EU advises against Astra shot in those with rare blood condition

A health worker prepares to hold a vial of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a walk-in vaccination centre in the Bab el-Oued district of Algeria's capital Algiers on June 7, 2021. (RYAD KRAMDI / AFP)

ADDIS ABABA / BRASILIA / NEW YORK / SANTIAGO / WASHINGTON / BUDAPEST / BERLIN / LONDON / CARBIS BAY / CARACAS / MEXICO CITY / CAPE TOWN / BRUSSELS / WINDHOEK / BUENOS AIRES / QUITO / TUNIS / RABAT / KAMPALA / ROME / OSLO / MOSCOW / STOCKHOLM – Europe’s drug regulator on Friday advised against using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in people with a history of a rare bleeding condition and said it was looking into heart inflammation cases after inoculation with all coronavirus shots.

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) safety committee in its evaluation said that capillary leak syndrome must be added as a new side effect to labelling on AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

It is a condition in which blood leaks from the smallest of vessels into muscles and body cavities and is characterised by swelling and a drop in blood pressure.

The regulator first began looking into these cases in April and the recommendation adds to AstraZeneca’s woes after its vaccine has been dogged with problems, including a possible link to rare blood clotting issues.

Last month, the EMA had advised against using the second AstraZeneca shot for people with the clotting conditions.

The watchdog is also broadening its probe into cases of myocarditis and pericarditis following inoculation with AstraZeneca’s vaccine and other shots from Pfizer, Moderna and J&J.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 174.87 million while the global death toll topped 3.77 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

World COVID-19 death toll

More people have died from COVID-19 this year than in 2020, despite progress of vaccination in the rich world, reported The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

"It took less than six months for the globe to record more than 1.88 million COVID-19 deaths this year," said the report while quoting Johns Hopkins University data. The university's count for 2021 edged just ahead of the 2020 death toll on Thursday.

These numbers reveal the pandemic has hit different parts of the world unevenly, with poorer nations being affected later, and suffering, before they have access to vaccines that have benefited developed nations, it said.

"While Western nations such as the US, Canada and the UK celebrate low caseloads and declining deaths thanks to mass vaccinations, the intensified pandemic in parts of Asia and Latin America propelled global deaths higher," it added.

Visitors gather at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, on June 9, 2021. France is back in business as a tourist destination after opening its borders on that day to foreign visitors who are inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines approved by the European Union's medicines agency. (FRANCOIS MORI / AP)

EU

European Union (EU) countries agreed on Friday to an easing of travel restrictions over summer that will allow fully vaccinated tourists to avoid tests or quarantines and will broaden the list of EU regions from which it is safe to travel, diplomats said.

Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries approved a modified proposal from the European Commission that people who have been fully vaccinated for 14 days should be free to travel from one EU country to another, three EU diplomats said.

Restrictions for other travelers should be based on the degree to which the country they are coming from has COVID-19 under control.

Just over a quarter of EU adults are now fully vaccinated.

As the pace of vaccinations accelerates, the bloc will loosen the traffic light colour coding to represent the relative safety of various EU regions.

Children aged 12 or more could be tested, but would only quarantine if an adult accompanying also had to.

Africa

African countries have acquired around 54.9 million COVID-19 vaccines so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said Thursday.

Around 0.6 percent of Africa's population have received a full vaccine regimen, which is an increase of 17 percent compared to the previous week, the Africa CDC said. Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa have acquired and administered the most doses to their respective populations.

As of Thursday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa stood at 4,969,847, along with 133,543 deaths and  4,477,813 recoveries, according to the Africa CDC.

At least 49,083,332 COVID-19 tests have been conducted by African countries, it said.

ALSO READ: WHO urges 'massive effort' to extend vaccine access in Africa

G7

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expects the Group of Seven (G7) to agree to donate 1 billion  COVID-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries during its summit starting on Friday, and help inoculate the world by the end of next year.

Of the 100 million British shots, 80 million will go to the COVAX program led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the rest will be shared bilaterally with countries in need.

In another development, a hotel, which British media reported was being used by members of Germany's delegation to the G7 summit, has closed because members of staff tested positive for COVID-19, its owners said on Thursday.

The Pedn Olva hotel in St Ives, a seaside town adjacent to the location of the three-day G7 leaders' meeting in Cornwall, southwest England, had shut temporarily on advice from health officials and the local authority, the owners said.

Among the guests were security staff for the German delegation and a media team working for a US broadcaster, Sky News reported.

Argentina

Argentina reported Thursday 27,628 new COVID-19 cases and 669 more deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, bringing the totals to 4,066,156 cases and 83,941 deaths.

