Germany catches up with US in vaccination drive

A sign to wear face masks is seen under blooming cherry trees at the Heerstrasse street in Bonn, western Germany on April 9, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

WASHINGTON / SAO PAULO / KHARTOUM / MEXICO CITY / HAVANA / OTTAWA / NAIROBI / RABAT / LONDON / DUBLIN / TUNIS / RIO DE JANEIRO / QUITO / SANTIAGO / ADDIS ABABA / BERLIN / PARIS – Germany has caught up with the United States in terms of the proportion of the population with a first COVID-19 vaccination, the health minister said on Wednesday, adding the more infectious Delta variant meant it was important to keep up the pace.

The German government came under fire for the sluggish start to its vaccination campaign earlier this year, particularly in comparison with countries such as the United States, Britain and Israel, but it has since ramped up quickly.

"The United States got off to a fast start and today Germany has caught up for the first time with first vaccinations. That shows that the vaccination campaign needs staying power," minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 808 to 3,728,141, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. 

The reported death toll rose by 56 to 90,875, the tally showed. 

Scotland

Nearly 2,000 people who live in Scotland have attended a Euro 2020 event while infectious with COVID-19, Public Health Scotland said on Wednesday.

Thousands of Scots came to London for their game against England in the UEFA European Football Championship group stage on June 18.

Many headed to Wembley Stadium to see the game in person or gathered in the city centre, while Hampden Stadium in Glasgow has also hosted games.

Of the 1,991 people identified as having attended a EURO 2020 event while infectious, 1,294 had travelled to London and 397 had gone to Wembley, Public Health Scotland said.

Russia

President Vladimir Putin told Russians on Wednesday to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a wave of cases and said for the first time that he had received Russia's Sputnik V shot.

The Kremlin had previously said that Putin, 68, received a two-dose vaccine in March and April, but it gave no further details and did not release images of him getting it.

That lack of publicity came under the spotlight this month as officials complained about the slow uptake for COVID-19 shots, which are readily available, and began trying to coax and compel people to get inoculated.

Putin used his annual televised phone-in session on Wednesday to cast Russia's four vaccines as highly effective and safe, while taking a swipe at shots that are widely used in the West.

He told Russians that 23 million people had been vaccinated out of a population of more than 144 million.

Russia reported 669 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide on Wednesday, the most confirmed in a single day since the pandemic began, amid a surge in cases that authorities blame on the Delta variant.

The government coronavirus taskforce also confirmed 21,042 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,823 in Moscow. That pushed the national caseload to 5,514,599 since the start of the outbreak.

Russians who have inoculated against COVID-19 or recovered from the illness should consider re-vaccination after six months, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said at meeting of officials with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

READ MORE: Russia says 23m have received at least one COVID-19 shot

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 181.85 million while the global death toll topped 3.93 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

WHO

The Delta variant of the coronavirus first reported in India is about 55 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant, making it likely to outcompete other strains and predominate in coming months, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, noting 96 countries have reported cases of the Delta variant. 

A number of these countries are attributing surges in infections and hospitalizations to delta, the WHO said in a weekly report.

ALSO READ: 'Sputnik V shot around 90% effective against Delta variant'

Moderna

Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine showed promise against the Delta variant first identified in India in a lab study, with a modest decrease in response compared to the original strain, the drugmaker said on Tuesday.

The study was conducted on blood serum from eight participants obtained one week after they received the second dose of the vaccine, mRNA-1273.

The vaccine provoked an antibody response against all the variants tested, according to Moderna, but one that remained inferior in all cases to the vaccine's neutralizing activity against the original coronavirus strain.

The vaccine was far more effective in producing antibodies against the Delta variant than it was against the Beta variant first identified in South Africa, the data showed.

Against three versions of the Beta variant, the vaccine-elicited neutralizing antibodies reduced six-to-eight fold compared to those produced against original strain, while modest 3.2 to 2.1 fold reductions were seen for lineages of the variant first identified in India including Delta and Kappa.

READ MORE: India grants emergency approval for Moderna's jabs

EU

More than 60 percent of European adults have received at least one shot, and 41 percent are fully vaccinated, European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen said at the Brussels Economic Forum.

The Commission on Tuesday picked four antibody treatments and a repurposed rheumatoid arthritis drug by Eli Lilly for an initial portfolio of preferred drugs to treat COVID-19.

The selection of drugs is part of the EU Strategy on COVID-19 Therapeutics, launched in May, to speed up EU approval and for a joint procurement plan on behalf of member states, complementing more advanced efforts on vaccines.

