The Latest: Biden to mark 500,000 lives lost with ceremony

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A Danish police officer guards a closed border crossing near Handewitt, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Denmark has closed several smaller border crossings to Germany because of the coronavirus situation in the region near the city of Flensburg. (Frank Molter/dpa via AP)

WASHINGTON __ President Joe Biden will mark the U.S. crossing 500,000 lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House.

The nation is expected to pass the grim milestone on Monday, just over a year after the first confirmed U.S. fatality due to the novel coronavirus.

The White House said Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honor those who lost their lives. He will be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. They will participate in the moment of silence and lighting ceremony.

Biden has made a point of recognizing the lives lost from the virus. His first event upon arriving in Washington for his inauguration a month ago was to deliver remarks at a COVID-19 memorial ceremony.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Britain speeds up vaccination plan; all adults to get 1st jab by July 31

— What’s safe after a COVID-19 vaccination? Don’t take the masks off yet, scientists say

— Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California are embroiled in political woes from the pandemic

— Airlines plan to ask passengers for contact-tracing details

— With no crowds during a coronavirus lockdown, the Louvre in Paris is using the down time to refurbish

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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:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will remove remaining coronavirus restrictions from Auckland on Monday after an outbreak discovered in the largest city fades away.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 72,000 tests had found no evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

Auckland was placed into a three-day lockdown this month after a mother, father and daughter tested positive. Another five contacts later tested positive. After the lockdown ended, Auckland continued to have restrictions including on gatherings.

The source of the outbreak remains unclear, although authorities continue to investigate whether there is a connection between infected airline passengers and the mother, who works at a company which cleans laundry for airlines.

New Zealand has an elimination strategy with the coronavirus and has managed to stamp out its spread.

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LOS ANGELES — California’s death toll during the coronavirus pandemic has topped 49,000, even as the rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to plummet across the state.

California reported another 408 deaths Sunday, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 49,105 — the highest in the nation.

Health officials said Sunday that the number of patients in California hospitals with COVID-19 has slipped below 7,000, a drop of more than a third over two weeks.

The 6,760 new confirmed cases reported Sunday are more than 85% below the mid-December peak of about 54,000 in one day. Total cases are approaching 3.45 million.

The positivity rate for people being tested has been falling for weeks, which means fewer people will end up in hospitals.

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CODOGNO, Italy — Italians are marking one year since their country was shocked to discover it had the first known locally transmitted COVID-19 case in the West.

With church services Sunday and wreath-laying ceremonies, including in small northern towns which were the first to be hard-hit by the pandemic, citizens paid tribute to the dead. Italy has a confirmed death toll from the virus of 95,500.

While the first wave of infections largely engulfed Lombardy and other northern regions, a second wave, starting in fall 2020, has raced throughout Italy, which so far has registered some 2.8 million cases.

The first locally transmitted case was discovered in a 38-year-old patient in a hospital in Codogno, Lombardy. That patient survived.

But in the northeastern town of Vo, which registered the nation’s first known death on Feb. 21, 2020, officials unveiled a memorial plaque at a tree-planting ceremony.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says about a third of the coronavirus vaccine doses delayed by this week’s winter weather have been delivered this weekend.

Press secretary Jen Psaki says the administration has been working with shippers and states to close the roughly 6 million dose backlog created this week as power outages closed some vaccination centers and icy weather stranded some vaccine in shipping hubs.

Psaki says the administration is making sure those catch-up doses out to vaccination centers “as soon as they can handle them.”

Speaking to ABC’s “This Week,” Psaki says, “We’ve been able to get about 2 million of those 6 million doses out,” adding, “We expect to rapidly catch up this week.”

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling the United States’ approaching milestone of half a million deaths from the coronavirus as “terribly historic” and stressed the need for continuing public health measures.

Fauci says with virus infections overall going down and vaccinations continuing things are improving but that the U.S. remains in a “terrible situation” and people should remain mindful of wearing masks and keeping social distance.

Currently there are over 497,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S.

Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he expects a “significant degree of normality” in everyday life toward the end of the year but that it was “possible” people will still need to be wearing masks into 2022.

He says ultimately it will depend on the trajectory of COVID-19 variants as well as whether an “overwhelming majority” of people get vaccinated. Fauci says he wants to see infections get to a “very, very low” baseline before backing off recommendations to wear a mask, when the risk of exposure to someone with COVID-19 has become minimal.

Fauci spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia has received a first shipment of 150,000 AstraZeneca vaccines, adding to the three other vaccines already in use.

The Balkan nation of 7 million has administered more than 1 million doses so far, which is among the top results in Europe. Most Serb citizens have received Chinese Sinopharm vaccines, followed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Russia’s Sputnik V.

President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday was at the airport to welcome the AstraZeneca shipment from India. He said more than 750,000 people have received the first shot and expressed hope that vaccinations will continue at current pace.

Health authorities, meanwhile, threatened toughen anti-virus measures following a spike in daily new cases and hospitalizations.

Epidemiologists say that’s due to nightclubs and cafes flouting virus restrictions and because Serbia’s ski resorts worked at full capacity all winter.

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LONDON — The British government says it aims to give every adult in the country a first dose of coronavirus vaccine by July 31, a month earlier than its previous target.

