EU: Consider global shortages before giving jabs to teens

A box of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines is opened after delivery to the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, Jan 6, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

SANTIAGO / KAMPALA / LONDON / RABAT / BERLIN / BELGRADE / HAVANA / VALLETTA / GENEVA / PARIS / MOSCOW / BERLIN / ADDIS ABABA / DUBLIN / MADRID – European Union countries should take account of global shortages of COVID-19 vaccines before rolling out shots for adolescents, the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control said on Tuesday.

Last week, the EU drugs regulator authorised Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12. Its previous guidance was for adults aged 16 and above read more .

The ECDC – echoing World Health Organization (WHO) calls to delay inoculations of young adults in rich nations – said in a report that vaccinating adolescents should be a priority only when they are at high risk of developing serious coronavirus symptoms.

The ECDC has an advisory role within Europe on vaccine rollouts, which are run by national governments.

Studies show most under-20s who catch COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, but risks increase among those with underlying conditions such as neurological and pulmonary diseases, the ECDC said.

When deciding whether vaccinating low-risk teenagers, "the wider context of a global vaccine supply shortage should also be taken into account," the ECDC said, noting that healthcare workers and the most vulnerable had yet to be vaccinated in many poorer nations.

Germany

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease is to reduce the coronavirus risk level for the country to “high” from “very high” as the situation improves, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday.

“We have grounds for optimism,” said Spahn at a news conference with the head of the RKI, Lothar Wieler, who said developments were improving but the pandemic was not yet over.

Also, Chancellor Angela Merkel is ready to allow Germany’s controversial lockdown law to lapse, the latest sign that the pandemic is releasing its grip on Europe’s largest economy.

Germany passed mandatory restrictions in hard-hit areas, including curfews, in April. The powers were set to expire at the end of June, and Merkel confirmed that those “can run out now,” she said Monday in Berlin.

The country has gradually been easing restrictions as infections fall and vaccinations accelerate. On Monday, Germany had 35.1 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, the lowest level since mid-October, and as of Sunday, 43 percent of the population had received at least one vaccine dose.

Ireland

Ireland will begin to gradually phase out temporary coronavirus-related jobless payments later this year while maintaining other income and business supports as the economy fully reopens, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said on Tuesday.

Ireland is emerging from its third and longest lockdown having had one the strictest regimes in Europe for the last 15 months, leaving more than 300,000 people who lost their jobs claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

Local media reported that the PUP, which is paid out at a higher rate than regular jobless benefits, would be reduced from September and withdrawn by February 2022.

The number of people temporarily or permanently unemployed in Ireland stood at 22.4 percent at the end April, with around three in four on the PUP. McGrath said he expected that cohort to fall very significantly over coming weeks as the economy reopens.

He added that additional supports for businesses reopening would be announced later on Tuesday. The government allowed all shops to open for the first time this year two weeks ago with the hospitality sector to follow with limited capacity in coming days.

Spain

The number of foreign tourists visiting Spain rose to 630,657 in April from a virtual zero in the same month a year ago as European countries started to ease travel restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, statistics department INE said on Tuesday.

The number of foreign tourists in April in Spain, the world’s second most visited country before the pandemic, was still 91 percent lower than in April 2019, INE reported.

With stricter travel restrictions in place in Britain, where travellers must isolate for several days when returning from abroad, German tourists were the most numerous visitors, representing 23 percent of the tourists in April. Germany, which has Europe’s largest economy, removed several Spanish regions from its virus risk list in March.

Foreign tourists spent a total 671 million euros (US$821 million) in April, 90 percent less than in the same month in 2019, and a total of 1.9 billion euros in the first four months of 2021, 83 percent less than last year, INE said.

Officials said on Monday that Spain is considering easing rules on wearing face masks outdoors as early as in mid-June as falling transmission and rising vaccination rates have lowered the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Masks have been mandatory indoors and out across most of Spain, regardless of social-distancing, since last summer.

Spain's infection rate as measured over the past two weeks fell to 121 cases per 100,000 on Monday, nearly halving since the end of April, although with sharp regional disparities.

Spain's tally of cases rose by 9,732 to 3.68 million from Friday while the death toll climbed by 70 to 79,905, Health Ministry data showed.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 170.74 million while the global death toll topped 3.55 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Chile

Chile’s public health regulator on Monday approved the use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for teenagers, it said in a statement, as the country races to hit a target of herd immunity by July.

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has already been rolled out in Chile for those 17 and older since emergency approval was granted in December and will now be offered for children aged 12 to 16, the ISP regulator said.

The ISP said its decision followed similar authorization granted by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

The ISP’s director, Heriberto Garcia, said the decision would help Chile hit its goal of herd immunity with 80 percent of the target population vaccinated by July.

