WASHINGTON — People who have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine can schedule their second shot up to six weeks later if they are not able to get one in the recommended time frame, according to updated guidance this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency also said that in “exceptional situations,” patients may switch from one of the authorized vaccines to the other between the first and second doses.

The recommended interval between doses is three weeks for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four weeks for Moderna’s.

“The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible,” according to guidance updated Thursday. But if it is not feasible to get the second dose in that period, the CDC says a second shot may be scheduled “up to 6 weeks (42 days)” after the first shot.

The CDC updated its initial guidance after it “received feedback that some flexibility in our language might be helpful to reduce barriers to vaccination, especially if there are challenges around returning on a specific date or if someone’s circumstances had changed,” such as being discharged from or entering a long-term care facility, said CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund.

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Thousands in Hong Kong locked down to contain coronavirus

HONG KONG — Thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening outbreak in the city, authorities said.

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A police officer stands guard in the Yau Ma Tei area in Hong Kong on Saturday. Thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening outbreak in the city. Associated Press/Vincent Yu

Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. Over 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40% of the city’s total.

Coronavirus cases in Hong Kong’s Yau Tsim Mong district – a working-class neighborhood with old buildings and subdivided flats – represent about half of infections in the past week.

Sewage testing in the area picked up more concentrated traces of the virus, prompting concerns that poorly built plumbing systems and a lack of ventilation in subdivided units may present a possible path for the virus to spread.

Authorities said in a statement Saturday that an area comprising 16 buildings in Yau Tsim Mong will be locked down until all residents have been tested. Residents will not be allowed to leave their homes until they have received their test results to prevent cross-infection.

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U.K. coronavirus variant may be more deadly, but more data is needed

LONDON — There is some evidence that a new coronavirus variant first identified in southeast England carries a higher risk of death than the original strain, the British government’s chief scientific adviser said Friday – though he stressed that the data is uncertain.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on Friday. Leon Neal via Associated Press

Patrick Vallance said at a news conference that “there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant.”

He said that for a man in his 60s with the original version of the virus, “the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die.”

“With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said.

But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed.

In contrast to that uncertainty, he said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily passed on than the original coronavirus strain. He said it appears to be between 30% and 70% more transmissible.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, said studies were underway to look at the transmission and severity of new virus variants.

She said so far “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that more transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and thus more deaths.

British officials say they are confident that the vaccines that have been authorized for use against COVID-19 will be effective against the new strain identified in the country.

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Biden directs FEMA to set up vaccination centers

WASHINGTON – On his first day in office, President Joe Biden directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish federally supported vaccination centers, with the goal of setting up 100 sites in the next month.

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A nurse draws some Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to give to people at a California drive thru vaccination center in Sacramento on Jan. 21. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

The plan is already taking shape in the form of a draft “Concept of Operations,” which was obtained by The Washington Post. The document envisions FEMA, previously enlisted piecemeal in pandemic response, fully unleashed.

Its mission will be to “provide federal support to existing or new community vaccination centers and mobile clinics across the country.”

“FEMA … will mobilize thousands of clinical and non-clinical staff and contractors who will work hand-in-glove with the National Guard and state and local teams to assist, augment, and expedite the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines,” the document states.

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U.K. considers paying people to stay home if they test positive for coronavirus

U.K. government officials have suggested paying people to stay home if they test positive for coronavirus, amid concerns too many are failing to get tested or comply with the lockdown rules.

While the plan has not been given final approval, a draft government policy paper proposed payments of 500 pounds ($685). Currently only those on the lowest incomes receive support at this level if they’re told to quarantine.

The policy, which would cost about 2 billion pounds a month, would be designed to overcome people’s fear of losing income if forced to self-isolate by a positive test, according to a document dated Jan. 19 obtained by the Guardian and confirmed to Bloomberg by a person familiar with the matter.

A Stay at Home sign is on display on King Street in Manchester, U.K. in December. Bloomberg/Anthony Devlin.

Environment Secretary George Eustice called the idea “speculation” and said “no decisions have been made” when asked about the proposal in broadcast interviews on Friday. A person familiar with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s thinking said the payments won’t happen and the proposal hadn’t been run past the Treasury.

“We do want to improve compliance rates with self-isolation for people who have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive, for instance, and we do want people to get that test if they have symptoms of the virus,” Eustice told LBC radio. “But this would also be a huge cost.”

Millions of Britons would struggle without their full paycheck, and statutory sick pay is 95.85 pounds per week — a figure that compares poorly with the median household income of 575 pounds a week. Moreover, in the second quarter of last year, 1.1 million people, or 3.3% of total employment, were in employment on a zero-hours contract, meaning they don’t get paid if they don’t go to work.

