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France’s go-slow vaccination strategy backfires

Only about 500 people were vaccinated in the first week, rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Professor of geriatrics Pierre Jouanny receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the at the Champmaillot nursing home in Dijon, central France on Dec. 27. France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired.
Professor of geriatrics Pierre Jouanny receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the at the Champmaillot nursing home in Dijon, central France on Dec. 27. France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired. [ PHILIPPE DESMAZES | AP ]
Published Jan. 4, 2021

PARIS — France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired. Only about 500 people were vaccinated in the first week, rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

President Emmanuel Macron is holding a special meeting with top government officials Monday to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.

The slow rollout was blamed on mismanagement and staffing shortages during end-of-year vacations.

It was also attributed to a complex consent policy designed to accommodate broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.

Doctors and opposition politicians pleaded Monday for speedier access to vaccines.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING AROUND THE WORLD AND NATION REGARDING THE CORONAVIRUS:

ROME — Italy registered considerably fewer confirmed new coronavirus infections on Monday, but it also saw a roughly 25% day-to-day reduction in the number of swab tests performed, a not uncommon development after a weekend.

With 10,800 new COVID-19 cases, Italy’s pandemic tally of confirmed infections rose to 2,166,244. There were 348 deaths since Sunday, one more than in the previous 24-hour period, according to Health Ministry figures.

With a known death toll of 75,680 as of Monday, Italy, along with Britain, has registered the highest count of pandemic dead in Europe.

The Italian government is weighing whether to extend, lift or modify partial lockdown measures which apply during the holiday period, which ends on Jan. 6. Separately, operators of cinemas, gyms, pools and other businesses currently shuttered are pressing for permission to re-open when a government decree, aimed at limiting opportunities for crowding, expires on Jan. 15.

Italy has been struggling to rein in the transmission of coronavirus infections, which surged in fall after a significant summer reduction in cases.

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LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal has begun inoculating staff and residents of elderly care homes against COVID-19.

Officials said Tuesday they hope to vaccinate the target of 200,000 people at care homes by the end of February.

Last week, frontline health workers were the first in Portugal to be vaccinated.

From next month, vaccines will also be available for people aged 50 or more with underlying health problems, such as lung or heart deficiencies, before being extended to the rest of the population.

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LONDON — Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says that from Tuesday, people in Scotland are legally required to stay at home except for essential reasons to curb a renewed surge of coronavirus infections.

Sturgeon told lawmakers Monday that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for at least the whole of January to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.

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Under the new lockdown rules, which are broadly similar to those imposed during the first peak of the pandemic in spring, people can go out for exercise but can only meet one other person from another household. School closures are extended until February except for children of key workers and children under social care.

Sturgeon said: “I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”

Scotland, which has its own devolved government, has often imposed stricter coronavirus restrictions than those in England throughout the pandemic.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a televised news conference Monday evening and says Parliament will meet on Wednesday. He previously said that more severe restrictions are coming.

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BERLIN — Austria is effectively lengthening a national shutdown by a week until Jan. 24 after the government abandoned plans to allow people to open up shops and other facilities to people who had tested negative for the coronavirus.

Austria’s current lockdown, its third, started on Dec. 26. Its original plan was to have restaurants, nonessential shops and haidressers, among others, reopen from Jan. 18 for people who could prove they had tested negative for COVID-19.

But the Austria Press Agency reported Monday that Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that wouldn’t be possible due to resistance from the country’s opposition to the concept of people “testing themselves free.”

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BOSTON — Authorities say dozens of positive coronavirus cases have been traced back to Christmas services at a Massachusetts church.

The Woburn Board of Health has been working with the state to notify people who attended one of four services Dec. 23 and 24 at Genesis Community Church in Woburn, Mayor Scott Galvin tells The Boston Globe.

The mayor says the church is cooperating with authorities. Officials say at least 44 cases have been traced to the church.

Genesis in a statement says it is encouraging anyone who attended the services to get tested, whether symptomatic or not, and helping those who need to quarantine to prevent further transmission. Services are now being held online.

The church statement says: “We are deeply saddened to learn that people within Genesis tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to make sure this does not spread any further.”

Under state guidelines, houses of worship are limited to 25% of capacity. The church said it took proper precautions, including preregistration to attend and requiring masks and social distancing.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch health ministry says it is bringing forward the start of its coronavirus vaccinations by two days, with the first shots being administered Wednesday.

The government has faced criticism for its late start in delivering vaccinations while other European Union nations already have begun.

The ministry said Monday that the first shots will be given Wednesday to care home staff and frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

The program will start at a central vaccination location in the town of Veghel, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Amsterdam, for care home staff, and in hospitals for frontline health care workers.

Over the subsequent days, it will expand to many other locations across the Netherlands.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says impatience in Germany with what is widely being perceived as a slow start to coronavirus vaccinations is understandable, but things will improve.

Spokesman Steffen Seibert also said Monday that the government stands by its decision last year to have the European Union order vaccines for the whole 27-nation bloc.

Nearly 265,000 vaccinations had been reported to Germany’s national disease control center by Monday, a week after the campaign started. But some critics are pointing to faster clearance of vaccines and inoculation campaigns in other countries including the U.K., the U.S. and Israel and faulting the EU’s strategy in ordering vaccines.

