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The Latest: Germany to legislate uniform virus restrictions

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman says Germany will draw up legislation to ensure that restrictions are imposed uniformly in regions with high coronavirus infection rates.

In highly decentralized Germany, the 16 state governments have far-reaching powers to impose and lift restrictions. Merkel complained recently about what she saw as some states’ backsliding on previously agreed to restrictions in places where infections are rising.

Germany, like many other European countries, has seen a resurgence of confirmed cases as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain has taken hold.

Even as new infections and hospital admissions rise sharply, some state governors have continued to back limited reopening steps, while others advocate a stricter shutdown.

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Merkel spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Friday that the federal and state governments have agreed to draw up nationwide legislation spelling out what restrictions have to be imposed in areas where there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. She said Merkel’s Cabinet will consider the legislation on Tuesday.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Japan imposes new restrictions in Tokyo ahead of Olympics

— A year after choir practice became COVID-19 superspreader event, family finds closure in how it helped understanding of virus

— Communities of Catholic nuns absorbed devastating losses from the virus and are facing wrenching grief and questioning what it means

— Follow 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:

ATHENS, Greece — Greece has seen record numbers of daily infections several times in recent weeks, but has also been conducting record numbers of tests.

Intensive care units in many parts of the country are at or near capacity, and deaths remain at a high level of more than 70 per day, despite the country being under lockdown-type measures since the fall.

The country has seen a growing backlash against the prolonged restrictions, which have kept restaurants, bars and cafes operating on a delivery or take-away basis only since early November, and shut down schools and retail stores for months.

People are only allowed to leave their homes for certain reasons and must send a text message to authorities or carry a self-declaration form.

This week, authorities allowed retail stores to reopen on an appointment basis, and the final three grades of high school are to reopen for in-person classes on Monday. Students and teachers will have to undergo two coronavirus home tests per week in order to attend. The tests are being provided free of charge from pharmacies, and all others will be entitled to one free test per week.

Greek health authorities have said that variants of the coronavirus, particularly the variant from Britain, now account for about 85% of cases.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian officials said the daily death toll from COVID-19 rose by 155, putting the country’s total at 64,039 as of Friday.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 22,478 new confirmed cases were registered since a day earlier, bringing Iran’s total in the pandemic to 2,029,412.

At least 2,567 people were hospitalized with the virus, she added.

On Saturday, Iran will start to impose 10 days of restrictions in 257 cities. The closures include all parks, restaurants, beauty salons, malls and bookstores.

Iran has more than 800 cities and towns. Only 11 cities are considered entirely safe in terms of infections and have no restrictions, while the rest have varying degrees of restrictions.

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ROME — Italy has seen a stabilizing of the new variant-fueled coronavirus infections over the past three weeks, though its daily COVID-19 death toll remains stubbornly high, averaging 300-500 people per day.

Italy, where Europe’s outbreak first began, has the continent’s oldest population, and the average age of COVID-19 victims has remained around 80 throughout the pandemic.

The continued high daily death toll, which ranks Italy second only to Britain in Europe, has sparked criticism that the first months of the country’s sluggish vaccination campaign failed to prioritize the oldest and most vulnerable in the country.

With a population of 60 million, Italy has administered 12 million doses of the vaccine. Some 4.2 million doses have gone to people over age 80, with another half-million to going to residents of nursing homes. The rest have been given to medical personnel, teachers, law enforcement officers and other professional groups.

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The government placed much of Italy under strictest lockdown measures in mid-March after the latest surge began, and placed the whole country on full lockdown over the Easter holiday to deter travel and gatherings. It has has said restrictions on restaurants and bars will remain through the end of April, sparking violent protests this week from restaurant owners.

The Agenas agency, which monitors regional health care capacity, said Friday that Italy’s intensive care unit occupancy for virus patients is well over the threshold set by the government. The agency said ICU’s nationwide are at 40% capacity, 10 percentage points above the threshold set by the government to ensure other, non-COVID critical care needs are met.

