The Latest: Pakistan reports 1st case of India variant

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A woman wearing a face mask stands in front of mural of people wearing face masks to spread awareness for the prevention of the coronavirus in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia on Friday, May 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s health ministry on Friday reported the detection of the first case of an Indian variant of coronavirus.

That’s prompted authorities to trace those who were in contact with the patient who tested positive for the Indian variant.

Health officials also reported the presence of South African variant in seven COVID-19 patients in the country. No other information was shared by the government and it was unclear how people with Indian and south African variants ended up reaching this Islamic nation.

The Indian variant is considered more transmissible by some health experts. Pakistan already banned travels to and from India in April to avoid the spread of the variant.

Pakistan is currently in the middle of the third wave of coronavirus that authorities say has begun to decline.

Pakistan has registered 913,784 confirmed cases and 20,607 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— South Africa race to give vaccine shots to older adults before virus surges

— California giving away $116.5 million in attempt to get millions vaccinated

—Japan to extendvirus emergency with safe Olympics at stake

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Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemicand https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GENEVA — The United States and Britain are stepping up calls for the World Health Organization to take a deeper look into the possible origins of COVID-19, including a new visit to China, where the first human cases were detected.

WHO and Chinese experts issued a first report in March that laid out four hypotheses about how the pandemic emerged. The joint team said the most likely scenario was the coronavirus jumped into people from bats via an intermediary animal, and the prospect that it erupted from a laboratory was deemed “extremely unlikely.”

Late Thursday, the U.S. mission in Geneva issued a statement saying the first phase of the study was “insufficient and inconclusive” and called for a “timely, transparent, evidence-based and expert-led Phase 2 study, including in the People’s Republic of China.”

The statement — coming in the middle of the WHO’s annual assembly in Geneva — demanded access for independent experts to “complete, original data and samples” relevant to the source of the virus and early stages of the outbreak.

Also Thursday, the British ambassador in Geneva, Simon Manley, said the first phase study was “always meant to be the beginning of the process, not the end.”

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an e-mail that a technical team — led by Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO team in China that co-authored the first report — was preparing “a proposal for the next studies that will need to be carried out.”

Jasarevik says that proposal would be presented to Tedros “for his consideration,” but says there was no timetable such a presentation.

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TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province is shortening the interval between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, starting with adults aged 80 and older next week.

Ontario says it’s making the change because 65% of all adults have at least one shot and Ontario now has a steady supply of vaccine. The province says the shortened interval could be as small as 28 days for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the coming months.

Those who got a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be offered a second dose after 12 weeks, though it could be a different vaccine depending on awaited federal guidance.

Ontario has been administering COVID-19 shots for four months and will continue to administer by age groups. Those between the ages of 12-25 will become eligible in early August.

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security says there won’t be any federal vaccination database nor any mandate that requires people to get a single vaccination credential. It says there are no plans for anything like a U.S. passport.

DHS made the announcement Friday seeking to clarify what Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier in response to a question in a TV interview. Mayorkas had said the agency was “taking a very close look” at the possibility of vaccine passports as the coronavirus pandemic eases and Americans begin to travel overseas.

A DHS spokesperson says the agency is looking at how to ensure Americans traveling abroad have a quick and easy way to enter other countries.

Mayorkas was asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” if there could be “vaccine passports for travel internationally, either into or out of the U.S.” He replied, “We’re taking a very close look at that.” He added that a guiding principle during the pandemic has been “making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”

The DHS statement said Mayorkas was referring to “ensuring that all U.S. travelers will be able to easily meet any anticipated foreign country entry requirements.” It did not elaborate on how that would be accomplished. And it did not directly address the question of vaccine passports.

Many conservatives oppose vaccine passports, calling them an intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.

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LONDON — The U.K. has authorized for use another coronavirus vaccine amid growing concerns about a rise in new infections as the variant of the virus first identified in India spreads around the country.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says the single-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson has met “the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”

That takes the number of vaccines in the U.K.’s armory to four following earlier approvals for the two-dose regimens developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and Moderna.

The latest approval has come at a time when the U.K. has seen a modest uptick in new cases in recent days as a result of the so-called Indian variant, which is considered to be more transmissible.

The U.K. has been rapidly rolling out vaccines since December, with nearly 58% of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine and 35% having received two.

