Border reopening: Merkel and Macron call for EU coordination

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2021. (MICHAEL SOHN / AP)

ADDIS ABABA / BUENOS AIRES / UNITED NATIONS / BRASILIA / TUNIS / SANTIAGO / GENEVA / ZAGREB / WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY / KAMPALA / AMSTERDAM / LISBON / LONDON / ROME / MOSCOW / BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron called on Friday for European Union (EU) countries to coordinate their COVID-19 border reopening policies and guard against new variants of the virus.

Macron said EU countries must be careful not to allow new variants to spread, adding that the EU was watching developments in Britain, which has seen a steep rise in the weekly reported cases of the Delta variant.

“Some countries have reopened their borders earlier for tourist industry reasons, but we must be careful not to re-import new variants,” he said at a joint news conference with Merkel before a working dinner at the chancellery in Berlin.

Merkel added: “We can’t act as if the coronavirus is over.”

“Caution is still necessary so that we have a summer of many freedoms, if not all freedoms,” she said.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 177.83 million while the global death toll topped 3.85 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

WHO

Between 30 to 40 countries are not able to provide second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to their populations, especially those expecting vaccines from AstraZeneca, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

"We have a huge number of countries currently that have had to suspend the rollout of their second doses of vaccine," said Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the WHO Director-General on Organizational Change.

Many countries that were expecting AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, distributed through the WHO-led COVAX program, had seen their supplies being reduced as the manufacturer had to prioritize India's outbreak in April 2021.

Aylward said that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East as well as neighbors of India, such as Nepal or Sri Lanka, were affected.

Many of these countries "are at the very end of the supply they have," said Katherine O'Brien, WHO director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.

She added that countries with "weak" vaccination programs suffer from discontinued supplies, a situation that could create a loss of confidence among populations.  

ALSO READ: WHO: Urgent action needed as third virus wave sweeps Africa

A healthcare worker inoculates a man with a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 during a vaccination campaign at the Albrook shopping mall in Panama City on June 18, 2021. (ARNULFO FRANCO / AP)

Uganda

Ugandan President Yowreri Museveni on Friday introduced sweeping new anti-coronavirus measures, including a ban on all vehicular movement except for essential workers, to help curb a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the nation.

The east African country, like most other African peers had been left relatively unscathed by the first wave. It suddenly started experiencing a steep surge in COVID-19 infections last month after authorities confirmed they had detected presence of the Indian coronavirus variant. 

Museveni said in a televised address that the daily number of people testing positive has jumped to over 1,700 from less than 100 just three weeks ago.

"We are experiencing very high hospitalization rates and deaths for COVID-19 patients among all age categories," he said.

In new measures to curb the pandemic, he banned movement of both public and private vehicles except those transporting patients and those used by essential workers like health workers.

An existing curfew that began at 9 pm was brought forward to 7 pm while venues like busy shopping centers, churches and sports arenas were closed.

The new restrictions, Museveni said, will last 42 days.

To date, Uganda has registered a total of 68,778 COVID-19 cases and 542 deaths.

Netherlands

Face masks will mostly no longer be required across the Netherlands and other restrictions will ease from next week, after a drop in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

Most limits on group sizes will also be lifted from June 26, as long as people can keep at least 1.5 meters apart, he said at a news conference.

No new limits will be set on the number of guests allowed in stores, bars and restaurants, Rutte said, as long as they keep their distance, or show that they have been vaccinated or have a negative test.

People will still need to wear masks on public transport and in airports, where distancing is not possible.

Around 13 million vaccinations have been administered in the country of 17.5 million people as of Friday. 

Almost 1.7 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the Netherlands, and more than 27,000 deaths.

READ MORE: Virus: EU lifts entry restrictions for US travelers and others

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 124 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 274,899 as of Friday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said 14 more deaths and 439 new recoveries were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,276 and total recoveries to 253,634.

Argentina

Argentina's COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 88,000, according to a health ministry report released on Friday.