The goal is for everyone over 50 or with an underlying health condition to get a shot by April 15, rather than the previous target of May 1.

The makers of the two vaccines Britain is using, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have both experienced supply problems in Europe. But U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that “we now think that we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.

More than 17.2 million people have been given the first of two doses of vaccine since the U.K. inoculation campaign began on Dec. 8.

The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with senior ministers Sunday to finalize a “road map” out of that national lockdown that is due to be announced on Monday.

Britain has had more than 120,000 coronavirus deaths.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The number of deaths in Texas due to coronavirus increased by more than 200 on Saturday while the number of people hospitalized with the virus declined, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There were an additional 227 COVID-19 deaths, more than 4,900 new cases and 7,535 hospitalizations, a decline of 222 people hospitalized, the department reported.

Texas has had more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and more than 42,000 deaths due to COVID-19, the third highest death count in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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LOS ANGELES — A skateboarding world champion is among five people prosecutors in Southern California have charged with organizing parties that were possible superspreader events amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Los Angeles Times reports Nyjah Huston, a four-time world skateboarding champion, and Edward Essa, the owner of a home in the Fairfax District, held a party last month with at least 40 people that was shut down by police after receiving a complaint.

Huston and Essa were both charged with creating a nuisance, a misdemeanor.

Neither could be reached for comment.

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JERUSALEM — Israel has unveiled a plan to allow people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend cultural events, fly abroad and go to health clubs and restaurants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the plan at a news conference on Saturday night, saying those who have been vaccinated will be able to download the “green badge” in the coming days.

“The green badge is gradually opening up the country,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has conducted the world’s speediest vaccine campaign over the past month and a half, inoculating nearly half of its 9.3 million people. But with the coronavirus still spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated, the country only recently began emerging from a two-month lockdown.

On Sunday, retail stores, shopping malls, gyms, some middle school grades and other public services for limited crowd sizes are set to start back up.

Netanyahu said the government could not keep unvaccinated residents from places like medical clinics, pharmacies and supermarkets. But he said other services would be allowed only for those who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Israel’s main international airport, for instance, remains closed to nearly all air traffic because of concerns of foreign variants of the virus entering the country.

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PODGORICA, Montenegro — Tiny Montenegro has launched vaccinations against the coronavirus with doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines that were donated by neighboring Serbia.

Health authorities said the first person to receive a shot on Saturday was a 66-year-old resident of a care home in the coastal town of Risan. Two doctors working at the same nursing home came next.

A nation of some 620,000 people, Montenegro has reported more than 70,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 939 known deaths.

Montenegrin authorities say they plan to acquire supplies of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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PHOENIX — Enrollment at U.S. community colleges dropped 10% from fall 2019 to fall 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s according to The National Student Clearinghouse, which says community colleges were hit the hardest among all types of colleges in terms of enrollment drops.

Four-year universities in the U.S. fared better than many had expected, seeing only slight enrollment decreases.

There are myriad reasons for the community college downturn. Fewer freshmen are enrolling and some are delaying college until campuses fully reopen. But the pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on older adult students. Many lost jobs or have no time for their own schooling as they supervise their children’s online classes.

More Americans typically turn to community college education amid economic downturns, seeking to learn new job skills or change careers. But education experts say the pandemic seems to have upended usual trends.

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LONDON – The British government has announced a small step out of lockdown — allowing nursing home residents to have a single friend or family member visit them indoors.

Residents and their visitors will be able to hold hands, but not hug. The change takes effect March 8. For months, nursing home residents have only been able to see loved ones outdoors or through screens.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will announce a “road map” out of lockdown on Monday. The government has stressed that reopening will be slow and cautious, with store reopenings or outdoor socializing unlikely before April, though children will go back to school from March 8.

Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring. Britain has had about 120,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

The new measures apply in England. In other parts of the U.K., nursing home visiting rules vary, with Scottish residents able to have two visitors from March 8.

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PORTLAND, Oregon — Despite historic winter weather across the country causing shipment delays and forcing mass vaccination sites to reschedule appointments, Oregon health officials say the state’s vaccination timeline is still on schedule.

While more than 10,000 vaccine appointments were canceled last week, beginning Monday people 70 and older will be eligible to receive doses of vaccine and people 65 and older will be eligible March 1.

During the past week, Oregon averaged more than 14,000 vaccinations per day. As of Thursday, 12% of the state’s population has been vaccinated with first doses and 5% of residents have been fully vaccinated.

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HELSINKI — Denmark has temporarily closed some border crossing points with Germany and stepped up checks at others due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and a rise in virus variants in the the northern German town of Flensburg, just off the Danish border.

The Danish justice ministry said late Friday that an increasing number of infections and virus mutations have been detected in Flensburg, just some seven kilometers (4 miles) from the border with Denmark.

The Danish justice ministry said officials police will significantly intensify border controls at the Danish-German border. Local authorities in Germany said Saturday on Flensburg’s webpage that the town’s coronavirus incidence rate was running at 193 per 100,000 people.

Dozens of cases of mutated coronavirus, mostly the variant first detected in Britain, have been detected in Flensburg, a town with some 90,000 inhabitants, in the past days.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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