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WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the government is taking “a very close look” at the possibility of vaccine passports for travel into and out of the United States.

As head of the Department of Homeland Security, Mayorkas oversees the Transportation Security Administration, which safeguards the nation’s transportation systems.

Mayorkas told ABC on Friday that one of his guiding principles throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been “the value of diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”

The European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop COVID-19 vaccine passports to help kickstart international travel. They’re working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, helping them avoid quarantine requirements at their destinations.

Mayorkas says the underlying point is: “Everyone should get vaccinated.”

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Confirmed coronavirus cases in Malaysia soared to another daily high, breaching 8,000 for the first time as the government struggles to contain large outbreaks.

The Health Ministry reported 8,290 new infections Friday, bringing the country’s total cases to 549,514. It reported another 61 COVID-19 deaths, raising Malaysia’s total to 2,552. Nearly 40% of all the deaths happened this month.

Senior Minister Ismail Sabri said many ethnic Malay Muslims have violated COVID-19 safety rules that banned them from visiting each other during the recent Eid festival. He said 24 Eid clusters have produced 850 confirmed cases.

More worrying, he said, is that many of the positive cases involved people who were asymptomatic.

The Malaysian government imposed a near-lockdown on the eve of the Eid festival to curb an aggressive outbreak that has strained its hospitals. Still, it refused to halt business activities for fear doing so would cripple the economy.

Malaysia’s total cases and deaths so far this year have jumped five-fold from the whole of last year. The government plans to ramp up vaccinations. So far, some 1.7 million out of over 11 million people who registered have received one dose.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government on Friday presented its digital coronavirus passport enabling people to travel abroad or, in Denmark, go to the hairdresser, a tattoo parlor, dine inside a restaurant or wherever else it is needed.

“The corona passport we present today can be used from July 1 when you can travel within the EU,” said Finance Minister Nicolai Vammen.

Some 20% of Denmark’s population of 6 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures, he said.

During a press conference outside the Copenhagen airport, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke held up his phone to show the app, which features a QR code and a green bar if the person has been vaccinated twice or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

If the app flashes red, it will not say why, according to Wammen.

People will either have the code scanned or will flash it before entering an airport, a harbor, a train station, a hairdresser or an eatery. In certain cases, a physical document can be sent in the mail to serve the same purpose as the app.

“What we get now is an app that makes it easier and simpler to use,” . “There is no doubt that we will have to use it over the summer, but it is of course something that needs to be phased out,” Heunicke said.

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GENEVA — Member countries of the World Health Organization have approved an “ambitious increase” in the budget for the U.N. health agency at a meeting, with some noting that WHO’s chronic underfunding cripples its ability to protect global health.

Delegates at the World Health Assembly on Thursday approved a 16% increase to WHO’s proposed budget for the next two years, setting it at about $6.1 billion.

More than 90% of WHO’s funding is tied to specific health issues, and the agency often struggles to respond to urgent crises. Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said there is currently a 70% funding gap, which has “left the organization in real and imminent danger of being unable to sustain core functions for urgent priorities.”

A commissioned review of the WHO in the wake of its global handling of the COVID-19 pandemic suggested the agency could have acted faster and more aggressively to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but also said it lacked power and money.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The: Sri Lankan government on Friday announced that it has received 50,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.

Sri Lanka is facing a severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines because the manufacturer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in India did not supply promised stock due to the domestic coronavirus emergency. Sri Lanka had arrangements to buy 13.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The 50,000 doses of Sputnik V that were flown into Sri Lanka late Thursday are the second batch of the vaccine to be given to the Indian Ocean island nation, the government said. Another 15,000 doses arrived earlier this month.

Sri Lanka has entered an agreement to purchase 13 million doses of Sputnik V to be delivered in phases until December.

On Thursday, Sri Lanka began to expand it’s inoculation program across the country amid a sharp increase of confirmed cases from different parts of the country in recent weeks.

Previously, the vaccination program was centered in the capital region.

As of Friday, Sri Lanka’s total number of confirmed cases stood at 174,860, with 1,325 deaths.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is further relaxing coronavirus restrictions amid a decline of new cases and making it easier for residents to travel to seven other European Union countries.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said all restaurants and bars will be allowed to resume indoor service for customers who have been vaccinated, tested negative for the coronavirus or recovered from COVID-19.

