KATHMANDU, Nepal — The Swiss government has flown $8 million of much needed equipment and medical supplies to combat COVID-19 to help Nepal, which is struggling with a failing health system and acute shortages of hospital beds, medication and oxygen for patients.
The aid was handed over to Nepal’s Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi at Kathmandu airport on Saturday. The Swiss embassy in Nepal said the shipment contained 40 ventilators, oxygen concentrators, 1.1 million coronavirus test kits, face masks, gloves and protective suits.
Nepal has been appealing for help from the international community since the COVID-19 situation worsened sharply this month. A lockdown has been imposed in most parts of the country since last month to curb the spiking cases.
Nepal has recorded nearly 500,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 6,024 people have died.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pfizer-BioNTech pledge 2B doses to less wealthy nations
— Germany opens beer gardens, cafes; Chancellor Merkel urges caution
— IOC VP: Tokyo Olympics will be held despite state of emergency
— Sniffing Labrador retrievers join Thai coronavirus fight
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka halted passenger trains and buses for four days as authorities imposed a fresh travel ban across the country, in its latest efforts to curb the escalating number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The ban is effective from Friday night until Tuesday morning. However, it will not apply to those engaged in essential services such as the health, food and power sectors, and those seeking medical treatment.
The move comes as the island’s key medical associations demand the government lockdown the country for two weeks. The associations say the actual number of coronavirus infections is more than three times the number detected.
Sri Lanka has already banned public gatherings, parties, weddings and closed schools and universities.
MOBILE, Ala. — Alabama’s port city of Mobile has put on a Mardi Gras-style parade, what seemed at least a little like the Carnival celebrations canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic.
Plastic beads and other trinkets flew as nearly 30 floats from Mardi Gras groups snaked through downtown Mobile on Friday night.
Thousands of people turned out in a county and state where only about a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. Many went without masks, though health officials had urged personal responsibility.
The parade marks the commissioning of the Navy’s new ship USS Mobile, a shallow-water combat vessel manufactured in Mobile.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A medical center in Louisiana said Friday that it has identified the state’s first two cases of a COVID-19 variant first identified in India.
Britain and the World Health Organization consider it a variant of concern because experts think it may spread more easily than the original virus, LSU Health Shreveport said Friday.
The health system said the two samples were among more than 2,600 for which its Center for Emerging Viral Threats has decoded the genome. That represents 56% of all viral genomic surveillance data from Louisiana, the news release said.
Overall, the lab has processed 331,000 tests, and 7,600 were positive. That’s less than 5% of Louisiana’s total tests and less than 2% of the positive tests in the state. As of Friday, Louisiana has reported 7.3 million tests and 467,800 cases of COVID-19.
At least two other variants have shown up in Louisiana — the one first identified in the United Kingdom and the one first found in Brazil.
LSU Health Shreveport said its lab found that the one first found in England remains dominant in North Louisiana, as in the rest of the United States.
PHOENIX — Health officials say children in Arizona as young as 12 can get a COVID-19 vaccine when receiving other immunizations.
State Department of Health Services director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday that pediatricians, per CDC guidance, can administer the Pfizer vaccine alongside other childhood vaccines.
Previously, the CDC had recommended children wait two weeks in between vaccinations. Vaccine demand has been low statewide.
The hours and days of operations at some state vaccine pods will be modified. More than 5.6 million vaccine doses have been given out in Arizona.
The state on Friday reported 577 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 more deaths.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials are betting that the desire to win $1 million in a lottery will boost the percentage of Oregonians who are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
With only half of the people living in Oregon either fully or partially vaccinated, Oregon Lottery officials approved a plan Friday to hold a lottery. Those who have been vaccinated by June 27 will be eligible.
“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine, so don’t miss your shot to enter,” Gov. Kate Brown said.
She told reporters this is an effort to raise the percentage of adult Oregonians who get vaccinated to 70% in order to fully reopen the state.
The Oregon Health Authority says 50% of Oregonians are vaccinated, with 39% having completed the series and 11% in progress.
If Oregonians have received at least a first dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, they are automatically entered to win through the state’s vaccine database.
Other states are also trying the tactic, including New York, Maryland and Ohio.
BERLIN — Germany will require people arriving from the U.K. from Sunday onward to go into quarantine for 14 days. The decision is a response to the spread of a coronavirus variant first detected in India.
Friday’s announcement by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, that Britain is being classified as a “virus variant area” comes a week after it went back on a list of “risk areas,” which has few consequences under current rules. From Sunday, airlines and others will only be able to transport German citizens and residents from Britain.
