India Sets Record of 386,000 Daily Virus Cases

India has set another global record with 386,452 daily coronavirus cases.

The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

India’s pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data. An online appeal — signed by over 350 scientists Friday afternoon — asks the government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines.

The appeal says the “granular” data on testing was inaccessible to non-government experts and some government experts too.

India has set a daily global record for more than a week with an average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge.

India has reported more than 18.7 million cases since the start of the pandemic, second only to the United States. Globally, total deaths rank fourth.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— India sets another global record with more than 386,000 daily cases

— Pfizer-BioNTech seeks vaccine approval for children ages 12-15

— Brazil backs away from the virus brink, but remains at risk

— As virus engulfs India, diaspora watches with despair

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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:

TOKYO — A Japanese cruise ship operator says a passenger on its “Asuka II” ship has tested positive for the coronavirus, causing it to return to its home port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.

The infected passenger is in stable condition and resting in a cabin that’s been isolated, the operator, Nippon Yusen, said in a statement. The infected passenger was traveling with just one companion and other passengers didn’t have close contact, according to Yokohama City officials.

All the passengers had tested negative before the trip. But results of tests conducted at Thursday’s boarding were available the next day, when the tour already has begun, Nippon Yusen said. The ship on a domestic tour departed Yokohama on Thursday and was headed to Aomori and Hokkaido in northern Japan.

All facilities on the ship have been closed and all passengers are asked to stay in their cabins, the operator said.

The case is a reminder of an outbreak on a luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess, where more than 700 of its 3,700 passengers got infected during a two-week quarantine on board at the Yokohama port. Thirteen people died.

Overall, Japan has totaled more than 580,000 confirmed cases and 10,200 confirmed deaths. Tokyo and three other metropolitan areas are currently under a state of emergency because of a surge of infections.

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Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted a request for European Union drug regulators to extend the approval of the companies’ coronavirus vaccine to include children ages 12 to 15, a move that could offer younger and less at-risk populations in Europe access to the shots for the first time.

In a statement on Friday, the two companies said their submission to the European Medicines Agency was based on an advanced study in more than 2,000 adolescents that showed the vaccine to be safe and effective. The children will continue to be monitored for longer-term protection and safety for another two years.

BioNTech and Pfizer previously had requested their emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also be extended to children 12-15.

The COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech was the first one to be granted a greenlight by the EMA in December, when it was licensed for anyone age 16 and over across the 27-nation EU.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say they have started giving Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to participants in a government-led study involving young people who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Researchers from Spain’s Carlos III Institute want to study the effects of mixing vaccines from different manufacturers as they look for a second dose alternative following very rare brain blood clots linked to the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca.

Experts say the risks of the British=Swedish pharmaceutical company’s vaccine are less than the clot risk healthy women face while on birth control.

A total of 400 people were given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their second dose until Thursday, Spain’s Health Ministry said Friday, while 200 other people have been recruited as part of the study’s control group.

Five major hospitals across Spain are involved, and results are expected in mid-May.

There are about 2 million people under age 60 who received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine before Spanish authorities halted its use in that age group.

Individuals who received their first dose on Feb. 8 should receive a second dose by May 8, according to the vaccine manufacturer’s recommendation. Authorities say that delaying the second shot is safe.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development warned his countrymen Friday that the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients is rapidly increasing and the next few weeks will be critical for the impoverished Islamic nation.

Asad Umar, who oversees Pakistan’s response to the coronavirus, said as many as 5,360 patients with COVID-19 were on oxygen support at hospitals. That is 57% more than the number of COVID-19 patients who were critically ill during Pakistan’s previous outbreak peak in June, he said.

Umar tweeted that Pakistan has managed the situation but “no system can cope if we allow the disease to spread rapidly”.

Pakistan on Friday reported more than 5,000 new confirmed cases and 131 virus-related deaths in 24 hours. Since last year, Pakistan has reported 17,680 deaths among 815,711 confirmed cases

The government earlier this week deployed troops in high-risk cities to stop people from violating social distancing rules.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he will be forced to impose a lockdown if the positivity rate does not decrease.

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LISBON, Portugal – Residents of Portugal will be able to go to cinemas, stores and restaurants on Saturday night as the country continues its gradual easing of a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown.

The land border with neighboring Spain will also reopen from Saturday after closing to non-essential travel in January, when Portugal was the country hit worst by the pandemic in the world by size of population.

Limits on indoor seating capacity at restaurants and cafes will remain from Saturday onward, however. The wearing of face masks is also mandatory, if social distancing is not possible, as is working from home.

Portugal’s virus incidence rate per 100,000 population over 14 days — a key pandemic measure — has fallen to 67 from 1,628 at the end of January.

Intensive care units in the country of 10.3 million people were treating more than 900 patients in early February, but now are looking after 88.

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BUDAPEST— Hungary will loosen several COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for holders of a government-issued immunity card in the latest round of reopenings that the government has tied to the number of administered vaccines.

