The Latest: Senate OKs $1.9T COVID bill, nears final passage

Saturday, March 6, 2021 | The Associated Press

NAT Trump
In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., leads a round of applause for support staff as he speaks before the final vote on the Senate version of the COVID-19 relief bill in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden.

The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries.

Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary.

The bill now heads to the House for final passage.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Senate passes $1.9T COVID bill, nears final passage

— California OKs reopening of ball parks, Disneyland

— Europe struggles as infectious variants power virus surge

— CDC Study: Mask mandates helps slow spread, indoor dining precarious

— Follow 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:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The world’s most famous sled dog race starts Sunday, but this year’s edition of the Iditarod will see a lot changes forced by the pandemic.

The race will be shorter this year, only 860 miles instead of a thousand. This will be the first time in race history that the finish line won’t be in Nome. Instead, mushers will go to the ghost town of Iditarod and loop back to the Anchorage area for the finish. Mushers will undergo vigorous COVID-19 testing before and during the race and if anyone gets a confirmed positive test, they are out of the race.

Most of the rural Alaska villages will be bypassed for safety reasons, leaving mushers to sleep in tents.

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HELSINKI — Finland says it has decided to postpone municipal elections set for April 18 until June 13 due to health concerns caused by a rising number of coronavirus cases in the Nordic country.

Finland’s Justice Ministry says, with the exception of the opposition populist Finns Party, all political parties represented at the Parliament agreed on Saturday to the ministry’s proposal of delaying the local elections by some two months.

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson says estimates from health officials showing Finland could see daily infection levels in a range of 2,600-11,200 by mid-April if the current upward trend continues with some 600-700 daily coronavirus cases.

Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, has recorded more than 60,000 cases and 767 confirmed deaths.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor extended the mask mandate for another month and state Health Officer Scott Harris is recommending people keep wearing masks in public after it expires.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended Alabama’s mask order until April 9. Harris says he hopes April 10 will look a lot like April 9 across the state.

“There is nothing magical about the date of April 9. We don’t want the public to think that’s the day we all stop taking precautions,” he says.

Alabama has the second-highest positivity rate in the nation at 19.9%. State health officials urge people to maintain precautions, particularly during spring break and Easter gatherings, as the state tries to ramp up vaccinations.

So far about 14% of the state’s 4.9 million people have received at least one shot. Harris says they expect to deliver another 750,000 shots before the mask mandate expires. This week, the state reached 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — State health officials say Washington has reached its goal of vaccinating 45,000 people per day against COVID-19.

The Department of Health says more than 1.8 million vaccine doses had been administered in the state. Officials say that’s three-quarters of the 2.4 million doses that have been delivered to the state’s providers and long-term care programs.

The state also has been told to expect an increase in weekly dose allocations in the next few weeks. Health officials are encouraged the state is moving in the right direction. Washington has recorded 343,868 total cases and 5,041 confirmed deaths.

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation on Friday reported 12 additional COVID-19 cases and one death from the virus. In all, the tribe has reported nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and 1,195 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began a year ago. Health facilities on the reservation and in border towns are conducting drive-thru vaccine events or administering doses by appointment. The Navajo-area Indian Health Service has vaccinated more than 135,000 people so far. A daily curfew from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and a mask mandate remain in effect for residents of the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

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LONDON — Ireland has given out half a million coronavirus vaccinations about two months after the first inoculation.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin says the health department announced the figure on Saturday. It includes both first and second doses and comes 63 days after the first shot was given to a Dublin senior citizen.

“Good news,” Martin tweeted. “The vaccines are having a significant impact on mortality and serious illness.”

Ireland has experienced a spike in infections at the start of the year after getting through the early days of the pandemic.

With a population of 4.8 million, Ireland has reported 222,169 cases and 4,405 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. It’s one of the 10 European countries where the British variant of the virus is dominant.

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CHICAGO — The first case of the Brazil variant in Illinois has been detected in a Chicago resident, health officials say.

City and state public health officials say Northwestern University researchers found the so-called P.1 variant in a test sample from a Chicago resident who came down with the disease. The infected person told contact tracers they hadn’t recently traveled outside Illinois.

The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travelers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It appeared in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states.

Evidence suggests this variant can spread more easily than most currently circulating strains of the coronavirus, health officials say. The variants from Britain and South Africa have previously been identified in Illinois.

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BERLIN — Coronavirus patients from hard-hit Slovakia are arriving in Germany for treatment.

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany says the first two patients were expected to arrive at Dortmund airport Saturday on board a chartered plane. They will be treated at a hospital in the city.

More patients may follow in the coming days. German news agency dpa reported that North Rhine-Westphalia says it has offered to take in a total of 10 patients from Slovakia.

