Dutch PM apologizes for easing virus curbs too soon as cases soar

Customers sit on a terrace alongside a canal in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on April 28, 2021, as the Dutch government eased the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. (FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

ADDIS ABABA / LONDON / RABAT / TUNIS / TRIPOLI / ALGIERS / SANTIAGO / HAVANA / JOHANNESBURG / LONDON / KIGALI / SAO PAULO / WASHINGTON / MOSCOW / LAGOS / GENEVA / MILAN / KAMPALA / AMSTERDAM / STOCKHOLM / LUSAKA – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded on Monday that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted too soon in the Netherlands and he apologized as infections surged to their highest levels of the year.

Rutte last Friday reimposed curbs on bars, restaurants and nightclubs in an effort to stop a spate of infections among young adults, just two weeks after most lockdown measures in the country were lifted as cases were falling.

"What we thought would be possible, turned out not to be possible in practice," Rutte told reporters on Monday. "We had poor judgement, which we regret and for which we apologize."

His apology marked a sharp turn from his stance on Friday, when he repeatedly defended the earlier easing of restrictions as a "logical step" and refused to take any blame for possible mismanagement by his government.

This drew sharp criticism from health authorities, who said the government had thrown caution to the wind as it encouraged young people to go out again.

So far, the new spike in infections has not led to a notable increase of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, given that most new cases are among young people less likely to fall seriously ill, and most, more vulnerable older people have been vaccinated.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 5,919,408 as of Sunday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic stands at 151,232 while 5,155,452 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Egypt are the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

Italy

Italy's hopes of producing its own COVID-19 vaccine were given a boost on Monday when local biotech firm ReiThera said its vaccine candidate showed a strong immune response and no major side effects in intermediate Phase II clinical trials.

The vaccine, called GRAd-COV2, induced an antibody response against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in over 93 percent of volunteers three weeks after the first dose, reaching 99 percent after the second dose, the company said in a statement.

However, ReiThera needs at least 60 million euros (US$71 million) to fund final Phase III trials and was dealt a blow in May when a state audit court rejected a plan to pump public funds into the company.

ReiThera said on Monday that two independent advisory boards had recommended advancing GRAd-COV2 into Phase III studies, but did not give an update on funding.

Belgium

Belgium has fully vaccinated 52.7 percent of its adult population, up from 49.8 percent in the last update, on Friday. 

More than 81 percent of Belgium’s adult population has received at least one shot.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe ramped up daily COVID-19 vaccinations to a record as the government pins its hope on a faster rollout to help the economy recover from its second contraction into two years.

On Thursday 29,750 people were vaccinated, the highest number since the public roll out plan began earlier this year. To date, 895,980 people have received their first dose and 595,417 a second, according to Ministry of Health data.

The southern African country will now go “full throttle” on its vaccination drive after receiving its biggest consignment of shots on Thursday of 2 million Sinovac vaccines, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told reporters.

The country is targeting 100,000 daily vaccinations to achieve herd immunity by year end, he said.

To date, Zimbabwe, which has a population of about 15 million, has received 4.2 million vaccines while another 1.5 million doses are expected this week, according to Ncube.

Sweden

Sweden's government said on Monday it will move ahead with a planned easing of pandemic restrictions this week but warned that new variants of the virus demanded vigilance as it urged people to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

"Things are steadily moving in the right direction in our country," Business and Industry Minister Ibrahim Baylan said at a news conference. "Step by step, we are moving toward a society without restrictions."

After a third wave during the spring, the infection rate has fallen sharply across Sweden, easing pressure on hospitals, in a development attributed primarily to increasing vaccinations and warmer summer weather less conducive to infections.

Just over two-thirds of Sweden's adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine and the proportion of fully covered has been steadily rising toward 50 percent.

Zambia

Zambia's COVID-19 isolation facilities, which were overwhelmed as cases surged during the third wave of the virus, have started seeing some relief as cases and hospitalizations began declining, a government official said on Monday.

Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary in charge of technical services at the Ministry of Health, said the country has continued to observe a general downward trend in new cases and hospitalizations.

He, however, expressed concern that deaths related to COVID-19 have remained high, attributing it to people seeking medical care late and self-prescription and self-medication.

In the past 24 hours, the country recorded 1,013 new cases and 45 deaths, taking the tally to 176,742 and the toll to 2,867. 

World Health Organization's Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attends a press conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

WHO

A WHO epidemiologist said she had been devastated to watch unmasked crowds singing and shouting at the Euro 2020 soccer final in London on Sunday, expressing concerns that it would spur COVID-19 transmission, including of the Delta variant.

