The Latest: Hawaii eases virus rules for inter-island travel

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A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus visits the Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka, western Japan, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

HONOLULU — Hawaii officials are moving forward with a plan to allow people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to skip pre-travel testing and quarantine requirements for flights between islands.

The rule, for now, is only for people who have received vaccinations in Hawaii and for travel within the state.

The plan does not change anyone’s ability to travel and avoid quarantine by testing, but adds another option for those who have received the shots

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— EU regulator OKs warning labels for J&J vaccine

— ‘No place for you’: Indian hospitals buckle amid virus surge

— Learning to breathe: German clinic helps COVID-19 long haulers

— Tulips, bluebells, cherry blossoms in bloom with fewer admirers

— Follow all 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:

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is extending travel restrictions that make it mandatory for air travelers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada.

He’s also thanking the country’s two major airlines for extending a voluntary suspension of flights to Mexico and all Caribbean destinations until May 21. The measures were first announced in January.

Trudeau is reiterating that now is not the time to travel. He says Canada’s strict travel, testing, and quarantine measures are extremely important. But he notes international travel directly accounts for a small amount of cases in Canada and those restrictions are just one tool to fight the pandemic.

Canada is seeing a third wave of infections particularly in Ontario where Premier Doug Ford was slow in re-imposing lockdown restrictions.

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NEW YORK — General Motors is joining the growing list of companies that will provide more flexible work options for its employees as more people get vaccinated amid the coronavirus pandemic.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a post on LinkedIn on Tuesday that the automaker will allow its employees to have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact on achieving the company’s goals, as long as the job lends itself to such a situation. Called “Work Appropriately,” GM says its approach is based on the belief that its employees are “capable of making smart decisions without overly prescriptive guidance.”

The announcement comes a month after Ford Motor Co. told about 30,000 of its employees worldwide who have worked from home that they can continue to do so indefinitely, with flexible hours approved by their managers. Ford plans to use a work-office “hybrid”: employees will commute to work mainly for group meetings and projects best-suited for face-to-face interaction.

Aside from Ford, Salesforce, Facebook, Google and other tech firms have said they’ll continue work-from-home policies indefinitely.

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ROME — Italy has opened its latest coronavirus vaccination hub in one of Rome’s most iconic cultural spots: The Cinecitta film studios where “La Dolce Vita,” “Ben Hur” and other gems of Italian cinema were made.

Romans getting their shots Tuesday were treated to posters of movie stars and inspirational messages (“Be happy!”) from the likes of Sophia Loren and Roberto Benigni surrounding them in the waiting room of the vast studio-turned-vaccine center.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini was on hand for the opening, saying Cinecitta held a “glorious place” in the history of Italian film but also an important place for the present and future of Italian movie-making post-COVID.

The Cinecitta studios now join Rome’s main train station, auditorium and conference center as hubs for vaccinations in the Eternal City, part of the government’s effort to rapidly increase the pace of shots in the onetime epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Two national drugstore chains say they have largely finished the job of delivering COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff of most long-term care locations.

CVS and Walgreens started sending teams of health care workers to nursing homes, assisted-living locations and other sites in December. They have delivered a combined total of 7.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far.

COVID-19 caused more than 646,000 cases and 131,000 deaths in long-term care facilities. But weekly totals for new cases have declined more than 90% since the vaccination program started, according to the American Health Care Association, which represents most nursing homes.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister says he is planning a new round of vaccinations in six months, possibly involving children.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply an additional 16 million vaccines to Israel. He says, “So prepare your arms, muscles for those who want, and the children as well. Our estimate is that by then, there will be approved vaccines for children.”

Many health experts believe people who are vaccinated may need to receive boosters to maintain their immunity levels.

Israel carried out an aggressive vaccination push in which nearly 90% of the adult population has either been inoculated or recovered from COVID-19. This has allowed the government to reopen schools, stores, restaurants and its main airport in recent weeks. This week, the government said people no longer must wear masks outdoors – ending a year-long restriction.

Israel has come under criticism from U.N. officials and human rights groups for not sharing more of its vaccines with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel says that under previous diplomatic agreements, it is not responsible for vaccinating the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has been working to secure its own vaccine supplies, in large part through the U.N.-backed COVAX program, but lags far behind Israel.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Nearly half of Iowa’s counties have turned down shipments of COVID-19 vaccine because of a lack of demand, state officials said while trying to drum up interest in the shots with a public information campaign.

The state Department of Public Health has told counties to decline doses when they can’t ensure they can use them all, said spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand.

The state reported Tuesday that 43 of Iowa’s 99 counties declined additional shipments of the vaccines. Of the 43, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 12 as having a high rates of coronavirus infections.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador got a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday.

López Obrador got a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a military nurse at his daily morning press conference.