The health ministry said 3,639,402 people have recovered from the disease while there were 342,813 active cases.

A total of 15,353,408 vaccine doses have been administered to date.

Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said in a statement that the "impact of the vaccine is being seen in the decline in mortality and a decrease in mortality in the proportion of people over 60 years old."

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday that the health minister was preparing a measure to no longer require face masks for people who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus or previously infected.

Bolsonaro  said in a speech that quarantines should be only for infected people.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Bolsonaro has asked him for a study on the use of masks in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Brazil's vaccination program has been slow to get off the ground and the Senate inquiry is investigating whether Bolsonaro, a vaccine skeptic, deliberately delayed securing timely supplies.

Only 23.6 percent of Brazil's population has received a first dose and just 10.2 percent have been fully vaccinated with two doses, according to health ministry data.

Brazil reported 88,092 new cases and 2,504 deaths in the past 24 hours, the ministry said on Thursday. In total, Brazil has registered 17,210,969 cases and 482,019 fatalities since the pandemic started, according to ministry data.

Mounted police stand guard as pedestrians walk past in the Plaza de Armas, in Santiago, Chile, June 10, 2021. The Chilean capital will return to a lockdown due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chilean health authorities announced a blanket lockdown across the capital Santiago on Thursday following some of the worst COVID-19 case numbers since the pandemic began, despite having fully vaccinated more than half its population.

The development comes as Chile's confirmed daily caseload surged 17 percent in the past two weeks nationwide and 25 percent in the Metropolitan region that includes Santiago and is home to half the country's population.

Intensive care beds in the capital region are now at 98 percent capacity. Jose Luis Espinoza, the president of Chile's National Federation of Nursing Associations, said his members were "on the verge of collapse".

Chile has one of the world's highest vaccination rates. Around 75 percent of its 15 million residents have already received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 58 percent are completely inoculated. 

Of 7,716 people confirmed as infected with COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday, 73 percent had not been fully inoculated and 74 percent were under 49 years old, the health ministry said.

President Sebastian Pinera announced on Thursday that adolescents between 12 and 17 years old can begin to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on June 21 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

READ MORE: Pfizer launches late-stage trial of virus shots for those under 12

Also on Thursday, Chile's Institute of Public Health said it had approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccine developed by Belgian laboratory Janssen for Johnson & Johnson.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Thursday 1,158 new COVID-19 cases and 12 more deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 153,578 and the death toll to 1,057, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Of the new cases, 1,115 were spread through community transmission, the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology, Francisco Duran, said.

Havana remains the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, seeing 428 new cases and an incidence rate of 317.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest on the island.

Ecuador

Ecuador on Thursday reported 2,153 new COVID-19 cases and 29 more deaths, taking the tally to 436,023 and the toll to 15,390, said the health ministry.

Currently, 11 of the 24 provinces in Ecuador have high rates of contagion though restrictions have been in force nationwide to contain the spread of the virus.

Germany

Germany may encounter a fourth wave of the pandemic as a result of the Delta variant that’s spreading across the UK, but it won’t spur another hard lockdown of the kind the country experienced in the winter, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff told RTL/ntv in an interview.

A recent improvement in the number of new cases in Germany was “extremely gratifying”, Merkel said on Thursday but she warned that the pandemic was not over and the risk from the Delta variant, was worrying.

She said travel restrictions imposed on Britain and India had been justified because the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, spread fast.

Currently, about 2.5 percent of positive coronavirus cases in Germany were linked to the variant, Merkel said.

Germany's caseload rose to 3,711,569 Friday after 2,440 new cases were logged, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. The death toll rose by 102 to 89,687.

Germany is in a race against the virus with vaccinations and it is essential to maximize protection against the Delta variant with inoculations, she said.

Booster vaccinations should start for older people in the autumn, she said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that the new digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate "CovPass" has been officially launched in Germany.

The digital certificate can be used in Germany's official COVID-19 warning app or with the new CovPass app. In addition to the digital certificate, the traditional yellow paper vaccination booklet would also remain valid, according to Spahn.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn shows the Corona Warn app with a sample digital vaccination certificate as well as his own old vaccination certificate at a regular press conference on the COVID-19 situation,  in Berlin, Germany, June 10, 2021. (MICHAEL KAPPELER / DPA VIA AP)

Hungary

The government of Hungary has approved the voluntary COVID-19 vaccination of children aged between 12 and 16 years, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at a press conference on Thursday.

It is up to parents to decide whether they want their children to be inoculated, he said, adding that the government will not organize a vaccination campaign specifically for this age group.

