A woman holding her child receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the refugee camp of Mavrovouni in the Greek island of Lesbos on June 3, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
ZAGREB / HARARE / LONDON / RIGA / NAIROBI / WARSAW / NICOSIA / WASHINGTON / BRASILIA / HAVANA / PARIS / BUENOS AIRES / SANTIAGO / TUNIS / WINDHOEK / SAO PAULO / LISBON / QUITO / ADDIS ABABA / MOSCOW – Asylum-seekers in Greece lined up to get their coronavirus shots on Thursday as authorities began rolling out vaccinations in migrant camps.
The government, which began vaccinating the general public in January, had been criticized by rights groups for being slow to include asylum-seekers, at risk in overcrowded camps where sanitary conditions are poor and social-distancing impossible.
There are about 12,100 asylum-seekers on five Greek islands close to Turkey, and about 9,400 of those live in official camps, according to the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR.
On Thursday, vaccinations began on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos with Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot, said Anastasios Chatzis, an official with the National Organization of Public Health.
"We have the vaccines, we have the staff, the mood is positive," Hatzis said from Lesbos. "We have a long but good road ahead, and we hope everything goes well."
Nikos Babakos, director of the Lesbos camp, said vaccinations would be done there so as not to burden the island's health services.
"We are continuing to inform the population in order to be able to vaccinate as many as possible," he said.
About 15 percent of people in camps had so far expressed an interest in getting vaccinated and about 30 percent had already been ill with COVID-19, Migration Ministry Secretary General Manos Logothetis told the Athens News Agency.
Sweden's centre-left minority government, which never ordered a COVID-19 lockdown and relied instead mostly on voluntary curbs, failed in several aspects of its handling of the pandemic, parliament's constitutional committee said on Thursday.
The government was slow to put in place a testing and tracing system, failed to protect of the elderly and there was a lack of clear lines of responsibility between national and local authorities, the committee said.
It did not comment on Sweden's controversial no-lockdown strategy.
The issue of responsibility for contentious aspects of the pandemic response has taken on growing significance as the country heads toward general elections in September next year.
"It is … clear that Sweden was not sufficiently prepared before (the pandemic) and we can learn from many of the underlying failures that have been identified," Hans Ekstrom, deputy chairman of the committee and a Social Democrat lawmaker, told a hearing.
Sweden has been an outlier in the fight against the pandemic by opting against lockdowns. The death toll has been higher than those among its Nordic neighbours, but lower than in most European countries that went into lockdown.
The committee said that the government should have been quicker to set up a framework for testing and tracing, quicker to draw up a law giving it wider powers to deal with the crisis and quicker to isolate care homes for the elderly.
“The idea is to distribute up to 150,000 doses among our neighbouring western Balkan countries,” Katsarov told reporters, adding that Sofia has received requests from North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia.
“Our needs are fully covered so there is no danger whatsoever that Bulgaria can be left without vaccines,” he said.
Katsarov said he expects to receive an answer on Friday from the European Commission how exactly the country should proceed and whether it could donate or sell the doses.
Pot-banging protests erupted across several cities in Brazil on Wednesday evening as President Jair Bolsonaro addressed the nation, just days after protestors took to the streets across the country over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far killed almost half a million people here.
The last few days have been rocky for the government of the right-wing leader, whose popularity had already been flagging amid persistently high daily COVID-19 deaths and cases.
On Wednesday alone, a total of 95,601 of people came down with the coronavirus and 2,507 died, according to government data.
In the televised speech, Bolsonaro briefly summarized some of his government's recent accomplishments and pledged strong economic growth going forward, but presented no new information.
On Saturday, thousands participated in protests in at least 16 cities across the country, which were organized by leftist political parties, unions and student associations.
Brazil exceeded 100 million doses of vaccine against COVID-19 distributed throughout the country since the launch of its national vaccination plan on Jan 18, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday.
To date, the South American country has immunized 54 million people, or a third of the target population, according to the ministry, with the goal of inoculating the entire population by the end of 2021.
US researchers have started a clinical trial to test what happens when adults who have been fully vaccinated with one type of COVID-19 vaccine receive booster doses of a different COVID-19 vaccine.
