Brazil states halt vaccination of pregnant women after Rio death

People visit the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery on Mothers Day, in Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 9, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO / AFP)

BUENOS AIRES / SAN JOSE / BRUSSELS / LONDON / NAIROBI / BERLIN / HELSINKI / BRASILIA / DUBLIN / RABAT / HAVANA / ATHENS / ROME / LJUBLJANA / QUITO / TUNIS / SANTIAGO / ADDIS ABABA / ZAGREB / JOHANNESBURG / GENEVA / BOGOTA – Brazil's Sao Paulo state said on Tuesday it was suspending COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women with risk factors after the health regulator said all pregnant women should not get the AstraZeneca shot. Rio de Janeiro's health secretary also said the vaccination of all pregnant women would be suspended in the state.

Brazil’s government will direct an extra 5.5 billion reais (US$1.05 billion) of federal spending towards the production, supply and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, President Jair Bolsonaro’s office said in a statement on Monday.

The statement was issued shortly after Bolsonaro issued a presidential decree. The funds will come from an extraordinary line of credit and show the government’s commitment to tackling the health and economic crises sparked by the pandemic, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Brazil reported on Monday 889 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the national count to 423,229, the Ministry of Health said.

According to the ministry, Brazil now has a death rate of 201.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

25,200 more infections were detected, raising the nationwide tally to 15,209,990.

UK

England reported no deaths from COVID-19 in its latest daily update, a milestone that highlights the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccine program in stopping the spread of the disease.

Sunday was the first day without any recorded deaths in England since the pandemic took hold in March of last year. More than 112,000 people have died since then, with the first wave in Spring 2020 followed later in the year by the emergence of a highly transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus.

Vaccination is now allowing England to reopen its economy, with a further easing of lockdown restrictions starting next week allowing people to meet indoors at pubs, restaurants and cinemas. The Bank of England sees the UK’s economic output recouping pandemic losses by the end of this year as consumers look to spend some of the savings they accumulated during the restrictions.

England, and the other nations of the UK, calculates COVID-19 mortalities by counting the number of people who died within 28 days of a first positive test. Elsewhere in the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland also reported no deaths on Sunday, while four people died in Wales.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday gave the green light to cautious hugging and the serving of pints inside pubs after months of strict restrictions as he set out the next phase of coronavirus lockdown easing in England.

Johnson confirmed that England could continue to the next stage of his four-step plan to bring the country out of lockdown by the summer, as the COVID-19 situation improved thanks to the rollout of vaccines and social restriction measures.

The reopening will apply to England only, with the semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales setting out their own rules.

Britain is seeking constructive engagement with the United States and other World Trade Organization members on the issue of IP waivers for COVID-19 vaccines, a government spokesman said after pressure from charities to back US proposals. 

Portugal

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Tuesday that the proposal to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents was "clearly insufficient" and "does not solve the problem" of the slow vaccine supply in Europe.

"We are in a race against the clock, so we have to make sure that those who are already producing (the vaccines) do so much more and export them. Only then can the problem be solved in time," he told reporters during his visit to the city of Braga in northern Portugal.

According to the president, it is necessary to get to the "bottom" of the problem. It is not enough to simply suspend the intellectual property protections for those who have researched and produced the COVID-19 vaccines.

Nigeria

Nigerian government has declared phase four of restriction of movements across the country with the re-introduction of curfew, among other restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly variants of COVID-19 recorded in some parts of the world.

The government approved the new measures on Monday, according to a statement signed by Mukhtar Mohammed, secretary of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 which is coordinating the national response to the epidemic.

Effective from Tuesday, the government re-imposed a 12 midnight to 4 a.m. curfew across the country and revived other restrictions to hinder the spread of the deadly variants of COVID-19 recorded in India and Brazil, Mohammed said.

The Nigerian government has said it will delay the local production of the COVID-19 vaccine due to the inability to procure the required technology for that.

In a statement, the Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire said although the fund approved by the National Assembly to support the local production of the vaccine was still intact, the country still had that major hindrance as regards the production.

Canada

The Canadian province of Alberta has stopped administering first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine because of limited supply, a provincial government spokesman said on Tuesday. 

"This decision is based on the fact that we are receiving no known future shipments of AstraZeneca at this time but are receiving large quantities of mRNA vaccines," Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said in an email, referring to messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech .

Germany

Germany hopes for a COVID-19 certificate that could allow citizens to travel more easily in the European Union to be agreed within weeks.

“This is not only important for countries depending on tourism but for all of us: It is…a clear signal for freedom of movement and for mobility in the European Union,” German Europe Minister Michael Roth said ahead of a meeting with his EU counterparts on Tuesday in Brussels.

“We hope to reach a sensible agreement between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council within the next weeks,” he added, referring to the ongoing talks in the 27 nation bloc about the details of the “green certificate”.

