The Latest: Serbia closes bars, shops to fight virus surge


A young girl looks out the window of her room in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital, in Paris, France, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, increasing numbers of children are coming apart at the seams, their mental health shredded by the traumas of deaths, sickness and job losses in their families, the disruptions of lockdowns and curfews, and a deluge of anxieties poisoning their fragile young minds. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia will close down all nonessential shops, bars and restaurants this weekend as the Balkan country faces a surge in coronavirus infections.

The government-appointed crisis body said Friday said the measures will take effect on Friday evening and last until Monday. Authorities will decide on Monday how to proceed, officials said.

The decision is expected to be formally endorsed by the government later Friday.

Serbia has recorded more than 4,000 new infections daily in the past week as doctors have warned that hospitals are rapidly filling up and that medical staff are exhausted after a year of the pandemic.

Senior health official Zoran Gojkovic says the government hopes that it vaccination program will also get infections under control in the coming weeks. He says new measures also include children in higher primary school grades switching to remote classes next week.

A wave of new infections is sweeping across the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, driven mainly by new virus variants that are more contagious.

Serbia has vaccinated more than 1.5 million of its 7 million people with at least one shot from China’s Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech, Russia’s Sputnik V or AstraZeneca, which is among the highest rates of inoculations in Europe.



— The pandemic has taken a huge toll on children’s mental health,with doctors saying virus-related phobias, tics and eating disorders rising along with attempted suicides.

— President JoeBiden aims for quicker shots, ‘independence from this virus’

— AP-NORC poll: 1 in 5 in US lost someone close in pandemic

— The European Medicines Agency has given Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine the green light, giving the European Union’s 27 nations a fourth vaccine to use


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BERLIN — The German government said it was in contact with U.S. officials about the question of vaccine supplies, but stressed that the European Commission had the lead when it came to procuring shots for member states.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the “this topic is raised again and again by the chancellor and other members of the federal government” in talks with non-EU countries.

Seibert added that the EU “has funded to a large degree the research development and production of vaccines” and that the 27-nation bloc is an important production site.

“This benefits not just people in Europe, but the whole world,” he said, adding that the EU has said the bloc has approved the export of more than 34 million doses of vaccines to over 30 countries in the past six weeks.

“We support this. On the other hand we note that while we have exported to many countries around the world, nothing or almost nothing has been exported from the U.S. or Great Britain.”

“And this is of course a topic that the European Commission, representing its member states, takes up with the companies concerned but also with the governments of other countries.”


BERLIN — Germany’s top health official expressed regret Friday that some neighboring countries have paused their use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine following reports of blood clots in some people, despite the lack of any evidence the shot was responsible.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said while Germany takes reports of possible side effects from vaccines “very, very seriously,” both the European Medicines Agency and Germany’s own vaccine oversight body have said they have no evidence of an increase in dangerous blood clots in connection with the shots.

“I regret that on the basis of the knowledge of Friday morning some countries in the European Union have suspended vaccinations with AstraZeneca,” Spahn told reporters in Berlin.

Denmark was the first to temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine Thursday after reports of blood clots in some people. The Nordic nation’s health authority said the decision was “based on a precautionary principle” and that one person who developed a blood clot after vaccination had died.


SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria has temporarily suspended inoculations with the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and demanded safety guarantees from the European Union.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told a cabinet meeting that the immunization with this vaccine will be suspended, until the European Medicines Agency issues a written statement that it is safe.

“Until all doubts are dispelled and experts guarantee that it holds no risk for people, we are stopping immunization using that vaccine,” Borissov said.

Bulgaria becomes the latest European country to suspend vaccination using the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab following reports of blood clots in some people.

Bulgaria has so far administered some 320,000 doses of the EU’s three allowed vaccines. Due to a shortage of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, most people have received an AstraZeneca-Oxford jab.

The nation of 7 million has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past weeks. Bulgaria on Tuesday reported 3,121 new confirmed cases, bringing their total number to 272,700 with 11,094 deaths.


HONG KONG — Hong Kong on Friday reported 60 new coronavirus infections, the highest number of infections in the city since late January, prompting fears of a fifth wave of the virus.

Of the new infections, 47 were linked to an outbreak at a gym in the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood that is popular among expatriates. Health authorities have ordered all employees of gyms in Hong Kong to be screened for the virus. The gym cluster has so far infected 64 people

Authorities have also ordered gyms to step up safety measures, including requiring members to wear masks while working out.

The city has so far reported 11,211 cases of the coronavirus, with 203 deaths.

As of Thursday, 145,800 people in Hong Kong have received the first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Since the vaccination program began, four people have died days after receiving a Sinovac shot, although experts have concluded that the first two cases had no direct links to the vaccine. Experts are still investigating the other cases.


BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country should prepare for “several very challenging weeks” amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that “the situation remains tense,” as the country’s disease control center reported 12,834 newly confirmed cases in the past day, and 252 new COVID-related deaths.

The head of the agency, Lothar Wieler, said Germany is “at the beginning of the third wave” of infections following surges in cases last spring and in the fall.

Spahn noted there has been a drop in serious illnesses and deaths among the elderly, as most people over 80 in Germany have now received a virus vaccine.

