In this undated file photo, a staff member shows CoronaVac vaccine vials at Sinovac Life Sciences in Beijing. (PHOTO BY CHEN XIAOGEN / FOR CHINA DAILY)
NAIROBI / BRUSSELS / WASHINGTON / PARIS / HAVANA / ROME / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / CARACAS / BUENOS AIRES / SANTIAGO / KIEV / ADDIS ABABA / QUITO / BERLIN / GENEVA / LAGOS – Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac was 67 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection in the first real-world study of the Chinese shot, the Chilean government said on Friday.
The vaccine was 85 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and 80 percent effective in preventing deaths, the government said in a report prepared by the Chilean health ministry.
The release of the data makes Chile one of a handful of countries, including the United Kingdom and Israel, that have used inoculation campaigns to gather insights into how effective vaccines are outside controlled clinical trials and when faced with unpredictable variables in societies.
Chile's study examined CoronaVac's effectiveness among 10.5 million people, again looking both at people who had been vaccinated and those who had not.
The data compares favorably to previous data released on CoronaVac's efficacy in clinical trials.
The European Union “most probably” won’t renew contracts for COVID-19 vaccines with AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson as it prioritizes other types of shots, according to a French government minister.
The comments follow the European Commission’s announcement this week that it’s in talks with Pfizer Inc and BioNTech for as many as 1.8 billion additional vaccine doses through 2023.
Pfizer’s shot is an mRNA vaccine, and the commission has said it will focus on that technology in its planning. The vaccines from both J&J and Astra use an adenovirus to build immunity.
“The decision has not been taken as of today, but I can tell you we haven’t initiated discussions with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson about another contract, whereas we have already started discussions about contracts with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s industry minister, said Friday on BFM Television.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Finland on Friday said it would allow all restaurants to reopen next week after a steady fall in coronavirus infection rates over the past month.
Restrictions to opening hours, alcohol sales and the number of guests will apply, the government said.
In the region around the capital Helsinki and some other areas still battling the epidemic, restaurants will be allowed to take in half of their capacity, sell alcohol until 5 pm and need to close by 7 pm.
The government on Friday also decided Finland will temporarily give more vaccinations to areas where the virus is spreading fastest such as in the capital region.
According to data from the Finnish health institute, 1.2 million Finns have now received at least one vaccination dose.
Finland has recorded 83,253 cases, 558 deaths and has 161 people hospitalized due to COVID-19.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged lawmakers on Friday to approve new powers that would allow her to force coronavirus lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates, saying a majority of Germans were in favor of stricter measures.
“There is no way around it: We need to slow down the third wave of the pandemic and stop the rapid growth of infections,” Merkel said during a speech, which was interrupted several times by opposition lawmakers. “The situation is serious and in fact very serious. The third wave of the pandemic has a tight grip on our country.”
Health Minister Jens Spahn reiterated a warning that intensive-care units are close to capacity in some parts of the country.
The updated pandemic law is set to be voted on by the Bundestag next week. The Bundesrat, which represents the interests of Germany’s 16 states, is also due to have a say in the legislation. Some opposition parties have vowed to challenge it in court.
The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 25,831 to 3,099,273, while the reported death toll rose by 247 to 79,628, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday.
Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz are due to get immunized against COVID-19 later on Friday.
Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 138.8 million while the global death toll topped 2.9 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
ALSO READ: Global vaccine supply 'incredibly tight', COVAX 'needs funds'
The number of new COVID-19 cases per week has nearly doubled globally over the past two months, approaching the highest rate seen so far during the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.
“Cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing focused on Papua New Guinea and the western Pacific region.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday it had joined forces with African governments to boost the safety of COVID-19 vaccines as their rollout in the continent gathered steam.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said that the establishment of robust surveillance systems has been prioritized to ensure that administration of the vaccines among high-risk groups triggers minimal side effects.
Moeti said WHO had partnered with African countries to manage potential risks arising from inoculation against the coronavirus.
Statistics from WHO indicate that more than 13.6 million, including 12 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, while only mild adverse effects have been reported.
Moeti said that no single case of blood clotting has been reported in the continent, noting that many African countries have put in place stringent approval processes to ensure the vaccine meets the safety and efficacy threshold.
Africa has reported 4,383,168 COVID-19 cases, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said Thursday.