With 465 deaths registered in the last 24 hours, the toll climbed to 88,247.

Another 20,363 new cases were reported, bringing the cumulative tally to 4,242,763.

Meanwhile, 17,727,534 vaccine doses have been administered, according to the Public Vaccination Monitor.

Also on Friday, Argentine laboratory Richmond said it had produced almost half a million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus, the first made in the country.

The vaccines await approval from the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT) and Russia's Gamaleya Institute for their release, Richmond said in a tweet.

UN

The United Nations (UN) said on Friday that US$3.7 billion was raised with partners on COVID-19 relief in 2020, a year conflicts and a mounting climate crisis already generated record-high humanitarian needs.

UN Undersecretary-General Mark Lowcock, also head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said it "was a year like no other".

The world organization and its partners had sought US$9.5 billion in a Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 in 63 countries, he said. They raised US$3.7 billion.

The OCHA-coordinated Global Humanitarian Overview for 2020 for non-COVID-19 aid called for US$38.5 billion, Lowcock said. Just US$19 billion  was funded.

Brazil

The Brazilian government broke its daily record for vaccinations against COVID-19, after accelerating its immunization pace in recent days, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.

According to the ministry's vaccination website, which is supplied with information from Brazilian states, a new vaccination record was set on Thursday when 2,561,553 vaccine doses were administered in 24 hours.

So far, Brazil has administered 84.1 million doses, with 60.06 million people having received their first dose and 24.03 million their second shot.

Brazil reported 98,832 new cases and 2,495 more deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 17,801,462 and the toll to 498,499, the health ministry said on Friday.

Tunisia

Tunisia's health ministry on Friday reported 2,292 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the North African country to 378,982.

The death toll rose by 82 to 13,874 while the total number of recoveries reached 330,331, the ministry said in a statement.

A total of 1,486,528 people have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 382,186 having received both doses, according to the latest figures published by the ministry. 

Chile

Chile reported on Friday 6,770 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the country's total caseload to 1,505,001.

The Ministry of Health also recorded 119 deaths, taking the death toll to 31,259.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said in a statement that 14 regions of the country have seen a decline in cases in the last seven days, while 12 regions have witnessed a decrease in the last 14 days.

Croatia

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Friday that the public's interest in COVID-19 vaccination appeared to have dropped, therefore the government's plan to vaccinate half the country's adult population by June no longer seemed like a realistic goal.

On Thursday, only 7,500 people received their first dose and 45,600 their second shot. A total of 1.8 million people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine in Croatia, a country of four million inhabitants.

According to the Croatian Institute of Public Health, the country registered 113 new cases and three more deaths in the past 24 hours. 

In total, Croatia has reported 359,031 confirmed cases with 8,168 fatalities.

Mexico

Mexico's economy will recover full activity in the third quarter of 2021, reaching the levels prior to the arrival of COVID-19 over a year ago, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday.

"Undoubtedly, by the third quarter of this year, we will be back to where we were before the pandemic," Lopez Obrador told reporters at the National Palace in Mexico City.

During his daily press conference, the president also noted that the latest forecasts estimate a growth of up to 6 percent for the Mexican economy in 2021.

Also on Friday, the Mexican government announced it was donating to Honduras 154,100 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In another development, authorities in the Mexican border state of Baja California said they will include migrants in the new vaccination plan for border cities, which is aimed at accelerating the reopening of the shared land border with the US.

UK

Britain has reported another 10,476 coronavirus cases and 11 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the caseload to 4,610,893 with 127,956 deaths, according to official figures released Friday.

England's coronavirus reproduction number, also known as the R number, remains unchanged at between 1.2 and 1.4, according to latest estimates.

READ MORE: Britain turns into test case for COVID-19 endgame

A man receives a COVID-19 shot in Waterbury, Vermont, the United States, on June 17, 2021. (WILSON RING / AP)

US

The Delta coronavirus variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the United States, said US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky on Friday.

