Russia: Limited work options for people without shot, immunity

People wearing face masks walk down a street in Moscow on June 21, 2021. (DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP)

HAVANA / BOGOTA / OTTAWA / GENEVA / COPENHAGEN / WASHINGTON / BRASILIA / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / NICOSIA / LJUBLJANA / QUITO / MOSCOW / DUBLIN / CARACAS / NAIROBI / LIMA / ACCRA / KIGALI / ROME / JOHANNESBURG / BRUSSELS – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that people who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 or did not have immunity would be unable to work in all workplaces in Russia and that those people could be discriminated against.

"The reality is such that discrimination will inevitably set in. People without vaccination or immunity will not be able to work everywhere. It is not possible. It will pose a threat to those around them," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday that the coronavirus situation in some Russian regions was getting worse as authorities began promoting the idea of regular revaccinations to try to halt a surge in new cases.

Moscow’s mayor said on Tuesday residents would only be allowed to visit cafes and restaurants in the city if they could show they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, recently tested negative or had the coronavirus in the last half year.

The new restrictions, which were announced on Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s blog, are due to come into effect on June 28. Russia has reported a surge in COVID-19 cases this month which authorities have blamed on the new Delta variant.

Russia on Tuesday reported 546 coronavirus-related deaths, the most confirmed in a single day since February, amid a surge in new cases that authorities have blamed on the Delta variant.

The government coronavirus taskforce confirmed 16,715 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 6,555 in Moscow, taking the total caseload to 5,350,919.

Russian industrial giants, facing a third wave of infections that threatens to undermine the economic recovery, are trying to buy their way to herd immunity.

Alrosa is raffling a snowmobile and Hyundai Solaris for workers who get vaccinated, Evraz and Severstal enter them into lotteries for cash and other prizes, Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel offers an extra day off after the shots, and Phosagro lets employees jump to the front of the line to qualify for all-expense paid trips to resorts.

The largess has helped boost the percentage of inoculated employees at big companies to above the national average, but shows the limits of corporate policy to overcome the government’s inability to convince people to get vaccinated.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 178.78 million while the global death toll topped 3.87 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

The Horn of Africa region is grappling with a widespread humanitarian crisis linked to negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on labor mobility, trade and delivery of food aid, the World Food Programme (WFP) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a joint report launched in Nairobi Monday.

According to the report, titled Life Amidst a Pandemic: Hunger, Migration and Displacement in the East and Horn of Africa, the pandemic has undermined the capacity of civilians across the region to cope with pre-existing challenges including hunger, malnutrition, conflicts and displacement.

According to the report, 54 million people were estimated to be acutely food secure in the region in 2020, adding that among the most vulnerable to the hunger and malnutrition crisis include 8.9 million internally displaced persons, 4.7 million refugees and asylum seekers.

COVID-19 restrictions took a heavy toll on labor mobility, cross-border trade, safety of migrants and their ability to access basic services including health, according to the report.

"Millions of people, particularly those living in urban areas, have lost their livelihood and income opportunities due to COVID-19, while the closure of schools has affected school feeding programs in several countries," says the report.

The UN said the disruption in global supply chains slowed down economic growth in the region, adding that job losses and shrinking remittances undermined the capacity of households to meet basic needs like food and medicine.

According to the report, gender-based violence in the region has spiked during the pandemic while children and displaced populations have been exposed to the risk of abuse.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 5,229,879 as of Tuesday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic stood at 138,000 while 4,639,682 patients across the continent had recovered from the disease.

A nurse inoculates a pregnant woman with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign in Asuncion, Paraguay, June 19, 2021. (JORGE SAENZ / AP)

WHO

More than half of poorer countries receiving doses via the COVAX vaccine-sharing program do not have enough supplies to continue, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) which co-runs it said on Monday.

"I would say of the 80 AMC countries at least well over a half of them would not have sufficient vaccine to be able to sustain their programs right now," WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward said at a briefing, referring to an advance market commitment to low and middle-income countries, saying the actual portion was probably "much higher".

Some of them had completely ran out, he added.

Also on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the organization was setting up a technology transfer hub for producing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa, with Afrigen Biologics and Biovac to be involved.

The future hub might enable South Africa to create vaccines in nine to 12 months, said WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

The WHO is speaking to a number of drugmakers about establishing the hub, though the talks are so far mainly with “smaller companies,” said Swaminathan. “We are having discussions with the larger companies with proven mRNA technology, we hope they come on board,” she added.

