WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t ready to say the nation has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, despite about 2.5 million Americans getting vaccinated each day.
The government’s top infectious disease expert says he often gets asked that question. His response: “We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.”
At the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Fauci says the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases in the country. It’s hovering around an average of 55,000 and up slightly in recent days. While that is clearly much better than the 250,000 daily cases at the peak of the winter wave, it’s uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID wave of last summer.
“When you are at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner,” Fauci adds.
On the plus side, along with the growing level of vaccinations, Fauci is underscoring recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. There’s also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That’s the age group most vulnerable to the disease.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— EU moves to stricter export controls on vaccines
— Merkel drops Easter shutdown plan for Germany
— Biden administration survey shows most nonwhite studentslearning entirely online
— Honduran company says seized vaccineswere for employees and their families
— Follow AP’s pandemic 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:
BRUSSELS — Belgium is reintroducing strict lockdown measures in response to a surge of new coronavirus infections.
The government announced schools would be closed on Monday and residents would have limited access to non-essential businesses starting Wednesday night.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo says the virus variant first identified in Britain is likely taking a heavy toll on the health of the country’s people. Confirmed cases increased 40% in the last week and hospital admissions rose 28% following a long stable period.
Under the new rules, non-essential shops can remain open but customers will need to book appointments. Hairdressers and beauty parlors must close until April 25.
PARIS — France’s culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to be infected as the nation faces a third surge of infections.
Roselyne Bachelot announced last weekend that she had tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The latest surge has been likely propelled by the highly contagious virus variant first seen in Britain.
ICUs in the Paris region as well as in northern and southeastern France are filling up.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was infected months ago but never hospitalized, on Tuesday announced an acceleration of the country’s vaccination campaign. Now all people over 70 are eligible to get a vaccine shot.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has recorded 342 deaths, its highest daily death toll from COVID-19.
The country’s Health Ministry says that’s up from the previous high of 333 on Tuesday. Ukraine began vaccinations in late February after receiving 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Reluctance to take the shots is strong even as new infections severely tax the country’s underfunded medical system. There have been 30,773 confirmed deaths in Ukraine during the pandemic.
BRUSSELS — The European Union is moving toward stricter export controls to ensure there are more COVID-19 vaccine supplies for the bloc.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on the eve of a summit of the 27 leaders that it has a plan ready to guarantee more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens before they can be shipped for exports.
EU nations have been specifically stung by the United Kingdom, which has received some 10 million doses from EU plants while they say nothing came back from Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken in the past few days to European leaders, including von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Vaccines are an international operation,” Johnson says, adding that the U.K. would “continue to work with European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.”
The EU has been insisting that two AstraZeneca plants in Britain should also be part of the EU deliveries.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has dropped plans for a five-day shutdown in Germany over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism.
She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans. Merkel announced the decision after calling a hastily arranged videoconference with Germany’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions.
The same group had come up with the unexpected plan for deeper restrictions over Easter, which was announced early Tuesday. The plan was to make Thursday, the day before Good Friday, a “rest day,” with all shops closed, and only allow supermarkets to open on Easter Saturday.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi decried various interest groups getting their members COVID-19 vaccines before adults older than 80.
Draghi told the Senate not all the nation’s regions are following the Health Ministry’s directives that give priority to older age groups. Said Draghi: “Some (regions) are neglecting their elderly in favor of groups that proclaim priority” based on their lobbying ability.
Draghi expressed satisfaction of vaccination in nursing homes, telling lawmakers that 86% of care home residents have received at least one vaccine dose. He also says Italy will aim to reopen all primary and nursery schools nationwide, possibly after Easter, even in regions with the strictest COVID-19 restrictions
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s top health official says his country will purchase 1 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and 60,000 doses of the vaccine made by Chinese company CanSino Biologics.
Faisal Sultan, a special assistant to the prime minister, says on Twitter an order has been placed for the purchase of Chinese-made vaccines which will be delivered to Pakistan within days.
The purchases will be in addition to 1.5 million doses of vaccine that China is donating to Pakistan in phases. Without giving more details, Sultan says Pakistan will receive several million doses of vaccines in April. Pakistan is currently facing a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Also Wednesday, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood saiys the government is ordering the closure of schools in the capital, Islamabad and in several high-risk cities until April 11.
