Virus: EU lifts entry restrictions for US travelers and others

Travelers queue up in long lines to pass through the north security checkpoint at Denver International Airport in Denver, the United States, on June 16, 2021. (DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / AP)

NAIROBI / ADDIS ABABA / MOSCOW / OSLO / MADRID / LONDON / VIENNA / LILONGWE / BRUSSELS / KAMPALA / HARARE / AMSTERDAM / ROME / GENEVA / OTTAWA – The European Union (EU) on Friday decided to gradually ease COVID-19 entry restrictions for travelers from the United States and some other countries and regions as the epidemiological situations there were improving.

The US, Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Serbia, and China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan were added to a so-called "white list" of countries and regions from which non-essential travel is allowed, the EU announced in a press release.

Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Thailand are already on the list.

While some EU member states already allow vaccinated Americans to visit, inclusion in the white list means that restrictions on US residents will be lifted across the bloc. It also means that member states are free to allow quarantine-free travel from the US independently of vaccination status.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO)'s chief scientist said on Friday that the Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is becoming the globally dominant variant of the disease.

"The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its increased transmissability," WHO's Soumya Swaminathan said at a news conference.

WHO officials said Africa remains an area of concern, even though it accounts for only around 5 percent of new global infections and 2 percent of deaths.

New cases in Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda have doubled in the last week, WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan said, while vaccine access remains miniscule.

"It's a trajectory that is very, very concerning," Ryan said. "The brutal reality is that in an era of multiple variants, with increased transmissibility, we have left vast swathes of the population, the vulnerable population of Africa, unprotected by vaccines."

At the press briefing, Swaminathan also voiced disappointment in the failure of CureVac's vaccine candidate in a trial to meet the WHO's efficacy standard, in particular as highly transmissible variants boost the need for new, effective shots.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 177.43 million while the global death toll topped 3.84 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca said on Friday the European Union (EU) had lost a legal case against the pharmaceutical firm over the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, with a court in Brussels rejecting an EU request for more deliveries by the end of June.

But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday's ruling supported the EU's view that AstraZeneca – against which the bloc has recently launched a second lawsuit – had failed to meet its commitments.

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant committed in a contract to do its best to deliver 300 million doses to the 27-nation bloc by the end of June, but production problems led the  company to revise down its target to 100 million vaccines.

The supply cuts delayed the EU's vaccination drive in the first quarter of the year, when the bloc had initially bet on AstraZeneca to deliver the largest volume of its shots. That led to a bitter dispute and to the EU's legal action to get at least 120 million doses by the end of June.     

But AstraZeneca said a judge had ruled that it should deliver only 80.2 million doses by a deadline of Sept 27. The company said it would "substantially exceed" that amount by the end of June.

The court said in a statement that AstraZeneca must deliver 15 million doses by July 26, another 20 million by Aug 23 and another 15 million by Sept 27, for a total of 50 million doses.

Should the company miss these deadlines it would face a penalty of "10 euros (US$11.8) per dose not delivered", the EU Commission said.

AstraZeneca said other measures sought by the Commission had been dismissed, and the court had found that the EU had no exclusivity or right of priority over other parties the drugmaker had contracts with.

Malawi

Malawi has run out of COVID-19 vaccine doses amid a sharp rise in confirmed cases.

A consignment of 900,000 doses which the country was expecting at the end of May through the COVAX facility has yet to arrive, the Ministry of Health and Population Services said in a statement Thursday, blaming the delay on a recent worsening of the pandemic in India, a major manufacturer of vaccines.

Malawi "is experiencing stockouts of the vaccine in many vaccination sites due to the delay in the arrival of the next consignment of the vaccines in the country," reads the statement.

As of Thursday, 378,694 people have received one dose of the vaccine while 27,473 have received both doses.

So far, Malawi has recorded 34,702 confirmed cases and 1,164 deaths, according to Health Minister Khumbidze Kandodo Chiponda.

Germany

The more infectious Delta coronavirus variant will become dominant in Germany by the autumn at the latest, the country's top public health official said on Friday, urging the public both to continue wearing masks indoors and to get vaccinated.

