ATLANTA — A panel of U.S. advisers will meet Tuesday to vote on how scarce, initial supplies of a COVID-19 vaccine will be given out once one has been approved.

Experts have proposed giving the vaccine to health workers first. High priority also may be given to workers in essential industries, people with certain medical conditions and people age 65 and older.

Tuesday’s meeting is for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The panel of experts recommends who to vaccinate and when — advice that the government almost always follows. The agenda for next week’s emergency meeting was posted Friday.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Moderna Inc. is expected to also seek emergency use of its vaccine soon.

FDA’s scientific advisers are holding a public meeting Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s request, and send a recommendation to the FDA.

Manufacturers already have begun stockpiling coronavirus vaccine doses in anticipation of eventual approval, but the first shots will be in short supply and rationed.

Rome airport poised to try ‘COVID tested’ flights from U.S.

ROME — Italian authorities will soon approve an experiment with “COVID tested” flights from three U.S. airports with the aim of eliminating the required 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in Italy, Rome’s main airport said Thursday.

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Passengers at Fiumicino Rome airport show their quick COVID-19 test reports upon boarding a flight to Milan in September. In a trial on the route between Rome and Milan, all passengers go through a quick test before being allowed to board their flight. Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via Associated Press

ADR, which operates Leonardo da Vinci Airport, said that similar “COVID tested” corridors were also expected to be approved for flights between the airport and the German cities of Munich and Frankfurt.

An ADR statement said that pending approval from Italy’s transport, health and foreign ministries, starting sometime in December passengers coming from New York, Newark or Atlanta airports wouldn’t have to quarantine if they test negative for the coronavirus within 48 hours of departure and also upon arrival in Rome. The experiment involves Alitalia and Delta Air Lines.

Under pandemic rules in effect in Italy through at least Dec. 3, the only passengers who can enter the country from the United States are citizens of European Union nations, relatives of EU citizens, holders of Italian residency permits or those coming for reasons of study or a few other, essential purposes like health care.

Coming from the United States to Italy for tourism isn’t allowed. Nothing in the ADR statement indicated that is about to change, even as Italy reels under plummeted tourist revenues during the pandemic.

ADR expressed hopes that the limited, experimental program will prove workable and be expanded by next summer.

Delta Air Lines said in a statement that along with Rome’s airport and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, it has joined in a “first-of-a-kind trans-Atlantic COVID-19 testing program that will enable quarantine-free entrance into Italy.”

It quoted Delta executive Steve Sear as saying that “carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place.”

The airline’s statement said Delta’s “dedicated trial” involving testing customers and crew would begin Dec. 19.

In contrast with the ADR statement, Delta said testing would be threefold: Passengers would be tested up to 72 hours before departure; a rapid test would conducted at the airport in Atlanta; and another rapid test administered upon arrival in Rome. Travelers also would undergo one more test at Rome’s airport before departing for the United States.

Tokyo Olympic organizers plan to host 18 test events

TOKYO — The postponed Tokyo Olympics are getting a kickstart.

Local organizers on Friday announced a series of 18 test events set to begin in March and run into May.

The Tokyo Olympics are set to open on July 23, 2021, after being postponed eight months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Organizing staffs climb the wall in a test event of Speed Climbing in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in March before the games were postponed because of the coronavirus. Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko

The announcement in an online news conference came the same day that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported a one-day record of 570 new coronavirus infections in the capital.

Although Japan has handled the pandemic better than most countries, cases have been surging recently with about 2,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in a country of 125 million.

Officials said at least four of the test events will involve athletes from abroad, including tests in swimming, gymnastics, diving and volleyball.

A track and field meet on May 9 at the new National Stadium is listed as test event. It is not clear if athletes from abroad will participate.

Hidemasa Nakamura, the games delivery officer, said none of the test events will allow fans from abroad, although some events will permit an unspecified number of fans from Japan.

“No, we will not have spectators from abroad,” Nakamura said.

Several of the events will not even involve athletes, testing “operations” only as a way to cut back on spending.

Japan has held sports events recently with fans. The final game of the Japan Series of professional baseball this week drew about 19,000 fans in a 38,000-seat stadium in Fukuoka. And a few thousand fans were allowed to attend an international gymnastics event earlier this month in Tokyo.

“As for the number of spectators, we have to take the guidelines of the Japanese government into consideration,” said Yasuo Mori, who works with Nakamura on games delivery.

The announcement by the Tokyo organizing committee is the latest in a campaign over the last several months to convince a global audience, sponsors and the Japanese public that the Olympics and Paralympics will take place despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanksgiving eve was the busiest air travel day of the pandemic

The busiest air travel day of the coronavirus pandemic came on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, with 1,070,967 passengers clearing airport security.

