Swiss accelerate reopening, allow large events

A picture taken on Jan 17, 2020 shows a general view of the Swiss Alpine resort of Wengen in a snowless landscape. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

SANTIAGO / QUITO / STOCKHOLM / JOHANNESBURG / WASHINGTON / KIGALI / BRASILIA / MEXICO CITY / BUENOS AIRES / HARARE / LUSAKA / TUNIS / LISBON / BOGOTA / KAMPALA / MOSCOW / BERLIN / WARSAW / HAVANA / DUBLIN /WINDHOEK – Switzerland will allow large events topping 10,000 people starting on Saturday, provided attendees have so-called COVID certificates showing they are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative.

The plan, announced on Wednesday, puts Switzerland at Europe’s vanguard of back-to-normal efforts and aligns with the country’s “lockdown light” strategy, balancing economic protections with pandemic-related health measures.

Mask-wearing outdoors will no longer be required, restaurant seating will be unlimited and discos can re-open their doors, with no masks required for people with COVID certificates.

Switzerland’s re-opening plan accelerates previous proposals that foresaw 10,000-person events from August 20, but Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said there was “no reason to wait” as new infections fell to 154 on Wednesday, with two deaths, a sign the pandemic is under control.

“It’s a big step, a little bit courageous, and we can’t get overconfident,” Berset told a news conference in Bern.

“We’re seeking to strike the right balance.”

The easing leaves limits of 30 people at private indoor gatherings, 50 people at private outdoor gatherings and general mask requirements on public transportation.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 179.16 million while the global death toll topped 3.88 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine is effective against Delta and Kappa variants, which were first identified in India, the company said on Tuesday, citing a study.

The study by the Oxford University investigated the ability of monoclonal antibodies in blood from recovered people and from those vaccinated to neutralize the Delta and Kappa variants, according to the statement.

Last week, an analysis by the Public Health England (PHE) showed that vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca offer high protection of more than 90% against hospitalization from the Delta variant.

The latest Oxford study results are built on the recent analysis by PHE, the company said.

UK

Britain will not require delegates attending November's international climate conference in Glasgow to have been vaccinated against COVID-19, an official responsible for organizing the event said on Wednesday.

Britain will strongly recommend that delegates are vaccinated but it will not be a mandatory requirement, Rosalyn Eales, Chief Operating Officer of the COP26 conference, told a group of lawmakers.

Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to allow Britons who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus to travel to more than 150 countries without the need to quarantine on their return to England later this summer.

Officials expect the new policy to be signed off by government in the next few days, paving the way for the reopening of international journeys to popular destinations in Europe and the US.

But the change is unlikely to come into force before August, and ministers are expected to keep a tight limit on the number of destinations on the so-called green list for quarantine-free travel when they provide an update this week.

Final decisions on the quarantine policy and the green list have not yet been taken inside government, and both will be subject to scientific advice on the status of the pandemic.

The UK reported 11,625 new cases and another 27 deaths, taking the tally to 4,651,988 and the toll to 128,008, according to official data.

It was the highest daily tally since mid-February, according to the data.

Earlier Tuesday, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that current COVID-19 restrictions in the region will remain in place until July 19, in line with the current plan for England.

ALSO READ: Russia: Limited work options for people without shot, immunity

Parasite drug analyzed as possible treatment

A drug used to treat parasite infections in humans and livestock will be investigated as a possible treatment for COVID-19 in a large UK study at the University of Oxford.

The medicine, known as ivermectin, has antiviral properties and initial preliminary studies have shown it can reduce viral load, the amount of virus in the respiratory tract, and the length of symptoms in those with a mild infection, the university said in a statement.

The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency recommend that it only be used in clinical trials, as more data is needed to support its use.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 87,822 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,131 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

In total, Brazil has registered 18,054,653 confirmed cases, along with 504,717 deaths, according to ministry data.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 4,233 new cases of COVID-19 in the country and 261 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,482,784 infections and 231,505 deaths.

Argentina

Argentina reported on Tuesday 792 more deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day death tally, raising the death toll to 90,281.

According to the Ministry of Health, 21,387 new cases were posted, bringing the country's total caseload to 4,298,782.

A total of 3,928,389 people have recovered from the disease.

So far, 20,637,290 vaccine doses have been administered, with 3,751,112 people having received both doses.

Africa

Rampant hoarding of COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles by wealthy nations is to blame for slowing down progress towards containing the pandemic in Africa, campaigners said in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Samuel Kinyanjui, the Kenyan country director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), said that vaccine hoarding has escalated shortage of the life-saving device in Africa, where a surge in infections is threatening the continent's public health systems.

