German state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, have taken differing approaches. Some back limited reopening steps and others advocate a stricter shutdown. Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Merkel’s party, is calling for a 2-3 week “bridge lockdown” to control infections while vaccinations are ramped up.
Merkel spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer says, “every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right.” She says numbers of new cases aren’t particularly good, and a rise in the number of occupied intensive care beds “speaks a very clear language.”
Laschet also called for the next meeting between Merkel and governors to coordinate restrictions to be moved up from next Monday but has hit resistance from his colleagues.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Europe’s EMA drug regulator to announce the results of its probe into any ties between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots.
— Even as many U.S. states and schools reopen, many students still learn remotely
— Nearly half of new US virus infections in just five states
— North Korea tells WHO it’s still virus-free in latest report
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will not run through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week because of rising coronavirus cases.
The move is a setback for the Tokyo organizers who began the relay two weeks ago from northeastern Fukushima prefecture with 10,000 runners planning to crisscross Japan over the course of four months. Organizers say runners and the torch will be involved in some event in an Osaka city park on April 13-14, the days the relay was to cross the entire prefecture.
Osaka reported 719 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. About 70% of hospital beds available in Osaka have already been occupied, officials say.
The postponed Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to begin July 23.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is temporarily suspending administrating AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to medical workers and people in long-term care settings who are 60 or younger as health authorities in Europe investigate a possible link between the shots and rare blood clots in adults.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday it will pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers, which was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the European Medicine Agency’s review.
South Korea has administered the first doses of coronavirus vaccines to about 1 million people after beginning its mass immunization program in late February. It has relied mainly on AstraZeneca shots produced by local firm SK Bioscience.
LONDON — The European Medicines Agency will announce the conclusions of its investigation into the possible connection between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots later Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a senior EMA official said there was a causal link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rare blood clots that have been seen in dozens of people worldwide, among the tens of millions who have received at least one dose.
In comments to Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper, Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, said “it is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of platelets.”
But Cavaleri acknowledged the agency had not yet figured out how exactly the vaccine might be causing these rare side effects.
TEHRAN — Iran has shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 20,954 new cases reported on Wednesday.
The country is in the midst of one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date, following a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which drove millions to travel to vacation spots across the country and congregate in homes in defiance of government health guidelines.
For months, Iran has struggled to curb the worst outbreak of coronavirus in the Middle East. Wednesday’s case count brought the total number of infected to 1.98 million, according to official figures. Iran Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says another 193 people had died in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s death toll to 63,699.
Wednesday’s infection count easily surpassed the previous record set Tuesday of 17,430 infections.
LONDON — The U.K. is administering the first doses of the Moderna vaccine, the third authorized in the country against the coronavirus.
Patients at the West Wales General Hospital were receiving the jab on Wednesday. Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough for 8.5 million people.
The rollout comes as the U.K. medical regulator investigates another vaccine, made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has been given to more than 18 million people in Britain.
Several countries have restricted the AstraZeneca jab’s use in younger people while scientists investigate a small number of cases of rare blood clots in people who have received the vaccine.
Britain, which has ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot, has not restricted its use, but its medical regulator is reviewing the evidence.
Oxford University said late Tuesday it had stopped giving the shot to children involved in a clinical trial until it had received more information from the regulator about reports of rare blood clots in adults.
TOKYO — Japan’s Osaka prefecture issued a special warning Wednesday that a rapid surge in coronavirus cases is placing medical systems in the region at the verge of collapse and requested the cancellation of the Olympic torch relay along all roads in the prefecture.
Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura declared a “medial emergency” in the western Japanese prefecture, where daily cases have reached new highs, and asked hospitals to urgently prepare additional beds.
Yoshimura, who previously asked for a cancellation of the torch relay only in Osaka city, said all segments on public roads should be canceled. The Osaka leg of the Olympic torch run is scheduled for April 13-14.
The Tokyo Olympics are to start in just over three months, as Japan’s vaccination drive is still in its initial stages.
“Medical systems are on the verge of collapse,” Yoshimura said at a news conference. He attributed the rapid spike in infections to a new variant of the virus.
BERLIN — A Brazilian activist dressed as the grim reaper is taking to the streets of Berlin every night in a one-man protest against what he calls the “deadly health policies” pursued by his homeland’s president in the pandemic.
Multimedia artist Rafael Puetter, who has been in Berlin for five years and originally comes from Rio de Janeiro, made his nightly excursion early Wednesday as Brazil for the first time reported a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths exceeding 4,000.
That made Brazil the third nation to cross the threshold. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has long downplayed the risks of the coronavirus and remains fully against lockdowns as too damaging to the economy.
“My performance starts at the Brazilian embassy in Berlin at midnight every night,” said Puetter. “I think the president is promoting deadly health policies and I think death’s the symbol of this government in many ways.”
He then walks to the Brandenburg Gate and the nearby German parliament, in front of which he counts out one sunflower seed to represent each of the people who have died in Brazil over the previous 24 hours and puts them into a glass. He aims eventually to plant the seeds as a memorial.