It was the third time in one week that the Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 1 million daily passengers – a milestone that airports have rarely seen since the pandemic slashed air travel in March.

“It’s the highest volume since March 16 and only the 4th time passenger throughput has topped 1 million since that date,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said in a tweet. The first million-passenger day since March occurred on Oct. 18.

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Holiday travelers crowd the ticketing area of terminal one at MSP airport Wednesday in Minneapolis. David Joles/Star Tribune via AP

In the past week, COVID-related hospitalizations in the U.S. rose by more than 12%, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health warning against Thanksgiving travel last week: “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” Health experts such as Anthony Fauci have also reminded Americans about the risks of indoor gatherings and household mixing and discouraged travel.

The number of travelers flying Wednesday was half of what it was on the day before Thanksgiving in 2019, before the coronavirus was a threat in the United States. Last year, 2,602,631 people were screened on Thanksgiving eve.

During the pandemic, the TSA has been installing plastic barriers and touch-free ID scanning technologies at security checkpoints to allow for better hygiene and distancing as airports become more crowded.

Thanksgiving eve crowds surpassed Sunday’s busy passenger levels by 23,000. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year, closely followed by the Sunday following the holiday.

Britain tries to swab all of Liverpool in pilot of mass coronavirus testing

LONDON — “Liverpool can beat TB” proclaimed a 1959 public health campaign urging the whole of England’s third-largest city to get X-rayed to screen for tuberculosis.

The same attitude is being applied to the coronavirus, as Liverpool attempts to quash its outbreak by swabbing its entire population.

“My message to people is: Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for your community, do it for your workplace, do it for the NHS and hospitals in the city,” said Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who lost his brother to the virus last month, before the pilot program began.

After three weeks of screening, British politicians say the campaign is a success. Anderson said nearly 1,000 people who hadn’t known they were infected had tested positive and are “self-isolating and not spreading the virus.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said mass testing in Liverpool contributed to a “very substantial” fall in infections and was a “success story we want other parts of the country to replicate.”

Cardiff, where restrictions across Wales were relaxed following a two-week “firebreak” lockdown, on Nov. 22. First Minister Mark Drakeford said there is evidence that the firebreak in Wales had successfully had an impact on lowering the rate of coronavirus transmission. Ben Birchall/PA via Associated Press

When England comes out of lockdown next week, the “tier 3” cities — including Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol — will also be offered a “six-week testing surge.”

At a Thursday news conference, Johnson was asked how he plans to deliver mass testing to the 40 percent of the population that will be eligible as of Dec. 2.

“I don’t want to oversell how easy it is to do this,” he said, adding that takeup would be voluntary but that the military will help with logistics, as it did in Liverpool. The rollout is part of the government’s “Operation Moonshot vision,” swabbing 10 million people a day at a cost of more than $130 billion.

But some public health officials question the effectiveness and the expense of a mass-testing strategy. Angela Raffle, an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, told a recent media briefing the Moonshot plans were the “most unethical proposals for use of public funds or screening that I’d ever seen.”

Britain is among a handful of places around the world to try widespread coronavirus testing. Slovakia recently attempted to test its entire adult population, China claims to have tested the 11 million residents of Wuhan, and Iceland also carried out large-scale testing.

Read the full story here.

Australian state, recently a hot spot, has been virus-free for 4 weeks

MELBOURNE, Australia — From nearly 8,000 active cases in August and more than 800 deaths in the Australian state of Victoria to the elimination of the coronavirus: It’s an achievement that one Melbourne doctor says he thought was unthinkable only three months ago.

Friday marked four weeks without a new case of COVID-19 and 9,828 Victorians were tested in the past 24 hours.

Health authorities say 28 days with no new cases means the virus has been eliminated from the community, given that the time represents two 14-day incubation periods.

Victoria reached 7,880 active cases on Aug. 11. The last COVID-19 patient in a Victorian hospital was discharged on Monday, leaving the state without an active case.

Melbourne lifted its strict lockdown in late October, allowing diners to gather at St Kilda Beach on Oct. 28. Associated Press/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

The resurgence had forced a lockdown in Melbourne, an overnight curfew and travel and family gathering restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews was criticized repeatedly over several months for his strict guidelines.

“It is an emotional thing. My training makes me wary about ever saying we’ve reached the finish line here,” Melbourne doctor Stephen Parnis told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But the fact that in about three months we’ve gotten to this point, no one would have been able to suggest that would even come close to this.”

Australia’s death toll from the virus is 907 and 819 of them are from Victoria.

As thousands of athletes get coronavirus tests, nurses wonder: What about us?

On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She’s off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell – just one couple’s method of escape.

“It makes people feel normal,” she says.

