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The Latest: NKorea tells WHO it has detected no virus cases

06/21/2021 | 02:14am EDT

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has told the World Health Organization it tested more than 30,000 people for the coronavirus through June 10 but has yet to find a single infection.

The WHO said in a monitoring report Tuesday that North Korea’s testing figures included 733 people who were tested during June 4-10, of which 149 were with influenza-like illnesses or severe respiratory infections.

Experts widely doubt North Korea’s claim that it has not had a single case of the virus, given its poor health infrastructure and porous border with China, its major ally and economic lifeline.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the North has banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade. The self-imposed lockdown has caused further strain on an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over the country’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a political conference last week called for officials to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating that the country isn’t ready to open its borders anytime soon.

MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Past and present collide for California’s COVID-19 nurses

— Hesitancy is undermining India’s vaccination efforts, especially in rural areas where most people live

— Thousands of Japanese companies are giving vaccines to workers, boosting nation’s slow rollout

— The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open next month

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

HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HAVANA — Cuba’s government announced on Monday that its three-shot Abdala vaccine has proved to be 92% effective against the coronavirus.

It provided no details of the clinical testing. The Abdala is one of the vaccines Cuba is testing. It recently said its Soberana 2 vaccine has shown a 62% efficacy. The announcement came as Cuba faces its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic with record new infections.

Dr. Francisco Durán, the island’s director of epidemiology, on Monday reported 1,561 new coronavirus cases for a total of 169,365 confirmed cases and 1,170 deaths.

ROME – Mask-wearing outdoors in Italy will no longer be required in virtually all of the country starting on June 28.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza tweeted Monday night that the mask requirement for outdoors will be eliminated in those parts of Italy in designated “white zone” regions, where COVID-19 case incidence is low and ICU admissions of the illness are below thresholds considered at risk for overwhelming hospitals.

Currently all but one small region, in northwest Italy, have “white-zone” designations.

Masks will still be required to be worn on public transport and well as indoors. Nearly 30 percent of people in Italy 12 or older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

TOKYO — Thousands of Japanese companies began distributing COVID-19 vaccines to workers and their families Monday in an employer-led drive reaching more than 13 million people that aims to rev up the nation’s slow vaccine rollout.

About 3,500 companies have signed up for the free vaccines, and that number is growing. The companies must present a plan to inoculate at least 1,000 people per site. But they decide whom to include, such as families, affiliate companies and suppliers.

Universities are also eligible. Smaller companies can apply through organizations, such as the local merchant association, so ideally no one falls through the cracks, according to the health ministry. Company applications for the vaccines are accepted through February 2022.

Japan is relying totally on imported vaccines for a campaign that started in February with medical professionals. Only about 6% of Japanese are fully vaccinated. Japan has had more than 14,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Vaccinations have been slowed by bungled reservation procedures, unclear distribution plans and shortages of medical staff to give shots.

Local governments and Japan’s self-defense forces are also leading the vaccination campaign, but the employer-led efforts are helping accelerate the pace.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a further easing of coronavirus restrictions, as the number of infections continue to decline and the country’s vaccination program gains momentum.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said that as of July 1, lockdowns imposed on Sundays and nighttime curfews would be lifted, while public and private sector workers would return to their normal working hours.

Restrictions on public transport and intercity travel would also be lifted, Erdogan said.

The 7-day average of daily infections is around 5,645 — a significant drop from the record high 63,000 infections in mid-April. The country has meanwhile administered nearly 43 million vaccine doses. More than 28.2 million people received their first dose and 14.5 million people have received both doses.

BERLIN — Italian Premier Mario Draghi has said he backs the idea of moving the final of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament out of Britain because of the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus there.

Asked by a reporter Monday in Berlin whether he advocates moving the final to Rome given the spread of the delta variant in Britain, Draghi said: “Yes.”

“I advocate that the final should not take place in a country in which the risk of infection is very big,” he said.

He spoke ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also expressed concern about the rise in cases of the delta variant in Britain.

Merkel said further improving coordination on the pandemic within the European Union would be discussed at a summit of EU leaders later this week.

“Particularly when it comes to the travel rules European Union member states have with regard to Great Britain there is still a big range of approaches,” she said. “I think we need to discuss this much more.”

JERUSALEM — Israeli health officials are calling for vaccination of teenagers aged 12-15 as concerns grow of localized outbreaks of the coronavirus in the largely vaccinated country.

Nearly 90 people were confirmed sick with COVID-19 in Israel on Monday, the highest single day total since the end of April, as health officials reported outbreaks in several schools. The Health Ministry issued a statement calling for a widening of the vaccination campaign among teenagers in light of the new infections.

Israel has lifted virtually all coronavirus restrictions and regulations following a mass vaccination campaign that started in December. Over 55% of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Nearly a third of the new cases in the country in the past week have been vaccinated individuals, and many of the new infections are with the Delta variant.

Health Ministry Director-General Hezi Levi told Israel’s Channel 12 on Monday that most of the new cases among vaccinated persons are mild, but called on parents to vaccinate their teenage children.

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said it is in discussions with numerous companies and institutions to create a technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines in South Africa.

