A man receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Jabra Hospital for Emergency and Injuries in Sudan's capital Khartoum on March 9, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
WASHINGTON DC / ATHENS / RIO DE JANEIRO / LONDON / VALLETA / HARARE / SANTIAGO / HAVANA / ADDIS ABABA / ROME / NAIROBI / VALLETA / MEXICO CITY / RABAT / PRAGUE / BERLIN / MOSCOW / BUDAPEST – The African Union's disease control body and World Health Organization on Thursday urged African countries not to waste COVID-19 vaccines donated to them, after confusion in Malawi and South Sudan about whether doses they received had expired.
"My appeal to member states is: if we are doing our part to mobilize these vaccines, you do your part and use the vaccines," John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference.
Malawi has said it plans to destroy more than 16,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India because the shots were not administered before the April 13 expiry date on the packaging. The doses were supplied via the AU thanks to a donation from telecoms group MTN.
South Sudan has set aside 59,000 doses supplied by the AU and is not using them because of the same expiry issue, a government official told Reuters last week.
But Nkengasong, the continent's top public health official, said the Africa CDC had informed countries receiving the donations that the shots could be used until July 13, based on a further analysis conducted by the Serum Institute.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's Africa director, told a separate briefing that the shots made by the Serum Institute should be stored until more information was available.
Technical experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) will review on April 26 Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine for possible emergency use listing, to be followed by the Sinovac jab on May 3, the agency said on Thursday.
"We would expect a decision a couple of days later," the WHO said in response to a Reuters query.
So far COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have received a WHO listing – an endorsement of their safety and efficacy that helps to guide countries' regulatory agencies.
Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, will postpone a tentative plan to ease some COVID-19 restrictions, due to the ongoing high levels of new infections, the government said on Thursday.
Sweden is experiencing a third wave of the virus and the number of patients being treated in intensive care is at the highest level since the spring of last year.
"When the strain on healthcare eases and the spread of infection drops, only then will the government be ready to start lifting restrictions," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference. "But we are not there yet."
The restrictions will be prolonged until mid-May and mean restaurants will have to close at 8.30 pm and that shops and malls can only let in limited numbers of customers. Sport venues and public pools will remain effectively closed to visitors.
Lofven pleaded with people to hold out for a while longer, but said that the vaccination programme meant there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"We are, perhaps, seeing the beginning of the end," he said.
More than two million, or roughly a quarter, of all adult Swedes have now received at least one shot of vaccine.
Sweden registered 7,736 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 19 new deaths, taking the total deaths to 13,882.
Germany wants to buy up to a total 30 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in June, July and August as long as the European drugs regulator gives the shot the green light, the premier of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, said on Thursday in Moscow.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said earlier this month that Germany was negotiating with Russia on an advance purchase agreement of Sputnik V.
Germany on Thursday reported 29,518 new cases, bringing the tally to 3,217,710, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.
The reported death toll rose by 259 to 80,893, the tally showed.
Argentina is going through its "worst moment" of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health minister said on Wednesday, as deaths from the virus hit 60,000 amid a sharp second wave that has forced the country to re-impose some lockdown measures.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti warned that the South American country's healthcare system was at risk, especially in the metropolitan area around the capital Buenos Aires, which had forced the government to restrict movement and suspend indoor activities.
"We are living through the worst moment of the pandemic now," she told a daily briefing, adding the country was seeing an important rise in the circulation of new variants, with the virus surging in the capital and beyond."It's growing exponentially in most of the country.”
Argentina, which is rolling out an inoculation program largely around Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, has recorded some 2.77 million COVID-19 cases and has set a series of new daily records for infections in recent weeks. The death toll rose by 291 on Wednesday to 60,083.
A local laboratory on Tuesday said it had produced a test batch of Sputnik V ahead of planned large-scale manufacture later this year. Vizzotti said it was "great news" though cautioned it needed to be quality controlled and that the time frame would depend on how that process went.
Carlos Camera, an Argentine infectious disease expert, said there was a possibility of health systems being overwhelmed, which was the cause of new restrictions that had sparked some protests amid a fragile economic rebound.
"What was not foreseen was the size with which this second wave has hit and above all the speed of it compared to the speed we've managed with vaccinations," said Camera.
