Crocodile hunt: Search on for escaped reptiles in S. Africa

By GERALD IMRAY for the Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Police and conservation officers were searching Friday for an unknown number of young crocodiles that escaped earlier in the week from a large breeding farm in South Africa.

The crocodiles are suspected to have entered the nearby Breede River after escaping Wednesday morning near the town of Bonnievale in Western Cape province, about 180 kilometers (111 miles) east of Cape Town.

So far, 27 of the reptiles have been recaptured and another seven had to be euthanized, Cape Nature conservation spokeswoman Petro van Rhyn said. Another six were spotted but evaded capture.

The commercial breeding farm contains about 5,000 crocodiles, van Rhyn said, and a big part of the problem is that recovery teams aren’t certain how many escaped. They are waiting for the owner of the farm to give them an accurate count.

“Is it 100, or is it 1,000?” van Rhyn said. “We don’t know.”

The crocodiles are thought to be between 1.2 and 1.5 meters long, according to Cape Nature.

Conservation officers have been using cages with food bait inside to try and capture the crocodiles, but that hasn’t proved to be very successful because the river is full of fish, van Rhyn said.

Police and Cape Nature officers are concentrating on an area as far as five kilometers (three miles) upstream and five kilometers downstream of the escape point but don’t believe the crocodiles will have moved very far.

Van Rhyn said residents of the area should be watchful but shouldn’t panic. Crocodiles are nocturnal and generally shy, she said, it’s highly unlikely to see one on the streets of Bonnievale.

She said it was not a good idea to go swimming in the river there, though.

US and South Korea agree on new cost-sharing deal for troops

By ROBERT BURNS and MATTHEW LEE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and South Korea have reached agreement in principle on a new arrangement for sharing the cost of the American troop presence, which is intended as a bulwark against the threat of North Korean aggression, both countries announced.

FILE – U.S. Army mobile equipment sits in a field in Yeoncheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The State Department says the U.S. and South Korea have reached an agreement in principle on a new arrangement for sharing the cost of the American troop presence. Details were not released, but the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said Sunday, March 7, 2021 that the deal includes a negotiated increase in Seoul’s share of the cost for the U.S. troop presence. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said Sunday the deal includes a “negotiated increase” in Seoul’s share of the cost, but it provided no details. The Bureau wrote on Twitter that the agreement, if finalized, would reaffirm the U.S.-South Korean treaty alliance as “the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity for Northeast Asia.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a similar statement, saying the two countries are seeking to tentatively sign the deal. It said the agreement came after three days of face-to-face talks in Washington.

The U.S. keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. But how much South Korea should pay for the American military presence was a thorny issue in bilateral relations under the Trump administration, which often asked its Asian ally to drastically increase its share.

In 2019, the allies struck a deal that required South Korea to pay about $924 million (1.04 trillion won) for the U.S. troops presence, an increase from $830 million in the previous year. But negotiations for a new cost-sharing plan broke down over a U.S. demand that Seoul pay five times what it previously had paid.

The State Department said in a statement that the increase in the South’s share of the cost was “meaningful” but was not more specific.

The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the agreement, said it would last through 2025. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it couldn’t immediately confirm the report.

In its statement, the State Department said: “America’s alliances are a tremendous source of our strength. This development reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to reinvigorating and modernizing our democratic alliances around the word to advance our shared security and prosperity.”

Many conservatives in South Korea worried that then-President Donald Trump might use failed cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to withdraw some U.S. troops in South Korea as a bargaining chip in now-stalled nuclear talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The U.S. and South Korea had also halted or cancelled some of their military exercises in recent years to support the nuclear diplomacy, which eventually fell apart due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea.

On Monday, the South Korea and U.S militaries kicked off annual military drills that would last for nine days. South Korea’s military said the drills are command post exercises and computerized simulation and don’t involve field training. It said the allies reviewed factors like the status of COVID-19 and diplomatic efforts to resume the nuclear talks with North Korea when it decided to hold the drills.

It’s unclear how North Korea would respond to the drills. In the past, the North often called regular U.S.-South Korea drills an invasion rehearsal and responded with missile tests. Lee Jong-joo, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman, said Monday that Seoul hopes Pyongyang would act flexibly and wisely in response to its efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The prospect for a new cost-sharing plan has been heightened as the Biden administration has been seeking to bolster its alliance with South Korean and other countries.

South Korea began paying for the U.S. military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its economy from the devastation of the Korean War. The big U.S. military presence in South Korea is a symbol of the countries’ alliance but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiments.

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Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

US journalist arrested while covering protest goes on trial

By RYAN J. FOLEY for the Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A journalist went on trial Monday on charges stemming from her coverage of a protest against racial injustice in Des Moines last year, after Iowa prosecutors defied international pressure to drop a rare effort to punish a working reporter.

Police officers are shown arresting Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri after a Black Lives Matter protest she was covering on May 31, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa, was dispersed by tear gas. Sahouri is set to stand trial on Monday, March 8, 2021, on misdemeanor charges, a case that prosecutors have pursued despite international condemnation from advocates for press freedom. (Photo courtesy Katie Akin via AP)

Des Moines Register news reporter Andrea Sahouri, who was pepper-sprayed and jailed while reporting on a clash between protesters and police in May, is charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

If convicted on the simple misdemeanor charges, the 25-year-old could be fined hundreds of dollars and will have a criminal record. A judge could also sentence her up to 30 days in jail on each count, although that would be unusual.

Advocates for journalism and human rights in the U.S. and abroad have pressed Iowa authorities to drop the charges, arguing that Sahouri was simply doing her job by documenting the event. But prosecutors in the office of Polk County Attorney John Sarcone have pressed forward with the case against Sahouri and her former boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, who faces the same charges.

The pair are standing trial in a courtroom at Drake University in Des Moines as part of a program for law students. The university is broadcasting the proceedings, which are expected to last two days. Lawyers began selecting a six-member jury from a larger pool on Monday morning.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has not recorded any other trials of working journalists in the country since 2018. Sahouri was among more than 125 reporters detained or arrested during the civil unrest that unfolded across the U.S. in 2020. Thirteen, including Sahouri, still face prosecution although the majority of those arrested were not charged or their charges were dismissed, the group says.

Employees in the Gannett newspaper chain, which owns USA Today, the Register and hundreds of other newspapers, have flooded social media with support for Sahouri in recent days. Columbia Journalism School, where Sahouri graduated in 2019 before joining the Register, expressed solidarity Monday by promoting the hashtags #StandWithAndrea and #JournalismIsNotACrime.

Amnesty International launched a campaign to publicize her case and demand the charges be dismissed.

Sahouri was assigned to cover a May 31 protest at Merle Hay mall, where activists were demanding better treatment for people of color after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white officer put his knee on his neck for about nine minutes.

Some protesters threw water bottles and rocks at police, broke store windows and vandalized a Target store. Police responded by spraying tear gas to disperse a large crowd from an intersection. Sahouri reported the details live on Twitter.

Sahouri was running from the gas when Robnett was hit in the leg with a projectile — likely a tear gas canister or rubber bullet launched by police. She briefly stopped to check on him before continuing around the corner of a Verizon store. Officer Luke Wilson then arrested her, burning her eyes with a blast of pepper spray and cuffing her hands in zip ties, Sahouri says.

Wilson has said he didn’t know Sahouri was a journalist until Robnett intervened during the arrest. Robnett told the officer that Sahouri was a Register journalist and tried to pull Sahouri away from him, Wilson says. Prosecutors say the officer did not activate his body camera during the arrest or use a camera function to retrieve the video after the fact before it was erased.

Sahouri was not wearing press credentials at the time but repeatedly identified herself as press. A Register colleague who wasn’t arrested also immediately vouched for her employment to police. Nonetheless, Sahouri was loaded into a police van and jailed for a couple of hours.

Prosecutors have tried to defend the arrest by arguing that journalists do not have special rights to ignore police dispersal orders, including one that had been given roughly 90 minutes earlier.

Biden, Dems prevail as Senate OKs $1.9T virus relief bill

By ALAN FRAM for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After laboring all night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

In this image from video, the vote total of 50-49 on Senate passage of the COVID-19 relief bill, is displayed on screen in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

The huge measure — its cost is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote. “And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.”

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. They hold a slim 10-vote House edge.

Not one Republican backed the bill in the Senate or when it initially passed the House, underscoring the barbed partisan environment that’s characterized the early days of Biden’s presidency.

A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the legislation that incensed progressives, hardly helping Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., guide the measure through the House. But rejection of their first, signature bill was not an option for Democrats, who face two years of running Congress with virtually no room for error.

In a significant sign, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, representing around 100 House liberals, called the Senate’s weakening of some provisions “bad policy and bad politics” but “relatively minor concessions.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the bill retained its “core bold, progressive elements.”

“They feel like we do, we have to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the House. He added, “It’s not going to be everything everyone wants. No bill is.”

In a written statement, Pelosi invited Republicans “to join us in recognition of the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and of the need for decisive action.”

The bill provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits. There are vast piles of spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

Republicans call the measure a wasteful spending spree for Democrats’ liberal allies that ignores recent indications that the pandemic and economy was turning the corner.

“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He said Democrats’ “top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.”

The Senate commenced a dreaded “vote-a-rama” — a continuous series of votes on amendments — shortly before midnight Friday, and by its end around noon dispensed with about three dozen. The Senate had been in session since 9 a.m. EST Friday.

Overnight, the chamber looked like an experiment in sleep deprivation. Several lawmakers appeared to rest their eyes or doze at their desks, often burying their faces in their hands. At one point, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, at 48 one of the younger senators, trotted into the chamber and did a prolonged stretch.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, missed the votes to attend his father-in-law’s funeral.

The measure follows five earlier ones totaling about $4 trillion enacted since last spring and comes amid signs of a potential turnaround.

Vaccine supplies are growing, deaths and caseloads have eased but remain frighteningly high, and hiring was surprisingly strong last month, though the economy remains 10 million jobs smaller than pre-pandemic levels.

The Senate package was delayed repeatedly as Democrats made eleventh-hour changes aimed at balancing demands by their competing moderate and progressive factions.

Work on the bill ground to a halt Friday after an agreement among Democrats on extending emergency jobless benefits seemed to collapse. Nearly 12 hours later, top Democrats and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, said they had a deal, and the Senate approved it on a party-line 50-49 vote.

Under their compromise, $300 weekly emergency unemployment checks — on top of regular state benefits — would be renewed, with a final payment Sept. 6. There would also be tax breaks on some of that aid, helping people the pandemic abruptly tossed out of jobs and risked tax penalties on the benefits.

The House relief bill, largely similar to the Senate’s, provided $400 weekly benefits through August. The current $300 per week payments expire March 14, and Democrats want the bill on Biden’s desk by then to avert a lapse.

Manchin and Republicans have asserted that higher jobless benefits discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.

The agreement on jobless benefits wasn’t the only move that showed moderates’ sway.

The Senate voted Friday to eject a House-approved boost in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, a major defeat for progressives. Eight Democrats opposed the increase, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other liberals pledging to continue the effort will face a difficult fight.

Party leaders also agreed to restrict eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans. That amount would be gradually reduced until, under the Senate bill, it reaches zero for people earning $80,000 and couples making $160,000. Those ceilings were higher in the House version.

Many of the rejected GOP amendments were either attempts to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes or for Republicans to demonstrate their zeal for issues that appeal to their voters.

These included defeated efforts to bar funds from going to schools that don’t reopen their doors or let transgender students born male participate in female sports. One amendment would have blocked aid to so-called sanctuary cities, where local authorities don’t help federal officials round up immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

Officers hurt, property damaged at rowdy party in Boulder

From the Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Violence and destruction broke out as officers worked to break up a party involving hundreds of people near the University of Colorado Boulder on Saturday, police said.

Three officers suffered minor injuries from being struck by bricks and rocks, Boulder police told news outlets. The department brought in its SWAT team to help clear the flood of people along a street in an area known as University Hill.

Images shared by local media showed no social distancing and most without masks despite the coronavirus pandemic. An estimated 800 to 1,000 people were there. A few in the raucous crowd damaged and flipped over a vehicle. Others set off fireworks in the middle of the street. A law enforcement armored vehicle and a fire truck were damaged.

Police said in a statement, “the Boulder Department is reviewing all body worn camera footage and shared social media videos/photos to identify the individuals involved in damaging property and assaulting first responders.”

The university also addressed the incident in a statement saying it would not tolerate any students “engaging in acts of violence or damaging property.”

“Any student who is found responsible for having engaged in acts of violence toward the law enforcement or other first responders will be removed from CU Boulder and not readmitted,” the statement said.

Police said in a tweet after shortly after 9 p.m. that the scene had been cleared. No arrests were immediately announced.

Europe staggers as infectious variants power virus surge

By COLLEEN BARRY for the Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — The virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and a Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.

FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 7, 2021 file photo, people crowd Via del Corso shopping street in Rome, following the ease of restriction measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Europe recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and ending a six-week decline, WHO said Thursday, March 4, 2021. The so-called UK variant is of greatest concern in the 53 countries monitored by WHO in Europe. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

“This demonstrates that the virus has a sort of intelligence. … We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,” lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.

Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicenter in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbors because of virus variants that the World Health Organization says are powering another uptick in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Europe recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline in new infections, WHO said Thursday.

“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The variant first found in the U.K. is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 countries: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

It is up to 50% more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned. Scientists have concluded that it is also more deadly.

“That is why health systems are struggling more now,” Kluge said. “It really is at a tipping point. We have to hold the fort and be very vigilant.”

In Lombardy, which bore the brunt of Italy’s spring surge, intensive care wards are again filling up, with more than two-thirds of new positive tests being the UK variant, health officials said.

After putting two provinces and some 50 towns on a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced tightened restrictions Friday and closed classrooms for all ages. Cases in Milan schools alone surged 33% in a week, the provincial health system’s chief said.

The situation is dire in the Czech Republic, which this week registered a record-breaking total of nearly 8,500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Poland is opening temporary hospitals and imposing a partial lockdown as the U.K. variant has grown from 10% of all infections in February to 25% now.

Two patients from hard-hit Slovakia were expected to arrive Saturday for treatment in Germany, where authorities said they had offered to take in 10 patients.

Kluge cited Britain’s experience as cause for optimism, noting that widespread restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped tamp down the variants there and in Israel. The vaccine rollout in the European Union, by comparison, is lagging badly, mostly because of supply problems.

In Britain, the emergence of the more transmissible strain sent cases soaring in December and triggered a national lockdown in January. Cases have since plummeted, from about 60,000 a day in early January to about 7,000 a day now.

Still, a study shows the rate of decline slowing, and the British government says it will tread cautiously with plans to ease the lockdown. That process begins Monday with the reopening of schools. Infection rates are highest in people ages 13 to 17, and officials will watch closely to see whether the return to class brings a spike in infections.

While the U.K. variant is dominant in France, forcing lockdowns in the French Riviera city of Nice and the northern port of Dunkirk, the variant first detected in South Africa has emerged as the most prevalent in France’s Moselle region, which borders Germany and Luxembourg. It represents 55% of the virus circulating there.

Austria’s health minister said Saturday the U.K. variant is now dominant in his country. But the South Africa variant is also a concern in a district of Austria that extends from Italy to Germany, with Austrian officials announcing plans to vaccinate most of the 84,000 residents there to curb its spread. Austria is also requiring motorists along the Brenner highway, a major north-south route, to show negative test results.

The South Africa variant, now present in 26 European countries, is a source of particular concern because of doubts over whether the current vaccines are effective enough against it. The Brazilian variant, which appears capable of reinfecting people, has been detected in 15 European countries.

WHO and its partners are working to strengthen the genetic surveillance needed to track variants across the continent.

The mayor of Bollate has appealed to the regional governor to vaccinate all 40,000 residents immediately, though he expects to be told the vaccine supply is too tight.

Bollate has recorded 3,000 positive cases and 134 deaths — mostly among the elderly — since Italy was stricken a year ago. It took the brunt in the resurgence in November and December, and was caught completely off guard when the U.K. variant arrived, racing through schoolage children before hitting families at home.

“People are starting to get tired that after a year there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Vassallo said.

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AP correspondents Jill Lawless in London, Karel Janicek in Prague, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed.

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US probing engine fires in nearly 1.9M Toyota RAV4 SUVs

From the Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government is investigating complaints of engine compartment fires in nearly 1.9 million Toyota RAV4 small SUVs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating after getting 11 fire complaints involving the 2013 through 2018 model years.

FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo the Toyota logo is displayed at their shop on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris. The U.S. government is investigating complaints of engine compartment fires in nearly 1.9 million Toyota RAV4 small SUVs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating after getting 11 fire complaints involving the 2013 through 2018 model years. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

The RAV4 is the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. that isn’t a pickup truck.

In documents posted Monday, the agency says fires start on the left side of the engine compartment. A terminal on the 12-volt battery may short to the frame, causing loss of electrical power, engine stalling or a fire.

Most of the fires happened while the vehicles are being driven, but four owners complained that fire broke out with the engine off.

A Toyota spokesman would not answer questions about whether the SUVs should be parked outdoors until the matter is resolved, but said the company is cooperating in the probe. A spokeswoman for NHTSA said she is checking into whether the RAV4s should stay outdoors due to the risk of catching fire with the engine off.

NHTSA says improper battery installation or front-end collision repair was a factor in the complaints. The agency says the RAV4 has a higher number of fire complaints in the battery area than comparable vehicles.

Investigators will try to understand better what is contributing to the fires. The vehicles aren’t being recalled but the investigation could lead to one.

Plunging demand for COVID-19 tests may leave US exposed

By MATTHEW PERRONE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just five weeks ago, Los Angeles County was conducting more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests, including at a massive drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium, as health workers raced to contain the worst COVID-19 hotspot in the U.S.

Pharmacist Mike Ruane, of Scranton, talks to patients who signed up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during a drive-thru clinic at Scranton High School in Scranton, Pa., Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)

Now, county officials say testing has nearly collapsed. More than 180 government-supported sites are operating at only a third of their capacity.

“It’s shocking how quickly we’ve gone from moving at 100 miles an hour to about 25,” said Dr. Clemens Hong, who leads the county’s testing operation.

After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies.

The drop in screening comes at a significant moment in the outbreak: Experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 is receding after killing more than 500,000 people in the U.S. but concerned that emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.

“Everyone is hopeful for rapid, widespread vaccinations, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can drop our guard just yet,” said Hong. “We just don’t have enough people who are immune to rule out another surge.”

U.S. testing hit a peak on Jan. 15, when the country was averaging more than 2 million tests per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%. The drop mirrors declines across all major virus measures since January, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Officials say those encouraging trends, together with harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season, pandemic fatigue and a growing focus on vaccinations are sapping interest in testing.

“When you combine all those together you see this decrease,” said Dr. Richard Pescatore of the health department in Delaware, where daily testing has fallen more than 40% since the January peak. “People just aren’t going to go out to testing sites.”

But testing remains important for tracking and containing the outbreak.

L.A. County is opening more testing options near public transportation, schools and offices to make it more convenient. And officials in Santa Clara County are urging residents to “continue getting tested regularly,” highlighting new mobile testing buses and pop-up sites.

President Joe Biden has promised to revamp the nation’s testing system by investing billions more in supplies and government coordination. But with demand falling fast, the country may soon have a glut of unused supplies. The U.S. will be able to conduct nearly 1 billion monthly tests by June, according to projections from researchers at Arizona State University. That’s more than 25 times the country’s current rate of about 40 million tests reported per month.

With more than 150 million new vaccine doses due for delivery by late March, testing is likely to fall further as local governments shift staff and resources to giving shots.

“You have to pick your battles here,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Everyone would agree that if you have one public health nurse, you’re going to use that person for vaccination, not testing.”

Some experts say the country must double down on testing to avoid flare-ups from coronavirus variants that have taken hold in the U.K., South Africa and other places.

“We need to use testing to continue the downward trend,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been advising Biden officials. “We need to have it there to catch surges from the variants.”

Last week, Minnesota began urging families to get tested every two weeks through the end of the school year as more students return to the classroom.

“To protect this progress, we need to use all the tools at our disposal,” said Dan Huff, an assistant state health commissioner.

But some of the most vocal testing proponents are less worried about the declines in screening. From a public health viewpoint, testing is effective if it helps to quickly find the infected, trace their contacts and isolate them to stop the spread. In most parts of the U.S., that never happened.

Over the holiday season, many Americans still had to wait days to receive test results, rendering them largely useless. That’s led to testing fatigue and dwindling interest, said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University.

“It doesn’t exactly give you a lot of gratifying, immediate feedback,” Mina said. “So people’s willingness or interest in getting tested starts to go down.”

Still, U.S. test manufacturers continue ramping up production, with another 110 million rapid and home-based tests expected to hit the market next month.

Government officials long assumed this growing arsenal of cheap, 15-minute tests would be used to regularly screen millions of students and teachers as in-person classes resume. But recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don’t emphasize testing, describing it as an “additional layer” of protection, behind basic measures like masking and social distancing.

Even without strong federal backing, educational leaders say testing programs will be important for marshaling public confidence needed to fully reopen schools, including in the fall when cases are expected to rise again.

“Schools have asked themselves, justifiably, ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze to set up a big testing effort?’” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit that advises districts in more than 25 states. “Our message to the school systems we work with is: ‘Yes, you need to stand up comprehensive testing because you’re going to need it.’”

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Associated Press writer Brian Melley in Los Angeles and AP data journalist Nicky Forster in New York contributed to this report.

Prince Philip moved to specialized London heart hospital

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip was transferred Monday to a specialized London heart hospital to undergo testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition as he continues to be treated for an unspecified infection, Buckingham Palace said.

Police officers stand at an entrance to the King Edward VII Hospital where Prince Philip is being treated for an infection, as an ambulance is driven out, in London, Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II was moved from King Edward VII’s Hospital, where he has been treated since Feb. 17, to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which specializes in cardiac care.

The palace says Philip “remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week.”

Philip was admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London after feeling ill. Philip’s illness is not believed to be related to COVID-19. Both he and the queen, 94, received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in early January.

The Bart’s Heart Centre is Europe’s biggest specialized cardiovascular center, the National Health Service said. The center seeks to perform more heart surgery, MRI and CT scans than any other service in the world.

Philip, who retired from royal duties in 2017, rarely appears in public. During England’s current coronavirus lockdown, Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, has been staying at Windsor Castle, west of London, with the queen.

Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and is the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He and the queen have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

In 2011, he was rushed to a hospital by helicopter after suffering chest pains and was treated for a blocked coronary artery. In 2017, he spent two nights in the hospital and he was hospitalized for 10 days in 2018 for a hip replacement.

Philip was last hospitalized in December 2019, spending four nights in the King Edward VII’s Hospital for what the palace said was planned treatment of a pre-existing condition.

Canadian regulator authorizes AstraZeneca vaccine

By ROB GILLIES for the Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — Canadian regulators on Friday authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults.

It is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by Canada, following those from Pfizer and Moderna.

Passengers are screened and get a COVID-19 test as they enter Canada from the United States at the land border crossing in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Health Canada approved the vaccine for use in people 18 and over, expressing confidence it would work for the elderly even though some countries, including France, have authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine only for use in people under 65, saying there is not enough evidence to say whether it works in older adults.

With trials showing about 62% efficacy, the vaccine appears to offer less protection than those already authorized, but experts have said any vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 50% could help stop outbreakADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a good option,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser.

Sharma said no one has died or become severely ill in trials of the vaccines now approved by Canada or in those of Johnson & Johnson and Novavax shots, which could be approved soon.

Health authorities in Germany and other countries have raised concerns that AstraZeneca didn’t test the vaccine in enough older people to prove it works for them, and indicated they would not recommend it for people over 65. Belgium has authorized it only for people 55 and under

Health Canada said its decision was based on pooled analyses from four ongoing clinical studies trials as well as data in countries where it has been approved.

“Based on the totality of the information, the benefit-risk profile of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is positive for the proposed indication in adults 18 years and over,” Health Canada said in information posted online.

“We’re starting to get real world evidence. There is evidence that in older age group it would be effective,” Sharma said.

Sharma said the AstraZeneca vaccine licensed by the Serum Institute of India, which uses the same recipe but a slightly different method, is also approved.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been authorized in more than 50 countries. It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs deep-cold storage that is not widespread in many developing nations. Both vaccines require two shots per person, given weeks apart.

Canada has pre-ordered 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot, which was co-developed by researchers at the University of Oxford. It will also receive up to 1.9 million doses through the global vaccine-sharing initiative known as COVAX by the end of June.

Myanmar protesters injured as police escalate use of force

From the Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar security forces cracked down on anti-coup protesters in the country’s second-largest city on Friday, injuring at least three people, two of whom were shot in the chest by rubber bullets and another who suffered a wound on his leg.

An injured protester is escorted as police tried to disperse a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP Photo)

Protesters had gathered on a wide road outside a park in Mandalay in the early afternoon when security forces arrived and began firing what sounded like gunshots and using flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.

Bullets, shell casings, and other projectiles were later found by local residents on one of the main streets and shown to journalists.

The victims were all taken to a private clinic for treatment. One of the men who was shot in the chest with a rubber bullet also had a white bandage wrapped around his head. The man with an injured leg was later photographed in a cast that stretched from his foot to his knee.

The confrontations underscore the rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and the generals who toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.

Also Friday, a Japanese journalist covering a separate protest in Yangon, the country’s largest city, was detained by police and later released, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Yuki Kitazumi could be seen in a video circulating among media as police seized him, with one of the officers briefly putting a truncheon around the journalist’s neck.

Earlier in the day, security forces in Yangon fired warning shots and beat truncheons against their shields while moving to disperse more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters.

The demonstrators had gathered in front of a popular shopping mall, holding placards and chanting slogans denouncing the Feb. 1 coup even as the security presence increased and a water-cannon truck was brought to the area.

When around 50 riot police moved against the protesters, warning shots could be heard, and at least one demonstrator was held by officers. Security forces chased the protesters off the main road and continued to pursue them in the nearby lanes, as some ducked into houses to hide.

On Thursday, supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government, using slingshots, iron rods and knives to injure several of them. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.

The violence erupted as hundreds marched in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defence Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.

Late Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of riot police who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.

No pro-military rally appeared to be scheduled for Friday.

Suu Kyi has not been seen since the coup. Around 50 of her supporters held a prayer Friday opposite her home in Yangon. The mansion is where she spent many years under house arrest during previous military governments, and the residence has long had iconic status among her supporters.

“Because of the situation, on this day of the full moon we are sending love to, and reciting Buddha’s teachings for Mother Suu, President U Win Myint and all those unlawfully detained,” said Hmuu Sitt yan Naing, who joined the prayer group.

It is believed Suu Kyi is currently being detained in the capital Naypyitaw. She is due to face a court on Monday on charges brought against her by the military junta. The charges are widely seen as politically motivated.

Militia official: US strike in Syria kills 1, wounds several

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, LOLITA C. BALDOR, and ROBERT BURNS for the Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. airstrike in Syria targeted facilities belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi armed group, killing one fighter and wounding several others, an Iraqi militia official said Friday, signaling the first military action undertaken by U.S. President Joe Biden.

FILE – In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, file photo, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, in Washington. Kirby announced late Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, that the U.S. military conducted airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said were used by Iran-backed militia groups, in response to recent attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq. Kirby said the action was authorized by President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops.

The Iraqi militia official told The Associated Press that the strikes against the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, hit an area along the border between the Syrian site of Boukamal facing Qaim on the Iraqi side. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak of the attack. Syria war monitoring groups said the strikes hit trucks moving weapons to a base for Iranian-backed militias in Boukamal.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington, shortly after the airstrikes which were carried out Thursday evening Eastern Standard Time.

The Biden administration in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran.

The U.S. has in the past targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, which it has blamed for numerous attacks targeting U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the war in Syria, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons that were being taken by trucks entering Syrian territories from Iraq. The group said 22 fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries that includes Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed. The report could not be independently verified.

In a statement, the group confirmed one of its fighters was killed and called the U.S. strike a crime. Kataeb Hezbollah, like other Iranian-backed factions, maintains fighters in Syria to both fight against the Islamic State group and assist Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in that country’s civil war.

Defense Secretary Austin said he was “confident” the U.S. had hit back at the “the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes,” referring to a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition personnel.

Austin said he had recommended the action to President Biden.

“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

Earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. action was a “proportionate military response” taken together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said.

Kirby said the U.S. airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups,” including Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada.

Further details were not immediately available.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, criticized the U.S. attack as a violation of international law.

“The United Nations Charter makes absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack on the defending state for which the target state is responsible,” she said. “None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.”

Syria condemned the U.S. strike calling it “a cowardly and systematic American aggression,” warning that the attack will lead to consequences.

“This aggression is a negative indication of the policies of the new American administration, which is supposed to adhere to international legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle,” a statement by Syria’s foreign ministry said.

Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq.

Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack. He added that U.S. officials were not then able to give a “certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks.”

A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Alwiya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the Feb. 15 attack. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound, but no one was hurt.

Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade. Iran-backed groups have splintered significantly since the U.S.-directed strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad more than a year ago. Both were key in commanding and controlling a wide array of Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq.

Since their deaths, the militias have become increasingly unruly. Some analysts argue the armed groups have splintered as a tactic to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.

The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against U.S. targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of Biden’s inauguration.

The U.S. under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out multiple attacks in Iraq.

Trump had said the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke U.S. escalation in Iraq. The December 2019 killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that culminated in the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Soleimani and brought Iraq to the brink of a proxy war.

U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group.

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Baldor and Burns reported from Washington, D.C.

Explainer: Mount Etna puts on its latest spectacular show

By FRANCES D’EMILIO for the Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Mount Etna, the volcano that towers over eastern Sicily, evokes superlatives. It is Europe’s most active volcano and also the continent’s largest.

Flames and smoke billowing from a crater, as seen from the southern side of the Mt Etna volcano, tower over the city of Pedara, Sicily, Wednesday night, Feb. 24, 2021. Europe’s most active volcano has been steadily erupting since last week, belching smoke, ash, and fountains of red-hot lava. (AP Photo/Salvatore Allegra)

And the fiery, noisy show of power it puts on for days or weeks, even years every so often, is always super spectacular. Fortunately, Etna’s latest eruption captivating the world’s attention has caused neither injuries nor evacuation.

But each time it roars back into dramatic action, it wows onlookers and awes geologists who spend their careers monitoring its every quiver, rumble and belch.

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?

On Feb. 16, Etna erupted, sending up high fountains of lava, which rolled down the mountain’s eastern slope toward the uninhabited Bove Valley, which is five kilometers (three miles) wide and eight kilometers (five miles) long. The volcano has belched out ash and lava stones that showered the southern side.

The activity has been continuing since, in bursts more or less intense. The flaming lava lights up the night sky in shocking hues of orange and red. There’s no telling how long this round of exciting activity will last, say volcanologists who work at the Etna Observatory run by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

While public fascination began with the first dramatic images this month, the explosive activity began in September 2019, becoming much stronger two months ago. The current activity principally involves the south-east crater, which was created in 1971 from a series of fractures.

HARD TO MISS

Etna towers 3,350 meters (around 11,050 feet) above sea level and is 35 kilometers (22 miles) in diameter, although the volcanic activity has changed the mountain’s height over time.

Occasionally, the airport at Catania, eastern Sicily’s largest city, has to close down for hours or days, when ash in the air makes flying in the area dangerous. Early in this recent spell of eruptive activity, the airport closed briefly.

But for pilots and passengers flying to and from Catania at night when the volcano is calmer, a glimpse of fiery red in the dark sky makes for an exciting sight.

LIVING WITH A VOLCANO

With Etna’s lava flows largely contained to its uninhabited slopes, life goes in towns and villages elsewhere on the mountain. Sometimes, like in recent days, lava stones rain down on streets, bounce off cars and rattle roofs.

But many residents generally find that a small inconvenience when weighted against the benefits the volcano brings. Lava flows have left fertile farmland. Apple and citrus trees flourish. Etna red and whites are some of Sicily’s most popular wines, from grapes grown on the volcanic slopes.

Tourism rakes in revenues. Hikers and backpackers enjoy views of the oft-puffing mountain and the sparkling Ionian Sea below. For skiers who want uncrowded slopes, Etna’s a favorite.

IT CAN BE DEADLY

Inspiring ancient Greek legends, Etna has had scores of known eruptions in its history. An eruption in 396 B.C. has been credited with keeping the army of Carthage at bay.

In 1669, in what has been considered the volcano’s worst known eruption, lava buried a swath of Catania, about 23 kilometers (15 miles) away and devastated dozens of villages. An eruption in 1928 cut off a rail route circling the mountain’s base.

More recently, in 1983, dynamite was used to divert lava threatening inhabited areas. In 1992, the army built an earthen wall to contain the lava, flowing from Etna for months, from hitting Zafferana Etnea, a village of a few thousand people. At one point, the smoking lava stopped two kilometers (just over a mile) from the edge of town.

Over the last century, a hiccup in geological time, low-energy explosive eruptions and lava flows, both fed from the summit and side vents, have characterized Etna.

Chief: Capitol assault much bigger than intel suggested

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and NOMAAN MERCHANT for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The acting U.S. Capitol Police chief was pressed to explain Thursday why the agency hadn’t been prepared to fend off a violent mob of insurrectionists, including white supremacists, who were trying to halt the certification of the presidential election last month, even though officials had compelling advance intelligence.

In this Feb. 2, 2021 file photo, acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman denied that law enforcement failed to take seriously warnings of violence before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Three days before the riot, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning that armed extremists were poised for violence and could attack Congress because they saw it as the last chance to try to overturn the election results, Pittman said.

But the assault was much bigger than they expected, she said.

“There was no such intelligence. Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat.”

Later, under questioning by the House subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tim Ryan, Pittman said that while there may have been thousands of people heading to the Capitol from a pro-Trump rally, about 800 people actually made their way into the building.

Pittman conceded that the agency’s incident command protocols were “not adhered to,” and that there was a “multi-tiered failure.” Officers were left without proper communication or strong guidance from their supervisors as the insurrectionist mob stormed into the building.

The panel’s top Republican, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, said the top Capitol Police officials “either failed to take seriously the intelligence received or the intelligence failed to reach the right people.”

Pittman’s predecessor as chief testified earlier this week at a hearing that police expected an enraged but more typical protest crowd of Trump backers. But Pittman said intelligence collected before the riot prompted police to take extraordinary measures, including the special arming of officers, intercepting radio frequencies used by the invaders and deploying spies at the Ellipse rally where Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to “fight like hell.

