A box of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines is opened after delivery to the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, Jan 6, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
MOSCOW/ NEW YORK / LONDON / SANTIAGO / TRIPOLI / LUSAKA / ROME / BRUSSELS / SAO PAOLO / BUENOS AIRES – The European Union extended its power to stop COVID-19 vaccine exports to the rest of the world, setting the stage for an escalation of tensions with allies and manufacturers as it faces a resurgence of cases.
In strengthening its existing export rules, the bloc will demand that countries that received doses from the EU also allow shots to be sent back. It will also consider a nation’s vaccination rate and pandemic situation when deciding whether to green light shipments. The mechanism won’t be automatic, but will be used on a case-by-case basis.
The move coincides with the coronavirus situation in Europe getting bleaker as governments face pressure over why their citizens aren’t being vaccinated as quickly as those elsewhere. The EU is finding itself in disputes with drug makers and other countries faring better. The situation has also been fueled by a spat with the UK, its former member, over vaccine supplies to Britain.
“We have to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “The EU is the only major Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development producer that continues to export vaccines at large scale to dozens of countries, but open roads should run in both directions.”
When leaders hold a summit on Thursday, at which they’ll discuss the bloc’s latest powers, they will say the “situation remains serious” and that “restrictions, including non-essential travel, must therefore be upheld,” according to an EU document seen by Bloomberg.
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders is in touch with six European Union (EU) member states that have implemented travel bans to find an alternative as soon as possible, said a spokesperson on Tuesday.
The six states — Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, Denmark and Sweden — have imposed travel bans as a COVID-19 containment measure, but this is contrary to the principle of free movement in the Schengen area embedded in EU law.
Hungary is the planet’s deadliest place for coronavirus right now — despite the government rolling out vaccines quicker than almost any other European Union state.
The country has registered 151.4 deaths per million people in the past seven days, the highest globally, data compiled by Bloomberg showed. At the same time, it trails only Malta within the EU for inoculation, offering five shots, including Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm, which the bloc’s regulators haven’t yet approved.
As frustrated citizens across the continent push back against repeated lockdown extensions in the run-up to Easter, Hungary’s predicament may offer a lesson: A rapid vaccination program can’t peg back the pandemic without harsh restrictions on daily life to accompany it.
Carcinogen found in hand sanitizers
Some widely available hand sanitizers that American consumers snapped up last year to ward off coronavirus infection contain high levels of a chemical known to cause cancer, a testing firm’s analysis found.
An assortment of hand cleaners that flooded into the market after mainstays disappeared from retail outlets contain high levels of benzene, according to Valisure, a New Haven, Connecticut-based online pharmacy that tests products for quality and consistency.
Benzene causes cancer, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm puts it in the highest risk category, on par with asbestos.
Valisure analyzed 260 bottles from 168 brands and found 17 percent of the samples contained detectable levels of benzene. Twenty-one bottles, or 8 percent, contained benzene above two parts per million, a temporary limit the FDA set for liquid hand sanitizers to ease the supply squeeze.
Germany has significantly more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units as a third wave of the disease takes hold than when the second wave hit, said the head of the country’s intensive- and emergency-care association.
“We are starting from a very high level,” Gernot Marx, president of Germany’s DIVI group, said in an interview with DLF radio. “This is a matter of great concern to us,” he said, adding that he hoped Germany’s decision to enter a hard lockdown over Easter will prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed.
There are 3,159 COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Germany, the highest in more than a month and pushing the occupancy rate to over 85 percent, according to DIVI’s latest estimate published Tuesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called an unexpected meeting with leaders of the federal states for Wednesday morning to discuss the coronavirus pandemic after they agreed early on Tuesday to extend the lockdown, government sources said.
The meeting comes as COVID-19 infections have been rising fast in a third wave of the pandemic in Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has got vaccinated against the COVID-19 with a vaccine and is feeling well, RIA said on Tuesday citing the Kremlin, as authorities seek to encourage more Russians to take the shot.
Putin is feeling well after the shot and he will have a full working day on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
He said the Kremlin will not disclose which of the vaccines, namely Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac, Putin had received, adding that all of them are "safe and effective."
Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 124 million while the global death toll topped 2.73 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Pfizer Inc. said it has begun human safety testing of a new pill to treat the coronavirus that could be used at the first sign of illness.
If it succeeds in trials, the pill could be prescribed early on in an infection to block viral replication before patients get very sick. The drug binds to an enzyme called a protease to keep the virus from replicating. Protease-inhibiting medicines have been successful in treating other types of viruses, include HIV and Hepatitis C.
AstraZeneca will publish up-to-date results from its major US COVID-19 vaccine trial within 48 hours after health officials publicly criticized the drugmaker for using “outdated information” to show how well the immunization worked.
