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Vietnam’s Health Ministry announced Saturday that it had detected a highly transmissible new variant of the coronavirus that has helped fuel a recent wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.

Genetic sequencing indicated that the new variant was a mix of the coronavirus strains first detected in the United Kingdom and India, said Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long, according to the VnExpress newspaper.

The minister said that the new variant was particularly contagious via air and that viral cultures have revealed that it replicates extremely quickly, the newspaper reported.

’'The new variant is very dangerous,’' Long said in a statement.

The Health Ministry didn’t return a Saturday afternoon request for comment.

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Scientists said that further study was needed to determine the effect of a variant in ’'real world settings.’'

’'A lot of different mutations happen as the virus is transmitted and most of them are not of clinical significance,’' said Todd Pollack, a Hanoi-based infectious-disease expert at Harvard Medical School. ’'Just because they say [the new variant] has features of one and the other . . . doesn’t mean they got together in one patient and spit out some combined hybrid ‘supervirus.’’'

There were seven known coronavirus variants in Vietnam before Long’s announcement, according to Reuters.

Vietnam, which has reported around 6,400 covid-19 infections and 47 deaths, has been one of the world’s coronavirus containment success stories. A well-run public health care system, quarantine camps operated by the military and strict, targeted lockdowns kept case numbers low until late April, when a spike in infections began.

Washington Post

Paris concert tests safety of dancing

PARIS — Thousands of people packed inside a Paris arena for a concert Saturday as part of a public health experiment to prepare France to host big events again.

The show at AccorHotels Arena in eastern Paris featured 1980s French rock band Indochine and DJ Etienne de Crecy. But the attention was mostly on the concert-goers.

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The Paris public hospital authority helped organize the event to determine whether it’s safe to allow 5,000 people wearing masks to dance together in the open pit of an indoor concert without social distancing.

The attendees got to see the show for free but were required to take three virus tests, two before and one after the concert. To further reduce risk, organizers only allowed people 18-45 years old without underlying health conditions to participate, according to the hospital authority.

France’s cultural venues were shut for most of the past 14 months as authorities tried to contain persistent surges of virus infections that filled hospitals and were linked to more than 109,000 deaths.

Associated Press

Okla. governor bars mask requirement at state offices

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma state agencies are barred from requiring a mask or coronavirus vaccination as a condition of being allowed to enter a state building or office under an executive order signed by Governor Kevin Stitt.

“It is time to return to normal,” Stitt said in a statement after signing the order Friday. “Every Oklahoman must have access to all government services whether or not they choose to be vaccinated or wear a mask.”

The order takes effect Tuesday. It was announced after Stitt signed into law a bill prohibiting schools and colleges from adopting mask or vaccination requirements. It, does not apply in medical settings with patients,

Stitt refused to issue a statewide mask mandate but in November required masks inside state buildings, an order he lifted in March.

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The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Friday reported 452,777 total coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and 1,214 currently active cases in the state.

Associated Press

Lebanon tries vaccination marathon

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s health authorities launched a COVID-19 vaccination “marathon” to speed up inoculations around the country, including areas where turnout has so far been low.

The daylong campaign offered AstraZeneca vaccines at 30 different centers around the country without advance appointments to encourage people over age 30 to show up. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, was not included in the campaign.

As of Saturday afternoon, 7,700 people had been vaccinated in the push.

A vaccination program that started in February targeted older age groups, primarily through registration on a government-operated platform and appointments.

Photos of lines outside centers north of Beirut showed high turnout for the appointment-less drive, particularly among foreign workers, many of whom had been reluctant or unable to register on the government-operated digital platform. There were also lines in towns and villages in the east and mountains, where turnout has so far been fickle.

So far, over 700,000 people have been vaccinated in the country of 6 million. Lebanon has reported a total of 530,000 confirmed cases and 7,700 deaths since February 2020.

Associated Press

Vaccination rates taking off in Europe

ROME — Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are plummeting across the continent, after Europe led the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.

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Now, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations on Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. There are hopes for a rebirth of a tourism industry that in Spain and Italy alone accounts for 13% of gross domestic product but was wiped out by the pandemic.

Europe saw the largest decline in new COVID-19 infections and deaths this week compared with any other region, while also reporting about 44% of adults had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Europe’s seven-day rolling average for new cases per 100,000 people had been higher than any other region from mid-October through the beginning of December, then from early February through April, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Now, no European country is among the top 10 for new cases per 100,000 people.

Associated Press

In Ga., governor says schools can no longer require masks

ATLANTA — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared Friday that public schools no longer have his permission to require masks for coronavirus protection, though his executive order fell short of banning such mandates outright.

The Republican governor’s written order came two days after Kemp declared: “The time for mandates is over.”

“We’re not going to have a mask mandate for our kids,” Kemp said. “Our teachers have had the ability to get vaccinated. It certainly doesn’t keep anyone from wearing a mask.”

The actual order adjusting Georgia’s few remaining coronavirus restrictions isn’t so strongly worded.

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Instead, Kemp’s order says Georgia school districts can no longer claim their authority to require masks comes from the governor.

It’s unclear how many Georgia districts ever required employees and students to wear masks. While a number of Atlanta school districts enforced the requirement, many districts in outer suburbs and rural areas only strongly recommended masks.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said school boards can likely require teachers and staff to wear masks without the governor’s permission, much like they impose dress codes.

Associated Press