UK’s Johnson says EU doesn’t want vaccine ‘blockades’















Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, hosts the UN Security Council's virtual meeting on climate change risks in London on Feb 23, 2021. (HOLLIE ADAMS / BLOOMBERG)

SANTIAGO / TRIPOLI / OTTAWA / LUSAKA / ROME / BRUSSELS / SAO PAOLO / BUENOS AIRES / BOGOTA / ACCRA / NIAMEY – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the European Union doesn’t want to launch a vaccine battle, despite the bloc warning it is set to restrict exports of coronavirus shots to the UK

In an attempt to defuse the tensions with Brussels, Johnson said avoiding blockades of vaccine supplies is vital because immunization programs require countries to work together.

“I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades,” Johnson said in a pooled interview with broadcasters Monday. “That’s very, very important.”

He was speaking after the EU set out restrictions aimed at companies it says haven’t met delivery obligations to the bloc. The vaccine tension risks putting a further dent in relations with London already strained by Brexit, trade and tensions over Northern Ireland.

Britons should wait before booking summer holidays abroad, social care minister Helen Whately warned on Monday, pointing out that there were rising COVID-19 infection rates in Europe.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he plans to get vaccinated on Tuesday against COVID-19, more than three months after Russia started mass inoculations to protect the population from the pandemic.

“Today we can say with confidence, and experience indisputably confirms this, that Russian vaccines are absolutely reliable and safe,” Putin said Monday at a televised video-conference with officials and executives on boosting inoculation production. “Moreover, no other similar foreign medications demonstrate such a high degree of protection.”

He didn’t say which of the three Russian vaccines now available he will take. Sputnik V, the most well-known internationally, is the vaccination being used currently in the nationwide roll-out. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president would take one of the three Russian shots, state-run Tass news service reported.

Hungary

An appeal went out on Monday for volunteers to join hospital staff treating coronavirus patients in northwestern Hungary, as doctors said COVID-19 wards were overwhelmed, with the pressure only set to mount during the next few weeks.

New infections are surging in Hungary, hard-hit by the third wave of the pandemic, despite vaccination rates at the top of European Union nations, as a proportion of population.

Hungary was the first nation in the bloc to buy and use Chinese or Russian vaccines, as it said shipments from Western suppliers lagged.

Monday’s call, posted on the Facebook page of the Hungarian Medical Chamber in the county of Gyor-Sopron, came just as the nation reported a record number of 11,276 patients in hospital, with 1,340 of them on ventilators.

US 

AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus vaccine fared better than expected in a US clinical trial, providing reassurance about its safety and efficacy.

The shot developed with the University of Oxford was 79 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, and an independent monitoring board found no safety concerns, the company said Monday. The shot also protected all those immunized from severe disease and death in a study of more than 30,000 volunteers.

The findings should bolster confidence in the product after confusion over its true efficacy and the best dosing regimen impacted take-up. The vaccine has faced numerous setbacks, most recently over supply issues and possible side effects. Even after the European Medicines Agency declared it safe last Thursday, not all European Union countries have resumed vaccination on concern about reports of blood clots.

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed keeping German lockdown restrictions in force for another four weeks after COVID-19 cases rose beyond a level that may prompt government action to avoid health-care overload.

The plan would extend and slightly tighten existing curbs through April 18, according to a chancellery draft seen by Bloomberg. Merkel and regional government leaders will discuss the proposals on Monday during talks on how to proceed with the lockdown amid an upward curve of infections in Europe’s biggest economy.

With much of Europe headed for its Easter holiday break at the end of March, the chancellery is proposing in the draft mandatory quarantines and COVID tests for travelers returning to Germany, while indicating that officials haven’t agreed on that measure yet.

For hard-hit areas in Germany, other possible curbs where a final decision is pending include nightly curfews until 5 am and closures of schools and child care if teachers and pupils can’t get tested twice a week.

Cases in Germany are rising again after authorities began to relax restrictions in late February and set out a plan to gradually unwind the remaining curbs — including the partial closure of non-essential stores and the shutdown of hotels, restaurants and gyms, as well as cultural venues. That plan depends on the infection trend, heightening the stakes for Monday’s talks after the number of cases jumped in the past few days.

The national seven-day rate of infections per 100,000 people rose to 107.3, the Robert Koch Institute health agency reported Monday, the highest since Jan 26. Johns Hopkins University data showed German cases increased by 768 in the 24 hours to Monday.

Global COVID-19 deaths rise

Global weekly COVID-19 deaths rose for the first time since January, with fatalities for the week ended Sunday climbing by more than 61,000. Infections increased for a fourth straight week, by more than 3 million.