A total of 116,727 deaths and 3,933,939 recoveries have been reported across the continent, the Africa CDC said.
African countries have conducted 41,888,333 million COVID-19 tests, the Africa CDC said.
Argentina on Thursday reported 24,999 new COVID-19 infections and 383 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bring the tally to 2,629,156 and the toll to 58,925, the Ministry of Health said.
The province of Buenos Aires, with 1,130,148, and the city of Buenos Aires, with 297,569, have the highest number of total cases.
Argentina’s national government and authorities in the capital are clashing over tightened COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of schools in and around the city.
The mayor of Buenos Aires on Thursday slammed the national government over new measures that include a two-week closure of schools and restrictions on movement after 8pm in the populous metropolitan area that is a hot spot for new cases.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti told journalists that 864,000 vaccines would arrive on Sunday from the AstraZeneca laboratory in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Brazil's hospitals were running out of drugs needed to sedate COVID-19 patients on Thursday, with the government urgently seeking to import supplies amid reports of the seriously ill being tied down and intubated without effective sedatives.
Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Brazil was in talks with Spain and other countries to secure the emergency drugs. Hospitals, he added, were also struggling to get enough oxygen.
Sao Paulo blamed a shortage of intubation tubes on the federal government.
"The irresponsibility and neglect of Brazilian lives is unbelievable," Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said on Twitter.
Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said Brazil's "failed response" had led to thousands of avoidable deaths and created a humanitarian catastrophe that could still get worse.
Brazil registered another 3,560 COVID-19 deaths and 73,174 cases Thursday, according to data released by the health ministry. The new figures took the totals to 365,444 fatalities and 13,746,681 confirmed cases.
The country has distributed 53.9 million vaccine doses since the start of the national immunization campaign on Jan 18, the Ministry of Health said.
READ MORE: COVID-19 is deadlier in Brazil than India and no one knows why
Chile's health authorities said on Thursday they believed a dip in the record case numbers the Andean nation has seen over the past week represents a "stabilization" of a second COVID-19 wave thanks to strict lockdowns and a rapid vaccination program that has fully innoculated a third of the population.
Health minister Enrique Paris told reporters he hoped the 9,000 record daily cases reached last week represented the peak of the latest outbreak.
Chile has now vaccinated 50 percent of its 15 million-strong target population with at least one dose of the Pfizer or Sinovac-developed drugs, and given 32.7 percent two doses, Paris said.
The health ministry on Thursday reported 7,357 new cases and 218 deaths, bringing the tally to 1,101,698 and the toll to 24,766.
On the same day, the country reported its first case of the COVID-19 variant that was first found in South Africa.
Deputy Minister of Public Health Paula Daza said a woman, who returned to Chile on a flight from the United States several days ago, tested positive for the variant.
Colombian President Ivan Duque on Thursday ruled out a prompt reopening of his country's border with Venezuela, citing a high-level of COVID-19 infections.
The 2,219km land and water border between the two neighbors has been closed since last year. A new reopening date of June 1 was set by Bogota earlier this year.
"I know all the urgency there is for the issue of opening the border," Duque said during a visit to the border province of Norte de Santander. But Colombia had to be "especially cautious" given the uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation in Venezuela, he said.
People wearing face masks are seen standing on a street in Havana, Cuba, April 15, 2021. (JOAQUIN HERNANDEZ / XINHUA)
Cuba registered on Thursday 1,004 new COVID-19 infections in one day, reaching 90,408 cases in total, the Ministry of Public Health said.
The country also logged four more deaths, pushing the toll to 491, the ministry said.
Havana remains the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, with 510 cases reported in the last day and an incidence rate of 360.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the country, said Francisco Duran, the national director of hygiene and epidemiology of the health ministry.
READ MORE: WHO: New antibiotics not enough to tackle 'superbugs'
Denmark on Friday advanced its reopening plan on the back of stable infection rates, allowing indoor serving at restaurants and bars and some football fans to cheer from the stands from April 21, weeks earlier than originally planned.
Denmark has avoided a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic after imposing wide lockdown measures in December, which slowed the epidemic considerably to between 500-700 daily infections from several thousands in December.
As part of the deal agreed by the government and most of parliament early on Friday, the limit on outdoor public gatherings will also be raised to 50 from 10 on April 21.