At a press briefing on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the consortium involves a company called Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, which will act as a hub both for making vaccines that use a genetic code of the spike protein, known as mRNA vaccines, and by providing training to other manufacturers to make these shots, including the company, Biovac Institute.

“WHO is facilitating this effort by establishing the criteria for technology transfer,” Tedros said. “We are now in discussions with several companies that have indicated interest in providing their mRNA technology.”

The German company BioNTech, which has partnered with Pfizer to makes its COVID-19 vaccine, recently announced it would scale up efforts to establish mRNA vaccine facilities across Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the new WHO effort would “change the narrative” for Africa and help enhance the continent’s ability to “take responsibility for the health of our people, for the health of Africans.”

Ramaphosa said many people in developing countries were “still struggling for access to vaccines that are made in their billions in the north.” He said it was “just not equitable and not fair” that some people were denied access to COVID-19 doses because of where they live.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to fall short of his commitment to shipping 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June because of regulatory and other hurdles, officials said as they announced new plans Monday for sharing the shots globally.

The White House announced the final allocations for the doses, with 60 million shots going to the global COVAX vaccine-sharing alliance and 20 million being directed to specific partners. But fewer than 10 million doses have been shipped around the world, including 2.5 million doses delivered to Taiwan over the weekend, and about 1 million doses delivered to Mexico, Canada and South Korea earlier this month.

Officials said that while the U.S.-produced doses are ready, deliveries have been delayed due to U.S. and the recipient countries’ legal, logistical and regulatory requirements.

“What we’ve found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply — we have plenty of doses to share with the world — but this is a Herculean logistical challenge,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Psaki said shipments will go out as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses and the administration sorts out logistical complexities, including vaccination supplies like syringes and alcohol prep pads, cold-storage for the doses, customs procedures and even language barriers. Psaki said she was not aware of how many doses would be shipped by the end of the month.

The excess doses are not needed in the U.S., where demand for vaccinations has plummeted in recent weeks as more than 177 million Americans have received at least one shot.

GENEVA — A senior World Health Organization expert said the agency would be following up with Olympic and Japanese authorities about their decision on Monday to allow domestic fans to attend the Summer Games.

At a press briefing on Monday, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan noted that Japan’s recent COVID-19 rates were lower than those seen in many other countries, including Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands.

“What we are glad of is that the rates of disease have fallen persistently and consistently in Japan over the last number of weeks,” Ryan said. “It is important that we really look at the background rate and underlying epidemiology of disease.”

Ryan said WHO had planned meetings this week with partners including the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government to discuss measures including physical distancing, diagnosis and screening, ventilation, surveillance, etc. He said the decision to allow domestic spectators at the Olympics was still provisional and could be subject to change.

TORONTO — Fully vaccinated Canadian citizens who test negative for COVID-19 will be exempt from two weeks of quarantine when returning to the country as of July 5, officials said Monday.

Canadians and permanent residents who return to Canada will have to be fully vaccinated 14 days or more prior to arrival. Officials said those travelers must have two doses of a vaccine approved by Canada, provide a negative COVID-19 test from 72 hours before arrival, take a second test upon arrival, and have a quarantine plan in the event the arrival test comes back positive.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the first phase of easing border measures will continue to restrict entry to Canada for foreign nationals who want to enter for nonessential reasons.

The government said fully vaccinated Canadian travelers who want to be considered for the exemption from quarantine and reduced testing requirements will be required to provide evidence of their vaccination status by uploading supporting documentation into what’s called the ArriveCAN app or by signing in online at a government website.

HONG KONGHong Kong authorities said quarantine requirements will soon be relaxed for travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and arrive from certain lower-risk countries.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday said the relaxation of quarantine measures will first be open to Hong Kong residents returning to the city. They must have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days, must undergo a serology test to prove they have the antibodies and must test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Hong Kong.

The announcement comes amid a shortage of quarantine hotel rooms in the city. Current quarantine restrictions can require arrivals from various countries to serve between seven to 21 days of quarantine at designated hotels, and many of the city’s hotels are booked through August.

Officials said the arrangement could begin on June 30, and that it is looking to open a similar arrangement for non-residents later.

LONDON — Dozens of people have ignored advice not to travel to Stonehenge for the annual summer solstice celebrations, which were cancelled Monday due to coronavirus concerns.

English Heritage, which looks after the Neolithic monument, had planned a live feed of the sunrise at Stonehenge for the second year in a row. But the organization said that program had to be interrupted because of safety concerns after “a number of people have chosen to disregard our request to not travel to the stones this morning.”

Thousands of people who tuned in to watch the sunrise at the stones online ended up watching pre-recorded footage before the live feed returned around 5 a.m.

Video from Britain’s PA news agency and elsewhere showed dozens of people gathering inside the stone circle, with some scaling a low fence to climb inside the restricted area to reach the stones. Some were seen dancing and others held a banner that read “Standing for Stonehenge.”

English Heritage said it was “disappointing” to see people “act in a way that put themselves, our staff and the police at risk” during a pandemic.

The summer solstice typically draws tens of thousands of people to the stone circle in southern England to celebrate the longest day of the year.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission., source Associated Press News

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