WASHINGTON — U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is urging technology companies, health care workers and everyday Americans to do more to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines.
In a 22-page advisory as President Joe Biden’s surgeon general, Murthy on Thursday called misinformation about health matters a “serious public threat” and requested a nationwide response.
Bogus claims about coronavirus vaccines have led some people to reject masks, social distancing and immunizations, worsening the pandemic. Murthy urges tech companies to reduce the spread of such claims.
Teachers, he said, should expand education on media literacy and critical thinking. Journalists should work to responsibly debunk health misinformation without inadvertently spreading it further. And public health officials and doctors can do a better job answering questions and explaining why public health guidelines sometimes change based on new information.
The suggestions come as the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed throughout the U.S. The confirmed death toll in the U.S. recently surpassed 600,000.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Surgeon general urges US fight against COVID-19 misinformation
— WHO wants more access to virus data from China
— Virus cases at 6-month high in Tokyo before Olympics
— How the pandemic may have accelerated the creep of authoritarianism
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Coronavirus infections in the Britain hit another six-month high, while the number of COVID-19 deaths was the highest since late March.
Government figures showed 48,553 confirmed cases, the biggest daily figure since Jan. 15. Cases have spiked sharply in recent weeks from the spread of the more contagious delta variant. The government has warned that daily infections could hit 100,000 this summer, a level not previously reached during the pandemic.
The government, which is lifting all remaining legal restrictions on social gatherings in England on Monday, is hoping the rapid rollout of vaccines will keep a lid on the number of people requiring hospital treatment for COVID-19.
The data Thursday showed another 63 virus-related deaths, the biggest daily increase since March 26, taking the confirmed total to 128,593.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says he’s hoping for better cooperation and access to data from China in the search for the origins of the coronavirus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international expert team that traveled to China this year to investigate the cause of the outbreak, which was first reported from Wuhan.
Tedros says the Geneva-based body is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic.”
He also says there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the coronavirus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” he said. “It’s common. Checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important and we need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic, then, if we get full information, we can exclude that.”
Tedros says the world owed it to the millions who had died “to know what happened and to prevent the same crisis from happening again. And that’s why we need cooperation.”
His words were echoed by Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, who urged Chinese officials to allow the investigation into the origins of the virus to proceed.
AMSTERDAM — A top official at the European Medicines Agency says a decision on whether to recommend that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine be authorized for children is expected late next week.
It could become the first such license for the shot’s use in children globally. Dr. Marco Cavaleri, the EU drug regulator’s head of vaccines strategy, says its committee was currently evaluating Moderna’s application to extend the use of its coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12-17.
Moderna’s vaccine was given the green light for use in anyone 18 and over across the 27-nation European Union in January. It has also been licensed in countries including Canada and the U.S. But so far, its use has not been extended to children.
Last week, EU president Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc had delivered enough vaccines to immunize 70% of its adult population. Many countries are looking to inoculate children, despite the significantly lower risk they face from COVID-19.
Although Britain’s regulatory agency has authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children, its vaccine advisory group has yet to recommend children be immunized. Many health officials say millions of people in developing countries at high risk of the disease have yet to receive a single shot.
ROME — Italy is sending more than 25 tons of ventilators, masks, surgical gowns, disposable gloves and hand gel to Tunisia.
Last month, Tunisia had one of the highest per capital infection rates in Africa. The Italian Foreign Ministry says Thursday that several ships will ferry the aid to the nation across the Mediterranean, with the first vessel having departed from Naples.
The ministry says the assistance reflects its “friendship and solidarity to the Tunisian people.” Italy has good relations with Tunisia, which is one of the few countries that regularly accepts repatriated Tunisians who reach Italy on traffickers’ boats.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Japan sent a third shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan, bringing its total donation to 3.3 million doses.
A Japan Airlines flight landed at Taoyuan airport outside of Taipei on Thursday with 970,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Taiwan had a severe vaccine shortage after its worst outbreak of coronavirus this spring. Taiwan’s deputy interior minister, Chen Tsung-yen, said: “We thank our friends in Japan for their help at a time Taiwan needs it most.”
The donations also have geopolitical meaning, a sign of Japanese support for Taiwan, which has feuded with China over vaccine supplies. China claims self-governing Taiwan as its own territory.
The U.S. donated 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Taiwan last month.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa director Matshidiso Moeti says some hospitals across the continent of 1.3 billion people are at the breaking point.
She says Africa has registered 1 million new coronavirus cases in the past month, the shortest time for such an increase in infections. The African continent has confirmed more than 6 million cases.
The highly infectious delta variant has been identified in 21 countries in the WHO Africa region. Meanwhile just over 1% of people across Africa have been fully vaccinated. Health officials are concerned about the slow arrival of doses.
The World Health Organization says another 190 million vaccine doses are needed to fully vaccinate 10% of Africa’s population. But it says some 450,000 vaccine doses have expired in about eight African countries because doses arrived late or were not used in time. WHO says that situation is improving.
TOKYO — Coronavirus cases in Tokyo have surged above 1,300 for a six-month high, just one week before the Olympics.
There are concerns a dramatic increase could flood hospitals during the Olympics, which start on July 23.
Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency. It began Monday and requires restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol through the Olympics, which end in early August.
The tally Thursday is the highest since 1,485 were recorded on Jan. 21, when Japan was under an earlier state of emergency. It’s an increase from 1,149 cases on Wednesday.
New daily cases have been steadily climbing since mid-June. Health experts say cases could hit several thousand during the games. Last week, organizers banned local fans at most Olympic events.
BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona and the surrounding northeast corner of Spain plan to shut down once again to stem the delta variant of the coronavirus, especially among the unvaccinated young.
Regional authorities are waiting for a judge to give the legal go-ahead for their request to restore a nightly curfew. The curfew order will affect those towns with a population of more than 5,000 and surpass the rate of 400 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days.
Catalonia, with numbers double the Spanish average, is currently among the most hard-hit areas in Europe with over 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days. Only Cyprus is worse off in Europe, according to the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Catalan health official Carmen Cabezas says summertime partying and the delta variant have created “the perfect storm.”
PARIS — Some French restaurant staff are concerned that new mandatory COVID-19 passes will turn them into coronavirus police instead of purveyors of culinary pleasures.
Starting next month, all diners in France must show a pass proving they’re fully vaccinated, or recently tested negative or recovered from the virus. Many restaurants are already struggling to respect France’s oft-changing virus rules.
Some 1,000 Paris restaurants were ordered to temporarily shut down for nine days for not respecting limits on visitors in recent weeks. President Emmanuel Macron’s government says the passes are necessary to protect hospitals from new virus waves and avoid lockdowns.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Many Asian countries are experiencing their worst surge of coronavirus infections.
The slow flow of vaccine doses from around the world is finally picking up speed, giving hope that low inoculation rates can increase and help blunt the effect of the rapidly spreading delta variant.
Some 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived Thursday in Indonesia, which has become a dominant hot spot with record high infections and deaths. Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea have all imposed new lockdowns as they struggle to contain rapidly rising infections amid sluggish vaccination campaigns.
The U.S. has sent tens of millions of vaccine doses to Asia, part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to provide 80 million doses, including to Vietnam, Laos, South Korea and Bangladesh.
The International Red Cross warned this week of a “widening global vaccine divide,” saying wealthy countries need to increase the pace of following through on their pledges.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is shipping more than 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines.
The White House tells the Associated Press the donated single-shot vaccines will begin arriving in the Philippines later this week through COVAX, the international program coordinating vaccine sharing with lower- and middle-income countries.
It’s one of the largest installments of shipments in the U.S.’s expanding vaccine diplomacy campaign, with the nation now sharing about 50 million doses with the world. More than 30 million doses are awaiting shipment to other countries, pending regulatory and logistical clearances.
The U.S. also will purchase 500 million Pfizer doses to share globally in the upcoming year, with the first doses delivered in August.
MELBOURNE — Australia’s second-largest city will lockdown for five days from Thursday night due to growing COVID-19 clusters.
Melbourne’s fifth lockdown of the pandemic will apply across Victoria state, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday.
The news came after officials announced on Wednesday that Australia’s largest city, Sydney, will remain in lockdown for five weeks.
A three-week lockdown of Sydney and surrounding communities in New South Wales state had been due to end on Friday. But it will now last until July 30 at the earliest.
Health authorities are concerned by how quickly the delta variant is spreading in a vulnerable Australian population in which fewer than 13% of adults are fully vaccinated.
MADRID — Spain’s king and queen and government have paid tribute to victims of COVID-19, with emphasis on the more than 100 health workers who have died from the new coronavirus.
The Cabinet joined King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia for an open-air ceremony Thursday at the royal palace in Madrid.
The monarch handed Order of Civil Merit medals to the families of the health workers who died.
“We cannot forget what happened,” Felipe said. “We must remember those who are no longer among us and show our respect and recognition of health workers.”
Some 130,000 Spanish health workers have been infected by the coronavirus, and officials fear a new surge among staff as the delta variant spreads.
In Catalonia, for example, more than 800 health staff were this week off work after testing positive.
Priority for vaccinations is now being given to anyone over 16 who lives with a health worker.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s planning minister on Thursday said the number of COVID-19 patients at hospitals had started rapidly increasing, weeks after health officials first detected the delta variant of the coronavirus in the country.
Pakistan reported 47 new deaths and 2,545 new cases in the past 24 hours, brining the country’s tally of deaths due to COVID-19 to 22,689 and number of total confirmed cases to 981,392.
Asad Umar urged people to follow social distancing rules and get vaccinated, saying that the delta variant, first identified in India, “has caused devastation in countries in the region.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has added 1,600 more coronavirus cases, with infections spreading beyond the hard-hit capital area where officials have enforced the country’s toughest social distancing restrictions.
The number of cases reported Thursday nearly match the one-day record of 1,615 set only a day earlier and marks the ninth straight day with more than 1,000 new cases recorded.
More than 1,100 of the latest cases are in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.
Infections are also rising outside the Seoul area, prompting calls for virus restrictions to be elevated nationwide. The 457 infections outside the capital region is the highest level since February 2020, when the country dealt with its first major outbreak, which was mostly limited to the southern city of Daegu and nearby areas.