The commission's pick of most promising treatments comprises Eli Lilly and Incyte's Olumiant for hospitalized COVID-19 patients on oxygen, as well as new antibody drugs for early-stage disease developed by Regeneron, Eli Lilly, Celltrion and an alliance of GlaxoSmithKline and partner Vir.

The European Medicines Agency has recommended the antibody treatments by GSK, Celltrion, Eli Lilly and Regeneron for use in early-stage patients who are at risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 to support any use by individual member states. An EU-wide marketing authorisation has not yet been granted.

Sudan

Sudan on Tuesday signed an agreement with the World Bank (WB) to receive a grant of US$100 million for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Sudan's Council of Ministers said.

"The signing of the agreement marks a turning point in Sudan's battle against COVID-19," Sudanese Health Minister Omer Al-Najeeb was quoted as saying in a statement.

It is the first grant for Sudan after its name was removed from the list of sanctions by the WB International Development Association, he noted.

The WB Country Director Ousmane Dione said the grant comes as part of reducing the transmission of infection, preventing death toll from the virus, and speeding up the economic recovery in Sudan, according to the statement.

Sudan has so far reported 36,620 COVID-19 cases, according to a report issued by the Sudanese health ministry on Monday. 

US

The COVID-19 vaccination in the United States is slowing down while the highly transmissible Delta variant has spread to nearly every state, fueling experts' fear about potential COVID-19 spikes.

The 7-day average number of administered COVID-19 vaccine doses per day has decreased by 55.3 percent from the previous week, according the latest weekly report of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 46.4 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 54.2 percent of the population has received at least one shot as of Tuesday, CDC data show.

The proportion of the Delta variant infections for the 2-week period ending June 19 is expected to increase to 20.6 percent nationally and be higher in some regions, according to the CDC.

The infections caused by the Delta variant now account for one fifth of the newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the US, according to the CDC.

Public health officials in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the Uns, on Tuesday strongly recommended that local residents wear masks indoors in public places due to increased circulation of the Delta variant across the country.

In another development, the US Supreme Court on Tleft in place the CDC's ban on residential evictions imposed last year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic, dealing a setback to landlords who had challenged the policy.

READ MORE: WHO: Plans for African vaccine hubs could be 'revolutionary’

Mexico

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday the Mexican government had suggested to US counterparts that travel restrictions on their shared border should change as vaccination programs advance.

Mexico is seeing an increase in COVID-19 infections, but the trend has not carried over to a rise in deaths or severe cases, a health official said on the same day.

Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Mexico could end this week with an increase of between 15 and 18 percent in the number of newly detected and estimated COVID-19 cases.

He pointed out one of the reasons that new infections were not resulting in deaths or serious cases was because the national vaccination campaign against COVD-19 is successfully immunizing the population.

The health ministry on Tuesday reported 5,711 new casesand 195 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,513,164 infections and 232,803 deaths.

According to its records, the government has inoculated nearly 30.4 million people out of a total population of 89.4 million over 18 years old with at least one vaccine dose.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a ceremony to launch the new registration system for Professional Fishermen and Fishing Network, at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, June 29, 2021. (ERALDO PERES / AP)

Brazil

Brazil will suspend a US$324 million Indian COVID-19 vaccine contract that has mired President Jair Bolsonaro in accusations of irregularities, the health minister said on Tuesday, following the guidance of the federal comptroller, the CGU.

The deal to buy 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin shot has become a headache for Bolsonaro after whistleblowers went public with alleged irregularities. One health ministry official said he alerted the president about his concerns.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing, saying on Monday he was not aware of any irregularities. 

Brazil Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said at a news conference his team would probe the allegations during the suspension.

In a statement, Bharat Biotech said it had followed a "step-by-step" approach for the regulatory approval and supply contract of its vaccine in Brazil, and had not received advance payments from the health ministry.

Brazil registered 1,893 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 515,985, the health ministry said Tuesday.

A total of 64,903 new infections were detected, raising the total caseload to 18,513,305, the ministry said.

More than 96.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered nationwide, and 25.3 million people have received two jabs, it added.

Cuba

Cuba reported more than 3,000 daily COVID-19 infections on Tuesday for the first time, registering 3,080 new cases in the last day, taking the cumulative caseload to 188,023, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Another 17 deaths were also reported, bringing the death toll to 1,270.

Of the new cases, 3,006 were spread by community transmission, the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology, Francisco Duran, said.

The province of Matanzas has become the epicenter of the pandemic on the island, posting 753 cases in the last day and an incidence rate of 569 per 100,000 inhabitants.

So far, more than 2.69 million Cubans have received at least one vaccine dose.  

