The Latest: WH adviser: 'Get to bottom' of virus origins

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WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says “we need to get to the bottom” of the origins of the pandemic pathogen and the World Health Organization and China need to do more to provide definitive answers for the global community.

The precise origin of the virus remains undetermined and speculation has reigned about whether it jumped from animals to humans or whether it could have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city that saw the first outbreak.

“We need a completely transparent process from China,” Slavitt said at Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing. Full assistance from the WHO is needed, and “we don’t have that now.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci said “many of us” feel like it was a natural occurrence, but “we don’t know 100%” and it is imperative to investigate.

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MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Mascots, prizes rally students to get vaccinated at US schools

— Moderna says its COVID-19 shot works in kids as young as 12

Japan says US travel warning for virus won’t hurt Olympians

— Volunteers in One Good Thing keep on giving a year later

— 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:

SAN DIEGO — A growing number of U.S. public schools are using mascots, food trucks and prize giveaways to encourage students to get vaccinated before summer vacation.

The massive effort to create a pep-rally atmosphere comes only weeks after the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was approved for younger adolescents ages 12 to 15. Administrators want to get as many shots in students’ arms as possible and hope it will pave the way to return to regular classes in the fall.

So far, about 14% of the nation’s 15 million kids ages 12 to 15 have received their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 7.5 million teens ages 16 to 17, that number goes up to 34%, and about 22% have had both shots, according to the latest figures released Monday. The doses are scheduled about three weeks apart.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s top diplomat says shipments of a long-delayed lot of AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Argentina this weekend.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard says about 800,000 doses will be flown to Argentina. The effort to fill and finish the vaccines at a Mexican plant took almost three months longer than originally expected.

Ebrard acknowledged Tuesday it had been “a long, complex, hazardous process.” The vaccines were produced in bulk in Argentina and sent to Mexico for bottling. But the Mexican plant ran into problems, in part because it had difficulties in obtaining specialized filters.

The delay forced Argentina to look for another plant in the United States to perform the fill and finish operation. The first 843,000 doses from the U.S. plant arrived in Argentina on Monday.

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TOKYO — Tokyo officials were quick to deny a U.S. warning for Americans to avoid traveling to Japan will have an impact on Olympians.

Japan is determined to hold the postponed Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to open on July 23. The U.S. cited a surge in coronavirus cases in Japan. Most metro areas in Japan are under a state of emergency .

Those areas are expected to remain so through mid-June because rising COVID-19 cases are putting pressure on the country’s medical care systems. That causes concern about how the country could cope with the arrival of tens of thousands of Olympic participants if its hospitals remain stressed and so few of its population vaccinated.

About 2% of people in Japan have been vaccinated. No international fans are allowed at the Tokyo Olympics.

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SAO PAULO — The withdrawal of generous pandemic welfare payments is fueling a rapid rise in poverty in Brazil.

The government responded to the socioeconomic turmoil in 2020 with one of the world’s most generous welfare programs. Now the flow of money has been limited, leaving Brazilians exposed to soaring food prices and a still-worsening job market.

The strain comes at a time when there is no near-term hope of mass vaccination to safeguard the labor force. The government failed to anticipate the COVID-19 tsunami that materialized in January.

Welfare resumed in April, but for roughly two-thirds as many people. They are also receiving less than half the previous monthly amounts.

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NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say coronavirus cases in fully vaccinated people remain rare.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued a report on these “breakthrough” cases through the end of April, when 101 million Americans were fully vaccinated. Of those, about 10,300 breakthrough infections were reported — that’s about 1 infection in every 10,000 fully vaccinated people, based on the available data.

Nearly two-thirds were women, and the median age of all cases was 58. About 25% of the infections involved people who didn’t have symptoms. About 10% were hospitalized and about 2% died.

The report is based on voluntary reporting by 46 states and territories and isn’t considered a complete tally of all breakthrough infections that may have occurred. Health officials say no vaccine is perfect and infections were expected in some vaccinated people.

The CDC stopped reporting a total number at the end of April but has been posting weekly updates on breakthrough infections that resulted in hospitalization and deaths. As of May 17, the CDC listed reports of about 1,800 hospitalizations and 350 deaths.

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BRUSSELS — European Union leaders have agreed to donate at least 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poorer nations by the end of the year.

The 27 leaders expressed support for a text in which they pledged to continue efforts “to increase global vaccine production capacities in order to meet global needs,” an EU official with direct knowledge of discussions said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly because discussions were ongoing.

Leaders also called “for work to be stepped up to ensure global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines” and supported the U.N.-backed COVAX program. COVAX aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries.

— By Samuel Petrequin

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BERLIN — Austria is restricting travel from Britain amid concern about a variant of the coronavirus found spreading there.

Starting immediately, the Alpine nation’s health ministry says only Austrians or residents of Austria will be allowed to enter the country from Britain. Starting June 1, all flights from the UK will be banned from landing in Austria.

Britain has been added to Austria’s list of “virus variant countries,” along with Brazil, India and South Africa.

The variant currently spreading in Britain was first detected in India. On Friday, Germany announced it was restricting travel from Britain because of the same variant.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says the United States on Tuesday will reach 50% of American adults fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

President Joe Biden previously set a goal of having 70% of all adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4th.

