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West Virginia closes all public schools amid teacher strike — even as governor signs pay bill

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All public schools in West Virginia were shuttered Thursday as teachers geared up to strike for better wages and health insurance options — even as Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill to raise teacher pay.

Still, dozens of teachers were gathering outside schools Thursday, ready to travel to Charleston, WV, to attend a rally outside of the capitol building, WSAZ reported.

On the eve of the impending strike, Justice, a Republican, signed a bill into law that would raise pay for teachers and state employees. The employees will receive a two percent raise in the 2018-2019 year and a one percent raise each of the next two years, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

WEST VIRGINIA WOMAN DRAGGED OUT OF CAPITOL FOR READING LIST OF CORPORATE DONORS

Justice said it’s important to keep both teachers and kids in the classroom.

“We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue. The PEIA [finance] board has also voted to approve changes I recommended,” Justice said in a statement. “I’ve asked and the PEIA board has voted to eliminate the mandated participation in the Go365 program, the use of combined household income to determine rates, and to freeze the plan for 16 months while we examine it and enact a long-term solution to the PEIA problems.”

The state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, wrote in a statement the “impending work stoppage is unlawful.”

“State law and court rulings give specific parties avenues to remedy such illegal conduct, including the option to seek an injunction to end an unlawful strike,” Morrisey said. “This illegal work stoppage affects hundreds of thousands of students and families across our state. Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law. We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”

According to the National Education Association, West Virginia teachers earn an average salary of $45,622, which ranks 48th among the states. The national average is $58,353.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the timing of the raise increases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tsunami warnings ease after one of the strongest earthquakes in modern history hits New Zealand | World News

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Thousands of New Zealanders have been told they can return to their homes after a powerful earthquake prompted tsunami warnings. 

Islanders on the east coast fled to higher ground following the series of quakes off North Island.

Small tsunami waves were triggered by the earthquakes – with footage posted on social media showing surges of water entering a marina in Northland and on the North Island’s East Cape region.

The largest waves have now passed and the threat level has been downgraded, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.

“All people who evacuated can now return,” it added.

Workers, students and residents were told to leave their homes in areas like Northland and Bay of Plenty – amid warnings tsunami waves could reach as high as 3m (10ft) above tide levels.

The final quake had a magnitude of 8.1 and struck the Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand‘s North Island.

It came shortly after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in the same region. A large 7.2-magnitude earthquake had struck earlier, about 540 miles away on the east of the North Island.

There were no reports of damage or casualties from the quakes.

There were traffic jams as people scrambled to get to higher ground
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There were traffic jams as people scrambled to get to higher ground
Some New Zealanders moved to higher ground after the tsunami warnings were issued. Pic: AP
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Some New Zealanders moved to higher ground after the tsunami warnings were issued. Pic: AP

NEMA earlier warned areas under threat were from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay including Whakatane and Opotiki, and the Great Barrier Island.

“We want everyone to take this threat seriously. Move to high ground,” Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai had told state broadcaster TVNZ.

Warnings were also issued for other Pacific islands like Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawaii and others.

Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island but said there was no threat to the mainland, while Chile said it could experience a minor tsunami.

“People near the coast in the following areas must move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible. DO NOT STAY AT HOME,” NEMA said in a statement posted online.

“The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible.”



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COVID-19: Australia hits back as Italy blocks vaccine shipment – and suggests EU is ‘tearing up rule book’ | World News

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Australia has hit back at the EU’s move to block a shipment of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – suggesting the bloc was trying to “tear up the rule book”. 

Italy earlier said it would block the export of about 250,000 vaccine doses from its Anagni plant, a decision that was later approved by the EU, after the drug company failed to meet its contract commitments.

Speaking to Sky News Australia, finance minister Simon Birmingham said: “The world is in unchartered territory at present – it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book.

“This is a demonstration of really how well Australia continues to do compared to the desperation of other countries.”

Despite expressing its frustration, the Australian government has signalled the move will not affect the country’s current vaccine rollout.

Health minister Greg Hunt said 300,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine had already been received and would last until local production ramps up.

“This is one shipment from one country,” he said. “This shipment was not factored into our distribution plan for coming weeks.”

It’s the latest incident in a feud between the EU and AstraZeneca, which had said it would only be able to deliver about 40% of the doses it agreed with the EU in the first quarter due to manufacturing issues.

In response, the EU introduced new laws allowing it to block exports from companies that have not fulfilled their contractual obligations. Italy is now the first country to make use of the mechanism.

Although it has taken a tough stance on the drugmaker, the EU has been slow to deliver its vaccination programme and has struggled to shift doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular.

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EU vaccine scepticism slows rollout

Last week, Germany’s health ministry said it had only administered 15% of the Oxford shots it had available – while France said it had used less than a quarter of the 1.1 million doses it received.

Australia started its vaccination programme two weeks ago and has 53.8 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on order.

Local company CSL Ltd has secured the rights to manufacture 50 million of these doses in Australia, which will provide the backbone of the programme.

