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The Latest: Sri Lanka approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s drug regulatory body has approved the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as the second available for use in the Indian Ocean island nation.

The state minister overseeing pharmaceutical products, Channa Jayasumana, said Sri Lanka has requested doses from Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and was awaiting confirmation of the amount it would get.

Sri Lanka already is administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute in India. It received 1 million doses, half donated and half purchased from the institute.

Starting in January with frontline health workers, Sri Lanka has given the vaccine to more than 550,000 people.

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It plans to purchase 10 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for $52.5 million from the Serum Institute, and it has decided to enter into an agreement with the AstraZeneca Institute in Britain to buy 3.5 million more.

Sri Lanka has counted 84,225 cases of COVID-19 with 484 fatalities.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires diverged on social distancing, and those choices took the 2 cities in opposite directions

— Germany is extending its coronavirus shutdown, but easing some restrictions in areas with relatively low infection rates

— Democrats agree to tighten eligibility for stimulus checks in concession to party moderates as relief bill is prepared for Senate

— California will set aside 40% of doses for the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to inoculate people most at risk faster

— Follow 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:

BRUSSELS — Brussels Airlines reported a loss of 293 million euros in the financial year 2020 mainly due to travel disruptions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The company on Thursday announced revenues down by 72% to 414 million euros while passenger numbers decreased by 77% to 2.4 million. It said the summer season will be essential as 2021 remains “a challenging year.”

After grounding its planes for 12 weeks last year, the airline resumed operations on a reduced schedule during the summer. Hard-hit by the crisis, Brussels Airlines has reduced its fleet by 25% and its workforce by 20% after the Belgian government and Lufthansa, the airline’s parent company, agreed on a rescue plan.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s top insurance regulator is putting medical providers on notice that people cannot be charged for coronavirus testing after reports that residents have been required to pay for coronavirus rapid-result tests.

Insurance Superintendent Russell Toal said Wednesday that his office is preparing an administrative bulletin to ensure testing costs are not passed directly on to consumers as state health officials push for robust testing to track infection rates and new strains of COVID-19.

Toal says the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance has received reports of people being charged in excess of $100 for testing services that should be free.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s central bank says the country’s economy shrank for the first time in 22 years in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic destroyed service industry jobs and depressed consumer spending.

Preliminary data released by the Bank of Korea on Thursday showed that the country’s gross domestic product last year contracted 1% from 2019. It marked the first annual contraction for the country’s economy since 1998, when it was in the midst of a crippling financial crisis.

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The economy would have been even worse if not for the country’s technology exports, which saw increased demand driven by personal computers and servers as the pandemic forced millions around the world to work at home.

The bank expects South Korea’s economy to manage a modest recovery this year driven by exports. But it says it would take a longer time for the job market to recover from the damage to services industries such as restaurants and transportation.

The country reported another new 424 cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its national caseload to 91,240, including 1,619 deaths.

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TORONTO — An expert panel is recommending Canadian provinces extend the interval between doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to quickly inoculate more people.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says extending the dose interval to four months would create opportunities to protect the entire adult population within a short time.

The panel says many as 80% of Canadians older than 16 could receive a single dose by the end of June simply with the expected supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. In comparison, the federal government previously said 38% of people would receive two doses by the end of June.

The committee’s recommendation came hours after Newfoundland and Labrador said it will extend the interval between the first and second doses to four months, and days after health officials in British Columbia announced they were doing so.

Manitoba and Quebec also say they will delay second doses. Ontario previously said it was weighing a similar move but would seek advice from the federal government. The provinces administer health care in Canada.

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ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp said Georgia’s government will open five more mass-vaccination sites later this month as he defended the state’s performance in delivering COVID-19 vaccines.

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The state will open sites beginning March 17, joining four sites the state is already running. The Republican governor said Wednesday that the sites are being set up in advance of a further expansion of vaccine eligibility in the state to be announced later this month.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Georgia has administered only 68% of the vaccines it has received and has 1 million unadministered doses. The data show only the District of Columbia and Kansas lag further behind.

Georgia officials have disputed the CDC data for weeks and said some health providers are slow to report when they put shots in arms. The state’s own numbers show it has given 76% of available vaccines, which would be in the middle of the pack among states, if no other states were allowed to adjust their numbers. Still, that’s 700,000 doses on hand, when the state is getting 200,000 doses this week, rising to 223,000 next week.

“We can’t control who’s holding second doses,” Kemp said. “I don’t think they should be doing that. They should be giving those doses. The supply chain is caught up. They don’t need to be doing that any more. They need to get shots in arms.”

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