The Latest: Japan official dismissed, defied virus emergency

A Japanese vice education minister has been dismissed from his Cabinet post over his recent visit at an expensive Tokyo hostess club

Via AP news wire
Monday 01 February 2021 09:19
Virus Outbreak Japan Daily Life
Virus Outbreak Japan Daily Life

TOKYO — A Japanese vice education minister has been dismissed from his Cabinet post over his recent visit at an expensive Tokyo hostess club, defying an ongoing coronavirus state of emergency

Taido Tanose told reporters Monday that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reprimanded and dismissed him as vice education minister over the hostess bar visit. He then submitted his resignation from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, along with two other senior LDP lawmakers who were clubbing with him, including former National Public Safety Commission chief Jun Matsumoto who stepped down from a top party post last week in the scandal.

Earlier Monday, another senior lawmaker, Kiyohiko Toyama, announced his resignation as legislator to take responsibility for a separate Tokyo hostess club visit last month. He belongs to Komeito, a junior partner of Suga’s ruling coalition.

The four lawmakers defied an ongoing coronavirus state of emergency request for the people to restrain nightlife and bar visits, and for restaurants to close early.

Suga on Jan. 7 placed the Tokyo region — and added seven other urban prefectures a week later — under a state of emergency through Feb. 7.

Suga came under sharp criticism for joining seven other guests at a steak dinner in mid-December when his government was urging people not to dine out in groups. Suga has been criticized for delaying virus measures due to his apparent reluctance to further hurt the pandemic-hit businesses.

Japan had almost 390,000 cases and about 5,700 deaths as of Sunday, the health ministry said.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Vaccine skepticism lurks in Tuskegee, Alabama, known for syphilis study

— WHO team in Wuhan visits provincial disease control center

— Thousands flout virus restrictions at Israel funerals

— Anxiety grows as long-term facilities await COVID-19 vaccines

— Fans who've been to every Super Bowl making plans again this year

— Even if schools reopen by late April, millions of students, many of them minorities in urban areas, may be left out

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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:

BERLIN — The European Union says vaccine maker AstraZeneca has agreed to supply 9 million additional doses to the 27-nation bloc during the first quarter.

The new target of 40 million doses by the end of March is still only half what the company had originally aimed for, triggering a spat between AstraZeneca and the EU last week.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said late Sunday that the British-Swedish pharmaceutical maker will also begin deliveries one week sooner than scheduled and expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.

The EU is far behind Britain and the United States in getting its population of 450 million vaccinated against the virus. The slow rollout has been blamed on a range of national problems as well as slower authorization of the vaccines and an initial shortage of supply.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister says he expects all Australians will have been offered a free COVID-19 vaccine by October, but has no timeline yet for sharing vaccines with Southeast Asian and South Pacific island neighbors.

Australia last month approved the Pfizer vaccine and expects to start vaccinating in late February.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the National Press Club of Australia that his government has secured 140 million vaccine doses, enough to cover its population of 26 million “several times over.”

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja were working with the leaders of Australia’s developing neighbors to share vaccines.

“The first challenge we have in many developing countries, but particularly in the Pacific, is working with their workforce to be able to deliver the vaccine, and that’s not a small task,” Morrison said.

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ISLAMABAD — A top Pakistani health official says half a million doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine have arrived from Beijing in a special plane.

Monday’s announcement by Faisal Sultan, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on health issues, comes days after the government said it will receive 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the WHO’s COVAX Facility.

Pakistan hopes up to 7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines under the WHO’s COVAX Facility would arrive in the Islamic nation by March.

Sultan’s comments came hours after a special plane loaded with 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine landed at the Islamabad airport.

Sultan in a tweet Monday paid tribute to frontline health workers over the response to coronavirus, saying they would be the first to get vaccinated. Pakistan plans to start vaccinations this week, almost a year after it detected its first case of the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, Pakistan reported 26 additional deaths amid 1,615 new cases. It has so far confirmed nearly 550,000 with over 11,000 deaths since February 2020.

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PERTH, Australia — The city of Perth has been locked down for five days after Western Australia state’s first case of local COVID-19 infection in almost 10 months.

The city of 2 million people and coastal towns to the south were locked down from Sunday night until Friday night.

This followed a security guard who worked at a Perth quarantine hotel contracting a highly contagious British variant of the virus. Overseas travelers who arrive in Perth must isolate in hotel quarantine for 14 days.

The last previous known case of someone being infected with COVID-19 within Western Australia was on April 11.

Western Australia, Australia’s largest state by area, has remained virus-free for months by enforcing the nation’s toughest border restrictions in an elimination strategy. Those within the state have enjoyed some of Australia’s least restrictive pandemic measures because of the low risk.

All Perth residents must stay at home unless shopping for essentials, attending to

medical needs, exercising within their neighborhood or working if

unable to do so remotely.

Schools which were due to resume on Monday will remain closed for another week.

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli Cabinet has voted to extend a nationwide lockdown for at least five more days as it struggles to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced early Monday that the restrictions, which have forced nonessential businesses and most schools to remain closed for the past month, will remain in effect until at least Friday. A ban on nearly all incoming and outgoing flights will remain in effect for another week.