Canada

Health Canada said late on Tuesday it has recommended that people with a history of capillary leak syndrome not be inoculated with drugmaker AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

Capillary leak syndrome is a very rare, serious condition that causes fluid leakage from small blood vessels (capillaries), resulting in limb swelling, low blood pressure, thickening of the blood and low levels of an important blood protein.

Until June 11, one case of capillary leak syndrome following vaccination with AstraZeneca's vaccine has been reported in Canada, Health Canada said.

In another development, the number of Canadians who died from the COVID-19 pandemic is likely double than the official numbers, according to an investigative report published by the Royal Society of Canada earlier Tuesday.

The report, titled Excess All-Cause Mortality During the COVID-19 Epidemic in Canada, suggests that largely racialized communities and essential workers were the ones who died at home and and were unreported as COVID-19 deaths.

The investigation reviewed death reports in 2020 and compared them to the expected number of deaths in a normal year, finding some 6,000 extra deaths among those aged 45 and older between February and November 2020.

Assuming this pattern of missing deaths continued after last November, it's possible that as many as 50 percent of deaths missed being counted as COVID-19 deaths and included in that official number, the report suggests. This could mean that instead of 26,000 deaths, up to 52,000 Canadian deaths may be linked to the pandemic.

Canada has so far reported a total of 1,414,158 COVID-19 cases, including 26,238 deaths.

Kenya

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday announced an extension of night curfew by 60 days while pledging to ramp up vaccination against COVID-19 amid a surge in infections in western parts of the country.

Kenyatta said the extension of COVID-19 restrictions, including night curfews, a ban on public gatherings and limited attendance to houses of worship, will boost efforts to contain the pandemic.

He said a night curfew in 13 western Kenyan counties deemed the newest coronavirus hotspots will be maintained from 7 pm to 4 am until July 31. Curfews in the rest of the country will start from 10 pm to 4 am for the next two months, while houses of worship are expected to adhere to one third physical attendance capacity rule.

Meanwhile, all visitors to Kenya will be required to be in possession of a negative COVID-19 test certificate acquired not more than 96 hours prior to their arrival in the country.

Kenya has negotiated for 13 million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, and the first consignment will be delivered in August, Kenyatta said.

Kenya’s tally rose to 183,603 on Tuesday after 719 new cases were logged. The death toll stood at 3,621.

About 1.3 million people have been inoculated so far, of which 328,848 received their second doses.

The Delta variant may spark a fourth wave of infections in Kenya over the next two months, according to the health ministry. The rapidly transmissible strain is dominant in western Kenya, where it was initially identified in the country. 

Restrictions in western Kenya were imposed to try and “avoid a catastrophic fourth wave,” Patrick Amoth, the acting director-general for health at the ministry, said.

Tunisia

The Tunisian government on Tuesday extended the hours of night curfew in an effort to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19, as the North Africa country reached a daily record of cases since the start of the pandemic last year.

The curfew will begin at 8:00 pm and end at 5:00 am starting Thursday. The government said it will ban‮ ‬all gatherings until July 11.

Tunisia reported a record high of 5,251 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising the tally to 414,182, the health ministry said.

The death toll frose by 106 to 14,843, the ministry said in a statement.

Morocco

The total number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 9,074,224 on Tuesday in Morocco, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The announcement came on the same day Morocco reported 690 new cases, taking the tally 530,585.

The death toll rose by nine to 9,292, while 230 people remained in intensive care units, according to the statement.A woman wearing a face mask passes a sign asking shoppers to wear face coverings in Cumbria, northwest England, on June 21, 2021. (OLI SCARFF / AFP)

UK

Britain has reported another 20,479 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the tally  to 4,775,301, according to official figures released Tuesday.

It is the second consecutive day that Britain reported more than 20,000 daily cases. 

The country also recorded another 23 deaths, bringing the toll to 128,126. 

Senior executives who have traveled to England can temporarily leave quarantine if their work is likely to bring major benefits to the UK economy, the government announced on Tuesday. The exemption from isolation rules for newly arrived travelers applies to multinational executives who are visiting British branches of their firms. 

Meanwhile, the latest official data showed that there has been a sharp rise in pupils sent home from school in England because of the virus. More than 375,000 pupils, about one in 20, were out of school for coronavirus-related reasons, up by more than 130,000 in a week.

Elsewhere, Scotland reported 3,118 new cases during the last 24 hours, the second-highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the rising numbers, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she’s still “hopeful” that all major restrictions will be lifted on Aug 9 as planned, as progress with vaccinations helps break the link between infection and hospitalisation.

Netherlands

The Netherlands will offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all children aged 12 to 17 in an effort to prevent a wave of infections due to new coronavirus mutations in the coming months.

The Dutch health council on Tuesday said children as young as 12 should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the injection which was authorized for use on children from the age of 12 by the European Commission in May.

