GENEVA — World Health Organization experts have issued recommendations saying that the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be extended to up to six weeks.
WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published guidance Friday saying that an interval of 21 to 28 days between the first and second doses is recommended.
But the U.N. health agency also noted that “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and some have considered postponing the administration of second doses as a way to expand the number of people initially immunized.
WHO said this “pragmatic approach” could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.” It said that countries seeking to extend the interval should make sure that vaccinated patients still have access to a second dose.
“WHO’s recommendation at present is that the interval between doses may be extended up to 42 days (6 weeks), on the basis of currently available clinical trial data,” it said, adding: “Should additional data become available on longer intervals between doses, revision of this recommendation will be considered.”
WHO also said no data is available yet on the interchangeability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with other COVID-19 vaccines. It also cited a lack of evidence about whether vaccination reduces the risk of transmission of the virus to other people.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant
— US registering highest deaths yet from the coronavirus
— Brazil’s pandemic deaths top 200,000 amid a return to fun
— Britain’s National Health Service will from next week employ a little-used field hospital specially built at a huge exhibition center in east London in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.
— South Africa says it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority has announced a new compulsory 7-day quarantine period for any passenger flying into the country from abroad, a requirement intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Friday’s announcement, any passenger arriving in Greece through Jan. 21, including those traveling from European Union member countries, will be subject to the quarantine.
They also are still required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken a maximum of 72 hours before arrival.
Passengers arriving from the United Kingdom will receive rapid tests for the virus on arrival and will only be able to leave their quarantines if they test negative for COVID-19 at the end of the 7-day period, the announcement said.
The Civil Aviation Authority also announced an extension to a flight ban from Turkey and Spain’s Catalonia region until Jan. 21, as well as a ban on arrivals for non-EU citizens except those from the U.K., Singapore, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
SINGAPORE —- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus on Friday as the island nation started immunizing its small population.
Singapore took delivery of its first vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, on Dec. 23 and hopes to cover its entire population of about 4.5 million as well as foreign residents. The vaccine will be given out for free.
The government has not said how many it has purchased but has said it hopes to inoculate everyone by the third quarter of 2021.
Health care workers and the elderly will be among the first to receive the vaccine.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch has secured 300 million extra doses of the coronavirus Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Speaking during a news conference in Brussels on Friday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will double the number of doses ordered by the 27-nation bloc. The EU commission later said in a statement that the Commission has proposed to member states to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the vaccine, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.
“This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021,” the EU said.
Combined with the contract finalized with Moderna — the second vaccine authorized so far in the region — Von der Leyen said the EU has now the capacity to vaccinate 380 million people, more than 80 percent of the EU population.
BANGKOK == Thailand reported 205 new virus cases, a slight dip from previous days as it tightened controls on domestic travel.
Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 coordinating center, said Friday that 131 of the additional cases were local transmissions, 58 were migrant workers and 16 international arrivals.
That brought the country’s total to 9,841 including 67 deaths. Of that total, 5,367 cases were found from the start of the new surge on Dec. 15 until Friday.
Infections have surged following months that saw only a handful of cases. Most of the new ones have been migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar working in the seafood markets and factories in a province next to Bangkok. Most were quarantined in their dormitories and quickly established field hospitals.
Many of the remainder ones have been blamed on itinerant gamblers, most of them stemming from a single hotspot outside Bangkok last month.
The capital, with a metropolitan area population of about 15 million, recorded 327 cases in that period. Thailand has about 70 million people.
The government has tightened controls on domestic travel and ordered a partial lockdown around Thailand. Schools, bars, gambling parlors and other public gathering places have been closed, although malls, department stores and restaurants remain open with curtailed hours.
JERUSALEM — Israel has entered a tightened lockdown as coronavirus cases surge despite an early and rapid vaccination campaign.
Most schools and businesses were closed starting Friday, with people required to remain within 1,000 meters (yards) from home except for essential needs. Public gatherings are heavily restricted and public transportation is limited. The restrictions are to last for at least two weeks.
Thousands of police will be deployed to enforce the restrictions, with roadblocks set up on major thoroughfares. Israel was already in its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic.
Deputy Police Commissioner Ziv Sagiv called on people to stay home, saying police would operate in “every possible way” to enforce the restrictions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Thursday that Israel is on track to vaccinate all citizens over the age of 16 by March. He called on Israelis to make “one last big effort” to combat the pandemic by adhering to the lockdown.
Israel has already vaccinated nearly 20% of its population of 9 million and is on track to be one of the first countries to emerge from the coronavirus crisis. It has reported 474,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 3,565 deaths.
