Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 3, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported across the world dropped by 16% last week, according to the World Health Organization. At about the same time, global COVID-19 deaths have reportedly fallen by 10%, according to the U.N. health agency’s weekly report.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union address that the administration will launch an initiative to make free antiviral pills accessible at pharmacies to people who test positive for COVID-19.

Biden also said that “it’s time for Americans to get back to work” as he outlined efforts the administration will undertake to help people return to normal.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

South Korea eases distancing despite record virus deaths

South Korean officials announced an easing of social distancing restrictions even as the country saw its deadliest day of the pandemic on Friday, reflecting reduced political capacity to deal with a fast-developing omicron surge in the face of a growing economic toll and a presidential election next week.

Jeon Hae-cheol, minister of the interior and safety, said the curfew at restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other indoor businesses will be extended by an hour from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. starting Saturday. He cited people’s fatigue and frustration with extended restrictions and the damage to livelihoods.

Officials did maintain a six-person limit on private social gatherings, acknowledging “uncertainties” posed by an accelerating omicron spread that has put the country on the verge of a hospital surge.

Jeon’s announcement from a government meeting discussing the national COVID-19 response came shortly before the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 186 deaths in the latest 24 hours, shattering the previous one-day record of 128 set a day earlier.

Read the full story here.

— Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press
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Analysis: Biden was masked Monday. It was gone by Tuesday night

President Joe Biden, a black mask covering his face to guard against COVID-19, shared a moment on stage with also-masked Vice President Kamala Harris at a Monday White House event commemorating Black History Month.

He leaned in to say something to America’s first female and Black and South Asian American vice president, and the pair appeared to smile — their faces crinkling over the tops and straps of their face coverings. Just over 24 hours later, however, their grins were on full display in a striking policy change.

To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic was still here Monday, shaping life in Washington and many other U.S. communities. But it was gone by Tuesday evening — kind of.

Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood in the well of the House chamber Tuesday night awaiting Biden’s arrival for his first official State of the Union address, neither masked. First lady Jill Biden arrived before her husband, wearing a blue dress to honor Ukrainians after their country was invaded by Vladimir Putin’s Russian military forces. She came sans mask, as well.

Read the full story here.

— John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call

‘Freedom Convoy’ spinoff headed to D.C. region arrives this weekend

The U.S. protesters inspired by the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” that occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks headed out from Southern California last week for a cross-country trip to the Washington, D.C., region. They plan to arrive this weekend, and Virginia State Police describes the convoy as a “still-fluid situation.” Here’s what you need to know:

– What is the ‘People’s Convoy,’ and when is it coming?

The People’s Convoy, a U.S.-based group of activists opposed to vaccine mandates, is on a cross-country trip aiming to arrive in Hagerstown, Md., on Friday before targeting the D.C. Beltway area Saturday.

– How large is the convoy?

Despite organizers touting numbers in the thousands, Indiana State Police spokesman Captain Ron Galaviz said the convoy amounted to fewer than 300 vehicles when it arrived in Indiana this week, and a majority were passenger vehicles, not large trucks.

Read the full story here.

— Peter Hermann and Ellie Silverman, The Washington Post

As vaccine demand falls, states are left with huge stockpile

As demand for COVID-19 vaccines collapses in many areas of the U.S., states are scrambling to use stockpiles of doses before they expire and have to be added to the millions that have already gone to waste.

From some of the least vaccinated states, like Indiana and North Dakota, to some of the most vaccinated states, like New Jersey and Vermont, public health departments are shuffling doses around in the hopes of finding providers that can use them.

State health departments told The Associated Press they have tracked millions of doses that went to waste, including ones that expired, were in a multi-dose vial that couldn’t be used completely or had to be tossed for some other reason like temperature issues or broken vials.

Nearly 1.5 million doses in Michigan, 1.45 million in North Carolina, 1 million in Illinois and almost 725,000 doses in Washington couldn’t be used.

Read the story here.

—Jennifer McDermott, The Associated Press
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Biden seeks $10B for aid to Ukraine, $22.5B for coronavirus

The Biden administration is seeking another $10 billion to help protect Ukraine against the Russian invasion and an additional $22.5 billion to cover coronavirus pandemic-related expenses, two major additions to budget talks already underway.

The acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, laid out the need for the supplemental funding in a Thursday blog post. The requests would be additions to a planned budget agreement that Congress is trying to finish before a March 11 deadline.

The $22.5 billion tied to the coronavirus would pay for testing, treatments and vaccines as well as investments in research and efforts to increase vaccinations worldwide. There had been expectations that the request was going to be for as much as $30 billion, which comes after lawmakers and the Biden and Trump administrations committed a combined $5.8 trillion over multiple years on the pandemic, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Read the story here.

—Josh Boak, The Associated Press

NFL suspends all COVID protocols, cites ‘encouraging trends’

The NFL has suspended all aspects of its COVID-19 protocols, citing recent trends showing that the spread of the coronavirus is declining.

In an agreement with the players’ association, the league sent a memo to the 32 teams Thursday in which it mentioned “encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law and the counsel of our respective experts” as reasons for the move.

Should the NFL find reasons to reimpose any aspects of the protocols, it will do so in conjunction with the NFL Players Association.

