WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to share COVID-19 vaccines with the world, including directing 75% of excess doses through the UN-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing program.
The White House has previously stated its intent to share 80 million vaccine doses with the world by the end of June. The administration says 25% of doses will be kept in reserve for emergencies and for the U.S. to share directly with allies and partners.
Of the first 25 million doses, the White House says about 19 million will go to COVAX. That includes about 6 million for South and Central America, 7 million for Asia, and 5 million for Africa. The doses boost the lagging COVAX effort, which so far has allocated just 76 million doses to needy countries.
The vaccine sharing plan comes as demand for shots in the U.S. has dropped significantly and global inequities in supply have become more glaring. So far, more than 63% of American adults have received at least one dose.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Biden offers international COVID-19 vaccine sharing plan
— Slow to start, China mobilizes to vaccinate at headlong pace
— Taiwan says China exploiting vaccines for political gain
— Do I need to get tested for COVID-19 if I’m vaccinated?
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — The European Union is urging countries around Europe to begin lifting restrictions on non-essential travel for people from Japan.
The EU gave no details about Thursday’s decision, but adds countries to its safe traveler list based on the extent of the spread of the coronavirus, how the nation is managing the disease and the reliability of its health data.
Last Friday, Japan extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days, as infections showed little sign of slowing as the country prepares to host the Olympics in just over a month.
Japan now joins Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand on a list of countries whose nationals the 27 EU nations should ease travel restrictions – along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The EU also lift non-essential travel bans on people from China, Hong Kong and Macao, provided the authorities there reciprocate by making it easier for Europeans to enter.
LONDON — Britain has removed Portugal from its list of coronavirus-safe travel destinations, meaning thousands of U.K. residents currently on vacation there will have to quarantine on return.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says the “difficult decision” was prompted by rising case rates in Portugal and worries about new strains of the virus that could prove resistant to vaccines. The change will take effect Tuesday.
Portugal is a major destination for sun-seeking British, and was the only large tourism destination on the U.K. government’s “green list,” announced last month, of destinations that can be visited without the need to self-isolate on return.
Tourism is a mainstay of Portugal’s economy, accounting for about 15% of annual gross domestic product.
SOAVE, Italy — A cruise ship traveled down the Giudecca canal in Venice for the first time since the pandemic, despite repeated government pledges to reroute the huge vessels on safety and environmental grounds.
The 92,409-ton MSC Orchestra passed through the basin in front of St. Mark’s Canal around 6 a.m. under tugboat and port authority escort, ahead of the first post-pandemic cruise ship departure from Venice, scheduled for Saturday. Protests are ramping up against the renewal of cruise traffic just 2 ½ months after Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, vowed a definitive stop to the passage of big ships through the heart of the city.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico state finance authorities say demand appears to be building for minimum-interest loans aimed at helping small businesses that lost income or experienced major disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic.
New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority CEO Marquita Russel told a panel of state legislators on Wednesday that about 865 businesses have applied to the program since an overhaul in March. That could result in new loans worth $65 million.
New Mexico’s small business recovery loans are repaid at half the prime rate of interest that commercial banks charge their most creditworthy customers. Zero interest is accrued during the loans’ first year.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is set to fully reopen in less than two weeks and do away with almost all mask and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people, but those who regulate workplaces in the state aren’t ready to go that far and that has business groups upset.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board meets Thursday and will consider new workplace rules that would only allow workers to go maskless if everyone in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The rules could remain in place into early next year even though coronavirus cases have fallen dramatically after a severe winter spike and as more people are vaccinated.
Recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says that fully vaccinated people can skip face coverings and distancing in nearly all situations, and the state is set to follow that recommendation starting June 15.
LONDON — Britain risks failing young people with its “half-hearted” effort to bolster schools after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the former education recovery chief who resigned over the government’s funding announcement.
Kevan Collins criticized the 1.4 billion pound ($2 billion) education recovery fund that was announced Wednesday, describing it as a fraction of what is needed to meet the scale of the challenge.
Children across the U.K. lost an average of 115 days of classroom time during the pandemic, curtailing academic achievement and social development. Collins reportedly recommended that the government plow an extra 15 billion pounds into education over the next three years to help students catch up.
With the funding announced this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has pledged about 3.1 billion pounds to the education recovery effort, or about 400 pounds ($566) per pupil. That’s in contrast to the U.S., which has allocated the equivalent of 1,600 pounds ($2,265) per student, or the Netherlands, which has announced plans to spend over 2,500 pounds ($3,540) per student.
Central to Collins’ plan is a proposal to extend each school day an average of 30 minutes so children can get the extra academic help they need without sacrificing enrichment programs such as music and sports.
BRUSSELS — The European Union unveiled plans Thursday for a digital ID wallet that residents could use to access services across the 27-nation bloc, part of a post-pandemic recovery strategy that involves accelerating the shift to an online world.
The European Digital Identity Wallet proposed by the EU’s executive commission is a smartphone app that would let users store electronic forms of identification and other official documents, such as driver’s licenses, prescriptions and school diplomas.
