WHO’s chief scientist warns pandemic is not slowing down

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS / ADDIS ABABA / OTTAWA / TUNIS / TRIPOLI / SANTIAGO / RIO DE JANEIRO / BERLIN / LONDON / BRUSSELS / BUDAPEST / HARARE / BUENOS AIRES / HAVANA / JOHANNESBURG / ATHENS / RABAT / LISBON / MADRID / PARIS / QUITO / MOSCOW / AMSTERDAM / VENICE / ABUJA / LUSAKA – Coronavirus infections are rising across most regions of the world as the delta variant spreads, clear evidence that the pandemic isn’t on the wane, said the World Health Organization’s chief scientist.

While vaccination levels in some countries are reducing severe cases and hospitalizations, large parts of the world face oxygen shortages, a lack of hospital beds and higher mortality, said the WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

“In the last 24 hours, close to 500,000 new cases have been reported and about 9,300 deaths – now that’s not a pandemic that’s slowing down,” Swaminathan said.

Cases are rising in five of six WHO regions, and mortality rates in Africa have jumped by 30 percent to 40 percent in two weeks, said Swaminathan. The main reason for the increases are the fast-spreading delta variant, slow vaccination rollouts globally and the relaxation of safety measures like mask mandates and physical distancing rules.

The WHO this week urged governments to be careful when reopening so as not to put at risk the gains made. In England, remaining legal restrictions are set to be removed on July 19, and measures like wearing masks will become a personal choice. The US and much of Europe have also loosened curbs as cases dropped.

“The idea that everyone is protected and it’s kumbaya and everything goes back to normal is a very dangerous assumption right now anywhere in the world,” Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in a media briefing on Wednesday.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 185.69 million while the global death toll topped 4.01 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: UK to track virus variants with genomic sequencing across world

South Africa

The mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub and largest city, has died after contracting the coronavirus.

Geoff Makhubo took office in December 2019 after the ruling party wrested control of the city from an opposition coalition. He was hospitalized after becoming infected with COVID-19 and he succumbed to the disease on Friday, the city said in a statement. Eunice Mgcina was named the acting mayor.

South Africa plans to start vaccinating people aged between 35 and 49 years old against COVID-19 from Aug 1, the country's acting health minister said on Friday.

Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane added at a news conference that indications were that the number of COVID-19 cases in the most populous province, Gauteng, was peaking. Gauteng has been responsible for the lion's share of infections during a severe "third wave".

South Africa aims to do at least 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day by the end of August, senior health official Nicholas Crisp said on the same day.

He added that the country had around 3.6 million vaccine doses in stock, enough for around 18 days of vaccinations.

Tunisia

The Tunisian government on Thursday approved a bill on the imposition of a state of health emergency amid a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.

The state of health emergency allows the government to have broader powers to control the health situation and take exceptional measures to limit the spread of the pandemic to protect the lives of citizens.

Under the state of health emergency, the government can impose partial or general lockdown, monitor and limit the movement of the infected and suspected people, close shops to the public, and prevent public gatherings, activities and demonstrations of all kinds. 

The health ministry on Thursday reported 8,315 new COVID-19 cases and another 126 deaths, bringing the tally to 473,229 and the toll to 15,861.

So far, 2,052,484 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 608,332 have gotten both doses, according to the latest figures published by the ministry.

Libya

The Libyan government on Thursday announced closing its border with neighboring Tunisia due to concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Due to the deteriorating pandemic situation in Tunisia, which is seeing a rise in infections amid the spread of the Delta variant, the Libyan government decided to close the air and land borders with Tunisia for a week starting from 00:00 local time Friday (2200 GMT Thursday), said the government's spokesman Mohamed Hamuda.

Through the consulate in Tunisia, Libya will take care of its nationals stranded in the Tunisian territory and facilitate their return to the homeland, he said.

The spokesman also said that schools and universities in Libya have closed temporarily until the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which is expected to start on July 20.

Libya has witnessed a significant increase in COVID-19 infections over the past few days. 

On Thursday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Libya rose by 1,384 to 199,526, including 180,204 recoveries and 3,227 deaths. 

A boy is given a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 at the Teleton Institute, a clinic that specializes in treating chronically ill children in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced that residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would enjoy greater freedom starting on July 15, following a decline in infections and progress in immunization numbers.

"We have had more than 30 days of continuous health improvements that have allowed us to reduce by 60 percent the number of daily infections," the president said Thursday. "Hospitalizations have also decreased and, to a lesser extent, deaths."