WASHINGTON — Large numbers of U.S. students are not returning to the classroom even as more schools reopen for full-time, in-person learning, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Biden administration.
The findings reflect a nation that has been locked in debate over the safety of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Even as national COVID-19 rates continued to ebb, key measures around reopening schools barely budged.
Nearly 46% of public schools offered five days a week of in-person to all students in February, according to the survey, but just 34% of students were learning full-time in the classroom. The gap was most pronounced among older K-12 students, with just 29% of eighth graders getting five days a week of learning at school.
There were early signs of a shift, however, with more eighth grade students moving from fully remote to hybrid learning.
With the new findings, President Joe Biden came no closer to meeting his goal of having most elementary schools open five days a week in his first 100 days.
PRAGUE — Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babis fired his health minister, the third who has lost the job in the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit European countries.
Jan Blatny was expected to be replaced by Petr Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, who will be sworn in later Wednesday.
Babis has recently repeatedly criticized Blatny over his handling of the pandemic, including imposing strict conditions for use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.
Blatny was also under fire from pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, an ally of Babis, who demanded Blatny’s dismissal over his refusal to allow the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine because it has not been approved by the European Union drug regulator.
Blatny took office on Oct. 29 to replace epidemiologist Roman Prymula who was dismissed after he was photographed as he visited a restaurant that should have been closed as part of restrictive measures to slow down the pandemic.
The nation of 10.7 million has 1.65 million confirmed cases with 27,329 deaths.
BUDAPEST — Hungary began loosening its lockdown restrictions on Wednesday even as another daily record in COVID-19 deaths was broken and a surge in the pandemic gripped the country’s hospitals.
A slow downward trend in the number of deaths was interrupted as authorities announced 311 new deaths, coming only hours after Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that certain lockdown restrictions would be lifted on Wednesday. Hungary’s government earlier decided that the lockdown could be loosened once 2.5 million Hungarians had received at least a first dose of a vaccine, a milestone reached on Tuesday.
While daily new infections continue to decrease in the hard-hit Central European country, the number of those being treated in hospitals remains over 12,000. Some medical experts have expressed reservations about the plans to lift the lockdown as the current pandemic surge continues to peak.
As of Wednesday, most businesses and services may reopen if they enforce maximum indoor capacity limits and observe social distancing. The start of an overnight curfew in effect since November will be extended by two hours, and the opening hours of businesses will also be extended.
Hungary has the third-worst COVID-19 death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland is extending its lockdown by another week until April 18, as over 34,500 COVID-19 hospital beds are taken or almost 80% of those available, a level that the health authorities describe as “dangerously” high.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski also said Wednesday that the Brazilian, South African and Nigerian virus variants have been found in Poland, but the predominant variant is the one first found in Britain, which scientists say is both more transmissible and more deadly.
Amid a sudden spike in cases, Poland registered about 35,000 new daily infections last week and 600 deaths a day on average.
Under the extended lockdown, schools, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and clubs, theaters and sports facilities remain closed.
Almost 6.8 million vaccine doses have been administered and 55,000 COVID-19 related deaths have been registered in this nation of 38 million.
MADRID — Spain’s northwestern region of Castile and León region is temporarily halting use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine while European authorities evaluate links between the jab and rare blood clots.
Health services in the Spanish region of 2.4 million people said Wednesday the suspension would affect its mass vaccination rollout. No other Spanish regions announced a suspension.
Spain’s government recommends giving the jab to people between 18 and 65. It was one of the European countries that briefly halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month over concerns about the rare blood clots.
Castile and León’s health chief Verónica Casado said that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine.
“We are not causing a panic. Everyone is watching to see what the EMA will say,” Casado told Spanish public radio.
The European Medicines Agency is holding a press conference on its investigation into the blood clot issue later Wednesday.
NEW DELHI — India has hit another new peak with 115,736 coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours. New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities are imposing curfews to try to slow the soaring infections.
The latest rise reported Wednesday overtook Sunday’s record of 103,844 infections. Fatalities rose by 630 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November, raising the total death toll in the country to 166,177 since the pandemic began.
Experts say the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces. The latest surge in infections is worse than last year’s peak of more than 97,000 a day in mid-September.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 78,000 cases per day and has reported 12.8 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea continues to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus in its latest report to the World Health Organization.
In an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday, the WHO says North Korea has reported that it tested 23,121 people for the coronavirus as of April 1 and that all results were negative.
Outsiders have expressed doubt about whether North Korea has escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.
During the pandemic, North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilized health workers for quarantines of tens of thousands of people who showed symptoms.
North Korea this week became the first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics because of coronavirus fears.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its highest daily jump in new coronavirus cases in nearly three months as concerns grow about another wave of the virus as the country wrestles with a slow vaccine rollout.
The 668 infections reported Wednesday were the most since Jan. 8 when officials reported 674 new cases. Since the pandemic began, South Korea has had 106,898 confirmed cases, with 1,756 deaths related to COVID-19.
South Korea had been struggling to keep transmissions under control following a major winter surge that erased months of hard-won gains.
There is also concern over the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout that is slower than many other developed economies.