Chile said it will extend quarantine to 19 more communes due to the rise in COVID-19 infections, after 6,882 new infections and 132 more deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, Minister of Health Enrique Paris said on Monday.

WHO

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Monday for launching negotiations this year on an international treaty to boost pandemic preparedness, as part of sweeping reforms envisioned by member states.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told its annual ministerial assembly that the UN agency faced a "serious challenge" to maintain its COVID-19 response at the current level and required sustainable and flexible funding.

The ministers from the WHO's 194 member states are to meet from Nov 29 to decide whether to launch negotiations on the pandemic treaty.

The WHO, which has been at the heart of the world's sluggish response to the COVID-19 pandemic, faces a potential shake-up to prevent future outbreaks.

Denmark

Denmark's government on Monday asked the country's health authorities to reconsider a decision to exclude Johnson & Johnson's and AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shots from its vaccination program.

The move was prompted by a two-week delay in the Danish vaccination program to September due to delivery of fewer Moderna and CureVac vaccines than expected, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Denmark excluded the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines over a potential link to a rare but serious form of blood clot.

"There is a larger data base worldwide to assess the effect and side effects of the vaccines," he said.

The health authority found in early May that the benefits of using the COVID-19 vaccines did not outweigh the risk of causing the possible adverse effect in those who receive the vaccine.

Moderna 

Moderna Inc on Tuesday filed for full US approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the second drugmaker to do so after Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and its German partner BioNTech sought full clearance for their vaccine last month.

The US Food and Drug Administration's emergency use approval allowed the health regulator to authorize the vaccines during the pandemic, based on a minimum number of COVID-19 infections among the trial population and two months of safety data for vaccine recipients.

Full approval for the COVID-19 vaccines, which will be based on six months of trial data, could be an important step in allaying vaccine hesitancy in the United States and other wealthy nations.

Moderna said it will continue to submit data to the FDA on a rolling basis over the coming weeks, with a request for a priority review. On completion of the submission, the agency will notify the company when it is formally accepted for review, Moderna added.

Russia

Thousands of officials and executives will gather in person in St Petersburg this week – and President Vladimir Putin will give a speech – as the annual economic forum Moscow pitches as "the Russian Davos" returns despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

For years, Russia has used the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) to try to attract foreign investment, discuss economic policy and project an image that it is open for business. It was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, but is back on, with the title "Together Again".

A negative COVID-19 test is required to access the venue, which will be disinfected, with doors and elevators cleaned once every two hours. Attendees will be expected to wear masks and gloves, which are typically required in public places in Russia.

Russia on Tuesday reported 9,500 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 3,669 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 5,081,417.

The government coronavirus task force said that 372 people had died of coronavirus-related causes in the same period, pushing the death toll to 121,873.

Russia has also decided to resume flights from Moscow to London from June 2 thanks to an improved COVID-19 situation, while it keeps in place bans on flights to Turkey and Tanzania until June 21 inclusive, the task force said on Monday.

It said there will be three flights per week from Moscow to London.

Russia also has decided to resume a limited number of regular flights to other countries, including Austria, Hungary, Lebanon and Croatia. 

Venezuela

Hundreds of senior citizens and health workers stood in long lines on Monday to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as part of Venezuela's inoculation campaign, which has been held up by payment problems and political disputes.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro for months said it was unable to pay for vaccines due to US sanctions, but last month announced it had come up with the funds to enter the global COVAX program.

"A little more information is required. We get very confused, which is to be expected due to impatience," said Luis Gonzalez, 90, a retiree, after receiving his first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine on Monday at the government-owned Hotel Alba in Caracas.

Around 20 cubicles were arranged in a spacious room on the ground floor of the hotel where health authorities expect to administer the first dose to 1,000 people by the end of Monday, said Dr. Rhode Longa, the site coordinator.

Uganda

The Ugandan police have arrested 2,124 people who are due in court to face charges of flouting COVID-19 prevention procedures and curfew timings.

Police in a statement issued here on Monday said the suspects were arrested in different parts of the country as the force continues to enforce the pandemic prevention procedures amid a surge in the number of cases.

"All our territorial commanders have become more punitive in our approach to COVID-19 infractions. We continue to punish offenders with fines, penalties and charges as one way of bringing the epidemic under control," the police statement said.

It said also last week, 445 motor vehicles and 2,088 motorcycles were impounded for violating the curfew night timings.