Also, Germany has cause for optimism as it gets the third wave of the coronavirus under control, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.

“The pace of immunizations is increasing, the contagion rate is sinking,” he said. “If we maintain that through the end of June, it can be a good summer.”

Germany’s incidence rate declined to 115.4 infections per 100,000 people on Tuesday, the lowest level in more than a month. At least one-third of the population has had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Spahn said, reiterating that Germany will be in position to open vaccinations up to all adults by early June.

Meanwhile, the country is to make Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine available to all adults by removing a priority system that determines who gets the jabs first, Spahn announced at a press conference here on Monday.

Mexico

Mexico plans to start phase III clinical trials for China's Walvax Biotechnology's COVID-19 vaccine on May 30 and 6,000 volunteers are expected to participate, foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

Colombia

Colombian President Ivan Duque on Monday warned that protests could lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases, shortly before sitting down to talks with members of the National Strike Committee in a bid to end days of chaos.

"We have seen an increase in movement in many parts of the country, with much interaction between citizens in recent days amid a third peak (in infections), and I must send the message that we must all take care of ourselves," Duque said at the government headquarters.

The Ministry of Health on Monday reported a total of 3,015,301 COVID-19 infections in the past 14 months and 78,342 deaths from the disease.

Colombian demonstrators began to take to the street at the end of last month against proposed tax reforms and deteriorating living conditions of some workers.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 158.96 million while the global death toll topped 3.30 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

EU

The European Union wants AstraZeneca to deliver at least 120 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, a lawyer representing the EU said on Tuesday at the opening of a legal case against the company over delayed supplies.

The lawyer was speaking in a Belgian court as proceedings in the second legal case brought by the European Commission against the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker got underway.

AstraZeneca had originally agreed with the EU to deliver 300 million doses by the end of June, but has so far delivered only 50 million, and has said it aims to ship 100 million shots by the end of June.

Officials familiar with the case said the lawsuit is mostly procedural – pertaining to the merits of the issue – after a first case was launched in April, and would allow the European Union to seek possible financial penalties.

A request for a provisional compensation of 1 euro was put forward by the EU while damages were assessed, but a demand for real compensation for what the EU deems a breach of contract by AstraZeneca would be decided at a later stage.

Belgium 

Bars, restaurants, cinemas and fitness centres in Belgium will be allowed to welcome guests indoors from June 9, the broadcaster VRT reported on Tuesday. 

The government was meeting to discuss a further easing of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, including allowing more people to meet indoors, and permitting large summer festivals and travel abroad. 

The health situation has improved in recent weeks, after the government closed shops and schools and banned foreign travel at the start of the year.

A health worker gives an injection of the Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre set up at the East London Mosque in London on April 14, 2021. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

US

New cases of COVID-19 fell for a fourth week in a row, dropping 17 percent last week to just under 290,000, the lowest weekly total since September, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Deaths from COVID-19 fell 1.3 percent to 4,756 in the week ended May 9, the fewest deaths in a week since July.

Also, US regulators on Monday authorized Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12, widening the country's inoculation program as vaccination rates have slowed significantly.

It is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized in the United States for this age group, seen as an important step for getting children back into schools safely. US President Joe Biden has asked states to make the vaccine available to the younger adolescents immediately.

Peter Marks, director of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told reporters that states will likely be able to begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds after an advisory committee of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the expansion on Wednesday.

Most children with COVID-19 only develop mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, children are not without risk of becoming seriously ill, and they can still spread the virus. There have been outbreaks traced to sporting events and other activities for children in this age range.

Sweden

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 13,812 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday. 

The figure compared with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week. The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca Plc has delivered 50 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to European Union countries, according to EU supply data, a milestone the company had originally been expected to hit in January.

The volumes delivered make up just one-sixth of total commitments so far, and the European Commission is set to launch on Tuesday a second legal case against AstraZeneca over delayed deliveries, a spokesman for the EU executive said on Monday.

AstraZeneca had shipped nearly 50 million doses as of May 7, an EU official told Reuters on Monday, citing the latest EU internal figures on vaccine supplies.

In mid-March, the company had pledged to deliver 50.2 million doses to the EU by the end of April, an AstraZeneca document seen by Reuters showed.

But AstraZeneca had shipped only 47.6 million doses by April 30, a spokesman for the company said, adding that other doses were sent over the first weekend of May and in the following days, "following requests to not ship to a few countries that had public holidays during this period".

Citing production problems and export restrictions, AstraZeneca in March said it would deliver to the EU only 100 million doses by the end of June. It delivered 30 million in total by the end of March.

Argentina

Argentina's health ministry on Monday confirmed its first cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variants discovered in India and South Africa in three travelers returning to the South American country from Europe.

The Indian variant of the coronavirus was detected in two minors who returned from Paris, while the South African variant was found in a 58-year-old passenger returning from Spain, the ministry said in a statement.