Pakistan has reported 637,042 virus cases and 13,965 deaths from coronavirus.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland has recorded a record daily high of nearly 30,000 new coronavirus cases amid a huge surge in infections that is overwhelming hospitals.
Poland’s Health Ministry said Wednesday that it also recorded 575 more deaths since a day earlier..
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says the dire situation will lead to greater restrictions over the Easter holiday, with full details to be announced later this week.
The Health Ministry reported 29,978 new confirmed cases, above the last record high of 27,875 from Nov. 7.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s prime minister has been vaccinated with an AstraZeneca coronavirus shot in an apparent effort to boost public confidence in the vaccine.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who contracted the virus last year, publicly received the jab on Wednesday together with Health Minister Vili Beros and parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic.
“I hope that with this message we have influenced others to follow our example and get vaccinated so we can defeat this pandemic and return to the normal life,” Beros said.
Croatia did not suspend administering AstraZeneca shots unlike some other European Union states over reports linking the vaccine with isolated cases of blood clots.
There have been reports in Croatia of people not showing up for their vaccination with AstraZeneca shots because of fears over its effectiveness. Like many other EU members, Croatia has been suffering with the lack of vaccines.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting Germany’s 16 state governors for a quickly arranged meeting on the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, German news agency dpa reported.
The news agency reported that Merkel and the state governors will meet virtually Wednesday at 11 a.m. local time. The leaders had met for hours on Monday and into early Tuesday to discuss new measures on the pandemic as infection rates in the country are going up again.
Among the most important measures decided on was a five-day Easter lockdown to get the numbers down again. However, that decision was met with lots of criticism and many questions on how extra holidays are legally possible.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian government has prohibited serving alcohol, closed gyms and put a two-person limit on the number of visitors residents can have at home in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Bent Hoeie said the country is seeing outbreaks in new places “and the situation is more confusing.”
Hoeie said the virus variant first reported in Britain was spreading in Norway, which in recent weeks observed a spike in COVID-19 cases in Oslo and the nearby region.
The government’s decision “will provoke reactions in the places where there have hardly been cases of infection, but we must do this,” the minister said.
The government urged people to work from home and increased the social distancing requirement from one meter (3.3. feet) to two meters (6.6 feet).
The Scandinavian country has reported 89,120 cases and 649 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California state prisons will soon resume limited in-person visits with inmates more than a year after they were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials say visits, with precautions, will start April 10 as the prison system stabilizes after outbreaks that killed 216 inmates and 26 employees.
The worst outbreak came after a botched transfer of inadequately tested inmates in late May that killed more than two dozen inmates and a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco.
But corrections officials reported just 31 active inmate cases and 331 infected staff Tuesday.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time Tuesday amid calls for the government and the new health minister to take action to stem the nation’s resurgence of coronavirus infections.
In recent weeks, Latin America’s largest country has become the pandemic’s global epicenter, with more deaths from the virus each day than in any other nation. Tuesday’s record toll of 3,251 deaths was driven by the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous, which recorded 1,021 new deaths, far above the previous high of 713 last July.
The pandemic has brought the health systems of Brazilian states to near collapse, with hospitals watching their ICU beds fill up and stocks of oxygen required for assisted breathing dwindle. Most of the states in recent days adopted measures to restrict activity, over the fierce resistance of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Public health experts and economists have said Bolsonaro is presenting a false choice between preserving health and economic well-being.
On Tuesday, cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga was sworn in as health minister, becoming the fourth person to occupy the post since the beginning of the health crisis. He replaced active-duty army Gen. Eduardo Pazuello.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s governor plans to lift the statewide mask mandate and remaining coronavirus business restrictions in two weeks.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb says the state’s steep declines in coronavirus hospitalization and deaths rates, along with the growing number of people fully vaccinated, justify the steps starting April 6.
Holcomb says he hoped the state was seeing the “tail end of this pandemic” that has killed nearly 13,000 people in the state.
Holcomb says local officials would still have the authority to impose tougher restrictions in response to cases in their communities and face mask use would still be required in K-12 schools for the rest of this school year. He urged residents to continue wearing masks in public and bars and restaurants continue to space out their tables.
Holcomb has faced public pressure and from conservative state lawmakers to ease restrictions, especially after Republican governors in Texas and other states have done so recently. But some health experts worry it is premature to lift the statewide restrictions.