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The Latest: Sri Lankan officials say vaccinations advancing

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2021, file photo, Sri Lankan nursing staff administer COVID-19 vaccines to front-line health workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka. India has gifted neighbors, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, with more than 5 million doses. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan health officials said on Saturday that more than half of the health workers and frontline military and police officers have so far been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sri Lanka last week began inoculating it’s frontline health workers, military troops and police officers against COVID-19 amid warnings that the sector faces a collapse with a number of health staff being infected with the new coronavirus.

The ministry had planned to first vaccinate 150,000 health workers and selected 115,000 military and police personnel.

By Saturday, 156,310 had been given with COVISHIELD vaccine. India had donated 500,000 does of Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine also known as the COVISHIELD which is the only vaccine approved by the regulatory body in Sri Lanka.

Health ministry says Sri Lanka has ordered 18 millions doses of COVISHIELD vaccines and also had asked to allocate 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNtech. Besides, China has promised to provide 300,000 shots of Sinopharm vaccine this month.

Sri Lanka has witnessed a fresh outbreak of the disease since last year’s October when two clusters — one centered on a garment factory and other on the fish market — emerged in the capital Colombo and it’s suburbs.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Biden administration seeks to go big, fast and alone on COVID relief. Pentagon OKs troops to assist with vaccines. Spain says 1st case of Brazilian variant in Madrid. “Hug tent" provides safe space to embrace in Colorado. Coronavirus cases drop at US homes for elderly.

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Follow all of 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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HONOLULU -- Hawaii officials are urging the public to avoid Super Bowl parties this weekend while announcing that a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 has been detected on Oahu.

One individual with no travel history has been confirmed to have the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom. One close contact of this person also tested positive for COVID-19. The same variant has already been detected in more than 30 U.S. states.

Hawaii’s governor says the way to avoid spreading the coronavirus remains the same: wear a mask, keep your distance, stay home when sick and wash your hands.

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Friday that she would end most restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Iowa.

Reynolds issued a proclamation that removes a mask requirement for those spending 15 minutes or more in an indoor area within 6 feet of people not in their household. She also ended mask requirements for those in state buildings and some businesses, such as barber shops.

The governor’s new order also ends limits on the number of customers in a business or a requirement that they stay socially distant.

Reynolds issued the earlier restrictions in November when hospitals were struggling to care for a surge of coronavirus patients. Those numbers have dropped, though the state typically reports dozens of deaths each day.

On Friday, the state reported another 34 deaths, bringing the total to 5,067 killed by the virus.

The new rules take effect Sunday.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and his wife have donated plasma to help patients who have COVID-19 recover more quickly from the disease.

McMaster and the first lady contracted COVID-19 in December and doctors encourage people who recover from the disease to donate the blood product. The plasma is then transfused into the bodies of current hospitalized COVID-19 patients to lessen their symptoms and hopefully help them recover faster.

The 73-year-old governor spent nearly two hours donating his plasma. Officials say it could help up to four COVID-19 patients. Red Cross officials say demand for the plasma has increased 250% since October.

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union says Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school district officials have walked away from negotiations about COVID-19 safety protocols.

The CTU news release Friday came hours after Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said they have made their “last, best and final offer.” The union’s statement says that offer is woefully inadequate, pointing out that it calls for in-person classes only to be paused if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in 50% of the city’s public schools.

It is not clear what these developments will mean on Monday, when classes are scheduled to resume.

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TOPEKA, Kan — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says both she and her husband had fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits filed with the state in their names.

The Democratic governor’s disclosure Friday to reporters came amid an increasingly intense focus by the Republican-controlled Legislature on bogus unemployment claims and ongoing criticism of the state Department of Labor’s operations. The department has seen spikes in claims from jobless workers and bogus ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, including since late November.

Kelly said both she and first gentleman Ted Daughety received Department of Labor notices “months ago” about obtaining unemployment benefits. The governor’s office said the notices came in early fall and that Kelly quickly went to the department’s website and reported the fraud.

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TAMPA, Fla. — The NFL is telling the federal government it will make the remaining of the league’s 30 stadiums available for COVID-19 vaccination sites.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is making the offer to President Joe Biden in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. There are already seven NFL stadiums serving as vaccine sites. They are in Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Houston, Miami and New England. Goodell says stadiums can get prepared quickly because of previous use as virus testing centers and election sites.

Goodell says the offer on vaccination sites was made in conjunction with the NFL inviting 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to attend the Super Bowl for free Sunday when Tampa Bay hosts Kansas City.

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans bars will be shut down, even for takeout service, throughout next week’s Mardi Gras weekend.

That’s usually among the busiest times of the year, but Mayor LaToya Cantrell says it is an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Many bars already were closed to indoor service. Cantrell’s announcement Friday means they can’t sell drinks to go -- a popular option year-round and especially during Mardi Gras. The city is also expanding the closure order to include bars with “conditional” food permits that allowed them to operate as restaurants during various pandemic shutdowns.

The bar shutdown begins next Friday and runs through Feb. 16.

Cantrell and other city officials say businesses violating the rules face on-the-spot shutdowns and loss of licenses.

“If by chance you have an aversion to wearing a mask, stay where you’re at,” says City Council member Jay Banks, who knows people who have died from COVID-19. “If your expectation is the Mardi Gras of the past, don’t waste your money.”

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MADRID — The Spanish Health Ministry has decided not to administer the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine to people over 55 years.

The ministry said Friday the vaccine, the first doses of which are to arrive in Spain this weekend, will be used for health care workers and assistants who are not on the front line.