On Jan. 3, Capitol Police distributed an internal intelligence assessment warning that militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups were likely to participate, that demonstrators would be armed and that it was possible they would come to the Capitol to try to disrupt the vote, according to Pittman.

But at the same time, she said police didn’t have enough intelligence to predict the violent insurrection that resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol Police officer. They prepared for trouble but not an invasion.

“Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes,” Pittman said.

Steven Sund, the police force’s former chief who resigned after the riot, testified Tuesday that the intelligence assessment warned white supremacists, members of the far-right Proud Boys and leftist antifa were expected to be in the crowd and might become violent.

“We had planned for the possibility of violence, the possibility of some people being armed, not the possibility of a coordinated military style attack involving thousands against the Capitol,” Sund said.

The FBI also forwarded a warning to local law enforcement officials about online postings that a “war” was coming. But Pittman said it still wasn’t enough to prepare for the mob that attacked the Capitol.

Officers were vastly outnumbered as thousands of rioters descended on the building, some of them wielding planks of wood, stun guns, bear spray and metal pipes as they broke through windows and doors and stormed through the Capitol. Officers were hit with barricades, shoved to the ground, trapped between doors, beaten and bloodied as members of Congress were evacuated and congressional staffers cowered in offices.

Pittman also said the department faced “internal challenges” as it responded to the riot. Officers didn’t properly lock down the Capitol complex, even after an order had been given over the radio to do so. She also said officers didn’t understand when they were allowed to use deadly force, and that less-than-lethal weapons that officers had were not as successful as they expected.

While Pittman said in her testimony that that sergeants and lieutenants were supposed to pass on intelligence to the department’s rank and file, many officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they would face.

’Four officers told The Associated Press shortly after the riot that they heard nothing from Sund, Pittman, or other top commanders as the building was breached. Officers were left in many cases to improvise or try to save colleagues facing peril.

Pittman also faces internal pressure from her rank and file, particularly after the Capitol Police union recently issued a vote of no confidence against her. She must also lead the department through the start of several investigations into how law enforcement failed to protect the building.

Capitol Police are investigating the actions of 35 police officers on the day of the riot; six of those officers have been suspended with pay, a police spokesman said.

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Merchant reported from Houston.

Pro-military marchers in Myanmar attack anti-coup protesters

For the Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government that took power in a coup, using slingshots, iron rods and knives Thursday to injure several of the demonstrators.

In this image taken from video obtained by Than Lwin Khet News, a woman helps an unidentified man lying on the sidewalk of Sule Pagoda Road after he was attacked by a group of men in Yangon, Myanmar, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Members of a group supporting Myanmar’s military junta have attacked and injured people protesting against the army’s Feb. 1 seizure of power that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. (Than Lwin Thet News via AP)

The violence complicates an already intractable standoff between the military and a protest movement that has been staging large rallies daily to demand that Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government be restored to power. She and other politicians were ousted and arrested on Feb. 1 in a takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.

In response, several Western countries have imposed or threatened sanctions against the military. On Thursday, Britain announced further measures against members of the ruling junta for “overseeing human rights violations since the coup.”

Amid the international outrage, Facebook also announced it would ban all accounts linked to the military as well as ads from military-controlled companies.

On Thursday, tensions escalated on the streets between anti-coup protesters and supporters of the military. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.

The number of injured people and their condition was not immediately clear.

According to accounts and photos posted on social media, hundreds of people marched Thursday in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defence Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.

When the marchers were jeered at by onlookers near the city’s Central Railway station, they responded by firing slingshots and throwing stones at their critics. Some marchers broke away to chase down a man and then stabbed and kicked him.

Supporters of the military have gathered in the streets before, especially in the days immediately before and after the coup, but had not used violence so openly.

Critics of the military charge its pays people to engage in violence, allegations that are hard to verify. They have been raised during earlier spells of unrest, including a failed anti-military uprising in 1988 and an ambush of Suu Kyi’s motorcade in a remote rural area in 2003, when she was seeking to rally her supporters against the military regime then in power.

Such confrontations could make it harder to resolve Myanmar’s crisis.

Later Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of lines of riot police, who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.

So far, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, eight people have been killed in connection with the junta’s crackdown and 728 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.

As part of its efforts to quell the opposition, the ruling junta has sought to limit access to the internet, including trying to block Facebook — the gateway to the web for many people in Myanmar. Those efforts have proven largely ineffective.

But on Thursday, Facebook announced a ban of its own: on all military-linked accounts. The social media platform already had deleted several military-linked accounts since the coup, including army-controlled Myawaddy TV and state television broadcaster MRTV. The bans also apply to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

The company said in a statement that it considered the situation in Myanmar an “emergency,” explaining that the ban was triggered by events since the coup, including “deadly violence.”

Facebook and other social media platforms came under enormous criticism in 2017 when right groups said they failed to do enough to stop hate speech against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

The army launched a brutal counterinsurgency operation that year that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya to seek safety in neighboring Bangladesh, where they remain in refugee camps. Myanmar security forces burned down villages, killed civilians and engaged in mass rape, and the International Court of Justice is considering whether these actions constitute genocide.

The military says it took power because last November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the state election commission, whose members have since been replaced.

The junta has said it will rule for a year and then hold fresh elections.

Embattled Iowa mayor among town officials charged resigns

For the Associated Press

ARMSTRONG, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa mayor who is among a slew of town officials charged with a string of felonies and misdemeanors in a city embezzlement case has resigned his post.

Armstrong Mayor Greg Buum, 69, submitted his written resignation Monday night at a City Council meeting, the Des Moines Register reported. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has charged Buum, the town’s police chief, its city clerk and two former clerks in an alleged plot to loot the city coffers.

Buum also is charged with misusing a saw from the town’s volunteer fire department to benefit his private carpentry business. He and the others — which include police chief Craig Merrill, city clerk Tracie Lang and former city clerks Connie Thackery and Mary Staton — were arrested earlier this month. Buum is free on $67,000 bond.

Armstrong is a community of 900 people located near Iowa’s border with Minnesota and is about 40 miles from the popular Okoboji vacation area in the state’s northwestern corner.

The Latest: Hearing exposes breach between security officers

For the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on congressional testimony about the Capitol insurrection (all times local):

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, to examine the January 6th attack on the Capitol. (Erin Scott/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

1:25 p.m.

The former chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. House is denying allegations he didn’t want to call the National Guard before the Jan. 6 riot out of concern that it would look bad.

Paul Irving resigned as House sergeant-at-arms after the deadly insurrection. He testified Tuesday that he met with then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund on Jan. 4 and that he believed they agreed not to ask for the Guard. Sund alleged that Irving denied his request for the Guard, citing “optics.”

Said Irving, “I was not concerned about appearance whatsoever.”

The hearing has renewed a remarkable breach between Sund and Irving about why there wasn’t more security at the Capitol. Irving was one of Sund’s superiors.

Sund says he requested Guard help again at 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6, as rioters were massing outside the building. Irving denies receiving a call at that time.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FORMER SECURITY OFFICIALS TESTIFYING ON THE CAPITOL INSURRECTION:

Testifying publicly for the first time about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former security officials say that bad intelligence was to blame for the disastrous failure to anticipate the violent intentions of the mob. That left them unprepared for the attack, which was unlike anything they had ever seen before.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

12:20 p.m.

Police officials who were tasked with protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6 say the FBI did not flag to them an internal report suggesting extremists were preparing for “war.”

The report was issued a day before the riot by the FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office. Washington Metropolitan Police acting Chief Robert Contee says the report came via email and says he believes a warning of that level “would warrant a phone call or something.”

Steven Sund resigned as Capitol Police chief the day after the riot. Sund testified before Congress on Tuesday he was unaware the department had received the report until weeks after the insurrection.

Sund and Contee have criticized the intelligence they received from federal law enforcement about Jan. 6. Sund has called for a review of how the intelligence community studies domestic extremism and shares information across agencies.

The head of the FBI’s office in Washington has said that once he received the Jan. 5 warning from the Virginia office, the information was quickly shared with other law enforcement agencies, including the Capitol Police.

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11:55 a.m.

The key officials in charge of security at the U.S. Capitol disagree on why they didn’t seek National Guard help before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Steven Sund resigned as chief of the Capitol Police the day after the riot. Sund testified Tuesday that he requested the National Guard be called at 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6.

Paul Irving is the former House sergeant-at-arms and was one of Sund’s superiors. Irving says he didn’t receive a request until after 2 p.m. Irving says he did not remember Sund making a request at 1:09.

Rioters breached the Capitol’s west side just after 2 p.m.

Irving says he and other Capitol security leaders agreed before Jan. 6 that “the intelligence did not support the troops and collectively decided to let it go.”

The result was Capitol Police officers were badly outnumbered by rioters who in many cases were better armed and prepared to try to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory over Donald Trump.

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11:45 a.m.

A top security official has testified that he was “stunned” over the delayed response to a request for National Guard help during the mob riot at the Capitol.

Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III told a joint Senate hearing Tuesday that the former U.S. Capitol Police chief was “pleading” with Army officials to deploy Guard troops as the violence rapidly escalated Jan. 6.

The District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police officers had joined to help U.S. Capitol Police during the attack.

Contee says police officers “were out there literally fighting for their lives” but the officials on the call appeared to be going through a ”check the boxes” exercise asking about the optics of stationing National Guard troops at the Capitol. Contee says there “was not an immediate response.”

The officials are testifying in the first public hearing over the siege as a mob loyal to Donald Trump stormed the Capitol to disrupt Congress confirming Trump’s defeat to Joe Biden in the presidential election.

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11:30 a.m.

The former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police says he learned this week that his officers had received a report from an FBI field office in Virginia that forecast in detail the chances extremists could commit “war” in Washington the following day — the day of the Capitol insurrection.

The head of the FBI’s office in Washington has said that once he received the Jan. 5 warning from the Virginia office, the information was quickly shared with other law enforcement agencies through the joint terrorism task force, including the Capitol Police.

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified to Congress on Tuesday that an officer on the joint terrorism task force had received the FBI’s memo and forwarded it to a sergeant working on intelligence for the Capitol Police. But Sund says the information was not put forward to any other supervisors. Sund says he wasn’t aware of it.

Sund says he did see an intelligence report created within the Capitol Police force warning that Congress could be targeted on Jan. 6. That report warned extremists were likely to attend and there were calls for people to travel to Washington armed.

Senegal launches vaccination campaign with China’s Sinopharm

By YESI FISCH for the Associated Press

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign Tuesday in the capital, Dakar, where the Health Minister received the first jab of the Sinopharm vaccine.

“This day is a historic day” said Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, Senegal’s Health Minister after getting the injection.

A health worker administers a dose of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to a man during the start of the vaccination campaign against the COVID-19 at the Health Ministry in Dakar, Senegal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. The country is also expecting nearly 1.3 million vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The West African nation received 200,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine last week and now the vaccines are being given to health care workers, people over 60 years old, and those with comorbidities.

The health minister also announced that Senegal is negotiating with Russia to buy the Sputnik V vaccine. In March, the country is also expecting to get nearly 1.3 million vaccine doses through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative.

As a gesture of “solidarity,” the minister said Senegal will share 10% of the 200,000 Sinopharm doses with neighboring countries Gambia and Guinea Bissau.

“Senegal is one of seven countries -among the 54 countries of the African continent- to start the vaccination against COVID-19, the minister said.

As of Tuesday, Senegal, a country of 16 million, has registered more than 33,000 cases of COVID-19 and 814 deaths, according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccinations start without rush in Australia, parts of Asia

From the Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia started its COVID-19 inoculation program on Monday, days after its neighbor New Zealand, with both governments deciding their pandemic experiences did not require the fast tracking of vaccine rollouts that occurred in many parts of the world.

New South Wales Police officer Lachlan Pritchard receives the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Vaccination Hub in Sydney, Australia, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Australia has started its COVID-19 vaccination program days after its neighbor New Zealand with both governments deciding their pandemic experiences did not require regulation short cuts. (Toby Zerna/Pool Photo via AP)

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that have dealt relatively well with the pandemic either only recently started vaccinating or are about to, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Deakin University, said countries that do not face a virus crisis benefit from taking their time and learning from countries that have taken emergency vaccination measures such as the United States.

“We’ve now got data on pregnant women who are vaccinated. Natural accidents, like incorrect dosing, happen in a real world rollout,” Bennett said. “All of those things are really valuable insights.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday in a show of confidence in the product. Australia is prioritizing building public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines ahead of speed of delivery.

Health and border control workers, as well as nursing home residents and workers, started getting the Pfizer vaccine on Monday at hubs across the country. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt will get the AstraZeneca vaccine when it becomes available within weeks.

The vast majority of cases in Australia are travelers infected overseas who are detected during 14-day mandatory hotel quarantines. Australia has recorded 909 coronavirus deaths.

New Zealand began inoculations last week after receiving its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine.

The nation of 5 million has successfully stamped out the spread of the virus, and the first people to get the shots are border workers and their families. That’s a different priority group than in most countries, and the idea is to stop the virus from spreading from any arriving travelers who are infected. After that, healthcare and essential workers, along with vulnerable older people, will be vaccinated.

However, the rollout of a program to vaccinate the broader population in New Zealand won’t begin until the second half of the year, behind many other countries.

In Australia, some infectious disease and ethics experts at Australian National University have accused the government of hoarding vaccines and argued that the government should send surplus supplies to countries in desperate need.

Elsewhere in Asia, Thailand, which has seen only 83 virus deaths, has yet to start vaccinations. It will receive the first 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine on Wednesday. That is part of the Thai government’s plan that has so far secured 2 million doses from Sinovac and 61 million doses from AstraZeneca.

The government has a policy to provide free vaccinations to all Thais and aims to inject half of the population this year. The government said it hopes to begin the vaccinations a few days after the first batch of vaccines arrive.

Vietnam, which has recorded 35 deaths, announced last week that it will receive 5 million vaccine doses by the end of February and hopes to start inoculations as early as the beginning of March. Five million people — mostly front-line workers — will be given the first shots.

Cambodia, which has yet to report any virus deaths, received its first shipment of 600,000 vaccine doses from China on Feb. 7, part of 1 million doses Beijing donated. The country began the vaccination program on Feb. 10, starting with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons, government ministers and officials at a state run hospital.

In Singapore, which has reported 29 virus deaths, some 250,000 residents, including healthcare workers and other front-line workers, had been vaccinated as of last week, according to health officials. The aim is to get another 1 million people to receive their first dose of the vaccine by early April.

Laos, which also has reported no deaths, received 300,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine on Feb. 8. A Health Ministry official said that it expects 20% of the Lao population, or 1.6 million people, to be vaccinated within the year.

Sheriff’s office offers Valentine’s Day ‘special’ for exes

From the Associated Press

NASHVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina sheriff’s office is giving people a chance on Valentine’s Day weekend to show their former lovers they’re still wanted by turning them in if they have outstanding warrants.

The Nash County Sheriff’s Office is offering what it calls a “Valentine’s Day Weekend Special,” which it described as “a special too sweet to pass up.”

The “offer” posted on its Facebook page includes what the sheriff’s office described as a set of limited-edition platinum bracelets, free transportation with a chauffeur and a one-night minimum stay in “our luxurious (five-star) accommodations.” It tops the offer with a special Valentine’s dinner.

“Operators are standing by,” says the post at the end, which includes a picture of a rose next to a set of handcuffs.

Some reactions to the post praised the idea as brilliant and hilarious, and one person suggested whoever came up with the idea deserves a raise. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports others did not find it funny. “Nothing like making a joke about people’s freedom!!” one commenter posted.

Scotland vaccinations lead to sharp drop in hospitalizations

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Scotland’s COVID-19 vaccination program has led to a sharp drop in hospitalizations, researchers said Monday, boosting hopes that the shots will work as well in the real world as they have in carefully controlled studies.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson with quality control technician Kerri Symington, visits the French biotechnology laboratory Valneva in Livingston, Scotland, Thursday Jan. 28, 2021, where they will be producing a COVID-19 vaccine on a large scale, during a visit to Scotland. (Wattie Cheung/Pool via AP)

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced hospital admissions by up to 94% four weeks after people received their first dose, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cut admissions by up to 85%, according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland.

The preliminary findings were based on a comparison of people who had received one dose of vaccine and those who hadn’t been inoculated yet. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period when 21% of Scotland’s population received their first vaccine shot.

“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,” said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

About 650,000 people in Scotland received the Pfizer vaccine during the study period and 490,000 had the AstraZeneca shot, according to the Usher Institute. Because hospitalization data was collected 28 days after inoculation, the findings on hospital admissions were based on a subset of 220,000 people who received the Pfizer vaccine and 45,000 who got the AstraZeneca shot.

U.K. regulators authorized widespread use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Dec. 30, almost a month after they approved the Pfizer vaccine.

Outside experts said while the findings are encouraging, they should be interpreted with caution because of the nature of this kind of observational study. In particular, relatively few people were hospitalized after receiving the vaccines during the study period.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, urged those making political decisions about the pandemic to be cautious.

“It will be important that euphoria, especially from political sources that do not understand the uncertainty in the numerical values, does not cause premature decisions to be made,” he said “Cautious optimism is justified.”

Earlier this month, Israel reported encouraging results from people receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Six weeks after vaccinations began for people over age 60, there was a 41% drop in confirmed COVID-19 infections and a 31% decline in hospitalizations, according the country’s Ministry of Health.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

South Africa’s health care workers eager for first vaccines

By ANDREW MELDRUM for the Associated Press

ELANDSDOORN, South Africa (AP) — After testing thousands of people for coronavirus, South African nurse Asnath Masango says she can’t wait to get vaccinated.

“So many people, I test them and within days they have passed away,” said Masango. “I want protection.”

Nurse Asnath Masango, 56, waits for a patient at Ndlovu Care Group in Elandsdoorn, 200 kms north-east of Johannesburg Thursday Feb. 11, 2021. The Ndlovu center is running a study of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine with 602 people from the community participating. Masango said she can’t wait to get vaccinated. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

C.J. Umunnakwe, a virologist running a lab that has performed more than 40,000 virus tests, says he “wholeheartedly believes in vaccinations. Vaccines save lives.” He plans to talk to those who may be skeptical.

Health care workers at the Ndlovu Care Group in rural northeastern South Africa are eagerly awaiting the first jabs of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will be given out to medical staff starting this week.

That’s despite the fact that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — unlike the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines — has not been approved for general use anywhere in the world.

No matter, say many South African health workers who are enthusiastic about getting the J&J jab, which comes amid a huge shift in the government’s vaccination strategy.

South Africa, with nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 including more than 47,000 deaths, has had 41% of Africa’s reported cases.

Last week South Africa controversially decided to drop the AstraZeneca vaccine — which had been already purchased, delivered and approved in the country — from the first phase in which 1.25 million health care workers will be vaccinated.

The last-minute decision was made after a small test showed the AstraZeneca vaccine offered minimal protection against mild to moderate cases of the variant dominant in South Africa. Although preliminary and not peer-reviewed, the results raised serious questions about how effective the AstraZeneca vaccine would be specifically in South Africa, even though the vaccine has been approved in over 50 other countries around the world.

Health officials decided to change to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which tests show is safe and effective against the variant here. A one-shot vaccine is also easier for many countries to implement.

“The switch has emboldened the skeptics, who say the vaccines have problems,” Umunnakwe said of those who alleged that big pharmaceutical firms are using Africans as guinea pigs.

“I am telling people that the change shows that decisions are being made transparently, that it was driven by science,” he said. “It is proof that we are putting the public as first priority.”

South Africa has purchased 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 80,000 will be delivered this week to kick off the inoculation campaign, the president says. South Africa’s regulatory body has approved the J&J shot for testing purposes. Until that vaccine receives full approval, it will be given as part of an “implemented study,” officials say.

At the Ndlovu Care Group, in the small town of Elandsdoorn in Limpopo province, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Johannesburg, medical workers have seen the devastation wrought by the virus up close. When COVID-19 hit, the center quickly ramped up its laboratory to do PCR tests.

The protective gear that cloaks Masango cannot hide her empathy as she welcomes people who come for a COVID-19 test.

“I’m so skilled at this, you won’t even feel it!” she said to a visitor.

Masango, 56, said she has tested more people than she can count.

“What depresses me the most is when I must tell someone that they are positive,” she said. “They are so frightened … Grandparents die. Breadwinners die. How will their children get food?”

The prospect of getting vaccinated excites her.

“Yo!” she says, eyes widening. “I want that vaccine!”

The Ndlovu Care Group has done more than 40,000 tests in the rural community, including workers at large mines and commercial farms. More than 20,000 of those tests were in January alone, when South Africa was hit by a dramatic resurgence of the disease, driven by the more contagious variant that is now dominant.

The Ndlovu laboratory can carry out the PCR virus tests and get the results within hours. In the January resurgence, it was averaging about 1,600 tests per day.

“We were busy, very busy,” said Umunnakwe, a 35-year-old virologist who came to the center to study HIV and is now studying coronavirus too. He is keenly watching the genomic sequencing in South Africa that identified the new variant.

“By doing sequencing, we don’t just see what is present in the virus today, we can detect what may happen in the future,” said Umunnakwe, adding that he hoped Ndlovu will get the equipment to do sequencing, rare for a rural health center.

Most South Africans are looking forward to getting vaccinated. An impressive 67% of adults said they would definitely or probably take a vaccine, according to a survey by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council.

Dr. Rebone Maboa, who is running a study of the J&J vaccine at the Ndlovu center, was excited to hear that it will be used in South Africa.

“I’m actually ecstatic!” said Maboa. “I think it’s actually a better vaccine for us here in South Africa, looking at our variant.”

The 42-year-old doctor said 602 people in the community are participating in the test and half were injected with the J&J vaccine in November. She also said her recent recovery from COVID-19 makes her a stronger advocate for getting vaccinated.

“Lack of knowledge makes people much, much more anxious,” said Maboa. “Those who get the vaccine will be role models, vaccine ambassadors who will encourage others.”

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Hospitals still ration medical N95 masks as stockpiles swell

By JASON DEAREN, JULIET LINDERMAN and MARTHA MENDOZA for the Associated Press

Mike Bowen’s warehouse outside Fort Worth, Texas, was piled high with cases of medical-grade N95 face masks. His company, Prestige Ameritech, can churn out 1 million masks every four days, but he doesn’t have orders for nearly that many. So he recently got approval from the government to export them.

Nurses picket Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 in Faribault, Minn., during a healthcare worker protest of a shortage on protective masks. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S.  finds itself with many millions of N95 masks pouring out of American factories and heading into storage. Yet there still aren’t nearly enough in ICU rooms and hospitals. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

“I’m drowning in these respirators,” Bowen said.

On the same day 1000 miles (1,600 kilometers) north, Mary Turner, a COVID-19 intensive care nurse at a hospital outside Minneapolis, strapped on the one disposable N-95 respirator allotted for her entire shift.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Turner would have thrown out her mask and grabbed a new one after each patient to prevent the spread of disease. But on this day, she’ll wear that mask from one infected person to the next because N95s — they filter out 95% of infectious particles — have supposedly been in short supply since last March.

Turner’s employer, North Memorial Health, said in a statement that supplies have stabilized, but the company is still limiting use because “we must remain mindful of that supply” to ensure everyone’s safety.

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many millions of N95 masks are pouring out of American factories and heading into storage. Yet doctors and nurses like Turner say there still aren’t nearly enough in the “ICU rooms with high-flow oxygen and COVID germs all over.”

While supply and demand issues surrounding N95 respirators are well-documented, until now the reasons for this discrepancy have been unclear.

The logistical breakdown is rooted in federal failures over the past year to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment.

Internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press show there were deliberate decisions to withhold vital information about new mask manufacturers and availability. Exclusive trade data and interviews with manufacturers, hospital procurement officials and frontline medical workers reveal a communication breakdown — not an actual shortage — that is depriving doctors, nurses, paramedics and other people risking exposure to COVID-19 of first-rate protection.

Before the pandemic, medical providers followed manufacturer and government guidelines that called for N95s to be discarded after each use, largely to protect doctors and nurses from catching infectious diseases themselves. As N95s ran short, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modified those guidelines to allow for extended use and reuse only if supplies are “depleted,” a term left undefined.

Hospitals have responded in a variety of ways, the AP has found. Some are back to pre-COVID-19, one-use-per-patient N95 protocols, but most are doling out one mask a day or fewer to each employee. Many hospital procurement officers say they are relying on CDC guidelines for depleted supplies, even if their own stockpiles are robust.Full Coverage: Coronavirus pandemic

Chester “Trey” Moeller, a political appointee who served as the CDC’s deputy chief of staff until President Joe Biden’s inauguration last month, said efforts to increase U.S. mask production were successful, but there has since been a federal breakdown in connecting those who need them with this new supply.

“We are forcing our health care industry to reuse sanitized N95s or even worse, wear one N95 all day long,” he said.

Before the pandemic tore through the U.S., the demand for N95 masks was 1.7 billion per year, with 80% going to industrial uses and 20% into medical, trade groups say. In 2021, demand for N95 masks for medical use is estimated by industry sources to be 5.7 billion.

With the increased demand and prodding from the federal government, U.S. manufacturers stepped in. Bowen’s company, Prestige Ameritech, boosted production from 75,000 N95 respirators a month to almost 10 million during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, many hospitals are building their stockpiles over fears of a future surge, and restricting the number given directly to health care workers.

The AP spoke with a dozen procurement officers who buy supplies for more than 300 hospitals across the U.S. All said they have enough N95s now, between two and 12 months worth, sitting in storage.

Even so, all but two of those hospital systems are limiting their doctors, nurses and other workers to one mask per day, or even one per week. Some say they are waiting for the supply to grow even more, while others say they never plan to go back to pre-COVID-19 usage.

Dean Weber, vice president of corporate supply chain management for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sanford Health, said the one-N95-per-patient guidelines were established with the help of manufacturers.

“You know, the mask manufacturers are in the business of selling masks,” Weber said. He said he prioritizes safety over cost, but he doesn’t believe these respirators need to be tossed after each use. “We were all, in fact, you know, just infatuated with an N95.”

But John Wright, vice president of supply chains for Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, says reusing masks or wearing them longer “would not be appropriate” once they have enough supplies. He hopes his 23 hospitals and hundreds of clinics will be back to single use within two weeks.

___

As the coronavirus spread through spring and summer, demand for N95 masks surged to unprecedented levels and the respirators disappeared from stockpiles and distributors’ shelves. Hospitals and distributors looked overseas to fill the need.

In March 2020, just six shipping containers arrived in the U.S. with N95s in them, and almost all of those masks were for industrial use, not medical. By September 2020, orders had soared — in one month, almost 3,000 shipping containers of N95s arrived at U.S. ports, almost entirely medical-grade.

Federal officials saw the reliance on imports as a security problem and worked to boost domestic supply, The federal agency that oversees N95 manufacturers, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, approved 94 new brands, including 19 new domestic manufacturers, according to the internal government emails.

Over the fall and winter, those domestic producers hired thousands of employees and invested millions in supplies to churn out masks,

As U.S. production rose through the fall and winter, imports plunged. Shipment data maintained by ImportGenius and Panjiva Inc., services that independently track global trade, shows arrivals dropped sharply to about 150 in January 2021.

In Shanghai, Cameron Johnson, a trade consultant at the Tidalwave Solutions recruitment firm and an adjunct business faculty member at New York University, says “the bottom has fallen out of the mask market.”

But the U.S. government failed to help link buyers to the growing supplies. Now some of those U.S.-based makers are facing major financial losses, potential layoffs and bankruptcies.

In December, Moeller, an appointee of President Donald Trump, grew frustrated while working in the office of CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

“(NIOSH) had approved almost 20 U.S. manufacturers to make N95 masks, but had not published any guidance or notice of what is ultimately more than 100 million N95 mask-making capacity a month going unsold,” Moeller told the AP.

The Food and Drug Administration was monitoring N95 supply chains, and received $80 million in emergency pandemic funds “to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.” Of that amount, about $38 million was for efforts related to tracking medical product shortages.

But the agency has still not solved the problem. “There have been a good number of new NIOSH (mask) approvals that have been granted,” said Suzanne Schwartz, director of the FDA’s Office of Strategic Partnerships & Technology Innovation. “Yet the access to those new manufacturers, there seems to be a hurdle there. FDA … is trying to identify that blockage.”

Schwartz said the agency is working with President Joe Biden’s pandemic response team and the health care industry to find answers.

The internal emails show that Moeller in December alerted NIOSH head Dr. John Howard about the unused U.S. N95 manufacturing capacity.

In a Dec. 22 email, Howard acknowledged he was still hearing of shortages: “Apparently, there is a significant domestic production capacity going unused for the lack of orders and we have tried to address this supplier/purchaser disconnect.”

A few weeks later, as a suggested remedy, Howard said the list of domestic N95 manufacturers had now been published for potential buyers. But the list shows up on page 3 of an obscure newsletter published by a University of Cincinnati toxicologist, after a satirical column on “chin warmers,” or improperly worn surgical masks.

NIOSH was not actively promoting the new mask producers, Howard wrote, saying that “to avoid the perception of inequitable treatment and because of the dynamic production landscape, we have not posted information on our website regarding respirator availability.”

Howard, through an agency spokesperson, declined a request for an interview. In a statement, NIOSH also acknowledged “a supply and demand disconnect” exists and said it is working with FEMA and other federal agencies, as well as online sales platforms like Amazon.com Inc., to better connect purchasers with U.S.-made mask producers.

“How could this be happening? You have an obvious need, and you have a tremendous engine of supply,” said Tony Uphoff, president and CEO of Thomas, an online platform for product sourcing. Uphoff said that for decades the N95 market was stable, so when the virus upended the supply chain, procurement officers were unprepared to respond.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. finds itself in a paradox. The more N95s are rationed to alleviate a perceived shortage, the fewer masks are actually reaching the front lines.

N95s still appear on the FDA shortage list, in part because of reports from doctors and nurses who say they still don’t have enough. The American Hospital Association also says there’s a scarcity of N95s, citing global demand. But the government shortage list triggers distributors to limit how many masks they can sell to each hospital.

“The concept is similar to when trading is halted on Wall Street,” said David Hargraves, senior vice president of supply chain for Premier, a group purchasing organization that helps buy equipment and supplies for thousands of hospitals across the U.S. “You put the protective allocation in place to prevent folks from hoarding and overbuying, therefore exacerbating the shortage situation.”

But without clear guidance, hospitals are left to make their own decisions.

Some procurement officers are loath to trust masks from unfamiliar suppliers. Others balk at federally approved domestic manufacturers, some of whom charge more than international makers. And adding new products into a hospital’s inventory can be tricky: Every health care worker must be fit-tested before using a new brand.

“It’s not easy to pivot from one brand to another,” said Katie Dean, health care supply chain director at Stanford Health Care in California, where they are back to using one N95 mask per patient, as needed.

Dr. Robert Hancock, an emergency room doctor and president of the Texas College of Emergency Room Physicians, said hospitals are taking risks by continuing to ration N95s, even when they have enough. He said some doctors tell him they get one N95 mask every five to seven days.

“All the N95s currently out there were designed to be worn once. They were never designed to be reused,” Hancock said. “Hospitals are going to have to come up with some hard data to back up that a mask built for single use is OK to use repeatedly if there are other masks available. It was one thing when we had no choice. But you can’t just say something works because it favors you financially.”

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AP Medical Writer Linda A. Johnson in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, and AP writer Allen Breed in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Deputies: Man proposes using rings stolen from other lover

From the Associated Press

ORANGE CITY, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man stole an engagement ring and wedding bands from a girlfriend and used them to propose to another girlfriend, according to authorities.

Volusia County Sheriff’s deputies said Thursday they have issued an arrest warrant for Joseph Davis, 48, who had not been found as of Friday.

Their investigation started earlier this year when a woman from Orange City, Florida, told detectives she had discovered her boyfriend was actually engaged to someone else. When she looked up the fiancée’s Facebook page, she noticed a photo of her wearing a wedding band and engagement ring that was identical to her own from a prior marriage, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

When the Orange City woman checked her jewelry box, she found her rings were missing, as were several other pieces of jewelry, including a diamond ring that belonged to her grandmother. The total value of the stolen property was about $6,270, according to the sheriff’s office.

Orange City is located halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach.

The Orange City woman reached out to the fiancee, who returned some of the items, and they both called it off with Davis, who also went by the names “Joe Brown” and “Marcus Brown,” the sheriff’s office said.

The fiancee, who lives in Orlando, told detectives she had been duped too.

Davis once took the fiancee to a house that actually belonged to the Orange City woman, while she was at work, and claimed it was his. He then asked the fiancee to move in with him, but he then disappeared. By that time, the fiancee discovered her laptop computer and jewelry were missing, the sheriff’s office said.

Even though they did not have his real name, the jilted women remembered he had a relative in North Carolina and detectives were able to track down the relative who identified Davis, according to the sheriff’s office.

Davis has an active arrest warrant for a hit-and-run crash with injuries in Oregon, and previously has been arrested for possession of fictitious ID, filing a false police report, domestic assault and possession of cocaine with intent to sell, the sheriff’s office said.

According to the sheriff’s office, the jail where Davis previously was booked noted he had a tattoo on his left arm that said, “Only God can judge me.”

Support grows for Capitol riot inquiry after Trump acquittal

By HOPE YEN for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — After former President Donald Trump’s acquittal at his second Senate impeachment trial, bipartisan support appears to be growing for an independent Sept. 11-style commission into the deadly insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol.

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., with impeachment managers Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., right, speaks to members of the media during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, after the U.S. Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump, ending the impeachment trial. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Investigations into the riot were already planned, with Senate hearings scheduled later this month in the Senate Rules Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has asked retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to lead an immediate review of the Capitol’s security process.

Lawmakers from both parties, speaking on Sunday’s news shows, signaled that even more inquiries were likely. The Senate verdict Saturday, with its 57-43 majority falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict Trump, hardly put to rest the debate about the Republican former president’s culpability for the Jan. 6 assault.

“There should be a complete investigation about what happened,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump. “What was known, who knew it and when they knew, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again.”

Cassidy said he was “attempting to hold President Trump accountable,” and added that as Americans hear all the facts, “more folks will move to where I was.” He was censured by his state’s party after the vote.

An independent commission along the lines of the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks would probably require legislation to create. That would elevate the investigation a step higher, offering a definitive government-backed accounting of events. Pelosi has expressed support for such a commission while stressing that the members who sit on it would be key. Still, such a panel would pose risks of sharpening partisan divisions or overshadowing President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

“There’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear and a 9/11 commission is a way to make sure that we secure the Capitol going forward,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden ally. “And that we lay bare the record of just how responsible and how abjectly violating of his constitutional oath President Trump really was.”