Britain is facing a new wave of COVID-19 driven by the more transmissible variant despite having one of the world's highest vaccination rates. It plans to scrap most remaining anti-coronavirus restrictions on July 19, in a move that worries some scientists.

In unusually forthright comments from the UN health agency, which usually refrains from remarking on the policies of individual member states, its COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove called the sight of the more than 60,000 spectators at the match between Italy and England "devastating".

"Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?" she tweeted in the late stages of the match.

"The #COVID19 pandemic is not taking a break tonight … #SARSCoV2 #DeltaVariant will take advantage of unvaccinated people, in crowded settings, unmasked, screaming/shouting/singing. Devastating."

A day of alcohol-fuelled festivities had begun with rowdy scenes in central London and tens of thousands made their way to the national stadium for the game, with flares being let off in railway stations and singing on trains.

Uganda

Uganda will this month receive some 647,010 doses of Pfizer vaccine from the COVAX facility to boost the country's protection against COVID-19.

Emmanuel Ainebyoona, a spokesperson for the health ministry, told Xinhua by telephone on Monday that the vaccines would mostly be used in the central part of the country where storage facilities have been installed.

By Sunday, Uganda had vaccinated 1,058,084 people using the AstraZeneca doses.

The country announced Monday it had registered a total of 87,756 COVID-19 infections, along with 2,129 deaths and 61,304 recoveries.

Algeria

The Algerian government on Sunday decided to extend the lockdown for 21 days amid a hike in COVID-19 cases.

In a statement, the Prime Minister Office said the lockdown extension should be implemented in 14 provinces, including the capital Algiers, that are witnessing a remarkable increase in COVID-19 cases.

Earlier in the day, Health Minister Abderrahman Benbouzid told the state-run television ENTV that the recent increase of infections is largely due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

He also indicated that the vaccination against the virus will be carried out in homes, mosques, and schools to have more vaccinated.

The health ministry reported on Sunday 786 new COVID-19 cases, 12 fatalities and 519 recoveries, while admitting 39 patients to intensive care units.

Mounted police stand guard as pedestrians walk past in the Plaza de Armas, in Santiago, Chile, June 10, 2021. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chile recorded on Sunday 2,330 new COVID-19 infections and 110 more deaths in one day, to total 1,587,478 cases and 33,877 deaths.

Chile registered its lowest COVID-19 positivity rate of the entire pandemic on Sunday, with 3.4 percent nationwide after reporting the results of 65,483 COVID-19 tests performed in the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Despite maintaining a high number of daily deaths, Chile has experienced a drop in infections and virus transmission in the last month, which has led to a gradual relaxation of restrictive measures adopted by the government.

Health Minister Enrique Paris indicated that new COVID-19 cases declined by 22 percent in seven days, as all 16 regions of the South American country experienced a decrease.

Argentina

Argentina reached a deal with Moderna Inc to buy 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, the Health Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

The country has so far fully vaccinated 11 percent of its population.

Brazil

Brazil registered 595 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising its national death toll to 533,488, the health ministry said Sunday.

As many as 20,937 new cases were detected, taking the total caseload to 19,089,940, the ministry said.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (center) is seen during a demonstration held by citizens to demand improvements in the country, in San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba, on July 11, 2021. Thousands of Cubans marched this Sunday, July 11, through the streets of the small town of San Antonio de los Banos in an unprecedented protest against the government, according to videos of fans posted on the internet. (YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

Cuba

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in rarely seen protests, expressing frustration over economic conditions, the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and what they said was government neglect.

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Havana and along parts of the seaside drive amid a heavy police presence. There were a few arrests and scuffles.

A Reuters reporter witnessed police pepper spray a few protesters and hit others with batons, but there was no attempt to directly confront the thousands chanting "Freedom" as they gathered and marched in the city center. Their shouts of “(President Miguel) Diaz-Canel step down” drowned out groups of government supporters chanting "Fidel."

The protests broke out in San Antonio de los Banos municipality in Artemisa Province, bordering Havana, with video on social media showing hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans and demanding everything from coronavirus vaccines to an end of daily blackouts.

There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of miles to the east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where social media video showed hundreds marching through the streets, again confirmed by a local resident.

A combination of sanctions, local inefficiencies and the pandemic has shut down tourism and slowed other foreign revenue flows in a country dependent on them to import the bulk of its food, fuel and inputs for agriculture and manufacturing.

The country of 11 million people has about 32,000 active cases of COVID-19 and reported 6,923 daily cases and 47 deaths on Sunday, breaking a record set Friday, the New York Times reported, citing the health ministry. Only about 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 87 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 277,071 as of Saturday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.