Beginning Saturday morning, card holders may access indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries, museums and other recreational venues. Opening hours for businesses will also be extended to 11 p.m., and the start of an overnight curfew in place since November will be extended until midnight.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the reopening comes as Hungary reaches 4 million first-dose vaccinations, representing about 40% of the population.

“In the past, we defended ourselves by closing, thereby slowing the spread of the virus. But now we are on the attack,” he said. “The vaccine is like a bulletproof vest, the virus bounces off of it.”

Hungary is the only country in the European Union to use vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western jabs. It has the second highest vaccination rate in the EU, but a devastating pandemic surge in the spring has given it the highest total death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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ROME — Italy is nearing its goal of administering a half-million COVID-19 vaccines a day.

Premier Mario Draghi’s office said early Friday that provisional data indicates some 497,993 doses were administered on Thursday, a daily record.

Italy’s vaccine czar has aimed to have at least 500,000 shots administered per day by the end of April, to reach the goal of inoculating 80% of the population by September. Italy was the one-time epicenter of the outbreak in Europe and still has the world’s sixth highest confirmed death toll at 120,544, second only to Britain in Europe.

The vaccination campaign got off to a slow start because of delivery delays, logistical hiccups and organizational decisions that didn’t fully prioritize Italy’s oldest and most vulnerable residents. Some 300 people are still dying each day.

But the campaign has accelerated in recent weeks and to date some 19.4 million doses have been administered, with 5.75 million people receiving both jabs, according to Health Ministry data.

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PARIS — France has announced its first confirmed cases of the virus variant that is sweeping over India, just as the French president outlined a national reopening plan after six months of virus restrictions.

The Health Ministry announced late Thursday night that three people tested positive for the new variant in the Bouches-du-Rhone and Lot et Garonne regions of southern France. All three had traveled to India, and are under medical observation.

Authorities are seeking to trace their contacts and investigating other suspected cases, the ministry said. It noted that the variant has been detected in at least six other European countries.

France last week stepped up virus controls for travelers arriving from India as well as some other countries where variants are spreading.

The announcement came as French President Emmanuel Macron laid out a four-stage reopening process aimed at boosting the economy, welcoming back tourists and lifting nearly all of France’s virus restrictions by June 30.

The vast majority of France’s virus cases now involve the more contagious, more dangerous variant first identified in Britain. France has reported one of the worlds highest virus death tolls, at more than 103,000 deaths.

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A record surge in COVID-19 infections in Costa Rica forced the government to announce new restrictions Thursday that will dial back the country’s economic reopening.

Health Minister Daniel Salas said that in the prior 24-hour period, Costa Rica had tallied 2,781 new infections, the highest daily total since the country’s first case was confirmed in March 2020. Fifteen people died of COVID-19 during the same period.

“Non-essential” businesses in central Costa Rica, including the capital, were told to close and stronger sanctions were announced for businesses violating reduced capacity rules for their venues.

The rapid increase in infections has stressed the country’s public health system. The intensive care units of public hospitals had reached 94% of their capacity.

Costa Rica will however continue in-person learning. Salas said that while infections had been identified at schools the vast majority were isolated and in total that represented only 6% of the country’s schools.

Costa Rica has confirmed more than 248,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 3,200 deaths.

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SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil on Thursday became the second country to officially top 400,000 COVID-19 deaths, losing another 100,000 lives in just one month, as some health experts warn there may be gruesome days ahead when the Southern Hemisphere enters winter.

April was Brazil’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with thousands of people losing their lives daily at crowded hospitals.

The country’s Health Ministry registered more than 4,000 deaths on two days early in the month, and its seven-day average topped out at above 3,100. That figure has tilted downward in the last two weeks, to less than 2,400 deaths per day, though on Thursday the Health Ministry announced another 3,001 deaths, bring Brazil’s total to 401,186.

Local health experts have celebrated the recent decline of cases and deaths, plus the eased pressure on the Brazilian health care system

Texas Special Election Poses Test for Anti-Trump Republicans

Adam Kinzinger came to Texas this week to hunt unicorns.

The Illinois congressman was looking for Republicans who, like him, see former President Donald Trump as a scourge on their party and a threat to democracy. Kinzinger met privately with one sympathetic Republican, former President George W. Bush, on his first day in the state. And on the second, he had lunch with Michael Wood, the only openly anti-Trump Republican competing on Saturday in a crowded special election for a seat in Congress.

Kinzinger, a 43-year-old Air Force pilot who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, is positioning himself as a leading antagonist to Trump in a party that is largely refusing to move on from the former president. The congressman’s nascent political organization, Country First, has endorsed every House Republican who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. And as Kinzinger eyes a potential run for higher office himself, he came to Texas to test how many other Republicans share his outlook.

Kinzinger’s hope lies in Wood, another fresh-faced combat veteran, who is fighting to stand out in a field of 23. If none of the candidates on Saturday’s ballot earns 50% of the vote, the top two will compete in a runoff election later in the spring.

