CARIBOU, Maine — Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine wants the Biden administration to reconsider U.S.-Canada border restrictions that were imposed a year ago because of the pandemic.
Her letter came less than a week after Department of Homeland Security announced the U.S., Mexico and Canada had jointly agreed to maintain land border restrictions until March 21.
Collins wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that an “equitable solution” is needed for border communities that recognizes lower risk levels.
Only Canadian citizens, Americans with dual citizenship and family members and partners can cross for nonessential purposes.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— U.S. House passes $1.9 trillion pandemic bill on near party-line vote
— Communities in U.S. seeing less demand for coronavirus testing
— Experts notice pandemic’s mental health toll on German youth
— Top U.S. diplomat ‘visits’ Mexico, Canada on virtual trip
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEATTLE — People looking for a unique outdoor dining option during the pandemic can now make a run to the home of the Seattle Seahawks.
A dining series called “Field to Table” kicked off this month at Lumen Field. It features four-course meals from local chefs, plus a view of the NFL stadium normally reserved for players and coaches.
Diners eat their meals under an open-sided tent on the field, near the north end zone.
Event producer Sam Minkoff says the series’ original dates quickly sold out, but additional reservations will be available soon.
A portion of the proceeds go to the nonprofit Big Table, which helps struggling restaurant and hospitality workers. Seattle area eateries recently resumed reduced-capacity indoor seating after being restricted to takeout or limited outdoor seating.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors played without most of their coaching staff and one player on Friday night because of coronavirus-related issues.
Six members of their coaching staff, including head coach Nick Nurse, missed the game against the Houston Rockets. Forward Pascal Siakam also sat out, indicating either a testing or contact tracing issue.
The NBA has postponed 29 games this season because of virus-related issues with players or other personnel since the season began Dec. 22. It’s the first time a team has said its coaching staff would miss a game because of the protocols.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says: “Anytime we have a positive case, we go through extensive contact tracing, player by player, team staff member by team staff member, and then that independent group makes that decision as to whether the game should go on.”
Assistant Sergio Scariolo coached Toronto to a 122-111 win against the Rockets on Friday night in Tampa, Florida. The Raptors play their home games in Florida because of coronavirus travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada.
WASHINGTON — Communities across the U.S. are seeing plummeting demand for coronavirus testing.
The drop comes at a significant moment in the outbreak, when experts are cautiously optimistic the coronavirus is lessening with the help of public health measures and vaccines. But they are concerned that emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.
U.S. testing hit a peak on Jan. 15. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%. All major virus measures, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, are down. Other reasons for less testing include harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season and a focus on vaccinations.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian government announced a 12-day lockdown in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after a surge in coronavirus cases, including new variants.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the lockdown, which includes shutting down schools, a nighttime curfew and ban on travel to other governorates.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 1,472 new infections in the West Bank. The confirmed death toll is 1,476 people.
The Palestinian Authority secured 10,000 doses of vaccines from Russia and began its limited inoculation drive. Israel delivered 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is yet to provide 3,000 more shots, covering a tiny fraction of the Palestinian population.
Israel, which has administered at least one dose of Pfizer vaccine on over half of its population, is facing scrutiny and criticism for not sharing the shots with Palestinians under its control. Israel says the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing health services to its people.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Health Ministry says the country expects to receive 250,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China on Saturday.
Alireza Raisi, deputy health minister, says the country will receive doses of other vaccines, including from India, in the “near future” as the country struggles to fight the worst outbreak of the pandemic in the Middle East.
This month, Iran imported 120,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. Reports have said Iran has purchased a total of 2 million doses.
Iran in December began human trials on the first vaccine manufactured in the country, which is expected to be distributed in the spring. The country is also working on a joint vaccine with Cuba.
Iran plans to import some 17 million doses of vaccine from the international COVAX program and millions more from individual countries.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari put Iran’s death toll from COVID-19 at 59,980 after 81 more died from the disease since Friday. Lari says 7,975 new confirmed cases have brought the total to more than 1.6 million in a country with a population of more than 83 million.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials on Friday confirmed an additional 659 COVID-19 infections, the highest daily case count in more than three weeks.
Nearly 30% of the new cases involved state inmates.
Officials this week expressed optimism about downward trends in the overall spread of the virus, with all of the state’s counties reporting positivity rates below 10%. However, they acknowledged that the seven-day rolling average of daily cases remained above targets.
In all, New Mexico has reported nearly 185,000 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll stands at 3,685, with more than a dozen deaths reported Friday.
OHAKUNE, New Zealand — New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland is going back into a seven-day lockdown after a new unexplained coronavirus case was found.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement Saturday evening after an urgent meeting with top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said the lockdown would take effect from Sunday morning.
