The Latest: Italy welcomes tourists from US, Canada, Japan

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Edu Soto, 15, shows his vaccination card to the camera after getting a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 at the Teleton Institute, a clinic that specializes in treating chronically ill children in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, on the first day the government started vaccinating youths between ages 12 and 17 who have chronic illnesses. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

ROME — Italy’s leader is pitching for tourists to start coming from the United States, Canada and Japan to give a vitally needed boost to Italian hotel and restaurant businesses.

In a speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, Premier Mario Draghi noted that Italy has recently allowed people from those three countries to now come for tourism, previously not allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourists must be vaccinated, have certification that they have recovered from the illness or have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of entering Italy.

“We want to allow them to come safely into Italy to help our hoteliers and restaurateurs bounce back after a year-and-a-half of difficulty,’’ Draghi said.

Tourism accounts for 13% of Italy’s GDP. Many restaurants and hotels were closed for months, and some hotels, including those who cater heavily to U.S. tourists, have yet to re-open.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Italy is banking on a huge windfall of EU pandemic recovery fundsto revamp its lagging economy. The future of the eurozone may depend on how well it does.

— Due to the pandemic, Tokyo is shaping up to be the ‘no-fun’ Olympics

— Colombia hits 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, president blames anti-government protests

— US finds deaths among Medicare patients in nursing homes soared by 32% last year

— WHOplans technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines in South Africa

— Follow more of 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:

BOGOTA — Colombia reached 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 this week, becoming just the tenth country in the world to hit the unwanted milestone.

The South American nation of 50 million has been registering a growing number of daily cases since April and over the past seven days it had the world’s third-highest per capita death rate from COVID-19, according to data published by Oxford University.

President Iván Duque blamed antigovernment protests that began at the end of April for many of the fatalities, saying that “more than 10,000 deaths could have been avoided” if Colombians had not held large gatherings over the past seven weeks.

But epidemiologists in Colombia said it’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the protests had on the current surge in COVID-19 deaths.

“The protests definitely played a role” in coronavirus contagion, said Diego Rosselli, a professor of epidemiology at the Javeriana University in Bogota. “But at this moment putting any number on how many deaths they caused is mere speculation.”

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NEW DELHI — Three Indian states have been asked to strengthen containment measures, increase testing and vaccinations after the federal government classified a newly identified version of the virus that is closely related to the delta variant as a ‘variant of concern’.

Viruses mutate all the time and not all changes are worrisome. But this classification implies that there is some evidence the variant has genetic tweaks that allow it to spread more easily, make people sicker or vaccinations less effective.

The delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread to many parts of the world, is more infectious and vaccines are slightly less effective against it. This new variant, named delta plus, has an additional genetic tweak that could allow it to evade the human immune system.

Around 40 cases of the delta plus variant has popped up in three Indian states — Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

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SYDNEY: Pandemic restrictions tightened in Sydney as delta variant cluster has increased.

Residents who live in the worst-effected parts of Sydney cannot travel outside Australia’s largest city “unless it’s absolutely essential,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Masks are compulsory outside homes, patrons must be seated while drinking in bars and household visitors are limited to five people.

The cluster began last week when a Sydney airport limousine driver tested positive. He was not vaccinated and is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew. The cluster had grown to 31 cases by Wednesday.

“Please abandon non-essential activities, please don’t attend social gatherings unless you absolutely must,” Berejiklian said. “I’m not going to rule out further action.”

Queensland and Victoria states, that share borders with New South Wales, have banned travelers from much of Sydney. South Australia and Western Australia states have banned travel from anywhere in New South Wales, except for travelers with exemptions for approved purposes.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said travelers who were already in the air when the ban was announced could either go into hotel quarantine when they arrived in Perth or fly back.

“I just urge the New South Wales government to get this under control because it’s a threat and a risk to the rest of the country. If that means a lockdown, well, then that’s what should happen,” McGowan added.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland is introducing obligatory 7-day quarantine for people arriving from the U.K. because of the rise in the delta coronavirus variant there. People who are fully vaccinated are exempt from the quarantine requirement, which takes effect Wednesday.

After seven days of isolation, a COVID-19 test can be done and if it is negative, the quarantine is lifted.

There’s considerable traffic between Poland and the U.K., with hundreds of thousands of Poles living and working there.

Quarantines are also obligatory in Poland for people arriving from India, Brazil and South Africa.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said among some 11.7 million fully inoculated Poles, most have received the Pfizer vaccine, which has shown strong efficacy against the delta variant.

There have been 90 confirmed delta variant infections in Poland and at least one person has died.

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HOUSTON — More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine have been fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the vaccine requirement.

A spokesperson for Houston Methodist hospital system said 153 employees either resigned in the two-week suspension period or were terminated on Tuesday.

