A nurse working in a dental department receives a dose of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 26, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)
ADDIS ABABA / PARIS / BRASILIA / MEXICO CITY / LISBON / BERLIN / MADRID / LONDON / KAMPALA / RABAT / BUENOS AIRES / COTONOU / HAVANA / QUITO / AMSTERDAM / SANTIAGO / ROME / KYIV / MOSCOW – South Africa is targeting vaccinating about 200,000 people a day from mid-May as the government seeks to scale-up inoculations to tackle the pandemic, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
The government has set up 2,000 centers where the doses would be administered, Mkhize told the Sunday Times newspaper.
Just over 230,000 people have been inoculated in South Africa so far.
Shortages of doses threaten to upend South Africa’s plans to vaccinate two-thirds of a population of about 60 million people this year, though the country is set to take delivery of 2.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the end of April.
Uneven vaccine distribution
If you’re living in Israel, the United States or the United Kingdom, where vaccination programs are rolling out with remarkable speed, glimpses of a post-pandemic future are starting to appear: Schools have mostly reopened, family gatherings are being planned and summer vacations may be just over the horizon.
But move away from this handful of rich countries, and a darker reality emerges: The virus is still rampaging around most of the planet, and uneven vaccine distribution poses a major public risk as variants emerge.
Since mid-March, COVID-19 deaths have started trending upward again worldwide even as the numbers improved in the US and UK, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data.
So far, over 126.61 million confirmed cases and more than 2.77 million deaths have been reported across the world, according to JHU data.
Worldwide, half a billion vaccine doses have been administered, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. While shots have been given in some 140 countries, the vast majority have gone to developed nations that secured early doses by the hundreds of millions. That disparity risks prolonging the pandemic, even for places currently leading the vaccination race.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been particularly condemning rich countries, saying they are directly responsible for the deaths of high-risk people in low- and middle-income countries, USA Today reported on Thursday.
"Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries," the report quoted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying at a news conference on Monday.
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African countries have received over 26 million COVID-19 vaccines both from the COVAX facility and through bilateral agreements outside the COVAX facility, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has said.
As of Saturday evening, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 4,167,350 while the death toll stood at 111,561, the Africa CDC said.
A total of 3,735,535 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease, it said.
Argentina’s COVID-19 on Saturday surpassed 2.3 million, the Ministry of Health reported.
According to the ministry, 10,338 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 2,301,389, of which 173,793 were in the active stage.
The death toll rose by 133 to 55,368.
So far, a total of 3,613,762 people have been vaccinated, 2,949,086 of whom have received one shot of the vaccine while 664,676 have received both doses.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti explained on Saturday the decision to defer second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for three months with the aim of "reducing mortality before the second wave."
She said that the priority was to administer "the first dose to the largest number of people in order to achieve a very important benefit".
Benin plans to start mass vaccinations against COVID-19 on Monday in four administrative divisions that account for over 95 percent of the total of cases registered, according to an official release on Saturday.
A total of 78 vaccination sites have been established in the four departments, namely Littoral, Atlantique, Oueme and Borgou, for the immunization campaign that targets groups including health workers and those aged 60 and above.
The government of Benin has received Chinese Sinovac vaccines, through cooperation with China, and AstraZeneca vaccines thanks to the COVAX facility.
As of March 22, Benin had recorded a total of 7,100 COVID-19 cases with 90 deaths.
Brazil recorded 85,948 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours and 3,438 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Saturday, the second day in a row fatalities have exceeded 3,000.
Brazil has registered nearly 12.5 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 310,550, according to ministry data.
Brazil had vaccinated 19.5 million people against COVID-19 as of Friday, of whom 14.88 million had received the first dose and 4.64 million had received both jabs, according to local media.
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Ontario, Canada’s largest province, reported 2,453 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day total in more than two months, and 16 more deaths from the virus.
Over a third of the infections came from Toronto, the country’s most populated city, and comes as the provincial government imposed stricter measures on two regions and loosened restrictions on five others.
Toronto is trying to accelerate the rate of vaccinations. On Friday, municipal authorities expanded eligibility to residents 70 and above, urging people to get the vaccine if they could at city-run clinics.
COVID-19 variants are surging in Canada – as of Saturday, nearly 40 percent of new cases concerned variants of the virus.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera warned on Saturday that the coming days and weeks would be difficult and painful due to the critical health situation facing the country, with more than 7,000 daily COVID-19 cases registered in recent days.
"The reappearance of the pandemic has increased the number of infected and more people have had to be hospitalized, which is demanding to healthcare workers and the limit of our health system capacities, and they, despite all the difficulties, continue to provide care that patients need," he said.
The government has significantly increased the number of critical beds and is resorting to "all possible options" to be able to continue treating the sick, he said, adding that "protecting the health and lives of all our compatriots is definitely our first priority”.
The Ministry of Health on Saturday reported 7,588 new COVID-19 cases and 66 deaths, bringing the totals to 969,913 confirmed cases and 22,653 fatalities, respectively.
The Cuban Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday one more death from COVID-19 and 950 new cases, bringing the totals to 414 fatalities and 71,584 confirmed cases.