Patients from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have previously gone to Germany for treatment during the pandemic.

The number of people in Germany needing intensive care has declined significantly in the past two months.

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STOCKHOLM — Police has dispersed hundreds of people who had gathered in central Stockholm to protest against coronavirus restrictions set by the Swedish government.

Swedish authorities say Saturday’s demonstration was illegal because it was held without permission.

Police say on their website they cut short the gathering when number of participants exceeded what is currently allowed at public gatherings under Sweden’s pandemic laws.

Video footage aired on Swedish media showed a sizable group of people without masks gathering to the Medborgarplatsen square in Stockholm city center, not far from the Old Town.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish health ministry statistics show a significant increase in coronavirus cases in Turkey’s largest cities and alarming rates in Black Sea provinces.

A weekly, provincial map of infections shared by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca showed more than 111 positive cases identified in Istanbul per 100,000 people in the past week. That rate was about 60 the week of Feb. 6. Cases in Ankara and Izmir were also on the rise.

This week, Istanbul was categorized as a “high risk” city for COVID-19. Restaurants and cafes have re-opened and weekend lockdowns were reduced to only Sundays except for “very high-risk” cities. Istanbul residents filled the streets and restaurants, many ignoring mask and social distancing rules.

Northeastern provinces along the Black Sea have been categorized as “very high-risk,” where restrictions continue. The seven-day average of cases across the country rose back above 10,000 this week, bringing the total number of cases to more than 2.7 million and the confirmed death toll to 28,901.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has cleared a path for fans to hit the stands at opening day baseball games and return to Disneyland nearly a year after coronavirus restrictions shuttered major entertainment spots.

The state relaxed guidelines for reopening outdoor venues. COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have plunged, and vaccination rates are rising. New rules allow concert stadiums and sports arenas to reopen with limited attendance on April 1.

This week, the seven-day average rate of positive results from tests dropped to 2.2%, a record low.

Theme parks can reopen in counties that have fallen from the state’s most restrictive tier. In all cases, park capacities will be limited, and coronavirus safety rules such as mask-wearing requirements will apply.

More than 10 million doses had been given in the three months since the first vaccination, the Department of Public Health says. Just over 3 million people have been fully vaccinated, or about 10% of the population 16 and older.

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WASHINGTON — Senators have worked through the night on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill, dispensing with a variety of mostly Republican amendments in a marathon series of votes without substantially changing the overall package.

Approval of the bill is expected later, although the timing is uncertain, after Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin reached a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits.

That compromise is backed by President Joe Biden. Once the Senate finishes work on Biden’s foremost legislative priority, the bill would return to the House for final approval. The package is aimed at battling the pandemic and nursing the economy back to health.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor extended the mask mandate for another month and state Health Officer Scott Harris is recommending people keep wearing masks in public after it expires.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended Alabama’s mask order until April 9. Harris says he hopes April 10 will look a lot like April 9 across the state.

“There is nothing magical about the date of April 9. We don’t want the public to think that’s the day we all stop taking precautions,” he says.

Alabama has the second-highest positivity rate in the nation at 19.9%. State health officials urge people to maintain precautions, particularly during spring break and Easter gatherings, as the state tries to ramp up vaccinations.

So far about 14% of the state’s 4.9 million people have received at least one shot. Harris says they expect to deliver another 750,000 shots before the mask mandate expires. This week, the state reached 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

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MILAN — Europe recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, according to the World Health Organization.

Among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school with alarming speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year. The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, says the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The British variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very skeptical” about prospects of people traveling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.

Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections. But many issues have yet to be addressed.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Funke newspaper group in an interview published Saturday that he is “very skeptical as far as travel at Easter is concerned.” Easter falls on the first weekend in April this year.

But he says he expects “that we can talk in a significantly more relaxed way about travel and leisure from Whitsun,” on May 23.

Braun says Germany could return to full normality in the summer — if vaccine manufacturers keep to their delivery pledges and no new coronavirus mutation arises “that raises questions over the whole success of vaccination.”

Germany has given 5.7% of its population a first dose of vaccine and 2.8% two doses. A fall in new coronavirus cases has stalled as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain spreads.

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DHARMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, has received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.

Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward.

Ten other people who live in the Dalai Lama’s residence were also vaccinated, Gupta said. All eleven received the Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and manufactured by India’s Serum Institute.



7 Stocks to Support Your New Year’s Resolutions

After a year like 2020, many Americans figure that just getting to 2021 was enough. But for many people, the start of a new year still means making resolutions. And while many Americans are still waking up to Groundhog’s Day, there is hope that things will look dramatically different in September than they do right now.

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View the "7 Stocks to Support Your New Year’s Resolutions".


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