In another development, Denmark said on Thursday it had not yet decided what to do with leftover AstraZeneca vaccines after a senior figure from the World Health Organization suggested the Nordic country would share them with other nations.
Ecuador reported on Thursday 4,892 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the second highest daily tally, bringing the cumulative caseload to 355,431, the Ministry of Public Health said.
Another 83 deaths were registered, taking the toll to 12,541, the ministry said.
In addition, six more "probable deaths" from the disease were logged, bringing the total to 4,948.
The hospital system throughout the country has been overwhelmed, with some hospitals operating at 150 percent capacity, according to the National Emergency Operations Committee (COE).
Starting on Friday, the COE plans to tighten national vehicular restrictions for 15 days to stop the spread of the disease.
Ethiopia registered 2,149 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the infection tally to 236,554 as of Thursday evening, according to the Ministry of Health.
Another 33 newly reported deaths pushed the toll to 3,285, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, 1,288 new recoveries were registered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 175,879.
Medical personnel tend to a patient infected with COVID-19 in the ICU unit at the Charles Nicolle public hospital in Rouen, Normandy, France, on April 15, 2021. (CHRISTOPHE ENA / AP)
The French government is working on gradually re-opening some cultural and leisure venues – such as outdoors restaurants and cafe terraces – from mid-May onwards, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Info radio on Friday.
The spokesman's remarks came day after after France's COVID-19 death toll surpassed 100,000, according to the latest hospital figures from the health ministry, a bleak statistic for President Emmanuel Macron's government.
Data from the health ministry's GEODES website said French hospitals registered 300 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, which, pushing the overall toll to more than 100,000, the eighth highest in the world.
Coronavirus deaths in Francehave now nearly doubled from just over 52,000 at the end of its second lockdown at the end of November.
"As all our energy is now focused on exiting this ordeal, we will not forget any face or any name," Macron said on Twitter.
There were 38,045 new coronavirus cases on Thursday against 43,505 on Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 5.18 million.
Health ministry data also showed that 5,924 people were in intensive care units on Thursday, up from 5,902 a day earlier.
Italy aims to administer a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 60 by the end of the second quarter, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Thursday.
Speaking at a parliamentary hearing, Speranza also said he hoped there will soon be clarity over the Johnson & Johnson jab, which has been suspended over side-effect concerns, in order to clear its use.
The AstraZeneca vaccine “like all vaccines marketed in Europe, is safe and effective, it saves lives,” Speranza said.
Speranza said the ongoing vaccination campaign should allow Italians to enter a new, better phase soon.
Later this month, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet is expected to relax the current restrictions, at least partially, and especially for retail businesses, restaurants, bars, and other shops, whose activities were still strongly limited or fully halted.
Italy reported 16,974 new coronavirus cases and another 380 deaths on Thursday, bringing the tally to 3.83 million and the toll to 115,937.
Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet passed additional borrowing worth 40 billion euros (US$47.8 billion) to finance a new package of measures to help businesses and households hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trust in the safety of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine dropped 15 percentage points among Americans after federal health agencies recommended "pause" in its use following blood clot cases, according to a new poll.
Adults who said they believed the single-dose shot was safe dropped from 52 percent before the pause was announced Tuesday to 37 percent afterward, according to a survey conducted by the global opinion and data firm YouGov along with The Economist.
Respondents who felt the Johnson & Johnson vaccine "unsafe" increased from 26 percent to 39 percent.
Messages written by relatives of those who died from COVID-19 hang on a wall at a memorial for the victims at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, April 15, 2021. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP)
Mexico reported 4,189 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 401 more fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 2,295,435 infections and 211,213 deaths, according to data from the health ministry released on Thursday.
Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 504,260 on Thursday as 596 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Health, the death toll rose to 8,927 after nine more fatalities were logged.
The total number of recoveries increased by 438 to 490,366, the ministry said, adding that there were 438 people still in intensive care units.
So far, 4,554,000 people have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 4,174,449 people have received both jabs.
More than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nigeria since the country launched its vaccination program in March, the country's health authorities said Thursday.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency tweeted that as of Thursday, 1,051,096 shots had been administered in 36 states and the federal capital territory.
The West African country has set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 40 percent of its over 200 million people before the end of 2021, and 70 percent by the end of 2022, for the country to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.