The trial aims to determine the safety and immunogenicity of mixed boosted regimens, according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The trial will include about 150 adults who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Trial investigators will evaluate participants for safety and any side effects after vaccination. Participants also will be asked to provide blood samples periodically so that trial investigators can evaluate immune responses against current circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2, as well as emerging variants, according to the NIH.
Last week, about 34,500 new COVID-19 child cases were reported in the United States, marking the lowest number of new weekly cases since early October last year, according to the latest report of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association.
Child cases represented 24.3 percent of the total new weekly cases of 141,848 in the week from May 20 to 27, according to the report.
Over the past two weeks, there was a 2 percent increase in the cumulated number of child COVID-19 cases, said the report.
The Ethiopian government on Wednesday announced an updated travel advisory, which necessitates an African Union (AU) COVID-19 pass for entry and exit.
According to the updated travel advisory, all travelers exiting, entering or transiting via Ethiopia are required from June 7 to present a digital negative COVID-19 certificates at all ports of entry based on the AU's Trusted Travel Platform and the UNDP-sponsored Global Haven Program.
In October 2020, the AU officially launched its Trusted Travel Platform as part of the overall Trusted Travel Initiative. The platform provides information on travel requirements at the departure and destination ports and access to a list of government-approved laboratories for COVID-19 testing in African countries.
Travelers wishing to exit Ethiopia are also advised to visit an authorized laboratory to take a COVID-19 test and be issued with TT codes that can be verified by airlines and port health authorities across the continent, the ministry said.
Ethiopia registered 246 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 272,036 as of Wednesday evening, according to the Health Ministry.
Seven new deaths and 2,967 more recoveries were reported across the country, bringing the national counts to 4,178 and 242,442 respectively, the ministry said.
Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 171.67 million while the global death toll topped 3.69 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
France, which extended its vaccine rollout to all adults on Monday, would allow teens aged 12 to 18 to get a COVID-19 vaccine jab from mid-June, President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier in the day, marking another milestone in the country's vaccination campaign.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said teenagers would be given the Pfizer shot and these would be administered in large vaccination centres on a voluntary basis, requiring parental consent.
Half of France's adult population have received the first COVID-19 vaccine shot as the inoculation program continues at a faster pace and indicators point to improved sanitary situation, official figures showed on Wednesday.
More than 26.58 million people aged 18 or older have had one jab, representing 50.6 percent of the adult population. Some 11.45 million people, or 21.8 percent of the adult population, have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Health Ministry.
On June 9, France will enter a new stage in easing pandemic restrictions. Gyms will resume activities and foreign tourists will enter the country with a health pass.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in France meanwhile held below 10,000 for the second day in a row and the daily death toll dropped sharply from last week, further easing pressure on hospitals as the vaccination campaign has expanded.
Argentina will begin to produce the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine locally after test batches from the South American country passed quality tests conducted by Russia's Gamaleya Institute, health minister Carla Vizzotti said on Wednesday.
In April, Argentine firm Laboratorios Richmond produced test batches of the vaccine, with plans to scale up once Russia had carried out quality inspections. Argentina has spearheaded use of the Russian vaccine in the region.
The country's vaccination drive against COVID-19 has distributed over 15 million doses since it was launched on Dec 29, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.
According to data from the Public Vaccination Monitor, the online registry that tracks the immunization operation across Argentina in real time, showed 15,373,890 vaccines were distributed as of Wednesday, of which 12,801,115 were already applied, with 9,924,476 people receiving one dose and 2,876,639 receiving both doses.
Argentina on Wednesday registered 587 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the pandemic death toll to 79,320, the Health Ministry said.
In the same period, tests detected 35,017 new cases of infection, pushing the total caseload to 3,852,156, since the first case was reported in March 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference on the Commission's response to COVID-19 following a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, March 17, 2021. (JOHN THYS / POOL VIA AP)
The European Union passed 250 million vaccinations on Wednesday. The bloc is on track to reach its target of vaccinating 70 percent of its adult population in July, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet. More than 80 million people living in the EU have been fully vaccinated, she added.
