June 19, 2024

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Live updates: Tougher rules for Spanish islands health staff | Health & Fitness

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MADRID — Health workers in Spain’s Balearic Islands will need to show a certificate proving they are vaccinated against the coronavirus or provide three negative COVID-19 tests per week if they don’t want to lose their jobs or salary.

The Balearic Islands’ High Court on Thursday greenlighted the new regulation by the regional government of the Mediterranean archipelago — a popular tourist destination that includes Mallorca and Ibiza.

Forcing the unvaccinated to take periodical tests amounted to limiting their fundamental rights, but the measure was necessary because health workers are legally obliged to prevent illnesses, the judges said in their decision.

Spaniards have displayed strong vaccination acceptance, leading to nearly 90% of residents aged 12 or older being double-vaccinated.

This week, the country started rolling out vaccine shots for 3.3 million children aged between 5 and 11.

On Thursday authorities also agreed to start giving out booster shots to people aged 40 and older, from 60 and older previously.

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EU leaders discussing rise of infections, spread of omicron

— Vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe having change of heart

US sports leagues cope with COVID-19 outbreaks amid variants

— New California rules end distinction for vaccinated workers

— Israel to donate 1 million COVID vaccines to African nations

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.


LONDON — England’s chief medical officer says the U.K. government may have to consider a tougher response to the wave of COVID-19 sweeping the country if vaccines prove less effective than anticipated against the new omicron variant.

In testimony to a parliamentary committee Thursday, Professor Chris Whitty said scientists won’t fully understand how well vaccines work against omicron until they’ve conducted clinical studies on patients infected with the variant. Data from those studies aren’t expected until the last week of December at the earliest.

Whitty’s comments came in response to questions about whether the government was considering more restrictions on personal and business interactions after the U.K. reported 78,610 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number since the pandemic began.

The government this week rolled out an accelerated vaccine program that aims to offer everyone over the age of 18 a booster shot by the end of the year.

It has also implemented new rules ordering masks to be worn in most indoor settings in England and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter nightclubs and large events.

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders have agreed that administering booster shots is “urgent” and “crucial” to tackle the surge of coronavirus infections across the continent and the emergence of the new omicron variant.

With the festive season looming, the bloc’s leaders also stressed Thursday the importance of coordinated action to avoid a confusing cacophony of rules in the 27 member states, and ensure that COVID-19 certificates continue to guarantee unrestricted travel.

In their summit’s conclusions, leaders gathered in Brussels insisted on the need for a harmonized approach to avoid limitations to free movement between member countries or hamper travel into the region.

But alarming rises in infections have already prompted many European governments to implement public health measures and new restrictions in recent weeks.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union’s drug regulator has recommended authorizing two drugs to treat patients with COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee said Thursday it is recommending authorization for Xevudy, developed by U.S. company Vir Biotechnology Inc. and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline. It is a so-called monoclonal antibody treatment — a laboratory-made version of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections.

Antibody treatments are one of a handful of therapies that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19, and the only option available to people with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in the hospital.

The EMA says it also is extending the authorization of an immunosuppressive medicine used to treat inflammatory conditions to also cover COVID-19 patients with pneumonia who need extra oxygen and are at risk of developing severe respiratory failure.

The drug, Kineret, is marketed by Swedish company Orphan Biovitrum. The EMA says it can be used in COVID-19 patients to reduce inflammation and decrease damage to lower airways.

The recommendations will be sent to the European Commission for a final decision.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — European soccer teams are experiencing the symptoms of the coronavirus in their schedules.

The Swedish soccer federation said Thursday that it had decided to cancel the national team’s training camps scheduled abroad in January “due to the increased spread of infection in Sweden and Europe.”

The federation said in a statement, “The infection situation is judged to be extremely unstable and difficult to predict.”

The move means a Jan. 9 friendly match against neighboring Finland that was set to take place in southern Portugal with 16 newcomers on the Swedish side has been scrapped.

In England, meanwhile, a Premier League match was canceled for the fourth time in five days due to team COVID-19 infections.

LONDON — Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is rejecting accusations that new government warnings meant to curb the omicron variant of the coronavirus will essentially put Britain into another lockdown by stealth.

Johnson insisted on Thursday that despite fears about the rapidly spreading variant, the situation in the U.K. is different from last year because of the widespread use of vaccines and virus tests.

Johnson says if people want to attend public events, “the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious.’’

“But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted” with another vaccine dose, he said.

TOKYO — Tokyo has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveler from the United States. The infected individual’s friend, whom she saw immediately after arrival, has since tested positive after going to a soccer game.

Separately, the Health Ministry announced Thursday that one of its quarantine officials also tested positive for the omicron variant. The new findings bring Japan’s confirmed omicron cases to 34.

Tokyo’s omicron patient tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport on Dec. 8 but developed a fever the next day during her self-isolation at home and tested positive for the virus. Her samples were confirmed Thursday as the omicron variant.

The man she met immediately after returning also developed a fever and other symptoms. He attended a soccer game with 10 people, including his family and colleagues, before testing positive.

The ministry urged spectators who attended the packed Sunday soccer game in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, to get tested.

LONDON — Travel industry officials have expressed dismay at French restrictions on arrivals from Britain, describing the new rules to prevent the spread of the omicron variant as a hammer blow to the industry.

The comments by Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel and trade association Abta, came after medical officials expressed alarm at what they described as the phenomenal speed at which the variant is spreading. Travel officials demanded government help to help battered businesses.

“The winter sports and school travel markets are particularly exposed, and the government must now bring forward a support package if we are not to see company failures and job losses,” Tanzer said.

