MEXICO CITY — More than three months after COVID-19 infections peaked in Mexico City, the local government announced Friday that the public hospital network dedicated to fighting the disease is experiencing its lowest rate occupancy of the pandemic.
One year after the country instituted a color-coded alert system for the pandemic, the capital for the first time moved from orange to yellow, another step down from the top category, red.
City officials placed occupancy rate in public hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 care at 16%, a welcome change from January, when a surge following the holiday season pushed some hospitals to their limits.
Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said there was no scientific certainty to say why Mexico City is in a much better place, but she listed a half-dozen possible factors including greater discipline by citizens, expanded testing, a vaccination campaign, improved weather and the fact that many people in the city have already been infected.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pressure rises on India’s PM Modi to issue nationwide lockdown
— Norwegian Cruise Line threatens to skip Florida’s ports
— WHO panel OKs emergency use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine
— Spain relaxes nationwide coronavirus pandemic measures
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will lift its statewide mask mandate on June 20 after state officials projected more than two-thirds of eligible residents will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by then, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday.
And even if that target isn’t met, Justice said the mandate will still end on that date, also known as West Virginia Day, which marks the state’s admission into the union.
“We’ll be close enough,” he said at his regularly scheduled news conference. “We’re going with that date, period.”
The state has attempted to turn around its sluggish vaccination drive for weeks after hesitancy led to plummeting demand. The Republican governor has already dangled the prize of a “patriotic” $100 savings bond for people aged 16 to 35 who get a shot. The state is also attempting to make walk-up vaccine clinics ubiquitous, holding them at state parks, fairs, businesses, schools and other high-traffic places.
Justice said he expects 65% of all residents aged 12 and older to be at least partially vaccinated by June 20.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s attorney general has secured a $2.6 million refund for the purchase of a malaria drug once touted by then-President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19.
Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the agreement on Friday with California-based FFF Enterprises.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health purchased 1.2 million hydroxychloroquine pills in April 2020, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The drug has since been shown to have little or no effect on severe cases of COVID-19. A former state health official chalked up Oklahoma’s purchase to something that happens in “the fog of war.”
Oklahoma alleged that the price paid for the drug may have been excessive under the state’s Emergency Price Stabilization Act, which prohibits an increase of more than 10% for the price of goods and services after a declared emergency. Under the refund agreement, FFF Enterprises denies any accusations related to the pricing and delivery of the drug.
While governments in at least 20 other states obtained more than 30 million doses of the drug through donations from the federal reserve or private companies, Oklahoma and Utah bought them from private pharmaceutical companies. Utah later managed to secure a refund on the $800,000 no-bid contract it signed with a local pharmacy company that had been promoting the drugs.
MIAMI — Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to skip Florida ports because of the governor’s order banning businesses from requiring that customers be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The company says Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order conflicts with guidelines from federal health authorities that would let cruise ships sail in U.S. waters if passengers and crew members are vaccinated.
The CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, says lawyers think federal law tops state law. The CEO says if Norwegian can’t operate in Florida, it can go to other states or the Caribbean.
Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020. Some are slowly resuming trips in other countries and requiring all passengers on those cruises be vaccinated.
The companies are pushing the CDC to let them return the U.S. this summer, although none of the major companies — Norwegian, Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corp. — have announced any U.S. cruises.
NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces growing pressure to impose a strict nationwide lockdown.
On Friday, India reported a new daily record of 414,188 confirmed cases and 3,915 additional deaths. The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 the past 10 days.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and even Supreme Court judges are calling for national restrictions, arguing that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to stamp out the surge.
Indian television stations broadcast images of patients lying on stretchers outside hospitals waiting to be admitted, with hospital beds and critical oxygen in short supply. People infected with COVID-19 in villages are being treated in makeshift outdoor clinics, with IV drips hanging from trees.
India has registered more than 21.4 million coronavirus infections and more than 234,000 confirmed deaths. Health experts says the tolls are undercounts.
GENEVA — A top official at the World Health Organization says the explosive number of coronavirus cases is only partly driven by the variants, warning countries that loosening control measures may worsen the pandemic.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan says the virus has “huge kinetic energy” in certain countries and leaders who think vaccination alone will stop the epidemic are mistaken.
“It is being driven both by human behavior, by the emergence of variants and many other factors,” Ryan said. “We’re expecting the virus to slow down and we’re pushing the accelerators.”
He admonished some leaders to acknowledge “the brutal reality” of the situation. India has experienced a surge of cases and deaths.
“Some of you are not in a good place,” Ryan said. “You need to protect your health system. You need to get your oxygen supply sorted out.”
Ryan says while new virus variants may help spread COVID-19, the driver is “proximity between people.” He says crowds and the mixing of people without protection or handwashing are still potentially dangerous, even with the start of vaccination programs.
NEW YORK — A U.S. health official, who last year shook the nation with her frank assessment of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic, is resigning.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier announced the decision Friday in an email to her colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Messonnier, who joined the agency in 1995, led the CDC’s work on respiratory diseases for five years and she was an early leader in the agency’s COVID-19 response.
During a briefing with reporters in February 2020, Messonnier contradicted statements by administration officials that the virus was contained. Stocks plunged, and President Donald Trump was enraged.
Soon after, a White House task force moved to center stage and Vice President Mike Pence took control of clearing CDC communications about the coronavirus. Messonnier didn’t make more public appearances.
In her email Friday, Messonnier says she was taking a new job with the California-based Skoll Foundation.
At a White House briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky praised Messonnier as “a true hero.”
