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The Latest: US to talk to WTO on wider vaccine distribution

The Latest: US to talk to WTO on wider vaccine distribution

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House says the U.S. trade representative will begin talks with the World Trade Organization on ways to overcome intellectual property issues that are keeping critically needed COVID-19 vaccines from being more widely distributed.

The White House has been under intense pressure to join an effort to help waive patent rules for the vaccines so that poorer countries can begin to make their own generic versions.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will be starting talks “on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared.”

Klain and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration would have more to say on the matter in the coming days.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— India’s leader weakened by coronavirus crisis as nation sets record for daily cases

— U.S. public transit hopes to win back riders after crushing year

— Puerto Rico staggers under latest surge of the virus

— ‘London to Delhi’ stationary biking raises cash for India’s virus crisis

— Virus, technology, unrest make stressful year for U.S. teachers

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — Britain rushed to increase aid for India’s teetering health care system on Sunday, promising more ventilators and expert advice as doctors grapple with a surge in coronavirus infections that is killing thousands of people a day.

The U.K. government said it will send an additional 1,000 ventilators to India. In addition, England’s National Health Service, which has battled one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe, is creating an advisory group to share its expertise with Indian authorities.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans a video meeting with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday to discuss further cooperation between the two countries, the U.K. government said in statement.

India recorded 392,488 new infections, down from a high of more than 400,000 in the previous 24 hours. It also reported 3,689 deaths, raising overall virus fatalities to 215,542. Experts believe both figures are undercounts.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s national body to control coronavirus decided Sunday to temporarily restrict the country’s borders to people coming in from Afghanistan and Iran.

Inbound pedestrian movement from those two countries will halt at midnight May 4 until May 20 with the exception of Pakistani citizens in Afghanistan and Iran who want to return home and extreme medical emergency cases.

The development comes after Pakistan reported another 113 deaths and 4,414 new cases amid the third wave of the virus, taking the country’s death tally to 18,070.

Authorities said the decision aimed to limit the spread of new COVID-19 variants. It said border terminals with both the countries will remain open seven days a week with increased health staff and there will be no restrictions on outbound passengers or cargo movement.

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NEW DELHI — Preliminary voting trends released by India’s electoral body on Sunday indicate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party failed to make gains in four recent state elections, a sign his political strength may be slipping as the country struggles to contain an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases.

Health experts say the massive electoral rallies and marches held as voters cast their ballots in March and April are partly to blame for the subsequent spike in COVID-19 infections.

Public anger for allowing the elections to go forward despite the risk has been directed at both Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the independent Election Commission. The commission will release the final voting results later Sunday.

Following the disappointing results, Modi stands weakened but faces no threats to staying on as prime minister until his term ends in 2024.

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WASHINGTON — A top White House adviser to President Joe Biden is suggesting that he still wears a mask outdoors because it has become a “matter of habit.”

Anita Dunn told CNN’s “State of the Union” that she still wore her mask outdoors after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people like herself and the president don’t need to, especially if they’re outside alone and away from other people.

Said Dunn: “I myself found that I was still wearing my mask outdoors this week because it has become such a matter of habit.”

Biden wore a mask outside several times last week as he approached the microphone for speeches.

The CDC recently said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they’re in a big crowd of strangers.

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SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico seemed to be sprinting toward herd immunity this spring before people began letting their guard down against COVID-19 and new variants started spreading across the U.S. territory.

Now, a spike in cases and hospitalizations has put medical experts at odds with the government, which is struggling to protect people’s health while also trying to prevent an economic implosion on an island battered by hurricanes, earthquakes and a prolonged financial crisis.

“The difficulty here is how do you find a Solomonic decision … to give people the opportunity to work and be responsible and also maintain health as a priority,” said Ramón Leal, former president of Puerto Rico’s Restaurant Association. “These are hard conversations.”

It’s a delicate balance for an island that imposed a lockdown and mask mandates ahead of any U.S. state and has some of the strictest entry requirements of any American jurisdiction.

Overall, the land of 3.3 million people has reported more than 115,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,000 deaths.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania will ease coronavirus-control measures in the capital of Bucharest beginning Monday, after its COVID-19 infection rate dropped below three per 1,000 residents for three straight days.

This will allow restaurants, cafes, cinemas and performance halls to reopen inside to 30% capacity after they were forced in late March to close indoor spaces to help curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infections. A 10 p.m. curfew will remain in place.

Bucharest prefect Alin Stoica said if the COVID-19 infection rate drops below 1.5 per 1,000 residents some venues could ramp up capacity to 50%, and that up to 300 people could be allowed at outdoor events. Authorities will review the epidemiological situation on May 13.