"The Delta variant makes up about 6 percent of infections, but its share is growing," Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said, referring to the variant first identified in India.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said some 51 percent of Germans have had at least one of the two vaccine shots required for effective protection against the virus and around 30 percent have had both shots.

Also on Friday, the RKI said Germany has removed popular summer holiday destinations France, Greece, Switzerland and parts of Spain from its list of coronavirus risk areas.

This means that people entering Germany from these regions will no longer be required to quarantine for ten days.

Belgium, the southern part of Denmark, Estonia, Jordan, Lithuania, three provinces in the Netherlands, Norway, the Palestinian Territories, several regions in Slovenia and St. Lucia were also removed from the risk list.

Greece

The Greek government said travelers from a list of authorized countries could enter the country with a negative rapid COVID-19 test, or the PCR test required previously.

Tourists from EU and Schengen Area countries, the US, UK, Israel, Serbia, UAE, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Rwanda, Singapore, Russia, Federation, North Macedonia, Canada, Belarus, Bahrein, Qatar, China, Kuwait, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Saudi Arabia, can now enter the country with a negative rapid test at least 48 hours before arrival.

Canada

Canada is extending a ban on non-essential travel with the United States until July 21 and will soon reveal how existing COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday.

Ottawa will reveal on June 21 how it plans to start lifting the measures for fully vaccinated Canadians and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada, he said.

The US administration has created working groups with both Mexico and Canada to discuss the restrictions. The groups held their initial meetings this week, sources told Reuters.

Denmark

Half of Denmark’s population has received at least the first vaccine dose, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a tweet on Friday.

About 27 percent has completed vaccination, and the remaining groups will be offered a jab shortly, he added.

Austria

Austria will provide a million doses of coronavirus vaccine to the countries of the Western Balkans in addition to the doses it is funneling towards the region on behalf of the European Union, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday.

Kurz made the announcement at a news conference after a summit with his counterparts from the countries of the former Yugoslavia that are not European Union member states.

The doses will be delivered between August and the end of the year, he added, without saying which countries would receive them or how they would be distributed among them. He also did not say which specific vaccines they would be.

Netherlands

Social distancing rules in the Netherlands are set to be eased next week, allowing people to leave off their face masks on many occasions and for bigger groups to meet, broadcaster RTL reported on Friday, citing government sources.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to announce the further easing of measures to fight the pandemic at a televised news conference at 1900 local time (1700 GMT).

As of June 26, face masks will no longer be required if people can keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters between them, RTL reported, limiting the requirement to wear one to public transport and airports.

Bars and restaurants are expected to be allowed to receive up to 100 customers at a time, while at home people will be allowed to receive eight visitors, up from the current limit of four.

Up until Friday, around 13 million vaccinations were given in the country of 17.5 million, and the government expects to have offered at least one injection to all Dutch adults by mid-July.

Since the start of the pandemic, almost 1.7 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the Netherlands with over 27,000 deaths.

Uganda

Uganda on Friday began the distribution of the third batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that it received from the COVAX facility to address a nationwide shortage, a health spokesperson said.

Sheila Nduhukire, spokesperson for the National Medical Stores ( Uganda's central distribution hub for all public health facilities) told Xinhua by telephone that vaccines were being dispatched, with the main focus on the most hit COVID-19 districts, including Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Lira and Mbale.

The country on Wednesday received 175,200 vaccine doses via COVAX.

Uganda had run out of vaccines for its vaccination campaign targeting priority groups, with several hospitals and vaccination centers across the country reporting stockouts.

As of Thursday, a total of 812,118 people had been vaccinated in the east African country, according to the health ministry.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has extended COVID-19 lockdown measures to three more districts following a surge in infections in those localities.

In a press statement on Thursday night, Mnangagwa said Makonde, Hurungwe and Kariba districts in Mashonaland West Province would be isolated and a 6 pm to 6 am curfew would be imposed, and access to and from the areas would be banned except for essential services.