The country has been one of the most successful in the world at dealing with the pandemic, utilising strict lockdowns, fast tracking systems and border closures.

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AstraZeneca’s jab has had a bumpy rollout in the EU – but how did it play out? | World News

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The EU’s vaccination drive has been a bumpy ride – but its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has been especially so.

In November, the European Commission celebrated its plan for a common approach, heralding the creation of a “health union” along with its deal to purchase at least 300 million doses from the British-Swedish drugmaker.

This deal came with the option of purchasing another 100 million doses for its 450 million citizens.

Four months later, however, and the bloc’s programme has been beset with shortages and delays, and has prompted a very public and very bitter row with the pharmaceutical company.

It then almost resulted in a nuclear option – triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, before peaking again on Thursday when the commission blocked a shipment of vaccines bound for Australia.

So – how did we get here?

22 January, shortages announced

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca jab for use on 29 January – but the issues had already begun.

Exactly a week earlier, the company informed Brussels there would be a 60% shortfall due to a production glitch in its European supply chain.

It left the EU expecting deliveries of 31 million doses by the end of March instead of the agreed 80 million.

Coupled with a temporary shortfall of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the drive was off to a bad start.

25 January, efficacy questioned in German report

Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, published a report suggesting the efficacy of the AstraZeneca jab could be as low as 8% in over-65s.

The claim was rebutted by the German health ministry as well as AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which said there had been “no basis” for the assertion.

28 January, Germany advises against use in over-65s

On the eve of the EMA’s approval of the jab, health authorities in Germany said the vaccine should not be administered to people over 65, saying there was a lack of data on this age group.

France, Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and Austria eventually followed suit with the same restriction.

Italy initially limited the jab to under 55s but at the end of February raised that to adults up to 65 years old.

Belgium and Spain have limited it to under 55s.

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COVID vaccine rollout in the EU has slowed down due to skepticism over UK vaccine production

28 January, EU orders inspection at AstraZeneca site

Quarrels ensued in the days after the shortfall was announced as EU officials urged AstraZeneca to limit the expected cuts.

The commission also threatened to impose strict export controls to ensure the bloc received its fair share of the vaccine, and later pointed to a clause in its contract which said doses would be delivered from two UK-based factories.

However, Pascal Soriot, the French chief executive of AstraZeneca, said no timetable for deliveries had been agreed, adding that the contract included a best-effort clause.

He said the UK’s contract had also been signed three months before Brussels, and it stipulated that vaccines made in the UK should be supplied to the UK first.

Around one in seven people now have antibodies, with numbers building because of the vaccines
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Brussels hinted at there being a breach of contract in relation to AstraZeneca

In response, the EU hinted that Mr Soriot’s revealing of this information – said to be confidential – could amount to a breach of contract.

But to top this busy couple of days, the EU on 28 January ordered officials to inspect AstraZeneca’s facility in Seneffe, Belgium, to confirm there was an issue with supply.

29 January, AstraZeneca jab approved; EU publishes its contract

The EMA approved AstraZeneca for use on 29 January for all adults over 18 years old – despite conflicting recommendations from Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron then dampened confidence further, saying the jab was “quasi-ineffective”.

It was also the day Brussels released a heavily-redacted version of its contract; although, this appeared to create more questions than it answered.

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he presents the acceleration of the national cybersecurity strategy during a video conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France February 18, 2021. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
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Emmanuel Macron said in January he thought the jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’

29 January, EU moves to trigger NI protocol

The procurement row soon reached its first peak as the commission made moves to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent vaccines entering the UK.

This would have seen checks made at the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland.

London, Belfast and Dublin widely condemned the move – and it ultimately resulted in the commission making a swift U-turn.

February-March, low uptake reported

Bad publicity in earlier weeks appeared to have a knock-on effect for AstraZeneca in Germany as slow uptakes of the jab were reported.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) Thomas Mertens said “the whole thing has somehow gone badly,” and insisted the vaccine was “very good”.

He told broadcaster ZDF: “We never criticised the vaccine, we only said that the data was not good or not sufficient for over 65s.”

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Northern Ireland Protocol became ‘collateral damage’

4 March, U-turns on recommendations for over-65s

Germany later reversed its recommendation on restricting jabs to under-65s only, while France partially U-turned by allowed the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged between 65 and 74 with pre-existing health conditions.

It comes after fresh data published by Public Health England (PHE) based on the UK’s vaccine rollout showed protection against symptomatic COVID in those over 70, four weeks after the first jab, ranged between 60-73% and 57-61% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

4 March, EU blocks shipment to Australia

As AstraZeneca failed to meet its contractual commitments, Italy and the European Commission blocked a request to export 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant near Rome.

The move came under a new export control system that passed into law on 30 January and was the first time it had been used by a member state.

In a statement, the Italian foreign ministry cited reasons such as Australia being considered “not vulnerable” due to a low number of COVID cases, along with the shortage of vaccines in Europe.

It is understood the doses will now be redistributed within the EU, where about 8% of the population has been vaccinated, compared with more than 30% in the UK.

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