MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota health officials reported no new deaths due to COVID-19 for the first time in nearly a year.
The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 1,152 new cases, putting the state at 506,376 cases and 6,782 deaths since the start of the pandemic a year ago. The Star Tribune reported that while Mondays tend to feature fewer deaths reported than average, the figure is the first time the state has reported no new deaths in a daily situation update since April 13.
Despite the good news on deaths, health officials have said in recent weeks they’re worried about the spread of coronavirus mutations — called variants — in different parts of Minnesota, which they say could derail the state’s progress in fighting the pandemic.
Officials said the state is in a race against the spread of the variants and reaching Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s goal of 80% of the state’s population being fully vaccinated.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— AstraZeneca: US data shows vaccine effective for all ages
— Analysis finds faster is not necessarily better in US COVID-19 vaccine rollout
— Germany looks set to extend lockdown measures again
— Taiwan gives health workers island’s first AstraZeneca doses
— Teachers lament ‘chaotic’ virus rules in German schools
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
GENEVA — The World Health Organization has a message for any countries that have stocks of AstraZeneca vaccines against COVID but are hesitant about using it: Give it to us, we have a lot of would-be takers.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to the WHO director-general, acknowledged the U.N. health agency received “a lot of questions” from AstraZeneca’s vaccine amid early concerns whether it might be linked to cases of a severe, rare blood clotting in some patients who received it.
Aylward told reporters that countries pressing ahead with a rollout of the AstraZeneca are “very keen” to receive it, including participants in the U.N.-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to countries where they are most needed, whether rich or poor.
“The problem is not a lack of demand. It’s quite the contrary,” he said. “If there are any countries that do have concerns or are not fully utilizing a vaccine … make it available to the COVAX facility because we have a long list of countries that are very, very keen to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
“We simply cannot get enough of it,” he said. Positive results from clinical trials of the vaccine in the United States, Chile and Peru have “really given a new confidence and demand for that vaccine.”
MADISON, Wis. — The governor of Wisconsin has signed a bill that allows dentists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. The bill was signed the same day more than 2 million more people became eligible for shots.
The Republican-authored bill allows dentists who complete eight hours of training on vaccine protocols and record keeping to administer shots. Dentists in neighboring Minnesota and Illinois are already permitted to give the vaccine. About 3,500 dentists in Wisconsin could be enlisted to help vaccinate.
Republican Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced earlier this month that people age 16 and up with certain pre-existing conditions would be eligible on Monday, a week earlier than previously announced.
State Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake urged people to be patient as they try to book vaccination appointments, warning some vaccinators may have waiting lists.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is expanding its program of mandatory mass testing of employees to include the smallest companies.
Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek says the firms with less than 10 people have to start to test them on a weekly basis. The non-governmental organizations will also have to do so as well self-employed people who are in personal contacts with their customers.
The minister says that with the inclusion of the new categories, a total of 500,000 tests of employees will be conducted daily.
The government has also decided to ask the Parliament to approve its plan to extend a state of emergency by another 30 days. The current state of emergency will expire on March 28. It would enable the government to keep in place a strict lockdown till at least April 5, the last day of Easter.
The nation of 10.7 million has almost 1.5 million confirmed cases with 24,810 deaths.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Authorities in North Macedonia are extending a nationwide curfew for another two weeks. The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was first imposed March 10.
The Balkan country of 2.1 million recorded last week a 50% increase in infections over the previous two weeks. Hospitals are filling and most new patients have the U.K. virus variant.
Inoculations started among medical workers in mid-February from a batch of 4,680 doses of Pfizer vaccines donated by neighboring Serbia.
So far North Macedonia has recorded nearly 120,000 confirmed infections and more than 3,400 deaths.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor of West Virginia announced the state will immediately open coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all residents aged 16 and older.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice said the state will continue prioritizing doses for residents 65 and over.
The state becomes one of the few in the nation to lift virtually all eligibility requirements way ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of allowing all adults to get shots starting on May 1.
There are about 1.43 million people 18 and older in the state, according to census data.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal resumed administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, a week after temporarily halting its use.
Portugal was one of the European countries which last week suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a few dozen people in other countries who had the jab developed blood clots. The European Union’s drug regulatory agency concluded after a review it couldn’t rule out a direct link in those cases but said the benefits of using the vaccine outweigh the possible risks.
Authorities say Portugal’s vaccination program is running late due to a shortage of supply, but officials hope to speed up jabs in coming weeks by opening vaccination centers in large buildings, such as stadiums.
Portugal, a country of 10.3 million people, had administered almost 1.35 million jabs by Sunday. The health ministry does not publish a breakdown of which vaccines it is administering.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s outgoing health minister sent a letter of complaint to the international community for delaying delivery of the vaccine to the tiny Western Balkan country.
