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New Zealand puts Auckland into lockdown over three COVID-19 cases

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New Zealand puts Auckland into lockdown over three COVID-19 cases

New Zealand put its largest city into lockdown Sunday — after just one family tested positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the three-day lockdown for Auckland after a couple and their daughter tested positive in the nation widely hailed for virtually eliminating the spread of the contagion.

The new community cases make just four in the last three months — with the lockdown the first in New Zealand in six months.

“We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again,” Ardern told a news conference in the capital, Wellington.

The level 3 restrictions require everyone to stay home except for essential shopping and essential work. It will also force a delay in America’s Cup sailing regatta.

“Three days should give us enough time to gather further information, undertake large-scale testing and establish if there has been wider community transmission,” Ardern said. “That is what we believe the cautious approach requires and its the right thing to do.”

Airlines were alerted because the woman in the infected family works for an airline catering company, LSG Sky Chefs, where she mostly works in laundry facilities, officials said. She had not been going aboard planes.

Her unidentified family was the first confirmed infection since a traveler returning from Europe tested positive on Jan. 24, which was the first case in two months.

New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has reported a total of just over 2,330 cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic started.

Scientists are carrying out genome sequencing to see whether they are variants, and also to see whether they match with any infected passengers, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“New Zealand has kept COVID-19 contained better than almost any other country,” Hipkins said of the nation that closed its international borders and introduced strict social distancing early in the pandemic.

“But as we have kept saying, there is no such thing as no risk.”

With Post wires

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‘Full faith’ in AG Cuomo probe, mum on resignation

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'Full faith' in AG Cuomo probe, mum on resignation

US Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday said he has “full faith” in the state attorney general’s investigation into the sexual-harassment allegations against embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo — although he refused to say whether the governor should resign.

Schumer’s comments came after two more Cuomo accusers stepped forward Saturday.

“The allegations of each of the women have to be taken seriously,” the Senate majority leader (D-NY) said of the now five women accusing Cuomo of harassment.

“They’re deeply troubling,” Schumer said of the accusations. “Women have to be listened to. I’ve long believed this, I’ve said this for a very long time, that sexual harassment is never acceptable, can never be tolerated.”

New York state Attorney General Letitia James said last week she was launching an independent probe into the allegations surrounding the governor.

“The investigation of these women’s allegations – as I said, they’re serious – they’re being investigated in the very capable hands of the New York State attorney general,” Schumer said during an announcement of how New York will benefit from the COVID relief-bill funds.

“I called for that type of independent investigation, and she is doing it. I have a lot of faith in her. I believe that she will turn over every stone, and I believe that she will make sure there is no outside interference – political or otherwise.”

But he wouldn’t say whether Cuomo should resign.

“I have full faith in the attorney general’s investigation,” Schumer would only say.

In the latest round of accusations, Karen Hinton, a former gubernatorial press aide, told the Washington Post that she struggled to free herself from the governor’s constant hugging in a dimly lit Los Angeles hotel room in December 2000.

And Ana Liss, who worked for the governor from 2013 to 2015, said Cuomo’s behavior left her feeling like “just a skirt,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Liss and Hinton bring the number of Cuomo accusers to five, joining Charlotte Bennett, 25, Lindsey Boylan, 36, and Anna Ruch, 33.

The governor’s office denied Hinton’s claim, saying it “did not happen.”

Liss’s claims that he kissed her hand and touched her lower back are just a reflection of the usual behavior at public receptions, Cuomo’s camp added.

“Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures,” said Rich Azzopardi.

The growing scandal has prompted calls for Cuomo to step down.

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White House COVID official admits vaccine inequality is ‘unacceptable’

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White House COVID official admits vaccine inequality is 'unacceptable'

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients admitted Sunday that it was “unacceptable” that people of color have received the vaccine at lower rates around the country.

“That is unacceptable. Communities of color have been hit disproportionally hard by this disease, suffering death rates twice the average,” Zients told NBC anchor Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” when confronted with showing the disparity in Washington, DC.

“So it’s really, really important that when we come to vaccine distribution that we do it in a fair and equitable way, the situation that you’re describing is not fair and equitable.”

Zients said that federal programs have been established to ensure that vaccines are more easily accessible in these communities in the future.

“We need to bring vaccines to people where they are, which is why community health centers are so important they serve over 30 million Americans,” he said. “Two-thirds of those that use community health centers live below the poverty line, 60 percent come from communities of color. That’s why the president established a program to send vaccines directly to community health centers.”

He said that the feds are also using mobile units to “reach people where they are” and designed the pharmacy program to focus on giving the shots to “disadvantaged” areas — but said states had to be “accountable.”

“We are holding states and governors accountable for fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine.”

Zients said the US is currently averaging about 2.2 million shots administered per day.

He added that the US being on track to have enough COVID-19 shots for every adult American this spring is “really big progress” from when President Biden entered office.

“It’s really big progress to have enough vaccine supply for all adult Americans by the end of May,” Zients said.

“When we walked into office, six, seven weeks ago, there was not enough supply and it was pushed much further out.”

Zients credited the Biden administration for invoking the Defense Production Act to enable drugmaker Merck to ramp up its facilities in order to help rival Johnson & Johnson with vaccination production.

“Thee actions by the president, including using the Defense Production Act and bringing Merck and Johnson together into a historic partnership, have accelerated our ability to have enough vaccine by the end of May for all adult Americans,” Zients said. “That’s progress and that is really important.”

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Sen. Manchin defends delaying $1.9T COVID-19 relief package

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Sen. Manchin defends delaying $1.9T COVID-19 relief package

Sen. Joe Manchin on Sunday defended holding up debate for hours on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill over his opposition to a $15 minimum wage and certain unemployment benefits — saying the negotiations led to a more targeted stimulus package.

The moderate Democrat from red-state West Virginia said members of his caucus and Republicans worked together to “make significant changes.”

“We targeted where help is needed. We were able to target, basically the people that need help, the children that need help, the schools that need help, the people on the front line, all of America,” Manchin told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“That’s what we were able to do and a lot of that was by talking with my colleagues and negotiating back and forth, and I was able to channel that through I think, and hopefully make a bill is a much more encompassing deal,” added Manchin, whose vote was crucial in a 50-50 divided Senate to pass the legislation. 

He supported cutting a weekly federal supplement in unemployment to $300 from $400 and came out against raising the federal minimum wage to $15, suggesting it be set at $11.

After negotiations, the expanded benefits were dropped to $300 and the minimum wage provision was not included.

But the supplement, which had been set in the bill to expire in July, was extended to September.

Asked about criticism from progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who argued that Manchin was holding back much-needed financial help for working Americans with his opposition, the Mountain State lawmaker said Congress will eventually get to $15.

He argued the minimum wage proposal never belonged in the stimulus bill because of Senate rules.

“They made a big issue about this, and I understand everyone has the right. I respect where she’s coming from, I respect her input. We have a little different approach. We come from two different areas of the country that have different social and cultural needs,” he said.

Manchin said he believes members of Congress will collaborate on a minimum wage bill, saying “there’s not one senator out of 100 who does not want to raise the minimum wage.”

He said he backs an $11 minimum wage that is indexed to inflation “so it never becomes a political football game.”

“It should be the respect of the dignity of work, always being about the minimum wage of what the guidelines for poverty is, and being able to lift yourself way far above that, by your skill sets and your determination,” he said.

The Senate passed Biden’s stimulus package on Saturday on a party-line vote.

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