The U.K. is in its third national lockdown with the highest death toll in Europe. The latest figures show 94,580 people have died in the U.K. within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

The desire to avoid isolation is the biggest barrier to requesting a test and only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing, according to the Jan. 19 policy paper. Only a quarter of people reported compliance with self-isolation rules, while 15% are still going to work as normal, the Guardian cited the document as saying.

Ministers have been increasingly concerned over a lack of compliance by a minority of people and on Thursday announced new fines of 800 pounds for anyone attending a house party.

Carnival Cruise Line extends pause through end of April

Carnival Corp.’s flagship cruising brand extended its pause on U.S. departures through the end of April and shelved operations in Australia through mid-May amid lingering pandemic concerns.

Carnival Cruise Line also canceled European trips on Carnival Legend that had been poised to start in May, and delayed trips on Mardi Gras from Port Canaveral, Florida, until the end of that month, according to a statement Friday.

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Carnival cruise line ship Carnival Magic is docked at Cape Canaveral, Fla. in April. Associated Press/John Raoux

The announcement is the latest in a long line of delays since the entire industry essentially went on hold in mid-March. In the pandemic’s early days, outbreaks on ships killed customers and crew and turned some vessels into pariahs that no port would accept.

With the vaccine rollout just beginning in earnest, many of the companies seem to be writing off a significant part of 2021, having raised billions of dollars in debt to keep themselves solvent. Even when they start taking customers again, Carnival Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald has said, any resumption is likely to be gradual.

Yet Carnival said earlier this month that cumulative advanced bookings for the first half of 2022 are now ahead of 2019 levels, reflecting pent-up demand.

Denmark suspends Dubai flights amid doubts over reliability of virus tests

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark has temporarily suspended all flights from the United Arab Emirates for five days after suspicion arose that the coronavirus tests that can be obtained before leaving Dubai are not reliable, authorities announced Friday.

The development poses a direct challenge to the mass testing regime that had been the pillar of the UAE’s coronavirus response and economic reopening.

Engelbrecht said at least “one citizen” brought the South African variant of the virus “back from Dubai.” He did not identify further that person. Dubai has seen an increase in the number of South African residents as the country’s economy deteriorated in recent years.

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A passenger passes through a temperature screening at Dubai International Airport in June. Associated Press/Jon Gambrell

Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet said Friday there has been a second report of allegedly sloppy virus testing in Dubai, and cited Engelbrecht as saying “the information seem precise and valid.”

Since Jan. 9, Denmark has required that all passengers arriving in the Scandinavian country have a negative coronavirus test or proof that they have recently had COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, to limit the spread of the virus.

In recent days, several Danish celebrities, socialites and influencers — such as former boxer Mikkel Kessler, former football international Nicklas Bendtner and table tennis ace Michael Maze — have traveled to Dubai and posted photos of themselves on social media.

Tourists have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks despite the UAE’s surging coronavirus case count, escaping lockdowns back home. The glimmering city-state, with an economy largely built on tourism, aviation and retail, has promoted itself as an ideal pandemic vacation spot. Aside from the ubiquitous masks and hand sanitizer dispensers, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy prevails in the crowded bars, massive malls and luxury hotels.

Skyrocketing daily infections, which nearly tripled since November, for weeks did not dent the normalcy even as more contagious variants of the coronavirus raced around the globe. The United Kingdom, which like Denmark sent droves of reality TV and sports stars to Dubai, closed its travel corridor with the UAE earlier this month.

This week, however, the city has shown signs of strain. As the UAE shattered its coronavirus infection for the 11th consecutive day on Friday, with 3,552 new cases, Dubai announced an immediate halt to all “entertainment activities” on boats and floating restaurants — a popular pastime in the city. Tourists and celebrities often flaunt their vacations on social media, posting photos of raucous, Champagne-soaked yacht parties that have splashed across tabloids in recent weeks. A day earlier, Dubai suspended all live bands and performances at nightclubs and bars in the city after hospitals were forced to pause non-urgent surgeries to deal with an influx of new COVID-19 patients.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UAE has built its coronavirus response on an “early detection strategy,” embarking on one of the world’s best coronavirus testing regimes at a time when other countries were struggling to obtain and administer PCR tests. As of Friday, the country of roughly 9 million had conducted some 24.2 million coronavirus tests.

Dubai was one of the world’s first destinations to open up to tourists, welcoming visitors from anywhere with only a coronavirus test. The country has used Chinese-made coronavirus test kits in its race to detect infections. The U.S. State Department previously raised concerns that Chinese testing material was not accurate, without providing evidence about the allegation.

