The Latest: Austria toughens entry requirements over virus


VIENNA – Austria is toughening entry requirements in an effort to prevent the spread of contagious coronavirus variants.

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday that the country will require weekly tests for cross-border commuters, who also will have to register under a “pre-travel clearance system,” the Austria Press Agency reported.

It also will scrap the possibility for new arrivals to cut their 10-day quarantine short by testing negative.

Nehammer also said that checks by police and health officials in Austrian ski resorts will be stepped up after authorities discovered visitors in illegally booked accommodation.

On Friday, police in St. Anton checked 44 properties and filed complaints against 96 people, among them Britons, Danes, Swedes, Romanians, Germans, Australians, Poles and Irish citizens. While ski slopes are open to locals in Austria, hotels are closed to tourists.

Austria plans to loosen some coronavirus restrictions next week, opening schools, museums, hairdressers and nonessential shops.



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– Even if schools reopen by late April, millions of students, many of them minorities in urban areas, may be left out


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HELSINKI – Estonia says it will allow, effective Tuesday, those passengers arriving to the country with a proof of COVID-19 vaccination to omit quarantine requirement. Health officials of the Baltic country say that proof isn’t restricted only to those vaccine suppliers approved in the European Union but proof from any of the global vaccine suppliers would be accepted.

However, Estonia’s Health Board said that certificate of vaccination from foreign nationals has to meet certain criteria, including language.

Vaccination certificates must be in either in Estonian, Russian – which is widely spoken in Estonia – or English.

Hanna Sepp, head of the Health Board’s infectious diseases unit, told the Estonian public broadcaster ERR that the certificate has to indicate the disease against which the person has been vaccinated, when the vaccine was formulated and which manufacturer’s vaccine was used. It also has to include data on the issuer of the vaccine and the vaccine batch number.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Children in classes up to fourth grade will return to school Feb. 8 as Denmark has seen a steady reduction in new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.

Health minister Magnus Heunicke said it was “a careful reopening,” adding the Scandinavian country still deals with the variant first reported in Britain which has been spreading in Denmark despite overall declining infection numbers.

Staff at schools will undergo regular testing and parents will be required to wear face masks on school sites.

Denmark has recorded 2,145 deaths and 198,960 cases.


PRAGUE – The economy in the Czech Republic experienced a record decline in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The preliminary figures from the Czech Statistics Office released on Tuesday show that the Czech economy contracted by 5.6% last year compared with the previous year.

It is the worst result for the economy since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

In the last quarter of 2020, the economy expanded by 0.3% compared with the previous quarter, mainly due to demand for Czech goods from abroad.

The office said local household consumption and investments were down throughout the year.

The export-oriented Czech economy relies heavily on car production, an industry badly hit by the pandemic.


BERLIN – The German language’s English language import of the year for 2020 is — surprise! — “lockdown.”

A jury of academics on Tuesday announced that the word, which has been ubiquitous in German since the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe nearly a year ago, has been chosen as “Anglicism of the year.” Previous winners include “fake news” in 2016.

The runners-up were a string of pandemic-related terms that also have become established in German: “social distancing,” “superspreader,” “homeoffice,” “homeschooling” and “shutdown.”

The jury cited the “central role” that “lockdown” played in discussions of measures to combat the pandemic and its “quick integration” into Germans’ vocabulary. It pointed to the appearance of offshoots such as “lockdownbedingt” (because of the lockdown) and “lockdownaehnlich” (similar to a lockdown).

Germany is currently in its second lockdown. Infection figures in the country have fallen, but it’s unclear whether restrictions will be loosened in mid-February, when it is currently due to end.


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka has reported the first death of a doctor due to COVID-19.

Health authorities said the 31-year-old doctor at a government hospital on the outskirt of Colombo died Tuesday while receiving treatment in an Intensive Care Unit.

Sri Lanka’s first COVID-19 patient was detected last March, and since then 332 people have died of the coronavirus out of 64,982 confirmed cases.


SEATTLE – Authorities in Washington state are warning hospitals and other facilities giving coronavirus vaccinations not to give special access to some people, saying they will risk having their supplies of doses cut.

The state Health Department said in a statement Monday that “VIP scheduling, reserving doses for inequitable or exclusive access, and similar practices are banned and will not be tolerated.”

The Seattle Times has reported that three medical systems in the region gave special vaccine access to big donors or foundation members. Two of the hospital organizations acknowledged they made a mistake in prioritizing influential people.

The Health Department’s announcement says that if a vaccine provider is found to be giving out shots in an inequitable manner “we may reduce or stop allocations to that provider.”


WASHINGTON – The U.S. government says it won’t conduct immigration enforcement arrests at coronavirus vaccination sites around the country.

In a statement Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said vaccine sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and will not be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

DHS says it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to get vaccinated when they are eligible under local rules.

ICE has previously included health care facilities as well as churches among the sensitive locations where arrests would generally not be carried out.


WASHINGTON – The White House is tamping down expectations for a potential boost in vaccine distribution if Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot is approved by federal regulators.

Andy Slavitt, the White House’s deputy COVID-19 coordinator, told reporters that the single-dose shot would undoubtedly help the Biden administration meet its goal of 300 million vaccinated Americans by the end of summer. But he says: “The expectation should not be that there’s an immediate, dramatic shift.”

The pharmaceutical company reported strong results for the efficacy of its vaccine on Friday and is expected to file for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days.

Johnson & Johnson is contracted to provide 100 million doses by the end of the second quarter.

Slavitt says he did not anticipate an even distribution, but that most doses “would come towards the end of that contract.”


WASHINGTON – White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says the government awarded a $231-million contract to scale up production of a COVID-19 home test recently authorized by U.S. regulators.

For months, health experts have stressed the need for fast, widespread home testing so that people can screen themselves and avoid contact with others if they have an infection. But the vast majority of tests still require a nasal swab performed by a health worker that must be processed at high-tech laboratories.

The test kit from Australian manufacturer Ellume allows users to swab themselves at home and check their status in about 20 minutes. It’s one of only three tests that consumers can use themselves, and the only one available without a doctor’s prescription.

Ellume said Monday it would use the contract to construct a U.S. manufacturing plant and deliver 8.5 million tests for federal use. It did not specify a timeframe for delivery.

Also on Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down in recent weeks, but three mutations that are causing concern have been detected in the U.S.

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