“The Trump thing, it’s got nowhere to go but down. It’s not growing,” Kinzinger said during his lunch with Wood at the Fork in the Road cafe in the Dallas suburbs. “But it took a lot of time for the Republican Party to be what it is today. It may take a lot of time to bring it back.”

The contest to replace Republican Rep. Ron Wright, who died of COVID-19 in February, has gone virtually unnoticed outside this north Texas district. But it offers a window into the forces tearing at the fabric of today’s GOP. There are 10 Republicans among 23 candidates on the ballot, and with the exception of Wood, they are all desperate to win over Trump and his supporters.

Republican Brian Harrison, former chief of staff of the Department of Health and Human Services, has played up his role in the Trump administration. So, too, has Sery Kim, who worked in the Small Business Administration and directly implored Trump for his endorsement during an appearance on Newsmax, where she gave out her phone number. Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler, has flashed the endorsement Trump gave him last year during a failed run for a congressional seat in Nevada. His new slogan: “Make America Texas Again.”

Trump waited until five days before Election Day to give his formal endorsement to the congressman’s widow, Susan Wright, who is widely seen as a favorite.

Trump’s team scoffed at Wood’s chances and Kinzinger’s broader ambitions.

In his campaign to reject Trumpism, the Illinois congressman is outmatched by every measurable metric. Polls suggest that as many as 8 in 10 Republicans continue to support Trump. And while Kinzinger’s political team celebrated raising $2.2 million last quarter, Trump’s political operation is sitting on at least $85 million.

When asked about Kinzinger, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller dismissed him as “a future MSNBC contributor.”

Yet Wood has also drawn financial and moral support from a handful of other Trump critics in Congress, including Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; David Valadao, R-Calif.; and Peter Meijer, R-Mich. Like Kinzinger, all three voted to impeach Trump.

Kinzinger said he was drawn to Wood by the 34-year-old former Marine infantry officer’s political courage. Wood has been booed at Republican campaign events for saying that the GOP has devolved into a “cult of personality.” The first line of campaign literature he hands to voters declares, “The Republican Party has lost its way…”

In an interview, Wood, who earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Afghanistan and now runs a small business, compared Trump to a “less intelligent, lazy and disorganized” autocrat like Roman emperor Julius Caesar. He warned that freedom itself is at risk if Trump and what he stands for aren’t soundly rejected.

“I don’t want to go to Congress if I have to lick Donald Trump’s boots to get there,” he said.

Still, Kinzinger knows more than most just how difficult it will be to persuade Republican voters anywhere — never mind Texas — to turn against Trump. The congressman’s political operation recently commissioned polling that found the most sympathetic voters are what one aide called “unicorns” — Republicans who are moderate politically, don’t regularly watch Fox News, reject conspiracy theories and are highly educated.

It’s a pool of voters Kinzinger needs to grow if his effort will be successful in Texas and beyond as he eyes an aggressive role in the 2022 midterms.

Wood estimated that such voters may represent as many as 35% of those who decide Saturday’s special election. Sympathetic strategists suggest the number is probably much lower.

That’s not to say there aren’t warning signs for Trump and his supporters.

Trump won the north Texas district by double digits in 2016, but by just 3 points last fall, reflecting the trend of Texas’ booming suburbs shifting to purple and, in some places, outright blue.

But outside the Mansfield Municipal Courthouse this week, there was little sign of support for Wood among the Republicans waiting in line to cast early ballots. One said Wood was betraying his country; another called him an embarrassment.

“There’s no such thing as an anti-Trump Republican. He should find another party,” said 71-year-old white retiree Gordon Powell of Mansfield. “I doubt that he could run for dog catcher as a Republican and get elected around here.”

Yvette Williams, a 54-year-old African American transplant from California, said she’d consider Wood if she didn’t vote for a Democrat. She applauded his effort regardless.

“I’m like, ‘Who in the Republican Party can stand up to Trump?’ It takes one person to make a difference,” she said.

For their part, there are 10 Democrats running in the special election. But after high expectations and heavy spending failed to produce a single significant victory last year, the national party is largely steering clear of the race.

And while many rank-and-file Texas Republicans remain loyal to Trump, Kinzinger has won the respect of one of Texas’ most prominent Republican officials.

Kinzinger and his wife met privately with former President Bush and former first lady Laura Bush for roughly an hour Monday evening at Bush’s office at Southern Methodist University. Kinzinger said they discussed foreign policy, the support among evangelical Christians for Trump and shared concerns about the direction of the party.

“He’s obviously, as he’s expressed, concerned with where we’re at and knows it’s a slog to kind of bring it back,” Kinzinger said of Bush. “But it’s like, if you don’t fight, it’s done.”

A Bush spokesperson declined to comment on the meeting.

Meanwhile, Wood said it’s past time for more people in his party’s leadership to stand up to Trump publicly.

“I hope that, win or lose, I at least show the rest of the country there are people willing to stand up and say these things. Frankly, I’m a little upset it’s someone like me who’s saying them. It should be shouted from the rooftop by leaders in the House, Republicans in Senate, Republicans across the country.”