However, with only about 4.4 million doses available in the country, Nigeria is still far from reaching its set targets for vaccination, say health experts.
Norway has been told to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, as the country’s top health authority judges the risk of blood clots unacceptable.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health “has recommended stopping further use of” AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it said in a statement on Thursday.
READ MORE: In world first, Denmark ditches AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot
Poland's new daily coronavirus cases will likely fall in coming days and the country seems to have passed the worst in hospitals too, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Friday.
"Today we should have a more optimistic day. We will see significant falls, even by 10,000 compared to last week," Niedzielski told public radio.
"The trend seems absolutely downward… Also in hospitals we seem to have passed the peak," Niedzielski also said.
Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said people will likely need a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated, according to a CNBC report on Thursday.
Bourla said it is possible people will need to get vaccinated against the coronavirus annually.
"We need to see what would be the sequence, and for how often we need to do that, that remains to be seen," he told CNBC.
"A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role," he said.
Portugal will continue to gradually ease confinement measures as planned, with secondary schools and more stores allowed to reopen from Monday in most of the country. Controls on the land border with Spain remain in place for now, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.
The number of daily coronavirus infections in Portugal eased in February and March after the country faced one of the world’s worst outbreaks in January. Nursery schools reopened on March 15 as the government started to lift restrictions.
Puerto Rico will begin requiring all incoming visitors to present negative COVID-19 tests – or to get one within 48 hours of arrival. Those who don’t comply will face an unspecified fine, the government said.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced the measure Thursday as part of broader COVID-19 restrictions imposed in the US territory. The new rules will require restaurants and shops to operate at 30 percent capacity – down from 50 percent capacity. A 10 pm to 5 am curfew remains in place.
Also on Thursday, the island’s health department said there had been six cases of people who were fully immunized against COVID-19 contracting the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the UK.
Russia has vaccinated more than 8 million citizens so far against COVID-19, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying on Friday, out of a total Russian population of some 144 million.
It is an increase of around 3 million in the past six weeks. Golikova said on March 5 that 5 million Russians had received at least the first shot of the two-dose vaccine.
Russia on Friday reported 8,995 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 2,476 in Moscow, taking the tally to 4,684,148. The country also reported another 397 deaths, raising the official toll to 104,795.
Russia has extended a ban on flights to and from Britain until June due to a variant of the coronavirus first detected there, TASS news agency reported on Thursday, citing a statement by Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency.
Slovakia may start using Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in early May, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Thursday, more than two months after a batch of 200,000 doses arrived into the country but which have remained locked in storage.
Moscow demanded last week that the vaccines are returned due to what it termed contract violations. But Slovakia instead asked for additional laboratory tests in Hungary, the only EU country to use Sputnik V so far.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia's sovereign wealth fund responsible for marketing the vaccine, said Slovakia had not tested the shot in a specially certified laboratory, adding this was in violation of contract obligations and "an act of sabotage".
Heger said a number of Slovaks only wanted to be vaccinated with the Russian product and therefore it was needed to achieve the goal of maximizing vaccination cover in the population.
As of April 14, the country of 5.5 million had reported 900,575 people had received at least one dose of a vaccine and 319,349 had received both jabs.
South Africa’s biggest business grouping will help private industry administer 160,000 coronavirus vaccinations a day, according to Martin Kingston, chairman of the steering committee at Business for South Africa.
Vaccines will be administered via pharmacies, employer sites and large-scale sites developed by medical insurance providers and others, Kingston said Friday in an online press conference. “No citizen will be denied,” he said.
South African financial services group Discovery Ltd. previously said it has plans in place to vaccinate 3 million of its medical insurance members against the coronavirus, with the capacity to inoculate 50,000 people a day.
As of Thursday, South Africa had vaccinated 292,623 healthcare workers.
Sweden will ease restrictions on those, mostly elderly, citizens who have had at least one vaccination shot against COVID-19, the Public Health Agency said on Friday.
Around one fifth of Swedes have been vaccinated, including almost all those living in care homes for the elderly, and vaccinations are gradually being expanded to people in their 60s.
Authorities said that three weeks after their first shot, people could meet others from outside their socially-distanced bubble – even indoors – and that communal activities in care homes for the elderly could resume. Pensioners that have been vaccinated can also go to the shops again.