The government also decided to give an extraordinary paid leave of ten days to those who have been involved in the fight against the epidemic, Orban said.

The prime minister said that a new "national consultation" would be launched soon on the restart of the economy following the economic crisis caused by the pandemic restrictions.

Italy

Italy reported 88 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,079 new cases on Thursday, bringing the totals to 126,855 fatalities and 4.24 million cases, the health ministry said.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 4,153 on Thursday, decreasing from 4,382 a day earlier.

There were 30 new admissions to intensive care units, up from 24 on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 626 from a previous 661.

Mexico

Mexico reported 3,672 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 227 more fatalities on Thursday, bringing total infections to 2,445,538 and the death toll to 229,580, according to health ministry data.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 522,765 on Thursday as 376 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The toll increased by two to 9,192 while the total number of recoveries stood at 510,299, the health ministry said in a statement.

There were 204 in intensive care units, according to the statement.

A total of 9,359,017 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 6,878,656 have received both shots.

Namibia

The Namibian government on Friday took an urgent decision to step up preventive measures after a spike in both new COVID-19 cases and related fatality rate in the last three weeks.

New space will be created, more staff hired, and additional oxygen acquired to handle the rising number of COVID-19 patients that have overwhelmed hospitals, according to a government circular.

Minister of Information and Communication Technology and cabinet spokesperson Peya Mushelenga said the government has approved an urgent plan to provide more help to state hospitals fighting the pandemic.

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said the country's confirmed daily new cases reached a record 1,045 on Thursday night.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 61,374 and the toll is at 968, as the country faces what Shangula described as its worst challenge from COVID-19.

Norway

Pfizer has cut July deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to Norway by 400,000 doses, delaying the Nordic country's vaccine rollout, the company and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) told Reuters on Thursday.

The news was first reported by Norwegian daily VG, citing Pfizer's Norwegian arm, and Geir Bukholm, director of infection prevention and control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Pfizer, a major provider of vaccines to Norway which has dropped Astrazeneca's jab and only offering J&J's Jenssen vaccine under certain conditions, will now provide 800,000 doses in July, from the earlier estimated 1.2 million doses, Pfizer Norway confirmed to Reuters.

As a consequence, Norway's vaccination program will be delayed by one to two weeks compared to its earlier estimate, FHI said.

Poland

Poland will reopen discos, loosen limits for hotel occupancy, and allow for higher capacity at sports events, concerts and fairs from June 26. 

Fully-vaccinated people will be excluded from density limits. 

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said that previous loosening of rules hasn’t boosted virus cases, evidence that vaccines are working.

ALSO READ: WTO to start vaccine supply talks amid clash on patents

Royal Caribbean

Two guests sharing a stateroom on the Celebrity Millennium tested positive at the required end-of-cruise COVID-19 testing, Royal Caribbean said.

The two were asymptomatic and currently in isolation and being monitored by the company’s medical team. 

The cruise operator is conducting contact tracing, expediting testing for all close contacts and closely monitoring the situation.

Russia

Russia on Friday reported 12,505 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, its highest number of daily infections since late February, taking the national tally to 5,180,454 since the pandemic began.

The government's coronavirus task force said another 396 deaths were reported, pushing the death toll to 125,674.

South Africa

South Africa has entered its third wave of COVID-19 infections, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) said on Thursday, as the continent's worst-hit country registered 9,149 new cases.

The NCID said South Africa had exceeded the national 7-day moving average incidence of 5,959 cases as defined by the ministerial advisory committee (MAC). The MAC advisory reported the latest wave of cases had a 7-day moving average threshold that was 30 percent of the peak incidence of the previous wave, which reached around 10,000 infections driven by a new variant.

"South Africa technically entered the third wave today," the NCID said in a statement.

South Africa’s Statistician General Risenga Maluleke has tested positive and is experiencing mild symptoms and recuperating at home, the statistics office said in an emailed statement. 

Sweden

Swedish health officials warned on Friday of worrying local outbreaks of the COVID-19 delta variant and urged people to get vaccinated to avoid a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Sweden, an outlier in the fight against the pandemic with its no-lockdown policy, has seen a steep decline in cases and hospitalisations in the past month after surges in infections in the spring.

Close to half the adult population has received at least one vaccine shot but the health agency warned that people who had only received one shot were less protected against the delta variant.

“There are some dark clouds on the horizon and I think mainly of outbreaks of the delta variant. It is found in Europe and also locally in Sweden,” agency director general Johan Carlson told a news conference.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is believed by UK epidemiologists to be 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant which was previously dominant in Britain, in part because vaccines are less effective against it.