As of Wednesday, more than 11 million people were fully vaccinated, while over 13 million had received their first jab.

Pinera said that holders of a mobility pass, which certifies full vaccination against COVID-19, would be allowed to participate in activities with greater capacity.

Individual regions will be allowed to shorten the nationwide curfew as long as at least 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and the rate of active cases is less than 150.

Meanwhile, nurseries, kindergartens and schools are permitted to open on a voluntary basis, including in neighborhoods under lockdown.

Chile recorded on Thursday 3,193 new COVID-19 infections and 186 additional deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the cumulative total to 1,579,591 cases with 33,514 deaths.

ALSO READ: UN: COVID-19 rolled back progress against global poverty

Brazil

Brazil registered 1,639 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 530,179, the health ministry said Thursday.

A total of 53,725 new infections were detected, raising the total caseload to 18,962,762, the ministry said.

So far, more than 109.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered nationwide, and over 28.7 million people have been fully vaccinated, it added. 

Brazil registered the highest number of deaths and lowest number of births in the first six months of the year since comparable data was first compiled in 2003, the national association of notary offices said on Thursday.

A survey by the National Association of Registrars (Arpen-Brasil) showed that registry offices in Brazil recorded 956,534 deaths from January to June, 67 percent above the historical average and 37 percent up on the first half of last year.

Notary offices also registered 1,325,394 live births in the first six months of the year, the lowest for any January-June period since the data series began in 2003, Arpen-Brasil said.

That was 10 percent lower than the historical average, only 0.09 percent down from last year but 8.6 percent lower than 2019, before the pandemic, it said.

Malta

Malta will ban all visitors from entering the country as from Wednesday unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Friday.

Negative tests for the virus will no longer be sufficient to gain access to the small Mediterranean island.

“We will be the first EU country to do so, but we need to protect our society,” Fearne told a news conference.

Germany

Germany has declared all of Spain a coronavirus risk area, the foreign ministry said on Friday, which means that tourists and returning Germans need to present a negative test to avoid quarantine.

The COVID-19 infection rate in Spain has more than doubled in a week as the Delta variant tears through unvaccinated younger adults. Germany has previously designated only a few regions in Spain as risk areas.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 949 to 3,734,468, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday. 

The reported death toll rose by 49 to 91,190, the tally showed.

Pharmacies in Germany would start issuing digital certificate to people who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Friday, the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA) announced on Thursday.

Since June 14, German pharmacies, physicians, and vaccination sites have been allowed to issue a digital vaccination passport for fully vaccinated people in accordance with the EU Digital COVID Certificate launched on July 1.

Belgium

The coronavirus reproduction rate in Belgium stood above one while the infection kept increasing, according to data released by the Health Institute Sciensano on Thursday.

Between June 28 and July 4, some 572 people were infected with coronavirus on average per day, an increase of roughly 70 percent from the previous week.

Meanwhile, the country's reproduction rate of the virus stood at 1.1, which means the spread of the virus was gathering pace. 

However, the number of patients in the intensive care units in Belgium is down to 100 for the first time since September last year.

Belgium has recorded a total of 1,091,095 cases of infection and 25,196 deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So far, 7.4 million people, or 79.8 percent of adults in the country, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Hammanskraal, South Africa, July 6, 2021. (ALET PRETORIUS / AP)

Africa

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday announced the signing of an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose vaccine for all 55 member states of the African Union (AU) by the end of 2022.

Some 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of 2021, said UNICEF in a press release.

The agreement between UNICEF and Janssen will help implement the Advance Purchase Commitment signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen in March 2021. That agreement secured an option to order another 180 million doses, bringing the maximum access up to a total of 400 million doses by the end of 2022, said UNICEF.

Some 52 African countries have acquired about 70.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said separately on Thursday.

Around 1.19 percent of Africa's population have received a full vaccine regimen, the Africa CDC said. Some 53.3 million of the total 70.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, it said.

As of Thursday, Africa has reported a total of 5,779,806 confirmed cases, 148,736 deaths and 5,013,245 recoveries, according to the agency.

Hungary

Hungary has already administered at least the first coronavirus jab to more than 5.5 million of its 10 million population, but has lost 30,000 people to COVID-19, according to the government's coronavirus information website on Thursday.

The country registered 55 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour span, raising the tally to 808,393, according to official data.

The toll rose by five to 30,004.

