The Latest: Merkel says Germany didn’t act quickly enough News Staff

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany didn’t act quickly enough last fall to prevent a second surge in coronavirus infections.

“We didn’t shut down public life early enough or systematically enough amid signs of a second wave and warnings from various scientists,” she told lawmakers Thursday.

Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to extend the current lockdown, which was due to expire Sunday, until at least March 7.

Schools and hairdressers will be able to open earlier, albeit with strict hygiene measures.

Merkel defended a decision to set a target of pushing the number of new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants below 35 before the lockdown is eased further.

“The virus doesn’t follow dates, the virus follows infection numbers,” she said.

Germany’s disease control agency said there were just over 64 cases per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide in the past week.

The Robert Koch Institute said there were 10,237 new cases and 666 deaths in the past day, taking the total to 2.31 million, including 63,635 deaths.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

AP poll: Some US adults skeptical of vaccine, but 67% say they’ll take it. South Africa to offer 1-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. EXPLAINER: What the WHO coronavirus experts learned in Wuhan. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox reject criticism of their virus defiance, say they’re defending their way of life. What quarantine is like in Japan and what it might look like for the Tokyo Olympics.

— 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:

JERUSALEM — Israel began reopening its education system on Thursday after a more than six-week closure due to the country’s worrying surge in coronavirus infections.

Kindergartens and first to fourth grades opened in cities with low infection rates, with around one-fifth of the country’s pupils returning to classrooms. Middle schools and high schools remained closed.

Israel began easing its restrictions on Sunday after more than a month of nationwide lockdown. It has vaccinated more than 3.5 million citizens with an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but infection rates remain high.

The Health Ministry reported more than 711,000 confirmed cases, including at least 5,265 deaths.

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PRAGUE — The Czech government has imposed a complete lockdown on the three hardest-hit counties to help contain a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Jan Blatny says the measure will become effective Friday for two counties in western Czech Republic on the German border — Cheb and Sokolov — and another in the northern part of the country — Trutnov — on the border with Poland.

Residents of the counties are barred from leaving those places, while people without residency can’t travel there. Exceptions include travel to work. Police will be deployed to enforce the measure.

The counties have been facing the highest occurrence of the fast-spreading coronavirus variant found in Britain. Local hospitals have reached their capacity limits and COVID-19 patients have to be transported to hospitals in other parts of the Czech Republic.

The number of infected people is around 1,100 per 100,000 in the three counties in the last seven days, several times higher than in the rest of the country.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 504 new coronavirus cases for the latest 24-hour period. It is the highest daily jump in about two weeks and raising worries about a potential surge as the country begins the Lunar New Year’s holidays.

Health officials said Thursday the newly reported cases took the country’s total for the pandemic to 82,434, with 1,496 deaths related to COVID-19.

In recent weeks, South Korea’s caseload has displayed a gradual downward trajectory largely thanks to stringent distancing rules such as a ban on social gatherings of five or more people.

Officials have urged the public to maintain vigilance and stay at home during the four-day Lunar New Year’s holidays that began Thursday. Millions of people were expected to travel across the country to visit hometowns and return home during the holidays.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican regulatory authorities have granted approval for the use of two Chinese coronavirus vaccines — the Coronavac made by Sinovac and another made by CanSino.

The assistant health secretary says the first bulk shipment of an expected 2 million CanSino doses is to arrive Thursday to be finished and bottled in Mexico.

Mexico has so far received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which have almost all been used.

The CanSino vaccine reportedly has an efficacy rate of around 65.7%, while the Sinovac dose has been rated as low as 50.65% at preventing infections.

Mexico also expects to get its first AstraZeneca shipment of 500,000 doses Sunday.

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TOKYO — Japan is reporting its worst one-day death toll for the pandemic — 121 people who died from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours.

The number reported Thursday by Japan’s Health Ministry raised the country’s pandemic death toll to 6,678.

Japan has not started coronavirus vaccinations. Shots for medical workers are set to begin this month.

The country also has never had a lockdown, but a government-backed state of emergency is now in place for Tokyo and other urban areas that urges people to stay home and restaurants to close at night.

Although coronavirus cases stayed relatively low in Japan last year compared to the United States and Europe, infections have been climbing recently. Demands are growing for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to start in July.

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union has approved a deal with the nation’s third-largest school district to get students back to class during the coronavirus pandemic, union officials announced early Wednesday.

The vote ends the possibility of an immediate teacher lockout or strike. The agreement follows months of negotiations with Chicago Public Schools, which had intensified in recent weeks, with plans that included more teacher vaccinations and metrics to allow school closures when COVID-19 infections spike.

The union said 13,681 members voted to approve the agreement and 6,585 voted against it. Despite the approval, the union characterized it as the “absolute limit to which CPS was willing to go at the bargaining table to guarantee a minimum number of guardrails for any semblance of safety in schools.”

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WASHINGTON — Federal authorities are investigating a massive counterfeit N95 mask operation in which fake 3M masks were sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies. The foreign-made knockoffs are becoming increasingly difficult to spot and could put health care workers at grave risk for the coronavirus.

These masks are giving first responders “a false sense of security,” said Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with the Homeland Security Department’s principal investigative arm.

Officials could not name the states or the company involved because of the active investigation.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate and weary Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phoneywebsites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phoney products, unlike fraud earlier in the pandemic that focused more on fleecing customers.

The Associated Press


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