With the rate of new COVID-19 infections the second-highest in Europe after San Marino, authorities said it was not the time to ease restrictions for other groups.
Meanwhile, the country's vaccine coordinator Richard Bergstrom said Sweden was among several European countries negotiating with Russia over purchasing its Sputnik vaccine.
Britain’s health ministry said on Thursday there were no plans to halt rapid coronavirus testing, after the Guardian newspaper reported the program may be scaled back in England because of concerns about false positives.
“With around one in three people not showing symptoms of COVID-19, regular, rapid testing is an essential tool to control the spread of the virus as restrictions ease by picking up cases that would not otherwise have been detected,” a ministry spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“Rapid testing detects cases quickly, meaning positive cases can isolate immediately, and figures show that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there is fewer than one false positive result.”
Britain reported 2,672 new COVID-19 cases and another 30 deaths on Thursday, bringing the tally to 4,380,976 and the total number of deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test to 127,191.
More than 32.4 million people have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
UK study on brain clots
There is a much higher risk of brain blood clots from COVID-19 infection than there is from vaccines against the disease, British researchers said on Thursday, after the rollout of inoculations was disrupted by reports of rare clots.
AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have both seen very rare reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) linked to their vaccines.
A study of 500,000 COVID-19 patients found CVST had occurred at a rate of 39 people out of a million following infection, researchers said. That compares with European Medicines Agency (EMA) figures showing that 5 in a million people reported CVST after getting AstraZeneca's shot.
The researchers, from Oxford University, said in a pre-print study that the risk of CVST was 8-10 times higher following COVID-19 infection than it was from existing vaccines for the disease.
"The risk of having a (CVST) after COVID-19 appears to be substantially and significantly higher than it is after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine," Maxime Taquet of Oxford's Department of Psychiatry told reporters.
Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers has allocated an additional 6.5 billion hryvnia (about US$232.3 million) for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the Ministry of Finance reported on its website on Thursday.
So far, the Ukrainian government has spent 11.4 billion hryvnia (about US$407.4 million) on vaccine purchases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the ministry.
The ministry also added that the government planned to vaccinate 24 million people, or 70 percent of the adult population by the end of 2021.
As of Thursday, Ukraine had reported 1,903,765 COVID-19 cases, 38,658 deaths and 1,453,766 recoveries, according to the health authorities.
A man receives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Jackson, Mississippi, April 15, 2021. (ERIC SHELTON / THE CLARION-LEDGER VIA AP)
The United States is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between nine to 12 months after people are initially vaccinated against COVID-19, a White House official said on Thursday.
While the duration of immunity after vaccination is being studied, booster vaccines could be needed, David Kessler, chief science officer for President Joe Biden's COVID-19 response task force said at a congressional committee meeting.
The United States is also tracking infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said at the House subcommittee hearing.
Of 77 million people vaccinated in the United States, there have been 5,800 such breakthrough infections, Walensky said, including 396 people who required hospitalization and 74 who died.
Walensky said some of these infections have occurred because the vaccinated person did not mount a strong immune response.
Meanwhile, a hold on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in the US could stretch out for several weeks, according to the head of an advisory panel that is expected to make a recommendation about whether shots should resume.
After deciding not to vote on a recommendation on Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is tentatively scheduled to reconvene on Thursday or Friday of next week, chairman Jose Romero said in a telephone interview.
In another development, California, the most populous state in the country, opened up COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all aged 16 and older on Thursday.
Young adults previously infected with COVID-19 are still at risk of catching the disease again, according to a study of US military personnel that highlights the importance of vaccinating even those who have tested positive for the virus.
About 10 percent of 189 people who had been infected once, most of them 18- to 20-year males, later became reinfected, according to a study of 2,346 US Marine Corps members published Thursday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal. The study took place between May and November 2020.
Venezuela has received a batch of 50,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said on Thursday, as COVID-19 cases spike in the South American nation.
Venezuela had previously acquired 250,000 Sputnik V vaccines and 500,000 doses of the shot developed by China's Sinopharm, which so far have been administered to public officials, health workers, teachers and some senior citizens.
The new round of vaccines will also be administered to firefighters, civil protection personnel and workers who take oxygen to hospitals, said Alvarado.
Venezuela has reported 178,094 cases of coronavirus and 1,834 deaths, according to official figures.