So far, only 71 cases of the variant have been confirmed in Sweden but it has prompted the agency to step up contact tracing. The delta variant accounts for around 90 percent of new cases in the UK.

On Thursday, Sweden reported 831 new cases and three deaths. The total death toll of more than 14,500 has been higher than in other Nordic countries but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Tunisia

The Tunisian health ministry on Thursday reported 2,373 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 362,658.

The death toll rose by 76 to 13,305 while the total number of recoveries reached 317,758, the ministry said in a statement.

A total of 1,252,125 people have received a COVID-19, of whom 352,570 have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures published by the ministry.

The ministry said that pharmacists, biologists, occupational physicians and free practice physicians are authorized to perform rapid COVID-19 tests.

A written report containing the results and a code is required to prove the validity of the test, the ministry said in a statement.

Uganda

RwandAir announced Thursday the suspension of its flights to and from Uganda's Entebbe International Airport due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Rwanda.

The measure will be in place until further notice, the Rwandan national carrier said in an announcement on its official website.

Uganda has been suffering from another upsurge in COVID-19 infections, with the 7-day average of daily cases climbing from around 100 in late May to nearly 1,000 in the week starting June 6.

On Thursday, the country saw 1,438 new cases, pushing the tally to 56,949.

UK

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK will start donating COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need within weeks, with at least 100 million surplus doses set to be distributed in the next year.

The UK will provide five million doses by the end of September, with 25 million more by the end of 2021. Johnson’s office said the program would meet an immediate demand for vaccines in countries worst affected by the pandemic without affecting completion of the domestic program.

The UK on Thursday reported another 7,393 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 4,542,986 and the toll to 127,867, according to the latest official data.

The total number of British cases of the Delta variant of that was first identified in India have jumped by 29,892 to 42,323, Public Health England said on Friday, adding the variant accounted for over 90 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the country.

British vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the country was on track to offer all those aged over 50 a second dose of a vaccine by June 21.

Johnson is due to announce on Monday whether he will lift remaining curbs, imposed in January to contain a wave of infections, on June 21.

US

The Biden administration is committed to efforts to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and will raise the issue with the World Trade Organization (WTO), but it may take time, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Thursday.

"We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO that will be needed to make this happen. And this may take time given the complexity of the issues involved, but our goal remains to get vaccines to as many people as fast as possible," Tai said in remarks to an AFL-CIO union event.

Johnson & Johnson aid the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the shelf life of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine from 3 months to 4.5 months, as millions of unused doses nationwide are set to expire this month

In another development, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said on Thursday the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the shelf life of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine from 3 months to 4.5 months, as millions of unused doses nationwide are set to expire this month.

Meanwhile, a key panel of the FDA met to discuss the potential use of COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12.

Separately, US public health advisers will meet to discuss a potential link between COVID-19 shots that use messenger RNA technology and heart inflammation after hundreds of vaccinated people experienced a condition called myocarditis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will gather on June 18 to discuss an increase in reported cases of the condition, particularly among adolescents and young adults. 

The CDC said on Thursday it will no longer require travelers to wear masks in outdoor transit hubs and in outdoor spaces on ferries, buses and trolleys, due to the lower risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors.

In a separate development, President Joe Biden announced the US will begin shipping a half-billion donated doses of Pfizer’s vaccines to countries in “dire need” in August. Earlier in the day, US officials said the Biden administration will slash in half its US$4 billion commitment to COVAX to help pay for the purchase of the Pfizer shots.

This handout picture released by the Venezuelan Presidency shows Venezuela's Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez speaking during a message televised at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 24, 2021. (JHONN ZERPA / VENEZUELAN PRESIDENCY / AFP)

Venezuela

Venezuelan officials said on Thursday the country's government has been unable to complete a payment required to receive coronavirus vaccines because transfers to the global COVAX vaccine program had been blocked.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro for months said it was unable to pay for the COVAX program because of US sanctions, and then in March announced that it had made almost all the required US$120 million payment.

Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez said in a televised broadcast on Thursday the government had been unable to pay down the remaining US$10 million because four operations had been blocked.

"The financial system that also hides behind the US lobby, has the power to block resources that can be used to immunize the population of Venezuela," Rodriguez said.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza later tweeted a copy of a letter from COVAX saying it had received information from Swiss bank UBS that four operations, totaling US$4.6 million, "were blocked and under investigation". It was not immediately evident who blocked the operations or why.

Venezuela has reported 246,764 coronavirus cases and 2,764 deaths, although critics say the actual figures are likely higher due to underreporting and limited testing.