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The Latest: Novavax agrees to arrangement with SKorean firm

Monday, April 12, 2021 | The Associated Press


A member of the bar staff carries drinks to outdoor tables at the reopening of the Figure of Eight pub, in Birmingham, England, Monday April 12, 2021. Millions of people in England will get their first chance in months for haircuts, casual shopping and restaurant meals on Monday, as the government takes the next step on its lockdown-lifting road map. (Jacob King/PA via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea -- Health officials in South Korea say Maryland-based Novavax has agreed to a licensing arrangement that will allow a South Korean biotech firm to produce its coronavirus vaccines for later this year.

Kwon Deok-cheol, South Korea’s health minister, said Monday that SK Bioscience plans to produce 20 million Novavax shots through September, all of which will be used locally. Production could start as early as June.

Food and Drug Safety Minister Kim Gang-lip, who joined Kwon in a news conference, said Novavax’s vaccines are currently being reviewed by regulators in Europe and Britain, but didn’t speculate on when the shots would be approved in major countries.

SK Bioscience is already producing vaccines developed by AstraZeneca at its manufacturing facility in Andong. South Korea has mainly relied on these shots since it launched its mass immunization campaign in February, but there are fears over possible shortages as officials wrestle with a slower vaccine rollout than many other developed economies.

While South Korea hopes to get 150 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this year through bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies and the WHO-backed COVAX program, it has got just over 3 million doses so far.

A little over 1.15 million people have received their first doses as of Monday. Officials have so far maintained their goal of vaccinating 70% of the country’s 51 million people before the start of the new influenza season around November.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Muslims are navigating coronavirus regulations for their second Ramadan in the shadow of the pandemic

— China's top disease control official said current vaccines offer low protection, mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost effectiveness

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MADRID — A Spanish pharmaceutical company says it’s setting up a new production line that would produce millions of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine doses on European Union soil later this year.

Rovi’s existing facility in southern Spain’s Granada will receive an undisclosed investment to produce the active ingredient of Moderna’s jab, the company announced Monday in a press release.

The expected output will be up to 100 million vaccine doses per year starting in the third quarter of 2021, Rovi said, adding that the production will be destined to markets outside the United States.

The facility will be the first of its kind in the EU, adding to the production facilities that the Swiss biotech company Lonza has been operating there.

Rovi had until now operated production lines to fill vials with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, but the active component had to be imported into the country.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “behave responsibly” as shops, gyms, hairdressers, restaurant patios and beer gardens reopen after months of lockdown.

Monday sees the easing of restrictions that have been in place in England since early January to suppress a surge in coronavirus infections linked to a more transmissible new variant of the virus.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said businesses were “excited and desperate” to welcome customers back.

At a hairdresser in Birmingham, customer Amy Smith said she was thrilled to be getting a trim at last.

“It’s great to be here, I’ve been going with this weird little topknot for a few months now,” she said. “I’m going to go to a beer garden experience later, so it’s going to be good.”

Many people were planning outdoor meals and drinks, despite unseasonably cold weather that brought snow to London and many other areas.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar plans to ease lockdown.

Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths.

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MANILA, Philippines — The hard-hit Philippine capital and four nearby provinces have been placed under a lighter coronavirus lockdown to avoid further damage to an already battered economy despite a continuing surge in infections and deaths.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Metropolitan Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, a region of more than 25 million people, would remain under lighter restrictions up to the end of April after a two-week hard lockdown. An 11-hour night curfew has been shortened to nine hours in the Manila metropolis.

Most residents, except for workers in authorized businesses and medical and government law and order personnel will have to remain at home from Monday except for urgent errands like grocery runs and medical emergencies. Essential businesses will remain open, including hospitals, supermarkets, convenience stores and banks, but amusement parks, movie houses, cockfighting arenas, fitness gyms and beauty salons will remain shut.

“Our emerging strategy is to increase our bed capacities instead of closing the economy,” said Roque, who spoke in a televised news briefing from a Manila hospital after contracting COVID-19 like many Cabinet members.

The government has struggled to open more isolation and treatment centers after many hospitals were overwhelmed starting in March by the worst surge in coronavirus infections. More than 1,000 additional beds could now be used, many of them in the government-run National Center for Mental Health, officials said.

The Philippines has long been a Southeast Asian coronavirus hotspot, with about 865,000 confirmed infections and nearly 15,000 deaths.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip has recorded the highest daily deaths since the coronavirus broke out in the Palestinian enclave.

The Health Ministry reported Monday that 17 Palestinians have died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 694.

Gaza is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and its Hamas rulers had managed to keep it relatively free of the virus by imposing obligatory quarantine on the few dozens returnees who cross in via Israel or Egypt.

But in August, the virus escaped the walls of the isolation centers and spread rapidly. After a significant decrease of infections in February, Hamas removed all precautionary measures and cases resurged.

The vaccination rollout is limited. The territory of 2 million people has received vaccines for only 40,000 people, including a shipment via the global COVAX program.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand is requiring that all border workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of the month.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that beginning immediately, employers would need to consider alternative options for any of their employees who haven’t been vaccinated. That could mean those workers are redeployed to roles away from the border or fired.

Ardern had previously set April as a deadline for vaccinating frontline workers but on Monday talked about it in stronger terms after three workers at a quarantine facility caught the virus.

New Zealand has stamped out the spread of the virus within the community, so returning travelers who may have caught COVID-19 abroad are considered the biggest vulnerability.

Ardern said 86% of workers at quarantine facilities have already been vaccinated, although that group only represents a small proportion of all border workers.

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SEOUL, South Korea — The new mayor of South Korea’s capital demanded swift approval of coronavirus self-testing kits, saying that his city urgently needs more tools to fight the pandemic and keep struggling businesses open.

Oh Se-hoon spoke Monday as Seoul and nearby metropolitan towns shut down hostess bars, night clubs and other high-risk entertainment venues to slow transmissions. Similar businesses were also shut down in the southern port city of Busan.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 350 of the country’s 587 new cases were from the greater Seoul area.

The conservative Oh took office upon winning a by-election last week. He used a news conference to criticize the national liberal government’s anti-virus campaign, which he said was failing to slow infections while also hurting businesses and livelihoods.

He said self-testing kits could be sold at pharmacies or supermarkets and produce results within 30 minutes, which would allow businesses more freedom to operate safely.

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said earlier this month that authorities are reviewing whether to approve rapid home tests as they explore ways to cast a wider net to detect virus carriers with no or mild symptoms.

But the review has proceeded slowly with some experts saying such tests would do more harm than good because they are less accurate than standard laboratory tests.

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TOKYO — Tokyo has adopted tougher measures against the coronavirus as it struggles to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Olympics in a country where less than 1% of people have been vaccinated.

Japan expanded its vaccination drive Monday to older residents, with the first shots being given in about 120 selected places around the country.

The tougher COVID-19 rules allow Tokyo’s governor to mandate shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, punish violators and compensate those who comply.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged residents to be cautious while vaccinations are in an early stage. “We are still unarmed as we fight against the resurgence of the infections," she said.

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7 Sports Betting Stocks That Will Shine Beyond March Madness

One of the many consequences of the novel coronavirus was the shutdown of live sports. For sports-minded individuals, one of the events that were missed the most was the NCAA Basketball Tournament affectionately known as March Madness.

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