Statistics from the Africas Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) indicate that the continent had administered 42.1 million vaccine doses as of June 14, with only 0.79 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

Kinyanjui said constructive engagement between African governments and the pharmaceutical industry in the rich world was required to facilitate the acquisition of vaccine doses at a subsidized cost.

Moreni Masanzu, regional chairperson of Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said that vaccine nationalism has stood out as a major bottleneck to Africa's fight against the pandemic.

EU

European Union (EU) officials said on Tuesday they hoped an agreement could be reached with the United States on the reciprocal lifting of travel restrictions following their meeting with US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in Lisbon, Portugal.

The EU and the United States are "redoubling efforts to achieve visa reciprocity and open up post-COVID travel," Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission for Promoting the European Way of life, said on social media. Four EU member states are still not on the US Visa Waiver Program.

He underlined that Europe is the most vaccinated continent in the world, and that the scheduled July 1 launch of the EU Digital COVID Certificate will restore mobility within the Schengen area.

Mayorkas confirmed that Washington also aims to ease the travel restrictions and that it will take into account the public health data at its disposal and the epidemiological situation in the EU and will make decisions accordingly.

A woman receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, New Jersey, April 19, 2021. (SETH WENIG / AP)

US

Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are set to meet on Wednesday to assess the possibility of a link between rare cases of heart inflammation and the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and partner BioNTech and from Moderna.

The CDC has been investigating cases of heart inflammation mainly in young men for several months. The Israeli health ministry earlier this month said it saw a possible link between such cases and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

During the committee meeting, set to begin at 11 am ET (1500 GMT), the agency will present details of more than 300 confirmed cases of myocarditis and pericarditis reported to CDC and the Food and Drug Administration among the over 20 million adolescents and young adults vaccinated in the United States, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing last week.

The US is falling short of its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4 and will likely need a few additional weeks to hit that target, White House COVID-19 senior adviser Jeffrey Zients said Tuesday.

Zients added that he expects 70 percent of adults over 27 years old will have had at least one shot by July 4.

About 45.2 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 53.4 percent of the population has received at least one shot as of Monday, according to the latest data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Delta variant that was first found in India is the greatest threat to the US’ effort to eradicate COVID-19 in its borders, said US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci .

Fauci said that the vaccines authorized in the US, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, are effective against the new variant of COVID-19.

ALSO READ: Delta variant gets foothold

Early evidence suggests that the Delta variant is spreading in undervaccinated pockets of the US.

The genomics firm Helix analyzed about 20,000 samples from COVID-19 tests across more than 700 US counties. It found that cases of the variant appear to be growing far faster in counties with lower vaccination rates than in areas that have higher rates.

Meanwhile, US scientists are expanding a government-funded study that aims to directly answer the question of whether Moderna Inc's  vaccine curbs the spread of the virus.

The study, backed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was originally designed to be tested among college students. However, it will now be broadened to adults aged 18-29, including those who choose not to receive a vaccine, the COVID-19 Prevention Network, which is overseeing the US COVID-19 vaccine trials, said on Tuesday.

In another development, the Biden administration is calling for a scaled-down, in-person gathering of world leaders for the UN General Assembly in September as New York City, once the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, recovers.

Chile

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera said Tuesday his government was looking at offering a third dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 to strengthen immunity among the population.

"When we have completed these studies, we will make, as we have always done, the decision that best protects the health and life of our compatriots. We will make that decision soon," said the president at a public event held at the La Moneda Palace, the presidential headquarters.

Chile on Tuesday began to vaccinate adolescents aged 12 to 17 against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Pinera said.

In a bid to achieve "herd immunity," this target group will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was authorized by Chile's Public Health Institute (ISP) for use in this age range.

Chile has fully vaccinated 62.6 percent of the target population (15 million people or 80 percent of the populace), while 79.5 percent of the target population has received at least the first dose.

Chile reported 3,464 new COVID-19 cases and 45 more deaths on Tuesday, bringing the totals to 1,525,663 cases and 31,690 deaths.

Ecuador

Ecuador announced Tuesday it would begin mass vaccination against COVID-19 in the second week of July to curb the transmission of the virus.

"The immunization plan is being adjusted these days to start with mass vaccinations by the second week of July," Health Minister Ximena Garzon said in a virtual press conference.

The Ministry of Public Health is coordinating with the Armed Forces and the National Electoral Council to "set up mass vaccination centers to avoid crowds," she said.

President Guillermo Lasso, who took office in late May, has said his government aims to inoculate nine million Ecuadorians during his first 100 days in office to achieve herd immunity.