Police stand in front of men who were inside a bar without wearing face masks during a civil police operation against illegal parties amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Jandira, Sao Paulo state, Brazil, on April 21, 2021 early morning. (MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL / AFP)
Brazil is seeing a drop in COVID-19 cases including in the hard-hit Amazon region but the relaxation of measures by some municipal governments could bring reversal in that improvement, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne warned on Wednesday.
Etienne said cases in the South American giant, however, remained "alarmingly high" while cases in Chile, which has had "a difficult few months," were plateauing.
Nearly every country in Central America is reporting a rise in infections, with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic the worst-hit and 137 COVID-19 cases reported in shelters for people displaced by the volcanic eruptions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The COVID-19 death toll mounted to 381,475 in Brazil after 3,472 more patients died of the virus in the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.
Tests detected 79,719 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national count to 14,122,795, said the ministry.
A new wave of infections has been confronting the South American country, leading to a rise in hospitalizations, deaths and the collapse of a large part of the Brazilian public healthcare system.
The most populated state of Sao Paulo is the hardest hit with 2,786,483 cases and 90,627 deaths, followed by Rio de Janeiro, with 712,525 infections and 42,110 deaths.
Brazil currently has a mortality rate of 182 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants and an incidence rate of 6,720 registered cases per 100,000 people.
According to the National Council of Health Secretariats, the daily average of cases in the past seven days stood at 64,184 with a daily average death toll of 2,779.
As of Tuesday, Brazil had vaccinated 37.8 million people against COVID-19, with 27.17 million, or 12.83 percent of the population, receiving the first dose and 10.71 million, or 5.06 percent, receiving both doses.
Etienne said nearly every country in Central America is reporting a rise in infections, with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic the worst-hit and 137 COVID-19 cases reported in shelters for people displaced by the volcanic eruptions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In South America, she said, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina are the worst-affected nations at present, while Mexico had seen a slight increase in cases following the Easter holiday and the relaxation of some measures.
Etienne said PAHO was concerned by the proliferation of "insidious rumors and conspiracy theories" in the region that risked exacerbating vaccine hesitancy.
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"PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to address fake news and ensure the public can easily find accurate information," she said.
She repeated a call for more equitable distribution of vaccines, urging countries with surpluses to donate them to others who need them most.
"Latin America is the region that currently has greatest need for vaccines, this region should be prioritized for distribution of vaccines," she said. "This is a global epidemic. No one will be safe until we are all safe."
The Chilean Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday that 11 of the country's 13 regions saw a decline in COVID-19 cases in the last seven days.
Health Minister Enrique Paris said in a statement that five regions reported a decrease in the last 14 days.
According to the ministry, there were 4,914 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, as well as 36 more deaths, bringing the totals to 1,141,403 cases and 25,353 deaths.
Colombia will next month restart domestic flights to and from Leticia, the capital of its Amazonas province, the government said on Wednesday, ending months of isolation for the city.
Flights to and from Leticia were grounded at the end of January over fears about the spread of the Brazilian P1 coronavirus variant.
Those looking to travel from Leticia when flights restart on May 1 will have to present COVID-19 vaccination cards showing they have received necessary doses, the health ministry said. Travelers must have received their second dose at least 15 days prior and show a negative antigen result.
People who have chosen not to be vaccinated will face seven-day quarantines in hotels – for which they will have to pay – if flying to or via capital Bogota, according to the statement.
Cuba daily COVID-19 tally again surpassed 1,000, as the country reported on Wednesday 1,006 new infections and nine deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the totals to 96,760 cases and 547 deaths.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned on Twitter of the spread of the coronavirus variant that was first detected in South Africa, saying there was a need to apply stricter health protocols.
"The arrival in the country of new strains of the virus forced us to adjust our protocols. Scientists have determined that the presence of the variant discovered in South Africa, which can be more contagious and lethal if we are not more timely with treatment, is growing," he wrote.
Ecuador on Wednesday implemented a nighttime curfew and other mobility restrictions as a spike in coronavirus cases again overwhelms hospitals in the Andean country, which in 2020 experienced one of the region's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
In 16 of the country's 24 provinces, only workers in the healthcare, food and other sectors deemed essential will be allowed to circulate over weekends and during evenings from Monday through Thursday, according to the decree signed by President Lenin Moreno.
The measures will take effect on Friday and last for 28 days.