Since the pandemic started, Romania — a country of more than 19 million — has recorded more than 1 million infections and 28,282 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden urges more federal spending for public transportation, transit agencies decimated by COVID-19 are trying to figure out how to win back passengers scared away by the pandemic.

It’s made more urgent by the climate change crisis. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by the end of the decade. That aggressive target will require Americans to ditch gas-guzzling cars for electric vehicles or embrace mass transit.

“We have a huge opportunity here to provide fast, safe, reliable, clean transportation in this country, and transit is part of the infrastructure,” Biden said at an event to promote rail and public transportation.

With fewer transportation alternatives, lower-income people are more reliant on public transportation for commuting and their daily lives.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan banned Shiite mourning processions on the martyrdom day of the fourth caliph of Islam due to the high risk of spreading coronavirus and asked aviation authorities to cut inbound international flights to 20% to avoid new virus variants.

The developments came after health authorities reported the presence of U.K., Brazilian and South African variants in patients who recently tested positive.

Authorities will allow congregations of Shiite mourners to gather on Ali Day on Tuesday if they follow social distancing rules and wear masks.

An increase in infections prompted authorities to lock down in most parts of its capital Lahore for the second day, as well as weekend lockdowns in the future.

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NEW DELHI — India has opened vaccinations to all adults in hopes of taming a monstrous spike in COVID-19 infections.

The world’s largest maker of vaccines is still short of critical supplies — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages. Those factors delayed the rollout in several states.

Only a fraction of India’s population likely can afford the prices charged by private hospitals for the shot. That means states and the federal government will be in charge of immunizing 900 million Indian adults.

India set another global record Saturday with 401,993 daily cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. There were 3,523 confirmed deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll to 211,853, according to the Health Ministry.

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BEIJING — Chinese tourists are expected to make a total of 18.3 million railway passenger trips on the first day of China’s international labor day holiday.

That’s according to an estimate by China’s state railway group. The start to the five-day holiday on Saturday included tourists rushing to travel domestically now that the coronavirus has been brought under control in China.

May Day is offering the first long break for Chinese tourists since the start of the year. A domestic outbreak of the coronavirus before the Lunar New Year holidays in February cancelled travel plans for many after the government advised people to refrain from traveling.

Border closures and travel restrictions mean tourists are traveling domestically. China in recent weeks reported almost no cases of locally transmitted infections.

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BRUSSELS — Police have detained 132 people who took part in an illegal party in a Brussels park to protest COVID-19 restrictions, authorities said Sunday.

About 15 people, including protesters and police, were injured in clashes, police spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere said.

About 2,000 revelers and protesters had massed in the park Saturday for the second time in a month, and police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse them, clashing for hours.

The government and police had warned people for a week to stay away from the party to no avail. Clashes erupted after big crowds started gathering late in the afternoon.

Belgium still has strict rules banning major gatherings and insists on people wearing face masks in large crowds.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis led a special prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday evening to invoke the end of the pandemic.

Francis, wearing white robes, sat in a chair and fingered the beads of a rosary, while about 200 people, including young children, sat spaced apart according to coronavirus safety protocols and recited the prayers aloud.

The pope prayed that “this hard trial end and that a horizon of hope and peace return.”

Every day, for the rest of the month, various Catholic sanctuaries in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary will take turns holding a similar rosary service. The initiative ends on May 31, when Francis will lead the rosary recitation in the Vatican Gardens.

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LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas has increased its casino capacity and more pandemic-weary tourists are arriving at the entertainment city.

Casino capacity on the Strip increased to 80% and person-to-person distancing drops to 3 feet on Saturday. The boom began in mid-March when casino occupancy went from 35% to 50% under state health guidelines.

Among the first arrivals were people ages 60 and older who were recently vaccinated. Analysts said pent-up demand, available hotel rooms and $ 1,400 pandemic recovery checks have contributed to the rush.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tallied more than 2.2 million visitors in March. The figure was down 40% from March 2019. Casinos closed from mid-March to early June last year, helping to drive the Nevada jobless rate in April above 30% — the highest in any state. The current state rate is 8.1%.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization has given the go-ahead for emergency use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The mRNA vaccine from the U.S. manufacturer joins vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson in receiving the WHO’s emergency use listing. Similar approvals for China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines are expected in the coming days and weeks, WHO has said.

The greenlight for Moderna’s vaccine, announced late Friday, took many months because of delays WHO faced in getting data from the manufacturer.

Many countries without their own advanced medical regulatory and assessment offices rely on the WHO listing to decide whether to use vaccines. U.N. children’s agency UNICEF also uses the listing to deploy vaccines in an emergency like the pandemic.

The announcement isn’t likely to have an immediate impact on supplies of Moderna’s vaccine for the developing world. The company struck supply agreements with many rich countries, which have already received millions of doses.


Press Enterprise