The Latest: Hard-hit French region faces weekend lockdowns

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LONDON — Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has led to a sharp drop in hospitalizations.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland found that the Pfizer vaccine reduced hospital admissions by as much as 85% and the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot cut admissions by up to 94%.

The findings were based on a comparison of data from people who had received their first dose of vaccine and those who had not received an inoculation. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period during which 21% of Scotland’s population received their first shot.

“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,’’ said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has caused hospitalizations to plummet

Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed, but experts say the campaign is still moving slowly

— Elementary schools and kindergartens reopen in over half of Germany’s 16 states

— Every Democratic vote is needed on $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but minimum wage and other issues will force choices

— Portugal finds 7 cases of coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil

— 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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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is laying out a road map for lifting lockdown — but millions of people in the U.K. longing for a haircut or a meal in a restaurant still face a long wait.

Johnson is set to announce a plan Monday to ease restrictions incrementally, starting by reopening schools in England on March 8. People will be allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors from the same day.

Three weeks later, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six. But restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are likely to remain closed until at least April.

The government says progress will depend on vaccines proving effective, infection rates remaining low and no new virus variants emerging that throw the plans into disarray.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government’s plan for easing restrictions was “steady as she goes.”

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is the latest European Union country to detect a COVID-19 variant first identified in Manaus, Brazil.

Portuguese health authorities said late Sunday they had detected seven cases of the variant, warning that it is highly contagious and may be able to infect people who previously have had COVID-19.

More than 150,000 Brazilians live in Portugal. The two countries have close cultural and economic ties.

Portugal was for several weeks last month the world’s worst-affected country in the pandemic, with the highest number of new daily cases and deaths, but a lockdown since Jan. 15 has eased the pressure on the public health service.

The European Centre for Disease Control says Portugal’s 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people is 590. That makes it the fourth highest in the 30 countries monitored by the EU agency.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths fell from 2.35 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 7 to 0.90 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 21, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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BERLIN — Elementary schools and kindergartens in more than half of Germany’s 16 states reopened Monday after two months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes despite growing signs that the decline in case numbers in Germany is flattening out again and even rising in some areas.

Germany’s education minister, Anja Karliczek, has defended the decision to reopen schools, saying younger children in particular benefit from learning together in groups.

Karliczek told German news agency dpa that schools should use “all available means to prevent virus transmission” and expressed confidence that state education officials — who are in charge of school matters in Germany — would consider infection numbers when deciding where to reopen.

Germany’s disease control agency say there were 4,369 newly confirmed cases and 62 deaths in the past day, though Monday’s numbers are often low due to reporting delays over the weekend.

Education unions have called for teachers and kindergarten workers to be moved into a higher priority group for vaccinations, an idea that government officials have said they will consider.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan fast bowler Lahiru Kumara has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a cricket tour of the West Indies, Sri Lanka Cricket said Monday.

He was tested positive during pre-departure tests of the squad and was isolated.

Kumara is the third member of the team to test positive for COVID-19. Coach Mickey Arthur and batsman Lahiru Thirimanne earlier tested positive, throwing the tour in doubt. However, the team was expected to depart for Antigua as scheduled later Monday.

Health authorities said on Monday that they have decided to purchase 10 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine from neighboring India. It is the only vaccine currently approved by the regulatory body in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is currently administering 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine donated by India.

Sri Lanka has reported 79,999 COVID-19 patients, including 445 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will mark 500,000 U.S. lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and candle-lighting ceremony at the White House.

The nation is expected to pass the grim milestone on Monday, just over a year after the first confirmed U.S. fatality of the pandemic.

The White House said Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honor those who lost their lives. He will be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. They will participate in the moment of silence and lighting ceremony.

Biden has made a point of recognizing the lives lost from the coronavirus. His first event upon arriving in Washington for his inauguration a month ago was to deliver remarks at a COVID-19 memorial ceremony.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will remove remaining coronavirus restrictions from Auckland on Monday after an outbreak discovered in the largest city fades.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 72,000 tests had found no evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

Auckland was placed into a three-day lockdown this month after a mother, father and daughter tested positive. Another five contacts later tested positive. After the lockdown ended, Auckland continued to have restrictions including on gatherings.

The source of the outbreak remains unclear, although authorities continue to investigate whether there is a connection between infected airline passengers and the mother, who works at a company which cleans laundry for airlines.

New Zealand has an elimination strategy with the coronavirus and has managed to stamp out its spread in the community.

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LOS ANGELES — California’s death toll during the coronavirus pandemic has topped 49,000, even as the rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to plummet across the state.

California reported another 408 deaths Sunday, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 49,105 — the highest in the nation.

Health officials said Sunday that the number of patients in California hospitals with COVID-19 has slipped below 7,000, a drop of more than a third over two weeks.

The 6,760 new confirmed cases reported Sunday are more than 85% below the mid-December peak of about 54,000 in one day. Total cases are approaching 3.45 million.

The positivity rate for people being tested has been falling for weeks, which means fewer people will end up in hospitals.

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CODOGNO, Italy — Italians are marking one year since their country was shocked to discover it had the first known locally transmitted COVID-19 case in the West.

With church services Sunday and wreath-laying ceremonies, including in small northern towns which were the first to be hard-hit by the pandemic, citizens paid tribute to the dead. Italy has a confirmed death toll from the virus of 95,500.

While the first wave of infections largely engulfed Lombardy and other northern regions, a second wave, starting in fall 2020, has raced throughout Italy, which so far has registered some 2.8 million cases.

The first locally transmitted case was discovered in a 38-year-old patient in a hospital in Codogno, Lombardy. That patient survived.

But in the northeastern town of Vo, which registered the nation’s first known death on Feb. 21, 2020, officials unveiled a memorial plaque at a tree-planting ceremony.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says about a third of the coronavirus vaccine doses delayed by this week’s winter weather have been delivered this weekend.

Press secretary Jen Psaki says the administration has been working with shippers and states to close the roughly 6 million dose backlog created this week as power outages closed some vaccination centers and icy weather stranded some vaccine in shipping hubs.

Psaki says the administration is making sure those catch-up doses out to vaccination centers “as soon as they can handle them.”

Speaking to ABC’s “This Week,” Psaki says, “We’ve been able to get about 2 million of those 6 million doses out,” adding, “We expect to rapidly catch up this week.”

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