The three passengers arrived at Buenos Aires' international airport on April 24 and were quarantined in a hotel.

Meanwhile, Argentina registered on Monday nearly 500 new COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, after reporting 496 deaths and 17,381 more infections.

According to the latest report from the health ministry, the South American country had accumulated 67,821 deaths and 3,165,121 cases.

ALSO READ: Brazil's virus chaos sparks fear, countermeasures from neighbors

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is to buy an additional 2 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada said on Monday.

The vaccines are in addition to the 7 million doses that Costa Rica has already secured, Alvarado added.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health said on Monday the country had inoculated more than 900,000 people against COVID-19 amid intensified efforts to contain the pandemic.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Health said that 917,068 persons had been vaccinated against the coronavirus countrywide since the exercise began early March.

"Of these, 280,876 are aged 58 years and above, health workers, 160,947, teachers, 143,684, security officers, 77,417 while 254,144 are in the others category," Kagwe said in a statement released in Nairobi.

He said the government was keen to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake amid skepticism among sections of the population linked to misinformation about its side effects.

ALSO READ: Germany rejects EU executive call to ease virus border curbs

Finland

As the COVID-19 situation in Finland has improved, the government on Monday announced to decentralize most anti-COVID-19 measures, authorizing a return of decision-making in anti-epidemic measures to the regional and local authorities.

The regional administrative agencies and individual municipalities can determine, for example, how many people would be allowed to meet or attend gyms. The situation in an adjoining region must be taken into account when easing the restrictions though.

Decisions on whether health testings would be enforced on border crossings would also be taken regionally, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said at a press conference.

Satu Koskela, Director General of the Department for Clients and Services at the ministry,  said that different anti-epidemic criteria would continue to be applied regionally, based on whether the epidemic situation is at the "basic level" or whether the infection is in a spreading stage or an accelerating stage.

Ireland

A number of COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland have been eased starting from Monday.

They include allowing people to travel between counties across the country, which had been banned since last Christmas. Non-essential international travel is still not encouraged.

All public transport, from Monday onward, is permitted to run at 50 percent capacity, up from the past 25-percent limit.

The government, starting from Monday, also allowed the reopening of all the indoor sports and cultural public facilities such as gyms, galleries, museums and libraries after having shut them down since the end of the last year.

To date, Ireland has recorded 253,189 confirmed cases and 4,921 deaths, according to the Irish Department of Health.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 513,922 on Monday as 58 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose to 9,077 with five new fatalities during the last 24 hours, while 239 people are in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, 5,726,928 people have received so far the first vaccine shot against COVID-19 in the country, and 4,404,867 people have received the second dose.

Cuba

Cuba registered 1,116 new COVID-19 infections and nine more deaths in the past day, for a total of 117,097 cases and 741 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Monday.

Of the total number of new cases, 1,050 were from community transmission, the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran said during his daily report, noting that the island surpassed 1,000 daily cases again.

Meanwhile, Cuba expects to complete the necessary doses to immunize all its 11.2 million residents with vaccines against COVID-19 developed in the country, the official newspaper Granma announced on Monday.

The most advanced candidates, Soberana-02 and Abdala, will be used in the mass immunization, although Cuba has three others, Soberana-01 and Soberana Plus, as well as Mambisa, in different phases of clinical trials, Granma reported.

President of the state-owned company BioCubaFarma Eduardo Martinez explained that Soberana-02 and Abdala have their own production systems "so as not to compete" and "to be able to manufacture many vaccines in a short period of time," according to the newspaper.

Greece

Greece aims to fully vaccinate permanent residents of all islands by the end of June, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a meeting with local officials. The country wants to support island communities and economies, while also sending a positive signal for the image of Greek tourism, Mitsotakis said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday called for waiving intellectual property rights protected by patents for COVID-19 vaccines in order to speed up production to assist countries in need.

"The health crisis has highlighted more than anything the need for joint action to address threats," Mitsotakis said following a meeting with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez in Athens.

"The main issue today is how we will allow, using all the means at our disposal, the production of more vaccines and export them without hindrance to the countries in need," Greek national broadcaster ERT quoted him as saying.

This photo captures medical personnel at work in a COVID-19 unit of a hospital in Bologna, Italy, on March 10, 2021. (GIANNI SCHICCHI / XINHUA)

Italy

Italy on Monday reported 5,080 new coronavirus infections — down from 8,292 new infections on Sunday, bringing total active infections to 373,670, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health.

The country's death toll rose by 198 to 123,031, according to the ministry.

A majority of the infected people, or 84,584, are in the southern Campania region whose capital is Naples. The second highest number of infections, or 43,461, are in the southern Puglia region located in the heel of Italy's boot.

