The Latest COVID Headlines

New Zealand Man Escapes Quarantine

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A man in New Zealand who had tested positive for the coronavirus faces criminal charges after he escaped from an Auckland quarantine hotel and returned home, according to authorities.

In New Zealand, people who test positive for the virus are routinely required to isolate in hotels run by the military. Authorities believe the man escaped early Thursday and was on the run for about 12 hours before police -- dressed in full protective gear -- arrested him about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters it wasn't yet clear how the man escaped the hotel, although closed circuit cameras showed a man hiding in a bush when a security guard walked past.

Under a new COVID-19 law passed last year, the man could face a fine or up to six months in jail if found guilty of failing to comply with a health order. New Zealand is currently battling an outbreak of the delta variant in Auckland.


Kathmandu Eases Restrictions

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) -- Authorities have ended many of the restrictions imposed in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and surrounding districts, allowing movie theaters, gymnasiums and sporting venues to open up for the first time since the pandemic hit last year.

The notice by Kathmandu District Administration Thursday said schools and colleges would, however, remain closed until further notice.

Restaurants will be allowed to have guests dining in and stores can now open late. There will also be no restriction on the movement of vehicles.

The latest lockdown was imposed in April when cases of COVID-19 spiked to a record high, causing shortages of hospital spaces, medicine, oxygen and medicines. There are still thousands of new cases reported daily and only about 15 percent of the population of have been fully vaccinated even though the inoculation campaign began in January.

The health ministry said there are so far 848,209 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nepal and 10,770 people have died.


Belgium's Royal Family Partially Confined

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Belgium's king and queen are partially confining themselves after a member of the royal family tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Royal Palace said Thursday that King Philippe and Queen Mathilde "decided, as a precautionary measure, to limit their contacts in the days to come, in line with the health regulations in force."

The palace statement provided no details about exactly who might have tested positive.


Modern Recalls Some Vaccine Doses in Japan

TOKYO (AP) -- Moderna Inc. and its Japanese partner are recalling more than 1 million doses of the U.S. drug maker's coronavirus vaccine after confirming that contamination reported last week was tiny particles of stainless steel.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is in charge of sale and distribution in Japan of the Moderna vaccine. The two companies said an investigation at a Spanish factory that produced the vials in question concluded the contamination occurred in the process of putting stops on the vials.

The companies on Aug. 26 announced suspension of 1.63 million doses produced at the line after reports of contamination. Japanese officials said about a half million people had received shots from the Moderna vials before the problem surfaced.

The trouble comes at a time Japan is pushing to accelerate vaccinations amid rising infections that are straining the Japanese health care system.

Pharmaceutical and health ministry officials say they do not believe the high-grade stainless steel poses health risks.


Taiwan Receives First Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwan has received its first Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine after a prolonged purchasing process that gave rise to a political blame game with China.

Taiwan had been unable to buy the vaccine itself directly from BioNTech, the German company that partnered with U.S.-based Pfizer to develop the vaccine.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking the deal while China denied any interference.

Two private companies and a Buddhist organization stepped in to buy the vaccine doses and donate them to Taiwan. The doses that arrived Thursday will be given to 12- to 17-year-olds.

Taiwan has been using AstraZeneca, Moderna and the domestically made Medigen vaccine to give 43% of its population at least one dose.


Ontario Requires Proof of Vaccination

TORONTO (AP) -- Ontario is the fourth Canadian province to announce residents will have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus to enter restaurants, theaters, gyms and other indoor public venues.

Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that the vaccination certificate program will take effect Sept. 22.

Initially, residents will show a PDF or printout of the vaccination receipt they received when they got the shots, along with a government-issued piece of ID such as a photo health card or driver's license.

The province is expected to launch a system in late October that will send everyone a QR code to accompany their vaccination receipt. It will also launch an app that will allow service providers to scan the QR codes as proof of vaccination.

British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba have also implemented some form of vaccine certificate program.


OK Judge Temporarily Bans State Mask Law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday said she will temporarily block a state law banning public school mask mandates, but students or their parents can opt-out of the requirement if they choose.

Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling.

Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement.

The ruling drew praise from Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed the law and opposes mask mandates without exemptions, and Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which joined the lawsuit brought by four parents who oppose the law.


WHO Head: Vaccination Before Boosters

BERLIN (AP) -- The head of the World Health Organization says he opposes "widespread use of boosters" for healthy people for now, underscoring the need to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke in Berlin on Wednesday. He says the U.N. health agency last week witnessed the first decline in new global cases in more than two months.

He says that "this is obviously very welcome but it doesn't mean much," since many countries are still seeing steep increases and "shocking inequities" in access to vaccines.

Tedros says he is calling for a moratorium on booster shots at least until the end of September "to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up."

He says "third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death."


70% of Spanish Population Vaccinated

MADRID (AP) -- Spain has reached its initial goal of fully vaccinating 70% of its population for the coronavirus, according to the health ministry.

Despite a slow rollout of vaccines at the start of the year, Spain's public health care system has fully vaccinated more than 33 million people. Over 92% of those over 40 years old are fully covered.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says vaccinations will continue because of the coronavirus, which is forcing certain health restriction to remain in place.

Also, Spain's board of vaccine experts has recommended a third shot of vaccine be administered to those people with weak immune systems, such as transplant recipients. Its national and regional health authorities will take up the issue on Sept. 8 when they hold their weekly meeting on the pandemic.


WHO Opens Hub in Berlin to Prepare for Future Pandemics

BERLIN (AP) -- The World Health Organization has inaugurated a new "hub" in Berlin meant to better prepare the globe for future pandemics.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday launched the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says it's part of an effort to build "a world safer from upcoming pandemics in the future." The German government is investing $100 million in the facility.

It aims to promote better information-sharing and analysis, leading to better coordinated decision-making after the patchy global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief, says "the faster we identify new infectious disease risks, the faster we can respond."