BERLIN— Teachers and parents in Berlin are expressing anger at plans to partially resume in-school teaching next week even as Germany remains in lockdown.
An online petition launched this week has gathered over 20,000 signatures against the Berlin state government’s plan to start teaching some classes in school again from Monday.
Petitioners argue that it undermines other measures imposed to curb infections, including a ban on meeting more than other person from another household.
The country’s disease control agency said Friday that Germany recorded 31,849 newly confirmed cases and 1,188 deaths from COVID-19, the biggest single-day toll since the pandemic began, though figures tend to skew higher toward the end of the week.
BEIJING — A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a recent coronavirus test.
The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and its surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of COVID-19.
The offering of cash or other rewards for information on political or social nonconformists has a long history in China, but the pandemic is putting a new face on the practice. Those found noncompliant will be forced to undergo testing and a two-week quarantine at their own expense.
China has largely controlled local transmission through the use of measures considered by some to be extreme and highly intrusive, including lockdowns of entire cities and close electronic monitoring of bans on traveling to and from parts of the country.
With next month’s Lunar New Year travel rush looming, the government is telling people to stay put as much as possible and not travel to or from the capital Beijing, disrupting the country’s most important time for family gatherings. Schools are also being let out a week early, although many, including those in Hebei, have already reverted to online learning.
China on Friday reported 53 new cases, including 33 in Hebei. Of those, 31 were in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, host to some events for next year’s Winter Olympics.
SAN FRANCISCO — Facing a massive surge in coronavirus cases, California has been issuing waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the nation’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios.
Nurses say that being forced to take on more patients is pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care.
At least 250 of about 400 hospitals in California have been granted 60-day waivers. They allow ICU nurses to care for three instead of two people and emergency room nurses to oversee six patients instead of three.
Nurses in other states have demanded law-mandated ratios like those in California but so far have failed to get them.
BEIJING — A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a coronavirus test.
The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and the surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of infections.
The offering of rewards for information on political or social nonconformists has a long history in China.
China has largely controlled local transmission of the virus through the use of measures considered by some to be extreme and highly intrusive, including lockdowns of entire cities, close electronic monitoring of people’s movements and bans on traveling to and from parts of the country.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is almost halving the number of passengers allowed to arrive by plane in a bid to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.
A cleaner at a Brisbane quarantine hotel diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday is the first person infected with the variant found in the Australian community. Other cases have been detected among travelers while in hotel quarantine, where there is little risk of community spread.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that state leaders have agreed that international arrivals to New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia state airports will be halved until Feb. 15. Arrivals at Victoria were already relatively low and will remain unchanged.
Quarantine workers would be tested for the virus daily.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico continues to see record increases in coronavirus cases, with a 24-hour caseload of 13,734 confirmed infections setting a new high for the second consecutive day.
Officials also reported a near-record of 1,044 more deaths. The country has recorded about 1.49 million infections and over 131,000 deaths so far in the pandemic.
Experts say Mexico’s extremely low testing rate means that is an undercount, and official estimates suggest the real death toll is over 180,000.
The country’s vaccination effort is moving slowly, with 4,444 shots administered Thursday — a rate similar to previous days.
In Mexico City, the current center of the pandemic in Mexico, 89% percent of hospital beds are full.
LONDON — The British government says that beginning next week all people arriving from other countries will have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the 72 hours before departure.
There are exemptions for some, including truckers, airline crew and children under 11.
Many public health experts have long urged the U.K. to adopt the measure as a way of reducing imported infections, though the virus is more widespread in Britain than in many other countries.
The government said Friday that the new measure will help protect against new variants of the virus, such as one recently identified in South Africa.
BRISBANE, Australia — Authorities in Brisbane, Australia, are locking the city down for three days beginning Friday, after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel was diagnosed with a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.
The Queensland state government says masks will also be compulsory for the first time in Brisbane and the surrounding municipalities of Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands.
The state’s chief health officer said “we need to act really, really fast.”
While several cases of the variant have been found in travelers in hotel quarantine, the cleaner is the first person to be infected with it in Australia. Authorities believe the woman was infectious after Jan. 2. She tested positive after showing symptoms Wednesday.
SAO PAULO — Brazil has passed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. That is the second highest total in the world.
The health ministry said Thursday that the country had 1,524 deaths in the previous 24 hours, rising to a total of 200,498 for the pandemic.
The milestone was reached as Brazilians are once again crowding their beaches.
Many Brazilians have been straining against quarantine for months, going to bars or small gatherings with friends, but massive blowouts had been few and far between since the pandemic began. Then big festivities kicked off after the Southern Hemisphere’s summer started Dec. 21.