PARIS — A French nun who is believed to be the world’s second-oldest person is celebrating her 117th birthday in style after surviving COVID-19.
The care home in southern France where Sister André lives organized a packed schedule. There were plans on Thursday for Champagne and red wine, a feast with her favorite dessert and other events to toast her astounding longevity.
Some of Sister Andre’s great-nephews and great-great nephews were expected to join a video call for her. The bishop of Toulon was due to celebrate a Mass in her honor.
Sister Andre’s birth name is Lucile Randon. Sister André tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-January and had so few symptoms she didn’t even realize she was infected.
She’s considered the second-oldest known living person in the world, behind only a 118-year-old woman in Japan.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Dr. Fauci expects coronavirus shot categories to open up by April in U.S. African nations still encouraged to use AstraZeneca vaccine. WHO launches vaccine help for six ex-Soviet states. U.K. medical teams seek out vulnerable homeless people to get them vaccinated. President Joe Biden’s virus-fighting team is on a war strategy to defeat the coronavirus.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ISTANBUL — Turkey has started administering the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company to health care workers across the country.
Also Thursday, people above 70 qualified to receive their first dose of the vaccine as Turkey expanded its vaccination campaign. After a promising start of 1.2 million people receiving their first doses in one week, the pace of vaccination has slowed down. In all, around 2.8 million people have received their first shots in the country of 83.6 million.
Turkey aims to vaccinate at least 60% of the population, the health minister has said. The country has been trying to procure vaccines from multiple sources.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s government has announced slight easing of measures against the new coronavirus, citing stable numbers of new infections in the past weeks.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday also warned there can be no major relaxation of rules amid an expected spate of very cold weather and after the British variant of the virus was registered in the country.
Plenkovic says starting Feb. 16, restaurants and bars can sell coffee to go, gyms and other fitness venues will reopen, along with foreign language schools, casinos and betting shops.
Croatia hasn’t had full lockdown, but it has shut down bars and other social venues. Thousands of small business owners recently have rallied against anti-virus rules.
Croatia has reported more than 5,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths and more than 200,000 cases.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts by April it will be “open season” for vaccinations in the U.S., as supply boosts allow most people to get shots to protect against COVID-19.
Speaking to NBC’s “Today Show,” Fauci, who serves as science adviser to President joe Biden, says the rate of vaccinations will greatly accelerate in the coming months. He credits forthcoming deliveries of the two approved vaccines, the potential approval of a third and moves taken by the Biden administration to increase the nation’s capacity to deliver doses.
He says, “by the time we get to April,” it will be “open season, namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated.”
He cautioned it will take “several more months” to logistically deliver injections to adult Americans but predicted herd immunity could be achieved by late summer.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s chief for Europe says it’s launching with the European Union a 40-million euro ($48.5 million) program to help deploy COVID-19 vaccines in six countries that were once Soviet republics.
Dr. Hans Kluge, who also highlighted a drop in coronavirus cases in recent weeks while warning case counts remain too high, says the program complements work through an existing EU program and the WHO-backed COVAX Facility that aims to deploy vaccines for people in all countries in need whether rich or poor.
The program will involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
“Vaccines offer a way to emerge faster from this pandemic. But only if we ensure that all countries, irrespective of income level, have access to them,” Kluge said from Copenhagen, Denmark. “Unfair access to vaccines, can backfire. The longer the virus lingers, the greater the risk of dangerous mutations.”
Kluge hailed “good news” that new infections in the 53-country WHO Europe region has declined for four straight weeks, and pointed to declining hospitalization and death rates.
Kluge says some 7.8 million people have completed their immunization in the region.
BUDAPEST — Hungary expects to receive 500,000 doses of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine next week and will begin administering them as soon as possible.
Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, says the Sinopharm vaccine would undergo assessment by Hungary’s National Public Health Center before being put into circulation.
“This is the safest vaccine given that it has already been administered to 30 million people in the world,” Gulyas said.