House prosecutors who argued for Trump’s conviction of inciting the riot said Sunday they had proved their case. They also railed against the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and others who they said were “trying to have it both ways” in finding the former president not guilty but criticizing him at the same time.

A close Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted for acquittal but acknowledged that Trump had some culpability for the siege at the Capitol that killed five people, including a police officer, and disrupted lawmakers’ certification of Biden’s White House victory. Graham said he looked forward to campaigning with Trump in the 2022 election, when Republicans hope to regain the congressional majority.

“His behavior after the election was over the top,” Graham said. “We need a 9/11 commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again.”

The Senate acquitted Trump of a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after House prosecutors laid out a case that he was an “inciter in chief” who unleashed a mob by stoking a monthslong campaign of spreading debunked conspiracy theories and false violent rhetoric that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Trump’s lawyers countered that Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment was nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.

The conviction tally was the most bipartisan in American history but left Trump to declare victory and signal a political revival while a bitterly divided GOP bickered over its direction and his place in the party.

The Republicans who joined Cassidy in voting to convict were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

“It’s frustrating, but the founders knew what they were doing and so we live with the system that we have,” Democratic Del. Stacey Plaskett, a House prosecutor who represents the Virgin Islands, said of the verdict, describing it as “heartbreaking.” She added: “But, listen, we didn’t need more witnesses. We needed more senators with spines.”

McConnell told Republican senators shortly before the vote that he would vote to acquit Trump. In a blistering speech after the vote, the Kentucky Republican said the president was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” but that the Senate’s hands were tied to do anything about it because Trump was out of office. The Senate, in an earlier vote, had deemed the trial constitutional.

“It was powerful to hear the 57 guilties and then it was puzzling to hear and see Mitch McConnell stand and say ‘not guilty’ and then, minutes later, stand again and say he was guilty of everything,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. “History will remember that statement of speaking out of two sides of his mouth,” she said.

Dean also backed the idea of an impartial investigative commission “not guided by politics but filled with people who would stand up to the courage of their conviction.”

The lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., called the trial a “dramatic success in historical terms” by winning unprecedented support from GOP senators. He said the verdict didn’t match the reality of the strength of evidence.

“We successfully prosecuted him and convicted him in the court of public opinion and the court of history,” he said. Pointing to McConnell and other Republican senators critical of Trump but voting to acquit, Raskin said, “They’re trying to have it both ways.”

Raskin and Plaskett defended the House team’s last-minute reversal not to call a witness, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash. They acknowledged they were aware they might lose some GOP votes for conviction if they extended the trial much longer.

Beutler’s statement late Friday that Trump rebuffed a plea from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to call off the rioters was ultimately entered into the trial record.

“I think what we did was, we got what we wanted, which was her statement, which was what she said, and had it put into the record,” Plaskett said.

Cassidy and Dean spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Graham appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Raskin was on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Plaskett appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Lisa Mascaro, Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

After shooting, unrest, Wyoming gets its first Black sheriff

By MEAD GRUVER for the Associated Press

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — As a student at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Aaron Appelhans used to look at the photos of past graduating classes hanging on the wall.

Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans stands in the county courthouse in Laramie, Wyo. Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Appelhans took office in January as Wyoming’s as the state’s first Black sheriff. Formerly a University of Wyoming Police Department patrol sergeant, Appelhans in January became the top law enforcement officer for a county three times the size of Rhode Island yet home to just 650 African Americans out of 39,000 people. Wyoming’s largest city and capital, Cheyenne, got its first Black police chief, James “Jim” Byrd, in 1966. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

“I got to see, for the most part, ain’t a whole lot of people that looked like me around here,” he recalled of the mainly white faces.

A decade later, Appelhans was appointed Wyoming’s first Black sheriff, a post he took months after fury over racist policing roiled U.S. cities. His turf includes one of Wyoming’s last Democratic strongholds, but the state is overwhelmingly conservative and white and he’s already faced a racist remark from a lawmaker.

It didn’t surprise him. Wyoming has made progress but remains “very racist,” said Stephen Latham, president of the state NAACP.

Like other parts of the country struggling with police violence, a deputy’s fatal shooting of an unarmed, mentally ill man played a major role in Appelhans’ appointment to Albany County sheriff. The death of 39-year-old Robbie Ramirez during a traffic stop two years ago stoked fierce backlash that carried over into last summer’s protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

The group Albany County for Proper Policing formed after the shooting and pushed for Appelhans to take over when his predecessor, Dave O’Malley, retired.

“Let’s take this anger and pain and turn it into progress in our community,” said Democratic state Rep. Karlee Provenza, the group’s executive director.

Appelhans, 39, grew up near Denver experiencing racism and had relatives in the criminal justice system. He understands both sides of the Black Lives Matter movement, he recently told The Associated Press.

“I am one of those people who do feel that law enforcement really needs to take a good, hard look at what we do,” Appelhans said. “Are we serving our community?”

Formerly a University of Wyoming Police Department sergeant, Appelhans in December became the top law enforcement officer for a county more than three times the size of Rhode Island yet has just 650 African Americans out of 39,000 people.

The county seat is Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming and a liberal city still associated with the killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard in 1998. Ramirez’s killing 20 years later drew less attention but fresh soul-searching.

A grand jury declined to indict sheriff’s Deputy Derek Colling for shooting Ramirez. Colling, who grew up in Laramie and knew Ramirez from school, had killed two people as a Las Vegas police officer before being fired there.

A lawsuit accuses Colling of killing Ramirez needlessly. It alleges O’Malley, the former sheriff, overlooked Colling’s “out-of-control temper” and hired him in part because his father was a friend.

Appelhans declined to speak about Colling or the shooting, citing department policy not to comment on pending litigation.

He’s hopeful, though, that grant funding and working with local groups means fewer confrontations.

“We’ve got ‘cops’ as a nickname,” Appelhans said. “We’re not ‘cops.’ I’m listed, just like every other deputy here is listed, as a peace officer. We’re here to keep the peace. And so that’s really kind of one of the big changes I’ve wanted to have law enforcement focus on.”

His work with the university force to try to reduce crimes like sexual assault was encouraging, said Provenza, the lawmaker who helped local Democrats vet sheriff applicants.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for the sheriff’s office to grow and kind of change and evolve into something this community will feel safer working with,” Provenza said.

Appelhans’ leadership training and experience as a detective and in crime prevention point to “likely success” as sheriff, University of Wyoming Police Chief Mike Samp said.

O’Malley, however, said Democrats didn’t put forth anybody qualified for sheriff. Reached in Florida where he lives now, O’Malley said, “I think he’s in way over his head, but, you know, that remains to be seen.”

Because O’Malley was a Democrat, the Albany County Democratic Party recommended three sheriff finalists to the county commission, but not O’Malley’s top pick, an undersheriff.

O’Malley declined to comment on Ramirez’s shooting or the lawsuit. Colling didn’t return a message, and his attorney declined to comment.

Ramirez’s relatives and attorneys didn’t return messages seeking comment on Appelhans’ appointment.

Appelhans said he wasn’t sure he wanted to be sheriff because he will need to campaign next year to keep the job. The rare chance to run a law enforcement agency and make reforms changed his mind, he said.

In December, Republican state Rep. Cyrus Western responded to news of Appelhans’ appointment by posting a clip online that showed a Black character from the movie “Blazing Saddles” asking, “Where the white women at?” In the film, a former slave serves as sheriff of an all-white town.

Western apologized publicly and in a call to Appelhans.

“It was one of the things I knew that would come with the territory of getting this job,” Appelhans said. “I don’t look like everybody else, I don’t think like everybody else. Some people are going to have some problems with that, just based on the way I look. That’s a problem in America.”

Wyoming’s capital and largest city, Cheyenne, got its first Black police chief, James “Jim” Byrd, in 1966. But considering people of color for top law enforcement jobs remains the exception rather than standard practice, said Latham with the Wyoming NAACP.

“You have to bring it to their minds and then they start thinking about it. But in this day and age, it shouldn’t be something that’s on the back burner,” Latham said.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver.

Police in Europe bust gang hijacking celeb phones, arrest 10

For the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Police have arrested 10 people in the U.K., Belgium and Malta for allegedly hijacking mobile phones belonging to U.S. celebrities including internet influencers, sports stars and musicians to steal personal information and millions in cryptocurrency, authorities said.

The European Union police agency Europol said Wednesday that the gang is believed to have stolen more than $100 million in cryptocurrencies by using so-called SIM swap attacks.

These attacks involve deactivating a victim’s mobile phone SIM card, either by tricking the phone company or using a corrupt insider, so that the number can be transferred to another card under the gang’s control.

The arrests were the result of a joint investigation by U.K., U.S., Canadian, Belgian and Maltese police, Europol said.

Europol didn’t specify the nationalities of those caught in the sweep, but the U.K.’s National Crime Agency said a day earlier that eight men were arrested in England and Scotland. Two others were arrested previously in Belgium and Malta, Europol said.

Neither agency identified the celebrity victims.

Investigators found that after accessing victims’ phone numbers, they were able to take control of apps or accounts by requesting password reset codes sent via SMS. Then they were able to steal money, cryptocurrencies and personal information, including contacts synced online, as well as hack into and post from social media accounts, Europol said.

Europol has warned that SIM swapping is a growing threat carried out by fraudsters.

South Africa scraps AstraZeneca vaccine, will give J&J shots

By ANDREW MELDRUM for the Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa will start vaccinating front-line health workers next week with a shot that is still in testing — an unorthodox strategy announced Wednesday after officials scrapped plans to use another vaccine that a small study suggests is only minimally effective against the variant dominant in the country.

FILE – In this Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Thabisle khlatshwayo, who received her first shot for a COVID-19 vaccine trial, receives her second AstraZeneca shot at a vaccine trial facility set at Soweto’s Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital outside Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa suspended on Sunday Feb. 7, 2021 plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa would switch to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not use Oxford-AstraZeneca’s — which was previously heralded as one of the most promising for the developing world because it’s cheaper and does not require freezer storage like some other leading vaccines.

But a small study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggested it was poor at preventing mild to moderate disease caused by the variant first detected in South Africa. Experts have said it might still work well against more severe disease.

Those results threw South Africa’s vaccination campaign into disarray just as it was about to start administering the AstraZeneca vaccine — the only one authorized for general use in the country.

Officials quickly turned their focus to the one-shot J&J vaccine — which has only been approved for use in studies in South Africa and, in fact, hasn’t yet been authorized for general use in any country. The company has applied for emergency use permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and South Africa’s regulatory authority.

Mkhize, in a nationally broadcast address, assured the public that the J&J vaccine is safe, pointing to the fact that it has been tested in 44,000 people so far. It will now be used to launch a drive to inoculate the country’s 1.25 million health workers, he said.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant and the necessary approval processes for use in South Africa are underway,” he said, using the official name for the variant that experts say is more contagious. That variant recently drove a devastating resurgence of the pandemic with nearly twice the cases, hospitalizations and deaths experienced in the initial surge of the disease in the country.

A study of the J&J vaccine in South Africa, part of international trials, showed it was 57% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 in a test conducted when the variant was dominant. It provides even better protection against severe disease, with 85% efficacy after 28 days.

South Africa will begin administering the first shots next week, said Mkhize. The first round aims to reach 100,000 health care workers — and is officially being classified as a study of the vaccine, according to Dr. Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, who led the Johnson & Johnson tests here.

The first doses will come from vaccine sent to the country for testing purposes, and more are expected in March, when a South African pharmaceutical company begins bottling the vaccine here, Mkhize told a parliamentary committee Wednesday.

In all, the country hopes to vaccinate an estimated 40 million people by the end of the year — or about two-thirds of its population. South Africa plans to use the Pfizer vaccine — though it’s not yet authorized — and is also considering others, including Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm and the Moderna one, Mkhize said. Unlike the J&J shot, none of those vaccines has been clinically tested against the variant prevalent in South Africa, although Pfizer has tested blood samples of people exposed to the variant.

The change of course came just one week after South Africa received its first vaccines — 1 million AstraZeneca doses, produced by the Serum Institute of India. But after results of the preliminary study were announced Sunday, South African officials quickly halted the planned rollout.

South Africa’s abrupt cancellation could deal a blow to plans to use the vaccine widely, especially in many poorer countries, since it is being produced in large quantities in India and which the international COVAX facility has purchased in large numbers for distribution around the world.

An added complication for South Africa is that its AstraZeneca doses arrived with an April 30 expiration date. South Africa is looking to swap them, Mkhize said.

South Africa by far has the largest number of COVID-19 cases on the African continent with nearly 1.5 million confirmed, including almost 47,000 deaths. After a resurgence that spiked in early January, cases and deaths are now declining, but medical experts are already warning that South Africa should prepare for another upsurge in May or June, the start of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

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Mystery metal monolith turns out to be Turkish govt gimmick

For the Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A metal monolith that mysteriously appeared and disappeared on a field in southeast Turkey turned out to be a publicity gimmick before a government event Tuesday during which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a space program for the country.

Turkish police officers guard a monolith, found on an open field near Sanliurfa, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. The metal block was found by a farmer Friday in Sanliurfa province with old Turkic script that reads “Look at the sky, see the moon.” The monolith, 3 meters high (about 10 feet), was discovered near UNESCO World Heritage site Gobeklitepe with its megalithic structures dating back to 10th millennium B.C. Turkish media reported Sunday that gendarmes were looking through CCTV footage and investigating vehicles that may have transported the monolith. Other mysterious monoliths have popped up and some have disappeared in numerous countries since 2020. (Bekir Seyhanli/IHA via AP)

The three-meter-high (about 10-foot-high) metal slab bearing an ancient Turkic script, was found Friday by a farmer in Sanliurfa province. It was discovered near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gobekli Tepe, which is home to megalithic structures dating to the 10th millennium B.C., thousands of years before Stonehenge.

However, the shiny structure that bore the inscription “Look at the sky, you will see the moon” in the ancient Turkic Gokturk alphabet, was reported gone Tuesday morning, adding to the mystery.

An image of the monolith was later projected on a screen as Erdogan presented Turkey’s space program during a televised event.

“I now present to you Turkey’s 10-year vision, strategy and aims and I say: ‘look at the sky, you will see the moon,’” Erdogan said.

Earlier, the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted the field’s owner as saying he was baffled by both its appearance and disappearance.

“We don’t know if it was placed on my field for marketing purposes or as an advertisement,” Anadolu quoted Fuat Demirdil as saying. “We saw that the metal block was no longer at its place. Residents cannot solve the mystery of the metal block either.”

The agency also quoted local resident Hasan Yildiz as saying the block was still at the field Monday evening, but had disappeared by the morning.

Other mysterious monoliths have similarly appeared and some have disappeared in numerous countries in recent months.

Gobekli Tepe was the setting of the Turkish Netflix mystery series, “The Gift.”

Man charged with trespassing after run on Super Bowl field

From the Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man who ran onto the field during the Super Bowl has been charged with trespassing.

With the world watching, authorities say Yuri Andrade, 31, scampered onto the field Sunday night in the fourth quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Security tries to grab a fan on the field during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Andrade was wearing shorts and a pink leotard or swimsuit. He was eventually tackled on about the 3-yard-line by security personnel and escorted out of Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.ADVERTISEMENT

Hillsborough County jail records show Andrade posted $500 bail and was released early Monday. The records did not indicate if Andrade has an attorney to speak for him.

Tampa TV station WFLA reported that Andrade was planted at the game by social media personality Vitaly Zdorovetskiy. He runs an adult website called Vitaly Uncensored, which was written on the front of Andrade’s pink outfit.

The Buccaneers won the game 31-9.

Koala rescued after 5-car pileup on Australian freeway

By ROD McGUIRK for the Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A koala has been rescued after causing a five-car pileup while trying to cross a six-lane freeway in southern Australia.

Police said the crash in heavy Monday morning traffic in the city of Adelaide caused some injuries but no one required an ambulance.

The animal’s rescuer said she got out of her car to investigate what had caused the pileup. Nadia Tugwell, with her coat in hand, teamed up with a stranger clutching a blanket in a bid to capture the marsupial. A concrete highway divider had blocked the koala’s crossing.

This photo released by Nadia Tugwell, shows a koala inside Tugwell’s car in Adelaide, Australia on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. The koala has been rescued after causing a five-car pileup while trying to cross a six-lane freeway in southern Australia. (Nadia Tugwell via AP)

“The koala was absolutely not damaged in any way,” Tugwell said. “It was very active, but very calm.”

Once the koala was in her trunk, Tugwell drove to a gas station to turn the animal over to wildlife rescuers. In the interim, the koala was able to climb from the trunk into her SUV’s cabin.

“It decided to come to the front toward me, so I said, ‘OK, you stay here. I’ll get out,’” she said.

“It started sitting for a while on the steering wheel: (as if ) saying: ‘let’s go for a drive,’ and that’s when I started taking photos,” she added.

Tugwell said she had learned from past experience how to calm koalas by covering their eyes. She lives near a eucalyptus forest outside Adelaide and has twice called animal handlers to rescue koalas injured in fights with other koalas.

“I live up in the hills, and if you let them do what they want to do and you don’t chase them or something, they’re OK,” Tugwell said.

The leather trimmings of her luxury vehicle were scratched by the animal, but Tugwell said the happy ending was well worth the damage.

The koala later was released in a forest — well away from the freeway.

Arab spacecraft enters orbit around Mars in historic flight

By ISABEL DEBRE for the Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars on Tuesday in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

Ground controllers at the UAE’s space center in Dubai rose to their feet and broke into applause when word came that the craft, called Amal, Arabic for Hope, had reached the end of its seven-month, 300-million-mile journey and had begun circling the red planet, where it will gather detailed data on Mars’ atmosphere.

Emiratis celebrate after the Hope Probe enters Mars orbit as a part of Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. The spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. It is the first of three robotic explorers arriving at the red planet over the next week and a half. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate, high-stakes maneuver that slowed the craft enough for it to be captured by Mars’ gravity. It took a nail-biting 11 minutes for the signal confirming success to reach Earth.

Tensions were high: Over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of missions from various countries.

A visibly relieved Omran Sharaf, the mission’s director, declared, “To the people of the UAE and Arab and Islamic nations, we announce the success of the UAE reaching Mars.”

Two more unmanned spacecraft from the U.S. and China are following close behind, set to arrive at Mars over the next several days. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.

Amal’s arrival puts the UAE in a league of just five space agencies in history that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission. As the country’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, the flight is a point of intense pride for the oil-rich nation as it seeks a future in space.

An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s day-to-day ruler, was on hand at mission control and said: “Congratulations to the leadership and people of the UAE. … Your joy is indescribable.”

About 60% of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short in a testament to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere.

A combination orbiter and lander from China is scheduled to reach the planet on Wednesday. It will circle Mars until the rover separates and attempts to land in May to look for signs of ancient life.

A rover from the U.S. named Perseverance is set to join the crowd next week, aiming for a landing Feb. 18. It will be the first leg in a decade-long U.S.-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harbored microscopic life.

If it pulls this off, China will become only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The U.S. has done it eight times, the first almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and lander are still working on the surface.

For months, Amal’s journey had been tracked by the UAE’s state-run media with rapturous enthusiasm. Landmarks across the UAE, including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, have glowed red to mark the spacecraft’s anticipated arrival. Billboards depicting Amal tower over Dubai’s highways. This year is the 50th anniversary of the country’s founding, casting even more attention on Amal.

If all goes as planned, Amal over the next two months will settle into an exceptionally high, elliptical orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers), from which it will survey the mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere around the entire planet, at all times of day and in all seasons.

It joins six spacecraft already operating around Mars: three U.S., two European and one Indian.

Amal had to perform a series of turns and engine firings to maneuver into orbit, reducing its speed to 11,200 mph (18,000 kph) from over 75,000 mph (121,000 kph).

The control room full of Emirati engineers held their breath as Amal disappeared behind Mars’ dark side. Then it re-emerged from the planet’s shadow, and contact was restored on schedule. Screens at the space center revealed that Amal had managed to do what had eluded many missions over the decades.

“Anything that slightly goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the UAE’s space agency.

The success delivers a tremendous boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station with the Russians. That’s 58 years after the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched astronauts.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, tweeted congratulations, saying: “Your bold endeavor to explore the Red Planet will inspire many others to reach for the stars. We hope to join you at Mars soon” with Perseverance.

In developing Amal, the UAE chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of going it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.

The spacecraft was assembled at Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch last July.

The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and U.S. expeditions are considerably more complicated — and expensive — because of their rovers. NASA’s Perseverance mission totals $3 billion.

The UAE, a federation of seven skeikhdoms, is looking for Amal to ignite the imaginations of the country’s scientists and its youth, and help prepare for a future when the oil runs out.

“Today you have households of every single age group passionate about space, understanding a lot of science,” said al-Amiri, the chair of the space agency. “This has opened a broad range of possibilities for everyone in the UAE and also, I truly hope, within the Arab world.”

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Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.

Rescuers in India digging for 37 trapped in glacier flood

By BISWAJEET BANERJEE and RISHABH R. JAIN for the Associated Press

RUDRAPRAYAG, India (AP) — Rescuers in northern India worked Monday to rescue more than three dozen power plant workers trapped in a tunnel after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off and sent a wall of water and debris rushing down a mountain in a disaster that has left at least 26 people dead and 165 missing.

This photograph provided by National Disaster Response Force shows NDRF personnel prepare to rescue workers at one of the hydropower project at Reni village in Chamoli district of Indian state of Uttrakhund, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Rescue efforts continued on Monday to save 37 people after part of a glacier broke off, releasing a torrent of water and debris that slammed into two hydroelectric plants on Sunday. (National Disaster Response Force via AP)

More than 2,000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police have been taking part in search-and-rescue operations in the northern state of Uttarakhand after Sunday’s flood, which destroyed one dam, damaged another and washed homes downstream.

Officials said the focus was on saving 37 workers who are stuck inside a tunnel at one of the affected hydropower plants. Heavy equipment was brought in to help clear the way through a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long tunnel and reach the workers, who have been out of contact since the flood.

“The tunnel is filled with debris, which has come from the river. We are using machines to clear the way,” said H. Gurung, a senior official of the paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police.

Authorities fear many more people are dead and were searching for bodies downstream using boats. They also walked along river banks and used binoculars to scan for bodies that might have been washed downstream.

The flood was caused when a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier snapped off Sunday morning, releasing water trapped behind it. Experts said the disaster could be linked to global warming and a team of scientists was flown to the site Monday to investigate what happened.

The floodwater rushed down the mountain and into other bodies of water, forcing the evacuation of many villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. Video showed the muddy, concrete-gray floodwaters tumbling through a valley and surging into a dam, breaking it into pieces with little resistance before roaring on downstream. It turned the countryside into what looked like an ash-colored moonscape.

A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesman. Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.

The trapped workers were at the Dhauliganga plant, where on Sunday 12 workers were rescued from a separate tunnel.

A senior government official told The Associated Press that they don’t know the total number of people who were working in the Dhauliganga project. “The number of missing people can go up or come down,” S. A. Murugesan said.

Pandey said Monday that 165 workers at the two plants, not including those trapped in the tunnel, were missing and at least 26 bodies were recovered.

Those rescued Sunday were taken to a hospital, where they were recovering.

One of the rescued workers, Rakesh Bhatt, told The Associated Press said they were working in the tunnel when water rushed in.

“We thought it might be rain and that the water will recede. But when we saw mud and debris enter with great speed, we realized something big had happened,” he said.

Bhatt said one of the workers was able to contact officials via his mobile phone.

“We waited for almost six hours — praying to God and joking with each other to keep our spirits high. I was the first to be rescued and it was a great relief,” he said.

The Himalayan area where Sunday’s flood struck has a chain of hydropower projects on several rivers and their tributaries. Authorities said they were able to save other power units downstream because of timely action taken to release water by opening gates.

The floodwaters also damaged homes, but details on the number and whether any residents were injured, missing or dead remained unclear. Officials said they were trying to track whether anyone was missing from villages along the two rivers.

Government officials airdropped food packets and medicine to at least two flood-hit villages.

Many people in nearby villages work at the Dhauliganga plant, Murugesan said, but as it was a Sunday fewer people were at work than on a weekday,

“The only solace for us is that the casualty from the nearby villages is much less,” he said.

Some have already started pointing at climate change as a contributing factor given the known melting and breakup of the world’s glaciers, though other factors such as erosion, earthquakes, a buildup of water pressure and volcanic eruptions have also been known to cause glaciers to collapse.

Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct professor at the Indian School of Business who has contributed to U.N.-sponsored research on global warming, said that while data on the cause of the disaster was not yet available, “this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming.”

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Banerjee reported from Lucknow, India.

Utah police: Avalanche killed 4 local backcountry skiers

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST for the Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Four backcountry skiers in their 20s died when one of the deadliest avalanches in Utah history hit a popular canyon, police said Sunday.

Four other people also were buried in the Saturday slide but managed to dig themselves out and didn’t suffer serious injuries, according to Unified Police of Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue crews respond to the top of Millcreek Canyon where four skiers died in an avalanche Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, near Salt Lake City. Four other skiers were injured, authorities said. The Unified Police Department told local media that it was alerted to the avalanche about 11:40 a.m. after receiving a faint distress call from an avalanche beacon in the canyon. The skier-triggered avalanche swept up eight people in their early twenties to late thirties who were in two groups touring the backcountry, Unified Police Sgt. Melody Cutler told the Salt Lake Tribune. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The skiers were from two separate groups, and all eight had prepared with the necessary avalanche safety gear, authorities said.

The four killed were all from the Salt Lake City area, not far the spot where they were swept up by the skier-triggered avalanche in Millcreek Canyon.

Intermountain Life Flight helicopter pilot Richard Dobson told the Salt Lake Tribune that one person was conducting CPR on another of the skiers when they arrived at the site of the avalanche.

“Our backcountry outdoor community is very connected so this type of loss touches many people and really is heartbreaking,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said. “These are people who love doing what they did and lived life to the fullest.”

Three of the deceased were identified as Salt Lake City residents: Louis Holian and Stephanie Hopkins, both 26, and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, 23. The fourth, 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian was from the suburb of Sandy, Utah.

Jill Moughamian told the Deseret News that her daughter, a market researcher, loved the outdoors and grew up “playing in the mountains and climbing trees” as she kept up with her brothers.

She said her daughter found “the two loves of her life” in Utah — her soulmate, who dug her out of the snow but could not resuscitate her, and the outdoors.

“All of them were beautiful people who love the outdoors,” Anthony Nocella, a friend of Holian, told the News. “People in the community are really missing them.”

Holian “did whatever he wanted to do. He lived life to the fullest,” Nocella said. “He’s amazing. Everyone is going to miss him. Everyone is going to miss those four people.”

They were experienced skiers who were well known in the community, Drew Hardesty with the Utah Avalanche Center told the Tribune.

The avalanche danger around Salt Lake was high on Saturday, the center said as it tweeted out a warning hours before the avalanche.

A faint distress call alerted police to the slide shortly before noon on Saturday. The survivors found their four companions and dug them out, but they were already dead, police said.

The avalanche was “incredibly wide,” Wilson said, and still-unstable snow conditions kept rescuers from immediately recovering the bodies Saturday. Recovery operations resumed Sunday morning.

Avalanches have also claimed other lives in recent days: a 60-year-old northwestern Montana man died after being caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Swan Range on Saturday; the bodies of three hikers were found near Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. In Colorado, four backcountry skiers died in two separate slides in the last week.

Avalanche forecasters and search-and-rescue groups have been worried for weeks that more people would be venturing into the backcountry to avoid crowds and reservation systems at ski resorts during the coronavirus pandemic.

This winter is on track to be deadlier for avalanches than last year’s. Numbers gathered by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center show 21 people have died so far this year in the U.S., 15 of them skiers. There are still more than two months left in the season.

A total of 23 people, including eight skiers, died the previous winter between December and April, the agency found.

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Associated Press writer Julie Walker in New York City contributed to this report.

New variants raise worry about COVID-19 virus reinfections

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE for the Associated Press

Evidence is mounting that having COVID-19 may not protect against getting infected again with some of the new variants. People also can get second infections with earlier versions of the coronavirus if they mounted a weak defense the first time, new research suggests.

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19. According to research released in 2021, evidence is mounting that having COVID-19 may not protect against getting infected again with some of the new variants. People also can get second infections with earlier versions of the coronavirus if they mounted a weak defense the first time. (Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin/CDC via AP)

How long immunity lasts from natural infection is one of the big questions in the pandemic. Scientists still think reinfections are fairly rare and usually less serious than initial ones, but recent developments around the world have raised concerns.

In South Africa, a vaccine study found new infections with a variant in 2% of people who previously had an earlier version of the virus.

In Brazil, several similar cases were documented with a new variant there. Researchers are exploring whether reinfections help explain a recent surge in the city of Manaus, where three-fourths of residents were thought to have been previously infected.

In the United States, a study found that 10% of Marine recruits who had evidence of prior infection and repeatedly tested negative before starting basic training were later infected again. That work was done before the new variants began to spread, said one study leader, Dr. Stuart Sealfon of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“Previous infection does not give you a free pass,” he said. “A substantial risk of reinfection remains.”

Reinfections pose a public health concern, not just a personal one. Even in cases where reinfection causes no symptoms or just mild ones, people might still spread the virus. That’s why health officials are urging vaccination as a longer-term solution and encouraging people to wear masks, keep physical distance and wash their hands frequently.

“It’s an incentive to do what we have been saying all along: to vaccinate as many people as we can and to do so as quickly as we can,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert.

“My looking at the data suggests … and I want to underline suggests … the protection induced by a vaccine may even be a little better” than natural infection, Fauci said.

Doctors in South Africa began to worry when they saw a surge of cases late last year in areas where blood tests suggested many people had already had the virus.

Until recently, all indications were “that previous infection confers protection for at least nine months,” so a second wave should have been “relatively subdued,” said Dr. Shabir Madhi of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Scientists discovered a new version of the virus that’s more contagious and less susceptible to certain treatments. It now causes more than 90% of new cases in South Africa and has spread to 40 countries including the United States.

Madhi led a study testing Novavax’s vaccine and found it less effective against the new variant. The study also revealed that infections with the new variant were just as common among people who had COVID-19 as those who had not.

“What this basically tells us, unfortunately, is that past infection with early variants of the virus in South Africa does not protect” against the new one, he said.

In Brazil, a spike in hospitalizations in Manaus in January caused similar worry and revealed a new variant that’s also more contagious and less vulnerable to some treatments.

“Reinfection could be one of the drivers of these cases,” said Dr. Ester Sabino of the University of Sao Paulo. She wrote an article in the journal Lancet on possible explanations. “We have not yet been able to define how frequently this is happening,” she said.

California scientists also are investigating whether a recently identified variant may be causing reinfections or a surge of cases there.

“We’re looking at that now,” seeking blood samples from past cases, said Jasmine Plummer, a researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said it soon would report on what he called “the Los Angeles variant.”

New variants were not responsible for the reinfections seen in the study of Marines — it was done before the mutated viruses emerged, said Sealfon, who led that work with the Naval Medical Research Center. Other findings from the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine; the new ones on reinfection are posted on a research website.

The study involved several thousand Marine recruits who tested negative for the virus three times during a two-week supervised military quarantine before starting basic training.

Among the 189 whose blood tests indicated they had been infected in the past, 19 tested positive again during the six weeks of training. That’s far less than those without previous infection — “almost half of them became infected at the basic training site,” Sealfon said.

The amount and quality of antibodies that previously infected Marines had upon arrival was tied to their risk of getting the virus again. No reinfections caused serious illness, but that does not mean the recruits were not at risk of spreading infection to others, Sealfon said.

“It does look like reinfection is possible. I don’t think we fully understand why that is and why immunity has not developed” in those cases, said an immunology expert with no role in the study, E. John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Natural infections can leave you with a range of immunity” while vaccines consistently induce high levels of antibodies, Wherry said.

“I am optimistic that our vaccines are doing a little bit better.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Not child’s play: Chucky doll featured in errant Amber Alert

From the Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rest assured, “Chucky” is not on the loose.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has apologized after mistakenly issuing an Amber Alert that said the killer doll featured in the 1988 horror film “Child’s Play” was a suspect in the kidnapping of his 5-year-old son, Glen Ray, who was featured in “Seed of Chucky.”

This photo provided by The Texas Department of Public Safety shows an Amber Alert test for Chucky and his son Glen Ray that was released last Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 by the agency. The Texas Department of Public Safety is apologizing after accidentally sending out an Amber Alert about Chucky, the killer doll featured in the 1980s horror film “Child’s Play.” The alert was meant to be an internal test, but it was instead sent out three times last week in Texas. (Texas Department of Public Safety/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

The emergency alert described Chucky as a 3-foot, 1-inch-tall (0.9-meter-tall) doll wearing “blue denim overalls with multi-colored striped long sleeve shirt wielding a huge kitchen knife.”

The alert was mistakenly sent out three times last week to Amber Alert subscribers. The agency said it was a test malfunction.

Biden to freeze withdrawal of US troops from Germany

By MATTHEW LEE and ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will freeze Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of some U.S. troops stationed in Germany, the White House said Thursday.

FILE – In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo President-elect Joe Biden listens as his Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The announcement, from White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, came ahead of Biden’s visit to the State Department. The White House also said the U.S. would end support for Saudi Arabia’s military in the long-running war in Yemen in hopes of stopping one of world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Trump last year, despite congressional resistance, announced plans to redeploy about 9,500 of more than 34,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

Biden’s State Department visit is intended to underscore his promise to restore a multilateral approach to U.S. foreign policy and mark his administration’s reengagement with the international community.

“He wants to send a clear message that our national security strategy will lead with diplomacy,” Sullivan told reporters.

Britain to test mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines

By MARIA CHENG for the Associated Press

British scientists are starting a study Thursday to find out if it’s OK to mix and match COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines being rolled out now require two doses, and people are supposed to get two shots of the same kind, weeks apart.

FILE – In this Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, Mary Williams, right, receives an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the mass vaccination centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. British scientists are starting a study Thursday, Feb. 4 to test whether shots of different coronavirus vaccines can be used safely, in the world’s first experiment to see if vaccines made by different companies can be used together. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

Guidelines in Britain and the U.S. say the vaccines aren’t interchangeable, but can be mixed if the same kind isn’t available for the second dose or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot.

Participants in the government-funded study will get one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a dose from Pfizer, or vice versa.

“This study will give us greater insight into how we can use vaccines to stay on top of this nasty disease,” said Jonathan Van Tam, the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer.