Under current German rules, all people arriving from “virus variant areas” — which also include India itself and Brazil — must spend 14 days in quarantine at home after their arrival. They cannot cut that period short by testing negative. People arriving from “risk areas” can avoid a 10-day quarantine by showing a negative test result, and fully vaccinated people arriving from those countries don’t need either to test or quarantine.
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan health department has settled a lawsuit by releasing information about people in long-term care sites who died of COVID-19, attorneys for a journalist said Friday.
The department agreed to provide ages and dates of death but was unable to say whether the infection occurred at a long-term care facility “due to inadequate tracking,” the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation said.
The group in March filed a lawsuit on behalf of Detroit-area journalist Charlie LeDuff, whose public records request was denied as exempt under state law. LeDuff said he was not seeking the names of the deceased.
“We stood up to Goliath and won,” LeDuff said. “While I’m pleased that some of the records were released, the state’s overall response is alarming and disappointing.”
An email seeking comment was sent to the health department.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s top health official says the state no longer will require social distancing and will allow full capacity for businesses when the state reopens on June 15.
State health director Dr. Mark Ghaly says dramatically lower coronavirus cases and increasing vaccinations mean it’s safe for the state to remove nearly all restrictions next month.
Some recently reported daily infection cases have fallen below 1,000 and currently there are about 1,300 people in hospitals with the virus.
California was the first state to issue a statewide shutdown as the virus emerged in March 2020. At the start of 2021, it was the nation’s epicenter. There’s been nearly 63,000 confirmed deaths from the virus in California, the most of any state in the nation.
BANGKOK — Thailand is using dogs to sniff out the coronavirus during its recent surge in cases.
Angel, Bobby and Bravo are among six Labrador retrievers trained by researchers at the veterinary faculty of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University to sniff out a unique odor that people with coronavirus produce in their sweat, the researchers say.
Since May 10, the three have tested more than 1,000 samples from college staff, students and people outside the university.
The results so far are impressive. After a few seconds of sniffing sweat samples placed in metal containers, the dogs can tell which people have the virus. If there’s no trace of infection, the dog will walk pass the sample. If it is positive, it will sit in front of it.
NEW YORK — A study of schools in Georgia suggests improving ventilation seemed to slow the spread of the coronavirus about as much as masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday published the study online. It’s based on surveys last fall of 169 Georgia elementary schools, which had taken various steps to control the spread of the virus.
The researchers concluded coronavirus case rates were 37% lower in schools that required teachers and other staff members to wear masks, compared to schools that did not. Meanwhile, rates were 39% lower in schools that took steps to improve ventilation, like opening windows and doors, using fans, or using air filtration systems.
Schools that used high-efficiency particulate absorbing filtration (HEPA) systems had case rates that were about half as high as those that didn’t.
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama and actor Eva Longoria are joining a social media chat next week about COVID-19 vaccines and the pandemic’s effects on women, particularly women of color.
Made to Save, the United State of Women, Supermajority and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are hosting Monday’s event on Facebook Live.
Organizers say the event is part of a week of activity designed to address concerns among women about the vaccines and to encourage women to get vaccinated and to help others get their shots, too.
Made to Save is a national public education campaign working to build public trust in the COVID-19 vaccines. Made to Save and United State of Women are part of Civic Nation, which is chaired by Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.
ROME — American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech have pledged to deliver 2 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to middle- and low-income countries over the next 18 months.
The companies, which together developed the first vaccine to be authorized for use in the United States and Europe, made the announcement Friday at a global health summit in Rome co-hosted by the European Union’s executive arm and Italy.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says they expect to provide a billion of the doses this year and another billion in 2022.
It was unclear whether the deliveries would take place through the U.N.-backed COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries, or if nations would get the doses at a reduced price.
TOKYO — The IOC vice president in charge of the Tokyo Olympics says the games will open in just over two months even if the city and other parts of Japan are under a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus cases.
John Coates spoke on a virtual hookup with Tokyo organizers after three days of meetings. The Olympics are set to open on July 23. Coates says the Olympics will go on even if local medical experts advise against it.
He says advice from the World Health Organization assured him that “all of those measures that we are undertaking are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure games in terms of health.”
Recent public opinion polls indicate 60-80% of Japanese oppose hosting the Olympics. Coates suggested public opinion might improve as more Japanese get fully vaccinated. That figure is now about 2%.
About 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes – who arrive in August — are expected to attend. No international fans are allowed.
The Associated Press