The daily tally was the highest in two weeks, according to Francisco Duran, the health ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology.
The total number of recoveries increased by 850 to 67,697, Duran said.
Meanwhile in Havana, the third and final phase of clinical trials for Cuban vaccine candidate Soberana 02 continued with 44,000 participants, as well as an intervention trial with the same vaccine that involves 150,000 healthcare workers.
In the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Guantanamo, another Cuban vaccine candidate, Abdala, is also going through the third phase of clinical trials.
Three other Cuban vaccines against COVID-19 are at different stages of investigation.
Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health reported 1,248 new COVID-19 cases and another 37 deaths on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 322,699 and the death toll to 11,834.
The ministry also reported another 10 deaths that were "probably" caused by COVID-19, bringing the total number of “probable” fatalities to 4,845.
According to the health ministry, 152,526 people in the country have received their first vaccine doses while 38,653 have received both jabs as of March 24.
Ethiopia registered 2,142 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 198,794 as of Saturday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.
Meanwhile, 15 newly reported deaths pushed the overall toll to 2,784, said the ministry.
The total number of recoveries went up by 728 to 153,236.
The Ethiopia Federal Attorney General Office (FAGO) announced that a legal directive has been enacted in which those who fail to adhere to COVID-19 health precautions could face up to three years in jail.
In addition, under the new rules that are set to come into effect next Monday, public gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned as part of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to state media outlet Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC).
Riders (background) train at the National Velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, which has been transformed into a mass vaccination center, in the west of Paris, France, March 27, 2021. (JOHN LEICESTER / AP)
The number of patients with coronavirus in French intensive care units rose on Saturday to a new high for this year, increasing the pressure to impose new restrictions that President Emmanuel Macron said would probably be needed.
France had 4,791 ICU patients being treated for COVID-19, up from 4,766 on Friday, health ministry data showed.
The country confirmed 42,619 new COVID-19 infections in a 24-hour period, pushing its cumulative total to 4,508,575, according to the latest data.
The death toll rose by 190 to 94,465, the data showed.
Three additional regions, including the Rhone department around Lyon, on Saturday joined other regions including Paris in closing non-essential stores and restricting travel. Police were out in Paris, Nice and other cities enforcing the rules.
As of Saturday, more than 7.7 million people had received a first dose of vaccine, the health ministry said.
Germany must bring down coronavirus infections in the next few weeks or risk new virus mutations that are resistant to vaccines, and should impose night-time curfews in regions with high caseloads, said a top aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We are in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
If the number of infections rises rapidly again there is a growing danger that the next virus mutation will become resistant to the vaccine, Braun said.
Coronavirus infections have risen sharply in Germany in recent weeks, driven by a more transmissible variant of the virus and moves to ease some restrictions.
The number of confirmed cases increased by 17,176 to 2,772,401, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 90 to 75,870.
Braun said he expected the infection situation to ease in May, helped by the impact of vaccinations and the onset of warmer weather.
People sit at a test concert titled "Operation Heartbeat" in the "Säälchen" at the Holzmarkt while maintaining a safe distance, in Berlin, Germany, March 27, 2021. (CHRISTOPH SOEDER / DPA VIA AP)
Ireland suspended vaccinations at one of its biggest private hospitals, after doses intended for patients there were given to teachers at a school instead.
The move by the Beacon Hospital was “entirely inappropriate and completely unacceptable,” Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said.
The issue has touched a nerve in Ireland amid a perceived slow vaccination rollout and fraying support for a lockdown which has been in place since Christmas.
As Italy seeks to speed up its vaccination campaign, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said he was confident that the country will see restrictions easing during the summer, according to an interview published by Messaggero. Current three-tiered restrictions are expected to remain in place until the end of April, Speranza added.
Italy reported 380 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday against 457 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell slightly to 23,839 from 23,987 the day before.
To date, Italy has registered 107,636 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 3.5 million cases.
Italy will be able to administer 300,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses per day by next week, Repubblica reported.
Kenya Airways suspended all domestic flights from midday March 29, while international operations continue.
The measure comes after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced new restrictions Friday for movement into and out of the capital, Nairobi to contain a surge of cases.
Mexico on Saturday reported 4,922 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 567 more fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 2,224,767 infections and 201,429 deaths, according to health ministry data.
Excess deaths in Mexico for 2020 and early 2021 exceeded 417,000, more than double the current official number of fatalities from the coronavirus, the federal government reported.
On Thursday, Mexico became the third country with more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, trailing only US and Brazil, countries with much larger populations.
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Morocco registered 491 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the tally to 494,358, the health ministry said in a statement.
The total number of recoveries increased to 482,084 after 489 new ones were added.
Meanwhile, the death toll rose by five to 8,798.
So far, 4,302,183 people have received the first COVID-19 shot while 3,332,292 people have received both jabs.
Health authorities in the Netherlands reported 8,798 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours on Saturday, the highest level seen since early January, according to public data.
The National Institute for Health (RIVM) has forecast that new cases will continue to rise through late April, even with the country’s current lockdown measures that include an evening curfew and bans on public and private gatherings.
