The Latest: Students return to classes in Spain fully masked

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Pupils wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of coronavirus attend a class at Maestro Padilla school as the new school year begins, in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Around 8 million children in Spain are set to start the new school year. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID — Over 8 million schoolchildren and teenagers in Spain are returning to classes this week with masks and efforts to keep social distancing, while authorities try to boost the vaccination rates among students.

Coronavirus cases have dropped from just over 700 per 100,000 residents in 14 days at the end of July to 177 on Monday, a level not seen since the beginning of the summer. Deaths for COVID-19 patients have stubbornly remained well over 100 per day for weeks.

But the staggered return to schools, which varies depending on regions and age groups, has been a cause of concern because vaccinations among the youngest started only in the past few weeks.

About 40% of students over 12 have received the two vaccine doses required to build the optimum level of immunization. Although Spain has little vaccine hesitancy, the government has launched campaigns on social media to motivate teenagers to get their shots.

Officials are betting on in-class education for this year, with no remote classes. Pupils will need to wear masks in classrooms and during recess time.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Two anchors of COVID safety net ending, affecting millions in US

— Virus pummels French Polynesia, straining ties with Paris

— Florida grapples with COVID-19′s deadliest phase yet

— Miami teen’s football game honors dad who died from COVID

— Read AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly rebuked a top rival politician’s comments describing people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as “guinea pigs.”

The long-serving leader said Tuesday in a speech before Parliament that “none of us was and is any way a guinea pig when it comes to vaccination.”

Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose center-left Social Democrats Party currently leads polls ahead of Germany’s Sept. 26 elections, recently said that fully vaccinated people have been “the guinea pigs for those who so far have held off.” He added that he was vaccinated and others should follow.

Merkel, however, did not appear to agree with her deputy’s messaging in her Tuesday speech.

The chancellor said that “neither Olaf Scholz nor me, and no one else” was a “guinea pig” in taking the fully tested and approved vaccines in Germany.

Merkel’s center-right bloc is struggling in polls ahead of nationwide elections.

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HELSINKI — Finland will lift all remaining coronavirus restrictions after at least 80% of the Nordic country’s population over 12 is fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin estimated the goal would likely be reached in October. She told reporters that “we will open the (Finnish) society and keep it open.”

She said her government’s updated COVID-19 strategy was pointed more towards reopening of society, rather than shutting parts of it under the previous “testing, tracking and quarantining” strategy. The key to doing that is to get more citizens vaccinated, Marin said.

Minister of family affairs and social services Krista Kiuru said would immediately start phasing out some restrictions gradually.

Coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and pubs still remain in effect in many parts of Finland. In the capital, Helsinki, those establishments must shut down at 11 p.m.

Some 53% of Finland’s population over 12 have received both vaccine doses and over 72% have had one jab.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden said Tuesday that most coronavirus restrictions, including limits on private and public gatherings and the advice to work from home, will be removed as of Sept. 29.

“We are heading a toward a normal everyday life, toward a society free of restrictions,” Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said, citing the country’s high vaccination rate.

Johan Carlson, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said 70% of people over 15 have gotten both vaccine shots and nearly 82% have received their first shot.

Culture Minister Amanda Lind said the announcement was “a great relief, not least for the cultural sector, which has been severely limited by the restrictions for a long time.”

Sweden, which had opted to keep large sections of society open during the pandemic, has seen more than 1.1 million cases and nearly 14,700 people have died. It has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Bosnia’s authorities say only about 12% of Bosnians have so far been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, which is among the lowest rates in Europe.

Bosnia’s Civil Affairs Ministry said Tuesday that as of Sept 3, about 600,000 people, or about 18% of the population, have also received their first dose.

Vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinopharm and Sinovac are available in the Balkan country whose health system is still recovering from the civil war in the 1990’s.

Bosnia has recorded about 218,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 10,000 deaths.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan health authorities say they have fully vaccinated 62% of the population above age 20, as the island nation grapples with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases and deaths due to the delta variant.

The goverment hopes that everyone above 20 will be fully vaccinated before the end of October. Sri Lanka has been using the Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Sputnik V vaccines.