He said two senior government officials had died in Karoi, in Hurungwe District, earlier during the day and there was need to contain the pandemic from spreading.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe reported 371 new cases. In total, the country has so far reported 40,927 cases, 1,647 deaths and 37,109 recoveries.

Zambia

The Zambian government said on Friday that it has secured funds to procure 3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine as it tries to ramp up its vaccination program.

Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health in charge of technical services, said the vaccines will be acquired under the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT).

He said in a statement that the government has further submitted all the requirements under the COVAX Facility for the 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, which will be arriving in the country next week.

According to health ministry figures, the country recorded 2,913 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative cases to 125,157.

The toll rose by 29 to 1,554.

Norway

Norway will begin on Sunday the third major phase of its plan to reopen society from the pandemic as COVID-19 infections continue to decline, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Friday.

From June 20, Norwegians will be allowed to receive up to 20 guests in their homes, double the current level, while bars and restaurants will no longer have to close at midnight, she said.

More spectators will be allowed in sports arenas from Sunday, Solberg said. The government will also allow more overseas visitors into the country, but testing and quarantine requirements remain for many who arrive.

Norway recorded about 1,200 new infections in the week to June 13, the lowest in eight months and down from a weekly peak of almost 6,600 in mid-March this year, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said.

Some 33 percent of Norway's adult population has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A further 16 percent has received the first of two doses and is thus partially vaccinated, FHI data show.

Norway aims to reach the fourth and final stage of the reopening plan next month, though this could still leave some local restrictions in place, depending primarily on infection rates and vaccinations, the government said.

An health care worker administers a jab containing Pfizer vaccine on a caregiver of the SAVF Evanna Tehuis old age home near Klerksdorp, South Africa, on May 19, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

South Africa

South Africa deployed army medical personnel in the commercial hub of Gauteng province to help state health-care deal with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The military will assist with mass screening and testing, along with tracking and tracing programs from Friday, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said in an online briefing.

Gauteng is currently the hardest-hit province in the country, accounting for about 60 percent of cases and averaging about 7,500 new infections daily, she said. The positivity rate in the province is more than 20 percent.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the decision to use army personnel was made after the province indicated it was in distress and needed additional resources. The deployment was agreed after a meeting with Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and President Cyril Ramaphosa, she said.

Colombia 

Colombia is fast on track to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 as the government tries to balance letting citizens work — and eat — with protecting them from the pandemic by reopening large swathes of the economy.

A slow vaccination rollout and social upheaval have meant that infections and mortality in Colombia continue to rise. Just in the past five days, the country of 50 million has marked records in daily deaths, registering as many as 599 fatalities on Tuesday alone. At the current rate, Colombia will hit 100,000 deaths as soon as Sunday.

Italy

Italy has introduced a mandatory five-day quarantine for visitors from Britain, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday, as concerns grow over increasing cases of a highly contagious coronavirus variant.

The minister said travelers from Britain would also have to be tested, but he did not say if the measures were being introduced immediately.

At the same time, Italy is lifting curbs on travelers from the United States, Canada, Japan and other European Union states if they had a COVID-19 green pass, the minister wrote on Facebook.

A ban on people arriving from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would remain in place, he added.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday signed a decree to create "green pass," a digital proof that the holder is not infected by the coronavirus.

The system, which became operational just hours after Draghi signed the decree, produces a unique QR code a holder can have on their smartphone to prove they have been vaccinated, that they are immune to the virus after an infection in the last six months, or that they have recently tested negative for the coronavirus. For those who do not have a smartphone, the certificate can also be printed out. The system is only open to Italian residents.

The European Union (EU) is set to produce its own version of the "green pass" starting on July 1. Those certified in Italy will automatically qualify for the EU version of the pass when that system becomes operational.

Russia

The Kremlin on Friday blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to have vaccinations and "nihilism" after a record 9,056 new infections in Moscow, mostly with the new Delta variant, fanned fears of a third wave.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a mass inoculation campaign had clearly not been as effective as desired and said that Putin was closely monitoring the situation.