Miami Heat to use coronavirus-sniffing dogs in plan to allow some fans back into arena

The Miami Heat plans to use coronavirus-sniffing dogs to screen guests and employees later this month, when a small number of fans will be allowed back into AmericanAirlines Arena.

The dogs have been trained to detect the active presence of the virus, and will not react to people who have been given the coronavirus vaccine, the team said Thursday. Everyone entering the arena will need to pass checks by the Heat’s canine teams, and if anyone in a given group is flagged by a dog, the entire party will be denied entry.

AmericanAirlines Arena after a Miami Heat basketball game in 2018. Shutterstock

The Heat is the first NBA team to try this approach to keeping its arena as safe as it can amid a pandemic that has yet to abate and probably won’t for at least several more months. The effectiveness of the plan remains to be seen, but as a team executive pointed out, dogs have proven adept at sniffing out illnesses such as cancer and malaria, and they have already been deployed to detect the coronavirus at airports in Chile, Finland and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’re taking a little bit of a leap forward,” said Matthew Jafarian, the Heat’s executive vice president of business strategy, by phone Thursday evening. “We’re out in front on this, but like with anything new, somebody’s got to take the first step.”

Jafarian said Miami’s decision to use the dogs was motivated by a conviction that, even with coronavirus vaccines starting to be administered, “We don’t want to just sit around and hope that sports returns to normal. We realized that we’ve got to be innovative, and we’ve got to have strong execution if we want to provide a safe environment.”

On Jan. 28, for the first time this season, the Heat is allowing approximately 1,500 season ticket holders into a home game. Among the other safety measures: a mask mandate for everyone over the age of 2; physical distancing practices; cashless transactions; enhanced cleaning efforts, plus hand sanitizer stations throughout the building; and a ban on eating and drinking in the arena bowl.

UK police break up lockdown-flouting wedding with 400 guests

LONDON  — Police in London said Friday that they have broken up a wedding attended by 400 people — despite a nationwide lockdown that bars households from mixing.

The venue was a school whose principal died from the coronavirus last year.

The Metropolitan Police force said officers found hundreds of people packed into the north London school with blacked-out windows on Thursday night. The force said that “following enquiries it was established that the group had gathered at the location for a wedding.”

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The Yesodey Hatorah Secondary Girls School in north London, the site of a wedding attended by 400 people despite a nationwide lockdown. Stefan Rousseau/PA via Associated Press

Weddings are allowed only in “exceptional circumstances” — such as one partner being dangerously ill — and with a maximum of six people attending.

Police said the organizer could face a 10,000-pound ($13,600) fine, Many guests fled as police arrived, but five people who attended received 200-pound fines.

The Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, a state-funded Orthodox Jewish high school, said in a statement that it was “absolutely horrified about last night’s event and condemn(s) it in the strongest possible terms.”

The school said its hall had been leased to an outside organization and “we had no knowledge that the wedding was taking place.”

U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis condemned the rule-breaking event.

He tweeted: “At a time when we are all making such great sacrifices, it amounts to a brazen abrogation of the responsibility to protect life and such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.”

The school’s principal, Rabbi Avrahom Pinter, died in April after contracting the coronavirus.

Pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues in Britain are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home, as part of restrictions to curb a new surge in the virus. The U.K. has recorded almost 95,000 COVID-19 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

Amid cancellation talk, Tokyo Olympics `focused on hosting’

TOKYO — IOC President Thomas Bach and local organizers are pushing back against reports that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be canceled.

Now set to open July 23, the Tokyo Games were postponed 10 months ago at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and now the event appears threatened again.

The Times of London, citing unidentified government sources, reported that the games will have to be canceled. It quoted an unidentified senior member of the ruling government coalition.

“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the person said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

In a statement Friday, the local organizing committee did not address directly The Times story, but said the Olympics were going forward and had the support of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are fully focused on hosting the games this summer,” the statement said.

“We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure games.”

The IOC released a brief statement saying it is “fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year.”

Mississippi opens drive-thru vaccination site

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi has opened a drive-thru site for coronavirus vaccinations in the state capital, which officials hope will make shots more accessible to African-Americans, who have received the vaccine in much smaller numbers than whites.

The operation that opened Thursday at Smith-Wills Stadium is the first in the capital, and 19th drive-thru for the state. The Jackson area is the state’s most populous and has a Black majority.

The centers offer shots for health care workers, people 65 and older, and people who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. Vaccinations are also continuing at long-term care facilities.

The state health department says only 15% of vaccinations administered so far in Mississippi have been to Black residents, with around 70% going to white residents.

 


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