The new restrictions come as tents hospitals are maintaining waitlists for a bed and setting up tents outdoor to attend to a surge in coronavirus patients, part of a resurgence in the virus across Latin America as several countries' vaccination programs have gotten off to slow starts.
Ecuador, which has reported 362,000 COVID-19 cases and 17,804 deaths, is currently vaccinating only the elderly, police, members of the military and teachers. Moreno has pledged to accelerate inoculation.
During weekdays, the decree will allow restaurants, malls gymnasiums and movie theaters to operate at a reduced 30 capacity.
The pandemic overwhelmed the public health system in Ecuador's largest city of Guayaquil last March and April, as authorities struggled to collect dead bodies and cemeteries ran out of space.
Egyptian pharmaceutical firm Minapharm has agreed to produce more than 40 million doses a year of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad, said on Thursday.
The two parties agreed to begin technology transfer immediately, it said in a joint statement with Minapharm, and the rollout is expected in the third quarter of this year.
“RDIF and Minapharm will initially supply over 40 million doses per year. Production will take place in Minapharm’s biotech facility in Cairo for global distribution,” reads the statement.
Ethiopia registered 1,329 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 246,484 as of Wednesday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.
Another 35 more deaths were reported across the country, bringing the death toll to 3,474, the ministry said.
The East African country also saw 1,997 new recoveries, taking the count to 183,932, it said.
According to the ministry, Ethiopia currently has 59,076 active COVID-19 cases, 1,059 of which are severe.
The European Commission is working on legal proceedings against AstraZeneca after the drugmaker cut COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union, sources familiar with the matter said.
The matter was discussed on Wednesday at a meeting with EU diplomats, the official and a diplomat said. Politico, citing five unnamed European diplomats, reported that a majority of EU countries at the meeting said they would support suing the company.
Asked whether the Commission had started procedures for legal action against the Anglo-Swedish company for its repeated cuts in EU supplies, a Commission spokesman on Thursday said: "What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company's earlier commitments."
In another development, European countries prepared on Wednesday to start using Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and speed up their vaccination campaigns after Europe’s drug regulator backed the shot and deliveries started trickling in after a week-long pause.
Germany's health ministry said it would start deliveries to federal states for use in vaccination centers shortly, and that family doctors should resume the use of the vaccine as of Wednesday, while France will receive the vaccine from week after next.
The Netherlands planned to start using it next week.
Just over 320,000 doses arrived in ten countries across the 30-member European Economic Area (EEA) as of Wednesday, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
Just over 320,000 doses arrived in ten countries across the 30-member European Economic Area (EEA) as of Wednesday, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Poland and the Netherlands made up the bulk of the cargoes, with 117,600 and 79,200 doses, respectively.
That's only a tiny portion of the 134 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines delivered since the rollout began almost four months ago and compared with the larger shipments from Pfizer-BioNTech over that time.
Finland decided to keep the lower age limit for administering AstraZeneca vaccines at 65, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said in a statement on Wednesday. For second doses, people over the age of 65 can be administered the Astra vaccine, but for the under 65s the second dose will always be a mRNA vaccine, the authorities said.A cycling French team member trains on a track as patients wait prior receiving Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the velodrome national used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris on March 23, 2021. (ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)
France will give 100,000 vaccine doses to poorer countries in April via the COVAX Facility.
The first deliveries to African countries via the WHO-backed program will be AstraZeneca Ltd vaccines, filled and finished in Italy, an official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
Other European-approved vaccines could be added to the portfolio as France commits to deliver 500,000 doses to COVAX by mid-June, the official said, declining to be identified in line with government rules.
France will be the first country to give vaccine doses to COVAX, according to the Elysee official.
France on Wednesday reported 34,968 new coronavirus cases, up 4.36 percent compared to last Wednesday, in the lowest week-on-week increase since mid-March as a third nationwide lockdown started to show some effect.
The new cases took the total to 5.37 million. The government also reported 313 additional deaths in hospitals, taking the cumulative toll to 101,881, health ministry data showed.
The number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 fell by 25 to 5,959 people as pressure on the hospital system remained high.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented on Wednesday a "roadmap" for the further reopening of his country's economy and social life in May.
In a televised address to the nation, Mitsotakis said that Greeks will not be allowed to travel freely during the Christian Orthodox Easter, which will be celebrated on May 2, due to the still severe epidemic situation, but further steps towards "freedom" will be made in May.