As of June 2, the most recent tally available, only 18 million Russians had received at least one dose of vaccine: at one-eighth of the population, that is far less than in most Western countries.

Peskov defended the idea of limiting access to certain areas according to a person's COVID-19 and vaccination record to create "coronavirus-free zones".

"The worst segregation of Russians is that between those on ventilators in intensive care and those who are not," he said. "That's the segregation we must do everything possible to avoid."

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said he was extending restrictions that he had imposed earlier such as bans on public events with more than 1,000 people, shutting cafes and restaurants at night, and closing soccer fan zones set up for the European Championship.

Nationwide, Russia on Friday reported 17,262 new cases, pushing the national infection tally to 5,281,309.

The government coronavirus task force confirmed 453 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours nationwide, taking the toll to 128,445.

US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States delivered one million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Canada on Thursday.

"Today, as part of the US commitment to help contain the virus, we delivered one million vaccine doses to our friend, ally, and neighbor", Blinken said on Twitter.

Canada said earlier that it expected to receive around one million Moderna Inc shots from the United States on Thursday.

The US will invest US$3.2 billion into developing antiviral medicines to combat COVID-19 and other viruses with pandemic potential, the Health and Human Services Department said Thursday.

The US recorded 2.05 million vaccinations on Thursday, the highest since May 22 according to data collected by the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day average, now at 1.33 million doses, has been rising since a trough the first week in June but remains far below a peak of more than 3 million in mid-April.

A total of 315 million doses have been given so far. About 65 percent of adults have gotten at least one dose as the country edges toward President Joe Biden’s 70 percent target by July 4.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has reversed a mandate that required fully vaccinated workers to wear face coverings while on the job. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order following the decision to allow the change to take effect without the normal 10-day review period by the Office of Administrative Law.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 5,137,374 as of Friday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll stood at136,406 while the total number of recoveries reached 4,572,671, it said.

African countries have acquired around 59.9 million COVID-19 vaccines so far, the Africa CDC said Thursday.

It added around 0.79 percent of Africa's population have received a full vaccine regimen.

Five countries, namely Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa have acquired and administered the most doses of COVID-19 vaccines to their respective populations.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Thursday announced stringent measures to help curb the spread of coronavirus in 13 counties located in the western parts of the country that have been designated as the new virus hotspots.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Health said that among the revised measures to halt the spread of the virus in the 13 counties includes extended night curfew, ban on public gatherings and in-person worship.

"Except for essential and emergency services, movement between the hotspot zones and the rest of the country is strongly discouraged," Kagwe said in a statement released in Nairobi. Night curfews in the 13 counties that currently account for 60 percent of the national COVID-19 caseload will be observed from 7:00 pm to 4:00 am local time effective Friday.

Kagwe said that proximity to the Ugandan border could be fuelling the infections in Western Kenyan counties adding that all cross-border cargo drivers will be required to possess a valid certificate indicating a negative COVID-19 test. Bulk cargo trucks will be occupied by only two persons while non-food and livestock open-air markets in the hotspot zone had been suspended for 30 days.

UK

Britain has reported 33,630 new cases of the Delta variant in the latest week, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 75,953, Public Health England said on Friday.

The Delta variant now comprises 91 percent of sequenced cases, Public Health England said, adding that vaccines were still effective at providing protection against risk of hospitalization.

On Thursday, Britain recorded the most coronavirus cases in a day since mid-February, amid warnings the current wave of infections driven by the highly transmissible delta variant may still be weeks from peaking.

More than 11,000 new cases of the disease were reported on Thursday, along with 19 deaths, according to the Department Health. 

A study by Public Health England showed infection rates increasing across all age groups, but are highest among people aged 20 to 29. Separately, the government said eight in 10 adults have now had their first vaccine dose.

The data illustrates how the delta variant, first identified in India, upended the government’s plan to lift remaining pandemic restrictions this month. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-week delay on Monday to allow more adults to receive a second dose of the vaccine, which data show significantly increases protection against the new strain.