The ministry reported 10 more recoveries during the same period, bringing the total national recoveries to 261,989.

France

As the French government warns increasingly of a “fourth wave” due to the now-dominant delta variant of the coronavirus, the number of new cases remains low but is rising steadily.

France reported 4,256 new cases in 24 hours, up 60 percent in a week based on a 7-day rolling average, and four deaths, while the number of patients in need of intensive care continues to decline.

President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to address the nation Monday evening, when he’s expected to speak about the risks of the delta variant and measures to counter its rapid spread, including mandatory vaccination for healthcare personnel. Separately, a key Macron ally said France must “live with the virus” rather than count on a new lockdown to contain the spread of a new variant of COVID-19.

Germany

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) public-health institute will look at the hospitalization rate as an additional main indicator for a more precise evaluation of the pandemic, Bild newspaper reported, citing an internal presentation.

This would mean moving away from the “incidence rate,” or the number of cases per 100,000 people over a week, as the most important indicator. Germany’s incidence rate rose for a sixth straight day on Monday, but remains at a low level of 6.2 after reaching almost 170 at the end of April.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 324 to 3,736,489, data from the RKI for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 2 to 91,233, the tally showed.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn again urged citizens to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, after new data provided more evidence that the inoculation drive is slowing.

“We last had as few initial vaccinations as yesterday in February, but unlike in February there are now enough vaccines,” Spahn wrote in a tweet.  

Germany administered 221,720 shots on Sunday, meaning that 58.5 percent of the population has had at least one dose and 42.6 percent are fully inoculated.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 186.84 million while the global death toll topped 4.03 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A health worker wearing protective gear takes a swab sample to test for the coronavirus at a COVID-19 testing center in Misrata, Libya, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (YOUSEF MURAD / AP)

Libya

Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamed Dbeibah on Sunday imposed new precautionary measures against COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement by the prime minister's office.

The new measures include closing coffee shops and restaurants, banning weddings and funerals and stopping public transportation for two weeks.

On Thursday, Libya closed the border with Tunisia over fear of the spread of the COVID-19 variant of Delta

Over the past few days, Libya has recorded alarming numbers of coronavirus infections, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

Libya on Sunday recorded 2,854 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic, raising the total number in the North African country to 204,090, including 180,860 recoveries and 3,240 deaths.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 542,462 on Sunday as 1,057 new cases were reported during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose to 9,369 with nine new fatalities reported during the last 24 hours, while 307 people are in intensive care units.

ALSO READ: Don’t count on needing a virus booster shot, WHO scientist says

Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, is seeing a sharp rise in infection rates. “From the beginning of July, we started to experience a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, with the test positivity rate going from 1.1 percent at the end of June 2021 to its current rate of 6.6 percent,” Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of the state, said in an emailed statement, adding that Lagos state faces a “potential third wave” of coronovirus infections.

He warned of fines or even imprisonment for those who break rules to contain the virus and said Lagos state would step up its vaccination campaign, following the detection of the highly infectious Delta variant in an incoming traveller.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has not been as hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as other parts of the continent, with just over 168,000 cases and 2,124 deaths confirmed since the outbreak began.

But Nation Centre for Disease Control officials last week confirmed that they had detected the Delta variant, putting officials nationwide on alert. The NCDC did not say when the infected traveller had arrived.

Lagos is Africa’s biggest city, but only 1 percent of its more than 24 million residents are fully vaccinated.

Pfizer Inc

COVID-19 vaccine maker Pfizer Inc will meet with federal health officials as soon as Monday to discuss the need for a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine as it prepares to seek authorization, the company said on Sunday.

The meeting comes days after the drugmaker and its partner BioNTech SE announced plans to seek US and European regulatory approval for a third dose of their COVID-19 shot amid the spread of variants and data they said showed heightened risk of infection six months after initial inoculation.

That push prompted a quick response from the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying Americans do not need a booster right now.

On Monday, Pfizer is scheduled to meet with representatives of the FDA, a company spokesperson said. The meeting was first reported by the Washington Post.

Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser who also directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as the heads of the National Institutes of Health and the CDC were also among those invited to the briefing, which could move to another day, according to the Post's report.

Fauci, in several television interviews on Sunday, said US health officials were not dismissing the possible future need for boosters – especially as breakthrough infections among those who have been vaccinated have emerged – but that more data is needed for any formal recommendation

Russia

Officials in Moscow believe the city has passed the peak of infections and will start to see levels stabilize, RIA Novosti reported on Sunday, citing the capital’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin.

Russia has reported more than 700 deaths in each of the past six days, with the seven-day average hitting a high of 725.

On Monday, Russia reported 25,140 new COVID-19 cases, including 5,403 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,808,473.