He said that given the challenges of immunizing millions of people amid a global vaccine shortage, there would be advantages to having data that could support more “flexible” immunization campaigns.

COVID-19 vaccines all train the body to recognize the coronavirus, mostly the spike protein that coats it. The ones from AstraZeneca and Pfizer use different technologies. AstraZeneca’s uses a common cold virus to carry the spike gene into the body. Pfizer’s is made by putting a piece of genetic code called mRNA — the instructions for that spike protein — inside a little ball of fat.

The British research is scheduled to run 13 months and will also test different intervals between doses, four weeks and 12 weeks apart.

A study published this week on the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine showed it was about 91% effective in preventing COVID-19. Some immunologists credit the fact that the vaccine uses two slightly different shots, made with similar technology to AstraZeneca’s.

But the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are “so different that it’s really hard to know if that would work,” said Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at Britain’s University of Reading.

Matthew Snape, the new study’s leader at Oxford University, which helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, called for British volunteers over age 50 to sign up; scientists are hoping to enroll more than 800 people.

If the vaccines can be used interchangeably, “this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery,” he said in a statement. ”(It) could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains.”

In recent weeks, Britain, the European Union and numerous other countries have been hit with vaccine supply issues: AstraZeneca said it would dramatically reduce the expected number of doses it could deliver due to manufacturing delays and Pfizer also slowed deliveries while it upgraded its Belgian factory.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Biden, Harris pay respects to Capitol officer killed in riot

By MARY CLARE JALONICK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick lay in honor Wednesday in the building he died defending, as colleagues, members of Congress and the president and vice president paid their respects.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff pay respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor on a black-draped table at the center of the Capitol Rotunda, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Sicknick died after defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 against the mob that stormed the building and interrupted the electoral count after then-President Donald Trump urged supporters on the National Mall to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. The U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that Sicknick, who died the next day, was injured “while physically engaging with protesters,” though the cause of his death has not been determined.

President Joe Biden traveled to the Capitol to pay tribute to Sicknick shortly after the viewing began Tuesday night, briefly placing his hand on the urn in the center of the Capitol Rotunda, saying a prayer and sadly shaking his head as he observed a memorial wreath nearby. He was accompanied by first lady Jill Biden. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a handful of other congressional leaders also paid their respects.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, paid their respects Wednesday, placing their hands over their hearts and then touching the urn. A steady stream of lawmakers and police officers made its way through the Rotunda. Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee, one of several Democrats who were caught in the upper gallery of the House chamber while the rioters banged on the doors, wiped away tears.

Dozens of Capitol Police stood at attention as Sicknick’s urn was carried up the Capitol steps Tuesday night. It was the first time an urn, rather than a casket, has been part of a memorial observance in the Capitol Rotunda.

There was a viewing period for his Capitol Police colleagues overnight, and lawmakers were to pay tribute at a ceremony Wednesday morning. A ceremonial departure for Arlington National Cemetery was planned later in the day.

Members of Congress remain shaken by the riots and are grappling with what it means not only for the future of the country but for their own security as elected representatives. While lawmakers were united in denouncing the riots, and Trump’s role in them, the parties are now largely split on how to move forward.

The attack led to uncertainty, fear and political turmoil in Congress as Biden began his presidency. House Democrats impeached Trump a week after the attack, sending a charge of “incitement of insurrection” to the Senate, where Republicans are unlikely to provide the votes necessary to convict him. At the same time, the building has been cut off from the public, surrounded by large metal fences and defended by the National Guard.

Sicknick, 42, of South River, New Jersey, enlisted in the National Guard six months after graduating high school in 1997, then deployed to Saudi Arabia and later Kyrgyzstan. He joined the Capitol Police in 2008. Like many of his fellow officers, he often worked security in the Capitol itself and was known to lawmakers, staff and others who passed through the building’s doors each morning.

There are still questions about his death, which was one of five as a result of the rioting. As the mob forced its way in, Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, two law enforcement officials said. He collapsed later on, was hospitalized and died. The officials could not discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Investigators are also examining whether he may have ingested a chemical substance during the riot that may have contributed to his death, the officials said.

Biden’s tribute Tuesday evening stood in stark contrast to Trump, who never made a public expression of sorrow over the officer’s death or took any responsibility for the attack.

Pelosi and Schumer announced last week that Sicknick would lie in honor, saying his heroism “helped save lives, defend the temple of our democracy and ensure that the Congress was not diverted from our duty to the Constitution.”

His sacrifice, they said, “reminds us every day of our obligation to our country and to the people we serve.”

Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday that the Capitol Police “demonstrated extraordinary valor” on Jan. 6 and urged members to pay their respects to Sicknick. She has also encouraged members to take advantage of trauma resources available to congressional employees.

She said protecting the Capitol and the lawmakers who work there is a “highest priority” and that there will be a need for extra money to do so. During the assault, many of the insurrectionists called out for members, including Pelosi. They also targeted Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the building to preside over the electoral count.

“The insurrectionist attack on January 6 was not only an attack on the Capitol, but was a traumatic assault targeting Members,” she said.

Sicknick is only the fifth person to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, a designation for those who are not elected officials, judges or military leaders. The others who have lain in honor were John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut, Jr., two officers who were killed in a 1998 shooting at the Capitol; civil rights leader Rosa Parks, who died in 2005; and the Rev. Billy Graham, who died in 2018.

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Colleen Long and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

China to send 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses abroad

By HUIZHONG WU for the Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China on Wednesday announced a plan to provide 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses to developing nations through the global COVAX initiative as part of its ambitious diplomatic and business efforts to distribute Chinese vaccines around the world.

A medical worker shows the box for a coronavirus vaccine to a patient at a vaccination facility in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. A city in northern China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China is responding to a request from the World Health Organization as developing countries seek to fill shortages predicted to run through March. He did not offer details on which vaccine China was providing to COVAX, or whether it was a donation.

China has already shipped large numbers of doses of its own vaccines, mainly to developing countries. It has pursued deals or donations with more than 30 nations far exceeding the 10 million doses it is providing to COVAX. In Turkey alone, Chinese company Sinovac Biotech Ltd. has struck a deal to sell 50 million doses.

Its global efforts are seen by many as an attempt to boost China’s reputation as it seeks to repair its image after the first cases of the coronavirus were detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Earlier on during the pandemic, China donated face masks and protective gear to countries around the world as part of a diplomatic push. It has called the virus a mutual challenge facing humanity and even suggested it may have been brought from outside the country.

It agreed to join COVAX, coordinated by the World Health Organization and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, last October, notably when the U.S. under then President Donald Trump had declined to join.

COVAX seeks to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have enough vaccines as wealthy nations have snapped up a large part of the billions of upcoming doses from mostly Western vaccine makers.

“We hope countries in the international community with the capability will swing into action, support COVAX through practical actions, support the work of the World Health Organization, assist developing countries in obtaining vaccines in a timely manner and contribute to … conquering the pandemic at an early date,” Wang said a daily briefing.

WHO is in the process of approving Chinese vaccines for emergency use, he added.

So far, COVAX has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hoped to buy in 2021. Pfizer last month committed to supply up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year through COVAX. The facility also has 150 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Two Chinese companies, state-owned Sinopharm and Sinovac, have been behind a large part of the effort to take Chinese vaccines abroad, which has largely happened outside the COVAX framework. Both companies’ vaccines are inactivated, relying on a traditional technology of growing and killing a live virus. The virus is then purified before it is given as an injection.

The inactivated vaccines appear to be less effective than more modern mRNA vaccines. However, they are easier to transport than Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, which requires ultracold storage, a challenge for many lower-income countries.

Only one of the vaccines, made by Sinopharm, has been approved for general use within China. Both, however, have won either emergency or broader approvals in other countries, and are actively being used in mass vaccination campaigns from the United Arab Emirates to Indonesia.

The vaccines have been criticized for a lack of transparency in data from the final stage of clinical trials. Sinopharm said its vaccine is 79.3% effective. Sinovac’s shot in particular has raised concerns after it initially announced an efficacy rate of 78% at protecting against symptomatic illness, but after counting mild cases announced that effectiveness is just over 50%, based on its trial in Brazil.

Fauci warns against Super Bowl parties to avoid virus spread

For the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s top infectious disease expert doesn’t want the Super Bowl to turn into a super spreader.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, says when it comes to Super Bowl parties during the pandemic, people should “just lay low and cool it.”

In this image from video, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, speaks during a White House briefing on the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (White House via AP)

He said during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to invite people over for watch parties because of the possibility that they’re infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others.

Big events like Sunday’s game in Tampa, Florida, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always a cause for concern over the potential for virus spread, Fauci said.

“You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” he told NBC’s “Today” show. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

The NFL has capped game attendance at 22,000 people because of the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates.

Tanzania says no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines

For the Associated Press

DODOMA, Tanzania (AP) — Tanzania’s health ministry says it has no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines, just days after the president of the country of 60 million people expressed doubt about the vaccines without offering evidence.

Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima told a press conference in the capital, Dodoma, on Monday that “the ministry has no plans to receive vaccines for COVID-19.” Any vaccines must receive ministry approval. It is not clear when any vaccines might arrive, though Tanzania is eligible for the COVAX global effort aimed at delivering doses to low- and middle-income countries.

The health minister insisted Tanzania is safe. During a presentation in which she and others didn’t wear face masks, she encouraged the public to improve hygiene practices including the use of sanitizers but also steam inhalation — which has been dismissed by health experts elsewhere as a way to kill the coronavirus.

Chief government chemist Fidelice Mafumiko also suggested the use of herbal medicine to cure COVID-19, without offering evidence.

Tanzania’s government has been widely criticized for its approach to the pandemic. It has not updated its number of coronavirus infections — 509 — since April.

The World Health Organization’s Africa chief last week urged Tanzania to share its data on infections, while the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said that “if we do not fight this as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed.“

President John Magufuli, who has long asserted that God has eliminated COVID-19 in Tanzania, last week asserted that vaccines for it are “inappropriate” even as the first significant vaccine deliveries begin to arrive on the African continent.

But authorities in Tanzania, from the Catholic church to government institutions, are pushing back and telling the public and employees that COVID-19 exists in the country and precautions must be taken.

While it’s difficult to gauge the level of virus infections in Tanzania, this week leading opposition party ACT Wazalendo announced that party leader Seif Sharif Hamad, vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, was being treated for COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its latest travel warning on Tanzania says the country’s level of COVID-19 is “very high.” It gave no details but urged against all travel to the East African nation.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Vaccine rollout faces challenges in France’s poorest region

by ELAINE GANLEY for the Associated Press

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Samia Dridi, who was born, raised and works as a nurse in Saint-Denis, fears for her impoverished town, recalling how the coronavirus cut an especially deadly path through the diverse area north of Paris, a burial place for French kings entombed in a majestic basilica.

FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2021, file photo, a woman is guided to a vaccination booth prior to receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. Many people lining up for vaccines in the Paris suburb are particularly grateful for the injections. The surrounding region is the poorest in mainland France, with 130 languages spoken and the country’s highest rise in mortality last spring. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

Dridi and her sister accompanied their frail 92-year-old Algerian-born mother to a vaccination center for the first of two shots to protect against COVID-19 days after it opened last week for people over the age of 75.

While red tape, consent requirements and supply issues have slowed France’s vaccination rollout nationwide, the Seine-Saint-Denis region faces special challenges in warding off the virus, and getting people vaccinated when their turn comes.

It is the poorest region in mainland France and had the highest rise in mortality in the country last spring, largely due to COVID-19. Up to 75 percent of the population are immigrants or have immigrant roots, and its residents speak some 130 different languages. Health care is below par, with two to three times fewer hospital beds than other regions and a higher rate of chronic illnesses. Many are essential workers in supermarkets, public sanitation and health care.

The coronavirus was initially widely seen as the great equalizer, infecting rich and poor. But studies have since shown that some people are more vulnerable than others, notably the elderly, those with other long-term illnesses and the poor, often living on the edges of mainstream society, like immigrants who don’t speak French.

Dridi, 56, a nurse for more than three decades, feels relieved there is currently “no significant evolution” of the virus in her town. But she doesn’t forget what happened when the pandemic first hit.

“We had entire families with COVID,” she said. Many have multiple generations living together in small apartments, something experts say is an aggravating factor common in the region.

Despite those grim memories, local officials grapple with special challenges getting out word about vaccines to a population where many don’t speak French, lack access to regular medical care and, like in much of France, distrust the vaccine’s safety.

Next month, a bus will travel through the region, notably visiting street markets, to provide vaccination information. In addition, about 40 “vaccination ambassadors” who speak several languages are to be trained to reach out, starting in March, about vaccinations as well as “fake news” surrounding them.

A case in point is Youssef Zaoui, 32, an Algerian living in Saint-Denis.

“I heard the vaccination is very dangerous, more than the virus,” said Zaoui, sitting in the shadow of the basilica. His proof that he need not worry about the virus: the butcher down the road and the man selling cigarettes nearby. They were there at the beginning of March “and they’re still here. … Me, I’m still here,” he said.

Is there a chance the vaccine could turn the tide on the inequality reflected in death statistics for the region?

“Before the vaccine becomes a great equalizer, everyone must be vaccinated,” said Patrick Simon, who co-authored a study last June on the vulnerability of minorities in Seine-Saint-Denis to COVID-19. But he said the challenges for marginalized communities to access health care continues, “so these inequalities will also be reproduced for the vaccine.”

While the French health care system is meant to provide accessible medical treatment for all, the bureaucratic demands and co-payments often scare away new immigrants or the very poor. Government health guidance doesn’t always reach those outside the system.

As a nurse at a municipal health center, Dridi sees up front the poverty that translates into vulnerability to the coronavirus.

“I’m giving an injection, a shot, putting on a bandage … and some say, ‘I live in a car, I’m in the street,’” she said.

That misery was not apparent at the vaccination center where Dridi’s mother got her shot — among 17 opened across the region last week and where Saint-Denis’ more fortunate, who live in private homes, were seen on a recent visit. Some made their way into the center on canes or held by an arm. One couple showed up on a scooter. All were eager to be vaccinated.

They were among the lucky ones. Appointments were cut back after allotments of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were diminished, like elsewhere in France and Europe.

“I’m lucky to get vaccinated today,” said one woman, who then broke down in tears. She was infected with COVID-19 during treatment at a private clinic in April and lost her mother in October to the virus after she contracted it in a hospital where she was treated after a fall.

The woman, who declined to give her name, told Dridi and her sister to take care of their mother because “she is your treasure.”

For Dridi, seeing people die of COVID-19 can be a game changer.

“Some people say no (to getting vaccinated) because they have no contact with death,” said Dridi. But death, “that’s what makes you react.”

Pandemic’s deadliest month in US ends with signs of progress

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and MICHELLE SMITH for the Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The deadliest month yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are plummeting, while vaccinations are picking up speed.

The question is whether the nation can stay ahead of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus.

FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2021, file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The deadliest month of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending downward, while vaccinations are picking up speed. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 440,000, with over 95,000 lives lost in January alone. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.

But as the calendar turned to February on Monday, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months. New cases of infection are averaging about 148,000 day, falling from almost a quarter-million in mid-January. And cases are trending downward in all 50 states.

“While the recent decline in cases and hospital admissions are encouraging, they are counterbalanced by the stark reality that in January we recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in any month since the pandemic began,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths do not move in perfect lockstep up or down with the infection curve. They are a lagging indicator, because it can take a few weeks for people to get sick and die from COVID-19.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, an epidemiologist at Boston College, said vaccines are a factor in the sharp drop in cases but are not the primary cause. Instead, he said, the crisis has become increasingly “depoliticized” in recent weeks as more people come to grips with the threat and how they can help slow the spread of the virus.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of this culture change. I think it’s critically important,” he said.

After a slow start, the vaccination drive that began in mid-December is picking up the pace. More than 32.2 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to the CDC. That is up from 16.5 million on the day President Joe Biden took office, Jan. 20.

The number of shots dispensed in the week and a half since Biden’s inauguration has been running at around 1.3 million per day on average, well over the president’s oft-stated goal of 1 million per day. More than 5.9 million Americans have received the required two doses, the CDC said.

However, the CDC reported Monday that many nursing home workers are not getting their shots when doses are first offered.

Researchers looked at more than 11,000 nursing homes and other such facilities that had at least one vaccination clinic between mid-December and mid-January. While 78% of residents got at least one shot, only 37.5% of staff members did. Surveys suggest some nursing home workers are skeptical of the shots’ effectiveness and don’t think viruses spread easily from them to the people they care for.

Three mutated variants of the virus from Britain, South Africa and Brazil have been detected in the U.S. The British one spreads more easily and is believed to be deadlier, but the South Africa one is prompting even more concern because of early indications that vaccines may not be as protective against it.

The more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to mutate.

Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as shots become available to them, and stressed it’s no time to relax basic precautions such as wearing masks.

Meanwhile, a snowstorm Monday forced the closing of many vaccination sites in the Northeast, including in New York City and Connecticut.

And a plan to reopen Chicago schools to roughly 62,000 students for the first time since March remained in doubt. Last-minute negotiations over COVID-19 safety measures with the teachers’ union stalled, increasing the possibility of a strike or lockout if educators do not show up for work.

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Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Marilynn Marchione, Sophia Tareen, Bill Kole and Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.

Military stages coup in Myanmar, detains Aung San Suu Kyi

For the Associated Press

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military staged a coup Monday and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — a sharp reversal of the significant, if uneven, progress toward democracy the Southeast Asian nation has made following five decades of military rule.

FILE – In this May 6, 2016, file photo, Aung San Suu Kyi, left, Myanmar’s foreign minister, walks with senior General Min Aung Hlaing, right, Myanmar military’s commander-in-chief, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Myanmar military television said Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 that the military was taking control of the country for one year, while reports said many of the country’s senior politicians including Suu Kyi had been detained. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. It said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The takeover came the morning the country’s new parliamentary session was to begin and follows days of concern that a coup was coming. The military maintains its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi’s party spokesman as well as many international observers have said it amounts to a coup.

It was a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It was also a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her National League for Democracy won elections in 2015.

While Suu Kyi had been a fierce antagonist of the army while under house arrest, since her release and return to politics, she has had to work with the country’s generals, who never fully gave up power. While the 75-year-old has remained wildly popular at home, Suu Kyi’s deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the United States and others have labeled genocide — has left her reputation internationally in tatters.

For some, Monday’s takeover was seen as confirmation that the military holds ultimate power despite the veneer of democracy. New York-based Human Rights Watch has previously described the clause in the constitution that the military invoked as a “coup mechanism in waiting.”

The embarrassingly poor showing of the military-backed party in the November vote may have been the spark.

Larry Jagan, an independent analyst, said the takeover was just a “pretext for the military to reassert their full influence over the political infrastructure of the country and to determine the future, at least in the short term,” adding that the generals do not want Suu Kyi to be a part of that future.

The coup now presents a test for the international community, which had ostracized Myanmar while it was under military rule and then enthusiastically embraced Suu Kyi’s government as a sign the country was finally on the path to democracy. There will likely be calls for a reintroduction of at least some of the sanctions the country had long faced.

The first signs that the military was planning to seize power were reports that Suu Kyi and Win Myint, the country’s president, had been detained before dawn.

Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s party, told the online news service The Irrawaddy that in addition to Suu Kyi and the president, members of the party’s Central Executive Committee, many of its lawmakers and other senior leaders had also been taken into custody.

Television signals were cut across the country, as was phone and internet access in Naypyitaw, the capital, while passenger flights were grounded. Phone service in other parts of the country was also reported down, though people were still able to use the internet in many areas.

As word of the military’s actions spread in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, there was a growing sense of unease among residents who earlier in the day had packed into tea shops for breakfast and went about their morning shopping.

By midday, people were removing the bright red flags of Suu Kyi’s party that once adorned their homes and businesses. Lines formed at ATMs as people waited to take out cash, efforts that were being complicated by internet disruptions. Workers at some businesses decided to go home.

Suu Kyi’s party released a statement on one of its Facebook pages saying the military’s actions were unjustified and went against the constitution and the will of voters. The statement urged people to oppose Monday’s “coup” and any return to “military dictatorship.” It was not possible to confirm who posted the message as party members were not answering phone calls.

The military’s actions also received international condemnation and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed “grave concern and alarm” over the reported detentions.

“We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections,” he wrote in a statement, using Myanmar’s former name.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the developments a “serious blow to democratic reforms,” according to his spokesman.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights said in a statement that, in addition to politicians, the people detained included human rights defenders, journalists and activists.

In addition to announcing that the commander in chief would be charge, the military TV report said Vice President Myint Swe would be elevated to acting president. Myint Swe is a former general best known for leading a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007. He is a close ally of Than Shwe, the junta leader who ruled Myanmar for nearly two decades.

In a later announcement, the military said an election would be held in a year and the military would hand power to the winner.

The military justified its move by citing a clause in the 2008 constitution, implemented during military rule, that says in cases of national emergency, the government’s executive, legislative and judicial powers can be handed to the military commander-in-chief.

It is just one of many parts of the charter that ensured the military could maintain ultimate control over the country. The military is allowed to appoint its members to 25% of seats in Parliament and it controls of several key ministries involved in security and defense.

In November polls, Suu Kyi’s party captured 396 out of 476 seats up for actual election in the lower and upper houses of Parliament.

The military has charged that there was massive fraud in the election — particularly with regard to voter lists — though it has not offered any convincing evidence. The state Union Election Commission last week rejected its allegations.

Concerns of a takeover grew last week when a military spokesman declined to rule out the possibility of a coup when asked by a reporter to do so at a news conference on Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday, the military chief told senior officers in a speech that the constitution could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced. An unusual deployment of armored vehicles in the streets of several large cities also stoked fears.

On Saturday and Sunday, however, the military denied it had threatened a coup, accusing unnamed organizations and media of misrepresenting its position.

More protests called in Moscow to demand Navalny’s release

By DARIA LITVINOVA for the Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow braced for more protests seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing Tuesday after two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests in the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years.

Riot police block an area protecting against demonstrators during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. Thousands of people took to the streets Sunday across Russia to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, keeping up the wave of nationwide protests that have rattled the Kremlin. Hundreds were detained by police. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the vast country Sunday, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny, who was jailed last month and faces years in prison. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about $265 for participating in an unauthorized rally.

While state-run media dismissed the demonstrations as small and claimed that they showed the failure of the opposition, Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. His allies called for protesters to come to the Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

“Without your help, we won’t be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities,” his politician’s team said in a social media post.

Mass protests engulfed dozens of Russian cities for the second weekend in a row despite efforts by authorities to stifle the unrest triggered by the jailing of 44-year-old Navalny.

He was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities reject the accusation. He faces a prison term for alleged probation violations from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Last month, Russia’s prison service filed a motion to replace his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the conviction with one he must serve. The Prosecutor General’s office backed the motion Monday, alleging Navalny engaged in “unlawful conduct” during the probation period.

After his arrest, Navalny’s team released a two-hour YouTube video alleging that an opulent Black Sea residence was built for Putin. The video has been viewed over 100 million times, further stoking Russians’ discontent amid an economic downturn. The Kremlin says Putin is not connected to the residence, and the president addressed the allegations himself last week, saying neither he nor his relatives owned any of the properties mentioned in the video.

The rallies following Navalny’s arrest appear to have rattled the Kremlin. To try to quell the protests, the authorities have jailed Navalny’s associates and activists across the country. His brother Oleg, top ally Lyubov Sobol and three others were put under house arrest for two months and face criminal charges of violating coronavirus restrictions.

On Tuesday, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh was also put under house for two months in connection with the same charge. Yarmysh was ordered to serve nine days in jail last month for violating protest regulations. She was supposed to be released on Saturday, but was arrested again.

At least 40 criminal investigations have been opened in 18 Russian regions in connection with the protests, said Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights organization Agora.

Police cracked down hard on the demonstrators Sunday, detaining over 5,400 of them, according to OVD-Info, a legal aid group that monitors arrests at protests. The group said that was the biggest number in its nine-year history of keeping records in the Putin era.

At least 51 protesters were beaten by police while being detained, OVD-Info said. Videos of the protests showed riot police striking people with truncheons and throwing them to the ground. Media reported some police used stun guns on protesters.

When asked about the mass detentions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the protests were “unlawful” and charged that “there was a fairly large number of hooligans, provocateurs with more or less aggressive behavior toward law enforcement officers.”

“In response to provocations, the police act harshly and within the law,” Peskov said.

State media also highlighted “aggressive actions” by protesters in their coverage, which said the rallies Sunday drew far fewer people than the previous one on Jan. 23. Many reports underscored “polite” actions by police officers, and state TV channel Russia 1 even showed video statements of people thanking law enforcement officers in connection with the rallies.

The jailing of Navalny and the crackdown on protests prompted international outrage, with Western officials calling for his release and condemning the arrests of demonstrators.

The German government urged the immediate release of the arrested protesters, as well as Navalny. It “condemns the use of force by Russian security forces and the once again disproportionate action against peacefully demonstrating citizens,” government spokeswoman Martina Fietz said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that Washington “condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight.” He also urged the release of Navalny and those detained “for exercising their human rights.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected Blinken’s call as “crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs” and accused Washington of trying to destabilize the situation by backing the protests.

Major storm hits Northeast, more than foot of snow forecast

For the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Instead of closing schools and giving students snow days, the latest winter storm is shutting down vaccination sites and snarling other pandemic-related services in many states that could see as much as a foot of snow by Monday evening.

Pedestrians make their way through heavy snow and wind in Hoboken, N.J., Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Lara Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a nor’easter developing off the mid-Atlantic coast will be a “pretty slow mover” as it brings heavy snow and strong winds through Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a prolonged event,” Pagano said.

As of Monday morning, some areas had already gotten 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 centimeters) of snow, with 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) in parts of Pennsylvania, she said. In parts of New Jersey, 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) already was reported as of Monday morning.

In-person learning was canceled in school districts across the Northeast on Monday, and many COVID-19 vaccination sites were closed. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on MSNBC Monday morning that he hoped city-run vaccination sites could reopen on Tuesday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on Sunday and closed all state government offices for nonessential personnel.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at the region’s major airports on Monday. Transportation officials said on Twitter that 81% of flights were canceled at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and 75% at Newark Liberty Airport.

Amtrak canceled all Acela service between Boston and Washington and Pennsylvanian service between New York and Pittsburgh. Amtrak’s Northeast Regional, Keystone Service and Empire Service were operating on limited or modified schedules.

All New Jersey Transit trains and buses were suspended, except for the Atlantic City Rail Line. New York Waterway ferries were suspended.

In recent days, a storm system blanketed parts of the Midwest, with some areas getting the most snow in several years. Ohio, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia also received snow.

Snow and cold in Washington led President Joe Biden to postpone a visit to the State Department that had been planned for Monday. A White House official said Sunday night that the visit would be rescheduled for later in the week when the agency’s staff and diplomats could more safely commute to attend.

Fire at Romanian hospital treating virus patients kills 5

By VADIM GHIRDA for the Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A fire early Friday at a key hospital in Bucharest that also treats COVID-19 patients killed at least five people, authorities said.

The fire broke out around 5a.m. (0300GMT) on the ground floor of the hospital and forced the evacuation of more than 100 people. Some hospital staff could be seen later still wearing protective suits and face masks after rushing out.

A fire engine is parked a hospital after a fire broke out on the ground floor Friday Jan. 29, 2021. Authorities in Romania say the fire at the key hospital in Bucharest that also treats COVID-19 patients has caused less than 5 fatalities and forced the evacuation of the building that houses 100 people. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

An unspecified number of people were injured before firefighters put out the blaze, Romanian emergency services said in a preliminary report. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire.

This is the third such incident in the past several months. A fire at a COVID-19 intensive care unit in north Romania last November killed 10 people and another one at a psychiatric hospital in the same region the next month killed one more person.

“We found open flame at the ground floor of the building. … There was a lot of smoke, and there was a chance the fire would spread to the second floor,” said Orlando Schiopu, the commander of the intervention unit at the scene.

Read Arafat, the emergency department chief, said the four victims were all hospital patients. Three of them were already dead when found while rescuers tried to resuscitate the fourth victim but could not, he said.

Authorities later said the body of one more victim has been found in hospital bathroom.

Hours later, charred balconies could be seen at the Matei Bals hospital, where health authorities organized the start of the anti-virus vaccination in Romania. Ambulances and firefighting vehicles could be seen parked outside the hospital.

The Balkan country of some 19 million people so far has reported more than 700,000 COVID-19 cases and 18,000 deaths.

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Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Andreea Alexandru in Bucharest contributed to this report.

Dubai blamed for virus cases abroad; questions swirl at home

By JON GAMBREL for the Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After opening itself to New Year’s revelers, Dubai is now being blamed by several countries for spreading the coronavirus abroad, even as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle reported record spikes in virus cases.

FILE – In this April 15, 2020 file photo, a motorcycle delivery man rides past a billboard urging people to stay home over the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After opening itself for New Year’s revelers, Dubai now find itself blamed by countries for spreading the coronavirus abroad. That’s as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle reported cases spiking to record levels. Countries including Denmark, Israel, the Philippines and the United Kingdom link cases back to Dubai. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)

The government’s Dubai Media Office says the sheikhdom is doing all it can to handle the pandemic, though it has repeatedly declined to answer questions from The Associated Press about its hospital capacity.

“After a year of managing the pandemic, we can confidently say the current situation is under control and we have our plans to surge any capacity in the health care system should a need rise,” it said.

However, Nasser al-Shaikh, Dubai’s former finance chief, offered a different assessment Thursday on Twitter and asked authorities to take control of a spiraling caseload.

“The leadership bases its decisions on recommendations from the team, the wrong recommendations which put human souls in danger and negatively affect our society,” he wrote, adding that “our economy requires accountability.”

Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business. The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.

As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.

But then came New Year’s Eve — a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts. For the last 17 days, the United Arab Emirates as a whole has reported record daily coronavirus case numbers as lines at Dubai testing facilities grow.

In Israel, more than 900 travelers returning from Dubai have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the military, which conducts contact tracing. The returnees created a chain of infections numbering more than 4,000 people, the Israeli military told the AP.

Tens of thousands of Israelis had flocked to the UAE since the two countries normalized relations in September. Israeli Health Ministry expert Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis was quoted by Channel 13 TV as complaining in a call with other officials that a few weeks of travel had been more deadly than decades of no relations with the Arab nation.

Since late December, Israel has required those coming from the UAE to go into a two-week quarantine. Israel later shut down its main international airport through the end of the month over rising cases.

In the United Kingdom, tabloids have splashed shots of bikini-clad British influencers partying in Dubai while the country struggled through lockdowns trying to control the virus. Britain in mid-January closed a travel corridor to Dubai that had allowed travelers to skip quarantine over what was described as a significant acceleration in the number of imported cases from the UAE.

“International travel, right now, should not be happening unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC this week. “No parties in Paris or weekends in Dubai. That is not on and in most cases, it’s against the law.”

Meanwhile, mutated strains of the coronavirus have been linked back to Dubai. The U.K. instituted a travel ban Friday barring direct flights to the UAE over the spread of a South African variant of the coronavirus.

Denmark already discovered one traveler coming from Dubai who tested positive for the South African variant, the first such discovery there. Like Britain, Danish celebrities similarly traveled to Dubai for the New Year.

In the Philippines, health authorities say they discovered a British strain infecting a Filipino who made a business trip to Dubai on Dec. 27. He returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 and tested positive.

He “had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai,” the Philippines Department of Health said. In the time since, Filipino authorities have discovered at least 16 other cases of the British variant, including two coming from Lebanon.

As daily reported coronavirus cases near 4,000, Dubai has fired the head of its government health agency without explanation. It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted nonessential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out. It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport.

The UAE had pinned its hopes on mass vaccinations, with Abu Dhabi distributing a Chinese vaccine by Sinopharm and Dubai offering Pfizer-BioNTech’s inoculation. The UAE says it has given 2.8 million doses so far, ranking it among the top countries in the world.

However, people including al-Shaikh now question Dubai’s capacity to handle the increasing cases. Hospitals contacted by the AP largely referred questions back to Dubai’s government, which repeatedly declined to comment. Dubai’s Saudi German Hospital responded saying it was “hoping to read the real news,” without elaborating.

Dr. Santosh Kumar Sharma, the medical director of Dubai’s NMC Royal Hospital, told the AP “the number of cases (is) ever rising,” with over half its beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

The World Health Organization said that before the pandemic, the UAE had nearly 13,250 hospital beds for a country of over 9 million people. It said Dubai and the UAE’s northern emirates built field hospitals amid the pandemic with some 5,000 beds, with Abu Dhabi building more.

But Dubai closed its 3,000-bed field hospital in July — the same day it reopened for tourism. Both Dubai and the UAE’s Health Ministry now advertise for nurses on Instagram.

“The sad thing is that great efforts have been made since January 2020 for us to come and undermine them with our own hands,” al-Shaikh wrote. “What makes things worse is the lack of transparency.”

Yet that came after the UAE’s autocratic government told those worried earlier this week to “refrain from questioning the efforts of all those who have worked to contain this pandemic.”

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Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Virus variant from South Africa detected in US for 1st time

By MICHELLE LIU and MIKE STOBBE for the Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A new variant of the coronavirus emerged Thursday in the United States, posing yet another public health challenge in a country already losing more than 3,000 people to COVID-19 every day.

The mutated version of the virus, first identified in South Africa, was found in two cases in South Carolina. Public health officials said it’s almost certain that there are more infections that have not been identified yet. They are also concerned that this version spreads more easily and that vaccines could be less effective against it.

The two cases were discovered in adults in different regions of the state and do not appear to be connected. Neither of the people infected has traveled recently, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said Thursday.

“That’s frightening,” because it means there could be more undetected cases within the state, said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “It’s probably more widespread.”

The arrival of the variant shows that “the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, South Carolina’s interim public health director, said in a statement. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”

Viruses constantly mutate, and coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of three that researchers believe may spread more easily. Other variants first reported in the United Kingdom and Brazil were previously confirmed in the U.S.

As the variants bring a potential for greater infection risks in the U.S., pandemic-weary lawmakers in several states are pushing back against mask mandates, business closures and other protective restrictions ordered by governors.

States including Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky and Indiana are weighing proposals to limit their governors’ abilities to impose emergency restrictions. Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Assembly had been expected to vote to repeal Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate, but lawmakers abruptly called off the vote Thursday in the face of broad criticism and out of concern it would jeopardize more than $49 million in federal aid. Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to strip the governor of many of his emergency powers.

Governors argue that they need authority to act swiftly in a crisis, and limitations could slow critical emergency responses.