Minister Armend Zemaj said that “Unfortunately, despite our maximum commitment, we are the only country in Europe that has not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.”
Kosovo’s only shots were made last weekend for a group of 500 medical personnel in neighboring Albania. Kosovar doctors and nurses traveled to Albania’s northeastern city of Kukes to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Vaccination has yet to start in Kosovo, which is expecting the first batch of vaccines from the Covax facility later this month. The government has ordered an overnight curfew and banned public gatherings of over 50 people.
Kosovo has reported 83,012 total confirmed cases and 1,776 confirmed deaths as of Monday.
WARSAW, Poland — Officials are saying that Poland is sending 20 medics and 3,500 AstraZeneca vaccines to Brussels on Thursday to inoculate NATO leaders and employees at the pact’s headquarters there.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “grateful” to Poland and said its readiness to provide the anti-COVID-19 inoculation demonstrated that Poland is a “highly valued ally” ready to support NATO efforts in many ways.
In Warsaw, government official in charge of the national vaccination program, Michal Dworczyk, said as an ally, Poland was prepared “not only to take but also to give.” He argued the vaccination will help ensure health safety at the pact’s June summit.
Dworczyk said the project will not deplete from the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus in Poland, because the 3,500 doses will be less than 1% of shipments that Poland is to receive this week, while the medical personnel will not be coming from COVID-19-treating hospitals.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Several hundred people have protested against the tightening of anti-virus measures in the Serb-run part of Bosnia where soaring infections have burdened the health system.
Shouting “Down with measures,” the protesters gathered in the northern town of Banja Luka demanding that the state help owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses affected by the situation.
Authorities in the Serb entity in Bosnia have shut down ski resorts and food and drink spots to curb the surge as doctors warned the situation is alarming and hospitals are running out of beds.
Entire Bosnia in the past two weeks has faced a spike in infections and deaths. On Monday, authorities said 73 people have died in the past 24 hours in the country of 3.3 million.
Also on Monday, a group of public figures from the half of Bosnia run by the country’s Bosniaks and Croats, said they have sued the top government officials over their failure to acquire vaccines in time.
Bosnia is yet to start mass vaccination of its citizens. Bosnian Serbs have received a batch of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia and crossed over to neighboring Serbia for jabs, but the Federation entity has relied on 5,000 Astra-Zeneca jabs donated by Serbia while still awaiting own shipments.
REDMOND, Wash. — Microsoft will begin bringing workers back to its suburban Seattle global headquarters on March 29 as the tech giant starts to reopen more facilities it largely shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a post on the company’s corporate blog, Executive Vice President Kurt DelBene said Microsoft has been monitoring local health data and decided it can bring more employees back to its Redmond, Washington, campus.
DelBene said workers will have the choice to return to headquarters, continue working remotely or do a combination of both. More than 50,000 people work at the company’s headquarters campus in Redmond, 15 miles east of Seattle.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is “reassured” that the European Union won’t block exports of coronavirus vaccines to the U.K. as part of a simmering feud over supplies.
“We’re all facing the same pandemic. We all have the same problems,” he said.
EU leaders have accused Britain of preventing Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca from exporting vaccines, and have said the company could face export bans to Britain and other countries if it didn’t quickly deliver the promised amount of vaccines to the 27-nation bloc.
Britain denies having an export ban and says the EU must not prevent pharmaceutical companies from honoring contracts they have signed.
The British government says it is confident it will have enough doses to meet its target of giving all adults a vaccine shot by the end of July. So far more than half of adults in Britain have received at least one dose.
MADRID — Spain’s top health officials are proposing to broaden the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people up to 65 years old, expanding from a current cap on adults under 55, two sources familiar with the discussions have told The Associated Press.
Officials, who were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly, said central and regional health officials are expected to approve later on Monday the recommendation on the new 18-65 age range by the country’s Public Health Commission.
The decision came after Europe’s drug regulator declared the jab co-developed by the University of Oxford safe and with no obvious links to some recent cases of blood clots across the continent.
The Health Ministry, which hosts the commission, declined to comment and said that an official announcement won’t be made until Monday evening.
Some Spanish regions and doctors had been lobbying the central government to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to both young and old, but that decision had been put on hold when Spain followed other major European countries last week in temporarily halting the use of the shot.
Spain is set to resume administering AstraZeneca doses on Wednesday.
The government has pledged to vaccinate 70% of its adult population —or 33 million of a total population of 47 million— by the end of the summer. So far, only 1.8 million, most of them residents and workers in nursing homes, medical personnel and other essential workers, have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 5 million, including many over 80, are awaiting their second shot.
Reported by Aritz Parra in Madrid