The Latest: US death toll surpasses 600,000 from coronavirus | News

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NEW YORK — The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000 as the vaccination drive has decreased daily cases and deaths.

That’s according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of lives lost is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019.

With the advent of the vaccines, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of 340 from a high of more than 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day during the winter.

Worldwide, the COVID-19 confirmed death toll stands at 3.8 million. The actual totals in the U.S. and around the globe are thought to be significantly higher, with many cases overlooked or possibly concealed by some countries.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— White House to host July 4 “independence from virus” bash

— Johnson & Johnson shots arrive in Mexico from US for 4 border cities

— Japanese companies set up vaccination sites to help with inoculation effort

— More evidence suggests COVID-19 was in US by Christmas 2019

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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:

SAN FRANCISCO — California was the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, but it is turning a page on the pandemic.

At midnight, California lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions and ushered what’s being called a “Grand Reopening.” There will be no more state rules on social distancing and no more limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms and stadiums. Masks have been one of the most symbolic and fraught symbols of the pandemic. Now they will no longer be mandated by the state in many situations.

More people tested positive for the virus in California (3.8 million and counting) and more people died (63,000 plus) than anywhere else in the country, although the nation’s most populous state had a lower per capita death rate than most others.

California now has one of the lowest rates of infection below 1%. That dramatic drop combined with an increasing number of vaccinated residents — over 70% of adults have had at least one dose — led Newsom to announce in April that most COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted June 15.

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NEW YORK — Nearly 900 people received expired COVID-19 vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Times Square this month, health officials said Tuesday.

People who got the expired doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the former NFL Experience building between June 5 and June 10 were being urged by city health officials to get another dose.

ATC Vaccination Services, the company that administered the shots, apologized for the error. Officials said there is no danger from getting the expired doses or from getting a replacement shot.

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SAO PAULO — Brazil’s government says it has documented 41 cases of COVID-19 related to the Copa America.

It says the cases include 31 football players or staffers with teams and 10 workers who were hired for the event. Brazil’s health ministry also says all workers who tested positive are in Brasilia. That’s where Brazil kicked off the tournament on Sunday with a 3-0 win over Venezuela.

Brazil stepped in late as an emergency host for the tournament despite the country having the second-highest number of recorded deaths from the coronavirus in the world. Brazil’s health ministry says 2,927 COVID-19 tests related to Copa America have been conducted so far.

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NEW YORK — A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken in early 2020 is the latest and largest study to suggest the coronavirus arrived in the U.S. in December 2019.

That’s weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials. The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical. But federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.

The study was published Tuesday online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

“The studies are pretty consistent,” said Natalie Thornburg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There was probably very rare and sporadic cases here earlier than we were aware of. But it was not widespread and didn’t become widespread until late February.”

A CDC-led study published in December 2020 analyzed 7,000 samples from American Red Cross blood donations and suggested the virus infected some Americans as early as the middle of December 2019.

The latest study is by a team that includes researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They analyzed blood samples from more than 24,000 people across the country, collected in the first three months of 2020, as part of a long-term study.

The coronavirus emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. Officially, the first U.S. infection identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought medical help on Jan. 19.

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HELSINKI — Estonia will ease COVID-19 restrictions on June 28 by raising the limit on participants in indoor and outdoor events.

Up to 1,000 people can participate in events and activities held indoors and up to 5,000 people in events and activities held outdoors, subject to the requirements for dispersion and 50% occupancy, the government said Tuesday.

“Easing of restrictions doesn’t however mean that there wouldn’t be a need for caution. The virus is still spreading from person to person, and it has not disappeared from among us,” said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

She added the Indian strain of the coronavirus has started to spread in Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million.

Estonia has recorded 130,599 confirmed infections and 1,266 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Top Republicans are ending the Kansas state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic.

They refused Tuesday to consider Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s arguments that an extension is still necessary for vaccinations and some testing for COVID-19.

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson announced the cancellation of a meeting of eight legislative leaders set for Tuesday afternoon. A law enacted in late March required the legislative leaders to sign off on an extension.

Masterson’s announcement means that the state of emergency would expire by day’s end after being in place since March 2020. The Andover Republican other Senate GOP leaders said in a statement, “It is time for Kansas to return to normal.”

But Kelly chief of staff Will Lawrence says GOP lawmakers were acting irresponsibly and making it more difficult to wind down the state’s pandemic response.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico received 1.35 million doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines donated by the United States on Tuesday.

The U.S. shipment will be used to vaccinate anyone over 18 in four cities along the U.S. border: Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa. Mexico has said the goal is to boost vaccination rates there to levels similar to the U.S. cities they adjoin.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who was meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Mexico City, says after the vaccinations “there will be no public health arguments for keeping the border closed.”