Seibert told reporters that “the impatience and the many questions people are now asking are entirely understandable.” He said that “some things can and will improve.”

Seibert said that choosing to order vaccines along with Germany’s EU partners “was and is the right way” to proceed. He said that for a country in the middle of Europe with many borders, “everyone for themselves cannot be the way.”

Health Ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz said 1.3 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine were delivered to Germany before the end of 2020 and another 670,000 are due on Friday. Germany has 83 million people.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities on Monday announced that the schools will partially reopen from next week, after they had been closed for nearly three months due to a COVID-19 surge.

Accordingly, primary classes will commence on Jan. 11 while Grade 11 is expected to resume on Jan. 25. However, the education ministry has decided not to commence schools in the capital Colombo and it’s suburbs from where COVID-19 cases are still detected from those areas.

Sri Lanka closed schools in October when the second wave of the COVID-19 erupted after two clusters — one centered on a garment factory and the other on a fish market — emerged in and around Colombo.

In November, schools in some areas reopened, but they were also again closed for the school holidays in December.

Sri Lanka has also banned public gatherings and imposed restrictions on public transportation.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. health and human services secretary is shooting down the idea of expanding the number of Americans getting a COVID-19 vaccine by giving them only one dose instead of the two being administered now.

Alex Azar says the U.S. is “holding in reserve that second dose” because that’s what the science says to do.

Some health experts have suggested that, with vaccine supplies short, people might get partial protection from a single dose and that should be considered as a way to reach far more people faster. But Azar says “the data just isn’t there to support that and we’re not going to do that.”

The two vaccines approved in the U.S. so far, one by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech and the other by Moderna, each require double doses.

Azar spoke Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Azar says the U.S. has reported 1.5 million vaccinations in the last 72 hours, a “very rapid uptick” that he predicts will continue.

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LA LÍNEA DE LA CONCEPCIÓN, Spain — Fears of disruptions following Britain’s departure from the European Union were replaced by coronavirus-related restrictions on border traffic between Spain and Gibraltar on Monday, the first working day at the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European mainland.

Only a share of essential workers from an average of 15,000 who cross the fence between Spain’s La Línea de la Concepción and the British territory on a normal day were venturing into Gibraltar, which went into lockdown late Saturday amid a surge in virus cases that is putting under pressure its limited health infrastructure.

Under the new stay-at-home order, the 30,000 residents on the British speck of land on Spain’s southern tip are only permitted to venture out for work, exercise, medical appointments or to buy essential items. Gibraltar authorities have reported more than 1,300 new cases during the last month, more than double from the levels in early December, and are investigating if the surge is linked to the new virus variant that has rapidly spread in Britain.

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PARIS — France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired, leaving just a few hundred people vaccinated after the first week and rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Emmanuel Macron is holding a special meeting with top government officials Monday afternoon to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.

In France, a country of 67 million people, just 516 people were vaccinated in the first six days while Germany’s first-week total surpassed 200,000 and Italy’s was over 100,000. Millions, meanwhile, have been vaccinated in the U.S. and China.

The slow vaccine rollout is being blamed on mismanagement and staffing shortages during end-of-year vacations – as well as a complex consent policy designed to accommodate broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.

Doctors and opposition politicians pleaded Monday for speedier access to vaccines.

“It’s a state scandal,” said Jean Rottner, president of the Grand-Est region of eastern France, where infections are surging and some hospitals are overwhelmed. “Getting vaccinated is becoming more complicated than buying a car.”

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BRUSSELS — Belgium is stepping up its coronavirus vaccination campaign in nursing homes, where more than half of of all COVID-19 deaths in the country have been recorded.

Amid strong criticism over its slowness in deploying vaccines, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said Monday that 87,000 shots will be given every week to nursing home residents and staff.

Speaking to RTL radio, Vandenbroucke said Belgium took a cautious approach in rolling out vaccines and made safety a priority, adding that logistical issues due to the super-cold temperatures needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine did not help.

Vandenbroucke took satisfaction in the high rate of vaccination so far, with about 85% of the nursing home residents willing to take the shots.

Last month, Amnesty International said Belgium authorities “abandoned” thousands of elderly people who died in nursing homes during the pandemic following an investigation in which the group cited “human rights violations.”

And last week, authorities said 27 elderly people died in an outbreak at a Belgian nursing home from a super-spreading St. Nick party. One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Belgium has reported more than 19,700 deaths linked to the virus.

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LONDON — Britain on Monday took another giant step in the fight against COVID-19, ramping up its immunization program by giving the first shots in the world from the vaccine created by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, was the first to get the new vaccine shot, administered by the chief nurse at Oxford University Hospital. Pinker said he was so pleased and now he can “really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.”

Since Dec. 8, Britain’s National Health Service has been using a vaccine made by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech to inoculate health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine boosts that medical arsenal and is cheaper and easier to use since it does not require the super-cold storage needed by the Pfizer vaccine.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was being administered at a small number of U.K. hospitals for the first few days so authorities can watch out for any adverse reactions. But hundreds of new vaccination sites — at both hospitals as well as local doctors’ offices — will launch this week, joining the more than 700 already in operation, NHS England said.

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