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MADRID — Madrid is expanding its mass COVID-19 vaccination program, with jabs being administered at the city’s large WiZink indoor arena starting Friday.

Some 4,000 people between 60 and 65 years of age were due to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine there on the first day.

The Madrid regional government has already set up mass vaccination centers at two other major venues in the Spanish capital.

From this weekend, 10 public hospitals in the region are to join the vaccination effort, which so far has largely taken place at health centers.

Spanish health authorities are now giving the AstraZeneca vaccine only to people between 60 and 69 years old, due to possible links between the vaccine and extremely rare blood clots in people younger than 60.

Madrid is keeping in place its restrictions on gatherings and movement for another two weeks amid a gradual uptick in new COVID-19 cases. Some other Spanish regions are bringing back restrictions for the same reason.

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BRUSSELS — New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are going down in Belgium but the country’s health authorities are warning there is still a long way to go in the fight against the coronavirus.

Following a 27-day sustained rise in hospitalizations, virologist Yves Van Laethem said Friday that numbers went down 3% over the past seven days to an average of 253 daily admissions and are expected to continue decreasing.

Belgian health authorities said the daily number of new confirmed cases declined 25%, to reach 3,592 on average.

The situation in hospitals remain critical, though. About one-third of the country’s 3,128 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units.

A total of 23,348 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country of 11.5 million residents. Around 14.6% of the population has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has posted record daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the past 10 days, including 55,941 new infections reported late Thursday.

Keen to minimize the pandemic’s repercussions for Turkey’s ailing economy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan eased infection-control measures in early March. The recent spike forced him to announce renewed restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns and the closure of cafes and restaurants during Ramadan, starting on April 13.

Turkish medical groups say the reopening in March was premature and that the new measures won’t go far enough to curb the surge. They have called for a full lockdown during the holy Muslim month.

“Every single day the number of cases is increasing. Every single day the number of death is increasing. The alarm bells are ringing for the intensive care units,” Ismail Cinel, head of the Turkish Intensive Care Association, said.

The Health Ministry has said that around 75% of the recent infections in Turkey involve the more contagious variant first identified in Britain.

“We have unfortunately loosened the measures and were not able to accelerate vaccinations,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca was quoted as saying in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published Friday.

Of the hospital situation, Koca said: “There is no problem for now. But if this continues for three or four weeks, it will be a problem.”

Turkish opposition parties are blaming the spike on a series of mass political rallies by Erdogan’s ruling party. The party rejects the accusations.

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BERLIN — German health officials are warning of a steep rise in intensive care patients and calling for action to contain coronavirus infections, even as the country’s vaccination drive finally picks up steam.

Germany has seen new infections rise considerably in recent weeks as a more infectious variant first detected in Britain took hold. Meanwhile, federal and state politicians are struggling to agree on how, or in some cases whether, to toughen restrictions.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday that “intensive care units are filling up fast” across the country. He said nearly 4,500 COVID-19 patients are receiving intensive care, with the number increasing by 700 over the past week — a 20% rise.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said “consistent and, as far as possible, uniform” measures are needed. He added that “there needs to be a lockdown to break the current wave,” and only after infections are brought down should more businesses be opened.

This week, thousands of ordinary doctors’ practices joined Germany’s vaccination campaign. That helped the country to its second consecutive daily record on Thursday of 719,927 doses administered — meaning that 14.7% of the population has now received at least one dose and 5.8% have received both shots.

Spahn cautioned that there won’t be a new record every day, given that vaccine supplies to general practitioners in the first few weeks will be limited.

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PARIS — France says people under age 55 who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should get a different vaccine for their second shot because of an extremely rare risk of a blood clotting disorder.

At the same time, French authorities insisted Friday that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, and they continued recommending it for older populations, as the country’s hospitals battle a new surge in virus patients.

“It’s an effective vaccine,” Dominique Le Guludec of France’s High Authority for Health told reporters. “If we want to win the battle against the virus, we must use all weapons at our disposition.”

More than a half-million French people under 55 received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before reports of rare blood clots emerged. Since March 19, France has only offered the vaccine to those over 55.

