The Latest: Protests decry Brazil policies as toll tops 500K

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Men wait outside a privately owned oxygen factory to get their oxygen cylinders refilled, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 19, 2021. Health officials say Afghanistan is fast running out of oxygen as a deadly third surge of COVID worsen. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Brazil as the nation’s confirmed death toll from COVID-19 soared past half a million.

It’s a tragedy many critics blame on President Jair Bolsonaro’s attempt to minimize the disease.

Thousands gathered Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, waving flags reading “Get out Bolsonaro.” Other marchers hoisted posters reading: “500 thousand deaths. It’s his fault.”

Similar marches took place in at least 22 or Brazil’s 26 states. They were promoted by left-wing opposition parties who have been heartened by Bolsonaro’s declining poll ratings with next year’s presidential race looming.

Bolsonaro’s supporters have taken more often to the streets over the past month, in large part because many agree with his dismissal of restrictions meant to stifle the coronavirus and anger that lockdown measures have hurt businesses.

Critics say such messages, as well as Bolsonaro’s promotion of disproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, have contributed to the soaring death toll and a sluggish vaccine campaign that has fully inoculated less than 12% of the population. The country of some 213 million people is registering nearly 100,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths a day.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Afghanistan races to ramp up oxygen suppliesas infections soar

— US families angered that coronavirus restrictions still keep themfrom loved ones in nursing homes even as elderly vaccinations are widespread

— 10,000 heavy metal fans enjoy UK music festival in late st COVID-19 crowd test

— Biden promotes milestone of 300M vaccine shots in 150 days

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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:

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil said Saturday that more than 500,000 people in the country are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The nation of 210 million people has been reporting an average of more than 2,000 daily deaths in recent days. Brazil’s reported death toll is second only to that of the U.S., where the number of lives lost has topped 600,000.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga confirmed that the official death toll had passed 500,000.

“I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest time possible and change this scenario that has plagued us for over a year,” Queiroga tweeted.

Brazil is registering more than 70,000 confirmed coronavirus infections every day. Just 11.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the government.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus while trying to keep the economy humming. He dismissed the scourge early on as “a little flu” and has scorned masks.

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WILMINGTON, Del. — The United States is sending 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan on Saturday, according to a senior Biden administration official, increasing its allocation to the country amid Chinese pressure on Taiwan.

The U.S. had originally planned to send 750,000 doses to Taiwan. The senior administration official, granted anonymity to discuss plans that had not been publicly announced, said the increase in doses reflects the importance of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship and an awareness of “unfair challenges” Taiwan has faced in acquiring vaccines.

Taiwan blamed the Chinese government when an attempt by Taiwan to purchase vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech SE failed. China has also stepped up its military activities around Taiwan, which the senior administration official said was destabilizing to the area.

The delivery is part of the Biden administration’s vaccine diplomacy efforts, and a portion of the 80 million U.S.-made shots President Joe Biden has pledged to distribute

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — The authoritarian president of Turkmenistan, who claims that his country has been free of coronavirus, is calling for heightened measures against infection.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered that Turkmens returning to the country undergo a 21-day quarantine and called for strengthened controls at borders, where crossings are already tightly restricted.

His orders were reported Saturday by the government newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s national coronavirus taskforce on Saturday reported 17,906 new infections, more than double the daily tally from early June.

More than half of the new infections are in Moscow, where cases have tripled this month. The soaring case count has caused alarm among officials, who have increased measures to obstruct the spread.

Moscow, its outlying area and two other Russian regions this week ordered mandatory vaccinations for workers in retail, education and other service sectors. Moscow has closed food courts in shopping centers and restricted restaurants and bars in the capital to takeout orders from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Russians are widely resistant to vaccinations and only about 12% of the population has received a shot. Nearly 5.3 million cases have been reported in the country of 146 million, with 128,911 deaths, but experts consider both numbers undercounts.

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KABUL — Afghanistan’s is racing to ramp up supplies of oxygen as a deadly third surge of COVID-19 worsens, a senior health official told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.

The government is installing oxygen supply plants in 10 provinces where up to 65% of those tested in some areas are positive, health ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigir Nazari said. By WHO recommendations, anything higher than 5% shows officials aren’t testing widely enough, allowing the virus to spread unchecked.

Afghanistan carries out barely 4,000 tests a day and often much less.

Afghanistan’s 24-hour infection count has also continued its upward climb from 1,500 at the end of May when the health ministry was already calling the surge “a crisis,” to more than 2,300 this week.

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LONDON — Thousands of heavy metal fans were camping, singing — and even moshing — on Saturday at Britain’s first full music festival since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-day Download Festival, taking place at Donington Park in central England, is one of a series of test events to see whether mass gatherings can resume without triggering outbreaks of COVID-19.

About 10,000 fans, a tenth of the festival’s pre-pandemic attendance, secured tickets to watch more than 40 U.K.-based bands including Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Enter Shikari and Bullet for My Valentine.

Attendees all took COVID-19 tests before the event, and don’t have to wear masks or follow social distancing rules during the festival.

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PARIS — French police clashed with party-goers as they tried to break up an unauthorized rave in western France, authorities said Saturday. A 22-year-old man lost his hand and several others were injured amid the violence, including police.

The tensions erupted in a field near the Brittany town of Redon on Friday night, just two days before France lifts an overnight virus curfew that’s been in place for more than eight months and has prompted growing frustration among young people.