United States

US COVID-19 cases are up around 11 percent over the previous week, almost entirely among people who have not been vaccinated, officials said on Thursday, as the highly infectious Delta variant becomes the dominant COVID-19 strain in the country.

Around 93 percent of COVID-19 cases in recent days have occurred in counties with vaccination rates of less than 40 percent, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing.

Preliminary data from recent months suggest 99.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in unvaccinated people, she added.

Cases of COVID-19 are surging in counties representing 9 million people, Walensky said.

Walensky added that the United States is seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 at summer camps and other community events.

Also, a US donation of more than 1.4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Afghanistan on Friday, the first of two shipments this month, the UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement.

A second shipment of vaccines donated by the United States through the COVAX global sharing program will bring the total to 3.3 million doses, UNICEF said. The US vaccine donations come as US military forces withdraw from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war in the country.

The United States on Friday will also send 1.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Nepal and 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Bhutan, a White House official said.

Portugal

Portugal said a nighttime curfew will apply to more municipalities as the government tries to contain an increase in infections.

The limit to movement in public spaces between 11 pm and 5 am in regions including Lisbon will now be imposed in 60 municipalities, up from 45 municipalities previously, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said. 

Existing limits on weekend opening hours of restaurants and non-food stores will also apply to more municipalities, and remote working remains mandatory in those locations.

The limit to movement in public spaces between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. in regions including Lisbon will now be imposed in 60 municipalities, up from 45 municipalities previously, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said. Existing limits on weekend opening hours of restaurants and non-food stores will also apply to more municipalities, and remote working remains mandatory in those locations.

Mexico

Mexico's COVID-19 cases rose by 9,452 to reach almost 2.6 million, the biggest daily increase in almost five months, according to government data. 

For a third day in a row, the country’s cases have jumped the most since February. 

Deaths rose 266 to reach 234,458.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that the third COVID-19 outbreak in the country was mainly concentrated in the young population, but with a low death rate.

Ecuador

Ecuador registered 849 new COVID-19 infections and 38 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the tall to 465,878 and the toll to 16,071, the Ministry of Public Health said on Thursday.

The province of Pichincha led the nation in new cases in the last day with 323 fresh infections, of which 301 were posted in the capital Quito.

As of Tuesday, a total of 4,794,852 vaccine doses had been administered in the South American country, according to the ministry.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe received 2 million COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac on Thursday, its single largest shipment that it hopes will boost a vaccination campaign that had been slowed by shortages while infections and deaths rise.

The southern African nation imposed a dusk to dawn curfew and curbed the movement of people on June 29 in a bid to contain infections, which have since increased by 24 percent to 60,227.

Thursday's delivery took Zimbabwe's total number of vaccines from purchases and donations to 4.2 million, after another consignment of 500,000 doses arrived from China last week.

John Mangwiro, deputy minister of health, said the vaccines that arrived last week had already been used.

He said by the end of July, Zimbabwe would have received another 3.5 million doses. Zimbabwe plans to purchase 1.5 million vaccines monthly from August.

Argentina

Argentina on Thursday announced it will sign a COVID-19 vaccine supply agreement with Moderna, as the country attempts to speed up the inoculation of its population and sidestep a possible third wave of the coronavirus.

Cabinet chief Santiago Cafiero told Argentina's Congress that a deal would be signed with US-based Moderna on Monday, but did not detail the number of doses being bought or the agreed delivery dates.

Argentina has vaccinated 23.7 million of its 45 million inhabitants with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 4.9 million people have received two.

As of Wednesday, Argentina had registered 4.6 million cases of COVID-19 and 97,000 related deaths. The country is at present seeing a decline in cases after a precipitous second wave that triggered fresh lockdowns.

Cuba

Cuba said on Thursday its two-shot Soberana 2 vaccine, delivered with a booster called Soberana Plus, had proven 91.2 percent effective in late stage clinical trials against the coronavirus, following similar news about its Abdala vaccine.

The announcement came from state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma, which oversees the Finlay Institute, the maker of Soberana 2, and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the producer of Abdala. Last month, Abdala was found to have a 92.28 percent efficacy.

The Cuban efficacy claims have not been peer reviewed.

The announcement came on the same day the country reported its worst daily indicators of the COVID-19 pandemic, posting 3,819 cases and 26 deaths in the last day to take the cumulative total to 218,396 cases and 1,431 deaths.

Director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Public Health Ministry Francisco Duran reported that 21,091 people were hospitalized, the highest figure so far.

