The Latest: Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown News Staff

JERUSALEM — Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.

Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education may reopen to the public on Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.

The Israeli government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.

Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.

Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,856 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.



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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX facility.

It received 264,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be given to the most vulnerable people over 60 years old in the most high-risk areas affected by COVID-19, the health ministry said.

The vaccines, which were delivered through UNICEF, mark the first allocation of 1.44 million doses of vaccines from the COVAX facility the island nation will receive. Sri Lanka is expected to get the rest in stages through May.

Sri Lanka has so far received 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in neighbouring India, which donated half of the doses. Sri Lanka purchased the balance from India’s Serum Institute.


LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has signed an emergency order adjusting the minimum distance between performers and audience members that previously challenged the return of productions in Las Vegas.

The tourist destination built for excess and known for bright lights, big crowds, indulgent meals and headline shows has slowly begun to reopen after the pandemic halted business in March. Businesses, especially on the Strip were struggling because of limited air travel, lack of mid-week convention business and an absence of arena events and entertainment options.

Previously, performers were required to maintain 25 feet (7.6 metres) of space between the audience as a precaution against the coronavirus. But some smaller venues could not accommodate that restriction.

Sisolak signed the new emergency directive on Friday, updating the minimum distance to 6 feet (1.8 metres) if performers are wearing masks and 12 feet (3.6 metres) when performers are unmasked.

The order is effective immediately and applies to all live entertainment and performances at all sizes of public gatherings and events.

“This is amazing news,” said Angela Stabile, co-founder of Stabile Productions, Inc., which has been operating three different shows at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. “It was an extreme guideline to begin with. This is another step in the right direction.”

Other shows including “The Australian Bee Gees Show” at Excalibur Hotel & Casino, David Copperfield at MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino and Terry Fator at New York-New York Hotel & Casino were planning to resume performances this month, the Las Vegas Sun reported. Now, smaller venue productions are also planning to reopen because of the new guidelines.

Nevada on Saturday reported 500 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths, raising the state’s pandemic totals to 295,960 cases and 5,036 deaths.


SCAPPOOSE, Ore. — Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Saturday and is encouraging others to get it.

Brown says she got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to demonstrate that it’s safe and effective, and to counter rumours and misinformation.

She also says the one-dose vaccine is more convenient than the two-dose requirements of other vaccines to protect against the coronavirus.

Brown says Oregon residents should feel safe getting any of the three vaccines currently available. Brown says that more than a million doses of the various vaccines have been administered, and that 20,000 doses are being given each day.


LOS ANGELES — Counties across California are increasingly asking to opt out of the state’s centralized vaccination program run by Blue Shield.

The Los Angeles Times reports that none of the state’s 58 counties have signed contracts with the insurance giant even as California moves ahead plans to bring 10 counties under Blue Shield oversight beginning this week.

The state is in the process of switching over to a vaccine appointment and delivery system run by Blue Shield, intended to ensure doses are distributed equitably and reach low-income communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

But some county leaders call the system too bureaucratic and don’t want Blue Shield’s oversight.


PHOENIX — One day after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted capacity restrictions at restaurants, gyms and other businesses, the state reported 1,735 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Arizona doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate. With 54 more confirmed deaths on Saturday, the totals rose to 825,119 cases and 16,323 deaths.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations dipped below 1,000 for the first time in four months. On Friday, 966 COVID-19 patients occupied inpatient beds, down from 1,043 Thursday and the Jan. 11 pandemic high of 5,082.

Nearly 19% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine and about half of those people are fully vaccinated. The Health System Alliance of Arizona, a group representing major hospital systems, opposes Ducey’s move to lift capacity restrictions.

“Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus,” the group says.

Ducey’s order didn’t lift the state’s requirements for social distancing and masking requirements for businesses nor affect local governments’ mask mandates.


WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden.

The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries.

Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary.

The bill now heads to the House for final passage.


OKLAHOMA CITY —More than 1.2 million Oklahomans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

The CDC on Saturday reports 19.9% of Oklahomans have been given at least one dose to rank 10th in the nation. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 978 new coronavirus cases for a confirmed total of 428,536.

The health department reported at least 7,202 confirmed deaths.


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The world’s most famous sled dog race starts Sunday, but this year’s edition of the Iditarod will see a lot changes forced by the pandemic.

The race will be shorter this year, only 860 miles instead of a thousand. This will be the first time in race history that the finish line won’t be in Nome. Instead, mushers will go to the ghost town of Iditarod and loop back to the Anchorage area for the finish. Mushers will undergo vigorous COVID-19 testing before and during the race and if anyone gets a confirmed positive test, they are out of the race.

Most of the rural Alaska villages will be bypassed for safety reasons, leaving mushers to sleep in tents.

The Associated Press

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