risk for severe illness if they get infected. The list includes cancer, heart conditions, lung disease, pregnancy, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Smokers also qualify.

Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia acknowledged Wednesday the system is relying largely on Iowans being honest about their health conditions when scheduling a vaccine.

Iowa has given 969,877 doses of vaccine as of Wednesday afternoon and will have vaccinated 1 million by the end of this week. Reynolds said 27% of the population has had a shot as of Tuesday, which places Iowa 10th in the

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MIAMI — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that after the state makes people 60 and older eligible for the COVID vaccine next Monday, it will soon drop the age to 55 and then probably open it up to the rest.

DeSantis said the process may go quicker than expected because of the increase in supply of vaccines the state is receiving per week.

He said that each 5-year age group adds nearly 2 million people to population eligible for the life-saving vaccine.

But he says he still wants to prioritize access to those 55 and older because they are more at risk than younger adults.

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ATLANTA — Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults with serious health conditions.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Wednesday as Georgia continued to post vaccination numbers that raise questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to inoculate people against the respiratory illness.

State figures show more than 800,000 doses of vaccine have shipped but not been administered, and that fewer shots were given in the week ending March 7 than in the last week of February.

“We will continue to encourage all eligible Georgians not to wait to get their dose,” the Republican Kemp said. “This vaccine, as we have said many times, is safe, is effective, and it’s our ticket back to normal.”

Right now, people eligible in Georgia include those 65 and older, teachers, emergency workers, medical workers, employees and residents of long-term care facilities, intellectually disabled adults and caregivers of some children with medical conditions.

There have been signs in recent days that supply is exceeding demand for vaccines in Georgia, with some appointments at pharmacies going unclaimed.

Among adults younger than 55 who will qualify include those who have asthma, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease. Those who are overweight and obese will also qualify.

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CAIRO — Sudan has begun a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, the U.N. children’s agency said on Wednesday.

The UNICEF said healthcare workers at an isolation center in the capital of Khartoum were the first to receive shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Earlier this month, Sudan received more than 800,000 doses-shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.

The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute in India, was part of 3.4 million doses Sudan is due to receive from COVAX.

Sudan, a country of around 43 million people, has reported more than

28,760 cases, including 1,915 deaths. However, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.

Sudan is one of over 90 countries that will receive vaccines for free through the initiative. Another 90 countries and eight territories have agreed to pay for their doses.

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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday said restaurant, gym, salon and other indoor recreational businesses can increase capacities from 35% to 50% beginning on March 19.

Murphy also said outdoor gatherings could climb from a limit of 25 to 50 also on March 19.

Murphy, who’s running for re-election this, said the state’s COVID-19 trends are headed in the right direction, though they’ve been up a bit this week.

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WASHINGTON — Congress has sent President Joe Biden the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Democrats claimed a triumph on a bill that marshals the government’s spending might against twin pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.

Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions to provide up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most adults and extend $300 per week emergency unemployment benefits into early September.

Included is hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls.

There are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave — some of them credits that Democrats have signaled they’d like to make permanent — plus spending for renters, feeding programs and people’s utility bills.

There’s aid for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.

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MADRID — Spain’s health authorities will tighten restrictions during the upcoming Easter week to try to prevent another coronavirus spike.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says between March 26-April 9 travel will be prohibited between Spain’s peninsular regions. Meetings will be limited to four people in closed spaces and six people in open spaces, and the nightly curfew already in place must start by 11:00 p.m. from the current midnight.

Those same restrictions will apply to seven regions, including central Madrid, from March 17-21 for their celebration of the San José festival. Madrid’s region, Darias says, was the only one to vote against the order.

Spain’s rolling 14-day cases per 100,000 inhabitants lowered to 139 cases on Wednesday. Spain has confirmed 71,727 deaths from the coronavirus.

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ISTANBUL — Daily coronavirus infections have climbed to 14,556 in Turkey, more than a week after the government eased restrictions in dozens of provinces.

It’s the highest number of infections confirmed by the health ministry since late December. With 67 more deaths, the confirmed death toll has reached 29,227. The number of patients in need of critical care has also increased.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says the more transmissible mutations of the virus were tracked. They included 41,488 cases of the U.K. variant in 76 provinces, 61 cases of the South African variant in nine provinces and one case of the Brazilian variant.

Nighttime curfews, introduced in late November, are still in place across the country but weekend lockdowns are fully applied only in “very high-risk” cities.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor says all adults in the state will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines on April 1.

A spokeswoman for Governor Spencer Cox says state officials expect to have 1.5 million doses by April 10, when Utah’s statewide mask order will be lifted.

Mask orders will remain in place for schools and large gatherings. Utah also reported the first death of a child in the state because of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The state’s number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases and virus-related hospitalizations have continued to decrease since January.

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PHOENIX — Arizona on Wednesday reported 830 confirmed coronavirus cases and 78 deaths, following two days of no new deaths.

The latest figures reported by the Department of Health Services increased the state’s pandemic totals to 828,630 confirmed cases and 16,404 confirmed deaths.

The number of related hospitalizations continued to drop, with COVID-19 patients occupying 868 inpatient beds on Tuesday, down from 925 on Monday. The pandemic peak was 5,082 on Jan. 11.

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