“Taking everything into account we advise to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all 12-to-17-year olds who want one”, the council said.

A vaccination can help protect children against rare cases in which a coronavirus infection makes them seriously ill, the health council said.

A total of around 15.3 million coronavirus vaccinations have been given in the Netherlands, with the country of 17.5 million en route to have offered at least one injection to all adults who want one by mid-July.

Portugal 

Portugal reported 1,746 new cases on Tuesday, the most since Feb 19, according to government data. 

The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by four to 119. There were six fatalities, taking the total to 17,092. The latest figures are still a fraction of the daily record reported at the end of January.

Ireland

Ireland will delay easing some lockdown restrictions amid the spread of the delta variant. Indoor hospitality, which was due to resume on July 5, has been pushed back indefinitely.

There is a “real risk of greatly increased spread of the virus” if the government does not slow the reopening, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a national address. 

The government plans to devise a vaccine certificate program to allow those who have either recovered from COVID-19 or received their jabs to eat indoors. Other measures, such as increasing the number of attendees at outdoor events, will continue as planned.

Meanwhile, Ireland on Tuesday lifted restrictions on giving AstraZeneca's vaccine to adults aged under 50 and reduced the recommended gap between doses from eight weeks to four.

Curbs on the use of the J&J vaccine for under-50s have also been dropped, the government said in a statement.

Ireland restricted use of both vaccines in April due to concerns about rare incidences of blood clotting in younger people after taking the vaccines.

People under 50 will be offered the choice of an alternative vaccine from either Pfizer or Moderna, which are not associated with the same side effects, but may have to wait longer for that option, the government said.

Peru

The US State Department on Tuesday said the United States will donate 2 million COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines to Peru, State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said, as the country battles a deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Denmark

Romania has agreed to sell 1.17 million doses of excess Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to Denmark, the Danish health ministry said on Tuesday.

"We can do this deal because Romania is experiencing low vaccination backing and therefore wants to sell excess vaccines which they won't be able to use," Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a statement.

Romania has missed a goal to vaccinate 5 million people by the end of May, with just over a fifth of the population – 4.47 million people – inoculated. Vaccine hesitancy is spreading amid entrenched distrust in state institutions, misinformation campaigns and weak vaccine education.

The Danish serum institute said it expects the first vaccines to arrive from Romania this week.

Estonia

A refrigerator failure in Estonia destroyed more than 68,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines last week after the temperature rose to 15 degrees Celsius, the Health Board said on Tuesday.

The alarm system failed to report the failure, which lasted for more than 12 hours and was only detected after an employee entered the cold room.

AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine must be kept at 2-8 degrees Celsius. At least 32,000 shots of other vaccines were also destroyed.

The destroyed vaccines were marked for donation outside Estonia, so the country's vaccination program will not be disrupted, the Estonian public broadcaster reported.

Estonia had vaccinated 50.4 percent of its adults with at least one dose by Tuesday, below the European average of 58.7 percent.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 63 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 276,037 as of Tuesday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

Five more deaths and 685 new recoveries were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,320 and the total recoveries to 260,302.

Ecuador

Ecuador will expand the age range of its mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 starting on July 5 to accelerate the process, Public Health Minister Ximena Garzon announced on Tuesday.

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the official said that from July 5 to 11, people aged 49 to 55 will be inoculated, and starting on July 12, mass vaccination will be expanded to other age groups.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, the country has currently vaccinated over 4 million people.

Ecuador reported 1,746 new infections and 13 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the cumulative totals to 457,489 cases and 15,887 deaths, the ministry said Tuesday.

Chile

Some 68.02 percent of Chile's target population of about 15 million inhabitants, or 10,340,278 people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Ministry of Health said Tuesday.

Some 82.18 percent of the target population has received the first dose, the ministry said in a statement.

Also on Tuesday, the South American country reported 2,648 new cases and 35 more deaths, raising the total caseload to 1,553,774 and the pandemic death toll to 32,489. 

France

France is likely to have a fourth wave of the COVID-19 virus, due to a resurgence of cases caused by the Delta variant first found in India, said the French government's leading scientific adviser Professor Jean-François Delfraissy.

Nevertheless, Delfraissy added on Wednesday that the rollout of COVID vaccines would help mitigate the effect of this new wave of the virus, which many medical experts think could hit France by September or October.

"I think we will have a fourth wave, but it will be much more moderate than the previous three waves because the level of vaccinations is different compared to before," Delfraissy told France Info radio.

French epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet, who also advises the French government on scientific matters, told BFM TV on Wednesday that he expected France's COVID-19 infection numbers to rise again in September or October.