UK warns EU of reputation damage if it reneges on vaccines











People pass a closed, fenced-off carousel on the South Bank in London on March 21, 2021, as the government prepares to gradually lift restrictions following a third shutdown to combat the spread of coronavirus. (NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP)

ROME / CAIRO / PARIS / BERLIN / SANTIAGO / ATHENS / LONDON / ADDIS ABABA / LISBON / SAO PAULO / BUDAPEST / RABAT / BUENOS AIRES / QUITO / HAVANA / MOSCOW / SOFIA / NAIROBI – The European Union must honor its vaccine contracts even as the sluggish rollout puts pressure on governments there, Ben Wallace, the UK defense secretary, told Sky News on Sunday.

“The commission knows deep down that this would be counterproductive,” Wallace said. “They’re under tremendous political pressure at the European Commission. It would damage the EU’s relations globally if they should renege on these contracts.”

Meanwhile, Wallace said it would be premature for Britons to book summer holidays overseas as Britain must avoid a situation where holidaymakers return with vaccine-resistant variants of COVID-19. The minister said Britain should avoid throwing away the gains of its vaccination campaign by allowing dangerous variants into the country via returning tourists.

Britain has hit a COVID-19 vaccination milestone with more than half of all adults having had at least one injection, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, making it the world’s first major economy to achieve that level of inoculation

Britain has hit a COVID-19 vaccination milestone with more than half of all adults having had at least one injection, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Saturday, making it the world’s first major economy to achieve that level of inoculation.

Official data showed 26.9 million had received a first dose of vaccine, up from 26.3 million the previous day.

Another 5,587 new cases and 96 deaths were reported, bringing the tally to 4,291,271 and the death toll to 126,122, according to official data.

Hancock said Britain had to stay vigilant but saw no threat to plans to gradually re-open shops, pubs and restaurants from April 12. “There is no sign that we won’t be able to make progress as set out in the roadmap,” Hancock said.

Meanwhile on Saturday, scuffles broke out as anti-lockdown protesters marched through central London, defying police warnings for them to stay away due to coronavirus restrictions.

Elsewhere in the UK, Northern Ireland will not penalize visitors from the Irish Republic that cross the border to receive vaccination, the Financial Times reported, citing Northern Ireland’s Department of Health. The much faster rollout in the North is drawing people from the south where the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine has hampered progress.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 122.82 million while the global death toll topped 2.70 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 4,159,950 as of Saturday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll stood at 109,456 while the total number of recoveries reached 3,669,551, according to the Africa CDC.

Argentina

Argentina reported 6,826 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, taking the national tally to 2,241,739, the health ministry said.

The ministry also confirmed 42 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 54,517.

The central province of Buenos Aires, with 937,575 cases, remains the hardest-hit region in the South American country.

So far, a total of 3,107,806 vaccine doses have been administered in the country.

BioNTech

The United States and many European countries will probably be in a position to end COVID-19 lockdowns at the end of summer, said BioNTech SE Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin.

Overall, though, “it will take at least a year to get the situation under control worldwide,” Sahin, whose company is Pfizer Inc’s vaccine-making partner, was quoted as telling Welt am Sonntag. While virus mutations will emerge, “we are already preparing for that today,” he told the German outlet in an interview.

Sahin cautioned that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 “won’t disappear”.

“We’ll have to see whether you need a vaccination every year or every five years,” Sahin said.

Brazil

Brazil exceeded half a million weekly cases for the second time in a row, capping a week marked by record daily deaths and infections.

Latin America’s biggest country added some 79,000 cases, bringing the total for the seven days through Saturday to 510,901 — the fifth consecutive week with an increase. During the previous surge, weekly cases peaked at 379,000 in early January, according to health ministry data.

Weekly deaths increased by almost 3,000 to a record of 15,650, the most since the pandemic began. With almost 12 million cases and some 292,000 deaths, Brazil lags behind only the US on both counts.

On Saturday, the country reported 79,069 new cases and 2,438 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 11,950,459 and the overall toll to 292,752, the health ministry said.

Oxygen consumption in hospitals grew 121 percent in two months, and the local government has asked the local Federation of Industries to intervene to guarantee the supply of oxygen tanks, Health Secretary of Sao Paulo Edson Aparecido said.

Meanwhile, Brazil is negotiating “to import vaccines from the surplus available in the United States,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Saturday. 

Bulgaria

The number of coronavirus patients in Bulgarian hospitals has risen to 8,545, the highest level since the start of the pandemic last March, official health data showed on Sunday.