ALSO READ: Don’t count on needing a virus booster shot, WHO scientist says

Canada

The Canadian government announced on Monday that "fully vaccinated" Canadians and permanent residents can enter the country without undergoing quarantine starting from July 5.

The announcement comes as more than 75 percent of eligible Canadians have received one dose of vaccine and more than 20 percent have received two doses of vaccine.

Travelers will still need to show they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 before they cross into Canada and take a second test at the border. Those arriving by air, who are currently expected to do the first three days of their quarantine in a hotel, will be exempt from that requirement.

Travelers will still need to quarantine until they receive the results of the second COVID-19 test.

The changes are a first, incremental step toward easing restrictions as the government faces mounting impatience to permit more freedom of movement between the US and Canada. A fuller reopening that allows tourist travel to resume won’t happen until 75 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s border chief said on Sunday.

As of Monday afternoon, Canada has reported 1,409,269 cases, including 26,080 deaths, according to CTV.  

Colombia

Reported deaths from COVID-19 in Colombia passed 100,000 on Monday, the country's health ministry said, amid warnings of potential scarcity of treatment drugs and oxygen in hospitals during a long and brutal third peak of infections and deaths.

The country of 50 million people has reported more than 3.9 million cases of coronavirus infections, as well as 100,582 deaths.

Intensive care units (ICUs) in major cities are operating at near full capacity, according to information published by local health authorities in capital Bogota, as well as in Medellin and Cali, Colombia's second-largest and third-largest cities respectively.

"Crowds are the main breeding ground for this disease to spread exponentially," President Ivan Duque said in a ceremony to mark Colombia's COVID-19 deaths.

Colombia has administered over 14.9 million vaccine doses, of which more than 4.7 million are second doses. 

Denmark

At least 29 coronavirus infections were directly linked to Denmark's three UEFA European Football Championship (EURO 2020) encounters in the capital city of Copenhagen, Danish health authorities revealed at a press conference on Tuesday.

"Currently, a total of 29 cases of infection have been reported, where persons have been infected going to the match, or during the match. In theory, many more could be infected," said Anette Lykke Petri, director of the Danish Patient Safety Authority.

The health authorities also acknowledged at the press conference 235 cases so far of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus in Denmark, expressing concerns about its spread in the country.

ALSO READ: India's vaccinations hit record with free COVID-19 shots

US

The White House on Monday introduced plans to share 55 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with the rest of the world.

Among the 55 million doses, around 41 million will be shared through COVAX, including approximately 14 million doses for Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 16 million for Asia, and approximately 10 million for Africa, according to a White House statement.

The rest, about 14 million doses, will be shared directly with "regional priorities and other recipients," including Afghanistan, Iraq, West Bank and Gaza.

The allocation plan for the 55 million doses is the remaining portion of the Biden administration's overall framework to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June. The White House had detailed the plan for the first tranche of 25 million doses earlier this month.

The US said 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, according to a statement on Twitter by Cyrus Shahpar, White House COVID-19 data director.

Younger adults are seeking out COVID-19 vaccines at a slower rate than older adults, and if that pace of vaccination continues through August, vaccine coverage among younger adults will not reach levels achieved with older adults, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Monday.

World Bank & African Union to join hands

The World Bank and the African Union said on Monday they would work together to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations for up to 400 million people across Africa, bolstering efforts to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent's population by 2022.

In a joint statement, the World Bank and the African Union said their agreement would provide needed resources to the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative, allowing countries to purchase and deploy more vaccines.

“As a result of this joint initiative between the World Bank and African institutions such as the African Export-Import Bank and the Africa Centres for Disease Control, we now have the capacity to vaccinate at least 400 million people, or 30% of our population of 1.3 billion,” Strive Masiyiwa, coordinator of the AVATT, said in the statement.

No details were immediately available on the cost of the initiative, but the funds will come from the US$12 billion the World Bank has made available for vaccine financing and distribution. 

READ MORE: WTO chief: Several vaccine production hubs eyed in Africa

A nurse prepares to inoculate a health worker with the second dose of the Cuban vaccine candidate Abdala against COVID-19 in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 30, 2021. (YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

Cuba

Cuba said on Monday its three-shot Abdala vaccine against the coronavirus had proved 92.28 percent effective in last-stage clinical trials.

The announcement came just days after the government said another homegrown vaccine, Soberana 2, had proved 62 percent effective with just two of its three doses.

"Hit by the pandemic, our scientists at the Finlay Institute and Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology have risen above all the obstacles and given us two very effective vaccines," President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted.