The CDC has elevated the Delta variant, first identified in India, from a "variant of interest" to a "variant of concern". 

"As worrisome as this Delta strain is with regard to its hyper transmissibility, our vaccines work," Walensky said.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus was in US in late 2019, study finds

Meanwhile, the US has administered 300 million COVID-19 shots in the 150 days since US President Joe Biden took office, the White House said.

However, at the current pace, the US seems unlikely to hit Biden's goal of having 70 percent of adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, the Independence Day holiday.

Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris on Friday urged Americans to get COVID-19 shots.

Deaths and hospitalizations are going "drastically down in places where people are getting vaccinated," but not other areas, Biden said. "They're actually going up in some places."

About 44.5 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, and 53 percent of the population has received at least one dose, according to lastest CDC data.

The US government is investing more than US$3 billion to accelerate the development and manufacturing of antiviral medicines, according to government authorities.

In another development, California officials on Friday unveiled a website to access or download a digital copy of COVID-19 immunization records, though they stressed the state would not make it mandatory to carry the vaccine credentials.

Italy

Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged Italians on Friday to get fully vaccinated against coronavirus, acknowledging that a government decision to ban AstraZeneca doses for people aged over 60 had created confusion.

"It is fundamental that people get vaccinated," Draghi said at a hastily called news conference, signalling a U-turn on the block on AstraZeneca. "The worst thing you could do is not get vaccinated, or just get one vaccine shot," he said.

Draghi, who is 73, said he himself would be getting a different type of vaccine next week after tests showed that he had developed a low number of antibodies when he had received an initial AstraZeneca shot in March.

"Mixing doses is safe," he said, but health authorities would be flexible.

As of Thursday night, 25.3% of Italians were fully vaccinated with a further 26.3 percent awaiting their second jab.

Portugal

As a three-day coronavirus travel ban came into force around Lisbon on Friday afternoon, drivers stopped by police asking them their reason for travelling said they felt concerned about the worrying rise in infections .

People living in the 18 municipalities of Lisbon's metropolitan area will be banned from leaving from 3 pm on Friday until 6 am on Monday. Those living outside the area will not be allowed in. read more

Portugal, population 10 million, posted over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the third day in a row on Friday and the number of daily infections are back to late February levels, when the country was still under lockdown.

Most new cases were reported in the Lisbon area.

In a report on Friday, health institute Ricardo Jorge said the Delta coronavirus variant, which was first identified in India but is rapidly spreading in Britain, was likely to become the dominant variant in Portugal over the next weeks.

The institute also said that the virus was now spreading with "intensity" and the pressure on the health services was growing, particularly in Lisbon.

Bavarian Nordic

Biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic A/S may sell its COVID-19 vaccine candidate if it can’t raise the money needed to carry out trials on humans, Jyllands-Posten reported.

The Danish company has been working to raise funds for the past few months and estimates that a phase three trial of its vaccine candidate could cost as much as US$300 million, the newspaper said, citing Rolf Sass Sorensen, vice-president of investor relations.

While the company has held talks with the Danish government about an investment in the vaccine, Bavarian Nordic now needs those talks to be turned into a binding commitment, Jyllands-Posten said, citing Sass Sorensen.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,108 to 3,721,139, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. 

The reported death toll rose by 99 to 90,369, the tally showed. 

Russia

Russia on Saturday reported 17,906 new COVID-19 cases, including a record 9,120 in Moscow, pushing the national infection tally up to 5,299,215.

The government coronavirus task force confirmed 466 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 128,911.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on Friday that 16.1 million Russians have been inoculated with both components of COVID-19 vaccines as of June 18.

She also said that 19.7 million have got at least the first dose of the vaccines.

Meanwhile, Golikova also said that China will be put on the list of countries whose citizens can enter Russia, ending a 16-month travel ban over COVID-19 concerns.

Golikova said at a briefing that the country's COVID-19 response center has made the decision, which still needs to be officially approved by the prime minister.