South Africa approves Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine

In this June 28, 2021 photo, people queue to get tested for COVID-19 at the Fourways Life Hospital in Johannesburg. (EMMANUEL CROSET / AFP)

LONDON / BRASILIA / BUENOS AIRES / BRUSSELS / SANTIAGO / HAVANA / QUITO / BERLIN / ACCRA / RABAT / LONDON / MOSCOW / JOHANNESBURG / KAMPALA / KYIV / SAN FRANCISCO – South African regulators have approved Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s coronavirus vaccine, the first shot developed for the disease by a Chinese company to be sanctioned locally.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority backed the double-dose CoronaVac candidate made by Sinovac’s Life Sciences unit with conditions, according to a statement on Saturday. Those include satisfactory results of ongoing studies and periodic safety updates, SAHPRA said.

The acceptance, which has similar terms to those given to other vaccine manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson, comes as South Africa this week opened its immunization roll-out to people aged 50 and older.

The country is facing a severe third wave as the more infectious delta variant of the disease becomes widespread and only about 6 percent of the national population has been vaccinated. CoronaVac is indicated for people between the ages of 18 and 59 years and has a provisional shelf life of two years when stored at 2–8 degrees Celsius (35.6-46.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and protected from light, the regulator said.

South Africa on Friday passed two million cases of the coronavirus after 24,270 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the accumulated number of confirmed cases to 2,019,826, said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

It is the highest number of new coronavirus cases reported in a day.

In the meantime, 303 fatalities were registered, bringing the overall COVID-19 deaths to 61,332.

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Argentina

Argentina is changing local vaccine regulations to speed access to a wider range of vaccines including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, as the Biden administration steps up donations.

The government on Saturday will publish a presidential decree aimed at smoothing over certain legal and technical terminology, to find a middle ground between labs’ needs and government interests, according to a Friday evening announcement. The decree will allow the purchase of pediatric vaccines and pave the way for the country to receive donations.

Argentina set a daily record on Thursday for vaccinations against COVID-19, with 402,305 doses administered as part of its national plan, the Ministry of Health reported on Friday.

According to the health ministry, 25,040,593 doses had been distributed as of Friday, of which 21,310,026 have already been applied, with 17,106,617 people receiving their first dose and 4,203,409 their second.

Belgium

A total of 4,016,148 people, or 34.86 percent of Belgium's population, are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the country's Sciensano health institute said here on Friday.

As of June 30, 62.05 percent of Belgium's population had received at least a first COVID-19 vaccine dose, equal to 7,148,368 people.

While Belgium still needs to reach its 70 percent vaccination target before life can return to normal, Sciensano's report offers renewed hope.

Four vaccines are currently being used in Belgium, namely, produced by Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Brazil

Municipalities across Brazil on Friday denied a newspaper report that said health ministry data showed cities administered at least 26,000 expired AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine shots.

The southern city of Maringá, cited in the Folha de S.Paulo story as being the municipality to have used the most expired shots (over 3,500), denied the allegation, saying the doses only appeared to have expired on public databases due to a delay in the registration of new data in the Health Ministry system.

"There were no expired vaccine doses in Maringá, but there was an error in the system of (public health network) SUS," said the city's Health Secretary Marcelo Puzzi in a statement. Other cities blamed the confusion on the same data issue.

Local governments for the cities of São Paulo, Juiz de Fora and Belo Horizonte, which were also mentioned in the Folha story, issued statements denying having given out-of-date shots.

Brazil registered 1,857 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 521,952, the health ministry said Friday.

A total of 65,165 new infections were detected, raising the total caseload to 18,687,469, the ministry said.

In this June 20, 2021 photo, a resident receives a dose of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine against COVID-19 during the first day of a mass vaccination campaign within the 'Paqueta Vaccinated' project, at Paqueta island in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (ANDRE BORGES / AFP)

Chile

Some 70.52 percent of Chile's target population, or 10,719,253 people, had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.

Chile expects to immunize 80 percent of its population, roughly 15 million people, by midyear as part of its strategy to achieve herd immunity.

Scientists here are studying the feasibility of applying a third dose of vaccine to boost immunity, given the emergence of more contagious strains of the virus.

On Friday, the South American country reported 4,086 new cases of COVID-19 and 221 more deaths in 24 hours, for a total of 1,562,613 cases of infection and 32,809 deaths from the disease since the onset of the health crisis. 

Cuba

Cuba registered 3,308 new COVID-19 infections and 20 more deaths in the last 24 hours, both record numbers for one day, bringing the totals to 197,253 cases and 1,322 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Friday.

The province of Matanzas recorded 916 new infections in the last day and continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic, with an incidence rate of 809.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Ecuador

Ecuador exceeded 460,000 COVID-19 cases, after registering 1,619 infections in 24 hours and accumulating 461,157 cases, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Friday, adding that there were also 13 more deaths, for a total of 15,946.

The Andean province of Pichincha, the hardest hit by the pandemic, led the last day's infections with 714, including 660 in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic.

People between 20 and 49 years of age are the most affected age group and represent 60 percent of those infected across the country.

Ecuador is facing an increase in COVID-19 cases, with 11 of its 24 provinces registering high rates and its hospital system saturated, mainly in intensive care units.