Meanwhile, Nebraska health officials said the state could be days away from lifting restrictions on indoor gatherings, citing a low percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Other states seeing declining infections are also loosening limitations on restaurants and other businesses, though experts have warned the public to stay vigilant about masks and social distancing or risk further surges.

In South Carolina, the state health agency said the variant was found in one person from the state’s coastal region and another in its northeastern corner. The state gave little other information, citing privacy concerns, though Traxler said neither of the people was contagious any longer.

“Both were tested very early in the month, and my understanding is that both are doing well,” Traxler said.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, loosened most of the state’s remaining pandemic restrictions in the fall. Spokesman Brian Symmes said McMaster does not plan to order new restrictions based on the discovery of the variant.

“This is important information for South Carolinians to have,” McMaster said in a tweet, “but it isn’t a reason for panic.”

Scientists last week reported preliminary signs that some of the recent mutations may modestly curb the effectiveness of two vaccines, although they stressed that the shots still protect against the disease. There are also signs that some of the new mutations may undermine tests for the virus and reduce the effectiveness of certain treatments.

The coronavirus has already sickened millions and killed roughly 430,000 people in the United States.

While the rollout of vaccines has been slow, President Joe Biden has pledged to deliver 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office — and suggested it’s possible the U.S. could reach 1.5 million shots a day.

While some European countries do extensive genetic testing to detect these variants, the U.S. has done little of this detective work. But scientists have been been quickly trying to do more, which has revealed the more contagious variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported at least 315 cases of the U.K.-discovered variant in the United States. Those reports have come from at least 28 states, and health officials believe it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. That variant has been reported in at least 70 countries.

The first U.S. case of the variant found in Brazil was announced earlier this week by health officials in Minnesota. It was a person who recently traveled to that South American nation. That version of the virus has popped up in more than a half-dozen countries.

The variant first found in South Africa was detected in October. Since then, it has been found in at least 30 other countries.

Some tests suggest the South African and Brazilian variants may be less susceptible to antibody drugs or antibody-rich blood from COVID-19 survivors, both of which help people fight off the virus.

Health officials also worry that if the virus changes enough, people might get COVID-19 a second time.

Biden on Monday reinstated COVID-19 travel restrictions on most non-U.S. travelers from Brazil, the U.K. and South Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans avoid travel.

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Stobbe reported from New York.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Health workers stuck in snow give other drivers vaccine

For the Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Oregon health workers who got stuck in a snowstorm on their way back from a COVID-19 vaccination event went car to car injecting stranded drivers before several of the doses expired.

Josephine County Public Health said on Facebook that the “impromptu vaccine clinic” took place after about 20 employees were stopped in traffic on a highway after a vaccination clinic.

Six of the vaccines were getting close to expiring so the workers decided to offer them to other stranded drivers.

The shots were meant for other people, but “the snow meant those doses wouldn’t make it to them before they expired,” the health department said.

Not wanting to waste them, staff walked from vehicle to vehicle, offering people a chance to receive the vaccine. A county ambulance was on hand for safety.

All the doses were administered, including one to a Josephine County Sheriff’s Office employee who had arrived too late for the vaccination clinic but ended up stopped with the others, officials said.

Josephine County Public Health Director Mike Weber said it was one of the “coolest operations he’d been a part of.”

Unrest grows in crisis-hit Lebanon amid coronavirus lockdown

By FADI TAWIL and ZEINA KARAM for the Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) — Lebanese security forces fired volleys of tear gas at rock-throwing youth in the northern city of Tripoli on Thursday amid outrage over the death of a 30-year-old protester after violent confrontations with security forces the previous day.

A protester covers himself from flames during a protest against deteriorating living conditions and strict coronavirus lockdown measures, in Tripoli, north Lebanon, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Violent confrontations overnight between protesters and security forces in northern Lebanon left a 30-year-old man dead and more than 220 people injured, the state news agency said Thursday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The scope of the protests in Tripoli, now in their fourth day, appeared to be widening even as the nation grapples with both the pandemic and the worst economic crisis in Lebanon’s history.

The protests resumed Thursday, shortly after Omar Taibi, who was shot by security forces on Wednesday night, was laid to rest. More than 220 others were injured in the clashes as frustrations boiled over amid deteriorating living conditions and strict coronavirus lockdown measures.

The violence marks a serious escalation in demonstrations denouncing the extended shutdown that exacerbated already dire conditions amid the unprecedented economic and financial crisis. Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and the most impoverished, has been a center for demonstrations and rioting against Lebanon’s political class.

Dozens of young men have been taking part in the nightly protests, throwing rocks at security forces and in some cases torching vehicles. On Wednesday, protesters repeatedly tried to break into the municipal building. Some lobbed hand grenades at security forces, who responded with water cannons, volleys of tear gas and finally, live ammunition.

The National News Agency said 226 people were injured in the confrontations, including 26 policemen. Taibi, who was hit by a bullet, died of his wounds Thursday, it said.

Earlier on Thursday morning, security forces brought reinforcements and put up barbed wire around the municipal building, known as the Serail. Two torched cars stood nearby. Shops and cafes were open and traffic appeared normal on the streets in clear defiance of the government’s lockdown measures.

Maher Atiyeh, a 39-year-old cafeteria employee, stood looking at the wreckage of his torched car. He said as the rioting picked up Wednesday night, police called and asked him to come and remove his car, parked near the municipal building.

“I didn’t make it in time, they burned my car,” he said, wearing a red baseball cap and red mask.

Atiyeh said there’s real suffering in Tripoli, the poverty is real, but added he was against violence. “They should protest peacefully, not like this. The country is destroyed, people are hungry and such violence only hurts us more,” he said.

Dozens of mourners, most of them without masks, took part in the funeral of Taibi, whose body was carried in a coffin wrapped in green cloth. Gunfire rang out as some of the men fired into the air in a traditional expression of grief.

The government has imposed a nearly month-long nationwide lockdown and round-the-clock curfew that lasts until Feb. 8, amid a dramatic surge in coronavirus infections. The measures come on top of a crippling economic and financial crisis that preceded the pandemic in this small country of nearly 5 million people and over 1 million refugees.

The Lebanese currency has crashed, losing over 80% of its value. Banks have imposed controls on withdrawals and transfers to protect dwindling foreign reserves. Unemployment and inflation have skyrocketed and tens of thousands have been thrown into poverty. About half of the population is now below the poverty line.

While the protests are ostensibly against the lockdown measures, they reflect the growing anger over authorities’ inaction and negligence in the face of Lebanon’s meltdown. The cash-strapped government has done very little to compensate or help the poorest sectors of society cope with the lockdown measures.

“We are not allowed to work. We stay at home, we beg to get bread,” said Rabie Alkheir, a taxi driver. The 55-year-old said if he misses a day of work he misses providing a proper meal for his family.

“Our lawmakers are not taking care of us, we are dying,” he added.

Meanwhile, a power struggle is taking place between the president and prime minister-designate. Fighting over Cabinet seats has blocked the formation of a new government, which is crucial to enacting reforms that would unlock foreign financial assistance. The government resigned in August, following the massive explosion at Beirut port that killed over 200 people and wounded thousands.

The troubles have piled up since, including the recent surge in coronavirus cases largely blamed on a decision to relax lockdown measures during the holidays. Some 80,000 expatriates traveled to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Years with family and friends.

Jan Kubis, the U.N.’s special coordinator for Lebanon, said the violence in Tripoli is yet another message to the political elites to form an effective government without further delay.

“People cannot tolerate anymore this free-fall to abyss,” he tweeted.

Hospitals in Lebanon are now overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, reporting near full occupancy in intensive care-unit beds. Oxygen, ventilators and medicine are in short supply. Nearly 290,000 infections have been recorded since last February and 2,553 deaths amid record-breaking COVID-19 daily fatalities.

Lebanon’s ruling class has faced rising popular anger since protesters took to the streets in October 2019 in the largest-ever nationwide protests in the country. Demonstrators accused them of mismanaging and robbing the country of its resources and driving it into poverty. The protests later died down, in part because of the pandemic but also because the political class held on to power and divisions emerged among the demonstrators.

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Karam reported from Beirut.

Oregon puts debate over race in vaccine rollout to test

By GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The role that race should play in deciding who gets priority for the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the rollout is being put to the test in Oregon as tensions around equity and access to the shots emerge nationwide.

In this photo provided by Oregon Health & Science University, Oliver Pelayo, an OHSU registered nurse, prepares vaccine doses during a drive-thru clinic held in a parking lot at the Portland International Airport in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 24, 2021. An advisory committee in Oregon that provides recommendations to the governor and public health authorities about which groups to prioritize next for the COVID-19 vaccine is tackling what role race should play in those decisions as tensions around urgent questions of equity and vaccine access bubble up nationwide. (Erik Robinson/Oregon Health & Science University via AP)

An advisory committee that provides recommendations to Oregon’s governor and public health authorities will vote Thursday on whether to prioritize people of color, target those with chronic medical conditions or focus on some combination of groups at higher risk from the coronavirus. Others, such as essential workers, refugees, inmates and people under 65 living in group settings, are also being considered.

The 27-member committee in Oregon, a Democratic-led state that’s overwhelmingly white, was formed with the goal of keeping fairness at the heart of its vaccine rollout. Its members were selected to include racial minorities and ethnic groups, from Somalian refugees to Pacific Islanders to tribes. The committee’s recommendations are not binding but provide critical input for Gov. Kate Brown and guide health authorities crafting the rollout.

“It’s about revealing the structural racism that remains hidden. It influences the disparities we experienced before the pandemic and exacerbated the disparities we experienced during the pandemic,” said Kelly Gonzales, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a health disparity expert on the committee.

The virus has disproportionately affected people of color. Last week, the Biden administration reemphasized the importance of including “social vulnerability” in state vaccination plans — with race, ethnicity and the rural-urban divide at the forefront — and asked states to identify “pharmacy deserts” where getting shots into arms will be difficult.

Overall, 18 states included ways to measure equity in their original vaccine distribution plans last fall — and more have likely done so since the shots started arriving, said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied vaccine fairness extensively.

Some, such as Tennessee, proposed reserving 5% of its allocation for “high-disadvantage areas,” while states like Ohio plan to use social vulnerability factors to decide where to distribute vaccine, he said. California has developed its own metrics for assessing a community’s level of need, and Oregon is doing the same.

“We’ve been telling a fairly simple story: ‘Vaccines are here.’ Now we have to tell a more complicated story,” said Nancy Berlinger, who studies bioethics at The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan and independent research institute in Garrison, New York. “We have to think about all the different overlapping areas of risk, rather than just the group we belong to and our personal network.”

Attempts to address inequities in vaccine access have already prompted backlashes in some places. Dallas authorities recently reversed a decision to prioritize the most vulnerable ZIP codes — primarily communities of color — after Texas threatened to reduce the city’s vaccine supply. That kind of pushback is likely to become more pronounced as states move deeper into the rollout and wrestle with difficult questions about need and short supply.

To avoid legal challenges, almost all states looking at race and ethnicity in their vaccine plans are turning to a tool called a “social vulnerability index” or a “disadvantage index.” Such an index includes more than a dozen data points — everything from income to education level to health outcomes to car ownership — to target disadvantaged populations without specifically citing race or ethnicity.

By doing so, the index includes many minority groups because of the impact of generations of systemic racism while also scooping up socioeconomically disadvantaged people who are not people of color and avoiding “very, very difficult and toxic questions” on race, Schmidt said.

“The point is not, ‘We want to make sure that the Obama family gets the vaccine before the Clinton family.’ We don’t care. They can both safely wait,” he said. “We do care that the person who works in a meatpacking plant in a crowded living situation does get it first. It’s not about race, it’s about race and disadvantage.”

In Oregon, health leaders are working on a social vulnerability index, including looking at U.S. census data and then layering on things like occupational status and income levels, said Rachael Banks, public health division director at the Oregon Health Authority.

That approach “gets beyond an individual perspective and to more of a community perspective” and is better than asking a person to prove “how they fit into any demographic,” she said.

The committee’s recommendations also will undergo a legal analysis, Banks said.

That makes sense to Roberto Orellana, a social work professor at Portland State University who launched a program to train his students to do contact tracing in Hispanic communities. Data shows that Hispanic people have roughly a 300% higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than their white counterparts in Oregon.

Orellana hopes his students, who are interning at state agencies and organizations, can put their knowledge to use both in contact tracing and in advocating for vaccines in migrant and farmworker communities. Vaccinating essential workers, prisoners and those in multigenerational households will reach people of color and put them at the heart of the vaccine plan, he said.

“I don’t want to take away from any other group. It’s a hard, hard question, and every group has valid needs and valid concerns. We shouldn’t be going through this,” Orellana said. “We should have vaccines for everybody — but we’re not there.”

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Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps member Sara Cline contributed to this report. Follow Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus.

US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

By JONATHAN DREW and ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

Answering growing frustration over vaccine shortages, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. is ramping up deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Biden, calling the push a “wartime effort,” said the administration was working to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. He acknowledged that states in recent weeks have been left guessing how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next.

Shortages have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

“This is unacceptable,” Biden said. “Lives are at stake.”

He promised a roughly 16% boost in deliveries to states over the next three weeks.

The administration said it plans to buy another 100 million doses each from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna to ensure it has enough vaccine for the long term. Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the government plans to make about 10.1 million first and second doses available next week, up from this week’s allotment of 8.6 million. The figures represent doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It was not immediately clear how long the surge of doses could be sustained.

Governors and top health officials have been increasingly raising the alarm about inadequate supplies and the need for earlier and more reliable estimates of how much vaccine is on the way so that they can plan.

Biden’s team held its first virus-related call with the nation’s governors on Tuesday and pledged to provide states with firm vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of delivery.

Biden’s announcement came a day after he grew more bullish about exceeding his vaccine pledge to deliver 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office, suggesting that a rate of 1.5 million doses per day could soon be achieved.

The administration has also promised more openness and said it will hold news briefings three times a week, beginning Wednesday, about the outbreak that has killed over 420,000 Americans.

“We appreciate the administration stating that it will provide states with slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

The setup inherited from the Trump administration has been marked by miscommunication and unexplained bottlenecks, with shortages reported in some places even as vaccine doses remain on the shelf.

Officials in West Virginia, which has had one of the best rates of administering vaccine, said they have fewer than 11,000 first doses on hand even after this week’s shipment.

“I’m screaming my head off” for more, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said.

California, which has faced criticism over a slow vaccine rollout, announced Tuesday that it is centralizing its hodgepodge of county systems and streamlining appointment sign-up, notification and eligibility. Residents have been baffled by the varying rules in different counties.

And in Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said that the limited supply of vaccine from the federal government is prompting the state to repurpose second doses as first doses, though he expects that people scheduled for their second shot will still be able to keep their appointments.

The weekly allocation cycle for first doses begins on Monday nights, when federal officials review data on vaccine availability from manufacturers to determine how much each state can have. Allocations are based on each jurisdiction’s population of people 18 and older.

States are notified on Tuesdays of their allocations through a computer network called Tiberius and other channels, after which they can specify where they want doses shipped. Deliveries start the following Monday.

A similar but separate process for ordering second doses, which must be given three to four weeks after the first, begins each week on Sunday night.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states have been put in people’s arms. That is well short of the hundreds of millions of doses that experts say will need to be administered to achieve herd immunity and conquer the outbreak.

The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind No. 1 Israel, United Arab Emirates, Britain and Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford.

The reason more of the available shots in the U.S. haven’t been dispensed isn’t entirely clear. But many vaccination sites are apparently holding large quantities of vaccine in reserve to make sure people who have already gotten their first shot receive the required second one on schedule.

Also, some state officials have complained of a lag between when they report their vaccination numbers to the government and when the figures are posted on the CDC website.

In the New Orleans area, Ochsner Health said Monday that inadequate supply forced the cancellation last week of 21,400 first-dose appointments but that second-dose appointments aren’t affected.

In North Carolina, Greensboro-based Cone Health announced it is canceling first-dose appointments for 10,000 people and moving them to a waiting list because of supply problems.

Jesse Williams, 81, of Reidsville, North Carolina, said his appointment Thursday with Cone Health was scratched, and he is waiting to hear when it might be rescheduled. The former volunteer firefighter had hoped the vaccine would enable him to resume attending church, playing golf and seeing friends.

“It’s just a frustration that we were expecting to be having our shots and being a little more resilient to COVID-19,” he said.

The vaccine rollout across the 27-nation European Union has also run into roadblocks and has likewise been criticized as too slow. Pfizer is delaying deliveries while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca disclosed that its initial shipment will be smaller than expected.

The EU, with 450 million citizens, is demanding that the pharmaceutical companies meet their commitments on schedule.

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Associated Press writers around the U.S. contributed to this report.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Racial profiling by French police challenged in class action

By ELAINE GANLEY for the Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — In a first for France, six nongovernmental organizations launched a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the French government for alleged systemic discrimination by police officers carrying out identity checks.

Omer Mas Capitolin poses in Paris, Tuesday Jan.26, 2021. In a first for France, six nongovernmental organizations launched a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the French government for alleged systemic discrimination by police officers carrying out identity checks. Omer Mas Capitolin, the head of Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots NGO taking part in the legal action, called it a “mechanical reflex” for French police to stop non-whites, a practice he said is damaging to the person being checked and ultimately to relations between officers and the members of the public they are expected to protect. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, contend that French police use racial profiling in ID checks, targeting Black people and people of Arab descent.

They served Prime Minister Jean Castex and France’s interior and justice ministers with formal legal notice of demands for concrete steps and deep law enforcement reforms to ensure that racial profiling does not determine who gets stopped by police.

The lead lawyer in the case, Antoine Lyon-Caen, said that the legal action is not targeting individual police officers but “the system itself that generates, by its rules, habits, culture, a discriminatory practice.”

“Since the shortcomings of the state (concern) a systemic practice, the response, the reactions, the remedies, the measures must be systemic,” Lyon-Caen said at a news conference with NGOs taking action. They include the Open Society Justice Initiative and three French grassroots groups.

The issue of racial profiling by French police has festered for years, including but not only the practice of officers performing identity checks on young people who are often Black or of Arab descent and live in impoverished housing projects.

Serving notice is the obligatory first step in a two-stage lawsuit process. The law gives French authorities four months to talk with the NGOs about how they can meet the demands. If the parties behind the lawsuit are left unsatisfied, the case will go to court, according to one of the lawyers, Slim Ben Achour.

It’s the first class-action discrimination lawsuit based on color or supposed ethnic origins in France. The NGO’s are employing a little-used 2016 French law that allows associations to take such a legal move.

“It’s revolutionary, because we’re going to speak for hundreds of thousands, even a million people.” Ben Achour told The Associated Press in a phone interview. The NGOs are pursuing the class action on behalf of racial minorities who are mostly second- or third-generation French citizens.

“The group is brown and Black,” Ben Achour said.

The four-month period for reaching a settlement could be prolonged if the talks are making progress, he said.

The abuse of identity checks has served for many in France as emblematic of broader alleged racism within police ranks, with critics claiming that misconduct has been left unchecked or whitewashed by authorities.

Video of a recent incident posted online drew a response from President Emmanuel Macron, who called racial profiling “unbearable.” Police representatives say officers themselves feel under attack when they show up in suburban housing projects. During a spate of confrontational incidents, officers became trapped and had fireworks and other objects thrown at them.

The NGOs are seeking reforms rather than monetary damages, especially changes in the law governing identity checks. They argue the law is too broad and allows for no police accountability because the actions of officers involved cannot be traced, while the stopped individuals are left humiliated and sometimes angry.

Among other demands, the organizations want an end to the longstanding practice of gauging police performance by numbers of tickets issued or arrests made, arguing that the benchmarks can encourage baseless identity checks.

The lawsuit features some 50 witnesses, both police officers and people subjected to abusive checks, whose accounts are excerpted in the 145-page letters of notice. The NGO’s cite one unnamed person who spoke of undergoing multiple police checks every day for years.

A police officer posted in a tough Paris suburb who is not connected with the case told the AP that he is often subjected to ID checks when in civilian clothes.

“When I’m not in uniform, I’m a person of color,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous in keeping with police rules and due to the sensitive nature of the topic. Police need a legal basis for their actions, “but 80% of the time they do checks (based on) heads” — meaning how a person looks.

Omer Mas Capitolin, the head of Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots NGO taking part in the legal action, called it a “mechanical reflex” for French police to stop non-whites, a practice he said is damaging to the person being checked and ultimately to relations between officers and the members of the public they are expected to protect.

“When you’re always checked, it lowers your self-esteem,” and you become a “second-class citizen,” Mas Capitolin said. The “victims are afraid to file complaints in this country even if they know what happened isn’t normal,” he said, because they fear fallout from neighborhood police.

He credited the case of George Floyd, the Black American whose died last year in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, with raising consciences and becoming a catalyst for change in France.

“These are practices that impact the whole society,” said Issa Coulibaly, the head of Pazapas-Belleville, another organization taking part in the case. Like a downward spiral, profiling hurts youths’ “feeling of belonging” to the life of the nation and “reinforces prejudices of others to this population.”

NGOs made clear they are not accusing individual police of being racist.

“It’s so much in the culture. They don’t ever think there’s a problem,” said Ben Achour, the lawyer.

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States lift restrictions gradually amid fears of new variant

By DAVID EGGERT and DON BABWIN for the Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Several states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of improved infection and hospitalization numbers but are moving gradually and cautiously, in part because of the more contagious variant taking hold in the U.S.

FILE – In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, Waitress Rikkie Schleben takes down lunch orders from Tabitha Kemble, right, and her father Ken Kemble for dine-in service at Woodchips BBQ in Lapeer, Mich. Several states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of improved infection and hospitalization numbers but are moving cautiously, in part because of the more contagious variant taking hold in the U.S. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

While the easing could cause case rates to rise, health experts say it can work if done in a measured way and if the public remains vigilant about masks and social distancing.

“If the frequency goes up, you tighten it up. If the frequency goes down, you loosen up. Getting it just right is almost impossible,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a public health professor at the University of Michigan. “There’s no perfect way to do this.”

As Michigan’s coronavirus rate dropped to the nation’s fifth-lowest over the last two weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said bars and restaurants can welcome indoor customers next week for the first time in 2 1/2 months. But they will be under a 10 p.m. curfew and will be limited to 25% of capacity, or half of what was allowed the last time she loosened their restrictions, in June.

The state previously authorized the resumption of in-person classes at high schools and the partial reopening of movie theaters.

“We’re in a stronger position because we’ve taken this pause,” Whitmer said. “But we are also very mindful of the fact that this variant is now here in Michigan. It poses a real threat.”

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. has climbed past 425,000, with the number of dead running at close to all-time highs at nearly 3,350 a day on average.

But newly confirmed cases have dropped over the past two weeks from an average of about 248,000 per day to around 166,000. And the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen by tens of thousands to 109,000.

At the same time, health experts have warned that the more contagious and possibly more lethal variant sweeping Britain will probably become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. by March. It has been reported in over 20 states.

Other mutant versions are circulating in South Africa and Brazil. The Brazil variant has been detected for the first time in the U.S., in Minnesota.

Chicago and surrounding suburbs allowed indoor dining over the weekend for the first time since October. Major cultural attractions including the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium reopened with crowd limits.

Steve Lombardo III, an owner of a Chicago-area restaurant group, called being able to seat customers indoors a “huge boost.” One of its most famous restaurants, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, has been using hospital-grade air filtration systems in the hopes of staying afloat, he said.

“Will we be making money? Probably not,” Lombardo said. “But we won’t be hemorrhaging money like we have the last three months.”

Washington, D.C., also recently ended its monthlong ban on indoor dining, but one in New York City remains in effect.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week lifted stay-at-home orders he imposed last month when hospitals were so overwhelmed with virus patients that they were on the verge of rationing lifesaving care. Restaurants and places of worship will be able to operate outdoors, and many stores will be able to have more shoppers inside.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced that some indoor operations such as gyms and movie theaters can reopen Friday with limited capacity. Indoor dining is still banned in the hardest-hit counties.

Not all places are taking as cautious an approach.

After North Dakota dropped to the nation’s second-lowest case rate, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum this month not only relaxed limits on the number of people who can gather at restaurants and bars but also allowed a statewide mask mandate to expire last week.

“The fight is far from over, but we can certainly see the light of the end of the tunnel from here,” Burgum said.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University and Maryland’s former health department chief, cautioned such a step can carry heavy risk.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to start to reopen, but if people think that’s the green light to pretend the virus doesn’t exist, then we’re going to be right back to where we were,” Sharfstein said. “If you do restrictions, the virus goes down. You can open up and see how it goes. But if the variants really take hold, that may not be so easy.”

Many restaurants say they cannot survive offering only takeout as winter weather makes it difficult if not impossible to offer outdoor dining.

Rick Bayless, one of the most decorated chefs in the U.S., said allowing indoor dining at his Mexican restaurants in Chicago may buy him some time.

“With 25% indoor we might be able to make it to the spring, when people will want to go outdoors,” he said.

Bayless said the business survived a previous shutdown only because his landlord allowed him to stay rent-free for three months. The uncertainty has taken a toll on his workers, he said.

“It’s been touch-and-go. When they allowed us to open up on Saturday, we had staff in here that were literally in tears,” Bayless said.

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Babwin reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

Student-run free grocery store helps feed town’s hungry

By LUIS ANDRES HENAO for the Associated Press

Traditional school stores might offer snacks and knickknacks, school gear and notebooks — but the one at Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, Texas, has a very different inventory and clientele.

At Linda Tutt you can get everything from produce, milk and eggs to pasta, peanut butter and canned goods to dishwasher soap and laundry detergent. Students and staff can shop there, but on Tuesdays the store is open to the community.

In this photo provided by Anthony Love, student Hunter Weertman, 16, left, stocks shelves and takes inventory while working as a manager of the student-led free grocery store at Linda Tutt High School on Nov. 20, 2020, in Sanger, Texas. The store provides food, toiletries and household items to students, faculty and community members in need. (Anthony Love via AP)

And it’s all free.

“I like seeing their smiles, seeing how appreciative they are, and knowing that they are thankful that we’re doing something like this,” said Hunter Weertman, a 16-year-old junior who stocks shelves and takes inventory at the store housed in an unused art room. It has been open since November.

The idea is to provide students with job skills, and at the same time help students, staff and local residents who are in need. And the store has one more purpose: teaching the youngsters the value of giving back to their community.

“I’ve really seen the students take pride in working in the store,” principal Anthony Love said. “They’re excited about coming to school. They’re excited about helping in the grocery store and just being a part of it.”

Residents who shop at the store are assigned a number of points — the larger the family, the more points they receive and the more merchandise they can “buy.” There’s no in-person shopping because of the pandemic, so instead they fill out a list and students bring their groceries to their cars.

About 130 families have used the store, Love said.

Each week, the store’s staffers package groceries for students who qualify for the Friday Backpack Program because their families need additional food for the weekend.

In addition to family points, students earn points for their work in the store or for doing other tasks at the school such as gardening, mentoring elementary schoolchildren or helping in the cafeteria. And they can garner even more points for outstanding classroom performance or being kind to others.

The town of about 8,000 people northwest of Dallas knows poverty — more than 43 percent of the district’s students are considered economically disadvantaged. It also has had to deal with the coronavirus; the opening of the store was delayed by a month after Love was treated at a hospital for COVID-19.

The idea came from Paul Juarez, the executive director of First Refuge Ministries, a nonprofit that funds the project through a grant from the faith-based medical group Texas Health Resources. Juarez, who began to work as a package clerk at a grocery store at age 16 and moved up to management, said he has been getting calls from schools across the United States.

“I’ve been just talking to everybody, from Delaware and New York, New Jersey, Florida, all the way to Juneau, Alaska,” he said. “I probably talked to about 50 or 60 people that want to actually do this in their school districts.”

Hunter Weertman said one reason the store is important is to show “the good that has come out during the pandemic.”

Weertman, who is autistic, was beaten by other students at his previous school, said his mother, according to his mother, Sila Carr. She says his work at the store has helped him regain his confidence.

“He’s just learned that being kind does pay off,” she said. “The school has brought him out of his shell to be more open.”

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Foot of snow blankets parts of Midwest, disrupts travel

By JOSH FUNK for the Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A major winter storm dropped more than a foot of snow on parts of Nebraska and Iowa, disrupting traffic and shuttering some schools, while blanketing other parts of the middle of the country with snow that continued to fall Tuesday.

A pedestrian steps in tire tracks while crossing the street during a winter storm in downtown Lincoln, Neb. on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

There were early closures of several coronavirus testing sites on Monday in Nebraska and Iowa, and both states saw 12 or 13 inches (30.5 to 33 centimeters) of snow in places by Tuesday morning. At least 4 inches (10 centimeters) of snow was expected into Tuesday across most of an area stretching from central Kansas northeast to Chicago and southern Michigan.

National Weather Service meteorologist Taylor Nicolaisen, who is based near Omaha, Nebraska, said up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) was likely between York, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, and it has been at least 15 years since that area received more than a foot of snow in a single storm.

“This is historic snow,” Nicolaisen said of the snow in that area.

The storm was making travel treacherous as wind-whipped snow piled up Tuesday in Wisconsin, where a jack-knifed semi temporarily closed interstate lanes south of Milwaukee before dawn. The weather service predicted up to 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) of snow could fall in the Milwaukee area, with the highest totals along Lake Michigan.

Wind gusts of 15 mph (24 kilometers per hour) to 25 mph (40 kph) were reported across southern Wisconsin, creating drifting snow, reduced visibilities and complicating snow removal efforts, said Andy Boxell, a meteorologist with the weather service’s office in Sullivan, Wisconsin.

“It’s not only snow but it’s pretty darn windy out there, so that’s causing a lot blowing and drifting,” he said.

In the Chicago area, between between 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) and 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) of snow had fallen by early Tuesday. Meteorologist Bett Borchardt forecast snowfall up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) or more in northern Illinois before the storm ends Tuesday evening.

The last comparable snowfall hit the area in November 2018, when 8.4 inches (21.3 centimeters) fell.

Many schools and businesses closed as the storm moved across the Midwest and officials urged drivers to stay off the roads. In western Iowa, Missouri Valley Superintendent Brent Hoesing reworked the lyrics of the 1970s hit “I Will Survive” to tell students in his district, “So Stay Inside.”

Roughly 250 semi trucks waited out the storm at the Petro truck stop alongside Interstate 80 in York, Nebraska. Manager Rachael Adamson said she could see knee-high drifts and that sidewalks needed to be shoveled every half hour.

“We haven’t had this much snow in quite a few years,” Adamson said.

In the South, one person was dead after a tornado tore through an Alabama city north of Birmingham on Monday night, leaving the area with crumpled buildings and downed trees.

Over the weekend, more than a foot of snow fell in Southern California’s mountains. Interstate 5 was shut down Monday in the Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley.

Until recently, California had been experiencing significantly dry weather accompanied by relentless wildfires. A band of clouds suggested more rain could fall Tuesday in areas north and south of San Francisco Bay, bringing the threat of possible flash floods and landslides in areas scarred by the fires.

A storm buried northern Arizona in snow on Monday while sending flurries to the outskirts of Las Vegas and Phoenix. And most of Nevada was bracing for another series of powerful winter storms that could bring several feet of snow to the mountains above Lake Tahoe by Thursday.

Preliminary snowfall reports from the latest storm included 14.2 inches (36 centimeters) at the Flagstaff airport and 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) at Payson between Sunday night and late Monday, the weather service said.

Angry farmers storm India’s Red Fort in challenge to Modi

By SHEIKH SAALIQ for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesting farmers marched, rode horses and drove long lines of tractors into India’s capital on Tuesday, breaking through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort — a deeply symbolic act that revealed the scale of their challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Sikhs hoist a Nishan Sahib, a Sikh religious flag, on a minaret of the historic Red Fort monument in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Tens of thousands of protesting farmers drove long lines of tractors into India’s capital on Tuesday, breaking through police barricades, defying tear gas and storming the historic Red Fort as the nation celebrated Republic Day. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)

As the country celebrated Republic Day, they waved farm union and religious flags from the ramparts of the fort, where prime ministers annually hoist the national flag on the country’s August independence day holiday. Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons and set up barricades in attempt to prevent the protesters from reaching the center of New Delhi, but the demonstrators broke through in many places.

People watched in shock as the takeover of the fort, which was built in the 17th century and served as the palace of Mughal emperors, was shown live on hundreds of news channels. Protesters, some carrying ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelmed the police trying to stop them.

The farmers have been protesting for nearly two months, demanding the withdrawal of new laws that they say will favor large corporate farms and devastate the earnings of smaller scale farmers.

The contentious legislation has exacerbated existing resentment from farmers, who have long been seen as the heart and soul of India but often complain of being ignored by the government.

“We want to show Modi our strength,” said Satpal Singh, a farmer who drove into the capital on a tractor along with his family of five. “We will not surrender.”

Thousands more farmers marched on foot or rode on horseback while shouting slogans against Modi. At some places, they were showered with flower petals by residents who recorded the unprecedented protest on their phones.

Leaders of the farmers said more than 10,000 tractors joined the protest, and authorities tried to hold back the rows upon rows of tractors, which shoved aside concrete and steel barricades. Authorities also used large trucks and buses to block roads, but thousands of protesters managed to reach some important landmarks.

Police said one protester died after his tractor overturned, but farmers said he was shot. Television channels showed several bloodied protesters.

Farmers — many of them Sikhs from Punjab and Haryana states — tried to march into New Delhi in November but were stopped by police. Since then, unfazed by the winter cold, they have hunkered down at the edge of the city and threatened to besiege it if the farm laws are not repealed.

“We will do as we want to. You cannot force your laws on the poor,” said Manjeet Singh, a protesting farmer.

The government insists that the agriculture reform laws passed by Parliament in September will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment.

Still, the government has offered to amend the laws and suspend their implementation for 18 months. But farmers insist they will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal. They plan to march on foot to Parliament on Feb. 1, when the country’s new budget will be presented.

Farmers are the latest group to upset Modi’s image of imperturbable dominance in Indian politics.

Since returning to power for a second term, Modi’s government has been rocked by several convulsions. The economy has tanked, social strife has widened, protests have erupted against discriminatory laws and his government has been questioned over its response to the pandemic.

Agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.4 billion people. But the economic clout of farmers has diminished over the last three decades. Once producing a third of India’s gross domestic product, farmers now account for only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.

More than half of farmers are in debt, with 20,638 killing themselves in 2018 and 2019, according to official records.

Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert who has spent the last two decades campaigning for income equality for Indian farmers, said they are not only protesting the reforms but also “challenging the entire economic design of the country.”

“The anger that you see is compounded anger,” Sharma said. “Inequality is growing in India and farmers are becoming poorer. Policy planners have failed to realize this and have sucked the income from the bottom to the top. The farmers are only demanding what is their right.”