Poland expects new COVID-19 cases to peak in a week after a record surge, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said in an interview with RMF FM.
If infections continue to multiply, the cabinet will consider curfews among new measures to suppress the virus. The nation recorded 31,757 new infections, 20 percent more than a week ago.
The nation is working on relocating patents from Silesia, the hardest-hit region, to other hospitals in Poland that still have some capacity, Niedzielski said at a press conference. Over 75 percent of hospital beds prepared for COVID-19 patients are occupied.
Portugal on Saturday started the vaccination of some 78,700 teachers and workers from pre-schools and schools of the first four years of the nine-year basic education.
The people were listed as one of the priority groups for the resumption of classes.
Russia reported 9,088 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, including 1,878 in Moscow, which brought the national tally to 4,519,832.
The Russian coronavirus task force said that 336 more deaths of COVID-19 patients had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking Russia's official coronavirus death toll to 97,740.
Spain is to require people arriving by land from France to present a negative COVID-19 test, the health ministry said on Saturday, amid rising numbers of French arrivals and an uptick in Spain’s coronavirus rate.
Anyone arriving by land from risk areas will have to present a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that was taken within 72 hours prior to their arrival. The requirement will not apply to truck drivers, cross-border workers, and people who live within 30 kilometres of the border.
“The order will take effect three days after its publication in the Official State Gazette and until the government declares the end of the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19,” the ministry said in a statement.
Spain’s coronavirus infection rate has continued to climb steadily over the past week, suggesting a long decline could be in danger of reversing.
The rate, which is measured over the preceding 14 days, rose on Friday to 138.6 per 100,000 people from 134 on Thursday, the ministry said. It reported 7,586 new cases, bringing Spain’s overall tally to 3.26 million. The death toll rose by 590 to 75,010.
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni on Saturday received their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at State House in the capital, Kampala.
"I encourage all Ugandans who qualify for this vaccination to go to health facilities and get it," said Museveni in a tweet.
Ruth Aceng, Uganda's health minister, and senior officials from her ministry were also among the first recipients of the COVID-19 dose.
A large social distancing sign is displayed next to an entrance down into Oxford Circus underground train station, in central London, March 26, 2021. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)
Britain has planned to ensure second COVID-19 doses are administered on time, Culture Minister Oliver Dowden said on Sunday amid concerns over supplies due to friction with the European Union.
When asked about a Mail on Sunday newspaper report that the Moderna vaccine would be deployed in Britain for the first time in mid-April, Dowden said: “We do expect Moderna to come later this month.”
Britain is close to striking a vaccine deal with the European Union as soon as this weekend that will remove the threat of the bloc cutting off supplies, The Times reported Saturday.
Nearly 30 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
People aged over 70 in the UK will start to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine from September to protect against variants, the Telegraph reported. As many as eight vaccines are expected to be available by the autumn with a number made in the UK, including one that could protect from three different COVID-19 variants in a single jab, Nadhim Zahawi, the top official for vaccine deployment, told the newspaper.
Britain reported 4,715 new cases and another 58 deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 4,329,180 and the toll to 126,573, according to official figures.
Earlier Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that England was still on course for "roadmap to freedom", but warned of the impact of Europe's third wave of infections on Britain.
The UK government wants its people to start going out and spending cash when restrictions are eased on April 12. Shops will stay open until 10 pm to encourage the economic recovery, according to the Times.
A record number of Ukrainians were taken to hospital with COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Sunday as the country grapples with a surge in infections.
Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook 5,052 people had been hospitalized in the past day compared to the previous record of 4,887 people registered on March 17.
Ukraine also reported 11,932 new infections in the past 24 hours and 203 coronavirus related deaths.
In total, more than 1.64 million people have been infected and 31,954 have died since the start of the pandemic.
So far in the country of 41 million people, around 197,000 have received their first shots since the inoculation campaign began a month ago.
The US recorded 78,560 cases Friday, as new infections continue to move back up, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and Bloomberg. Average daily cases over the last week are now almost 61,000, more than an 11 percent increase over the previous week.
That is a fraction of the peak over the holiday surge, in which daily cases rose above 300,000, but what health officials say is a worrying trend as states reopen and virus variants increase around the nation.
Another 1,560 deaths were reported, the most in over a week, but the longer-term trend continues downward.
Deborah Birx, the former White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that US deaths from the virus could have been sharply reduced if mitigation efforts to slow the spread had come more quickly last spring.
“The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx told CNN. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
To date, the US has reported over 30.21 million confirmed cases and more than 548,000 deaths, according to a tally by JHU.
The pace of US vaccinations has picked up, with 75 percent of the population on track to be vaccinated within four months, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
The US has administered 140,180,735 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and distributed 180,644,125 doses as of Saturday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus and has mild symptoms.
Guaido said that he is in isolation and expressed concern about the number of infections in the country.
The opposition leader added that he considered the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines to Venezuela urgent.
Venezuela’s official figures as of Saturday showed 155,663 cases of coronavirus and 1,555 deaths, though opposition critics say the actual figure is likely higher due to limited testing.