The bloc’s 450 million residents would be able to use the wallet to access public or private services both online and offline while maintaining control of their personal data.
Officials envision the wallet allowing a customer renting a car at an airport, for example, to complete the necessary ID checks and documents digitally and thereby skip the usual wait at an agency counter. Nightclub-goers could show the app to security guards at the door to prove their ages.
Other potential uses include opening bank accounts, signing apartment leases and enrolling in universities outside an individual’s home country.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — After a slow start, China is administering shots at a staggering pace.
In just five days last month, China gave out 100 million shots of its COVID-19 vaccines. The rollout is far from perfect, including uneven distribution, but Chinese public health leaders still hope to inoculate 80% of the population of 1.4 billion by the end of the year.
So far, China had given out more than 680 million doses. That’s about one third of the 1.9 billion shots distributed globally. The call to get vaccinated comes from every corner of society. That pressure underscores both the system’s strength and the risks to civil liberties.
In the capital of Beijing, 87% of the population has received at least one dose. Getting a shot is as easy as walking into one of hundreds of vaccination spots found across the city. Vaccination buses are parked in high foot-traffic areas, including in the city center and at malls.
But Beijing’s abundance is not shared with the rest of the country. There are reports of difficulty getting an appointment elsewhere.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan officials say they’ll use the first batch of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines received by it under the COVAX facility to inoculate oversees students, pilgrims and workers traveling to the countries that don’t recognize vaccination certificates of Chinese vaccines.
However, minister for planning and development Asad Umar says the Chinese vaccination certificates should be recognized globally as the Chinese vaccine had been supplied across the world.
He hoped that Pakistan will receive more doses of the Pfizer vaccine. So far, Pakistan has mainly relied on vaccines imported from China.
Umar’s comments came hours after Pakistan reported 90 single-day deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours amid declining infections. Pakistan has registered 926,695 confirmed cases and 21,022 confirmed deaths.
BEIJING — Fifteen more COVID-19 cases have been reported in the southern Chinese province of Guangzhou, with a report saying the coronavirus variant in the latest outbreak is more transmissible than in previous clusters in the country.
The city of Guangdong has locked down neighborhoods and requires anyone wishing to leave the province to show a negative virus test taken within the past 72 hours.
Respected business magazine Caixin quotes the chief infectious disease specialist at the hospital in Guangzhou where the latest cases are being treated as saying the patients are carrying a heavier viral load than in past, making it easier to pass the virus to others.
Guangdong, which borders on Hong Kong, has reported around 50 cases as of Thursday.
LOS ANGELES — The state of California has agreed to pay more than $2 million in legal fees in a settlement with churches that challenged pandemic closure orders.
Church lawyers who successfully took their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state has agreed not to impose restrictions on houses of worship that are more stringent than those for retail businesses.
Several churches challenged Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions as violations of their First Amendment right to worship.
Newsom’s office says the governor put the health of Californians first and the settlements provide clarity on how public health standards can be applied to churches.
UNITED NATIONS — The International Labor Organization says the COVID-19 pandemic has created an “unparalleled” global labor market crisis that will affect the job market for years.
The U.N. agency said in a report Wednesday an estimated 8.8% of total working hours were lost last year. It says that is “the equivalent of the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers.”
The Geneva-based agency estimates that if there had not been a pandemic, the world would have created 30 million new jobs in 2020.
It says that this year, working hours lost corresponded to 140 million full-time jobs in the first quarter and 127 million in the current quarter.
The agency projects that an uneven economic recovery expected to begin in the second half of 2021 will create 100 million jobs this year and an additional 80 million in 2022. It says that is still short of pre-pandemic levels.
DENVER — Colorado will give $50,000 scholarships to 25 students who have received coronavirus vaccinations in another incentive to get as many state residents vaccinated as possible.
Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that Colorado resident students ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one vaccine dose are eligible.
The Denver Post reports that those chosen in random drawings starting Monday can use their scholarships in the post-secondary educational institution of their choice, both inside and outside Colorado.
Polis previously unveiled a lottery to reward a total of five vaccinated residents $1 million each to promote coronavirus vaccinations. Money for the scholarship and lottery programs comes from federal coronavirus relief funds.
Several U.S. states, including Maryland, Ohio, New York and Oregon, have introduced vaccine-incentive lotteries.
NEW YORK — The world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines may offer lasting protection that diminishes the need for frequent booster shots.
That’s according to scientists, who are finding clues in how the body remembers viruses. But they say more research is needed and that virus mutations are still a wild card.
Critical studies are underway, and evidence is mounting that immunity from the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna doesn’t depend exclusively on antibodies that dwindle over time. The body has overlapping layers of protection that offer backup.
Scientists do not yet know what’s called the correlate of protection, the level below which antibodies cannot fend off the coronavirus without additional help. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s leading infectious disease expert, told a Senate subcommittee last week that vaccine protection would not be infinite.
Pfizer and Moderna officials have said people might need yearly shots, just like with flu vaccinations. The companies plan to have some candidates ready this fall. But companies won’t decide when boosters get used. That’s up to health authorities in each country. Some experts say boosters may be needed only every few years.
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