Modi has tried to allay farmers’ fears by mostly dismissing their concerns and has repeatedly accused opposition parties of agitating them by spreading rumors. Some leaders of his party have called the farmers “anti-national,” a label often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.

The protests overshadowed Republic Day celebrations, in which Modi oversaw a traditional lavish parade along ceremonial Rajpath boulevard displaying the country’s military power and cultural diversity. Authorities shut some metro train stations, and mobile internet service was suspended in some parts of the capital, a frequent tactic of the government to thwart protests.

The parade was scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic. People wore masks and adhered to social distancing as police and military battalions marched along the route displaying their latest equipment.

Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950.

Police said the protesting farmers broke away from the approved protest routes and resorted to “violence and vandalism.”

The group that organized the protest, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, blamed the violence on “anti-social elements” who “infiltrated an otherwise peaceful movement.”

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AP video journalist Rishabh R. Jain contributed to this report.

AP source: Biden to drop Trump’s military transgender ban

By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order to reverse a Pentagon policy that largely bars transgender individuals from joining the military, dumping a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office, a person briefed on the decision tells The Associated Press.

Dusk settles over the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Biden has been widely expected to overturn the Trump policy in his early days in office. The White House could announce the move as early as Monday, according to the person briefed on the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the order.

The move to reverse the policy has the support of Biden’s newly confirmed defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who spoke of the need to overturn it during his Senate confirmation hearing last week.

“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said. “If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”

The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to equity issues that he believes continue to shadow nearly all aspects of American life. Ahead of his inauguration, Biden’s transition team circulated a memo from Ron Klain, now the White House chief of staff, that sketched out Biden’s plan to use his first full week as president “to advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities.”

The move to overturn the transgender ban is also the latest example of Biden using executive authority in his first days as president to dismantle Trump’s legacy. His early actions include orders to overturn a Trump administration ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, stop construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and launch an initiative to advance racial equity.

Biden is also scheduled to hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Monday at the White House for Austin, who became the nation’s first Black defense secretary.

It was unclear how quickly the Pentagon can put a new policy in effect, and whether it will take some time to work out details.

Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender, but that changed during the Obama administration. In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

After Trump took office, however, his administration delayed the enlistment date and called for additional study to determine if allowing transgender individuals to serve would affect military readiness or effectiveness.

A few weeks later, Trump caught military leaders by surprise, tweeting that the government wouldn’t accept or allow transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he wrote.

It took nearly two years, but after a lengthy and complicated legal battle and additional reviews, the Defense Department in April 2019 approved the new policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to serve in their birth gender.

Under that policy, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who had signed an enlistment contract before the effective date could continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after that date, no one with gender dysphoria who was taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender was allowed to enlist. Troops that were already serving and were diagnosed with gender dysphoria were required to serve in their birth gender and were barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

Under the Trump policy, a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender.” And it said troops must be formally counseled and given a chance to change their decision before the discharge is finalized.

As of 2019, an estimated 14,700 troops on active duty and in the Reserves identify as transgender, but not all seek treatment. Since July 2016, more than 1,500 service members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria; as of Feb. 1, 2019, there were 1,071 currently serving. According to the Pentagon, the department spent about $8 million on transgender care between 2016 and 2019. The military’s annual health care budget tops $50 billion.

All four service chiefs told Congress in 2018 that they had seen no discipline, morale or unit readiness problems with transgender troops serving openly in the military. But they also acknowledged that some commanders were spending a lot of time with transgender individuals who were working through medical requirements and other transition issues.

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Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.

Dutch politicians condemn weekend rioting as curfew started

By MIKE CORDER for the Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Politicians and local leaders on Monday condemned rioters who clashed with police in about 10 towns and cities across the Netherlands a day earlier, on the second night of a coronavirus curfew.

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Dutch police have clashed with protesters demonstrating against the country’s lockdown in the capital, Amsterdam and the southern city of Eindhoven. The unrest comes a day after rioting youths protesting on the first night of the country’s curfew torched a coronavirus testing facility in Dutch fishing village Urk. (Pro News via AP)

“It is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. “This has nothing to do with protesting, this is criminal violence and that’s how we’ll treat it.”

Worst hit was Eindhoven, where police clashed with hundreds of rioters who torched a car, threw rocks and fireworks at officers, smashed windows and looted a supermarket at the southern city’s railway station.

“My city is crying, and so am I,” Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma told media Sunday night. In an emotional impromptu press conference, he called the rioters “the scum of the earth” and added “I am afraid that if we continue down this path, we’re on our way to civil war.”

The rioting coincided with the first weekend of the new national coronavirus 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew, but mayors stressed that the violence was not the work of citizens concerned about their civil liberties.

“These demonstrations are being hijacked by people who only want one thing and that is to riot,” Hubert Bruls, mayor of the city of Nijmegen and leader of a group of local security organizations, told news talk show Op1 on Sunday night.

Amsterdam police arrested 190 people amid rioting at a banned demonstration Sunday while Eindhoven police detained at least 55. One woman who was not involved in the rioting in Eindhoven was injured

In the eastern city of Enschede, rioters threw rocks at the windows of a hospital; on Saturday night, youths in the fishing village of Urk torched a coronavirus testing facility. Police in the southern province of Limburg said military police were sent as reinforcements to two cities.

“There is absolutely no excuse,” Overseas Development Minister Sigrid Kaag told Dutch television. “This is violence and I hope the police track down all these people and there are heavy punishments.”

House sending Trump impeachment to Senate, GOP opposes trial

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and LISA MASCARO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol.

House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol late Monday evening, a rare and ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue their case. They are hoping that strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot will translate into a conviction and a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again.

FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington. The words of Donald Trump supporters who are accused of participating in the deadly U.S. Capitol riot may end up being used against him in his Senate impeachment trial as he faces the charge of inciting a violent insurrection. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

But instead, GOP passions appear to have cooled since the insurrection. Now that Trump’s presidency is over, Republican senators who will serve as jurors in the trial are rallying to his legal defense, as they did during his first impeachment trial last year.

“I think the trial is stupid, I think it’s counterproductive,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. He said that “the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I’ll do it” because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.

Trump is the first former president to face impeachment trial, and it will test his grip on the Republican Party as well as the legacy of his tenure, which came to a close as a mob of loyal supporters heeded his rally cry by storming the Capitol and trying to overturn Joe Biden’s election. The proceedings will also force Democrats, who have a full sweep of party control of the White House and Congress, to balance their promise to hold the former president accountable while also rushing to deliver on Biden’s priorities.

Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8. Leaders in both parties agreed to the short delay to give Trump’s team and House prosecutors time to prepare and the Senate the chance to confirm some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Democrats say the extra days will allow for more evidence to come out about the rioting by Trump supporters, while Republicans hope to craft a unified defense for Trump.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday that he hopes that evolving clarity on the details of what happened Jan. 6 “will make it clearer to my colleagues and the American people that we need some accountability.”

Coons questioned how his colleagues who were in the Capitol that day could see the insurrection as anything other than a “stunning violation” of tradition of peaceful transfers of power.

“It is a critical moment in American history and we have to look at it and look at it hard,” Coons said.

An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. Still, the mounting Republican opposition indicates that many GOP senators would eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.

When the House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, exactly one week after the siege, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he didn’t believe the Senate had the constitutional authority to convict Trump after he had left office. On Sunday, Cotton said “the more I talk to other Republican senators, the more they’re beginning to line up” behind that argument.

“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton said.

Democrats reject that argument, pointing to a 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president who told them to “fight like hell” against election results that were being counted at the time, is necessary so the country can move forward and ensure such a siege never happens again.

A few GOP senators have agreed with Democrats, though not close to the number that will be needed to convict Trump.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he believes there is a “preponderance of opinion” that an impeachment trial is appropriate after someone leaves office.

“I believe that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense,” Romney said. “If not, what is?”

But Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump when the Senate acquitted the then-president in last year’s trial, appears to be an outlier.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, said he believes a trial is a “moot point” after a president’s term is over, “and I think it’s one that they would have a very difficult time in trying to get done within the Senate.”

On Friday, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally who has been helping him build a legal team, urged the Senate to reject the idea of a post-presidency trial — potentially with a vote to dismiss the charge — and suggested Republicans will scrutinize whether Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were legally “incitement.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said last week that Trump “provoked” his supporters before the riot, has not said how he will vote or argued any legal strategies. The Kentucky senator has told his GOP colleagues that it will be a vote of conscience.

One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s nine impeachment managers said Trump’s encouragement of his loyalists before the riot was “an extraordinarily heinous presidential crime.”

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pennsylvania., said “I mean, think back. It was just two-and-a-half weeks ago that the president assembled a mob on the Ellipse of the White House. He incited them with his words. And then he lit the match.”

Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol and interrupted the electoral count as he falsely claimed there was massive fraud in the election and that it was stolen by Biden. Trump’s claims were roundly rejected in the courts, including by judges appointed by Trump, and by state election officials.

Rubio and Romney were on “Fox News Sunday,” Cotton appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and Romney also was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” as was Dean. Rounds was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

Japan vaccination uncertainty casts doubts over Olympics

By MARI YAMAGUCHI for the Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is publicly adamant that it will stage its postponed Olympics this summer. But to pull it off, many believe the vaccination of its 127 million citizens for the coronavirus is key.

It’s an immense undertaking in the best of circumstances and complicated now by an overly cautious decision-making process, bureaucratic roadblocks and a public that has long been deeply wary of vaccines.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a meeting of the coronavirus infection control headquarters at his office in Tokyo Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Suga, in a speech earlier, said the vaccine is “the clincher” in the fight against the pandemic and vowed to start vaccinations as soon as late February, when a health ministry approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the first applicant, is expected. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP)

Japan hopes to start COVID-19 vaccinations in late February, but uncertainty is growing that a nation ranked among the world’s lowest in vaccine confidence can pull off the massive, $14 billion project in time for the games in July, casting doubt on whether the Tokyo Olympics can happen.

Japan has secured vaccines for all its citizens, and then some, after striking deals with three foreign pharmaceutical makers — Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca and Moderna Inc. Its swift action was seen as proof of its resolve to stage the games after a one-year postponement because of the pandemic.

The country needs foreign-made vaccines because local development is only in its early stages.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in a speech this week, said vaccines are “the clincher” in the fight against the pandemic and vowed to start vaccinations as soon as late February, when health ministry approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the first applicant, is expected.

Suga pledged to provide “accurate information based on scientific findings, including side effects and efficacy,” an attempt to address the worries of vaccine skeptics.

Under the current plan, inoculations will start with 10,000 front-line medical workers. Then about 3 million other medical workers will be added ahead of high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and caregivers. The rest of the population is expected to get access around May or later, though officials refuse to give an exact timeline.

Japan is under a partial state of emergency and struggling with an upsurge of infections. There have been about 351,000 cases, with 4,800 deaths, according to the health ministry.

Many people are skeptical of the vaccination effort, partly because side effects of vaccines have often been played up here. A recent survey on TBS television found only 48% of respondents said they wanted a COVID-19 vaccination. In a Lancet study of 149 countries published in September, Japan ranked among the lowest in vaccine confidence, with less than 25% of people agreeing on vaccine safety, importance and effectiveness.

Many Japanese have a vague unease about vaccines, said Dr. Takashi Nakano, a Kawasaki Medical School professor and vaccine expert. “If something (negative) happens after inoculation, people tend to think it’s because of the vaccine, and that’s the image stuck in their mind for a long time.”

The history of vaccine mistrust in Japan dates back to 1948, when dozens of babies died after getting a faulty diphtheria vaccine. In 1989, cases of aseptic meningitis in children who received a combined vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, prompted lawsuits against the government, forcing it to scrap the mix four years later.

A 1992 court ruling held the government liable for adverse reactions linked to several vaccines, while defining suspected side effects as adverse events, but without sufficient scientific evidence, experts say. In a major change to its policy, Japan in 1994 revised its vaccination law to scrap mandatory inoculation.

While several Japanese companies and research organizations are currently developing their own coronavirus vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan.

Masayuki Imagawa, head of Takeda’s Japan vaccine business unit, said his company last year considered developing its own vaccine. But instead it decided to prioritize speed and chose to import Moderna’s product and make the Novavax vaccine at Takeda’s factory in Japan. He said the decision was not influenced by the Olympics.

Experts also worry about running into logistical challenges and bureaucratic roadblocks in staging a massive inoculation project that involves five government ministries along with local towns and cities. The government has budgeted more than 1.5 trillion yen ($14 billion) for the vaccine project.

Thousands of medical workers would have to be mobilized to give the shots, monitor and respond in case of any problems. Securing their help is difficult when hospitals are already burdened with treatment of COVID-19 patients, said Hitoshi Iwase, an official in Tokyo’s Sumida district tasked with preparing vaccinations for 275,000 residents.

While vaccines are considered key to achieving the games, Prime Minister Suga said they won’t be required.

“We will prepare for a safe and secure Olympics without making vaccination a precondition,” Suga said Thursday, responding to a call by opposition lawmakers for a further postponement or cancellation of the games to concentrate on virus measures.

Uncertainty over vaccine safety and efficacy make it difficult to predict when Japan can obtain wide enough immunity to the coronavirus to control the pandemic.

“It is inappropriate to push vaccinations to hold the Olympics,” said Dr. Tetsuo Nakayama, a professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences. “Vaccines should be used to protect the people’s health, not to achieve the Olympics.”

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

National Guard withdraws from Capitol, other measures remain

From the Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday while the Washington National Guard will begin to withdraw from the Capitol campus in Olympia, some added long-term security measures will remain in the wake of increased threats that led up to Inauguration Day.

Inslee said in a news release he was pleased that law enforcement kept the area protected from potential civil unrest. He said the National Guard would demobilize over the weekend, but the Washington State Patrol will continue to have an increased presence and one area on campus would remain restricted.

“The Washington State Patrol and the Guard have served our state well in these dangerous and unprecedented times,” Inslee said. “I am certain their presence and other security measures are among the primary reasons we have enjoyed relative calm for the past two weeks.”

Inslee had said the Guard would support security efforts at the Capitol at least through Inauguration Day “due to evolving intelligence on security threats” posed in all 50 state Capitols.

Washington state’s Legislature convened Jan. 11 amid heightened security due to concerns about armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings. At least two people were arrested that day.

On Jan. 6, people broke a gate at the governor’s mansion and made it to the porch. That breach came hours after the pro-Trump attack on the nation’s Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

State Patrol Chief John Batiste said in the news release, “Like every other state Capitol, as well as our nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C., we have entered a new security environment that will require additional preparation and enhanced safety measures going forward. Our agency will be vigilant in that work.”

Capitol campus buildings are closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lucky few hit COVID-19 vaccine jackpot for rare extra doses

By BERNARD CONDON, CANDICE CHOI and MATT SEDENSKY for the Associated Press

Fortune struck one man in the bakery aisle at the supermarket. Two others were working the night shift at a Subway sandwich shop. Yet another was plucked from a list of 15,000 hopefuls.

With millions of Americans waiting for their chance to get the coronavirus vaccine, a lucky few are getting bumped to the front of the line as clinics scramble to get rid of extra, perishable doses at the end of the day.

Jesse Robinson sits on his porch, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Robinson has received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. With millions of Americans waiting for their chance to get the coronavirus vaccine, a fortunate few are getting bumped to the front of the line as clinics scramble to get rid of extra, perishable doses at the end of the day. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes people who just happen to be near a clinic at closing time are offered leftover shots that would otherwise be thrown away. Sometimes health workers go out looking for recipients. Some places keep waiting lists and draw names at random. Such opportunities may be becoming more prized as shortages around the U.S. lead some places to cancel vaccinations.

“One of the nurses said I should go buy a lottery ticket right now,” said Jesse Robinson, outside a Nashville, Tennessee, clinic this week where the 22-year-old was picked from a 15,000-name list for a shot. “I’m not going to question it too much. Just glad it was me.”

David MacMillan was grabbing ingredients for a coconut chickpea dish at a Giant grocery store in Washington when a woman in a lab coat from the in-store pharmacy came up to him and his friend.

“I got two doses of the Moderna vaccine. The pharmacy is closing in 10 minutes. Do you want them?” MacMillan, 31, recalled the woman saying. “I thought, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

After MacMillan posted a video of his experience on TikTok, the supermarket chain was inundated for days with calls and people hanging around, hoping to score a shot.

It has become one of the most unusual quirks in the often uneven, monthlong rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Once a vial is thawed from the deep freeze and, even more so, once its seal is punctured and the first dose is drawn, those administering the vaccine are in a race to use it up before it spoils ̶ even if it means giving shots to those who don’t fit into the priority list.

While it may be unsettling to see a 20-something getting a shot while an 90-year-old woman in a nursing home is still waiting, public health experts say getting a dose into someone’s arm, anyone’s arm, is better than throwing it away.

“As far as I’m concerned, vaccinate anyone but the dog,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University.David MacMillan is photographed in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. He was offered a COVID-19 vaccine shot as he shopped in a grocery store. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In New York City, a rumor that the Brooklyn Army Terminal had extra doses triggered a rush to the vaccine distribution site, leading to bumper-bumper traffic in the streets and a line of hundreds on the sidewalks until police came out to say they had been duped.

Mike Schotte, 53, and his 72-year-old mother started showing up at pharmacies near their home in Hurst, Texas, in hopes of getting a leftover shot. Eventually they put their names on a waiting list and got a call saying shots might be available if they arrived within a half-hour.

“We didn’t have to speed, but it was pretty close,” Schotte said. “I’m excited that I got it.”

Nashville started its lottery system to avoid more haphazard ways of distributing leftover shots. In one case last month, the city’s health department ended up giving extra doses to two workers at a Subway restaurant in a nearby hospital so they wouldn’t go to waste.

Vaccine clinics expect only a few leftover doses, at most, on any given day. Providers also note that the chances of leftover shots becoming available to the broader public are diminishing with each passing week as eligibility for the vaccine widens beyond the very old, nursing home residents and front-line medical workers.

Waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year. By one World Health Organization estimate, more than half of all vaccines are thrown away because they were mishandled, unclaimed or expired. The coronavirus rollout appears to have bucked the trend.

Though federal data is not available, health authorities in various jurisdictions contacted by The Associated Press reported very little waste beyond a few notable cases of doses that were accidentally or deliberately spoiled.

In Chicago’s Cook County, Illinois, the health department reported just three of 87,750 doses were wasted, each accidentally spilled by staff. In Ohio, officials said 165 of 459,000 doses distributed as of last week were damaged or lost in transit, thrown away because of vaccine no-shows, or otherwise wasted. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Houston and other cities and states all have similarly reported tiny fractions of waste.

“It’s like gold in Fort Knox,” said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, whose physician network SOMOS has been administering the vaccine in New York City.

Those giving out the vaccines are choreographing an intricate dance to ensure they are handled right. Vials of the Pfizer vaccine contain five doses – and sometimes an extra one – and Moderna’s contain 10. And clinics try their best not to open a new container unless they have a registered recipient scheduled to get inoculated.

At a clinic on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Jill Price said that as the end of the day nears, if it looks like some doses will be left, calls are made to those registered for vaccinations the following day to see if they can come in right away.

“It is such a precious commodity no one wants to waste it,” Price said.

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Associated Press writer Kristin M. Hall contributed from Nashville, Tennessee.

Portugal shuts schools, blames variant for COVID-19 surge

By BARRY HATTON for the Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s government on Thursday ordered the closure of schools for two weeks amid a surge in COVID-19 infections that the prime minister blamed on the rise of a more contagious variant.

A nurse sorts pharmacy supplies just delivered at a new field hospital set up in a sports hall in Lisbon, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Portugal’s new daily COVID-19 cases have jumped to more than 14,600 to set a new national record. The pandemic has gained momentum in Portugal since Christmas, when restrictions on gatherings and movement were eased for four days. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

“The risk of this virus spreading through society has increased,” Prime Minister António Costa told a news conference. “We have seen that, in the space of a week, the variant has spread significantly.”

The proportion of COVID-19 cases attributed to the variant, which was first identified in southeast England, has jumped from 8% last week to 20% this week and may reach 60% in coming weeks, Costa said.

“Faced with this new reality, a new set of measures is required,” he said. Schools will be closed starting Friday.

Also Thursday, Catholic church authorities in Portugal announced that services won’t be held from Saturday and until further notice due to the “extreme seriousness” of the pandemic.

Portugal has the highest seven-day average rate in the world of new cases per 100,000 population and the second-highest rate of new deaths after the United Kingdom, according to data collated through Wednesday by Johns Hopkins University.

The country of 10.3 million has been in lockdown since last week but cases continue to climb sharply, setting almost daily records and threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

Health authorities reported Thursday new highs for infected people in hospital, with 5,630, and in intensive care, with 702. The 221 deaths attributed to COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours was also a record.

The government had been reluctant to close schools, despite pressure from teachers and parents. It argued that if schools closed some children wouldn’t get proper meals. Others have no computer, no access to the Internet, and don’t have their own room at home and get no help with their studies.

Costa said school canteens would remain open for needy children, while parents with children under the age of 12 can miss work to care for them and will receive 66% of their pay from the government.

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Organists offer soundtrack to jabs at medieval UK cathedral

By DANICA KIRKA and JO KEARNEY for the Associated Press

SALISBURY, England (AP) — David Halls isn’t a doctor, nurse or ambulance driver, but he wanted to contribute in the fight against COVID-19. So he did what he does best: He sat down on the bench beside at Salisbury Cathedral’s historic organ and began to play.

Halls is one of the many people who have turned the 800-year-old cathedral in southwestern England into a mass vaccination center as the U.K. races to inoculate 50 million people. His contribution to the effort is offering a bit of Bach, Handel and even a little Rodgers & Hammerstein to the public as they shuffle through the nave to get their shots.

People sit and relax after receiving their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination at Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Salisbury Cathedral opened its doors for the second time as a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network COVID-19 Local Vaccination Service. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“At times of crisis, people come together and want to listen to music; at moments of joy, people want to listen to music,” Halls, the cathedral’s music director, told The Associated Press. “And so I don’t think it’s any surprise the effect of soothing music on people who probably are feeling quite stressed for various reasons.”

Salisbury Cathedral, home to one of the best preserved copies of the Magna Carta and England’s tallest church spire, has been enlisted as a vaccination center as the government expands its shot program to football stadiums, convention centers and hundreds of local doctors offices to speed delivery.

Hundreds of elderly residents have rolled up their sleeves and got their shots in the great nave, which is big enough to gather people together while also keeping them safely apart.

It’s in stark contrast to 1627, when church leaders locked the cathedral gates to keep townspeople out as plague swept through Salisbury. Canon Nicholas Papadopulos, dean of the cathedral, says he reflected on that episode with “visceral discomfort” last year when he celebrated the building’s 800th anniversary.

Now, it’s time for a new chapter.

“If these stones could speak, they would talk about moments of incredible joy and moments of incredible sadness,” Halls said. “It feels thoroughly appropriate that the cathedral is playing its part in trying to turn things around and to be part of the vaccinations … To be part of that is such a privilege, such an honor.”

The U.K. plans to offer a first dose of vaccine to more than 15 million people by mid-February as it targets the country’s oldest and most vulnerable residents in the program’s first phase. Progressively younger groups of people will follow suit, with the government planning to reach everyone over 18 by September.

The need is urgent. Britain’s healthcare system is staggering as doctors and nurses battle a more contagious variant of COVID-19.

While new infections appear to have peaked, the number of people hospitalized is still rising. More than 39,000 patients are being treated in U.K. hospitals, 80% more than during the first peak of the pandemic last April. Britain has reported 93,463 coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other country in Europe and the fifth-highest toll worldwide.

The effort at the cathedral is a community one, involving many. Organists took turns of two hours playing the massive “Father Willis″ — making sure to sanitize in between.

John Challenger, 32, Salisbury’s assistant director of music, said many getting the shots are older people who are isolated and haven’t been able to hear live music for months.

In addition to playing soothing music, Challenger used his time at the organ to entertain and spark memories by playing songs like Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.”

“And in the more frivolous moments I played ‘I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside,’ because, you know, we all want to go on holiday and haven’t been able to go where we want,” he said.

Among those listening Wednesday was Sylvia Parkin, 82, who came with her husband, David, 86. They have had to stay home a lot for the past 10 months, which has been no fun.

“It’s a trip out today, isn’t it?″ she said cheerfully. ”It’s a wonderful place to have an injection.″

And while it may be a long way up to the organ loft, people have managed to get their requests in.

Halls played Handel’s “Largo” and Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for an 80-year-old neighbor who had sent an email asking for his favorites to be played precisely at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, just as the needle was going in.

As Halls finished, he glanced at the screen that shows the organist what’s happening on the floor below and saw his neighbor frantically waving — windshield wiper style — and offering his thanks.

“He emailed me later and he said that was the best part of his entire life other than his wedding day,” Halls said. “I think to come second to that is quite good, actually.”

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Kearney contributed from Salisbury, England.

5 killed in blaze at Indian producer of COVID-19 vaccine

By RAFIQ MAQBOOL for the Associated Press

PUNE, India (AP) — At least five people were killed in a fire that broke out Thursday at a building under construction at Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, officials said. The company said the blaze would not affect production of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Smoke rises from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker that is manufacturing the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine for the coronavirus, in Pune, India, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Murlidhar Mohol, mayor of Pune city in southern Maharashtra state, said five bodies were found in the rubble after the flames were extinguished by firefighters.

Mahol said the victims were probably construction workers. He said the cause of the fire had not been determined and the extent of damage was not immediately clear.

Serum Institue of India’s CEO, Adar Poonwala, said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.

He said there would be no reduction in vaccine manufacturing because the company has other available facilities.

The company said the fire was restricted to a new facility it is constructing to increase the production of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure it is better prepared for future pandemics.

It said the fire did not affect existing facilities making COVID-19 vaccines or a stockpile of around 50 million doses.

Images showed huge plumes of smoke billowing from the building and dozens of company workers in lab suits leaving the compound as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.

Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest maker of vaccines and has been contracted to manufacture a billion doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.

Poonawalla said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that it hopes to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses per year by the end of 2021. The new facility is part of the expansion.

Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. As a result, Serum Institute is likely to make most of the vaccines that will be used by developing nations.

India starts supplying COVID-19 shots to neighboring nations

By ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots.

FILE – In this Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, file photo, an Indian doctor shows a COVID-19 vaccine at a government Hospital in Jammu, India. India started exporting COVID-19 vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, Jan. 20. To start with, India will send 150,000 shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to Maldives. Afterwards, vaccines will be sent Bangladesh, Nepal, India’s foreign ministry said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand, File)

India’s Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday.

Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius.

India’s ambassador to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, said Wednesday that New Delhi would supply Nepal with 1 million doses free of charge, with the first to arrive as early as Thursday.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the government would ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet India’s domestic needs as it supplies partner countries in the coming months.

“India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines. This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations,” he said.

Indian regulators gave the nod for emergency use to two vaccines earlier this month: the AstraZeneca vaccine and another one by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. India kicked off its own massive vaccination drive on Jan. 17, with a goal of inoculating 300 million of its nearly 1.4 billion people.

These vaccines being sent to neighboring countries are being sent as grants and India’s Foreign Ministry said the vaccines were not part of COVAX, the U.N.-backed global effort aimed at helping lower income countries obtain the shots.

With nations making their own plans and not waiting for COVAX, some experts fear that India’s gesture of goodwill may inadvertently undermine the struggling initiative, which has yet to deliver any of the promised 2 billion vaccines to poor countries. Although COVAX has announced new deals to secure vaccines in recent weeks, it has only signed legally binding deals for a fraction of the needed shots.

WHO said earlier this week it hopes vaccines bought by another global initiative started by the Gates Foundation, GAVI, might start being delivered to poor countries later this month or next. The U.N. health agency’s Africa chief, however, estimated that the first COVID-19 vaccines from that initiative might only arrive in March and that a larger roll-out would only begin in June.

Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses being produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the shots that’ll be used by developing nations.

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Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Facing crush of crises, Biden will take helm as president

By JONATHAN LEMIRE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden swears the oath of office at noon Wednesday to become the 46th president of the United States, taking the helm of a deeply divided nation and inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in New Castle, Del. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The very ceremony in which presidential power is transferred, a hallowed American democratic tradition, will serve as a jarring reminder of the challenges Biden faces: The inauguration unfolds at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago, encircled by security forces evocative of those in a war zone, and devoid of crowds because of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay home, Americans were exhorted, to prevent further spread of a surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States. Biden will look out over a capital city dotted with empty storefronts that attest to the pandemic’s deep economic toll and where summer protests laid bare the nation’s renewed reckoning on racial injustice.

He will not be applauded — or likely even acknowledged — by his predecessor.

Flouting tradition, Donald Trump departed the White House on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol. Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, stoked grievance among his supporters with the lie that Biden’s win was illegitimate.

Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. On his first day, Biden will take a series of executive actions — on the pandemic, climate, immigration and more — to undo the heart of Trump’s agenda. The Democrat takes office with the bonds of the republic strained and the nation reeling from challenges that rival those faced by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Biden will face a series of urgent, burning crises like we have not seen before, and they all have to be solved at once. It is very hard to find a parallel in history,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “I think we have been through a near-death experience as a democracy. Americans who will watch the new president be sworn in are now acutely aware of how fragile our democracy is and how much it needs to be protected.”

Biden will come to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he will be the oldest president inaugurated.

More history will be made at his side, as Kamala Harris becomes the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.

The two will be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels in history.

Tens of thousands of troops are on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.

The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Roosevelt’s inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.

Despite security warnings, Biden declined to move the ceremony indoors and instead will address a small, socially distant crowd on the West Front of the Capitol. Some of the traditional trappings of the quadrennial ceremony will remain.

The day will begin with a reach across the aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. Biden invited Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, to join him at a morning Mass, along with Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders.

Once at the Capitol, Biden will be administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The theme of Biden’s approximately 30-minute speech will be “America United,” and aides said it would be a call to set aside differences during a moment of national trial.

Biden will then oversee a “Pass in Review,” a military tradition that honors the peaceful transfer of power to a new commander in chief. Then, Biden, Harris and their spouses will be joined by a bipartisan trio of former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.

Later, Biden will join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year’s parade will be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.

In the evening, in lieu of the traditional glitzy balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden will take part in a televised concert that also marks the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem at the Capitol earlier in the day.

Trump will be the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. In a cold wind, Marine One took off from the White House and soared above a deserted capital city to his own farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews. There, he’ll board Air Force One for the final time as president for the flight to his Florida estate.

Trump will nonetheless shadow Biden’s first days in office.

Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That could test the ability of the Senate, poised to come under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.

Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days that includes a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion virus relief package. On Day One, he’ll also send an immigration proposal to Capitol Hill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.

He also planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.

The difficulties he faces are immense, to be mentioned in the same breath as Roosevelt taking office during the Great Depression or Obama, under whom Biden served eight years as vice president, during the economic collapse. And the solution may be similar.

“There is now, as there was in 1933, a vital need for leadership,” said presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “for every national resource to be brought to bear to get the virus under control, to help produce and distribute the vaccines, to get vaccines into the arms of the people, to spur the economy to recover and get people back to work and to school.”

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Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville.

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‘Shameful’: US virus deaths top 400K as Trump leaves office

By ADAM GELLER and JANIE HAR for the Associated Press

As President Donald Trump entered the final year of his term last January, the U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Not to worry, Trump insisted, his administration had the virus “totally under control.”

Registered nurse Nikki Hollinger cleans up a room as a body of a COVID-19 victim lies in a body bag labeled with stickers at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 400,000 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Now, in his final hours in office, after a year of presidential denials of reality and responsibility, the pandemic’s U.S. death toll has eclipsed 400,000. And the loss of lives is accelerating.

“This is just one step on an ominous path of fatalities,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and one of many public health experts who contend the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis led to thousands of avoidable deaths.

“Everything about how it’s been managed has been infused with incompetence and dishonesty, and we’re paying a heavy price,” he said.

The 400,000-death toll, reported Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa, Florida. It’s nearly equal to the number of American lives lost annually to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined.https://interactives.ap.org/embeds/EWD8q/1/MORE COVID-19 NEWS:

With more than 4,000 deaths recorded on some recent days — the most since the pandemic began — the toll by week’s end will probably surpass the number of Americans killed in World War II.

“We need to follow the science and the 400,000th death is shameful,” said Cliff Daniels, chief strategy officer for Methodist Hospital of Southern California, near Los Angeles. With its morgue full, the hospital has parked a refrigerated truck outside to hold the bodies of COVID-19 victims until funeral homes can retrieve them.

“It’s so incredibly, unimaginably sad that so many people have died that could have been avoided,” he said.

President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in Wednesday, took part in an evening remembrance ceremony Tuesday near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The 400,000 dead were represented by 400 lights placed around the reflecting pool. The bell at the Washington National Cathedral tolled 400 times.

Other cities around the U.S. planned tributes as well. The Empire State Building was lit in “heartbeat” red — the same lighting used last year as a show of support for emergency workers at the height of the virus surge in New York City. The red lights pulsed as a visual heartbeat. In Salt Lake City, the bells at the Utah Capitol were to ring 15 times in honor of the more than 1,500 lives lost to COVID-19 in the state.

The U.S. accounts for nearly 1 of every 5 virus deaths reported worldwide, far more than any other country despite its great wealth and medical resources.

The coronavirus would almost certainly have posed a grave crisis for any president given its rapid spread and power to kill, experts on public health and government said.

But Trump seemed to invest as much in battling public perceptions as he did in fighting the virus itself, repeatedly downplaying the threat and rejecting scientific expertise while fanning conflicts ignited by the outbreak.

As president he was singularly positioned to counsel Americans. Instead, he used his pulpit to spout theories — refuted by doctors — that taking unproven medicines or even injecting household disinfectant might save people from the virus.

The White House defended the administration this week.

“We grieve every single life lost to this pandemic, and thanks to the president’s leadership, Operation Warp Speed has led to the development of multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time, something many said would never happen,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

With deaths spiraling in the New York City area last spring, Trump declared “war” on the virus. But he was slow to invoke the Defense Production Act to secure desperately needed medical equipment. Then he sought to avoid responsibility for shortfalls, saying that the federal government was “merely a backup” for governors and legislatures.

“I think it is the first time in history that a president has declared a war and we have experienced a true national crisis and then dumped responsibility for it on the states,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care policy think tank.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to issue guidelines for reopening in May, Trump administration officials held them up and watered them down. As the months passed, Trump claimed he was smarter than the scientists and belittled experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top authority on infectious diseases.