ALSO READ: Pfizer, BioNTech seek EU signoff on virus shot for younger teens

A Bolivian resident gets a shot of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during vaccinations for people over age 50, on the border that connects Desaguadero, Bolivia, with Desaguadero, Peru on May 21, 2021. (JUAN KARITA / AP)

Peru

Peru on Monday almost tripled its official COVID-19 death toll to 180,764, following a government review, making it the country with the worst death rate per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Peru has been among the hardest hit Latin America countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with its hospitals overcrowded with patients and demand for oxygen outstripping availability. Experts had long warned that the true death toll was being undercounted in official statistics.

The government said it will now update its death count, which stood at 69,342 as of Sunday, in part because of a lack of testing that made it difficult to confirm whether a person had died due to the virus or some other cause.

According to Johns Hopkins data, Hungary had the worst number of per capita COVID-19 deaths at about 300 per 100,000 people. With its updated death toll, Peru now stands at more than 500 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people.

European Union

The European Commission has approved an 800 million euro scheme by Greece, designed to support tourism companies which have been heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"They (the companies) have been hit hard by the pandemic, and this scheme will help ensure the continuity of their economic activity in these difficult times," Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of the European Union's competition policy, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The scheme will be open to companies of all sizes that experienced a decline in turnover of more than 30 percent in 2020, compared to 2019, the Commission said.

The European Union also plans to kick off its 750 billion euro (US$917 billion) pandemic recovery package with an initial 10 billion euro bond issue, France’s junior minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune, said on Monday.

In an interview with French financial daily Les Echos, Beaune also said that more than 100 billion euros would be injected into the European economy from this year.

Beaune said the European Commission would launch the debt issuance process on June 1 by calling on big European and international banks, and the securities would be issued in June.

Proceeds of the issue would be spent from July onwards and by the end of the year Europe will inject more than 100 billion euros into its economy to finance the recovery of its member states, he said.

Brussels has also proposed lifting all quarantine requirements starting July 1 for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Guardian reports.

Starting Tuesday, the Guardian reports that a system will be in place to let European Union member states issue a digital COVID-19 passport to citizens proving their status and allowing them to travel. A deadline will be set for July 1 for all 27 EU countries to accept the documentation as sufficient proof of vaccination.

Britain

A British government advisory scientist warned Monday that Britain could be in early stages of third COVID-19 wave as the country reported another 3,383 cases.

Professor Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, said although new cases were "relatively low", the India-related variant had fuelled "exponential growth".

However, he said the progress of vaccine rollout in Britain meant this wave would probably take longer to emerge than previous ones.

The plan to end coronavirus restrictions in England on June 21 should be postponed, he said.

The country also reported another one coronavirus-related death. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 127,782. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

The cases of COVID-19 variant first detected in India have doubled in a week in England to almost 7,000, prompting concerns that the British government's lockdown roadmap will be derailed.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that he has been vaccinated for COVID-19. He did not specify with which vaccine.

Macron tested positive for the virus in December. 

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 519,216 on Monday as 108 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The country's coronavirus death toll hit 9,147 with four new fatalities added during the last 24 hours, while 231 people are in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

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

Serbia

Serbia authorities on Monday decided to further lift restrictions as the country seems to be taming the coronavirus pandemic with vaccines.

From Tuesday, customers could dine out both indoors and outdoors until midnight, and watch late evening cinema screenings.

According to official data, in Serbia, a country of around 7 million people, 2,062,128 people have been fully immunized against the coronavirus, while 4,606,992 doses of vaccines have been administered so far.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Monday 1,100 new COVID-19 infections and eight more deaths, bringing the total to 142,266 cases and 958 deaths, the Public Health Ministry said.

"We have to protect ourselves, especially those with underlying medical conditions associated with a high risk for severe infection," said the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran during his daily report.

Malta

Malta has launched its own digital certificate for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, allowing them to travel more easily, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Monday.

Those who received both shots of a two-dose vaccine, or one in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can download their certificate 14 days after the last dose, Abela told a press conference on the eve of the country's reopening of its tourism business.

The certificate will be used to facilitate travel, visits to the elderly in homes and the restart of certain "restricted" social and cultural events. Abela said that those who hold the certificate will not need to do a PCR test when entering Malta from abroad, while those who do not will have to do such a test before boarding their flight.

Anyone traveling into Malta must produce a vaccine certificate or a negative PCR test before boarding or pay 120 euros to get a COVID-19 test on arrival at the airport. Abela said that almost 210,000 people were now fully vaccinated.

Argentina

Argentina reported 28,175 new COVID-19 cases Monday, for a total of 3.8 million, according to the country’s evening report. It reported 638 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 78,093.

Brazil

Brazil reported a confirmed 30,434 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data. The country’s coronavirus death toll rose by 860 in the past 24 hours to 462,791.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 196 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 271,541 as of Monday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said 10 new deaths were reported, bringing the country's death toll to 4,165, the ministry said.