For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season – and the pandemic – wears on. Early in the season, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan was one of five coaches fined for violating the league’s requirement that all sideline personnel wear face coverings. Jane noticed, even as coronavirus cases surged again in California and across the United States, that Levi’s Stadium was considering admitting fans to watch games.

But the hardest thing to ignore, Sandoval says, is that when it comes to coronavirus testing, this is a nation of haves and have-nots.

Among the haves are professional and college athletes, in particular those who play football. From Nov. 8 to 14, the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees. Major college football programs supply dozens of tests each day, an attempt – futile as it has been – to maintain health and prevent schedule interruptions. Major League Soccer administered nearly 5,000 tests last week, and Major League Baseball conducted some 170,000 tests during its truncated season.

Sandoval, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old front-line worker who regularly treats patients either suspected or confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus. In eight months, she has never been tested. She says her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, refuses to provide testing for its medical staff even after possible exposure.

Registered Nurse Richard Moses looks at his computer while working in a COVID-19 unit in Los Angeles on Nov. 19. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

Watching sports, then, no longer represents an escape from reality for Sandoval. Instead, she says, it’s a signal of what the nation prioritizes.

“There’s an endless supply in the sports world,” she says of coronavirus tests. “You’re throwing your arms up. I like sports as much as the next person. But the disparity between who gets tested and who doesn’t, it doesn’t make any sense.”

This month, registered nurses gathered in Los Angeles to protest the fact that UCLA’s athletic department conducted 1,248 tests in a single week while health-care workers at UCLA hospitals were denied testing. Last week National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, released the results of a survey of more than 15,000 members. About two-thirds reported they had never been tested.

Since August, when NFL training camps opened, the nation’s most popular and powerful sports league – one that generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue – has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.

“These athletes and teams have a stockpile of covid testing, enough to test them at will,” says Michelle Gutierrez Vo, another registered nurse and sports fan in California. “And it’s painful to watch. It seemed like nobody else mattered or their lives are more important than ours.”

Months into the pandemic, and with vaccines nearing distribution, testing in the United States remains something of a luxury. Testing sites are crowded, and some patients still report waiting days for results. Sandoval said nurses who suspect they’ve been exposed are expected to seek out a testing site on their own, at their expense, and take unpaid time while they wait for results – in effect choosing between their paycheck and their health and potentially that of others.

Russia sees sharp spike in new cases

MOSCOW — Russia has reported a sharp daily spike in coronavirus cases. Officials reported 27,543 new confirmed infections Friday, over 2,000 more than the day before.

Moscow and St, Petersburg reported record numbers of new cases, with 7,918 and 3,687, respectively. The surge brought Russia’s total in the pandemic to over 2.2 million, the fifth-highest number in the world. Russia’s coronavirus task force has also reported 38,558 virus-related deaths.

Russia has been swept by a fall resurgence of the virus. The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths are hitting new highs almost daily and significantly exceeding the levels reported during the country’s spring outbreak.

Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or the widespread closure of businesses to slow infections.

Spain will begin vaccinating residents in January, ending in the summer

MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa says Spain will be able to vaccinate its 47 million residents against the coronavirus in three waves starting in January and ending “during the months of summer.”

Some 2.5 million people, including residents and personnel working in nursing homes, health workers and people with dependency, will be prioritized for the first batch of vaccines that Spain expects to administer between January and March, Illa said Friday.

He said that experts are analyzing what will be the order for vaccinating other groups in the March to June vaccination campaign and for the last batch, over the summer, depending on their risk of contagion and the availability of vaccine doses.

Spain has closed contracts to purchase 140 million doses that could cover 80 million people.

Asked about questions raised about preliminary results from a proposed vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, Illa said the European Union’s strategy of purchasing vaccines from at least seven different manufacturers takes into account that some might not get final approval.

“No vaccine will be administered that does not have the guarantees of safety and efficacy,” Illa said.

A recent decline in the number of daily coronavirus infections in Spain has given a slight respite to hospitals, where 12% of normal beds and 28% of intensive care beds are treating COVID-19 patients. But the number of daily fatalities remains high.

The country has recorded 1.6 million coronavirus infections and 44,300 deaths.

Danes fined for a family party

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Some 30 people — reportedly including doctors — have been fined a total of 165,000 kroner ($18,620) for throwing a family party in Norway that failed to respect local restrictions, a Norwegian newspaper said Friday.

Police had to stop the party held northeast of Oslo that took place in early November. Some of the participants came from Denmark a few days ahead of the party and were fined for violating the 14-day self-quarantine restriction, police spokeswoman Sikke Folgeroe told the Romerike Blad newspaper.

A total of 22 fines were handed out, three of them of 20,000 kroner ($2,260).

Police didn’t confirm to the Romerikes Blad that those who organized the party were doctors.

 


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