The U.S. and Mexico have restricted border crossings to essential travel since early in the pandemic.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell says the expanded vaccinations in border cities could begin Wednesday. Mexico is seeking to acquire more of the vaccine to inoculate all border residents.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden wants to imbue America’s Independence Day with new meaning this year by encouraging nationwide celebrations to mark the country’s effective return to normalcy after 16 months of coronavirus pandemic disruption.

Even as the U.S. is set to record Tuesday its 600,000th death in the pandemic, the White House is expressing growing certainty that July 4th will serve as a breakthrough moment in the nation’s recovery. That’s even though the U.S. is not expected to quite reach its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the holiday.

As COVID-19 case rates and deaths drop to levels not seen since the first days of the outbreak, Biden is proclaiming “a summer of freedom” to celebrate Americans resuming their pre-pandemic lives.

The holiday will see the largest event yet of Biden’s presidency: He plans to host first responders, essential workers and military servicemembers and their families on the South Lawn for a cookout and to watch the fireworks over the National Mall. Well more than 1,000 guests are expected, officials said, with final arrangements still to be sorted out.

Just three months ago cautiously, the president cautiously held out hope that people might be able to hold small cookouts by the Fourth of July.

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TOKYO — Japan says it will donate 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam.

The Japanese government is expanding its contribution to Southeast Asian countries that Tokyo considers important partners in the region where China increasingly expands its influence.

Japan’s AstraZeneca vaccines are produced in Japan under a licensing deal and will be delivered Wednesday to Vietnam, Motegi says. He adds Japan is also considering sending AstraZeneca doses in early July to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Japan, with its vaccine development still uncertain, currently uses two imported vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. The nation has vaccinated about 5% of its population.

Japan has also approved AstraZeneca but has no immediate plans to use it at home, in part due to reported blood clotting concern.

Japan has pledged $1 billion and 30 million vaccine doses to a U.N.-led COVAX program for low-income nations. Japan also donated 1.24 million AstraZeneca doses this month to Taiwan, outside of the COVAX facility.

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LONDON — Britain’s Conservative government is fending off calls to provide more financial support to businesses and workers.

They are expected to suffer financially from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement to delay the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England by four weeks to July 19. The delay aims to get more people vaccinated to counter rising infections due to the delta variant.

Although many restrictions have been eased in recent weeks and large parts of the U.K. economy have reopened, several businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, have not. Business leaders and unions think the U.K. government should extend its support programs for those firms that have been affected by the delay.

On Tuesday, the British government reported 7,673 new confirmed cases, one of the highest daily numbers since the end of February. The delta variant accounted for around 90% of all new infections.

Nearly 62% of the British population have received one vaccine shot, while about 45% have gotten two.

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TOKYO — Japanese companies have joined the effort to speed up the country’s lagging coronavirus vaccine rollout before the Tokyo Olympics begin next month.

Japan’s vaccination program has been the slowest among developed nations, with about 5% of its population fully vaccinated. The government recently unveiled workplace inoculation efforts by major companies to supplement those led by local governments.

Energy and technology giant SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son visited a company vaccination site on Tuesday. He says the company plans 15 such sites to vaccinate 250,000 people, including SoftBank employees and their families.

Other companies like Toyota Motor Corp., Rakuten, Suntory, Fujitsu and ANA also are joining the vaccination campaign.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo after a one-year delay and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country’s 36 million elderly people by the end of July.

Vaccinations have been slowed by reservation procedures, distribution issues and shortages of medical staff to give shots.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Authorities in Malaysia have granted conditional approval to two more vaccines as they aim to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus in the country by the end of the year.

Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah says single dose vaccines produced by China’s CanSino Biologics and American company Johnson & Johnson were granted conditional approval for emergency use.

Malaysia already uses vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac. Noor Hisham says the J&J vaccine will be obtained from the global COVAX facility.

Noor Hisham says the Malaysian health ministry has also given authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be given to children older than 12. Only people over 18 so far have been eligible for the government’s voluntary vaccination program.

Malaysia has been under a large-scale lockdown since June 1 as it struggles with daily infections. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a televised address on Tuesday that restrictions will be lifted in phases.

Malaysia has reported more than 662,000 confirmed virus cases with nearly 4,000 deaths. Less than 10% of the nation’s 32 million people have been vaccinated.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country has issued nearly 5 million vaccination certificates designed to be part of a European Union-wide digital pass system.

Germany launched the rollout of the certificates late last week. Users can download proof of their coronavirus vaccination status onto a smartphone app.

Pharmacies across the country started issuing certificates on Monday to people who have been fully vaccinated and so far have only analogue proof. The certificates can also be issued on-site by large vaccination centers. German officials say they have already been used by travelers at European borders without problems.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said as he arrived at a meeting with European Union colleagues in Luxembourg on Tuesday that 5 million certificates would be issued by the end of the day.

As of Monday, 22.3 million people in Germany had been fully vaccinated, 26.8% of the population.

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