According to the government's timetable, on May 3 the catering sector will partially restart with customers allowed to be served outdoors, and the night-time curfew will start at 11:00 pm instead of 9:00 pm currently, he said.
On May 10, Greece's kindergartens, primary and middle schools will reopen, he said. High schools have restarted a few days ago.
As of May 15, Greece will be open to tourism, travel between the country's regions will be allowed and the culture sector will also begin to reopen.
The Greek leader reiterated his call on his compatriots to get vaccinated. As of next week, vaccination will also be available for those aged over 30, he said.
Greece plans to start the rollout of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine on May 5 after Europe's drug regulator backed its use, health authorities said on Wednesday.
Greece will have vaccinated 2.5 million people in May and 4.0 million by June, the minister said. To speed up the process, vaccinations will be done also on weekends and will be available at private clinics as well.
Hungary is expected to reopen restaurant terraces and shorten a night curfew from Saturday as the vaccination campaign allows for a further reopening of the economy, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said on Thursday.
Gergely Gulyas said at a briefing that by Friday, 3.5 million Hungarians could be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, which could rise to 4 million – or around 40 percent of the population – by early next week.
Gulyas said Hungary will receive a further 1 million doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine next week, and also further shipments of Russian Sputnik V and Pfizer shots.
He said that could allow a further easing of coronavirus curbs, which will be laid out by Orban in coming days.
Hungary, with a population around 10 million, has so far recorded 760,967 COVID-19 infections and 26,001 deaths. Some 7,500 patients are currently in hospitals, 876 of them still on ventilators.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet on Wednesday unveiled a roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions in Italy starting from April 26.
The yellow areas in the government's three-tiered system would be re-introduced starting from Monday. In the low-risk yellow regions, restaurants and all other food shops will be allowed to serve lunch and dinner outdoors until June 1.
Theaters, cinemas, and other leisure venues will reopen on April 26, and outdoor team sports will be allowed to resume.
From April 26 to June 15, people in the yellow regions will be allowed one visit a day to relatives or friends, four adults maximum plus children.
Meanwhile, the current ban on inter-regional travels would not apply to yellow regions.
The cabinet also confirmed that the current 10 pm-5 pm curfew will remain in force at least till June 1.
Italy reported 364 coronavirus-related deaths and 13,844 new cases on Wednesday.
In total, Italy has registered 117,997 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 3.9 million cases to date.
Kenya's Ministry of Health said Wednesday it plans to acquire two million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to supplement the AstraZeneca vaccines as part of efforts to fight the virus.
Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary for health, said the vaccines will have to get approvals from the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the country's stringent rules to be given out in the country.
The Ministry of Health said on Monday that more than 700,000 Kenyans have so far been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Kagwe said there has been a drop in the positivity rate in the country in the last two weeks. However, he noted that there have been a spike in infections in certain counties.
The Lithuanian government on Wednesday eased some COVID-19 restrictions for tour guides, amusement parks and visits to prison inmates, local media reported.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told reporters that the restrictions were relaxed to allow guides to take certain groups on outdoor excursions and enable amusement parks to reopen.
The prime minister said that the number of people allowed to take part in these activities will be limited in accordance with the existing rules.
Malta has identified three cases of the coronavirus variant first found in Brazil. All three cases were isolated and are currently in quarantine, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the minister said the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be used in Malta, following the review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The minister also announced that the government would soon announce further relaxation of restrictive measures. On April 26, non-essential business and service providers will be reopening their doors after having been forced to shut at the beginning of March.
Legislation over the use of vaccination certificates will also be published soon, he said.
ccording to the health authorities, Malta detected 24 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the tally to 30,063. The death toll rose to 411.
Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday reported 4,639 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 549 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,315,811 infections and 213,597 deaths.
Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 507,338 on Wednesday as 699 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.
The death toll went up by 10 to 8,969, and there were 383 people in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.
The total number of recoveries increased by 628 to 493,353, the ministry said.
A total of 4,697,873 people have been vaccinated, of whom 4,203,799 have received both jabs.
Slovakia will allow restaurant terraces and gyms to open from next Monday in a further step of easing coronavirus restrictions, the government said on Wednesday.