Auckland earlier this month was placed into a three-day lockdown after new cases of the more contagious variant first found in Britain were found.
New Zealand has pursued a zero-tolerance elimination strategy with the virus, and had successfully stamped out community spread before the latest cases were found this month.
Ardern said the latest patient had experienced symptoms since earlier in the week and could have infected others.
The rest of New Zealand will also have increased restrictions.
HONG KONG — Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers.
About 70,000 residents who have registered for the vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week.
Registration details for those wishing to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shots haven’t been announced yet.
Hong Kong has struck deals for a total of 22.5 million doses, with 7.5 million each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which is delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency is allowing health workers to squeeze extra doses from vials of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The decision on Saturday came after some health workers who were administering the AstraZeneca shots reported to authorities that they still saw additional doses left in the bottles that had each been used for 10 injections.
KDCA official Jeong Gyeong-shil said skilled workers may be able to squeeze one or two extra doses from each vial if they use low dead-volume syringes designed to reduce wasted medications and vaccines.
However, she said the KDCA isn’t allowing health workers from combining vaccines left in different bottles to create more doses.
The KDCA had previously authorized 10 injections for each AstraZeneca vial and six for each Pfizer vial.
South Korea, which launched its public vaccination campaign on Friday, is administering the AstraZeneca shots to residents and workers at long-term care facilities and the Pfizer ones to front-line medical workers.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation has continued on a downward trend in the number of daily coronavirus cases.
Tribal health officials on Friday reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. The latest numbers bring the total to 29,710 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll is 1,165.
A curfew remains in effect for residents on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to prevent the spread of the virus.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another new 405 cases of the coronavirus as it began vaccinating tens of thousands of workers at frontline hospitals in the second day of its mass immunization program.
The daily increase reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday brought the national caseload to 89,321, including 1,595 deaths.
Most of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which was hit hardest by a devastating winter surge that erased months of hard-won epidemiological gain and sparked public criticism about the country’s vaccine rollout that has been slower than many nations in the West.
The government had insisted it could maintain a wait-and-see approach as its outbreak still wasn’t as dire as in the United States or Europe.
The KCDC said 18,489 residents and workers at long-term care facilities received their first injections of two dose vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University during the first day of public vaccinations on Friday.
RENO, Nev. — The average number of new daily cases reported in Nevada over the past two weeks has fallen to its lowest level since mid-September and dropped by nearly 90% since a peak of more than 2,700 a day in mid-December.
The 314 new daily cases reported on average over the previous 14 days is the lowest since an average of 312 were reported on Sept. 16, state health officials said Friday.
That’s down from a peak of 2,716 reported on Dec. 11. The daily average dropped below 2,000 in mid-January and has steadily declined ever since.
The state’s positivity rate also has dropped to 8.3%, the lowest since 8.2% on Oct. 19. The rate is based on a 14-day rolling average with a seven-day lag. It peaked at 21.6% on Jan. 13.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says anyone 60 and older will be eligible to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus beginning March 5 followed by those 50 and older toward the end of the month.
The governor said Friday the state has already administered nearly 883,000 first doses of the vaccine and more than 423,000 second doses.
An increase in vaccine supply is expected in the coming weeks as pharmaceutical companies ramp up production.
More than 424,000 people in the state have tested positive and nearly 6,000 have died from the virus since it started its rapid spread last spring, and Polis warned Friday to stay vigilant.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont says Connecticut still has “a long way to go” to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic residents, as new data show whites are getting inoculated at higher rates.
Lamont appeared with Black clergy members at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport to try to convince people the vaccines are safe and effective. Several church leaders received vaccinations Friday.
“We’re doing better than we did two weeks ago, but not good enough,” Lamont said.
New data released by the state Thursday shows 39% of white state residents ages 65 and older have received the first of two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, compared with 21% of Black residents and 27% of Hispanic citizens 65 and older.
SACRAMENTO, Calif — Gov. Gavin Newsom expects California to start administering the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine next week.
At a Fresno news conference Friday, Newsom said the Biden administration plans to send California more than 1.1 million of the single-dose shots in the next three weeks.
The vaccine, still in the final federal approval process, has fewer handling restrictions than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now being used. Those vaccines require two doses to be fully effective and must be stored at extremely low temperatures.
Addition of the J&J vaccine would come as California is seeing dramatic drops in virus cases and hospitalizations after record highs in early January.
WASHINGTON — U.S. health advisers have endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that’s expected to provide an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.
The panel of Food and Drug Administration experts ruled on Friday that J&J’s vaccine protected against COVID-19 and should be made available for adults. The FDA said in a statement it will quickly follow the recommendation and make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S.
Shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday. More shots are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.