“It is important to take up the offer of the vaccine to protect yourself and others,” PHE Medical Director Yvonne Doyle said in an emailed statement. “Case rates have increased across all age groups and regions around England, and we are seeing further increases in hospitalizations.”

Gambia

The Gambian government has authorized the use of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in the country following its approval by the World Health Organization (WHO), the country's health ministry announced on Thursday.

"The public is hereby informed that the Medicine Control Agency of The Gambia has given authorization for the use of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine following World Health Organization's approval of the vaccine under the Emergency Use Listing (EUL), giving the green light for the vaccine to be rolled out globally," Gambian Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The ministry also informed the public of its plan to roll out the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine starting July 5.

"For one to be fully protected with the vaccine, individuals need to receive two doses with an interval of 3 to 4 weeks. The vaccine will be rolled out in the country, first starting in West Coast and Greater Banjul Area," said the ministry.

ALSO READ: WHO: Urgent action needed as third virus wave sweeps Africa

Colombia

Protest-wracked Colombia may soon surpass 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 as the government tries to balance protecting its citizens from the pandemic with reopening large swathes of the economy so that they can work and earn money for food.

A slow vaccination rollout and social upheaval have meant that infections and mortality in Colombia continue to rise. In the past five days, the country of 50 million has marked records in daily deaths, registering as many as 599 fatalities on Tuesday alone. At the current rate, Colombia will hit 100,000 deaths as soon as Sunday.

READ MORE: WHO: New virus variant of interest identified in 29 countries

Portugal

The Portuguese government will limit travel to and from the greater Lisbon area during the weekend following an increase in cases in the region.

The restrictions on movement will apply from 3 p.m. on Friday, with exceptions including international travel, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said on Thursday. “Apparently there is a greater prevalence of the delta variant” in the region, the minister said.

Colombia 

Colombia reported 596 new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 98,156, the country's ministry of health and social protection said Thursday.

The ministry said 29,945 new infections were reported, bringing the national tally to 3,859,824.

So far, a total of 13,721,838 doses of vaccines have been administered in the South American country, with 4,155,151 people having been fully inoculated.

Spain

Spain will lift a blanket obligation to wear masks outdoors from June 26, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday.

He said the cabinet will meet on June 24 to approve the end of the obligation to wear masks from June 26.

Spain's total number of deaths hit 492,930 in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, up by 74,277, or 17.7 percent, from 2019, according to data published Thursday by the country's National Statistics Institute.

In terms of months, the highest increases coincided with the first and second waves of the pandemic, reaching 56.8 percent in March and 78.2 percent in April as the first wave hit Spain, and 21 percent in October and 21.6 percent in November during the second wave, data showed.

All 17 autonomous communities of Spain saw more deaths in the past year, with Madrid registering the highest increase of 41.2 percent. Madrid's Regional President Isabel Diaz Ayuso has been against strict lockdown measures.

Cuba

Cuba registered on Thursday 1,418 new COVID-19 infections and five more deaths in the last 24 hours, for a total of 163,415 cases and 1,123 deaths, according to the Public Health Ministry.

In the daily report, the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran urged people to comply with health measures, given the high level of virus transmission on the island.

Havana maintained a declining trend in terms of the number of cases, recording 372 in the last day, and the incidence rate, which decreased to 287.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Ethiopia 

Ethiopia registered 174 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 274,775 as of Thursday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said two new deaths and 744 more recoveries were reported, bringing the national counts to 4,262 and 253,195 respectively.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous nation, has so far reported the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the East African region.

Chile 

Chile on Thursday reported 6,683 new COVID-19 cases and 218 more deaths in 24 hours, raising the national counts to 1,498,231 and 31,140 respectively, said the Health Ministry.

The ministry said that of the new cases, 71 percent had not completed their vaccination against COVID-19, while only 29 percent had received both doses at least 14 days ago.

Brazil 

Brazil registered 2,311 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 496,004, the health ministry said Thursday.

A total of 74,042 new infections were detected, raising the total caseload to 17,702,630, the ministry said.

Brazil has the world's second highest COVID-19 death toll, after the United States, and the third largest caseload, following the United States and India.