“Why would you bench the CDC, the greatest fighting force of infectious disease in the world? Why would you call Tony Fauci a disaster?” asked Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

As governors came under pressure to reopen state economies, Trump pushed them to move faster, asserting falsely that the virus was fading. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” he tweeted in April as angry protesters gathered at the state Capitol to oppose the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home restrictions. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

In Republican-led states like Arizona that allowed businesses to reopen, hospitals and morgues filled with virus victims.

“It led to the tragically sharp partisan divide we’ve seen in the country on COVID, and that has fundamental implications for where we are now, because it means the Biden administration can’t start over,” Altman said. “They can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

In early October, when Trump himself contracted COVID-19, he ignored safety protocols, ordering up a motorcade so he could wave to supporters outside his hospital. Once released, he appeared on the White House balcony to take off his mask for the cameras, making light of health officials’ pleas for people to cover their faces.

“We’re rounding the corner,” Trump said of the battle with the virus during a debate with Biden in late October. “It’s going away.”

It isn’t. U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000 in late May, then tripled by mid-December. Experts at the University of Washington project deaths will reach nearly 567,000 by May 1.

More than 120,000 patients with the virus are in the hospital in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project, twice the number who filled wards during previous peaks. On a single day last week, the U.S. recorded more than 4,400 deaths.

While vaccine research funded by the administration as part of Warp Speed has proved successful, the campaign trumpeted by the White House to rapidly distribute and administer millions of shots has fallen well short of the early goals officials set.

“Young people are dying, young people who have their whole lives ahead of them,” said Mawata Kamara, a nurse at California’s San Leandro Hospital who is furious over the surging COVID-19 cases that have overwhelmed health care workers. “We could have done so much more.”

Many voters considered the federal government’s response to the pandemic a key factor in their vote: 39% said it was the single most important factor, and they overwhelmingly backed Biden over Trump, according to AP VoteCast.

But millions of others stood with him.

“Here you have a pandemic,” said Eric Dezenhall, a Washington crisis management consultant, “yet you have a massive percent of the population that doesn’t believe it exists.”

Spain’s rising cases give pandemic hospital a second chance

By ARITZ PARRA for the Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — As soon as the lifeless body is silently pushed away on a stretcher, a cleaning battalion moves into the intensive care box. In a matter of minutes, the bed where the 72-year-old woman fought for over two weeks for another breath gets rubbed clean, the walls of glass isolating it disinfected with a squeegee.

Doctors use an ultrasound scan to examine the lungs of a COVID-19 patient at the new Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid Madrid, Spain, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. As the coronavirus curve of contagion turned increasingly vertical after Christmas and New Year’s, the Zendal has been busy. On Monday, 392 virus patients were being treated, more than in any other hospital in the Madrid region. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

There is little time to reflect on what has just happened, as death gives way to the possibility of saving another life.

“Our biggest source of joy is obviously emptying a bed, but because somebody is discharged and not because they have passed away,” said Ignacio Pujol, the head of this Madrid ICU. “That’s a little space there for somebody else to get another chance.”

As a surge of infections is once again putting Spain’s public health system against the ropes, the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital that employs Pujol, a project seen by many as an extravagant vanity enterprise, is getting a fresh opportunity to prove its usefulness.

Named after the 19th-century Spanish nurse who took smallpox vaccination across the Atlantic Ocean, the facility was built in 100 days at a cost of 130 million euros ($157 million), more than twice the original budget. It boasts three pavilions and support buildings over an area the size of 10 soccer fields, looking somewhere between a small airport terminal and an industrial warehouse, with ventilation air ducts, medical beds and state-of-the-art equipment. The original project was for 1,000 beds, of which roughly half have been installed so far.

The Zendal opened to a roar of competing fanfare and criticism on Dec. 1, just as Spain seemed to dampen a post-summer surge of coronavirus infections. By mid-December, it had only received a handful of patients.

But Spain on Monday recorded over 84,000 new COVID-19 infections, the highest increase over a single weekend since the pandemic began. The country’s overall tally is heading to 2.5 million cases with 53,000 confirmed virus deaths, although excess mortality statistics add over 30,000 deaths to that.

As the curve of contagion steepened after Christmas and New Year’s, the Zendal has gotten busy. On Monday, 392 patients were being treated, more than in any other hospital in the region of 6.6 million.

Spain’s surge follows similar infection increases in other European countries, most notably in the U.K. following the discovery of a new virus variant that experts say is more infectious. The London Nightingale, one of the temporary hospitals across Britain designed to ease pressure on the country’s overwhelmed health care system, has also reopened for patients and as a vaccination center.

Spain’s top health officials insist they have found no evidence that new variants wreaking havoc elsewhere are contributing in any way to its own rocketing infections. Some experts dispute that, claiming the country’s limited ability to sequence coronavirus cases is distorting reality and that a new stay-at-home order is necessary.

On the ground, increasing hospitalizations for the virus already surpass the peak of the second resurgence. Nearly one out of every five hospital beds has a patient with COVID-19. The new illness is also taking up one-third of the country’s ICU capacity and non-urgent surgeries are already being called off.

Joined by some medical experts, left-wing politicians and workers’ unions accuse Madrid’s conservative government of spending on vote-attracting hardware instead of reinforcing a public health system they have underfunded for years. Investing in contact tracing and primary care previously, they say, could have averted the need for a Zendal altogether.

“Rather than the success they boast, the filling up of this makeshift hospital represents a tremendous failure of those at the helm of the pandemic’s response, and also a failure of all of us as a society that could have done better,” said Ángela Hernández, a spokeswoman for Madrid’s main medical workers’ union, AMYTS.

The last straw for the unions, she said, has been the regional government laying off medical staff who refuse to abandon their positions in regular hospitals when they are reassigned to the Zendal.

“The project has been nonsense from beginning to end,” Hernández said. “A few beds without adequate personnel don’t make a hospital.”

Fernando Prados, Zendal’s manager, says he doesn’t mind the debate but the 750 patients treated over the last month and a half have already taken significant pressure off other hospitals.

“We have already contributed in one way or another,” Prados said. “We know that we will continue to have COVID patients and once the pandemic is over this infrastructure will be here for any other emergency.”

Past automatic glass doors, patients recover in modules of 8 beds, leaving little space for privacy but providing better monitoring of possible complications in their recovery, said Verónica Real, whose challenge as the head nurse has been to organize staff teams drawn from other hospitals.

“Some of the sanitary workers arrive with a degree of anger for all the noise out there about our hospital,” Real said. “But once here, the attitude completely changes.”

The Zendal’s managers say a modern ventilation system renews the entire facility’s air every 5 minutes, which contributes to a safer work environment. But they are most proud of the expansion of the intermediate respiratory care unit, where patients receive varying types of assisted respiration to overcome lung inflammation.

The unit’s chief, Pedro Landete, says by admitting potentially worsening patients in one of its 50 highly-equipped beds, they are reducing the number of people who later require the more demanding intensive care.

José Andrés Armada arrived with mild symptoms at the facility after all his family was infected despite what he said was a very careful approach to the pandemic. But the 63-year-old’s health quickly deteriorated and last week he was on the brink of being intubated in one of the Zendal’s dozen ICU boxes.

“I know that the economy is something to safeguard, but health is more important. We should be in lockdown by now. You can’t have bars and other places open,” the former entrepreneur said.

“I never imagined it could attack you in such a way.”

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AP reporter Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Police: Thief berated mom for leaving kid in car he stole

From the Associated Press

BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) — A car thief who found a toddler in the backseat of a stolen vehicle drove back and chastised the mother for leaving the child unattended before taking off again, police in Oregon said.

The woman went into a grocery store about 15 feet (5 yards) from the car Saturday, leaving her 4-year-old child inside with the engine running and the vehicle unlocked, said Beaverton police spokesman Officer Matt Henderson.

A store employee told authorities the woman was in the market for a few minutes before someone began driving away with the SUV.

Once the thief realized the toddler was in the backseat, he drove back, berated the woman for leaving her child unattended, told the woman to take the child and drove away in the stolen vehicle.

“He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police on her,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the woman did nothing wrong and was within sight and sound of the child. He said the incident served as a “good reminder to take extra precaution” with children.

“Obviously, we’re thankful he brought the little one back and had the decency to do that,” Henderson said.

The vehicle was found a few hours later in Portland but police are still searching for the thief. The suspect was said to be in his 20s or 30s with dark brown or black braided hair and a multi-colored face mask.

Police said anyone with information on the theft should contact the department.

Police command structure crumbled fast during Capitol riot

By NOMAAN MERCHANT and COLLEEN LONG for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, many of the police officers had to decide on their own how to fight them off. There was no direction. No plan. And no top leadership.

One cop ran from one side of the building to another, fighting hand-to-hand against rioters. Another decided to respond to any calls of officers in distress and spent three hours helping cops who had been immobilized by bear spray or other chemicals.

FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Three officers were able to handcuff one rioter. But a crowd swarmed the group and took the arrested man away with the handcuffs still on.

Interviews with four members of the U.S. Capitol Police who were overrun by rioters on Jan. 6 show just how quickly the command structure collapsed as throngs of people, egged on by President Donald Trump, set upon the Capitol. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because the department has threatened to suspend anyone who speaks to the media.

“We were on our own,” one of the officers told The Associated Press. “Totally on our own.”

The officers who spoke to the AP said they were given next to no warning by leadership on the morning of Jan. 6 about what would become a growing force of thousands of rioters, many better armed than the officers themselves were. And once the riot began, they were given no instructions by the department’s leaders on how to stop the mob or rescue lawmakers who had barricaded themselves inside. There were only enough officers for a routine day.

Three officers told the AP they did not hear Chief Steven Sund on the radio the entire afternoon. It turned out he was sheltering with Vice President Mike Pence in a secure location for some of the siege. Sund resigned the next day.

His assistant chief, Yogananda Pittman, who is now interim chief, was heard over the radio telling the force to “lock the building down,” with no further instructions, two officers said.

One specific order came from Lt. Tarik Johnson, who told officers not to use deadly force outside the building as the rioters descended, the officers recounted. The order almost certainly prevented deaths and more chaos, but it meant officers didn’t pull their weapons and were fighting back with fists and batons.

Johnson has been suspended after being captured on video wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat while moving through crowds of rioters. Johnson told colleagues he wore the hat as a tactic to gain the crowd’s confidence as he tried to reach other officers who were pinned down by rioters, one of the officers said. A video of the incident obtained by the Wall Street Journal shows Johnson asking rioters for help in getting his colleagues.

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, was heard by an officer on the radio repeatedly asking, “Does anybody have a plan?”

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The Capitol Police has more than 2,300 staff and a budget that’s grown rapidly over the last two decades to roughly $500 million, making it larger than many major metro police departments. Minneapolis, for example, has 840 officers and a $176 million budget.

Despite plenty of online warnings of a possible insurrection and ample resources and time to prepare, the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration on Jan. 6.

They rejected offers of support from the Pentagon three days before the siege, according to senior defense officials and two people familiar with the matter. And during the riot, they turned down an offer by the Justice Department to have FBI agents come in as reinforcements. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision-making process.

The riot left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was hit in the head by a fire extinguisher. Another officer died in an apparent suicide after the attack.

The attack has forced a reckoning among law enforcement agencies. Federal watchdogs launched a sweeping review of how the FBI, the Pentagon and other agencies responded to the riot, including whether there were failures in information sharing and other preparations that left the historic symbol of democracy vulnerable to assault.

Top decision-makers have offered differing explanations for why they didn’t have enough personnel.

Sund told The Washington Post that he was worried about the possibility for violence and wanted to bring in the National Guard, but the House and Senate sergeants at arms refused his request. To bring in the Guard, the sergeants at arms would have had to ask congressional leaders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said congressional leaders had not been informed of any request for the National Guard before the day of the riot. The office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, declined to comment.

It’s not clear why the threat was not taken more seriously.

John Donohue, a 32-year veteran of the New York Police Department who advises the Capitol Police on intelligence matters, sent a memo on Jan. 3 warning of the potential for an attack on Congress from the pro-Trump crowd, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the memo first reported by The Washington Post. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal memo.

Donohue was well-versed in the extremist threat. At a congressional hearing in July, before he starting advising the Capitol Police, Donohue told lawmakers the federal government needed a system to better monitor social media for domestic extremists.

“America is at a crossroads,” he said in his testimony. “The intersection of constitutional rights and legitimate law enforcement has never been more at risk by domestic actors as it is now as seditionists actively promote a revolution.”

Tens of thousands of National Guard members have now been called to secure the Capitol in advance of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Capitol Police did not respond to questions Friday.

___

For major events, the Capitol Police normally holds meetings to brief officers on their responsibilities and plans in case of an emergency. Three of the officers interviewed by the AP said there were no meetings on or before Jan. 6. It’s also unclear whether the department held over its overnight shift or called in more officers early to help those who would be on duty that day.

“During the 4th of July concerts and the Memorial Day concerts, we don’t have people come up and say, ‘We’re going to seize the Capitol,’” one officer said. “But yet, you bring everybody in, you meet before. That never happened for this event.”

Another officer said he was only told that morning to pick up a riot helmet. He said he had training on dealing with large crowds, but not on how to handle a riot.

“We were under the impression it was just going to be a lot of yelling, cursing,” he said.

As Trump called on his supporters to go to the Capitol, telling them to “fight like hell,” members of the House and Senate were inside the building to certify Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

Crowds of Trump supporters, many of them linked to far-right or white supremacist groups, began gathering on both sides of the Capitol.

An officer working the western front of the building, which faces the White House and where risers were set up for the inauguration, quickly realized that the crowds were not peaceful. The rioters began breaking down short fences and systematically clipping off “Area Closed” signs, the officer said.

Videos from the event show the crowd climbing the walls on the western side and eventually breaching the building.

One officer listed the various weapons used to hit him and people near him: batons, flagpoles, sections of fencing, batteries, rubber bullets and canisters of bear spray that went further than the chemicals the officers themselves had. Some of the rioters showed their badges from other law enforcement agencies, claiming they were on the side of the Capitol Police, the officer said.

Most of the insurrectionists left without being arrested, which officers who spoke to the AP say was because it was next to impossible to arrest them given how badly the force was outnumbered. That was underscored by the rioters taking away a man who officers had tried to arrest inside the Capitol.

“The group came and snatched him and took him away in cuffs,” one officer said. “Outside of shooting people, what are you supposed to do?”

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Merchant reported from Houston.

Military nurses, tests coming to help hard-hit Arizona city

By ANITA SNOW for the Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Exhausted nurses in rural Yuma, Arizona, regularly send COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to Phoenix when they don’t have enough staff. The so-called winter lettuce capital of the U.S. also has lagged on coronavirus testing in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.

Amalia Ayala, front, a resident of Las Brisas Sunset senior apartment complex in San Luis, Ariz., deposits saliva for her COVID-19 test during the ASU and Equality Health Foundation pilot program on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Free saliva tests engineered by Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute are administered in Yuma County’s small border city of San Luis to disabled and older people living in subsidized housing. The tests have also been given to hundreds of farmworkers. (Cesar Neyoy/The Yuma Sun via AP)

But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County — the hardest-hit county in one of the hardest-hit states.

Almost everyone in Yuma County, near the borders of Mexico and California, seems to know somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19, with around 33,000 cases reported since last spring — a rate of about 14,000 per 100,000 people. Maricopa County, the largest in Arizona and home to Phoenix, has a rate of about 9,000 cases per 100,000 people.

Yuma County’s soaring numbers come as Arizona’s COVID-19 diagnosis rate ranked the worst in the U.S. over the past week, at one in every 120 people.

“It’s had a significant impact on the community,” said Dr. Robert Trenschel, president and CEO of Yuma Regional Medical Center, the area’s only acute care hospital. “We’re still likely to see another peak from New Year’s celebrations.”

Tests in Yuma County are 20% positive, compared with about 14% for Arizona. The Arizona State Department of Health Services reported Sunday that 633 people had died in the county with a population of about 215,000.

Of the 124 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Friday, 28 were in intensive care, according to local health statistics.

Officials at Yuma Regional Medical Center say it’s been a struggle to maintain staffing of 900 to 1,000 nurses while competing for medical workers in an overwhelmed national health care system.

To ensure each nurse has no more than five or six patients at a time, the 406-bed Yuma hospital has transferred COVID-19 patients to other facilities, sometimes up to 10 a day, said Deb Anders, chief nursing officer. Transfers are usually by helicopter to Phoenix, which is 180 miles (290 kilometers) away and has the closest major hospitals, although a few have gone to Tucson in southern Arizona.

Forty Army Reserve nurses arrived this month to help at the Yuma hospital for at least a month through a Department of Defense COVID-19 support operation in hard-hit parts of the U.S. West and Midwest.

They are among several hundred military medical personnel dispatched since November to work alongside civilian health care providers treating COVID-19 patients on the Navajo Nation and in six states including Arizona and New Mexico, according to the U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Yuma County’s residents include seasonal laborers from California’s Salinas Valley and Mexican migrant workers with U.S. agricultural visas.

The hot, dry region features vast agricultural fields of leafy greens, alfalfa and cotton in the middle of the desert, fed by the Colorado River that meanders near Yuma’s historic downtown.

Top non-farm employers include the medical center, the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the U.S. Border Patrol. The county is also home to some 85,000 part-time retirees and thousands of inmates at the Yuma State Prison Complex.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, farmworkers headed to the fields Thursday were getting hundreds of free saliva tests engineered by the Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute through a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The initiative aims to improve testing in places like Yuma County, which is 60% Hispanic and thus disproportionately affected by the virus because of conditions like diabetes and obesity.

Working with bilingual health advocates from the Yuma area, the Equality Health Foundation administered tests through the project Friday to older people and those with disabilities at their homes.

“Yuma is a testing desert,” said Tomas Leon, spokesman for Equality Health, which brings medical care to underserved communities. “We are taking these tests in a community-driven, culturally appropriate way to people where they are.”

Flavio F. Marsiglia, director of ASU’s Global Center for Applied Health Research, said he and others involved in the testing project are now exploring the possibility of returning to Yuma County with the vaccine later this year.

“We are trying to get to these hard-to-reach parts of society that are always left behind,” Marsiglia said.

The Yuma County Public Health District reported in the middle of last week that its early supply of the vaccine had run out. Arizona officials say that some 6,200 doses have been administered in Yuma County.

“Vaccines are really what we need right now,” said Trenschel, the medical center’s CEO. Much of the hospital’s staff has received the first of two recommended doses.

The vaccine rollout in Yuma has been slow, with the county saying over the weekend it was getting get just 6,900 more doses Tuesday.

In Yuma County’s small border city of San Luis, Mayor Gerardo Sanchez, who is also a physician’s assistant, uses his Facebook page to advertise free testing like Equality Health’s and encourage people to wear masks.

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls, meanwhile, promotes a city program that collects donations for meals and other tokens of appreciation for front-line medical staff.

Children also send thank you cards to health care workers.

“The messages really warm my heart,” said certified pharmacy technician Jenny Jimenez, who received a stack of cards as she worked one recent overnight shift.

“Dear healthcare workers,” a little girl named Catherine wrote alongside a hand-drawn heart in a card for doctors in the COVID-19 unit. “Thank you for keeping us safe from COVID. We appreciate everything you do.”

Freezing weather hits much of Europe, from Poland to Turkey

By VANESSA GERA for the Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Extreme cold has hit large parts of Europe, with freezing temperatures cracking railroad tracks in Poland, snow blanketing the Turkish city of Istanbul and smog spiking as coal was being burned to generate heat.

In Switzerland, a skier who had been buried by an avalanche on the weekend died in a hospital of his injuries, authorities said Monday.

A woman with a dog walks through a snow covered street in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. MMeteorologists predict sub zero temperatures in Serbia throughout the coming week. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

The country had issued avalanche warnings several days earlier after heavy snowfall hit various regions. Officials said the skier and his two companions were buried by an avalanche while they were skiing off marked trails in the Gstaad area on Sunday afternoon.

One man was able to free himself from the snow and then extricate one of the others, but the third man could only be found by rescue crews who arrived later on the scene. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition and died a short time later, authorities said.

Temperatures dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 Fahrenheit) in some Polish areas overnight, the coldest night in 11 years. Many trains were delayed on Monday after tracks at two Warsaw railway stations cracked.

Hand-in-hand with the cold came a spike in smog in Warsaw and other parts of Poland, as the cold prompted an increase in burning coal for heat. Air pollution levels were so high in Warsaw that city officials urged people to remain indoors.

Just across Poland’s southwestern border, the Czech Republic experienced the coldest night this year with temperatures dropping below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) in many places.

The lowest temperature, of minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 16 Fahrenheit), was recorded Monday in Orlicke Zahori, a mountainous village 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Prague and near the Polish border, according to the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.

The freezing weather was expected to ease and be replaced by heavy snowfall in the northeastern Czech Republic, the institute said.

Wintry weather and freezing temperatures have also been reported throughout the Balkans in the past days, which has created problems with power supplies in some parts of Serbia and brought some snow even to Croatia’s Adriatic Sea islands.

In eastern Albania temperatures dipped as low as minus 13 degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) in Peshkopi, 110 kilometers (70 miles) east of the capital Tirana.

The deep freeze has caused water supply pipes to freeze and created dangerous driving conditions. The icy roads in the city of Pogradec prevented firefighters from arriving in time at a home fire in which a man died early Monday.

The man’s brother, Nikolin Xhukellari, told the Balkanweb online portal that he managed to get his two children and wife out of the building but his brother, who was on the second floor, could not escape.

In Istanbul, traffic was brought to a halt by the layer of snow covering the city, with cars stalled or skidding on the roads.

In Germany, fresh snow, slippery roads and fallen trees led to several car accidents on Sunday and overnight, the dpa news agency reported. A driver died in southwestern Germany after his car shot over a mound of snow.

The Nordic region also saw snow and subfreezing temperatures, with the coldest temperatures predictably recorded in the Arctic. Norway’s meteorological institute tweeted a tongue-in-cheek message on Monday, saying: “we encourage all knitting lovers to send woolen clothes to their friends in the north.”

In Denmark, police said 17 people were found ice bathing naked Sunday morning in a lake near Roskilde, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Copenhagen. Everyone in the group, aged between 26 and 51, was preliminary charged with violating pandemic restrictions banning the public gathering of more than five people. Police said they will all receive a fine, which is 2,500 kroner ($405) for first-time offenders.

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AP writers from across Europe contributed.

FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack

By LOLITA C. BALDOR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.

National Guard troops reinforce security around the U.S. Capitol ahead of expected protests leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, following the deadly attack on Congress by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues that they were aware of.

”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.

Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday. Several officials discussed military planning on condition of anonymity.

“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”

In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve running peoples’ names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.

Insider threats have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But in most cases, the threats are from homegrown insurgents radicalized by al-Qaida, the Islamic State group or similar groups. In contrast, the threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other radical groups. Many believe Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was stolen from him, a claim that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battleground states.

The insurrection at the Capitol began after Trump made incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally. According to McCarthy, service members from across the military were at that rally, but it’s not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol. So far only a couple of current active-duty or National Guard members have been arrested in connection with the Capitol assault, which left five people dead. The dead included a Capitol Police officer and a woman shot by police as she climbed through a window in a door near the House chamber.

Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been meeting with Guard troops as they arrive in D.C. and as they gather downtown. He said he believes there are good processes in place to identify any potential threats.

“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” he said.

The insider threat, however, was just one of the security concerns voiced by officials on Sunday, as dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, D.C., officials and commanders went through a security rehearsal in northern Virginia. As many as three dozen leaders lined tables that ringed a massive color-coded map of D.C. reflected onto the floor. Behind them were dozens more National Guard officers and staff, with their eyes trained on additional maps and charts displayed on the wall.

The Secret Service is in charge of event security, but there is a wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Capitol Police and U.S. Park Police.

Commanders went over every aspect of the city’s complicated security lockdown, with McCarthy and others peppering them with questions about how the troops will respond in any scenario and how well they can communicate with the other enforcement agencies scattered around the city.

Hokanson said he believes his troops have been adequately equipped and prepared, and that they are rehearsing as much as they can to be prepared for any contingency.

The major security concern is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as planted explosives and other devices. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest that groups are organizing armed rallies leading up to Inauguration Day, and possibly after that.

The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through repeated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officers would make any arrests.

He said Guard units are going through “constant mental repetitions of looking at the map and talking through scenarios with leaders so they understand their task and purpose, they know their routes, they know where they’re friendly, adjacent units are, they have the appropriate frequencies to communicate with their law enforcement partners.”

The key goal, he said, is for America’s transfer of power to happen without incident.

“This is a national priority. We have to be successful as an institution,” said McCarthy. “We want to send the message to everyone in the United States and for the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Search now recovery mission for Oregon woman in landslide

From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Searchers used inflatable yellow rafts and drove metal poles into deep mud Thursday as they searched for a woman who was swept away by a landslide in Oregon during a powerful winter storm.

Authorities said in social media posts that they have found part of the SUV that 50-year-old Jennifer Camus Moore, of Warrendale, Oregon, was driving when she was swept away Wednesday but have not located her.

Later Thursday, authorities said searchers believe her car came to rest under 15 feet (4.6 meters) of mud and debris and that the search had become a recovery mission.

Search and rescue crews continue to look for a missing woman whose car was swept away by a mudslide Wednesday in the Dodson area of the Columbia River Gorge, in Oregon, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Searchers used inflatable yellow rafts and drove metal poles into deep mud as they searched for a woman who was missing in Oregon during a powerful winter storm. Authorities have found part of the SUV that 50-year-old Jennifer Camus Moore was driving when she was swept away. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian via AP)

Moore, a registered nurse, was caught up in a landslide in the Columbia River Gorge that was triggered by heavy rain and high winds that pounded the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday and Wednesday. The cliffs around the search area near the small community of Dodson, Oregon, remain unstable.

On Wednesday, searchers used thermal imaging to try to locate Moore without success, but it was too dangerous to send teams into the mudflow. On Thursday, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office tweeted video of searchers using yellow inflatable rafts to navigate the dangerous terrain.

The slide was triggered by a powerful Pacific Northwest storm that swept into the area late Tuesday and Wednesday. Heavy rainfall and high winds left more than a half-million people without power, felled trees across Oregon and Washington and swept a tractor-trailer off a bridge. Localized flooding and debris flows shut down roads throughout the region, including a portion of Interstate 84 in Oregon.

One person in Spokane, Washington, died Wednesday when a tree fell on a car and trapped a woman inside.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward declared a civil emergency in the city of 220,000 on Thursday to make it easier to deploy teams to deal with power outages and more than 250 felled trees that were blocking roadways.

School districts were also forced to cancel classes because internet service was down and students couldn’t access online classes.

At least 34 dead as Indonesia quake topples homes, buildings

By NINIEK KARMINI and YUSUF WAHIL for the Associated Press

MAMUJU, Indonesia (AP) — A strong, shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sulawesi island just after midnight Friday, toppling homes and buildings, triggering landslides and killing at least 34 people.

More than 600 people were injured during the magnitude 6.2 quake, which sent people fleeing their homes in the darkness. Authorities were still collecting information about the full scale of casualties and damage in the affected areas.

People react as the body of a relative is retrieved from the ruin of a building at an area affected by an earthquake in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. A strong, shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sulawesi island just after midnight Friday, toppling homes and buildings, triggering landslides and killing a number of people. (AP Photo/Yusuf Wahil)

There were reports of many people trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.

In a video released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, a girl stuck in the wreckage of a house cried out for help and said she heard the sound of other family members also trapped. “Please help me, it hurts,” the girl told rescuers, who replied that they desperately wanted to help her.

The rescuers said an excavator was needed to save the girl and others trapped in collapsed buildings. Other images showed a severed bridge and damaged and flattened houses. TV stations reported the earthquake damaged part of a hospital and patients were moved to an emergency tent outside.

Another video showed a father crying, asking for help to save his children buried under their toppled house. “They are trapped inside, please help,” he cried.

Thousands of displaced people were evacuated to temporary shelters.

The quake was centered 36 kilometers (22 miles) south of West Sulawesi province’s Mamuju district, at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Indonesian disaster agency said the death toll climbed to 34 as rescuers in Mamuju retrieved 26 bodies trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.

The agency said in a statement that eight people were killed and 637 others were injured in Mamuju’s neighboring district of Majene.

It said at least 300 houses and a health clinic were damaged and about 15,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters in the district. Power and phones were down in many areas.

West Sulawesi Administration Secretary Muhammad Idris told TVOne that the governor’s office building was among those that collapsed in Mamuju, the provincial capital, and many people there remain trapped.

Rescuer Saidar Rahmanjaya said a lack of heavy equipment was hampering the operation to clear the rubble from collapsed houses and buildings. He said his team was working to save 20 people trapped in eight buildings, including in the governor’s office, a hospital and hotels.

“We are racing against time to rescue them,” Rahmanjaya said.

Relatives wailed as they watched rescuers pull a body of a loved one from a damaged home in devastated Mamuju. It was placed in an orange body bag and taken away for burial.

“Oh my God, why did we have to go through this?” cried Rina, who uses one name. “I can’t save my dear sister … forgive me, sister, forgive us, God!”

President Joko Widodo said in a televised address that he had ordered his social minister and the chiefs of the military, police and disaster agency to carry out emergency response measures and search and rescue operations as quickly as possible.

“I, on behalf of the Government and all Indonesian people, would like to express my deep condolences to families of the victims,” Widodo said.

The National Search and Rescue Agency’s chief, Bagus Puruhito, said rescuers from the cities of Palu, Makassar, Balikpapan and Jakarta were being deployed to help in Mamuju and Majene.

Two ships were heading to the affected areas from Makassar and Balikpapan carrying rescuers and search and rescue equipment, while a Hercules plane carrying supplies was on its way from Jakarta.

Puruhito is already leading more than 4,100 rescue personnel in a separate massive search operation for victims of the crash of a Sriwijaya Air jet into the Java Sea last Saturday.

Among the dead in Majene were three people killed when their homes were flattened by the quake while they were sleeping, said Sirajuddin, the district’s disaster agency chief.

Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, said although the inland earthquake did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, people along coastal areas ran to higher ground in fear one might occur.

Landslides were set off in three locations and blocked a main road connecting Mamuju to the Majene district, said Raditya Jati, the disaster agency’s spokesperson.

On Thursday, a magnitude 5.9 undersea quake hit the same region, damaging several homes but causing no apparent casualties.

Indonesia’s meteorology, climatology and geophysical agency, known by its Indonesian acronym BMKG, warned of the dangers of aftershocks and the potential for a tsunami. Its chairwoman urged people in coastal areas to move to higher ground as a precaution.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Palu on Sulawesi island set off a tsunami and caused soil to collapse in a phenomenon called liquefaction. More than 4,000 people died, many of the victims buried when whole neighborhoods were swallowed in the falling ground.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Spain rejects virus confinement as most of Europe stays home

By ARITZ PARRA for the Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — While most of Europe kicked off 2021 with earlier curfews or stay-at-home orders, authorities in Spain insist the new coronavirus variant causing havoc elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases and that the country can avoid a full lockdown even as its hospitals fill up.

FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, people wearing face masks walk along the stalls of a weekly market in the Spanish city of La Linea. While most of Europe kicked off 2021 with earlier curfews or stay-at-home orders, authorities in Spain insist the new coronavirus variant wreaking havoc elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases and that the country can avoid a full lockdown even as its hospitals fill up. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

The government has been tirelessly fending off drastic home confinement like the one that paralyzed the economy for nearly three months in the spring of 2020, the last time Spain could claim victory over the stubborn rising curve of cases.

Infection rates ebbed in October but never completely flattened the surge from summer. Cases started climbing again before the end of the year. In the past month, 14-day rates more than doubled, from 188 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 10 to 522 per 100,000 on Thursday.

Nearly 39,000 new cases were reported Wednesday and over 35,000 on Thursday, some of the highest daily increases to date.

The surge is again threatening intensive care unit capacity and burdening exhausted medical workers. Some facilities have already suspended elective surgery, and the eastern city of Valencia has reopened a makeshift hospital used last year.

Unlike Portugal, which is going on a month-long lockdown Friday and doubling fines for those who don’t wear masks, officials in Spain insist it will be enough to take short, highly localized measures that restrict social gatherings without affecting the whole economy.

“We know what we have to do and we are doing it,” Health Minster Salvador Illa told a news conference Wednesday, ruling out a national home confinement order and advocating for “measures that were a success during the second wave.”

Fernando Simón, the government’s top virus expert, has blamed the recent increase in cases on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. “The new variant, even if it has an impact, it will be a marginal one, at least in our country,” he said this week.

But many independent experts disagree and say Spain has no capacity to conduct the widespread sequencing of samples to detect how the new variants have spread, and that 88 confirmed and nearly 200 suspected cases that officials say have largely been imported from the U.K. are underestimating the real impact.

Dr. Rafael Bengoa, former director of Healthcare Systems at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press the government should immediately enact “a strict but short” four-week confinement.

“Trying to do as little as possible so as not to affect the economy or for political reasons doesn’t get us where we need to be,” said Bengoa, who also oversaw a deep reform in the Basque regional health system.

The situation in Spain contrasts starkly with other European countries that have also shown similar sharp leaps in cases, increasingly more of them blamed on the more contagious variant first detected in the U.K.

The Netherlands, which has been locked down for a month, has seen the pace of infections starting to drop. But with 2% to 5% of new COVID-19 cases from the new variant, the country is from Friday requiring air passengers from the U.K., Ireland and South Africa to provide not only a negative PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours before departure but also a rapid antigen test result from immediately before takeoff.

France, where a recent study of 100,000 positive tests yielded about 1% of infections with the variant, is imposing curfews as early as 6 p.m., and Health Minister Oliver Veran has not ruled out a stay-at-home order if the situation worsens.

Existing lockdowns or the prospect of mandatory confinement have not been questioned or turned into a political issue in other European countries.

Ireland instituted a complete lockdown after widespread infections were found to be tied to the new variant. Italy has a color-coded system that activates a strict lockdown at its highest — or red — level, although no areas are currently at that stage.

In the U.K., scientific evidence of the new variant has silenced some critics of restrictions and spurred Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose measures that are strict but slightly milder than the nation’s first lockdown. People have been ordered to stay home except for limited essential trips and exercise, and schools have been closed except for some exceptions.

In Germany, where the 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has recently shot up to 26 per 100,000 people, many high-ranking officials are arguing that the existing strict confinement order needs to be toughened and extended beyond its current end-of-January expiration.

Nordic countries have rejected full-on mandatory lockdowns, instead instituting tight limitations on gatherings and certain activities. Residents have been asked to follow specific recommendations to limit the spread of the virus.