Read the story here.

—Barry Wilner, The Associated Press

Having trouble handling exercise after COVID? Here are expert tips

Before Amy Lipnicki tested positive for the coronavirus in January, she spent hours exercising every week, alternating between lifting weights and logging between three and 10 miles with her running group along the Brooklyn waterfront.

But after she received her positive result, there was only one way to describe her condition, she said: “Extreme lethargy.”

She waited two weeks before trying to run again. When she did, her chest felt tight and her legs felt heavy, too.

According to experts, Lipnicki’s experience is common. Many people have a tough time resuming exercise or reaching their previous level of fitness after contracting COVID-19, said Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Sports Medicine Institute at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

But the best bet for eventually getting back into shape, Metzl added, requires taking the long view — and taking it slow: “The biggest mistake people make is they try to get back out and do too much, too quickly.”

Read the story here.

—Julianne McShane, The Washington Post
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New Zealand protest ends, investigation and cleanup begin

New Zealand police said Thursday they will review hours of cellphone footage taken by themselves, the media and the public to identify lawbreakers, while crews begin the cleanup of Parliament’s grounds after a protest there against coronavirus vaccine mandates ended in violence.

A day earlier, police moved in on several hundred protesters who had been camped out on the grounds and surrounding streets for more than three weeks. As protesters retreated, they set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs, and hurled stones and wood at officers.

The protest is also prompting a rethink of security at the grounds, which have been the site of many peaceful protests in the past, as well as a favored spot for workers and families to walk through or eat lunch.

Hundreds of officers were involved in the operation to break up the camp. They wore riot gear and used pepper spray and water hoses after protesters sprayed fire extinguishers and threw objects at them.

Read the story here.

—Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Inflatable labs in Hong Kong for mass COVID tests

Hong Kong has ramped up its testing capacity with the help of inflatable mobile laboratories, as the city grapples with tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases daily.

The labs arrived from mainland China ahead of a planned city-wide testing of its more than 7 million residents later this month.

It’s part of a “zero-tolerance” COVID-19 strategy enforced in China, and one that Beijing had pressed upon Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory that’s been struggling to contain a surge driven by the omicron variant.

Several of the mobile labs have been set up across the city with each equipped to handle tens of thousands of samples daily. They’re often deployed in mainland China, which seals off entire neighborhoods — and sometimes cities — for mass-testing when cases are detected, until every resident is cleared from infection.

In Hong Kong, the plan is to test every resident three times. Authorities said they may restrict their movements to reduce the risk of transmission.

Everyone testing positive must be admitted to a hospital or isolation facility, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

WA households can now order 2 free COVID test kits monthly — while supplies last

Washington public health officials on Wednesday announced an expansion of their program to distribute free COVID-19 tests throughout the state, continuing to push testing, masking and vaccinations as infection and hospitalization rates fall.

As of Wednesday, the site that allows Washingtonians to order COVID test kits to their homes — sayyescovidhometest.org — will allow up to two orders per household every month while supplies last, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary of COVID-19 response.

When the state Department of Health launched the site in January, each household could only order one kit, which contains up to five tests, due to limited supply.

The state quickly ran out of tests and had to temporarily halt distribution while the department restocked its kits, but the site has since reopened.

Read the story here.

—Elise Takahama
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EU clears Moderna shot for young kids, Pfizer boosters

The European Medicines Agency said it has authorized Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for children aged six to 11, in addition to recommending booster shots of Pfizer’s vaccine for those aged 12 and over, in decisions aimed at providing further protection against COVID-19 for children across Europe.

At a press briefing Thursday, the EU regulator’s vaccines chief Dr. Marco Cavaleri said the Moderna vaccine for younger children will be a half-dose of what is given to older teens and adults. He said research showed young children had an immune response comparable to that seen in older populations “as measured by the level of neutralizing antibodies” against the COVID-19 virus.

Cavaleri said the Moderna shot was also being recommended for use as a booster dose in people who had received other vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was previously granted a green light for use in children aged five and over last November.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Why are COVID vaccination rates still low in some countries?

Why are COVID-19 vaccination rates still low in some countries?

Limited supplies remain a problem, but experts say other challenges now include unpredictable deliveries, poor infrastructure, weak health care systems and vaccine hesitancy.

Most countries with low vaccination rates are in Africa. As of late February, 13 countries in Africa have fully vaccinated less than 5% of their populations, according to Phionah Atuhebwe, an officer for the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa.

Other countries with extremely low vaccination rates include Yemen, Syria, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Relief could be in sight for a police staffing crunch, but there's a catch: The experienced applicants are looking for work in Brier because they were let go by previous employers for not getting vaccinated. Amid hot debate over what should happen as mandates lift, neighbors wonder whether pandemic-era rips in the social fabric can be repaired.

Washington households can order two free COVID-19 test kits monthly while supplies last. State officials touted the tests yesterday as infection and hospitalization rates dropped closer to pre-omicron levels.

Rainier Beach's longtime basketball coach was told he might not make it after getting COVID-19. Now, after five days in intensive care, Mike Bethea is back "doing what I love" at the state tournament.

"Stop with this COVID theater," an annoyed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told masked students at an indoor news conference yesterday. The moment, captured on video, ignited a social media storm.

—Kris Higginson