According to the health ministry, as of June 20, 3,580,667 vaccine doses had been administered to priority groups, with 75 percent of older adults nationwide vaccinated.

Ecuador has registered 447,176 cases of COVID-19 and 15,722 deaths.

Sweden

The Swedish Public Health Agency announced on Tuesday that it has decided to vaccinate the 16-17 year olds.

The agency said that all children aged 16 and 17 will be offered vaccination against COVID-19 once those aged 18 and older have been vaccinated.

"We do not think that there is enough support for a risk-benefit balance to give younger children vaccines," Swedish Television SVT quoted Public Health Agency's Director General Johan Carlson as saying.

"The main argument for vaccination from the age of 16 is the benefit to the individual. Although young people are less likely than older to suffer from severe COVID-19, there is a risk for acute serious illness and for long-term problems," Carlson said.

He said between 150 and 170 individuals aged 16 or 17 had so far received hospital care due to COVID-19 infection.

In another development, Swedish information technology firm InfoSolutions said on Tuesday a database containing patient data, including COVID-19 test results, had been breached but it was unclear if any contents had leaked.

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

A health worker vaccinates a retiree with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine inside a tent, during a mass vaccination program for the elderly at the clinic outside Johannesburg, South Africa, May 24, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)

South Africa

As the number of COVID-19 cases increased by 11,093 over the past 24 hours in South Africa, tighter lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus were being discussed in the country.

With four provinces already experiencing the third wave, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that the issue of tightening existing lockdown measures was being considered.

According to the the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), more than 10,000 people with the coronavirus were being treated in hospitals. Most of the new cases were registered in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The NICD reported 11,093 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the tally to 1,843,572. A further 297 COVID-19 related deaths were reported, taking the toll to 59,092.

Ramaphosa deployed military personnel in Guateng province on Monday to help healthcare workers conduct mass-screening and testing, while the Gauteng coronavirus command council will meet Tuesday to discuss the unprecedented surge, Premier David Makhura told reporters. 

The body is expected to consider more local restrictions to try and curb the spread of the disease, he said.

Gauteng’s daily totals have soared by almost 38 percent in the past week, meaning the admission numbers will likely worsen. That would further ramp up the pressure on the supply of beds, oxygen and health workers.

In another development, at least two South African labor unions have vowed to support workers who are threatened with dismissal if they refuse to be vaccinated. That follows a directive by the Department of Employment and Labour earlier this month that made provision for employers to implement a mandatory vaccination policy.

Rwanda

Rwandan Health Minister Daniel Ngamije on Tuesday warned that a second nationwide total lockdown would be reimposed if people continued to contravene preventive measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The minister attributed the surge in infections to citizens' complacency and persistent violation of COVID-19 preventive measures.

The country expects to secure 4.5 million more vaccine doses in the coming months, he said.

The health ministry on Monday reported 622 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily increase since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country on March 14, 2020.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe expects to receive 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines from China by the end of this month as it seeks to boost its vaccination drive after several centers ran out of doses, which caused panic, the information minister said on Tuesday.

The southern African nation has faced shortages of vaccines at major centres in Harare and Bulawayo, forcing authorities to prioritise inoculating those seeking second doses. read more

"Arrangements are currently in progress to procure 2 million doses of vaccines from China. These are expected in the country by end of month. Furthermore 500,000 doses of vaccines are expected to be delivered this Saturday," Monica Mutsvangwa said during a post-Cabinet media briefing.

Zimbabwe has only authorized China's Sinovac and Sinopharm, Russia's Sputnik V and India's Covaxin doses for emergency use.

Mutsvangwa said reopening of schools, which was set for June 28, would be delayed by two weeks after weekly infections doubled from last week.

Zimbabwe has reported 42,195 cases and 1,685 deaths since the outbreak last year. Some 704,000 people, out of a target of 10 million, have received a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Novartis

Novartis aims to help manufacture more than 50 million doses of BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 at its Stein, Switzerland fill-and-finish facility, the Swiss drugmaker said, after the European Union's drug regulator approved the bottling plant.

Colombia

Colombia reported 614 additional deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 101,302, the health ministry said Tuesday.

Another 28,616 new infections were reported, bringing the tally to 3,997,021.

So far, 15,298,930 vaccine doses have been administered in the South American country, with 4,977,790 people fully inoculated.

Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said the mortality rate from COVID-19 has decreased after the implementation of a vaccination campaign in Colombia.

Cuba

Cuba has reported 1,489 new COVID-19 cases and 10 more deaths, bringing the total caseload to 170,854 and the toll to 1,180, the Ministry of Public Health said Tuesday.

There were 8,662 active cases, the highest number so far, said the ministry.