The government coronavirus task force said 710 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 143,712.

Rwanda

Students being treated for COVID-19 under home-based care in Rwanda are to sit their national examinations under strict health protocols, the country's education ministry has said.

All examination centers will set up a separate examination room, which will be disinfected every day, for these students, the ministry said in guidelines published Sunday.

A total of 452,053 candidates across the country are expected to sit their national examinations, including written and practical exams, from June to July, according to the National Examination and School Inspection Authority.

The first written exams, the three-day primary level examinations, start on July 12, followed by ordinary level ones and others.

As of Sunday, the central African country has recorded 48,244 COVID-19 cases, 32,523 recoveries and 560 deaths, according to the health ministry.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended bans on alcohol sales and most public gatherings for two weeks as the government struggles to bring a third wave of coronavirus infections under control.

The country will remain on virus alert level 4, the second-highest, although there will be adjustments to some curbs, including allowing restaurants to resume operating at half their seating capacity and gyms to reopen, Ramaphosa said Sunday in a televised address. A night-time curfew will remain in place from 9 pm to 4 am and schools will remain shut until July 26.

“We have had to make difficult decisions, knowing that almost every decision carries a cost to the economy and society,” Ramaphosa said. “We remain committed to do all that we can to mitigate the impact of the lockdown on people’s livelihoods.”

South Africa has had almost 2.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases so far and over 63,000 of those who’ve been diagnosed with the disease have died. Excess natural death reports indicate the actual toll could be triple that.

“For the last two weeks, the country has consistently recorded an average of nearly 20,000 daily new cases,” Ramaphosa said. “At present, the country has over 200,000 active COVID-19 cases. In the last two weeks over 4,200 South Africans have lost their lives to COVID-19.”

New cases have been fueled by the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, which was first detected in India and is now South Africa’s dominant strain. The Gauteng province, which includes capital Pretoria and economic hub Johannesburg, has been particularly hard hit and its hospitals are battling to cope with the patient influx.

Stop-start restrictions on alcohol sales, including an outright ban reimposed two weeks ago, are aimed at reducing trauma cases and discouraging social gatherings. The measures have curbed revenue for producers including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s SA Breweries unit, which is contesting them in court on the grounds that they violate the constitution.

Tunisia

Tunisian Health Ministry on Sunday reported 6,592 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total tally in the North African country to 497,613.

The death toll from the virus rose by 144 to 16,388 in Tunisia, while the total number of recoveries reached 393,305, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reached 4,463, including 636 in intensive care units and 153 mechanically ventilated.

ALSO READ: UK to track virus variants with genomic sequencing across world

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on the coronavirus situation, in Downing Street, London, July 5, 2021. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

UK

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge caution on Monday as he is expected to confirm plans to remove nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England from July 19, despite a surge of cases to levels unseen for months.

Earlier this week Johnson set out proposals to eliminate rules on mask-wearing and social contact, and the instruction to work from home, on what he has called a "one-way road to freedom". He will announce his final decision at a news conference on Monday.

"The global pandemic is not over yet," he said in a statement released late on Sunday.

"Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress."

Britain has implemented one of the world's fastest vaccination programmes, with more than 87 percent of adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 66 percent having received two.

Nevertheless, recent weeks have seen a striking surge of infections, to rates unseen since the winter.

Some scientists and officials have expressed concern that the authorities are pressing ahead too quickly.

"I know the government are very keen to get people back to offices but I think over the next four to six weeks, that needs to be very cautiously implemented by businesses to keep transmission down," Public Health England's Professor Susan Hopkins told Times Radio.

Britain has reported another 31,772 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 5,121,245, according to official figures released Sunday.

The country also recorded another 26 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,425.

United States

New York state reported one death from COVID-19 on Sunday, even as new cases are rising and the positive test rate topped 1 percent for the first time since late May.

Another 666 infections were reported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, with the seven-day average increasing after a dip to the level of a month ago.

The delta variant accounts for 26 percent of New York City’s cases, which are also increasing, the city health department reported last week. That is about half the percentage nationally, according to the most recent estimate from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elsewhere, Los Angeles County added 1,113 new cases, the highest in four months, as health officials warned of the spread of the delta variant.

New cases also exceeded 1,000 for a third straight day, with the positive test rate at 2.5 percent. On Friday, the county said its case loads doubled from a week earlier. Four new deaths were added.

Statewide, California’s test positivity rate stands at 2.3 percent, one of the highest levels since early March.

Also, the US is sending 3 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Indonesia and more than 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses to Bolivia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter. More doses are on the way for Indonesia, which is receiving the shots through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program, he said.