Several other European countries have already placed age restrictions on the vaccine because of a lack of data regarding its efficacy in older age groups.

Spain is currently using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for residents and workers in nursing homes. It has so far administered 1.98 million vaccine doses, with more than 680,000 people having received the required two doses.

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BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Health Ministry approved the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, opening the way for a vaccination campaign later this month.

Lebanon’s interior minister says the country will begin easing the nearly one-month lockdown in four stages next week. The announcement by minister Mohamed Fehmi came as the nation registered a new daily record of 98 deaths.

Fehmi says the lockdown easing starts Monday, but a nationwide curfew will remain in place for two more weeks. Supermarkets and groceries and businesses related to agriculture, poultry, meat and milk production can open first.

Lebanon, a country of six million people including 1 million Syrian refugees, registered 3,071 new cases and raised the total to more than 315,000. The Health Ministry has registered 3,495 total confirmed deaths.

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MADRID — Spain has reported its first case of the Brazilian variant in a passenger arriving at Madrid airport.

The Madrid regional health department said Friday the 44-year-old man arrived from Brazil on Jan. 29 and had a negative PCR document but tested positive in an antibody test at the airport. He was taken to a city hospital, which later confirmed the variant.

Spain this week began tightening restrictions on flights from Brazil and South Africa owing to variants detected in those countries. It already has similar restrictions with Britain.

The 14-day average infection rate per 100,000 population continued to ease, dropping to 750 on Friday from 783 on Thursday. ICU bed occupancy by coronavirus patients remains at 44%.

On Friday, Spain reported 28,565 new coronavirus cases, resuming a downward trend. Spain has registered 2.9 million cases and a confirmed death toll of 61,386.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has set a new daily record for COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care with 904 patients on Friday.

The Austrian government offered to take in five COVID-19 patients and five non-COVID patients to relieve Portuguese hospitals. The Portuguese government says it was considering the offer. Earlier this week, a German army medical team arrived in Lisbon to open eight ICU beds.

Overall, Friday was the fourth day in a row that total hospitalizations were lower, at 6,412.

Health authorities on Friday reported 234 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 9,920. The nearly 14,000 new cases was the second-highest during the pandemic, increasing the total to more than 755,000 confirmed cases

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WASHINGTON — The White House says the Pentagon will deploy troops to assist Americans getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt announced Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It means about 1,000 active duty military personnel will deploy to help state vaccination centers.

President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Two are opening in California, and Slavitt says military personnel will arrive at those centers in a little over a week.

Slavitt says support from the military will support vaccination sites, helping administer thousands of shots a day. Currently about 6.9 million Americans have received the full two-dose regimen required to get maximum protection from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Tensions are running high in some state capitols over coronavirus precautions after this year’s legislative sessions began with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The Associated Press tally shows at least 40 state lawmakers have already contracted the coronavirus in 2021. More than 330 state lawmakers have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Most of the tensions are in Republican-controlled statehouses, where Democrats have been raising concerns about GOP colleagues who don’t wear masks or practice social distancing.

The Missouri Capitol has had at least 10 coronavirus cases among lawmakers in 2021. Some lawmakers have refused to say whether they contracted the virus and aren’t required to tell legislative administrators.

Missouri’s legislature has no mask requirement, no formal contact tracing and no ability for lawmakers to vote remotely. Social distancing also is difficult in the 163-member House chamber where desks are packed tightly together.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says the European Union has faced difficulties in the rollout of the vaccination program.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in a joint news conference via video, both reaffirmed they are fully supporting the EU vaccine purchase process.

Macron says the EU hadn’t anticipated “such rapid success” of the messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that mostly produced in the United States.

Both vaccines have been the first to be approved in the EU. The AstraZeneca vaccine was authorized last week.

Macron says the EU, which has ordered a supply of about 2.3 billion vaccines, has taken steps to boost production on its soil and accelerate vaccinations.

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NEW YORK -- Yankee Stadium is open as a COVID-19 vaccination site and attracting lines of people from surrounding neighborhoods in the Bronx.

The megasite is being restricted to Bronx residents to boost vaccination rates in the city borough that has the highest percentage of positive coronavirus test results. The New York Yankees’ home opened for appointments for qualified residents early Friday under damp skies.

The site run jointly by the city and state expects to handle 15,000 people during its first week. It will be open seven days a week.

New York state leads the country with more than 44,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden is using the Defense Production Act to help bolster vaccine production, at-home coronavirus testing kits and surgical gloves.

Tim Manning, the White House’s COVID-19 supply coordinator, says the administration will help Pfizer clear a bottleneck around capabilities with vaccine production by giving the drugmaker first priority to needed supplies.

Manning says the U.S. is also investing in six manufacturers to develop at-home and point-of-care tests for the coronavirus, with the goal of producing 60 million tests by the end of the summer.

Manning says, “The country is well behind where we need to be in testing,” and the new contracts will help boost supply.

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LONDON — The developers of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine say the shot appears to work against the variant detected in Britain late last year.

It’s similar to previously reported results by other vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna.

Andrew Pollard of Oxford University, which helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, says the shot also appears to reduce the amount of virus in people infected with COVID-19. That could potentially slow the disease’s spread. The research hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Sarah Gilbert of Oxford says it should be straightforward to tweak their vaccine to account for the variant detected in the U.K. She says vaccine manufacturers could quickly insert a new gene sequence from the variant into the virus needed to make the vaccine. Gilbert adds scientists are already in talks with regulatory agencies about how they might quickly authorize any new vaccine. It’s a similar process for seasonal flu vaccines.

Also, researchers are studying the potential effectiveness of the vaccine against the variant that arose in South Africa.