The western province of Mayabeque, which reported 70 new infections in the past day, has registered an incidence rate of 294.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the country.

So far, 4.89 million vaccine doses have been administered, and more than 2.24 million Cubans have received at least one shot.  

Uganda

Uganda on Tuesday announced the closure of parliament for two weeks amid a virulent second wave of COVID-19.

The parliament will be closed with effect from June 28 to July 11 to allow the disinfection of the parliamentary buildings in the capital city of Kampala, said Jane Kibirige, clerk to parliament, in a statement.

The closure comes after the parliamentary commission announced last week that more than 100 lawmakers and members of staff had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, Uganda has registered a total of 73,401 cases and 714 deaths, according to official data.  

Tunisia

A batch of China's CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Tunisia on Monday afternoon, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Chinese Embassy to Tunisia.

Tunisia has reported 385,428 confirmed cases and 336,652 deaths. The health ministry on Monday night reported 2,478 new cases and another 80 deaths.

Zambia

Commercial banks in Zambia have decided to purchase 1,800 oxygen cylinders to help the country tackle the problem of oxygen shortage due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, an industry body said on Tuesday.

The banks have partnered with the Center for Infectious Disease Research in a project for the procurement of oxygen cylinders following reports of a shortage of oxygen in the country, especially in Lusaka, the country's capital.

The Ministry of Health has expressed concern that health facilities were seeing COVID-19 patients in critical situations, with the majority of them requiring oxygen.

Zambia recorded 3,028 new COVID-19 cases and 53 deaths in the last 24 hours, the ministry said on Tuesday. It was the the highest daily toll reported since the pandemic started in the country.

In total, the country has reported 133,659 confirmed cases and 1,744 deaths.

Portugal

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Tuesday appealed to young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which he pointed out as the "great bet at this time" to contain the pandemic.

"Vaccination is the fundamental path, (and) this is the lasting solution to the pandemic. The other solutions are found punctually, temporarily, but the only one that is truly longer-lasting and effective is vaccination," he told reporters.

According to the Portuguese leader, with the advancement of the "second dose for those over 60, who correspond to risk groups," vaccination of the youngest should advance in "less than two months".

"Fortunately, we have a number of deaths ranging from zero to six, we have a number of inpatients of a few hundred, less than 500 inpatients, and we have a number of intensive care that is far short of what existed in November last year," he said.

Over 46 percent of the Portuguese population have been vaccinated so far, the health authorities said.

Poland

Poland is introducing a mandatory seven-day quarantine for all travellers from Britain in a bid to curb the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The decisions made on quarantine for travelers arriving from Great Britain are intended to reduce the risk of transmission of the Delta coronavirus variant from the endangered area," Health Minister Adam Niedzielski was quoted as saying by state news agency PAP.

Health Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz said that as of Wednesday, travelers from Britain would be obliged to spend seven days in quarantine even if they had a negative test result before arrival. They would then be required to do a test after seven days.

The quarantine rules will not apply to travelers who have been fully vaccinated, Niedzielski said in a tweet written in response to a question from a reporter.

Poland, a country of around 38 million people, has reported 2,879,030 cases of the coronavirus and 74,858 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Medical workers in protective gear talk as they transport a patient suspected of being infected with the coronavirus at a hospital in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 21, 2021. (PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AP)

Russia

Russia on Wednesday reported 548 coronavirus-related deaths, the most confirmed in a single day since February, amid a surge in new cases that authorities have blamed on the new Delta variant.

The government coronavirus taskforce confirmed 17,594 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 6,534 in Moscow, taking the national caseload to 5,368,513.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,016 to 3,723,798, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.

The reported death toll rose by 51 to 90,523, the tally showed.

Ireland

Ireland's health minister said it was too early to say whether an increased presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant will delay a further easing of restrictions beyond July 5 when indoor restaurant and bar services are due to resume.

"At this point, it's too early to say," Stephen Donnelly told national broadcaster RTE. "We know COVID tears up the best laid plans and it's a rapidly evolving situation with Delta."

While Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said ahead of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the plan remained on track, Prime Minister Micheal Martin was quoted as saying on Wednesday that nothing can be guaranteed and that the government would follow health officials' advice.

Namibia

Namibia on Wednesday recorded 45 COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began in the country in March last year.

In a statement, Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said the 45 fatalities were recorded in 10 districts across the country.

"With concern we continue to record a high number of deaths due to COVID-19. Patients are urged to visit health facilities as early as possible for medical assistance. Late health seeking behavior leads to high mortality," he said.

Namibia has so far recorded 77,333 confirmed cases with 1,224 deaths.