Tanzer said the sector has had little opportunity to make money since the start of the pandemic, and will now be faced with another wave of cancellations.

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Health Ministry has confirmed the country’s first case of infection with the omicron coronavirus variant in a woman from Lesotho.

The case was found in a sample examined in Katowice. The ministry tweeted Thursday that the 30-year Lesotho citizen feels well but has been put in hospital isolation.

It said national health authorities have taken necessary steps. That usually means contacting, testing and putting under quarantine people who have had contact with the infected person.

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s prime minister says he intends to keep tighter COVID-19 border controls in place beyond their planned end on Jan. 9 because of the threat from the highly infectious new omicron variant.

He says Portugal is also likely to provide another booster shot next year for already vaccinated vulnerable people who are receiving a booster after having the COVID-19 jab earlier this year.

Portugal requires a negative test for all passengers on arriving flights.

Prime Minister António Costa told reporters Thursday that border controls will continue beyond Jan. 9 and could even be tightened. He didn’t elaborate.

The government had previously announced a “contention week” from Jan. 2-9, when working from home is mandatory and schools will be closed.

LONDON — British restaurants and pubs demanded government help as the omicron variant threatened businesses with closure at the height of the crucial and lucrative Christmas season.

U.K. hospitality appealed to the government for business rates relief and value-added tax discounts, warning that fears about the new variant have already had an impact on the sector, with sales already having plunged by a third in the last 10 days — reflecting 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in lost trade.

Jonathan Neame, the chief executive of pub and brewery Shepherd Neame, said the government comments and concerns will throw his business back to the start of the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a significant number of cancellations and that’s accelerating every day, and will accelerate even further after the news last night, which seems to have thrown us back into that sort of zombie world of the first week of March, of the pandemic last year,” he told Times Radio.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is offering COVID-19 booster shots for people who received their second shots at least three months ago as a measure to fight the omicron variant.

The measure, announced late Wednesday, cuts by three months the previous six-month interval between the second shot and the booster vaccine.

The country of nearly 84 million has so far reported six cases of the omicron variant.

PARIS — France will restrict arrivals from Britain because of fast-spreading cases of the omicron virus variant.

The government spokesman said Thursday that France will impose limits on reasons for traveling and a new requirement of a 48-hour isolation upon arrival. The new measures are taking effect first thing Saturday.

The government is holding a special virus security meeting Friday that will address growing pressure on hospitals in France from rising infections in recent weeks.

Delta remains the dominant variant in France. But omicron is spreading so fast in Britain that it is raising concerns across the Channel. The U.K. recorded the highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections Wednesday since the pandemic began.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Swedish authorities say citizens from fellow Nordic countries will have to show a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate when entering Sweden starting next week.

As of Dec. 21, people from Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland no long will have an exemption to the certificate requirement and must also show their passes to enter Sweden.

The country’s social affairs minister also encouraged all travelers to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry due what she called a “deteriorating” public health situation. Sweden has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the coronavirus.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Some former vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe are shifting over to the other side.

Fata Keco was afraid of possible adverse side effects when she rolled up her sleeve in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to take her first COVID-19 vaccine shot. but the worst she had to contend with was “moderately discomforting pain” in her left arm.

The 52-year-old joined the global community of vaccine-believers after months of “being very susceptible” to what she now describes as “the most ridiculous theories.” She is not alone. Countries like Bosnia and Romania are seeing their vaccination rates rise amid tighter COVID-19 restrictions.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a cleaning worker at a hospital in Jakarta.

The patient has no symptoms and is being quarantined at the Athlete’s Village emergency hospital, where the patient worked.

The government created the facility in March 2020 to treat COVID-19 patients and as a quarantine venue for Indonesians returning from abroad. Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the case was found on Wednesday, and he urged people to continue to follow recommended health protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.

He also called for increased testing and to accelerate the country’s vaccination program.

DENVER — U.S. sports leagues are seeing rapidly increasing COVID-19 outbreaks with dozens of players in health and safety protocols, amid an ongoing surge by the delta variant of the coronavirus and rising cases of the highly transmissible omicron mutation.

Both the NBA and NHL have postponed games over the last month with so many players sidelined, and the men’s basketball teams at Tulane and the University of Washington have had cancellations.

But don’t expect the leagues to return to “bubble” play or shut down until things subside. Experts say managing outbreaks is easier with highly vaccinated rosters, and there’s too much at stake to cut back seasons.

SACRAMENTO, California — Workplace regulators are poised to extend California’s coronavirus pandemic regulations into next year with revisions that businesses say could worsen the labor shortage.

The main change in the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule Thursday is that it would erase current distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees.

Both would be barred from the workplace if they come in close contact with someone with the virus. Exposed, vaccinated but asymptomatic workers would have to stay home for 14 days even if they test negative. If they return to work, they would have to wear masks and stay six feet (about two meters) from anyone else during those two weeks.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government says it is donating 1 million coronavirus vaccines to the U.N.-backed COVAX program.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the AstraZeneca vaccines would be transferred to African countries in the coming weeks. It says the decision is part of Israel’s strengthening ties with African countries.

COVAX is a global initiative that aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations. Wealthier countries have acquired the most of the world’s vaccine supplies, causing vast inequality in access to jabs. Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population. Early this year, it came under criticism for not sharing enough of its supplies with the Palestinians.

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say pets and another animals can get the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But the risk of them spreading it to people is low.

Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, otters, hyenas and white-tailed deer are among the animals that have tested positive, in most cases after contracting it from infected people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets, farm animals and wildlife, as well as with other people. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading among animals is to control it among people.

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