In Sweden, the issue is both legal and political, as no law exists that would allow the government to restrict the population’s mobility. While urging residents to refrain from going to the gym or the library, Swedish Prime Stefan Lofven said last month, “we don’t believe in a total lockdown,” before adding, “We are following our strategy.”

Policymakers in Spain seem to be on a similar approach, although it remains to be seen if the results will prove them wrong. On Thursday, they insisted that vaccinations will soon reach “cruising speed.”

But Bengoa, the former WHO expert, said vaccinations won’t fix the problem immediately.

“Trying to live with the virus and with these data for months is to live with very high mortality and with the possibility that new variants are created,” he said, adding that the new variant of the virus widely identified in the U.K. could make the original version start to seem like “a good one.”

Dr. Salvador Macip, a researcher with the University of Leicester and the Open University of Catalonia, says the combination of spiraling infections and the uncertainty over the new variants should be enough for a more restrictive approach, but that pandemic fatigue is making such decisions more difficult for countries like Spain, with polarized politics.

“People are fed up with making sacrifices that take us nowhere because they see that they will have to repeat them,” Macip said.

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Associated Press writers across Europe contributed.

WHO team arrives in Wuhan to investigate pandemic origins

By SAM McNEIL and HUIZHONG WU for the Associated Press

WUHAN, China (AP) — A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The group sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO.

Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. The ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, has suggested the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood, but international scientists reject that.

Fifteen team members were to arrive in Wuhan on Thursday, but two tested positive for coronavirus antibodies before leaving Singapore and were being retested there, WHO said in a statement on Twitter.

The rest of the team arrived at the Wuhan airport and walked through a makeshift clear plastic tunnel into the airport. The researchers, who wore face masks, were greeted by airport staff in full protective gear, including masks, goggles and full body suits.

They will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for COVID-19, according to CGTN, the English-language channel of state broadcaster CCTV. They are to start working with Chinese experts via video conference while in quarantine.

The team includes virus and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.

A government spokesman said this week they will “exchange views” with Chinese scientists but gave no indication whether they would be allowed to gather evidence.

China rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus’s spread, which plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s.

After Australia called in April for an independent inquiry, Beijing retaliated by blocking imports of Australian beef, wine and other goods.

One possibility is that a wildlife poacher might have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan, one of the WHO team members, zoologist Peter Daszak of the U.S. group EcoHealth Alliance, told The Associated Press in November.

A single visit by scientists is unlikely to confirm the virus’s origins; pinning down an outbreak’s animal reservoir is typically an exhaustive endeavor that takes years of research including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.

“The government should be very transparent and collaborative,” said Shin-Ru Shih, director at the Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections at Taiwan’s Chang Gung University.

The Chinese government has tried to stir confusion about the virus’s origin. It has promoted theories, with little evidence, that the outbreak might have started with imports of tainted seafood, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.

“The WHO will need to conduct similar investigations in other places,” an official of the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said Wednesday.

Some members of the WHO team were en route to China a week ago but had to turn back after Beijing announced they hadn’t received valid visas.

That might have been a “bureaucratic bungle,” but the incident “raises the question if the Chinese authorities were trying to interfere,” said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a health expert at the University of Sydney.

A possible focus for investigators is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the outbreak first emerged. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

According to WHO’s published agenda for its origins research, there are no plans to assess whether there might have been an accidental release of the coronavirus at the Wuhan lab, as some American politicians, including President Donald Trump, have claimed.

A “scientific audit” of Institute records and safety measures would be a “routine activity,” said Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh. He said that depends on how willing Chinese authorities are to share information.

“There’s a big element of trust here,” Woolhouse said.

An AP investigation found the government imposed controls on research into the outbreak and bars scientists from speaking to reporters.

The coronavirus’s exact origin may never be traced because viruses change quickly, Woolhouse said.

A year after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, the city is now bustling, with few signs that it was once the epicenter of the outbreak in China. But some residents say they’re still eager to learn about its origin.

“We locals care about this very much. We are curious where the pandemic came from and what the situation was. We live here so we are keen to know,” said Qin Qiong, owner of a chain of restaurants serving hot and sour noodles. She said she trusts in science to solve the question.

Although it may be challenging to find precisely the same COVID-19 virus in animals as in humans, discovering closely related viruses might help explain how the disease first jumped from animals and clarify what preventive measures are needed to avoid future epidemics.

Scientists should focus instead on making a “comprehensive picture” of the virus to help respond to future outbreaks, Woolhouse said.

“Now is not the time to blame anyone,” Shih said. “We shouldn’t say, it’s your fault.”

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Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

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Corrects that the Communist Party has “suggested” the virus came from abroad. It has not definitively said this.

Arizona to open 2nd state-run COVID-19 vaccination site

By PAUL DAVENPORT for the Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona is further expanding its COVID-19 vaccination program with plans that include opening another state-run site in metro Phoenix and new vaccine eligibility for additional older Arizona residents, officials said Thursday

The next vaccination site will open with daytime hours Feb. 1 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium near the Phoenix-Tempe line, with registration beginning on Tuesday, the state Department of Health Services announced.

Arizona had the worst state COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, with one of every 107 people diagnosed with COVID-19 from Jan. 6 to Wednesday. The rate is calculated by dividing a state’s population by the number of new cases over the past week.

Arizona’s vaccination program was slow to get off the ground, but officials said the first state-run large site, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, has proved to be success — administering thousands of doses daily, officials said.

The vaccination site at State Farm Stadium “has been a game changer,” Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said in a statement.

Ducey’s administration on Wednesday announced that people age 65 and older starting next week can sign up to get vaccinated, mirroring updated recommendations from federal health officials.

The Department of Health Services had previously allowed vaccines for those age 75 and older, with the younger groups to follow in later phases. Health officials said the latest change adds about 750,000 people to the priority vaccination list.

The state is allowing signups for the 65-and-older age group beginning Tuesday, though counties can set their own prioritization rules based on how many doses they have available, officials said.

In other developments, the Department of Health Services said the state has activated a federal program to have 100 pharmacies provide vaccines over the next few weeks and eventually boost the number to more than 800 outlets.

“As the federal government ships more vaccine doses to Arizona, we will have more vaccine sites and appointments available soon,” said Dr. Cara Christ, the department’s director.

Arizona began its vaccination program with eligibility for frontline health care workers, emergency personnel and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Eligibility then was expanded to include law enforcement personnel, educators, child care workers and people age 75 and older.

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Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Australia to kill pigeon that crossed Pacific from Oregon

By ROD McGUIRK for the Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to find a new home in Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it.

A racing pigeon sits on a rooftop Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia, The racing pigeon, first spotted in late Dec. 2020, appears to have made an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to Australia. Experts suspect the pigeon named Joe, after the U.S. president-elect, hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. (Kevin Celli-Bird via AP)

Kevin Celli-Bird said Thursday he discovered the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29.

Experts suspect the pigeon that Celli-Bird has named Joe, after the U.S. president-elect, hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific.

Joe’s feat has attracted the attention of the Australian media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities called him on Thursday to ask him to catch the bird.

“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” he said. “They wanted to know if I could help them out. I said, ’To be honest, I can’t catch it. I can get within 500 mil (millimeters or 20 inches) of it and then it moves.’”

He said quarantine authorities were now considering contracting a professional bird catcher.

The Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, said the pigeon was “not permitted to remain in Australia” because it “could compromise Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations.”

“It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry,” a department statement said.

In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.

Pigeons are an unusual sight in Celli-Bird’s backyard in suburban Officer, where Australian native doves are far more common.

“It rocked up at our place on Boxing Day. I’ve got a fountain in the backyard and it was having a drink and a wash. He was pretty emaciated so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him,” Celli-Bird said.

“Next day, he rocked back up at our water feature, so I wandered out to have a look at him because he was fairly weak and he didn’t seem that afraid of me and I saw he had a blue band on his leg. Obviously he belongs to someone, so I managed to catch him,” he added.

Celli-Bird, who says he has no interest in birds “apart from my last name,” said he could no longer catch the pigeon with his bare hands since it had regained its strength.

He said the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union had confirmed that Joe was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.

Celli-Bird said he had attempted to contact the owner, but had so far been unable to get through.

The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes sitting side-by-side with a native dove on a pergola. Celli-Bird has been feeding it pigeon food from within days of its arrival.

“I think that he just decided that since I’ve given him some food and he’s got a spot to drink, that’s home,” he said.

Australian National Pigeon Association secretary Brad Turner said he had heard of cases of Chinese racing pigeons reaching the Australian west coast aboard cargo ships, a far shorter voyage.

Turner said there were genuine fears pigeons from the United States could carry exotic diseases and he agreed Joe should be destroyed.

“While it sounds harsh to the normal person — they’d hear that and go: ‘this is cruel,’ and everything else — I’d think you’d find that A.Q.I.S. and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea,” Turner said, referring to the quarantine service.

It is claimed that the greatest long-distance flight recorded by a pigeon is one that started at Arras in France and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, back in 1931, according to pigeonpedia.com. The distance was 11,600 kilometers (7,200 miles) and took 24 days.

There are some known instances of long-distance flights but whether these are one-offs performed by the marathon runners of the pigeon world or they are feats that could be achieved by the average pigeon is not known.

UK’s Johnson pledges vaccine program to operate 24-7

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s coronavirus vaccine program will operate around the clock seven days a week “as soon as we can,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged Wednesday as the U.K. accelerates efforts to inoculate millions of its most vulnerable people against coronavirus.

A row of ambulances are parked outside the Royal London Hospital in London on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. British officials are considering tougher coronavirus restrictions as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients surpasses the first peak of the outbreak in the spring. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

Johnson said “at the moment, the limit is on supply” of the vaccines rather than on the ability of the country’s health service to deliver jabs quickly. The push to inoculate millions quickly comes as a more contagious variant of COVID-19 is sweeping across Britain and driving hospitals to their breaking points.

The U.K. is already under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. But some are calling for even tougher measures.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tightened restrictions Wednesday, barring the consumption of alcohol outdoors and barring the public from going inside a business to collect takeaways.

The U.K. government has set a goal of delivering the first vaccine dose to everyone over 70, as well as frontline health care workers, nursing home residents and anyone whose health makes them especially vulnerable to the virus, by the middle of February. That’s more than 15 million people.

Vaccinations will be given at hundreds of doctors’ offices and community pharmacies, 50 mass vaccination sites at convention centers and sports stadiums, as well as at 223 hospitals.

Britain is already using COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca and has approved one made by Moderna, but that one is not expected to be delivered until spring.

But the pace of vaccinations remains a constant source of discussion.

Johnson’s comments came as his vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, testified before a parliamentary committee that the government now had “line of sight” of deliveries to the end of February but sidestepped questions about week-by-week vaccine deliveries.

“In any manufacturing process, especially one where you’re dealing with a biological compound, a novel vaccine, is lumpy at the outset,” he told the Commons Science and Technology Committee. “There’s no doubt that it was, but getting better. … We have millions of doses coming through in the weeks and then next month and the month after.”

The challenge, Zahawi said, was not just getting vaccine shots into people’s arms, but the difficulty of reaching vulnerable people. Greater daily volumes of inoculations could be achieved if specific groups weren’t targeted, he said.

In a reflection of the frantic demand, Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca, asked the committee to help gain permission for people working in the vaccine process to get priority for the COVID-19 shots.

“One of the things that I’m worried about is actually maintaining a continuous supply and work on this vaccine,” he said as he appealed for workers to be immunized. “If you have an outbreak at one of the centers — which we’ve had actually — or in one of the groups in Oxford working on new variants, or the people that are working on the regulatory files, everything stops.″

On the timing front, the government is desperately trying to protect people with vaccines before hospitals are overwhelmed with cases of the new, more infections virus variant. Britain already has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with over 83,000 deaths.

England’s health care system may move patients into hotels to ease the pressure on hospitals struggling to handle rising COVID-19 admissions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that the National Health Service was looking at ways to reduce the strain on hospitals, including moving patients to hotels when appropriate.

“We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody,” Hancock told Sky News. “In some cases, people need sit-down care, they don’t actually need to be in a hospital bed.”

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Jill Lawless contributed to this story.

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Indonesia starts mass COVID vaccinations over vast territory

By EDNA TARIGAN and VICTORIA MILKO for the Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the first shot of a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine Wednesday after the government authorized it for emergency use and began efforts to vaccinate millions of people across the vast archipelago in one of the world’s most populous countries.

In this photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, President Joko Widodo, left, receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Widodo on Wednesday received the first shot of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine after Indonesia approved it for emergency use and began efforts to vaccine millions of people in the world’s fourth most populated country. Writings on the banner in the background read “Safe and Halal.” (Agus Suparto/Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP)

Indonesia’s vaccination program is the first large-scale use outside of China of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine. It poses massive challenges in a country whose thousands of islands stretch across an area about as wide as the continental United States and where transportation and infrastructure are limited in many places. Health officials have also noted it will be difficult to keep the vaccine at the required 36–46 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2-8 degrees Celsius) to maintain its safety and effectiveness.

After President Widodo, top military, police and medical officials also received shots, as did the secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the clerical body that last week ruled the vaccine was halal, or acceptable for use under Islamic law.

A health care worker, businesspeople and a social media influencer also got the vaccine to encourage others to follow suit once it is available to them. Officials have said they will prioritize health care workers, civil servants and other at-risk populations, and the two-dose vaccine will be free for all Indonesian citizens.

“We need to do the vaccination to stop the chain spread of COVID-19 and give health protection to us and the safety to all Indonesian people. It will also help accelerate economic improvement,” Widodo said.

While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been greeted with much fanfare in the West, its relatively high price and requirement for ultra-cold storage mean that other shots, like Chinese, Russian and the AstraZeneca vaccines, are more likely to be distributed to much of the developing world, even as experts have said more data needs to be shared about the Chinese and Russian products.

Indonesia plans to vaccinate two-thirds of its population of about 270 million people — or just over 180 million people. That means it needs about 427 million shots, given the estimate that 15% may be wasted, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

“This vaccine is the instrument we can use to protect us. But more importantly, the vaccine is the instrument to protect our family, our neighbor, Indonesian people and the human civilization,” Sadikin said on Wednesday.

He noted that given Indonesia’s enormous population — the world’s fourth largest — its vaccination program is key to worldwide efforts to protect enough people so that the global community reaches herd immunity.

But he cautioned that great obstacles remain.

“We know that the cold-chain distribution is not complete. This is the obstacle,” Sadikin said this week. “We are worried.”

The rollout comes as Indonesia registered the daily record in COVID-19 infections and fatalities on Wednesday, with 11,278 new cases and 306 new deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The country has recorded more than 858,000 infections and over 24,900 deaths.

Some scientists warn that not enough data has been published about the effectiveness or safety of the Sinovac vaccine. It has yet to be tested in tens of thousands of people in the kind of rigorous study considered necessary before being licensed for wide use.

But Zullies Ikawati, a pharmacy expert from Gadjah Mada University, said the efficacy rate shown so far from Indonesia’s small late-stage trials is good start and could save the lives of many people.

“Of course we still have to wait for the effectiveness of the vaccine after it is used in the community,” Ikawati said. “Observations on the efficacy and safety will still be carried out for the next six months to get full approval.”

Besides Indonesia, the Sinovac vaccine has been granted conditional use authorization in China and Bolivia. Several other countries have purchase agreements for millions of doses, including the Philippines, Singapore and Ukraine.

Chinese health officials have said that some 9 million vaccine doses have been administered in China, though the number of people who received the Sinovac shot itself has not been disclosed. China has several vaccines in development.

Indonesia received its first shipment of the Sinovac vaccines on Dec. 6 and began distributing the doses around the country while awaiting emergency use authorization. It was cleared for that use based on clinical trial data and after the Indonesian Ulema Council declared the vaccine halal.

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Trump on verge of 2nd impeachment after Capitol siege

By LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is on the verge of being impeached for a second time in an unprecedented House vote Wednesday, a week after he encouraged a mob of loyalists to “fight like hell” against election results just before they stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly siege.

“We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Hundreds of National Guard troops hold inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. The House of Representatives is pursuing an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump for his role in inciting an angry mob to storm the Capitol last week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“This was not a protest this was an insurrection,” he said. He called the rioters “traitors” and “domestic terrorists” and said “they we acting under the order of Donald Trump.”

Security at the Capitol was tight, beefed up by armed National Guard troops, with secure perimeters set up around the Capitol complex, congressional offices and other buildings.

While Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 brought no Republican votes in the House, a small but significant number of leaders and lawmakers are breaking with the party to join Democrats, saying Trump violated his oath to protect and defend U.S. democracy.

The stunning collapse of Trump’s final days in office, against alarming warnings of more violence ahead by his followers, leaves the nation at an uneasy and unfamiliar juncture before Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday before making a trip to Texas. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Trump, who would become the only U.S. president twice impeached, faces a single charge of “incitement of insurrection.”

The four-page impeachment resolution relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a White House rally on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in building its case for high crimes and misdemeanors as demanded in the Constitution.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma rejected the rush to impeach, saying the country “desperately needs a path forward of healing.”

Trump took no responsibility for the riot, suggesting it was the drive to oust him rather than his actions around the bloody riot that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said Tuesday, his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. Lawmakers had to scramble for safety and hide as rioters took control of the Capitol and delayed by hours the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.

The outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

At least five Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, were unswayed by the president’s logic. The Republicans announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Unlike a year ago, Trump faces impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is said to be angry at Trump, and it’s unclear how a Senate impeachment trial would play out. The New York Times reported that McConnell thinks Trump committed an impeachable offense and is glad Democrats are moving against him. Citing unidentified people familiar with McConnell’s thinking, the Times reported McConnell believes moving against Trump will help the GOP forge a future independent of the divisive, chaotic president.

In the House, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a top Trump ally, scrambled to suggest a lighter censure instead, but that option crumbled.

So far, Republican Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran; Fred Upton of Michigan; and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state announced they, too, would join Cheney to vote to impeach.

The House tried first to push Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to intervene, passing a resolution Tuesday night calling on them to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump from office. The resolution urged Pence to “declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”

Pence made it clear he would not do so, saying in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Debate over the resolution was intense after lawmakers returned the Capitol for the first time since the siege.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, argued that Trump must go because, as she said in Spanish, he’s “loco” — crazy.

In opposition, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said the “cancel culture” was just trying to cancel the president with his ouster.

While House Republican leaders are allowing rank and file lawmakers to vote their conscience on impeachment, it’s far from clear there would then be the two-thirds vote in the evenly divided Senate needed to convict and remove Trump. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

With just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, the FBI warned ominously of potential armed protests by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration. Capitol Police urged lawmakers to be on alert.

New security in place, lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about the screening.

Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down his first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID-19 relief while also conducting the trial.

The impeachment bill draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

Like the resolution to invoke the 25th Amendment, the impeachment bill also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes and his White House rally rant to “fight like hell” by heading to the Capitol.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.

Trump was impeached in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine but acquitted by the Senate in 2020.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show Trump’s first impeachment was in 2019, not last year.

California turns stadiums into COVID-19 vaccination centers

By DON THOMPSON for the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is transforming baseball stadiums, fairgrounds and even a Disneyland Resort parking lot into mass vaccination sites as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals and sets a deadly new record in the state.

Flags fly half-mast at Dodgers Stadium in honor of the recent passing of the Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda overlooking Los Angeles City Hall Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Dodger Stadium, the home stadium of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers holds 56,000 spectators. The The coronavirus death toll in California reached 30,000 on Monday, another staggering milestone as the nation’s most populous state endures the worst surge of the nearly yearlong pandemic. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

California’s COVID-19 death toll reached 30,000 on Monday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

It took six months for the nation’s most populous state to reach 10,000 deaths but barely a month to jump from 20,000 to 30,000 deaths. California ranks third nationally for COVID-19-related deaths, behind Texas and New York, which is No. 1 with nearly 40,000.

Public health officials have estimated about 12% of those who catch the virus will require hospital care, usually several weeks after infection as they get sicker.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and public health officials are counting on widespread vaccinations to help stem the tide of new infections, starting with medical workers and the most vulnerable elderly, such as those in care homes.

Newsom, a Democrat, acknowledged the rollout of vaccines has been too slow and he pledged 1 million shots will be administered this week, more than twice what’s been done so far.

That effort will require what Newsom called an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” including having vaccinations dispensed by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, dentists, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and members of the California National Guard.

Orange County, south of Los Angeles County, announced Monday that its first mass vaccination site will be at a Disneyland Resort parking lot in Anaheim. It’s one of five sites to be set up to vaccinate thousands of people daily.

The sites are “absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus,” county Supervisor Doug Chaffee said in a statement.

The state will vastly expand its effort with new mass vaccination sites at parking lots for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego and the CalExpo fairgrounds in Sacramento.

Cars lined up early Monday near the downtown stadium in San Diego, where officials aimed to inoculate 5,000 health care workers daily.

“It’s kind of like a Disneyland ride” with cars moving through, said Heather Buschman, spokeswoman for UC San Diego Health, whose medical staff was administering the shots.

She said people seemed eager to be vaccinated, with more than 12,500 health care workers in San Diego County initially scheduling appointments.

By week’s end, the city of Los Angeles planned to convert its huge COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium into a vaccination center to handle 12,000 inoculations daily.

Los Angeles County is an epicenter for the COVID-19 outbreak, accounting for some 40% of California’s virus-related deaths and a huge number of new cases.

On Monday, nearly 8,000 people were hospitalized in Los Angeles County, which had fewer than 50 intensive care units available in an area with a population of 10 million people, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, county director of Health Services.

While the county saw a dip in new cases, the director of public health, Barbara Ferrer, said that probably is due to decreased testing after the New Year’s holiday. She predicted another increase in cases from people who gathered together unsafely over the holiday.

Ferrer also said COVID-19 is still killing someone in the county every eight minutes, on average.

There is a sliver of hope, with new hospitalizations statewide down from about 3,500 a day earlier this month to about 2,500. Some forecasts have predicted the hospitalizations will level off by the end of the month.

Yet recent frightening jumps in new positive cases show the state may simply have bought itself time to prepare for what officials still expect to be a “surge on top of a surge” in the next few weeks driven by New Year’s celebrations, officials said.

Still, the state may get “a little breathing room” for hospitals with staff and oxygen supplies stretched thin, and for 1,000 newly arriving contract medical workers to be augmented by another 1,000 or so before the surge peaks, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.

Lawmakers also continued to plead with people to keep social distancing to slow the spread of infection. In Los Angeles County, residents were being urged to wear masks even when at home if they go outside regularly and live with someone elderly or otherwise at high risk.

“Dying from COVID in the hospital means dying alone,” county Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said. “Visitors are not allowed into hospitals for their own safety. Families are sharing their final goodbyes on tablets and mobile phones.”

“One of the more heartbreaking conversations that our health care workers share is about these last words when children apologize to their parents and grandparents for bringing COVID into their homes, for getting them sick,” Solis said. “And these apologies are just some of the last words that loved ones will ever hear.”

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Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press writers John Antczak, Robert Jablon and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Emu on the loose! Georgia deputies find big bird by highway

From the Associated Press

QUITMAN, Ga. (AP) — A big bird spotted running amok beside a Georgia highway is headed to a new home where it won’t endanger traffic.

Sheriff’s deputies in Brooks County got a call about an escaped emu posing a potential hazard along Highway 133. The large, flightless bird was safely rounded up within a couple of hours Wednesday, WCTV-TV reported.

A photo posted by the Brooks County Fire Department on Facebook showed deputies standing around a large animal cage containing the bird. The post read: “The emu has been captured!”

US shifts to speed vaccinations; won’t hold back 2nd doses

By ZEKE MILLER and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Barely a month into a mass vaccination campaign to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration unexpectedly shifted gears Tuesday to speed the delivery of shots after a slow start that had triggered widespread concern from states and public health officials.

Jill Johnson adminsters the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Sharee Livingston, an OB-GYN with UPMC Lititz. UPMC frontline workers receive the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg hospital, December 18, 2020. (Dan Gleiter/The Patriot-News via AP)

Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced two major changes. First, the government will no longer hold back required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply. Second, states should immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older, and younger people with certain health problems.

The move better aligns the outgoing administration with the new Biden-Harris team. On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden said he will rapidly release most available vaccine doses to protect more people. He said he supported immediately releasing vaccines that health authorities were holding back out of caution, to guarantee they would be available for people needing their second dose.

“We had been holding back second doses as a safety stock,” Azar said on ABC. “We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production. So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”

Simultaneously, he gave states the green light to dramatically expand the pool of people eligible to receive vaccines.

“We are calling on our governors to now vaccinate people aged 65 and over, and under age 65 with a (health condition) because we have got to expand the group,” he said.

As of Monday morning, the government had distributed about 25.5 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. But only about 9 million people had received their first shot. That means only about 35% of the available vaccines had been administered.

Initially, the shots were going to health care workers and nursing home residents. Those 75 and older were next in line. But problems arose even in vaccinating that limited pool of people. Some hospital and nursing home workers have been hesitant to get the vaccine. Scheduling issues created delays in getting shots to nursing homes.

Some states, including Arizona, have or are planning to open up mass vaccination centers, aiming to inoculate thousands of people a day in a single location. In other states, local health authorities have started asking residents 65 an older to register, in anticipation the vaccination campaign would be expanded.

“We’ve got to get to more channels of administration,” said Azar. “We’ve got to get it to pharmacies, get it to community health centers.

“We will deploy teams to support states doing mass vaccination efforts if they wish to do so,” he added.

Although Azar said the shift was a natural evolution of the Trump administration’s efforts, as recently as Friday he had raised questions about whether Biden’s call to accelerate supplies was prudent. The Trump administration, which directed a crash effort to develop and manufacture vaccines, is hoping to avoid a repeat of earlier debacles with coronavirus testing. Dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” the effort has produced two highly effective vaccines, with more on the way.

Each state has its own plan for who should be vaccinated, based on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommendations give first priority to health care workers and nursing home residents.

But the slow pace of the vaccine rollout has frustrated many Americans at a time when the coronavirus death toll has continued to rise. More than 376,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins database.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said hundreds of thousands of people are getting vaccinated every day across the nation, but the pace of inoculations needs to improve.

“We’re in a race against this virus and quite frankly, we’re behind,” Adams told “Fox & Friends.” “The good news is that 700,000 people are getting vaccinated every single day. We’re going to hit 1 million people and we need to continue to pick up that pace.”

Biden is expected to give a speech Thursday outlining his plan to speed vaccines to more people in the first part of his administration. His transition team has vowed to release as many vaccine doses as possible, rather than continuing the Trump administration policy of holding back millions of doses to ensure there would be enough supply to allow those getting the first shot to get a second one.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. Another vaccine, this one produced by Moderna, requires a second shot about four weeks afterward. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.

UK ramps up vaccine rollout, targets every adult by autumn

By SYLVIA HUI for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s health secretary said Sunday that every adult in the country will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine by the autumn as the U.K. ramps up its mass vaccination program amid a huge surge of infections and hospital admissions.

FILE – In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as nurse Rebecca Cathersides administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Lyn Wheeler at Guy’s Hospital in London. Britain races to vaccinate more than 15 million people by mid-February, and in an effort to ensure vaccines get to the right places at the right times, along with the syringes, alcohol swabs and protective equipment needed to administer them, the government has called in the army. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool, File)

More than 600,000 people age 80 and over will begin receiving invitations this week to get the coronavirus shot at new large-scale vaccine centers around England. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that officials were “on track” to reach its target of inoculating about 15 million people in the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February.

The vaccination drive comes as the U.K. sees a steep increase in infections and record numbers of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized, with many experts warning that the situation is more dire than it was when the country went into its first lockdown last spring. The Office of National Statistics estimated that 1 in 50 people in England had the virus in the most recent week.

Daily reported deaths hit a record high Friday, at 1,325, and in total around 81,000 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19. That’s the highest in Europe and comes just behind the U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico.

Hancock said that more than 200,000 people are being vaccinated in England every day, and that by autumn, the entire adult population should have been offered a jab.

“We’ve got over 350 million doses on order — they’re not all here yet. We’re rolling them out as fast as they get delivered,” he told the BBC. “But we are going to have enough to be able to offer a vaccine to everyone over the age of 18 by the autumn.”

That’s distant hope for doctors, nurses and emergency workers experiencing unprecedented pressure right now. Tracy Nicholls, the chief executive of the College of Paramedics, said members have reported ambulances left lining up outside hospitals waiting for up to nine hours, unable to hand patients over to emergency rooms.

“This year particularly has seen incredible pressure because of the clinical presentation of the patients our members are seeing. They are sicker,” she told Sky News on Sunday. “We are seeing the ambulance handover delays at a scale we haven’t seen before.”

The seven new large-scale vaccination centers join around 1,000 other sites across the country, including hospitals, general practitioners’ clinics and some drugstores.

Officials are hoping a speedy mass vaccination rollout will help get Britain back to normal life soon. The country entered a third national lockdown in the beginning of January, which closed all nonessential shops, schools, colleges and universities for at least six weeks.

On Friday, Britain authorized the vaccine made by Moderna, making it the third to be licensed for use in the country. The U.K. has so far inoculated about 1.5 million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

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Snow, and now ice, disrupt Spaniards’ lives, vaccine rollout

By ARITZ PARRA for the Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish capital is trying to get back on its feet after a 50-year record snowfall that paralyzed large parts of central Spain over the weekend. It has now led to icy weather that is hampering the rollout of the much-needed vaccination against the coronavirus.

With a sharp drop in temperatures on Monday and frost freezing much of the snow, which reached more than 50 centimeters (20 inches) in some urban areas, authorities are calling on people to avoid all but essential trips out of their homes.

A plough clears snow in downtown Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. A large part of central Spain including the capital of Madrid are slowly clearing snow after the country’s worst snowstorm in recent memory. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Nearly 700 roads remain affected throughout Spain, with winter tires or chains needed on roughly half of them, transit authority DGT said.

In Madrid, authorities are calling on citizens to avoid using the few lanes that civil protection and military battalions, aided by snowplows and bulldozers, have managed to clear for ambulances and emergency vehicles.

Much of the city’s main services remained closed on Monday, including the main wholesale market, although some supermarkets and newsstands opened for the first time in three days.

Residents, some with crampons and hiking sticks, could be seen warily trying to make their way on snow hardened into ice before disappearing into subway stations.

The underground train system has become the only viable way to commute to work. Commuter trains in Madrid and the high-speed railway between Barcelona and Madrid would resume later on Monday, the national railway company Renfe said.

The airport, which had been closed since Friday evening, saw a dozen flights take off or land on Monday and was expecting to resume full operations “throughout Monday,” Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos said in an interview with Spain’s TVE. But a new batch of 350,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Spain was expecting to receive on Monday at the Madrid airport had to be diverted to the northern city of Vitoria, where a difficult effort to distribute it throughout the rest of the country by land was underway.

Schools were closed on Monday in the regions of Castilla La Mancha, Madrid, and many other areas of Spain.

At least four people have died as a result of flash floods or low temperatures brought by Storm Filomena. The blizzard also trapped over 1,500 people in their vehicles, some of them for up to 24 hours.

Pelosi says House will impeach Trump, pushes VP to oust him

By LISA MASCARO, DARLENE SUPERVILLE and MARY CLARE JALONICK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will proceed with legislation to impeach President Donald Trump as she pushes the vice president and the Cabinet to invoke constitutional authority to force him out, warning that Trump is a threat to democracy after the deadly assault on the Capitol.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on the day after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House action could start as soon as Monday as pressure increases on Trump to step aside. A Republican senator, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible.”

A stunning end to Trump’s final 10 days in office was underway as lawmakers warned of the damage the president could still do before Joe Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20. Trump, holed up at the White House, was increasingly isolated after a mob rioted in the Capitol in support of his false claims of election fraud.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, repeatedly dismissed cases and Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, said there was no sign of any widespread fraud. Pelosi emphasized the need for quick action.

“We will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat,” Pelosi said in a letter late Sunday to colleagues.

“The horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this President is intensified and so is the immediate need for action.”

On Monday, Pelosi’s leadership team will seek a vote on a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet officials to invoke the 25th Amendment, with a full House vote expected on Tuesday.

After that, Pence and the Cabinet would have 24 hours to act before the House would move toward impeachment.

During an interview on “60 Minutes” aired Sunday, Pelosi invoked the Watergate era when Republicans in the Senate told President Richard Nixon, “It’s over.”

“That’s what has to happen now,” she said.

With impeachment planning intensifying, Toomey said he doubted impeachment could be done before Biden is inaugurated, even though a growing number of lawmakers say that step is necessary to ensure Trump can never hold elected office again.

“I think the president has disqualified himself from ever, certainly, serving in office again,” Toomey said. “I don’t think he is electable in any way.”

Murkowski, long exasperated with the president, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.” A third, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., did not go that far, but on Sunday he warned Trump to be “very careful” in his final days in office.

House Democrats were expected to introduce articles of impeachment on Monday. The strategy would be to condemn the president’s actions swiftly but delay an impeachment trial in the Senate for 100 days. That would allow President-elect Joe Biden to focus on other priorities as soon as he is inaugurated Jan. 20.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and a top Biden ally, laid out the ideas Sunday as the country came to grips with the siege at the Capitol by Trump loyalists trying to overturn the election results.

“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Clyburn said.

Corporate America began to show its reaction to the Capitol riots by tying them to campaign contributions.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s CEO and President Kim Keck said it will not contribute to those lawmakers — all Republicans — who supported challenges to Biden’s Electoral College win. The group “will suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy,” Kim said.

Citigroup did not single out lawmakers aligned with Trump’s effort to overturn the election, but said it would be pausing all federal political donations for the first three months of the year. Citi’s head of global government affairs, Candi Wolff, said in a Friday memo to employees, “We want you to be assured that we will not support candidates who do not respect the rule of law.”

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said an impeachment trial could not begin under the current calendar before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

While many have criticized Trump, Republicans have said that impeachment would be divisive in a time of unity.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that instead of coming together, Democrats want to “talk about ridiculous things like ‘Let’s impeach a president’” with just days left in office.

Still, some Republicans might be supportive.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said he would take a look at any articles that the House sent over. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic, said he would “vote the right way” if the matter were put in front of him.

The Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time — with the indelible mark of impeachment had advanced rapidly since the riot.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Sunday that his group had 200-plus co-sponsors.

The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president. It would be the first time a U.S. president had been impeached twice.

Potentially complicating Pelosi’s decision about impeachment was what it meant for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he had long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress did “is for them to decide.”

A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN. Kinzinger was on ABC’s “This Week,” Blunt was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Rubio was on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

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