Slovenia

Slovenia's COVID-19 vaccination gathered momentum on Monday as jabs became available to adults under 50 years of age, while older and more vulnerable would continue to take priority, according to a government release.

As for the kinds of vaccines one would take, Bojana Beovic, head of the national advisory committee on immunization, said that the principle of chance must apply and age doesn't play a role.

"Currently, it should be the case across all vaccine centers that the vaccine is distributed to people randomly, no matter how old they are," she told a news conference.

Data released by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) on Sunday showed that nearly half million, or a quarter of Slovenia's population, had received at least one COVID-19 jab. Roughly half of them have already been fully vaccinated.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported on Monday 1,764 new COVID-19 infections and 19 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the accumulated number to 402,060 cases and 14,016 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health reported.

Another 5,226 deaths are considered to be COVID-19 related, but not verified, according to the ministry.

The new infections were centered in the provinces of Pichincha and Guayas, with 845 and 215, respectively.

Tunisia

Tunisian Health Ministry on Monday reported 1,024 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 321,837.

The death toll from the virus rose by 39 to 11,468 in Tunisia, the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Tunisia imposed a general lockdown for a period of seven days starting from May 9 to May 16 to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the country.WHO

Global cooperation, instead of competition and confrontation, is the only choice to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday when addressing the disparity in access to vaccines worldwide.

"The shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic," Tedros said at a press briefing.

High- and upper-middle income countries, with 53 percent of the world's population, have received 83 percent of the world's vaccines, while low- and lower-middle income countries, with 47 percent of the world's population, have received just 17 percent of the world's vaccines, according to WHO's data.

Tedros expressed his belief that cooperation is the "only choice" to end this pandemic.

"We cannot defeat this pandemic through competition, we can't. If you compete for resources, or if you compete for geopolitical advantages, then the virus gets advantage," Tedros said, stressing a "very basic principle of identifying the virus as a common enemy."

Chile

Chile's Health Ministry reported on Monday 5,357 new COVID-19 infections and 100 more deaths in one day, amid a slight decrease in the number of infections, for a total of 1,252,808 cases and 27,318 deaths.

Chile faced the peak of infections in April, with more than 9,000 cases registered in one day, which led to the quarantine of more than 80 percent of the country's population for a month.

According to the ministry, there has been a slight decrease in cases in the last few days, due to the quarantines and vaccination campaign underway, which has led to the resumption of commerce and classes in certain municipalities. 

France

The number of daily new COVID-19 infections in France fell to 3,292 on Monday, the lowest figure since the start of the year, while the tally of patients in intensive care for the disease was down for the seventh consecutive day.

New cases always tend to dip on Mondays as fewer tests are conducted over the weekend, but the seven-day moving average of daily infections, which evens out reporting irregularities, fell to 17,767, a trough since Jan 14, versus an April 14 peak of 42,225.

France exited its third lockdown a week ago and is hoping to gradually unwind all its major restrictive measures by the end of next month.

The COVID-19 death toll grew by another 292 on Monday, at 106,684, the world's eighth-highest. But, at 222, the seven-day moving average of daily new fatalities is the lowest since Oct 26.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 418 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 263,120 as of Monday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said nine new deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 3,897.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous nation, has so far reported the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the East Africa region.

Croatia

Croatia will hold pilot events with bigger crowds not wearing masks or maintaining a physical distance, Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Korzinek announced on Monday.

Participants will be only those who either recovered from COVID-19 or were vaccinated with two doses of vaccines. The goal of the test events is to see if there will be any new infections, to prepare for the restarting of bigger cultural events and meetings in the summer.

The first of such events will be held on Thursday when there will be a business meeting with 80 to 100 people who are all vaccinated. The second one, a wedding simulation, will take place on Saturday with more than 100 guests who have been vaccinated, or infected in the last six months, or have a negative PCR test.

Korzinek noted that bigger events could be organized as early as June, depending on the vaccination process. She stressed that the current epidemiological measures in the country will stay on, until the numbers of new infections and hospitalized people drop.

South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said South Africa was in support of plans to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents.

"Our position as South Africa is that such a waiver is necessary at this time," he said in his Monday newsletter.

Calls to waive the intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccine have been growing as more countries were battling to inoculate their citizens.

"This is an unprecedented situation. It requires that all intellectual property, knowledge, technology and data related to COVID-19 health technologies be put at the disposal of all," he said.

"If we as the international community are truly committed to human rights and the values of equality and non-discrimination, vaccines should be viewed as a global public good."

Seychelles

Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan insisted his country is safe for tourists even as cases surge in the nation that’s vaccinated a greater proportion of its people than any other country. 

Ramkalawan, in a transcript of an interview with the state-owned Seychelles News Agency, said that while some fully vaccinated people have contracted the disease, none of them has died.

“Up to this date, Seychelles has not recorded any case of mortality of people fully vaccinated,” he said. “This has shown us the efficacy of the vaccination.”