A surge in infections in the third COVID wave has prompted the Bulgarian government to close schools, nurseries, restaurants, big shops and gyms from Monday for 10 days ahead of the April 4 parliamentary election.

With 2,541 new cases in the past 24 hours, the country of 7 million people has reported 302,480 cases in total.

Another 34 newly reported deaths pushed the total number of fatalities to 11,966.

In the past 24 hours, 3,822 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in Bulgaria, taking the total number of vaccinations to 366,547 so far. 

A man walks past a mural honoring healthcare workers in Santiago, Chile, March 20, 2021. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chile broke its single day record for new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, health officials said, leaving hospitals on the verge of collapse even as the South American nation races on with a mass vaccination program.

Cases have been ticking up for weeks following the end of the southern hemisphere summer holiday, but soared to 7,084, above the previous high of 6,938 last June, the data showed.

In total, Chile had recorded a total of 925,089 confirmed cases and 22,180 deaths.

The fast rising caseload has filled critical care wards north to south, leaving Chile with just 198 beds available for new patients. All of the capital Santiago, the economic engine, is in strict lockdown this weekend.

Cuba

Cuba reported 813 new cases and five deaths of COVID-19 on Saturday, said the Ministry of Public Health.

The new figures took the overall totals to 65,962 confirmed cases and 392 fatalites.

The ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology, Francisco Duran, said that of the new cases reported, 797 were transmitted within the community and 16 were imported.

Meanwhile, the total number of recoveries rose by 931 to 62,062, Duran said.

Ecuador

Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday 1,225 new COVID-19 cases and 22 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 310,868 and the overall toll to 11,622.

According to ministry, 263,164 people have recovered from the disease.

The capital city of Quito continues to be the epicenter of the disease, with officials reporting 95 percent occupancy of intensive care units and 85 percent occupancy of hospitals in general.

As of March 15, a total of 121,054 Ecuadorians had received their first dose of the vaccine, according to the ministry. 

Egypt

Egypt received another 300,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in the early hours of Saturday, the health ministry said in a statement.

The third shipment from China of the Sinopharm vaccine brings the total doses delivered to Egypt to 650,000 since December. Some 600,000 of those were a gift from Beijing and the rest were sent by the UAE.

Egypt expects to receive five million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX facility by the end of March and another three million doses before the end of May, the cabinet said in a statement on Wednesday.

As of Friday, Egypt had confirmed 194,127 coronavirus cases, including 11,512 deaths.

EU

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen rejected calls for the European Union to donate vaccines to poorer countries for the time being. 

The EU already provides financial support to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, she told the Funke group of newspapers in an interview.

“We will start an additional mechanism to share vaccines with other countries when we have a better production situation in the EU,” von der Leyen said.

France

Nearly a third of French people entered a month-long lockdown on Saturday with many expressing fatigue and confusion over the latest set of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

The government, which has avoided using the word lockdown to describe the latest restrictions, argues the measures are needed to relieve pressure on intensive care units which are close to overflowing.

A large number of Parisians left the city before the restrictions came into force at midnight.

This photo shows an empty Champs Elysees avenue as a 7 pm curfew starts in Paris, France, on March 20, 2021. (RAFAEL YAGHOBZADEH / AP)

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 rose by 35,327, bringing the total number to 4.25 million, the health ministry reported on Saturday.

That compared to a rise of 35,088 the previous day.

It also reported 92,167 coronavirus deaths, up by 185 from previous day.

A total of 6,137,375 people in France have got their first COVID-19 vaccine jab, representing 11.7 percent of the adult population, data from Health Ministry showed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 2,444,473 citizens (4.7 percent of the adult population) have completed their inoculation, the ministry reported.

Germany

Germany is considering an extension of lockdown restrictions into April and the introduction of new rules for those returning from abroad after Covid-19 infections rose beyond a key level that may prompt action by authorities to prevent the health system becoming overrun.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 13,733 to 2,659,516, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. 

The reported death toll rose by 99 to 74,664, the tally showed.

According to the RKI, the number of cases per 100,000 population over a week stood at 103.9 on Sunday, above the 100 threshold at which intensive care units can no longer keep up.

People wearing face masks walk on a platform in the central train station in Frankfurt, Germany, March 21, 2021. (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)

Police deployed water cannon and pepper spray after a gathering of some 20,000 protesters against lockdown and other coronavirus rules in central Germany turned violent, with some demonstrators throwing bottles at police.

National and regional leaders are due to consult on Monday over the next steps in the national lockdown. 