In a bid contain the virus, the government imposed a lockdown on Aug. 20 and it will run through Sept. 13.

Doctors, meanwhile, have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities.

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia — France’s overseas territory of New Caledonia has reported its first three cases of confirmed COVID-19 infections.

The remote Pacific Ocean archipelago has, until now, been coronavirus-free. A doctor in the Department of Health and Social Affairs, Sébastien Mabon, said that the first cases had been confirmed Monday.

“The first three cases discovered on Monday were unrelated, so people have caught COVID-19 in New Caledonia, which confirms that the virus has been circulating for a few days,” said Mabon.

Authorities have reacted robustly. Strict confinement has entered into force for an initial period of 15 days. This is the third confinement in 18 months. The first two were implemented before any virus cases were confirmed in the area.

To date over 30% of the New Caledonian population of around 270,000 have been vaccinated.

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UNDATED — The resurgence of COVID-19 this summer and the U.S. national debate over vaccine requirements have created a fraught situation for the United States’ first responders, who are dying in larger numbers but pushing back against mandates.

It’s a stark contrast from the beginning of the vaccine rollout when first responders were prioritized for shots.

The mandates affect tens of thousands of police officers, firefighters and others on the front lines across the country, many of whom are spurning the vaccine. That is happening despite mandates’ consequences that range from weekly testing to suspension to termination — even though the virus is now the leading cause of U.S. law enforcement line-of-duty deaths.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 132 members of law enforcement agencies are known to have died of COVID-19 in 2021. In Florida alone last month, six people affiliated with law enforcement died over a 10-day period.

Despite the deaths, police officers and other first responders are among those most hesitant to get the vaccine and their cases continue to grow. No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America’s entire population of first responders but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures far below the national rate of 74% of adults who have had at least one dose.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says it has started an expedited evaluation on whether to recommend use of a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

In a statement Monday, the EU drug regulator says it is considering whether a third dose of the vaccine should be given six months after people over age 16 have received two doses “to restore protection after it has waned.”

EMA’s experts are carrying out an “accelerated assessment” of data submitted by Pfizer and BioNTech, including results from an ongoing research trial in which about 300 healthy adults received a booster dose about six months after their second dose.

Pfizer has already submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administer for authorization of a third dose and the U.S. government said last month boosters would likely be available in late September. Israel has already started administering booster doses and the plan is under consideration in other countries for vulnerable populations, including France and Germany.

The Amsterdam-based agency said it expects to make a decision in the next few weeks.

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SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s Public Health Institute has approved the Chinese-developed Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for children older than 6, though the health minister must approve the plan before shots enter arms.

The panel of senior physicians, including presidents of the associations of pediatrics and infectology, analyzed a Chinese study of 500 children aged 3 to 17, all of whom produced antibodies. A similar study of 4,000 children is being organized in Chile.

Brazil’s health regulatory agency, however, recently rejected a similar request by Sinovac, and asked for data involving a larger study.

Chile already had authorized vaccinations for children as young as 12, though only with the Pfizer vaccine. Supply shortages have stalled that effort.

Chilean officials plan to vaccinate 15.2 million of the country’s 19 million people. So far they have given a full double dose regimen to 86% of those now eligible. The country last month also began giving AstraZeneca booster shots to fully vaccinated people people older than 55.

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ROME — Life expectancy for men in some of Italy’s worst-hit provinces in the pandemic dropped by more than four years.

ISTAT, Italy’s national statistics bureau, in a report on Monday said that compared with 2019, nationwide life expectancy for those born in 2020 dropped by 1.2 years.

“In 2020, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharp increase in the risk of mortality that derived from it abruptly interrupted the increase of life expectancy at birth that had marked a trend up to 2019,” ISTAT said.

The pandemic first erupted outside Asia in northern Italy, and much of the north reeled with confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the initial wave of cases. In the northern provinces of Bergamo, Cremona and Lodi, life expectancy for men decreased by some 4.3 to 4.5 years. For women in those provinces, the reduced expectancy ranged from 3.2 to 2.9 years.

For a child born in 2020, male life expectancy nationwide is 79.7 and female life expectancy is 84.4, ISTAT said.

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

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