The announcement came from state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma, which oversees Finlay, the maker of Soberana 2, and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the producer of Abdala.

Both vaccines are expected to be granted emergency authority by local regulators shortly.

Cuba's authorities have already started administering the experimental vaccines en masse as part of "intervention studies" they hope will slow the spread of the virus. About a million of the country's 11.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated to date.

The country has reported a total of 169,365 COVID-19 cases and 1,170 deaths.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 38,903 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 761 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Monday.

Brazil has registered nearly 18 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 502,586, according to ministry data.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Monday reported 1,268 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 57 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,478,551 infections and 231,244 deaths.

UK

Britain is working on easing travel restrictions for the fully vaccinated to allow people to enjoy a summer holiday on Europe's beaches but the plans are not finalized yet, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.

Asked if vaccinated people get freedoms back by August and so enjoy a foreign holiday this year, Hancock told Sky News that the government wanted to ensure safety but that he understood people wanted their freedoms back.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that England was on course to be able to lift coronavirus restrictions as planned on July 19, despite the spread of the delta variant.

But Johnson also warned that foreign travel was likely to continue to be disrupted this year, with delays and complications for travelers.

Hancock said Monday that the government was looking at scrapping the 10-day self-isolation requirement for people who have had both jabs upon return to England from the amber-list countries.

Britain on Monday reported 10,633 new cases and five more deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 4,640,507 with 127,981 fatalities, according to official data.

More than 43.1 million people have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine while more than 31.4 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to the data.

Kenya

Kenya will receive 358,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses donated by Denmark on Monday to shore up depleting stocks for the second round of vaccinations, according to Willis Akhwale, chairman of the COVID-19 vaccine advisory task force.

A total of 1.18 million vaccines have so far been administered across Kenya, but fewer than 200,000 people had received a second dose as at June 20, according to the health ministry.

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned of the possibility of a fourth wave of the pandemic as the delta variant spreads, saying it’s important to remain cautious as the country plans for a potentially challenging autumn and winter.

“As you can see in the UK, there is a risk,” Spahn said in an online panel hosted by industry group BDI. “Just remember the figures they had just some weeks ago regarding vaccination as well as the infection rate, and actually how quickly that can change.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 455 to 3,722,782, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The reported death toll rose by 77 to 90,472.

Cyprus

Cyprus' health ministry added on Monday nine countries in Europe to its low risk category for travel purposes based on their coronavirus epidemiological situation.

According to the statement issued Monday, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Finland, Slovakia and Norway were moved from the medium-risk orange group to the low-risk Green group.

Effective from Thursday, they will join Malta, Poland, Romania, Iceland and third countries Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Israel in the category, whereby passengers would not need to present a negative COVID-19 test or self-isolate on arrival in the island.

Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden were moved from the high-risk Red group to the Orange group, joining Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg.

Other countries on the Orange list are third countries China, Britain, the US and Japan. Travelers from this category are required to present a negative PCR laboratory test taken less than 72 hours before departure.

Slovenia

People in Slovenia would be able to choose which COVID-19 vaccine they want to get starting from Monday as the country has enough vaccine supplies.

Meanwhile, the government plans to organize mobile vaccination units in order to get more people vaccinated. 

According to the national COVID-19 tracker site Sledilnik, there are still more than half a million unused vaccine doses in Slovenia.

To date, 46 percent of people over the age of 18 have been vaccinated with the first vaccine dose, and 34.3 percent have been fully vaccinated.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported on Monday 192 new COVID-19 cases and 10 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the cumulative tally to 446,633 cases with 15,713 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.

The province of Pichincha led with 37 new cases, 35 of which were registered in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the South American country.

According to the ministry data, 3,558,254 vaccine doses have been administered as of June 19. 

Ireland

The more infectious COVID-19 Delta variant first detected in India accounted for up to 20 percent of cases reported in Ireland in the last week, an increase the country's chief medical officer described as concerning.

The incidence rate has been falling steadily in recent weeks in Ireland, which has partly vaccinated around two-thirds of all adults with one-third fully protected. It reported 284 new cases on Monday, one of the lowest daily counts this year.

The health service said a number of outbreaks associated with the variant were also reported in the last week. Ireland is reopening its economy at a slower pace than most, with indoor dining and drinking only set to resume early next month.

Venezuela

With its access to the global financial system restricted by US sanctions, Venezuela managed to make some payments for the country's coronavirus vaccines by asking a handful of private local banks to pay on the government's behalf, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The banks have used foreign currency obtained through transactions with international credit and debit cards within Venezuela to pay COVAX, said the people, who spoke on the conditions of anonymity and that the participating banks not be named.