The European Union has secured about 55,000 doses of a potential treatment for COVID-19 based on a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies developed by US drugmaker Regeneron and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, an EU spokesman said.
The deal is the bloc’s first contract for this kind of drug.
Having reserved billions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the EU is now trying to build a portfolio of drugs that could be effective against the disease, with the aim of identifying 10 promising treatments by the end of the month.
The COVID-19 variant first identified in India has been detected in Croatia, an epidemiologist from the Croatian Institute of Public Health confirmed on Wednesday.
In Croatia, the dominant COVID-19 variant is the one first identified in the United Kingdom (UK). Novosel stressed that both variants are quite contagious and highly transmissible.
Croatian Health Minister Vili Beros said at the government session on Wednesday that the vaccination campaign in the country is progressing as planned.
The Croatian Institute of Public Health reported 432 new COVID-19 cases in the country in the past 24 hours.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed Wednesday that more than three-quarters of adults in Britain have now had their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
More than 39.5 million people have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures released Wednesday.
His remarks came as the country reported another 4,330 coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,494,699.
Britain also recorded another 12 coronavirus-related deaths, one day after the country reported zero deaths for the first time since March last year.
Zimbabwe's struggling airline Air Zimbabwe resumed domestic flights on Wednesday after a one-and-half year break due to operational challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new Embraer (ERJ145) aircraft which was acquired by the government to expand and balance Air Zimbabwe's fleet made its maiden domestic journey from Harare to Victoria Falls via Bulawayo.
Air Zimbabwe spokesperson Firstme Vitori said the Embraer aircraft will ply the Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls route four times a week.
The Embraer services short to medium range distances which is efficient unlike in the past when the airline used long-boarded aircraft to service short-range domestic routes.
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The European Union (EU)'s Digital COVID Certificate will become available in Lithuania as of Monday, a health official said at a news conference Wednesday.
Deputy Health Minister Zivile Simonaityte told reporters that Lithuania's Center of Registers planned to start issuing the certificate via the national e-health system from June 7.
The certificate was proposed by the European Commission to enable people to resume safe free travel within the 27-member bloc this summer. The system allows the verification of certificates in a secure and privacy-friendly way.
Kenyan health workers have busied themselves with taking the second shot of COVID-19 vaccines after the country started administering the doses.
The health workers on Wednesday consisted of 403 people out of the 471 who received the second doses in the nation, according to Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Health.
Kenya commenced inoculation against the coronavirus in early March, soon after the country received 1.02 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses that were manufactured in India under the COVAX facility.
As of Wednesday, Kenya has recorded 171,226 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 117,039 recoveries and 3,206 deaths, and has vaccinated 971,243 persons against the COVID-19.
Indoor exhibitions and fairs will be allowed to be held again in Poland in June, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday, announcing the further relaxation by the government of the COVID-19 restrictions. Indoor play areas for children will also be allowed to reopen.
Starting June 6, 150 people (up from 50 currently) will be allowed to attend weddings and public gatherings. Holders of official printed or digital COVID-19 certificates will not be counted towards this limit.
Wednesday saw 664 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases over a 24-hour period out of around 55,000 tests, which according to Niedzielski shows that the percentage of positive tests is dropping.
The estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in Cyprus agreed to reopen checkpoints controlling in the buffer zone, lifting COVID-19 restrictions on the movement of people and goods between the two parts of the divided island, the United Nations peacekeeping mission said on Wednesday.
"The reopening of all crossing points will facilitate free movement, promote people-to-people contacts, build trust and have an overall positive socio-economic impact across the island for the benefit of all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots," said the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in a statement.
As of Friday, all crossing points that have been closed since December 2020 as a measure against the spreading of COVID-19 will reopen with the requirement of a 7-day negative antigen test or PCR test.
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Cuba expects its domestic COVID-19 vaccines show high efficacy after the final stage of clinical trials, the country's biopharmaceutical authorities told a press conference Wednesday.
"We aspire that our vaccines surpass 50 percent of efficacy in keeping with the World Health Organization's standards," said Eduardo Martinez, president of the state-owned company BioCubaFarma.