“It doesn’t hurt, and what is more, it protects us all,” says López Obrador, urging all Mexicans over age 60 to get vaccinated.

The president had said in March he would hold off on getting the shot because he still had antibodies after being infected in January. But he later changed his mind upon the recommendation of his doctor to get vaccinated. He also said he wanted to set an example for others to get the shot.

The 67-year-old president was scheduled to get his shot in the first week of April, along with other over-60s in central Mexico City.

While López Obrador sought to set an example with the vaccine, he has expressed disdain for masks. He’s refused to make them mandatory in public spaces, saying it would violate individual liberties.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s daily coronavirus cases have soared to their highest peak in over eight months at 1,070 infections, even as the kingdom accelerates its mass vaccination campaign.

The surge comes as Saudi Arabia marks the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a holiday rooted in gatherings of families and friends in mosques, malls and streets.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the government is allowing only vaccinated worshippers to enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Mosques are banned from serving public fast-breaking evening meals known as “iftar” and predawn suhoor meals.

Saudi Arabia, a country of some 34 million, has administered more than 20 vaccine doses made by Pfizer or AstraZeneca for every 100 residents.

There’s been 407,000 confirmed cases and 6,846 confirmed deaths in the country, according to government figures.

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ATHENS, Greece — The Church of Greece says it will allow the faithful to attend next week’s Orthodox Easter services, holding them earlier to conform with a government curfew, and with crowd limits. Worshippers were not allowed to attend last year’s Easter services because of concerns it would spread the pandemic.

The decision Tuesday comes despite the country’s high number of COVID-19 infections and deaths — both much larger than a year ago — while hospitals are struggling to cope with unprecedented numbers of intubated patients.

The Church’s governing body says after a virtual meeting that worshippers “must by no means be deprived of participation,” in the Orthodox Easter, which is the most popular date on Greece’s religious calendar.

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LONDON — The European Union’s drug regulatory agency said that it found a “possible link” between Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and extremely rare blood clots and recommended a warning be added to the label. But experts at the agency reiterated that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.

The European Medicines Agency made its determination Tuesday after examining a small number of clot cases in people vaccinated in the U.S. It said these problems should be considered “very rare side effects of the vaccine.”

J&J immediately announced it will revise its label as requested and resume vaccine shipments to the EU, Norway and Iceland.

In March, the EMA, which oversees the use of pharmaceutical products in 27 countries across the continent with a combined population of about 448 million, likewise recommended a label change for AstraZeneca’s vaccine after finding a link between it and rare blood clots.

In both cases, the agency said the benefits of being immunized against COVID-19 outweigh the very small risks of developing the unusual clots.

The EMA’s executive director, Emer Cooke, said that no unusual blood clot cases connected to the J&J vaccine had been reported in Europe and that the agency will require further studies from the company as its vaccine is rolled out.

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NEW YORK — Schools can continue serving free meals to all students through June 2022 under more flexible rules that began during the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s offering alternative meal pick-up options and the ability to serve meals in non-group settings. The flexibilities are intended to give schools a degree of certainty as they plan for the school year ahead, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The USDA’s national school meal programs have long been a vital source of free and low-cost food for students. Families normally need to meet income requirements to qualify for free breakfasts and lunches. But as schools closed during the pandemic, the USDA eased restrictions so schools could distribute meals to all students at pick-up and drop-off locations.

To help schools get back to meeting the nutrition guidelines, the USDA says it is boosting the amount schools are reimbursed for each meal served.

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HELSINKI — Estonia will ease existing coronavirus restrictions and lockdown measures in two stages in the next few weeks, including partly lifting restrictions on stores, restaurants, schools and certain sports activities.

The Estonian government says the improved COVID-19 situation will allow instructed outdoor sports activities for up to 10 people to resume on April 26.

Restrictions on shops, eateries and schools would be partly lifted from May 3.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas says the COVID-19 situation in small nation of 1.3 million “is better, the spread of the virus has slowed down” largely due to lock-down measures imposed in March.

Estonia daily coronavirus cases have decreased to about 300-500 from around 1,500-1,900 in late March and early April.

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TOKYO — Japan’s western metropolis of Osaka has decided to ask the government to declare a state of emergency in the region after ongoing alert measures failed to control the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant.

The decision by Osaka’s governor to request a third state of emergency comes just 50 days after a weaker state of emergency ended. A new state of emergency, under a law toughened in February, would allow authorities to issue binding orders for business owners to close or shorten service hours.

Measures for the general public, including mask wearing and staying at home, would remain non-mandatory requests. Osaka is expected to close theme parks, shopping malls and other commercial facilities to drastically reduce public activity for a few weeks.

Japan has recorded 537,317 confirmed cases and 9,671 confirmed deaths. Those are low numbers overall, but worse than some other Asian countries.

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

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