Hungary, which has been critical of the European Union’s sluggish vaccine rollout, also expects 200,000 doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to arrive this month. Doctors in Budapest were instructed this week to choose patients under 75 and with no chronic health conditions to receive the first round of Sputnik V jabs.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania’s president denies COVID-19 exists in his country, but the World Health Organization says two travelers from Tanzania have been found with the virus now dominant in South Africa.
WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti says the travelers went to the U.K. She again encouraged Tanzania’s government to share information on the pandemic, and counts Tanzania as one of eight African countries that has the variant.
The East African nation has not updated its number of virus cases since April, and populist President John Magufuli has not only claimed that God has helped to defeat COVID-19 there but expressed doubts about its vaccines.
The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday reported a “significant increase” in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania since last month, with no details. The Catholic church in Tanzania has been outspoken in warning that COVID-19 is present and encouraging citizens to take precautions.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has started inoculating the country’s about 15,000 firefighters against COVID-19.
Portuguese firefighters commonly operate ambulances, and they will be vaccinated over a two-week period starting Thursday.
Meanwhile, the health ministry says antigen tests will be more widely used at schools, factories and other places where people gather as part of a new strategy to contain the pandemic.
Parliament is expected later Thursday to extend Portugal’s state of emergency decree, which allows the government to impose the current lockdown, through March 1.
The seven-day average of daily deaths in Portugal is the highest in the world, at 205 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. But the seven-day average of daily new cases has fallen from a peak of 122 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 27 to 47 per 100,000.
WASHINGTON — The meetings begin each day not long after dawn. Dozens of aides report in, coffee in hand, joining by Zoom from agency headquarters, their homes or even adjacent offices.
The sessions start with the latest sobering statistics meant to focus the work and offer a reminder of what’s at stake: new coronavirus cases, people in hospitals, deaths. But they also include the latest signs of progress: COVID-19 tests administered, vaccine doses shipped, shots injected.
Where the last U.S. administration addressed the pandemic with the vernacular of a natural disaster — using the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mantra of a “federally supported, state managed and locally executed” response — President Joe Biden’s team is borrowing from the Pentagon and the doctrine of overwhelming force.
“We’re at war with this virus,” COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told The Associated Press. “We’re taking every resource and tool the federal government has to battle on every front.”
For Biden, beating back the pandemic is a defining challenge of his presidency. The U.S. has seen the most confirmed coronavirus deaths in the world with more than 471,000.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany didn’t act quickly enough last fall to prevent a second surge in coronavirus infections.
“We didn’t shut down public life early enough or systematically enough amid signs of a second wave and warnings from various scientists,” she told lawmakers Thursday.
Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to extend the current lockdown until at least March 7. Schools and hairdressers will be able to open earlier, with strict hygiene measures.
Merkel defended a decision to set a target of pushing the number of new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants below 35 before the lockdown is eased further.
“The virus doesn’t follow dates, the virus follows infection numbers,” she said.
Germany’s disease control agency said there were just over 64 cases per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide in the past week.
The Robert Koch Institute said there were 10,237 new cases and 666 deaths in the past day, taking the total to 2.31 million and 63,635 confirmed deaths.
BRUSSELS — With the coronavirus still widely circulating across Belgium, health authorities announced the country is being spared a bad flu season.
Even better, they say there is no flu outbreak this winter as fears of a “twindemic” that would have combined an annual flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic have not been realized.
“Despite the quantity of samples analyzed, the number of positive tests for influenza is much lower than during the previous winters,” the Sciensano public health institute said.
Usually, the number of visits to general practitioners and the number of positive flu tests rise simultaneously from December to a peak between mid-January and mid-March.
Health experts say the low number of flu cases across the globe are likely due to measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, social distancing and more hand washing.
LONDON — AstraZeneca officials say they’re working with the University of Oxford to adapt its COVID-19 vaccine to protect against new strains of the virus.
Public health officials are concerned about mutations that may make the virus more resistant to existing vaccines.