Vicente Verez, director general of Cuba's Finlay Institute of Vaccines, said that a clinical trial was expected to begin in the coming weeks to test the efficacy of domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidates in children.
Cuba reported on Wednesday 1,191 new COVID-19 infections and 12 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the caseload to 144,514 and the death toll to 977, the Ministry of Public Health said.
"We still don't have the disease under control, despite the health measures that have been adopted," the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran said.
Of the new infections over the past day, 1,129 were from community transmission.
Chile reported on Wednesday 5,631 new COVID-19 infections and 41 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,394,973 cases and 29,385 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
In the last seven days, only two Chilean regions reported a decline in infections, while the regions with the greatest increase in cases were Coquimbo, Los Rios, Nuble and Valparaiso.
Tunisian Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 1,925 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 348,911. The death toll from the virus rose by 73 to 12,793.
Mexico reported 3,269 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 306 more fatalities, bringing the total to 2,423,928 infections and 228,146 deaths, according to health ministry data released on Wednesday.
Separate government data recently published suggests the actual death toll is at least 60% above the confirmed figure.
Canada's chief medical officers said on Wednesday the country should seek to administer second COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as possible as inoculation supply rises and variants spread, according to a statement.
Canada delayed second doses for up to 16 weeks as it pushed to get first shots into peoples' arms. Now almost 60 percent of adults have received a first dose, while less than 6 percent are fully vaccinated.
"Given Canada's current and projected vaccine supply, second doses should be offered as soon as possible, with priority given to those at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19," the chief medical officers from each province and territory said in a joint statement.
Spanish regions with a low coronavirus infection rate will be allowed to reopen nightlife before herd immunity is achieved, which is expected by mid-August, the health minister said on Wednesday after meeting with regional authorities.
Regions with a 14-day notification rate of infections below 50 cases per 100,000 people will be able to open discos and clubs until 3 am, although some restrictions will continue.
It was not clear whether dance floors will be allowed and the party group – a maximum of six people inside – has to remain masked, according to local media.
Health standards are in the hands of the regions in Spain, although according to the minister, this agreement is binding.
Despite the drastic reduction in deaths, the official COVID-19 death toll on Wednesday passed the 80,000 mark.
With most Spanish clubs not welcoming revellers until after midnight and staying open well into the small hours, the proposal got a lukewarm welcome from the sector.
Namibian President Hage Geingob and first lady Monica Geingos have been cleared of COVID-19, an official said Wednesday evening.
In a statement, presidential press secretary Alfredo Hengari said the couple's latest test results have returned negative, but they will remain in isolation till full recovery.
Geingob and his wife tested positive for COVID-19 last week and were reported to be experiencing mild symptoms.
Namibia has so far registered 55,812 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 854 related deaths, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.
The Portuguese government announced Wednesday a decision to move the country to the final phase of "de-confinement" to ease some COVID-19 restrictions.
The decision was made after 93 percent of those aged 60 or above, an age group with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in Portugal, has received at least a dose of vaccine, said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
The government will keep current pandemic level of "calamity situation" in place till June 13. Costa again appealed to all, especially the younger population, to get tested, regardless of symptoms.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso on Wednesday signed an executive decree to reopen schools, which were closed more than a year ago due to COVID-19.
Face-to-face classes in Ecuador were suspended in March 2020 and replaced with distance learning.
Ecuador has so far registered 428,865 cases of COVID-19 and 15,193 deaths since its first case was detected on Feb. 29, 2020, according to the country's health ministry.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 4,640 to 3,692,468, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 166 to 88,940, the tally showed.
Russia reported 8,933 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including 2,876 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,099,182.
The government coronavirus task force said 393 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 122,660.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to March 2021.
Hungary is in talks with Russia to produce Sputnik V and other Russian COVID-19 vaccines at a future Hungarian vaccine plant, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Thursday.
"Both Hungary and Russia are open to the possibility of Hungary producing vaccines based on a Russian licence," he said on his Facebook page.
Hungary has been the only European Union country to inoculate people with China's Sinopharm vaccine and Russia's Sputnik V, although neither shot has been granted approval for emergency use by the bloc.