The rare public rebuke marks the latest setback for the vaccine once hailed as a milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that has since been dogged by questions over its effectiveness and possible side effects.
AstraZeneca said results it published on Monday in which the vaccine had demonstrated 79 percent efficacy were based on an interim analysis of data through Feb. 17, and it would now “immediately engage” with the independent panel monitoring the trial to share its full analysis.
The British-based drugmaker on Tuesday said it had reviewed the preliminary assessment of its full, or primary, analysis and found it to be consistent with the interim report.
A large plant being used to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was cleared by U.S. regulators on Tuesday, setting the stage for the weekly U.S. supply to surge more then 20 percent.
About 27 million COVID-19 vaccine doses will be allocated to U.S. states and other localities this week, including 4 million from J&J, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. That is the largest allocation yet, up from 22 million last week.
Earlier, the Indiana plant at which Catalent Inc is helping to manufacture the J&J vaccine received U.S. regulatory authorization, the companies said.
READ MORE: UK warns EU of reputation damage if it reneges on vaccines
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the recent rise in Covid-19 deaths and cases are “truly worrying trends.”
Speaking at a World Trade Organization virtual event, Tedros urged nations to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines as a “mid- to long-term solution” to help developing countries manufacture their own shots.
Children in the UK may be able to start getting vaccinated as early as August, the Telegraph reported, citing two unidentified sources involved in the plans. One source told the publication that August was the “earliest” possible start. The Telegraph depicted the government plans as provisional.
Another 5,379 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,307,304, according to official figures released Tuesday.
The country also reported another 112 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 126,284. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
More than 28.3 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
San Francisco will open offices, outdoor bars and indoor recreational facilities as it moves to California’s orange tier, the state’s second-least restrictive level.
New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tested positive on Tuesday for the coronavirus, according to a statement from his office. The Democrat said he was feeling under the weather and experiencing “extremely mild symptoms.”
ALSO READ: Manslaughter probes worsen vaccine turmoil in Italy
Poland will likely have to toughen COVID-19 restrictions again after reporting what early figures suggest will be a record number of new infections on Wednesday, the prime minister’s top aide Michal Dworczyk said.
The government ordered theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas to close last week after a rise in cases, driven by the variant of the coronavirus first spotted in Britain.
But there have been growing media reports that it will have to bring in more curbs ahead of the busy Easter holidays, usually marked by packed church services and family gatherings in the deeply Catholic country.
“We are waiting for the final data but all indications are that we will have over 29,000 new infections,” Dworczyk told private television broadcaster Polsat News.
The populous eastern Austrian region around Vienna is headed for a tighter lockdown over the Easter holiday, the Austria Press Agency reported after a meeting of the regional governments with Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.
The measures are due to be announced later, APA said. The more infectious and aggressive B.1.1.7 mutation of the virus has caused as many as 95% of the new infections in the region and is close to overwhelming intensive care units. For the whole nation, a planned lockdown easing was scrapped on Monday.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday stressed the importance of vaccination as the country's COVID-19 cases kept rising.
"Vaccination is a national priority," Macron told reporters during a visit to a vaccination center in Valenciennes, northern France.
The president said vaccination would be rolled out during public holidays and weekends.
A total of 14,678 new cases were recorded over the past 24 hours, bringing the total infections in country to more than 4.3 million. The death toll rose by 287 in one day to 92,908, data from the health authorities showed.
As of Tuesday evening, 26,756 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 infection in France, including 4,634 in intensive care, according to the health authorities.
Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido reaffirmed that the country will meet a goal to administer a vaccine dose to at least 80% of people over 80 by the end of March. “Naturally, if we had access to more vaccines we would have the possibility of vaccinating more people,” Temido told reporters.
The lockdown in the Netherlands, including a night-time curfew, will be extended until April 20, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague. The move comes after infections rose 16 percent last week compared with the week before, according to health agency RIVM.
The Dutch government did, however, decide to postpone the starting time of the curfew by an hour, looking to retain backing from the Dutch public for the long-lasting, stringent measures. An advisory to not travel abroad was extended until May 15.
Greece recorded 3,586 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. The country on Monday issued an order for private-sector doctors and specialists to work for the national health service in the capital Athens and its surrounding Attica region given current emergency conditions related to the third wave of the pandemic.
On Monday, the country eased certain lockdown measures and allowed hair salons and nail parlors to reopen.
Bulgaria reported a record high of 4,851 daily coronavirus cases, with numbers of patients hospitalized and in intensive care units also at their highest ever. The country has faced a spike in new infections, caused by the spread of the U.K. strain, as it prepares for a general election on April 4. It shut down shopping malls, big stores, schools, gyms and restaurants on Monday.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in North Macedonia exceeded 120,000 on Tuesday as the Health Ministry reported over 1,000 new cases in the last 24 hours.