Police repeatedly fired tear gas and charged clusters of violent partygoers who hurled metal balls, gasoline bombs and other projectiles at security forces, according to images shared online and comments by the top government official in the region, prefect Emmanuel Berthier. Local authorities estimated about 1,500 people took part in the event despite a local ordinance banning it.

France is lifting the overnight curfew on Sunday.

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ROCHESTER, New York — Pandemic restrictions are falling away almost everywhere — except inside many of America’s nursing homes. Rules designed to protect the nation’s most vulnerable from COVID-19 are still being enforced even though 75% of nursing home residents are now vaccinated and infections and deaths have plummeted.

Frustration has set in as families around the country visit their moms and, this Father’s Day weekend, their dads. Hugs and kisses are still discouraged or banned in some nursing homes. Residents are dining in relative isolation and playing bingo and doing crafts at a distance. Visits are limited and must be kept short, and are cut off entirely if someone tests positive.

Family members and advocates question the need for such restrictions at this stage of the pandemic, when the risk is comparatively low. They say the measures are now just prolonging older people’s isolation and accelerating their mental and physical decline.

“They have protected them to death,” said Denise Gracely, whose 80-year-old mother, Marian Rauenzahn, lives in a nursing home in Topton, Pennsylvania.

Rauenzahn had COVID-19 and then lost part of a leg to gangrene, but Graceley said what she struggled with the most was enforced solitude, going from six-day-a-week visits to none at all.

Rauenzahn’s daughters eventually won the right to see her once a week, and the nursing home now says it plans to relax the rules on visits for all residents in late June.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The sultanate of Oman has lurched back into a strict nightly lockdown as it struggles to curb a major surge in severe coronavirus cases that has overwhelmed hospitals.

Mere weeks after lifting most restrictions amid its vaccination campaign, the country on Saturday announced a wide-ranging movement ban and the shutdown of all public places and nonessential businesses from 8 p.m. to 4. a.m.

Daily coronavirus infections have more than tripled in the last month in the Gulf Arab state. Doctors struggling to handle the influx of new patients have reported bed and staff shortages at major hospitals.

Officials this week detected several cases of what’s known as “black fungus” in COVID-19 patients, a potentially fatal infection that also has spread quickly among virus patients in India.

Oman has recorded more than 242,700 infections and 2,600 deaths. Its inoculation campaign has lagged compared to Gulf neighbors as the government struggles to overcome vaccine skepticism.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister says people 30 and above are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting Sunday.

Turkey’s vaccination program has gained momentum, with more than 1.5 million jabs administered Friday, as more people become eligible. More than 26.4 million people have received their first vaccine dose and 14.3 million people have received both doses.

Vaccines from the Chinese company Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech are being administered in the country of nearly 84 million people. Turkey has also announced it will use Russia’s Sputnik V.

The 7-day average of daily infections is nearly 5,800, a significant drop from the record high of 63,000 infections a week in mid-April.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Saturday reported the lowest daily number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in the past three months.

Federal authorities reported 27 deaths and 974 new confirmed cases. That brings the total deaths to 21,940 and more than 947,000 cases since the virus first appeared last year.

With a steady decline in cases, the worst-affected southern Sindh province announced Saturday that it was easing restrictions in the commercial hub, Karachi, other major urban centers and in rural areas. Authorities in Sindh said junior schools would reopen on Monday and all senior schools and higher educational institutions would follow shortly. Shrines, marriage halls and parks will also be allowed to open by next week.

Pakistan’s top health official rejected reports about a shortage of coronavirus vaccine, saying millions of more doses of vaccines will be arriving in the country during the next 10 days.

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TOKYO — Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says plans to hold mass public viewings of the Olympics at six sites have been canceled, as worries grow about the coronavirus pandemic amid one of the slowest vaccine rollouts in the developed world.

“These are necessary measures to make the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a success,” she told reporters after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The sites had included Inokashira and Yoyogi parks as well as a university in Tokyo to watch livestreaming of the games, which open July 23. Koike said the sites will instead be offered as vaccination sites.

Some medical experts have expressed concern about holding the games, with tens of thousands of athletes, officials and dignitaries entering the country.

Fans from abroad were banned several months ago, and organizers are expected to announce Monday whether local fans will be allowed. The recommendation Friday from advisers headed by Dr. Shigeru Omi was that having no fans would be safer.

Only about 6% of people in Japan are fully vaccinated. Companies, like automaker Toyota Motor Corp. and technology conglomerate SoftBank, start inoculating workers and their families in a massive drive starting Monday.

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda is tightening its lockdown measures to try to stem a surge in coronavirus infections in the East African country that is seeing an array of variants.

The measures announced late Friday by President Yoweri Museveni include a ban on private and public transportation within and across districts, including in the capital Kampala. Only vehicles carrying cargo and those transporting the sick or essential workers are permitted to operate on the roads.

The normally crowded shops in downtown Kampala have also been ordered shut. An ongoing nighttime curfew will stay in place. The new measures will last 42 days.

Uganda is among some African countries seeing a dramatic rise in the number of infections amid a vaccine shortage. It has confirmed 68,779 infections, including 584 deaths. The actual totals are believed to be much higher.

The Africa director of the World Health Organization spoke Thursday of a “sobering trajectory of surging cases” in Africa that she said “should rouse everyone to urgent action.”

Africa’s 1.3 billion people account for 18% of the world’s population, but the continent has received only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally.

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

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