Of the new cases, 3,775 were spread through community transmission, also the highest daily figure, according to Duran.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement at the Calgary Transit Oliver Bowen Maintenance Facility in Calgary, Alberta, July 7, 2021. (JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Canada

Foreign tourists who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada for quite some time because the government is unwilling to jeopardize progress made on containing the virus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

Canada, as of this week, has waived quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated citizens. But non-essential foreign travelers are still not allowed to enter despite pressure from the country's hurting tourism sector.

More than 26 million people, or 78 percent of those eligible, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines and 15 million people, or 44 percent of those ages 12 and older, are fully vaccinated, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday.

Nationally and in most health regions in the country, COVID-19 disease activity is at low levels. Total active cases and average daily cases are about 95 percent lower than the peak of the third wave, with less than 500 new cases being reported daily.

As of Thursday afternoon, Canada reported a cumulative total of 1,419,114 COVID-19 cases, including 26,404 deaths, according to CTV.  

Portugal

Scrambling to bring under control a worrying COVID-19 surge, tourism-dependent Portugal imposed stricter rules on Thursday, requiring holidaymakers to show a negative test, a vaccination certificate or proof of recovery to stay in hotels.

Nearly 90 percent of cases are of the more infectious Delta variant and, as it quickly spreads, the country is left in a tight spot, finding it tough to salvage the usually busy summer season.

Negative tests, vaccination certificates or proof of recovery will also be required to eat indoors at restaurants in 60 high-risk municipalities, including Lisbon and the city of Porto, on Friday evenings and at the weekend.

Holidaymakers and restaurant customers must use the EU digital COVID-19 certificate. Rapid antigen and PCR tests will also be valid, the minister said. Fast tests can be provided by hotels at check-in.

The new rules, which also apply to other holiday accommodation like Airbnbs, come into force on Saturday. Children under 12 accompanied by a parent or guardian are exempt.

Meanwhile, a 11 pm-5 am curfew, already in place 45 municipalities, will be extended to a further 15 municipalities, including Faro, the main city in the popular southern Algarve.

UK

Britain plans to scrap quarantine for fully-vaccinated arrivals from other countries in the coming weeks, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Friday, a day after announcing a rule change for those in Britain who had had both shots.

"We want to be able open that up for people. We're actively working on it," Shapps told Sky News. "In the next couple of weeks I'll be able to come forward and say more about other locations in the world."

He announced on Thursday that fully vaccinated British residents arriving in England from medium risk amber countries would no longer have to self-isolate on arrival.

Shapps said the process of recognizing vaccination status would focus on countries administering WHO-approved vaccines, and said the process was complex because each country has different certification systems.

Britain on Thursday reported 32,551 new COVID-19 cases and 35 more deaths, bringing the tally to 5,022,893 and the toll to 128,336, according to the latest official data.

The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England is estimated to have risen to 1 in 160 people in the week to July 3, Britain's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday, as cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant continue to increase.

The previous week, there was an estimated prevalence of 1 in 260 people infected with the coronavirus.

Greece

Greece will announce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for workers and staff in some specific sectors such as healthcare, the government said on Thursday after a recent spike in infections.

Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said announcements should be expected next week. It was not yet clear if other groups outside healthcare and elderly care sectors would be included.

"We're seeing a resurgence of the pandemic," said Vana Papaevangelou, a member of a health experts committee advising the government. "The average age (of infected people) has fallen to 23 years, 10 years' younger in a span of just two weeks."

However, Papaevangelou was hopeful that the new wave will not lead to increased hospital admissions thanks to progress in vaccinations.

Papaevangelou urged younger people to get the shot before setting off for their summer vacations, and to get tested frequently.

Greece reported 2,107 daily coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number to 433,021, with 12,773 deaths.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Thursday 1,336 new COVID-19 cases, taking the caseload in the North African country to 538,589.

The total number of recoveries increased by 706 to 522,377 while the toll rose by five to 9,346.

A total of 10,317,807 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 9,213,535 have gotten both doses.

Spain

Spain is a safe destination for tourists even though COVID-19 cases are rising, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said on Friday, citing its vaccination program and the number of hospitalized patients being kept under control.

"Governments must not raise alarms," she said in an interview with RNE radio station. "We cannot measure the epidemiological situation only based on cumulated incidence," she said.

Maroto's comments come after French Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune advised French people on Thursday to avoid Spain and Portugal for their summer holidays.

But Spain’s Canary Islands have joined the Mediterranean region of Valencia in petitioning the central government to bring back a mandatory night curfew to counter soaring COVID-19 infections among unvaccinated youngsters.