In this June 22, 2021 phtot, a doctor vaccinates an employee with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at the vaccination center of CHEMPARK operator CURRENTA in Leverkusen, western Germany, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled a relaxation of quarantine rules for fully-vaccinated Britons on Friday following a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson aimed at shoring up post-Brexit relations.

COVID-19 travel restrictions were high on the agenda of what is due to be Merkel's last trip to Britain as chancellor as cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant surge in the country.

"I assume that in the foreseeable future those who have been vaccinated twice will be able to travel again without going into quarantine," Merkel told a joint news conference at Johnson's Chequers country residence.

Johnson says Britain's advanced vaccine programme should permit its citizens to travel abroad more widely this year – something a hard-hit travel industry says is key to its survival after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.

While Britain hopes to ease its quarantine requirements for the fully vaccinated when they return from abroad, some European states including Germany are implementing a period of quarantine for British arrivals, regardless of vaccination status.

The underlying tensions over travel were clear when Merkel and Johnson spoke at odds over the decision to allow large crowds into the Wembley soccer stadium for the final stages of the Euro 2020 tournament.

"The crucial point is that… here in the UK we have built up a very considerable wall of immunity against the disease by our vaccination programme," Johnson said, after Merkel said she was "worried and sceptical" about large crowds at matches.

Germans first inoculated with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine should receive a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, such as the one from Pfizer/BioNTech, as their second jab, Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a press conference here on Friday.

The German government supports a recommendation by the country's Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) published on Thursday, according to which the so-called cross-vaccination is "clearly superior" to the administration of two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Cross-vaccination is "particularly effective," Spahn said, emphasizing that the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, already administered to about 2.5 million Germans, also gives good protection against COVID-19.

Ghana

Ghana confirmed a community infection of the Delta variant of COVID-19 on Friday, the Ministry of Information said.

"The Ghana Health Service informed the COVID-19 Task Force on Friday that the Delta Variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had been recorded within a community in the latest round of genomic sequencing," said the ministry in a release.

Without specifying the location and the number of these infections, the ministry said, "the relevant agencies are taking the necessary steps to contain the spread, and the positive persons are in good health."

Morocco

The COVID-19 epidemiological situation in Morocco is a source of concern as the number of new infections and active cases have been increasing during the past two weeks, Moroccan Head of Government Saad Dine El Otmani said on Friday.

El Otmani, speaking to the official television "Al oula," called on citizens and institutions to increase efforts and remain vigilant to contain the virus spread.

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 532,994 on Friday as 844 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose to 9,307 with nine new fatalities during the last 24 hours, while 247 people are in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

Russia

Russia on Saturday reported 697 coronavirus-related deaths, the most confirmed in a single day since the pandemic began and the fifth day in a row it has set that record.

The government coronavirus taskforce also confirmed 24,439 new coronavirus cases nationwide, the most it has reported since early January. Moscow accounted for 7,446 of those cases. Officials blame the case surge on the infectious Delta variant.

Uganda

Uganda has introduced new penalties for offenders of the country's COVID-19 prevention procedures.

A statutory instrument dubbed Public Health (Control of COVID-19) rules 2021, signed by Health Minister Ruth Aceng, said that if one is found guilty of not wearing a facial mask while in public places, he or she will face a jail term of two months.

READ MORE: World Bank to boost COVID-19 vaccine funding to US$20b

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her arrival at Chequers, Buckinghamshire on July 2, 2021. (DAVID ROSE / POOL / AFP)

UK

Britain has reported another 27,125 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,855,169, according to official figures released Friday.

The country also recorded another 27 coronavirus-related death. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,189. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

England's coronavirus reproduction number, also known as the R number, has fallen slightly to between 1.1 and 1.3, according to the latest estimate by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), a British government advisory body.

An R value between 1.1 and 1.3 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 13 other people.

Ukraine

Ukraine's health ministry is investigating why a 47-year old man died just four hours after he received a shot of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, the ministry said late on Friday.

The ministry said that there may be no connection between the two and that another five people who were vaccinated from the same vial as the man who died are in a satisfactory condition.

It said that under Ukrainian law and international standards for the organisation of pharmacovigilance for adverse events after immunisation, every death that occurs within 30 days of immunisation must be investigated.

Pfizer was not immediately available for comment from its office in Ukraine outside of normal business hours.

About 2 million people in Ukraine have received their first shot since February, but no deaths caused by vaccination have been reported.

Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, has been among the European countries most affected by the pandemic, with around 2.24 million COVID-19 cases and 52,460 deaths as of July 3.

US

US Oakland Zoo has inoculated some of its animals against COVID-19 this week using an experimental vaccine formulated for animals, according to a report by San Francisco Chronicle on Friday.

So far, the zoo has vaccinated tigers, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions and ferrets, the report said.

The list of animals to receive a shot was selected because of their unique vulnerability for contracting COVID-19, according to Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at Oakland Zoo.

"Those are real cases where animals have become mildly sick, gravely ill or even died, and that's why we're being so proactive," she was quoted as saying. None of the animals at Oakland Zoo have gotten the virus, she added.

The vaccine was developed by the animal health company Zoetis. Oakland Zoo received its first shipment of 100 vaccine doses on Tuesday. The company is donating more than 11,000 doses of its new vaccine to nearly 70 zoos, as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations in 27 states, according to Zoetis.