The case over how far health care institutions can go to protect patients and others against the coronavirus has been closely watched. But it won’t be the end of the debate.

Earlier this month, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit filed by 117 employees over the requirement. The hospital system’s decision in April to require the vaccine for workers made it the first major U.S. health care system to do so.

The Houston Methodist employees who filed the lawsuit likened their situation to medical experiments performed on unwilling victims in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes called that comparison “reprehensible” and said claims made in the lawsuit that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous are false.

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HAGATNA, Guam — Guam is launching a vaccine tourism program to encourage citizens of neighboring countries and Americans living in East Asia to come get inoculated against COVID-19.

The Pacific Daily News reports the first group of three travelers was arriving on a charter flight from Taiwan. The Guam Visitors Bureau says this is a prelude to bigger groups to come.

The program is aimed at jump-starting Guam’s tourism industry which has suffered from a decline in travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccination rates in places like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been low compared to the U.S. territory, where vaccines are easily available.

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor says he will end the state’s public health state of emergency on July 1, more than 15 months after he initially declared it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Brian Kemp made the announcement Tuesday, signing a fresh extension of the extraordinary powers granted to him by lawmakers that will expire at 12:00 a.m. on July 1.

“Thanks to those efforts, more Georgians are getting vaccinated, our economic momentum is strong, and people are getting back to normal,” Kemp said in a statement. “We have emerged resilient, and I thank all Georgians for doing their part.”

Kemp becomes the latest in a series of governors nationwide to wind down emergency powers.

This was the first use of Georgia’s public health emergency law. It grants Kemp sweeping powers to suspend laws and state regulations. The governor says he will hold on to some extraordinary powers, saying he will issue a different kind of emergency order.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas on Tuesday reported 485 new coronavirus cases, its biggest one-day jump in more than three months.

The Department of Health said it was the biggest one-day increase since the state reported 570 new cases on March 5. The state has had 346,180 cases since the pandemic began last year.

The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, rose by 251 to 2,570. The state’s COVID-19 deaths rose by eight to 5,884. Hospitalizations rose by four to 285.

Arkansas in late March opened its vaccinations to everyone at least 16 years old and lifted its statewide mask mandate, but the state has had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited the latest increase as he urged more people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus. About 41% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 33% completed their vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Until we increase the number of shots, we will continue to have increased numbers of hospitalizations and new cases like we did today,” Hutchinson tweeted.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii health officials say there is community spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, which was first detected in India.

Two cases on Oahu and one on the Big Island involve travel from the U.S. mainland. One case involves an Oahu resident with no travel history. The state Department of Health said it is “investigating to determine the extent of household and community transmission.”

Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said of the four cases, only one person was vaccinated. Health experts say vaccines remain effective against the variant. Hawaii’s vaccination rate is 57%. Kemble says Hawaii’s pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks.

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WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 delta variant which was first detected in India now represents more than 20% of coronavirus infections in the U.S. in the last two weeks, or double what it was when the Centers for Disease Control last reported on the variant’s prevalence.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned that the U.S. could be following the United Kingdom’s course, where the variant has become the dominant strain due to rapid spread among youth.

Fauci says indications are that the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against the variant.

The variant is accounting for half of new infections in the regions that include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister says the country is in the grip of a “new outbreak” of the coronavirus after a spike in cases in the past week, most of them minors with the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19.

Naftali Bennett said Tuesday after touring Israel’s main international airport that masks would be mandatory in Ben Gurion Airport and there would be more stringent testing of incoming travelers.

“We made an initial decision to treat this like a new outbreak, and our aim is to sever it,” he said. Bennett called on Israelis to avoid all non-essential summer travel abroad.

Israel’s Health Ministry reported 125 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest daily number since late April. Over 55% of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received two vaccine doses, but Bennett said several of the new cases reported were in vaccinated individuals.

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MOSCOW — The mayor of Moscow announced new coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, saying that “the situation with the coronavirus remains very difficult” in the Russian capital.

The country’s state coronavirus task force reported 6,555 new COVID-19 cases in Moscow on Tuesday and 16,715 new infections across Russia, both tallies twice as high as a month ago.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin banned all entertainment and sports events at which more than 500 people are present.

Starting next Monday, all restaurants, cafes and bars in Moscow will only allow in customers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, recovered from the virus within the past six months or can provide a negative coronavirus test carried out within 72 hours prior to the visit. To prove their eligibility, customers will need to obtain a QR code at one of several government websites.

Coronavirus infections surged in the Russian capital two weeks ago, prompting the city authorities to order mandatory vaccinations for workers in retail, education and some other service sectors. Russians have been widely resistant to vaccinations and only less than 13% of the population has received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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