Nationwide, cases had been dwindling over recent months but began to surge from the middle of June, propelled by the more contagious Delta variant and more socializing among younger groups.

However, even though hospital admissions have begun to edge up, they remain far below levels seen earlier this year, while national intensive care occupancy stands at less than 7 percent.

Daily deaths have been steadily declining since April as the most vulnerable groups, such as elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions, have been vaccinated.

People sunbathe on a beach in Barcelona, Spain, June 8, 2021. (EMILIO MORENATTI / AP)

Since a national state of emergency expired in May, regional authorities have been in charge of their COVID-19 response but they need court authorisation or a government decree for the strictest measures like lockdowns, travel bans and curfews.

The Canaries’ regional government said late on Thursday it would ask its Supreme Court to authorize a curfew between 12:30 and 6 am on tourist magnet Tenerife, which has the highest coronavirus incidence among the islands.

Defending the measure, regional leader Angel Victor Torres told Cadena Ser radio on Friday it would help avoid crowds of youngsters building up at nighttime, particularly over the weekends.

“Pressure on hospitals is starting to grow. In Tenerife, ICU occupation is at around 15 percent and young people are being admitted to intensive care,” he said.

Valencia, which is home to the popular resort of Benidorm, and the central region of Castilla and Leon, had already asked the central government for curfews but Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Wednesday that they were “not on the table.”

The Netherlands

The Dutch government is expected to reimpose restrictions on dance clubs, music festivals and restaurants on Friday in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections among young adults, local media reported.

The Netherlands lifted most lockdown measures on June 26, as cases were falling and around two-thirds of the population has received at least one vaccination shot.

But, with bars, restaurants and nightclubs open again, new cases have risen at the fastest pace in months, with more than 5,400 cases reported over the 24-hours through Thursday. That compared to fewer than 1,000 a week earlier.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to announce the decision at a news conference at 1800 GMT Friday, news agency ANP reported.

The country is not expected to return to a widespread lockdown, but is widely expected to take targeted measures to limit the spread of infections among teenagers and young adults.

France

The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 will probably account for most new coronavirus cases in France from this weekend, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Friday.

Veran, who has said a fourth wave of infections could hit France as early as end-July and is urging as many French people as possible to get vaccinated, told France Inter radio the Delta variant now represents nearly 50 percent of new COVID-19 infections.

Senior ministers will meet on Monday to discuss the threat of a fourth wave and the government has said it is considering all possible scenarios, including possible compulsory vaccination for health workers.

Meanwhile, the government attempted to calm fears about holidaying in Spain and Portugal, backtracking on a minister’s warning on Thursday about the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

“Citizens who have booked holidays in Spain, Portugal or elsewhere shouldn’t panic,” Veran said. He insisted that travel to those countries is possible for those with a “health pass,” the European Union’s system to certify holders have been inoculated against the coronavirus, recovered from the illness or tested negative.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 116 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 276,799 as of Thursday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

Three more deaths and 68 new recoveries were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,341 and the total number of recoveries to 261,817, the ministry said.

The country currently has 10,639 active COVID-19 cases, and 123 are in severe health conditions, it said.

The total number of vaccinations in the country has reached 2,055,126, the ministry said on Twitter.

Russia

Russia reported 25,766 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan 2, as authorities struggled to suppress a surge in infections blamed on the more contagious Delta variant.

Officials have been trying to encourage or compel Russians to get vaccinated since infections began rising steeply last month. Demand for vaccination had been tepid, but authorities say it has now picked up significantly.

“Ideally, given vaccination is the only way to effectively fight the pandemic, we’d like everyone to be vaccinated one way or another,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “But in reality, this result is hard to achieve.”

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said almost 30 million people had received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Russia’s coronavirus task force said 726 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, close to a record daily rise. That pushed the national death toll to 141,501, it said.

The federal statistics agency has, however, kept a separate count and has said that Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.

Russia has confirmed 5,733,218 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began 18 months ago.

The gap between the two shots of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine can be extended up to 180 days and it will remain effective, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said on Friday.

An official at the RDIF, which markets the vaccine abroad, made the comments in a statement after some countries decided to widen the gap between the first and second doses of the vaccine developed in Russia.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said in April that the gap between the shots could be increased to 90 days.

The RDIF official quoted Gamaleya trials as showing longer gaps had secured a better immune response, but provided no further details of the trials. The official issued the statement after a Reuters request for comment, and denied it was related in any way to Russian deliveries of Sputnik V.