Germany is considering making all people returning from abroad face quarantine and compulsory COVID-19 tests after infection rates jumped above the level at which authorities say hospitals will be overstretched.

The latest proposal is contained in draft plans, seen by Reuters, which will be discussed by national and leaders in a Monday meeting when they are due to decide on the next round of measures to deal with the pandemic.

The draft plans would also tighten obligations on companies: those who were unable to offer their employees the option of working from home would have to provide them with two rapid COVID-19 tests each week.

Greece

Greece will start distributing free do-it-yourself COVID-19 tests next month, the government said on Saturday, as it seeks to alleviate pressure on a healthcare system facing a stubbornly high level of new infections.

Everyone with a social security number will be entitled to four of the test kits per month, and they will be distributed at pharmacies.

The government said the do-it-yourself test kits have an accuracy rate of about 95%-99%. They are easier to do than rapid tests, needing nasal and saliva samples instead of the nasopharyngeal sample used in rapid tests.

People who get a positive result will be instructed to report it to health authorities for the monitoring and tracing of COVID-19 infections.

The government said Greece would be the first European country to make such test kits so easily available and free of charge.

Hungary

The Hungarian government on Saturday reported a record 11,132 COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour span, raising the overall tally to 560,971.

In the past 24 hours, a record 227 deaths were logged, raising the toll to 18,068 in the country, according to figures from the government's coronavirus information website.

As of Saturday, 1,520,350 people had received at least one shot of a vaccine, while 465,643 have had both jabs, the website showed.

Italy

Italy reported 401 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday, up from 386 the day before, the health ministry said.

The daily tally of new infections slipped to 23,832 from 25,735 the day before, it added.

Italy has registered 104,642 deaths linked to COVID-19, and has reported 3.35 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 27,061 on Saturday, up from 26,858 a day earlier.

There were 243 new admissions to intensive care units, compared with 244 on Friday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 3,387.

Kenya

The forthcoming primary and secondary transitional exams in Kenya that were scheduled for last year but got postponed are set to be exceptional given the unrelenting COVID-19 health crisis in the country.

Nearly 2 million learners in the country are expected to sit for their final exams, which start from Monday until April for secondary students.

Strict adherence is especially vital in recent weeks as the country goes through the third wave of COVID-19 infections and Friday saw the highest number of deaths since the onset of the virus.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Saturday 444 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 491,463.

The death toll rose to 8,763 with eight more fatalities were logged in the last 24 hours.

A total of 4,264,168 people have so far received the first shot against COVID-19 while 2,423,380 people have received both shots.

Poland

Poland registered 21,849 new COVID-19 cases, 26 percent more than a week ago. 

The country is struggling with another wave and has introduced some of the strictest lockdown measures in months. 

The nation has vaccinated 5 million of its 38 million people.

Portugal

The Portuguese Directorate-General for Health (DGS) reported on Saturday that the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped to 789, the lowest figure since Oct 7, 2020.

A total of 170 patients were in intensive care units (ICUs), the lowest since Oct 20.

Meanwhile, the country recorded 457 new cases and eight deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall tally and toll to 817,080 and 16,762, respectively.

According to the latest DGS data, a total of 1,280,409 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Russia

Russia on Sunday reported 9,299 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,511 in Moscow, pushing the national tally of cases to 4,456,869 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 371 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 95,030.

US

The United States added almost 55,000 cases on Saturday, ending a week in which the highest daily number of infections exceeded 60,000 for the first time since early March.

US new cases have declined and leveled off from peaks in January and it’s too early to declare a sustained upward trend again. Deaths related to COVID-19 declined last week to 7,265, compared with almost 10,000 the previous week, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

The first case of the more-transmissible coronavirus variant first found in Brazil has been reported in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The patient is from Brooklyn, more than 90 years old with no travel history, he said.

The variant is helping fuel a renewed outbreak in Brazil. In the United States, there are 48 known cases of the P.1 variant in 15 jurisdictions, with 21 cases in Florida alone, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In another development, the City of Miami Beach imposed an 8 pm curfew in its busiest entertainment district on Saturday in an effort to control hordes of spring break vacationers who have become unruly in recent days.

To date, the US has reported 29.78 million confirmed cases with more than 541,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The country has administered 121,441,497 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Saturday morning and distributed 156,734,555 doses, the CDC said.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s daily COVID-19 cases increased the most since September, signaling a wave of infections triggered by the virus variant first detected in Brazil, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez said.

He said further measures to counter the virus will be announced in the days ahead.

Six of the 937 cases recorded on Friday were in patients from Brazil and Mexico, Rodriguez said in a statement.