The Latest: UK invests in studies of long COVID-19 syndrome

LONDON — The British government is backing four new studies to investigate why some people continue to have symptoms months after becoming sick with COVID-19.

The Department of Health on Thursday announced 18.5 million pounds ($26 million) in funding for research into the causes, symptoms and effects of the phenomenon known as “long COVID.”

While most people recover from the coronavirus in a few weeks, about one in 10 still have symptoms 12 weeks later. Researchers around the world are trying to understand the causes and dozens of symptoms that include breathlessness, headaches, fatigue and “brain fog.”

Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus says the research is welcome but is not enough. The lawmakers are calling for long COVID-19 to be classed as an occupational disease of front-line workers so patients can receive compensation if they can’t work because of the illness.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.S. life expectancy drops by a year in pandemic, the most since World War II

— Crippling winter weather in U.S. hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution

— New York’s governor faces mounting pressure over COVID deaths at nursing homes

— One Good Thing: When coronavirus lockdowns shut down classes in a youth prison, a Greek math teacher created a DIY TV channel that broadcasts lessons 24 hours a day

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HONG KONG — Hong Kong has approved the Chinese-developed Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine as health authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city prepare to begin large scale inoculations.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health said “the benefits of authorizing the use of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sinovac for protecting against COVID-19 outweigh the risks,” in a news release Thursday.

The first batch around 1 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine will be delivered to Hong Kong “shortly,” with vaccinations across the territory of almost 7.5 million people to begin “as soon as possible.”

Even after vaccinations begin, the company will need to maintain a risk management program and provide the latest clinical data laboratory analysis certificates for each batch of vaccines, the statement said.

The announcement marks the latest piece of good news for the Asian financial hub as new daily cases fall into the single digits. Authorities on Thursday said they were reducing social distancing rules, including restarting indoor dining and reopening gyms, and plan to phase-in full judicial court services beginning on Monday.

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THE HAGUE — Dutch lawmakers are holding a debate Thursday on hastily drawn up legislation underpinning the country’s coronavirus curfew after a judge ordered the measure scrapped earlier this week.

The lower house of parliament is expected to support the legislation, which would then go to the senate on Friday — the same day that government lawyers go to court to appeal the order banning the 9 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew.

The curfew, which sparked rioting last month but is very broadly supported and followed, remains in force pending the outcome of that appeal.

A judge in The Hague banned the curfew, saying the law the government used when it introduced the measure last month can only be used in pressing emergencies such as a massive dike breach.

The government argues that the curfew became an urgent necessity because of the swift rise of new, more transmissible variants of the virus.

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PARIS — European plane maker Airbus lost 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) last year amid an unprecedented global slump in air travel because of the pandemic, but expects to deliver hundreds of planes and make a profit in 2021 despite uncertainty about when people will resume flying en masse.

Airbus is also pushing to negotiate a “cease-fire” soon in its years-long trade dispute with U.S. rival Boeing, amid hopes that the Biden Administration will be more amenable than Trump’s government to a deal. The dispute has led to billions of dollars in tit-for-tat cross-Atlantic tariffs on planes, cheese, wine, video games and other products.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury acknowledged Thursday that the company’s performance last year was “far from expectations” and had to constantly adapt as airlines grounded planes — or folded altogether — because of travel restrictions. Airbus announced in June that it would cut 15,000 jobs, mostly in France and Germany.

“The crisis is not over. It is likely to continue to be our reality throughout the year,” Faury said. “Airlines will continue to suffer” and to “burn cash.”

Airbus doesn’t expect the industry to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023-2025.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry has limited the number of guests at weddings and funerals as it seeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the capital and it’s suburbs.

The move comes as the health officials are calling for tougher action including imposing lockdowns after the local detection of a new variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom.

In January, Sri Lanka allowed 150 people to attend weddings. But on Thursday, it lowered that to 50 guests. Funerals are limited to 25 people.

Sri Lanka has banned all other public gatherings and imposed restrictions on public transport.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections has exceeded 600 for the second straight day, continuing an upward trend following last week’s Lunar New Year’s holidays.

The 621 new cases reported Thursday brought the national caseload to 85,567, including 1,544 deaths. The country reported 621 new cases Wednesday, which was the highest daily jump in more than a month.

More than two-thirds of the new cases were in Seoul area, home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people. A plastic factory near the capital has emerged as a major cluster of infections, linked to more than 110 cases so far since a Cambodian worker first tested positive Saturday.

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DENVER — The Denver Board of Ethics has unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint that was filed after the city’s mayor flew to Texas for Thanksgiving despite urging Denver’s residents to avoid holiday travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Denver Post reported Wednesday that board chairman Joseph Michaels acknowledged that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s actions were concerning.

Michaels says the mayor disappointed and angered the city’s residents. But he says the board found that the mayor had not specifically violated the city’s code of ethics.

Michaels adds: “This board certainly does not condone that travel.”

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AVLONA, Greece — Setting up a television channel from scratch isn’t the most obvious or easiest thing for a math teacher to do — especially without prior technical knowledge and for use inside a prison.