Uganda

Uganda will spend 4 trillion shillings (US$1.1 billion) to battle the coronavirus pandemic in a three-year plan that involves vaccinating 22 million people before fully reopening the economy.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja on Thursday launched the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds to vulnerable citizens as the country remained under a lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Nabbanja told reporters that the money would be sent to beneficiaries through mobile money services and each individual was expected to receive about US$30.

As of Thursday, Uganda had registered 85,581 infections, along with 58,686 recoveries and 2,033 deaths. Some 1,027,036 people have been vaccinated so far.

A pharmacist reconstitutes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as she fills syringes with the vaccine for the incoming public at the UMass Memorial Health Care COVID-19 Vaccination Center in the Mercantile Center in Worcester, Massachusetts on April 22, 2021. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP)

Pfizer and BioNTech

Pfizer and partner BioNTech plan to ask US and European regulators within weeks to authorize a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, based on evidence of greater risk of infection six months after inoculation and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, however, in a joint statement that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster COVID-19 shot at this time.

Some scientists have also questioned the need for booster shots. The European Medicines Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pfizer's chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said the recently reported dip in the vaccine's effectiveness in Israel was mostly due to infections in people who had been vaccinated in January or February. The country's health ministry said vaccine effectiveness in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease fell to 64 percent in June.

"The Pfizer vaccine is highly active against the Delta variant," Dolsten said in an interview. But after six months, he said, "there likely is the risk of reinfection as antibodies, as predicted, wane." Data would be submitted to the FDA within the next month, he added.

Pfizer did not release the full set of Israeli data on Thursday, but said it would be published soon.

"It's a small data set, but I think the trend is accurate: Six months out, given that Delta is the most contagious variant we have seen, it can cause infections and mild disease," Dolsten said.

The FDA and CDC, in their joint statement, said: "We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed."

G20

Finance ministers of the world's 20 largest economies are set to urge faster distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests across the world, but are not making new firm commitments, according to the latest version of a joint communique.

The document, seen by Reuters, is set to be released on Saturday without changes at the end of a two-day G20 meeting which is under way in Venice, two officials familiar with the talks said.

Ministers remain determined to bring the pandemic under control "everywhere as soon as possible", the document says. But it does not make any new firm commitment on donations of vaccines and financial support to COVAX, a programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI alliance for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs, tests and medical tools.

European Union

Europe's drug regulator has found a possible link between rare heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and advised people with a history of a rare blood disorder to avoid getting J&J's coronavirus shot.

Heart conditions myocarditis and pericarditis must be listed as possible side effects of the two mRNA vaccines, the safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday.

Such cases primarily occurred within 14 days from vaccination, more often after the second dose and in younger adult men, the EMA said. This is in line with findings from US health officials last month.

The EMA panel also recommended that people who have a history of capillary leak syndrome (CLS) must not be vaccinated with J&J's single-shot vaccine. The watchdog in June asked CLS to be added as a side effect from AstraZeneca's shot.

Both AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines use different versions of a cold virus to deliver instructions for making coronavirus proteins to produce an immune response.

Nigeria

Nigerian health authorities have said a case of the deadly SARS-COV-2, known as the Delta variant, was confirmed among 146 new cases of COVID-19 detected in the country Thursday.

In a statement reaching Xinhua Friday, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), said the variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, was detected in a traveler to Nigeria.

"The variant was detected in a traveler to Nigeria, following the routine travel test required of all international travelers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja," the statement said, without details on the identity of the case or when the traveler arrived in the country.

The NCDC, however, said there's no cause for alarm following the development, as proven public health and social measures such as physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and proper use of face masks can prevent infections and save lives.

Zambia

Health authorities in Zambia have closed 45 premises for flouting COVID-19 preventive guidelines, an official said on Friday.

Kennedy Malama, Permanent Secretary in charge of Technical Services in the Ministry of Health said the premises were out of 648 premises inspected throughout the country as part of enforcement of the preventive guidelines in the last 24 hours.

He said the inspected premises included nightclubs, casinos and bars.

He said authorities have continued ramping up preventive interventions in the communities coupled with the vaccination program.

Zambia's cumulative cases stands at 172,405 following 1,949 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours. The cases were picked from 8,473 tests done while 2,673 patients were discharged in the past 24 hours bringing the total recoveries to 154,776.

The country recorded 64 new COVID-19 related deaths bringing the death toll to 2,736.