Capacity limits, however, will remain and customers or visitors have to show a negative COVID-19 test in most cases.
South African researchers hope to restart use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine next week in an "implementation study" immunizing healthcare workers, a top local scientist said on Wednesday.
South Africa suspended the study last week after US federal health agencies recommended pausing use of J&J's vaccine because of rare cases of blood clots.
Spain will offer between 5 percent and 10 percent of its COVID-19 vaccine shots to Latin American and Caribbean countries this year, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday.
"Spain will launch this commitment as soon as it reaches the mark of 50 percent of the Spanish population vaccinated," Sanchez told the Ibero-American summit in Andorra, adding that he expected Latin American nations to receive 7.5 million doses by the end of the year.
The Iberian country aims to have half its population of 47 million fully inoculated by the end of July. So far around 7.6 percent have received a full course while nearly 21 percent have received at least one dose.
Spain is entitled to over 93 million vaccine doses this year under an EU-coordinated purchasing scheme, mostly for double-dose inoculation, leaving it with millions of extra shots.
Top UN, financial and vaccine officials last week urged rich countries to donate excess COVID-19 vaccine doses to the COVAX vaccine-sharing program supplying lower income countries, which aims to buy up to 1.8 billion doses in 2021.
Another 2,396 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,395,703, according to official figures released Wednesday.
The country also reported another 22 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 127,327. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
More than 33.1 million people have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
More than 200 million shots of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States as of Wednesday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
US President Joe Biden also announced on Wednesday that the country has hit 200 million COVID-19 shots, a target he had set out to meet by the end of April.
Biden said the country is entering a new phase in its vaccination efforts as it starts to shift the focus from getting the vaccine to those most at risk to the general population.
"The time is now to open up a new phase of this historic vaccination effort," Biden said. "To put it simply, if you've been waiting for your turn, wait no longer. Now's the time for everyone over 16 years of age to get vaccinated."
About 215 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered by Wednesday, while more than 277 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed across the country, CDC data showed.
Currently there are about 87 million Americans fully vaccinated, accounting for 26.4 percent of the US population, according to CDC data.
About 134 million Americans received at least one COVID-19 shot, accounting for 40.5 percent of the population.
Among the fully vaccinated, 35 million are people 65 years of age or older, accounting for 65.6 percent, CDC data showed.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa will get his second dose of the Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine in the town of Kwekwe, Midlands province on Thursday, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Wednesday.
Mnangagwa received his first shot of Sinovac vaccine from China in the resort town of Victoria Falls a month ago.
In another development, the Zimbabwean government is intensifying enforcement of COVID-19 standard operating procedures in schools following the outbreak of the pandemic at some boarding schools in the country, Mutsvangwa said.
According to the minister, 145 students at a boarding school in Manicaland Province and another 91 learners at a boarding school in Matabeleland South Province tested positive to the virus last week.
Zimbabwe has so far recorded 37,875 COVID-19 cases, 35,058 recoveries, and 1,554 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March last year.
The Portuguese Directorate-General for Health (DGS) announced on Thursday a change in its vaccination plan against COVID-19, starting to immunize people aged 16 and above with comorbidities.
The health authorities justified in a statement that the change was possible due to improved availability of vaccines in the second phase of the plan.
According to the DGS, diabetes, severe obesity, active cancer, transplantation and immunosuppression, severe neurological diseases, and mental illnesses are among the diseases given priority for vaccination.
The second vaccination phase also includes those who had recovered from COVID-19 infection at least six months ago, but they would receive only one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The Vaccination Plan is dynamic, evolving and adaptable to the evolution of scientific knowledge and the timing of the arrival in Portugal of the different vaccines against COVID-19," the DGS explained.
A total of 6,495 Zambians have received the COVID-19 vaccine since the launch of the vaccination program last Wednesday, a senior government official said on Thursday.
Minister of Health Jonas Chanda said this follows the vaccination of 1,884 people on Wednesday and the launch of the vaccination program for the Copperbelt Province.
He said out of the total number of people vaccinated so far, 31 percent represent health workers who have been prioritized during the first phase of the program while the rest comprises other people most at risks including teachers, traditional leaders and religious leaders.
"As the vaccination program rolls out to the provinces and districts, we expect more people in the priority population group who are most at risk to voluntarily get vaccinated," he said in a statement on the COVID-19 situation in the country.