The ministry originally planned to lift the restrictions on bars and restaurants but acted sooner after a court ruled the measures were too restrictive.

At the same time, all public swimming pools, saunas and wellness centers will be allowed to return to business on Monday at 30% capacity.

Czechs also can travel to seven other EU countries starting Monday if they have received the first dose hot of a two-shot coronavirus vaccine. The countries are Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.

The country’s number of newly confirmed daily cases dropped to 505 on Thursday, down from almost 17,000 in early March.

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ALBANY, New York — Employers aren’t allowed to refuse paid sick days if people feel ill after getting a dose of the vaccine, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said..

Cuomo said the state’s labor department will issue guidance that makes it clear that employees can take a paid sick day to recover from rare but potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Federal health officials say the vaccine is safe and that side effects aren’t unusual. Some people have reported fever, chills, nausea, a sore arm, fatigue or headache after receiving a dose.

“I want to be crystal clear — no New Yorker will miss a day’s pay because of getting the vaccine,” Cuomo said Thursday.

New York has a paid sick leave law on the books, and another state law allows employees to use up to four hours of excused leave per COVID-19 vaccine dose. That time can’t be charged against any other leave the employee has earned or accrued.

About 46% of New York’s 20 million residents are fully vaccinated, according to federal data. That’s above the national average of 40%.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will step up its prizes for vaccines, enrolling all residents who have received a coronavirus shot into a lottery for the chance to win a college scholarship, an F-150 pickup truck or cash rewards.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced the plan for the new incentives Thursday, but more details are expected to be finalized next week. The governor has aimed to turn around a vaccination drive that drastically slowed down after a strong early start.

“We’re going to make a few West Virginians millionaires before this is over,” Justice said. The program is expected to be paid through federal pandemic relief funds.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — A statewide “Shot for a Shot” campaign offering free drinks for people who get vaccinated against COVID-19 will begin in June, officials said Thursday.

Participating businesses will provide a free alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink to people who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated within the previous seven days, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control said.

Just under 31% of Louisiana residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to 40% nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several bars and restaurants in New Orleans held “A Shot for a Shot” events in April. Establishments in Baton Rouge also have held such events.

The state office will collect drink tallies from participating bars and restaurants for the Louisiana Restaurant Association, which will provide partial reimbursements.

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BOISE, Idaho — With the governor out of the state, Idaho’s lieutenant governor issued an executive order Thursday banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings, saying the face-covering directives threatened people’s freedom.

Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is acting governor while Gov. Brad Little is at the Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He was expected to return Thursday evening.

Last week, McGeachin announced her run for governor, challenging the first-term incumbent Little. McGeachin is on the far right of the political spectrum in the conservative state, and her order could bolster her support as a candidate for governor.

Little’s office said McGeachin did not make him aware that she planned to issue the executive order. The office didn’t say what Little would do when he returned but it did say residents value local control. Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but some counties, cities and schools have. Many have been lifting the mandates as more residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.

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MENLO PARK, California — Facebook says it will no longer remove claims that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from its apps.

The change comes “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts,” Facebook says.

The company based in Menlo Park, California, has long battled a tide of coronavirus-related misinformation. It said in December it would remove vaccine-related misinformation.

“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, in a statement Wednesday.

Facebook doesn’t usually ban misinformation outright on its platform, instead adding fact-checks by outside parties, which includes The Associated Press, to debunked claims. The two exceptions have been around elections and COVID-19.

U.S. President Joe Biden recently ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel welcomed its first group of foreign tourists since largely shutting down air travel because of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen welcomed a group of Christian theology students from Missouri, telling them: “Everything is open here, from restaurants to hotels, to resorts to holy places.”

Israel has vaccinated around 85% of its adult population and has fewer than 500 active cases. Most places have reopened in recent months, including indoor dining, gyms and sporting and concert venues. But Israel has been hesitant to welcome foreign tourists, partly out of concern over new variants.

The group that arrived Thursday is part of a pilot program, with other groups set to arrive in the next two weeks. All visitors must show proof of vaccination and take a COVID-19 test before departure and upon arrival.

Flights were cancelled or rerouted during Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. A cease-fire that went into effect on May 21 has held so far.

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