LONDON — British residents can travel to countries including Portugal, Iceland and Israel later this month without having to quarantine on their return.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says a blanket ban on overseas vacations is being replaced by a system classing countries as low, medium or high risk. He says it’s the first “tentative steps towards unlocking international travel.”
The “green list” of 12 low-risk territories also includes Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands and the Falkland Islands — but not major vacation destinations for Britons such as France, Spain and Greece. Britons traveling to those countries will have to self-isolate for 10 days on their return.
All but essential travel remains barred to countries with severe outbreaks, including India, Turkey and the Maldives.
The changes take effect May 17, the next date on the government’s road map out of lockdown. Pubs and restaurants in England can reopen indoor areas the same day, and venues including theaters and cinemas can open to limited audiences.
GENEVA — The head of the World Trade Organization says the U.S. administration’s call to remove patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines could help expand fair access to vaccines but might not be the most “critical issue.”
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s comments Friday came as officials in Europe increasingly insisted that more vaccine exports are the more pressing priority. Activists and humanitarian institutions cheered the American reversal in policy Wednesday and urged others to follow suit to remove the intellectual property protections on the COVID-19 vaccines.
But some world leaders have taken the U.S. to task for not sharing more vaccines.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn says the main issue is not the question of patents but of production capacity. And producing vaccines like the one developed by German firm BioNTech and manufactured with Pfizer is complicated, he says.
Spahn stressed, as has the pharmaceutical industry, that developed countries whose vaccination campaigns are going well should export more shots.
MADRID — Spain will relax nationwide coronavirus pandemic measures this weekend, including travel restrictions, as the vaccine rollout continues to speed up.
However, some regional chiefs are concerned the six-month national state of emergency will be replaced by a patchwork of conflicting approaches.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has refused to extend the sweeping order that gave legal coverage to curfews, social gathering curbs and travel bans across the country.
Each region was taking a different path, and the response from courts was also varied. Spain’s cases surged sharply in January but slowed in mid-March before mildly picking up again.
Madrid, whose lockdown-skeptic regional chief was re-elected this week, announced there will be no more curfews or travel restrictions in and out of the region starting Sunday. The operation of bars and restaurants can be extended from the current 11 p.m. limit to midnight.
ATHENS, Greece — Most beaches in Greece will reopen Saturday, a week ahead of the official launch of the tourism season.
Public health officials Friday announced a roadmap of reopening measures aimed at helping Greece’s key industry.
Museums will reopen on May 14, while retail restrictions will be relaxed, and a ban on domestic travel between the country’s 54 administrative regions is expected to be lifted. Open-air cinemas will open on May 21 and open-air theaters on May 28, both with seating restrictions, officials say.
Tourism is expected to be an important driver of Greece’s recovery in 2021 following a steep pandemic-related recession last year that saw output slump by 8.2%.
The number of visitors to Greece fell by 78.2% in 2020 to 7.4 million from 34 million in 2019, according to Bank of Greece data. Tourism-related revenue dropped by 76.2%.
BUCHAREST, Romania — A three-day “vaccination marathon” started Friday in Romania’s capital of Bucharest as authorities race to inoculate the nation of more than 19 million against COVID-19.
The round-the-clock event is supported by around 1,200 volunteers, including Valeriu Gheorghita, a military doctor and chief of the country’s vaccination committee, who administered Pfizer shots at the launch.
The “marathon” is held at the capital’s Palace Hall, and the National Library, and it will host a series of live musical performances, including one by prominent violinist Alexandru Tomescu on Sunday. Other vaccination marathons have been organized in cities across the country.
On Saturday, all vaccination centers will be appointment-free for everyone after 2 p.m. So far, Romana has administered more than 5.6 million vaccine doses.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization has given its authorization for emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinopharm.
The decision by a WHO technical advisory group opens the possibility that the Sinopharm vaccine could be included into the U.N.-backed COVAX program in coming weeks or months and distributed through UNICEF and WHO’s regional office for the Americas.
Sinopharm has publicly released little data, aside from efficacy numbers for its two vaccine shots, one developed by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the other by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. The Beijing shot is one that was considered by WHO for an emergency use listing.
A separate group advising the U.N. agency on vaccines said it was “very confident” the Sinopharm vaccine protects the 18-59 age group but had only a “low level of confidence” of efficacy in the age 60-plus.
PORTO, Portugal — After the United States backed calls for patent waivers, French President Emmanuel Macron says the real issue facing the vaccine shortfall “is not really an intellectual property issue.”
He says: “You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They won’t produce it tomorrow.”
The key issues are donations and free exports, and Macron says the United States should work on that.
At an EU summit in Porto, he says says “the Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients. Today 100 percent of vaccines produced in the United States of America are for the American market.”
He says it contrasted sharply with the EU situation, where almost half of the doses produced on the continent have been allowed to be exported.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week about 200 million does had been distributed within the EU’s 27-nation bloc while about the same amount had been exported abroad.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken in favor of waiving patents for COVID-19 vaccines and vowed to “share” Turkey’s vaccines once they are available.
“Science is the property of all humanity,” Erdogan said Friday. “A logic, an understanding that says, ‘We produced this, and therefore we won’t give it to anyone’ concerning a matter that affects human health, is the wrong approach.”
Four Turkish vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials. The country is working to develop an intranasal COVID-19 vaccine. Officials have said Turkey hopes its first vaccine is available in September or October.
Erdogan said: “We don’t aim to use these only in our country. We are prepared to share them with the world, wherever there is a demand.”