He said Germany has managed to administer more than 200,000 first shots daily this week. As more supplies arrive, shots will be administered not just in special vaccine centers but, from mid-April, also in doctors’ practices, said Spahn.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it’s assessing reports of rare blood coagulation problems faced by some people in the European Union who received doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19.

The U.N. health agency noted the decision of a few European Union countries to suspend use of the vaccine based on reports of the rare disorder in people who received the vaccines from a particular batch.

It noted that the European Medicines Agency has determined that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks, and said that no cases of death have been found to be caused by any COVID-19 vaccines so far.

A WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety is “carefully assessing” the reports and will communicate its findings and any changes in its recommendations to the public.

“Deaths from other causes will continue to occur, including after vaccination, but causally unrelated,” WHO said.


BANGKOK — Thailand delayed use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday after several European countries temporarily suspended the jabs following reports of blood clots in some people.

A publicity event with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha receiving his first shot was canceled with dozens of media attending, less than an hour before the scheduled start. Instead, health officials held a news conference to explain the delay was based on the decision made by Denmark, Austria and others as a precaution. The Danish health authority said Thursday it has no evidence the vaccine was responsible for blood clots.

Other experts pointed out that of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine shots administered elsewhere, including in Britain, there have been no reported cases of the vaccine causing blood clots or related problems.

Yong Poovorawan, an advisor to Thailand’s vaccination program, said the delay, pending an investigation into the cause of the reported side effect, will not have a big impact on the rollout.

Thailand started its vaccination drive last month with an initial 200,000 doses of China’s Sinovac and 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca, which is also being manufactured locally. The country aims to inject 10 million doses a month from June.


LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — A school in Slovenia cancelled classes on Friday after 26 teachers called in sick due to vaccine side effects.

Slovenian media say the staff at the school in the northwestern town of Velenje received AstraZeneca jabs on Wednesday and later reported side effects to the jabs including strong headaches, dizziness, high fever and nausea.

The head of Slovenia’s National Public Health Institute Milan Krek told public broadcaster RTV Slovenia reactions such as increased body temperature and fever are among the listed side effects for the vaccine. The reactions are being registered and will be reviewed before further decisions are made, said Krek.

The school has informed the parents that they do not have the capacity to hold classes and that the school will shut down on Friday except for day care for smaller children.


NEW DELHI — India has registered its worst single-day jump in coronavirus cases since late December with 23,285.

The sharp spike is being attributed to the western state of Maharashtra.

India has so far reported more than 11.3 million cases, the world’s second-highest after the United States. Infections have been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity is leading to the latest surge.

The increase is being reported in six states, including Maharashtra where authorities have announced a weeklong lockdown in the densely populated Nagpur city next week. The vaccinations there will continue.

India is in its second phase of the COVID-19 inoculation campaign and plans to vaccine 300 million people by August. The vaccination drive that began in January is still running way below capacity.

More than 26 million people have gotten a shot, though only 4.72 million are fully vaccinated with both doses.


TOKYO — Transportation Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba says Japan will tighten border controls and limit the number of entrants to up to 2,000 per day to guard against the more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Japan has confirmed 345 cases of the more contagious new variants, mostly the kind first found in Britain, the Health Ministry said.

The health authorities have found the cases of the new variants to have quadrupled over the past month. They said the cases have been found in about half of Japan’s 47 prefectures but need to be closely watched and precautions should be increased.

Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures are under a non-binding state of emergency since Jan. 7. The measure, which was to end on March 7 in those areas, has been extended for two weeks as the infections have not slowed enough.

Japan had about 444,300 cases and 8,451 deaths as of Thursday.


MANILA, Philippines — Mayors have decided to reimpose a 7-hour night-time curfew in the Philippine capital region of more than 12 million people amid a spike in coronavirus infections, which forced dozens of villages to be placed back under police-enforced lockdowns.

Authorities would enforce the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for two weeks starting Monday in metropolitan Manila, where most cases in a new surge of infections have been reported this week, said Benhur Abalos, who heads the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

The Philippines has reported the highest number of confirmed infections at more than 600,000 and more than 12,500 deaths among 24 pandemic-hit countries in the Western Pacific region, the World Health Organization said.

President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he did not know how he could considerably ease quarantine restrictions when cases continue to surge. He said he may be able to further reopen the economy when millions of Filipinos have been vaccinated. But the government’s vaccination campaign has faced supply problems and public reluctance.

“We cannot forever be in the strict protocols because we have to open the economy. People are hungry … they have to work, to eat, to survive,” Duterte said. “I am, I said, in a quandary of what to do.”


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is extending its current measures on social distancing for at least another two weeks as it struggles to slow coronavirus infections in the greater capital area.

The measures include clamping down on private social gatherings of five or more people nationwide and prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants and bars in the Seoul metropolitan area after 10 p.m.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said during a briefing Friday that health authorities will inspect shopping malls, restaurants, public baths and private tutoring academies in the capital area over the next two weeks and have employees tested if their working conditions are seen as highly vulnerable to infections.

While South Korea has wiggled out of its worst wave of the virus that saw its daily jump in infections reach 1,241 on Christmas Day, it has still been seeing 300 to 400 new cases a day since mid-January. Around 75% of them reported from the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to half of the country’s 51 million people.

The country reported another new 488 cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing its caseload to 94,686, including 1,662 deaths.

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