While the European Medicines Agency encouraged EU nations on Wednesday to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to all age groups, France’s High Authority for Health said Friday that it is maintaining a ban for those under 55.

It said younger people who have already received the first dose should get booster shots from Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead.

“It’s a precautionary measure,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said Friday on RTL radio. He said AstraZeneca’s drug remains a key part of France’s vaccine strategy.

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ISLAMABAD—Pakistani authorities will restrict inter-city transportation on weekends starting at midnight Friday as part of measures aimed at containing coronavirus cases and deaths.

Bus terminals in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in Pakistan will remain closed for inter-city transport on Saturday and Sunday.

The restriction will not apply on cargo, ambulance service and supply of medical equipment.

On Friday, Pakistan reported 105 virus-related deaths and 5,312 new confirmed cases in 24 hours,, one of the highest daily case numbers in recent months.

Pakistan is in the middle of a third wave of infections. The country has reported a total of 15,229 deaths among 710,829 confirmed cases.

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CAIRO — Libya has received more than 57,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from the COVAX initiative.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said the doses that arrived late Thursday have been earmarked to health workers, people older than 75 and people with chronic disease.

Libya’s National Center for Disease Control said 57,600 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine were in the first COVAX shipment to Libya.

On Sunday, Libya received 101,250 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.

Libya has seen swelling COVID-19 cases. The county of around 7 million people has reported more than 166,000 confirmed cases and 2,799 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. However, the actual numbers, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has finalized a deal to buy an extra 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it rapidly pivots away from its earlier plan to rely mainly on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal Friday after saying Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 50.

He said the deal means Australia will get a total of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, enough to inoculate 20 million people in the nation of 26 million.

Australia’s pivot came after the European Medicines Agency said this week it had found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, though regulators have continued to say the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people.

The pivot represents a significant shift in Australia’s overall approach and is likely to delay plans to have everybody inoculated by October.

A major part of Australia’s strategy had been making its own vaccines without importing them. It had planned to manufacture some 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 25 million people. Australia had made no plans to make any other vaccines at home.

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BANGKOK — Thai authorities were struggling Friday to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak just days before the country’s traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday, when millions of people travel around the country.

Health officials reported another 559 new infections nationwide on Friday, following increases of 405 new cases and 334 new cases the previous two days. Authorities have responded by ordering that entertainment venues in 41 provinces close for two weeks starting Saturday, while governors in some provinces are placing restrictions on travelers arriving from elsewhere.

Such daily increases in new infections are rare for Thailand, which has weathered the coronavirus pandemic far better than many nations through measures including strict border controls that have decimated the country’s lucrative tourism industry. Thailand has also experimented at times with everything from curfews and alcohol bans to closures of schools, shopping malls and restaurants.

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PHILIPPINE SEA — The U.S. 7th Fleet that operates throughout the Indo-Pacific says 96% of its personnel have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The fleet said more than 14,000 service members had received their full doses of the vaccine, which it began administering in January to those who volunteered.

“We owe it to ourselves, our family and country to make every effort to stop the pandemic,” vaccine coordinator Capt. Joseph F. Penta was quoted as saying in the statement.

The 7th Fleet operates 50-70 ships and submarines and regularly interacts with forces from 35 other countries.

Last April, more than 500 crew members aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the virus and one died after the ship docked in Guam. That came amid a crisis during which the Navy’s civilian leader fired the ship’s captain after accusing him of too widely distributing a letter calling for more urgent action to deal with the outbreak. The administration official resigned shortly after coming under criticism for the firing.

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SAN FRANCISCO — More California counties are opening up vaccines to younger adults, a week ahead of the state’s schedule.

At the same time, California public health officials warned Thursday of decreases in supply because of a national reduction of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state has received about 2.4 million doses this week, but it expects 2 million next week and 1.9 million doses the week after.

Santa Clara County and Fresno County are the latest to open up vaccinations to everyone 16 and up.

A mass vaccination site at California State University, Los Angeles announced it would take adults on a walk-up basis because of excess appointments. It had to start turning people away Thursday.

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