But that is exactly the task Petros Damianos, director of the school at Greece’s Avlona Special Youth Detention Center, took on so his students could access the lessons that coronavirus lockdowns cut them off from.

Greek schools have shut, reopened, and closed again over the past year. Greek students have adapted to virtual classes, but the online world isn’t accessible to all.

The Avlona detention center holds nearly 300 young men aged 18-21, and sometimes up to 25. The school Damianos founded there in 2000 now teaches primary grades through to college.

Damianos had an idea: he could reach his students through the televisions in their cells if he could figure out how to create a dedicated TV channel to broadcast their classes. Now that channel broadcasts lessons 24 hours a day on a loop.

“School is something different. It’s a bit more human than the rest of the prison,” said M.S., a 21-year-old who earned his high school diploma in Avlona.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is shifting its vaccine distribution guidance to dissuade people from traveling long distances to receive a COVID-19 shot in the state.

Under updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarifying travel policies, North Carolina has enacted stricter vaccination policies to improve North Carolinians’ access to the vaccine.

The move aims to give greater preference to in-state residents who have struggled to book appointments and come in for shots due to the high demand, but loopholes still allow for people to travel into the state without having to provide ID, proof of residency or proof of employment.

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NEW YORK — New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.

The lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James comes just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block it from happening. In its own lawsuit filed Friday, Amazon said that unannounced inspections by the New York City sheriff’s office found its New York warehouse went above and beyond safety requirements.

On Wednesday, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel added that the attorney general’s lawsuit doesn’t present an accurate picture of Amazon’s response to the virus.

In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” and retaliated against employees who raised alarms.

The lawsuit involves two Amazon facilities in New York City that employ more than 5,000 workers.

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest city is asking the province of Ontario to extend a lockdown order for at least two more weeks instead of having it expired as planned on Monday.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said she has never been as worried about the future as she is now because of coronavirus variants.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said leaders need to ensure the current lockdown is the city’s last. Schools just reopened in Toronto while retail stores are scheduled to open Monday.

Canada is poised to receive millions of vaccine does this spring.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is facing a temporary shortage of booster shots of the Moderna vaccine because providers inadvertently used them as first doses, setting back the state’s already stumbling vaccine rollout.

The error could mean more than 100,000 people will need appointments rescheduled, state health officials said Wednesday.

Acting state health secretary Alison Beam said between 30,000 and 60,000 people who need the booster shot will have to wait one to two more weeks. Another 30,000 to 55,000 of the initial dose of the Moderna vaccine will also have to delayed.

The second-dose shortage does not affect the Pfizer vaccine.

Second doses of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are typically administered 21 and 28 days apart, respectively, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to allow the time between shots to be delayed up to six weeks.

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MADRID — Spain will place those arriving from Brazil and South Africa in quarantine for 10 days in a new bid to stem the propagation of coronavirus variants from those countries.

Health Minister Carolina Darias said Wednesday Spain has registered 613 cases of the British variant, six of the South African type and two of that from Brazil.

Spain has already restricted arrivals from all three countries to Spanish nationals and foreign residents in Spain. It also insists on negative PCR tests from within the previous 72 hours as well as anti-body tests on arrival.

The ministry Wednesday said Spain’s COVID-19 pandemic figures continued their positive downward trend, with the 14-day incidence rate falling to 349 per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 385 a day earlier and far below the near 900-case high at the end of January.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says it will spend more than $1.4 billion to boost testing supplies and coordination as U.S. officials aim to return more students to the classroom.

The White House says it will spend $815 million to increase U.S. manufacturing of testing supplies that have been subject to frequent shortages for months, including materials used in laboratories and for rapid point-of-care tests.

Officials also announced $650 million to setup regional testing “hubs” around the country to help coordinate testing at K-8 schools, universities, homeless shelters and other gathering places.

The U.S. failure to provide fast, widespread testing is one of the most enduring stumbles in the federal government’s response to COVID-19. As a candidate, Biden said his administration would deliver free, comprehensive testing at a national scale. He has asked Congress to provide $50 billion for testing in the stimulus bill before lawmakers.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. is vaccinating on average 1.7 million Americans per day for the coronavirus, up from under 1 million a month ago.

New figures from the White House show the steady increase in the pace of vaccinations over President Joe Biden’s first month in office.

Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

The pace of first dose vaccinations has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.

Biden is on track to blow past his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office — though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro halted new vaccinations against COVID-19 for a week starting Wednesday due to a shortage of doses, one of a growing number of Brazilian cities that have run low on supplies and are demanding help from Brazil’s federal government.

City officials said they will continue to deliver second doses to those who have already been injected once, but have paused new shots for the elderly.

Officials say vaccines for new recipients ran out partly because they had pushed forward their schedule by one week after receiving a fresh lot of doses. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Monday that additional shots won’t be delivered before next week.

“We are ready and we have already vaccinated 244,852 people,” he said on his official Twitter profile. “We just need the vaccine to arrive.”

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