According to the ministry, of the 3,728 COVID-19 tests conducted in the past day, 1,056 were positive, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 120,882.
Twenty-five COVID-19 patients lost their lives in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll in the country to 3,528. Meanwhile, the recoveries rose by 727 to 102,201.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on Tuesday stepped up preventive measures against COVID-19 amid rising cases and deaths.
The Federation of BiH (FBiH), one of the country's two entities, declared a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew starting at midnight on Wednesday, the Government of the FBiH said. Republika Srpska (RS), the other entity, has entered the lockdown since Sunday.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH reported 1,719 new COVID-19 cases and 67 deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the country's totals to 156,346 and 6,005 respectively.
High-level officials at Cyprus' Presidential Palace were under self-quarantine after the director of the President's press office developed COVID-19 symptoms, government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said on Tuesday.
He told CyBC state radio that Victor Papadopoulos, director of the press office of the President, was confirmed to be positive for COVID-19 after he took a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test following manifested symptoms.
Following this development, Koushos himself and deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas who had been in close contact with Papadopoulos, went into self-quarantine.
Lithuania has detected the first two cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa, the country's National Public Health Surveillance Laboratory said on Tuesday.
"One case was confirmed from a sample taken in Vilnius County on March 2, the other from a sample taken in Kaunas County on March 8," the laboratory said.
The two cases were not related and had been confirmed by genome sequencing performed at Vilnius University Hospital Santaros Klinikos Laboratory.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told reporters that, in light of the appearance of this strain in the country, "I would not rule out that we will have to consider tighter measures."
A woman sits in a wainting area before receiving an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine on the opening day of the vaccination centre at the Zaventem Skyhall in Brussels airport, in Zaventem on Feb 22, 2021. （JOHN THYS / AFP）
With homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, Cuba expects to immunize over 50 percent of its population by August, a senior official said Tuesday.
"We plan to vaccinate over 6 million people by August," Ileana Morales, director of science and technological innovation at the island's ministry of public health said on TV. "Between June and July, we could begin vaccinating nearly 2.2 million senior citizens as well as medical workers and people with underlying health conditions."
COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers in the Caribbean nation could also apply for emergency use authorization from Cuba's Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices, Morales added.
Cuban authorities reported on Tuesday 774 new COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, bringing the total to 68,250 cases, along with four more deaths to total 401, according to the Public Health Ministry.
"Today's indicators are not favorable," the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran said during his regular morning report, adding that of the total number of cases in the last day, 766 were from community transmission.
Havana, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, reported 404 new cases over the past 24 hours, with a rate of 292.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the nation.
Brazil suffered a record 3,251 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, as pot-banging protests erupted across the country during an address by President Jair Bolsonaro in which he defended his pandemic response and pledged to ramp up vaccinations.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 4,123,632 as of Tuesday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union (AU), said the death toll related to the pandemic stood at 110,164, while 3,690,718 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.
South Africa has lost 52,196 lives to COVID-19, the most among African countries, followed by Egypt, at 11,637, and Morocco, at 8,769, according to the Africa CDC.
Ethiopia registered 1,692 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 190,594 as of Tuesday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.
The ministry said 19 new deaths from the virus were reported across the country, bringing the national death toll to 2,693.
The East African country reported 1,019 more recoveries, taking the national count to 149,590.
Tunisian Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 584 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 246,507.
The death toll from the virus rose by 41 to 8,610, the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier, the ministry announced that the total number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 had reached 18,020 since the launch of the vaccination campaign 10 days ago.
Algeria on Tuesday reported 94 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the North African country to 116,349.
The death toll from the virus rose to 3,066 after five new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.
Meanwhile, 89 more patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 80,899, the statement added.
The Zimbabwean government said Tuesday it will strengthen surveillance and other control measures to curb a possible spike in COVID-19 transmissions during the Easter holidays.
Addressing a post-cabinet media briefing, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said there is a likelihood of increased domestic and cross-border movement of people, which may provide fertile ground for increased transmission of the disease.
"In that regard, the Ministry of Health and Child Care is strengthening surveillance, case management and risk communication and community engagement in anticipation of the Easter holidays. Special attention will be accorded to ports of entry and exit," she said.
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba and his wife Sylvia Bongo Ondimba received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm on Tuesday in Libreville, said a press release from the Presidency.
"As he himself announced, the President of the Republic has been vaccinated against COVID-19," the release said.
The First Lady had also published on social media the photos taken during her vaccination.
On Tuesday, Gabon's Minister of Health Guy Patrick Obiang Ndong officially launched the national vaccination campaign against COVID-19.