Some of the payments were made by local banks at the central bank's request, the people said. 

It was not clear how or if the banks were compensated, nor what portion of the payments to COVAX have been made by the banks. So far, Venezuela has paid about US$109 million to COVAX, about US$10 million shy of what it owes, Venezuelan officials said earlier this month.

Venezuelan officials have said they expect to receive some 5 million vaccine doses through COVAX, but so far the country has received none.

Venezuela, with a population of some 30 million, has received vaccines only from Russia and China and its rollout of those 3.5 million doses has been slow and plagued by confusion.

Venezuelans are being turned away from appointments to receive their second shot of the vaccine due to a shortage of doses, groups representing the South American country's doctors and nurses warned on Monday.

Peru

Peru's government has dispatched health brigades to the southwest region of Arequipa to combat the spread of the Delta variant and a rise in infections in the region.

"Two cases of the Delta variant have been detected so far, which as we know is a much more contagious variant than previous variants of the virus," Health Minister Oscar Ugarte said.

Technical groups and specialists have also been sent to reinforce the vaccination campaign in the city, which is located some 966 km south of the capital Lima.

On Friday, the government of President Francisco Sagasti ordered the quarantine of the Arequipa region and raised its health status to "extreme alert".

Peru has so far registered 2,029,625 COVID-19 cases and 190,425 deaths from the disease, according to the health ministry.  

Health workers arrive with a patient at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital's COVID-19 facility in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 21, 2021. (SHIRAAZ MOHAMED / AP)

South Africa

Coronavirus infections surged to a record in South Africa’s industrial hub of Gauteng, prompting warnings about hospital capacity and calls for tighter restrictions.

One in four South Africans lives in the province where Johannesburg, the country’s biggest city, and Pretoria, the capital are located. In the 24 hours to late Monday, 69 percent of South Africa’s 9,160 new cases were in Gauteng, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

“At the moment, the pandemic is way above where we have ever been,” David Makhura, the province’s premier, said in an interview with eNCA, a local broadcaster, on Monday. “We are 2,000 more cases a day than we were at the peak of the first and second waves.”

Separately on Monday, South Africa's president said at the opening virtual session of the Qatar Economic Forum that the "selfish, unjust" refusal of pharmaceutical companies and allied Western governments to entertain emergency patent waivers on COVID-19 vaccines was endangering the entire world.

In unusually impassioned remarks, Cyril Ramaphosa lambasted a resistance to calls by India and South Africa for temporary patent waivers to ramp up production.

South Africa has only vaccinated about 2 million people, 1.8 percent of its population, one of the world's lowest rates.

Ghana

The World Bank is ready to finance Ghana's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the bank's country director for Ghana Pierre Laporte said Monday.

Briefing the media on the stage of the bank's support to the West African country to overcome the pandemic, Laporte said the bank had already approved US$130 million to support the vaccine program.

He said the bank would like to provide vaccines for 13 million Ghanaians, which would boost the country's efforts to combat the pandemic and enhance its economic recovery.

Rwanda

The Rwandan government announced that movements between the capital city Kigali and the rest of the country would be prohibited from Wednesday except for essential services and goods transportation, due to the recent rise in COVID-19 infections.

The cabinet also decided to curb movements within nationwide districts, according to a cabinet communique issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.

The curfew hours have been extended by two more hours to run from 7 pm to 4 am, according to the communique.

Italy

Italy will lift a requirement that people wear face masks outdoors from June 28, the government said late on Monday, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decline.

The wearing of masks will still be required in indoor public areas.

The decision will be effective from next Monday when the whole nation is expected to be a COVID-19 white zone, the lowest risk level in Italy's four-tier colour-coded system to calibrate curbs in its 20 regions.

Meanwhile, Italy will reopen clubs and discos by early July, setting a date as soon as this week, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa said in an interview with RTL 102.5 radio.

Italy reported 495 new coronavirus cases and another 21 deaths on Monday, taking the tally to 4.25 million with 127,291 fatalities, according to the health ministry.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 2,390 on Monday, down from 2,444 a day earlier.

EU

The European Union (EU) has decided to take up an option under a supply contract with drugmaker Moderna that allows the bloc to order 150 million additional COVID-19 vaccines produced by the US biotech firm, the EU Commission said on Tuesday.

The doses will be delivered next year, the EU executive said in a statement. The additional shots are part of a contract for 300 million doses, of which half have already been ordered by the 27-nation bloc.