The White House has ramped up is vaccine distribution, and coronavirus case and deaths have dramatically fallen across the nation.

There are currently three vaccines in use in the United States. The Biden administration has increased the number of inoculations it is exporting to other nations.

— By Jonathan Lemire

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine strongly protects kids as young as 12.

The company released the preliminary findings Tuesday based on testing on more than 3,700 youths ages 12 to 17 in the United States.

There were no COVID-19 diagnoses in those given two doses of the Moderna vaccine compared with four cases among kids given dummy shots. In a press release, the company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says the vaccine appeared 93% effective two weeks after the first dose.

Moderna officials intend to submit its teen data to the Food and Drug Administration and other global regulators early next month. The company says its vaccine triggered the same signs of immune protection in kids as it does in adults, and the same mild, temporary side effects.

It’s a step that could put the shot on track to become the second option for that age group in the U.S. Earlier this month, the U.S. and Canada authorized a vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech for use, starting at age 12.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia registered a record number of daily coronavirus cases at nearly 7,300.

Malaysia has experienced a rapid climb in new cases since April, straining its hospitals and prompting the government to impose a near lockdown until June 7. But infections have not abated, with a record 7,289 new cases reported Tuesday, pushing the country’s tally to more than 525,000 — a five-fold increase since the start of the year.

It is the third worst-hit country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and the Philippines.

Confirmed deaths have spiked to more than 2,300. The government has resisted calls for a full lockdown because of concerns it would cause an economic distress.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s education minister says he’s tested positive for coronavirus but has only mild symptoms.

Shafqat Mahmood took to Twitter to say he was feeling fine. Mahmood didn’t say whether he had been vaccinated. Pakistan is offering free vaccinations to people 30 years old or above.

The latest development comes hours after Pakistan’s positivity ratio from COVID-19 dropped to 4.82%, one of the lowest levels of infections in recent months. Two months ago, the positivity rate touched 11 percent.

Pakistan has registered nearly 905,852 confirmed cases and 20,400 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — The British government has been accused of introducing local lockdowns by stealth after it introduced tighter restrictions for eight local areas in England that it says are hot spots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India.

On Tuesday, lawmakers and local public health officials said they hadn’t been made aware of changes that the Conservative government published online last Friday.

In that updated guidance, it recommended that people within the eight localities, which includes Hounslow in west London, the city of Leicester and the towns of Blackburn and Bolton, shouldn’t meet up indoors or travel outside their areas.

Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour Party lawmaker in Bolton, said she hadn’t been informed of the changes, saying it was “typical of this government’s incompetence.”

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey says the updated guidance shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as it just formalized “on the record” the outlines of what the government had been saying for days.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic lost its fourth health minister since the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, this one lasting less that two months.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis says Petr Arenberger called him to say he resigned. The presidential office says it will reappoint Adam Vojtech, who was health minister when the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, to the post on Wednesday.

Arenberger has been recently under media scrutiny because of alleged irregularities in his tax returns. Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, was sworn in by President Milos Zeman on April 7.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The city that was once Australia’s worst COVID-19 hot spot increased pandemic restrictions Tuesday after identifying a cluster from someone infected in quarantine.

Masks became mandatory indoors in Melbourne, home gatherings were restricted to five visitors and outdoor gatherings were limited to 30, Victoria state’s Acting Premier James Merlino said. The restrictions will apply until June 4.

New Zealand was halting quarantine-free travel to Victoria for three days from Tuesday evening. Health officials said they were taking a cautious approach as there were several unknowns about the Melbourne outbreak.

The cases are linked to a Melbourne traveler who became infected in hotel quarantine in South Australia state earlier this month. Five cases were confirmed Tuesday by Victoria state’s Health Department, bringing the cluster to nine since Monday.

Australia’s second-largest city had an outbreak last year that peaked at 725 new cases in a single August day at a time when community spread had been virtually eliminated elsewhere in Australia. Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, accounts for 820 of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths.

New Zealand and Australia opened a quarantine-free travel bubble last month. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to visit New Zealand on Sunday for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka says it will immediately purchase 14 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine as the island nation faces a severe shortage of shots and a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The decision marks a shift to the Chinese vaccine from AstraZeneca shots manufactured in India. Sri Lanka's larger neighbor has been experiencing a virus crisis and is struggling to meet its own vaccine demands.

Sri Lankan government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana says because of the inability of India’s Serum Institute “to provide sufficient quantities, we needed to look into another source."

Sri Lanka began its vaccination drive in January using the AstraZeneca vaccine. But 600,000 people who got a first dose are still waiting on their second because of the shortage.

Sri Lanka has confirmed 164,201 infections with 1,210 deaths.

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s government has imposed a nightly curfew and other restrictions under an eight-day “health emergency” meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

All outdoor activity will be banned from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. under the decree issued Monday by President Jovenel Moise.

The decree also makes the use of face masks mandatory for anyone out in public, while temperature checks and handwashing stations are required for all public or private buildings such as banks, schools, hospitals and markets. Social distancing in public places is set at 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet).

The president also has ordered public institutions to reduce staff on duty by 50%, while he is encouraging that other employees work from home.

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The Associated Press

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