The Cabinet is to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to extend the restrictions even longer.

Israel has launched one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination campaigns, inoculating more than one-third of its population in just one month.

But the vaccine has had little effect so far in controlling the outbreak, which has spread quickly with the arrival of foreign variants of the coronavirus and continued violations of lockdown restrictions. Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis thronged a pair of funerals Sunday, defying a ban on large public gatherings.

Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has been reporting an average of some 6,000 new cases of the coronavirus each day, one of the highest infection rates in the developed world. The Health Ministry says nearly 4,800 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

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LOS ANGELES — California on Sunday reported another 481 coronavirus deaths, a day after the statewide death toll topped 40,000 even as the rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to fall.

The state said that the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 slipped below 14,850 — a drop of more than 25% in two weeks.

The 18,974 new confirmed cases are about one-third the mid-December peak of 54,000.

With hospitalizations and confirmed cases falling, health officials are optimistic that the worst of the latest surge is over.

Deaths remain staggeringly high, however, with more than 3,800 in the last week.

It took six months for California to record its first 10,000 deaths, then four months to double to 20,000. In just five more weeks the state reached 30,000. It then took only 20 days to get to 40,000. On Sunday deaths rose to 40,697, while total cases topped 3.2 million.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is acknowledging that Black and Latino New Yorkers are receiving COVID-19 vaccines at far lower rates than white or Asian residents.

Data released by the city’s health department shows that 48% of the city residents who have gotten at least one vaccine dose are white. That’s far higher than the roughly one-third the city’s population that is non-Hispanic white.

Just 11% of vaccine doses administered to New York City residents went to Black people and 15% to Latinos. The vaccine numbers are incomplete because about 40% of people who have been vaccinated in the city haven’t provided demographic information.

Still, the figures mirror vaccination data from other cities and states.

“Clearly, we do see a profound disparity that needs to be addressed aggressively and creatively,” de Blasio said in a conference call with reporters. “We’ve got a profound problem of distrust and hesitancy, particularly in communities of color.”

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BOSTON — Businesses like gyms, movie theaters, museums and sight-seeing harbor cruises can resume Monday in Boston under its coronavirus pandemic reopening plan.

The businesses can reopen, following a 25% capacity limit, given the improvement in the number of COVID-19 cases and in the city’s positivity rate.

Other sites include aquariums, indoor recreational venues with the potential for low contact, such as batting cages and bowling alleys, and gaming arcades.

“While there has been some improvement in recent weeks, it’s still vital that everyone remains vigilant,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement last week.

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LIMA, Peru — Peru began what was supposed to be a severe lockdown Sunday to combat surging COVID-19, but the order was widely ignored in the nation’s capital.

President Francisco Sagasti went on television urging Peruvians “to make an extra effort to contain the growing wave of infections and deaths.” His government told people in the capital and nine other regions to limit trips outside the home to 60 minutes and it closed churches, gymnasiums, museums, libraries and other institutions.

But marketplaces were crowded. Even some bus drivers ignored mandatory face mask rules. Seventy percent of Peruvians have no income if they stay home. The government says it will give $165 each to 4 million families — but only after the two-week quarantine.

Hundreds of people crowded bus stations in Lima to head for less-restricted rural regions before terminals close later this week. Flights from Brazil and Europe have been cancelled.

Lima Police Chief Jorge Angulo said his agency would try to enforce restrictions, and he noted that 540 of his officers already have died of the virus.

The country of 33 million people has recorded more than 1 million infections and more than 40,000 deaths from COVID-19.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch elementary schools and childcare centers will reopen from a weeks-long coronavirus lockdown on Feb. 8.

The government announced the move Sunday following guidance from a team of experts that advises on policies to tackle the pandemic that has killed just over 14,000 in the Netherlands.

Education Minister Arie Slob says, “it’s a relief that the schools can open again. For parents and teachers but, of course, especially for the students.”

The Netherlands, which has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December and under a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew for just over a week, has seen rates of infections fall slowly in recent weeks, but the government remains concerned that new, more transmissible variants are gaining ground and will lead to a new rise in infections.

The education ministry says that when classrooms open again, any child with symptoms of COVID-19 will have to stay home, and if a student tests positive the whole class will have to go into isolation.

No date has been set for a reopening of high schools.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities have confirmed the first detection of the South African variant of the new coronavirus in the country, prompting top health officials to fly to the area where it was found for meetings on Sunday.

The minister leading the government response to the pandemic and the head of the country’s public health body met with doctors and the local bishop in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The variant is believed to be more contagious than the original type and it was detected in a 36-year-old deacon in a suburb of the city.

“We will be doing screenings to isolate the persons who have been in contact with the patient,” said Panayiotis Arkoumaneas, head of the National Public Health Organization.

There have also been 173 cases of people affected with a variant first detected in the U.K., authorities said Sunday.

Authorities announced 484 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, as well as 17 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is 156,957, with 5,796 fatalities.

Experts warn there could be a resurgence in February and March and say the situation will remain volatile until a large number of vulnerable people are vaccinated.

“The virus is playing the drums and we are dancing to its beat,” said Nikos Sipsas, member of the state advisory committee on the pandemic.

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