BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has levelled off even as the share of more contagious variants is rising.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.
His agency reported 9,113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day, and 508 deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week Health Minister Jens Spahn said the share of the more contagious variant virus first detected in Britain has reached about 22% in Germany, from 6% two weeks ago.
Spahn told reporters in Berlin that the government wants to double the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks, from about 140,000 per day at present.
Germany has administered almost 3 million first doses since late December. More than 1.5 million people have received their second shot.
Spahn confirmed a report by weekly Der Spiegel that the government has appointed a special adviser for vaccine production to liaise with manufacturers and speed up the delivery of additional doses to Germany.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— 'Alone’: How Italian town with 1st known virus death fared
— Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths as danger grows
— Old habits imperil Iraq as doctors warn of second virus wave
— White House officials say Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven meeting to announce that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine for poor nations.
— Millions of U.S. residents will need COVID-19 vaccines brought to them because they rarely or never leave their homes.
— The COVID-19 pandemic has forced tens of thousands of restaurants to permanently shut their doors as dining restrictions keep customers away.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
RENO, Nev. — Nevada health officials have confirmed the state’s first known case of a coronavirus variant that was originally identified in South Africa.
The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory said Thursday the mutated version of the virus was confirmed a day earlier in a sample traced to a person who traveled from South Africa and began showing symptoms of COVID-19 when arriving in Reno.
Experts say it’s another reason Nevadans need to be sure to keep their masks on and not to let their guard down as the state relaxes restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the South African variant has been detected in 10 states thus far, not including Nevada’s case.
Dr. Mark Pandori, the director of Nevada’s public health lab, said Thursday vaccines may be less effective on the new strain but it is not yet known if the strain causes a more severe illness. He said the new strain is not believed to be more lethal than the original COVID-19 strain.
Nevada has also reported six known cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant that first originated in the United Kingdom.
HARTFORD, Conn. - Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday he plans to lift some restrictions on youth sports in Connecticut as the state’s COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.
The Democrat said athletes will be allowed to compete in previously banned indoor sports, including cheerleading and competitive dance. Lamont said he expects to ease restrictions soon on some outdoor sports considered high-risk for infection, such as lacrosse.
The governor said the number of fans allowed at youth sporting events will also be increased. The state will institute a cap at 25% capacity and 200 fans, whichever is the lower number.
“Look, I used to love watching my kids play hockey and basketball and I know that has been limited over the last few months, so I think we’re going to lift that cap to some degree, still erring on the side of caution,” he said.
Lamont said he also plans to open the state’s borders on March 1 to allow interstate athletic competitions and tournaments. Colleges, meanwhile, can make their own decisions on allowing fans into venues in consultation with the state Department of Public Health, he said.
ATLANTA -- Georgia is opening up four mass vaccination sites to inoculate people against COVID-19, with locations chosen to try to increase the lagging share of Black and Latino residents who are getting the shots.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference Thursday the sites will be up and running on Monday. They will be in Albany, Macon, Habersham County and at the Delta Flight Museum near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
The state is also rolling out a registration website, myvaccinegeorgia.com, that will let people register for the sites. The state is currently limiting the vaccine to medical workers, emergency workers, nursing home residents and people 65 and older, but people outside those categories can also sign up on the website to be notified when it’s their turn.
The initial goal is for the sites to administer a combined 22,000 vaccines a week, with the ability to increase capacity when additional supplies become available.
SANTA FE, N.M. -- The Albuquerque school board has rejected a proposal aimed at partially returning students to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic as part of a hybrid learning model.
The board voted 4-3 against hybrid learning, keeping the district virtual through the end of the year with limited in-person groups. The board also approved a measure to allow some groups in-person instruction, including students at risk of failing or seniors who need additional help.
In Las Cruces, school officials rolled out their plan this week. It allows high school students who opted to return to attend class in person two days a week as early as Monday.
BELLEVILLE, Ill. — More mass COVID-19 vaccination sites are opening in southern Illinois this week. State officials say two sites in Carbondale, including at Southern Illinois University will open Friday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured a similar mass vaccination site Thursday in Belleville, which has administered 10,000 doses since opening this month.
Other mass vaccination sites include the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the Tinley Park Convention Center.
Pritzker’s visit comes as Illinois has administered nearly 2 million vaccine doses. Also Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,966 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 72 related deaths.
ALGIERS, Algeria — President Abdelmadjid Tebboune says Algeria will start producing Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine in six or seven months.
The announcement came Thursday in a televised address. Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said earlier this week that the vaccine will be produced by state laboratory Saidal. They did not provide details about production plans.
Algeria, a longtime Russian ally, used Sputnik to launch its vaccination campaign last month.
But some doctors have complained that initial deliveries of 50,000 doses of Sputnik and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine fall far short of need.
Algeria is also expecting deliveries of China’s vaccines and is eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX global program for developing countries.
New infections in the country have stabilized in recent weeks, and the government slightly relaxed curfew rules last week to let hairdressers, gyms and some stores to reopen.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Multiple vaccination locations in the Portland area have been forced to close Friday and Saturday because of snowy and icy weather.
That means about 10,000 appointments must be rescheduled. In addition, COVID-19 shipments to the state have been delayed due to weather.
GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Vaccine developer Novavax has agreed to provide 1.1 billion doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in more than 190 low- and middle-income countries.
The company said Thursday it has reached agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide the doses to the COVAX Facility, a project led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
They’re working with groups including UNICEF, the World Bank and charities to guarantee equitable access to vaccines against the coronavirus to all countries.
Novavax Inc., of Gaithersburg, and the Serum Institute of India, a top maker of vaccines for poor countries, will manufacture and distribute the Novavax vaccine. It’s still in two late-stage studies, one in the U.S. and Mexico and the other in the UK.
Novavax said testing has found the shot works against the original COVID-19 strain and two variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now circulating widely.