The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker worked with Oxford to develop one of the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized for widespread use. AstraZeneca says it hopes to cut the time needed to produce large amounts of any new vaccine to between six and nine months.
The comments came as Astra-Zeneca indicated fourth-quarter net income rose to $1.01 billion from $313 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Drug sales increased 11% to $7.41 billion, driven by a 24% increase in cancer treatments.
The company posted $2 million of revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine, which it has pledged to supply on a non-profit basis during the pandemic.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director says African countries that haven’t found cases of the coronavirus variant dominant in South Africa should use the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
John Nkengasong spoke to reporters a day after South Africa announced that it would not use the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing a small study that suggested it was poor at preventing mild to moderate disease caused by the variant.
Nkengasong said just seven countries on the 54-nation African continent have reported the variant and none besides South Africa is being “overwhelmed” by the variant. None has expressed concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine except for South Africa.
Africa has had more than 96,000 confirmed deaths.
JERUSALEM — Israel began reopening its education system on Thursday after a more than six-week closure due to the surge in coronavirus infections.
Kindergartens and first to fourth grades opened in cities with low infection rates, with around one-fifth of the country’s pupils returning to classrooms. Middle schools and high schools remained closed.
Israel began easing restrictions on Sunday after more than a month of nationwide lockdown. It has vaccinated more than 3.5 million citizens with an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but infection rates remain high.
The Health Ministry reported more than 711,000 confirmed cases, including at least 5,265 deaths.
PRAGUE — The Czech government has imposed a complete lockdown on the three hardest-hit counties to help contain a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
Health Minister Jan Blatny says the measure will become effective Friday for two counties in western Czech Republic on the German border — Cheb and Sokolov — and another in Trutnov on the border with Poland.
Residents of the counties are barred from leaving those places, while people without residency can’t travel there. Exceptions include travel to work. Police will be deployed to enforce the measure.
The counties have been facing the highest occurrence of the fast-spreading coronavirus variant found in Britain. Local hospitals have reached their capacity and COVID-19 patients have to be transported to hospitals in other parts of the Czech Republic.
The number of infected people is around 1,100 per 100,000 in the three counties in the last seven days, several times higher than the rest of the country.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 504 new coronavirus cases for the latest 24-hour period.
It is the highest daily jump in about two weeks and raising concerns about a potential surge as the country begins the Lunar New Year’s holidays.
Health officials say the newly reported cases took the country’s total for the pandemic to 82,434 and 1,496 deaths.
In recent weeks, South Korea’s caseload has displayed a gradual downward trajectory largely thanks to stringent distancing rules such as a ban on social gatherings of five or more people.
Officials have urged the public to maintain vigilance and stay at home during the four-day Lunar New Year’s holidays that began Thursday. Millions of people were expected to travel across the country to visit hometowns during the holidays.
MEXICO CITY — Mexican regulatory authorities have granted approval for the use of two Chinese coronavirus vaccines — Sinovac and CanSino.
The assistant health secretary says the first bulk shipment of an expected 2 million CanSino doses will arrive Thursday and be bottled in Mexico.
Mexico has so far received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which have almost all been used.
The CanSino vaccine reportedly has an efficacy rate of around 65.7%, while the Sinovac dose has been rated as low as 50.6% at preventing infections.
Mexico also expects to get its first AstraZeneca shipment of 500,000 doses Sunday.
TOKYO — Japan is reporting its worst one-day death toll for the pandemic — 121 people who died from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours.
The number reported Thursday by Japan’s Health Ministry raised the country’s pandemic death toll to 6,678.
Japan has not started coronavirus vaccinations. Shots for medical workers are set to begin this month.
The country also has never had a lockdown, but a government-backed state of emergency is now in place for Tokyo and other urban areas that urges people to stay home and restaurants to close at night.
Although coronavirus cases stayed relatively low in Japan last year compared to the United States and Europe, infections have been climbing recently. Demands are growing to cancel the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to start in July.
— to www.wishtv.com