Brazil continues to be the global hot spot, seeing a record number of cases and deaths. Eastern Europe is seeing a resurgence, with Poland introducing some of the strictest lockdown measures in months as it struggles against a new wave. The US also saw cases rise for the week, however, fatalities in the country were the lowest since November.

Eastern Europe is seeing a resurgence, with Poland introducing some of the strictest lockdown measures in months as it struggles against a new wave

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 4,108,340 as of Sunday evening, 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 registered at 109,724, while 3,676,638 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

In South Africa, 52,082 died of COVID-19, the most among African countries, followed by Egypt at 11,557, and Morocco at 8,763, according to the Africa CDC.

According to the agency, nine African countries have so far reported more than 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the number in South Africa topping 1 million.

EU

The European Union is ready to start withholding COVID-19 shots from the UK, risking a sharp deterioration in relations with London in a bid to turn around its lackluster vaccination campaign.

The EU will start reviewing, and likely rejecting, export authorization of AstraZeneca Plc coronavirus vaccines to the UK until the drugmaker fulfills its delivery obligations to the 27-nation bloc, according to a senior EU official.

The EU has contracts with the company that aren’t being respected, and any vaccines and ingredients produced in European factories will be reserved for local deliveries, said the official, who asked not to be named because the decisions are under consideration and haven’t been made public.

The conflict between the EU and the UK has been growing since Astra informed Brussels it wouldn’t deliver the number of shots it had promised for the first quarter. Both sides have blamed each other for export curbs and nationalism, posing a risk to the fragile post-Brexit trade relationship agreed on only in December.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke last week and a new round of high-level diplomacy is expected among leaders ahead of a summit in Brussels.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said last week that it would restrict exports of vaccines to countries that don’t reciprocate or that already have high vaccination rates. The U.K. is the largest recipient of doses made in the EU, receiving 10 million of 42 million shots from the bloc so far.

EU leaders meeting this week will discuss the plan, and will ultimately have to decide if they should follow through with the proposed restrictive measures. Countries including Italy and France said they were open to exploring the export ban while others, such as Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, urged caution and warned about the impact on European companies, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg.

Argentina

Argentina registered 4,032 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the national tally to 2,245,771, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry also reported 28 more deaths from the disease, taking the nationwide death toll to 54,545.

A total of 2,030,153 patients have recovered from the disease so far, while 161,073 cases remain active, it said.

Having registered a total of 939,232 cases, the province of Buenos Aires remains the hardest-hit region in the South American country.

The Argentine government has extended COVID-19 social distancing measures until April 9.

Brazil

The Brazilian government announced on Sunday that they would accelerate the immunization process, with release for immediate application of all vaccines stored in the municipalities.

"We are going to double applications this week, immunizing a large number of the Brazilian population," Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said in a statement.

An empty Ipanema beach is seen on the day Rio de Janeiro's beaches closed as a restrictive measure to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2021. (FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP)

According to the statement, the decision was made given the anticipated acceleration in vaccine production by the Butantan Institute of Sao Paulo and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).

The Butantan Institute imported and developed the CoronaVac vaccine from the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, while Fiocruz produced the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine with imported supplies.

Since the vaccination campaign began on Jan 17, the states and municipalities have had to reserve half of the doses received for second doses.

The Brazilian Ministry of Health received 5 million doses of vaccines this weekend. Among them, 3.9 million CoronaVac doses were from the Butantan Institute, and 1,051,750 doses were manufactured by Fiocruz.

In Brazil, more than 11.7 million people have received the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, while 4.1 million have been fully vaccinated.

Brazil has recorded a total of 294,042 deaths and 11,998,233 confirmed cases as of Sunday, with 47,774 new cases reported in the last 24 hours.

The state of Sao Paulo, the epicenter of the pandemic in the South American country, has reported 91 percent occupancy in intensive care units, with dozens of hospitals overwhelmed due to high demand, according to data from the state health authorities.

Deaths of people under 60 years of age increased by 35 percent in the first half of March compared with the same period last year, due to the new variant of the virus.

"We are seeing young patients without pre-existing diseases show a serious form of the disease, something we had not seen before," Guilherme Barcelos, a doctor at the Hospital de Clinicas de Porto Alegre, told local media.

The state of Rio Grande do Sul on Sunday was on the edge of collapse of its healthcare system, with the longest queues for intensive care unit beds. 

Canada

Canada is seeing more cases from COVID-19 variants, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said in a statement on Sunday.

"As of March 18, a total of 4,499 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 4,169 B.1.1.7 variants, 241 B.1.351 variants and 89 P.1 variants," said the Public Health Agency of Canada on Sunday.

COVID-19 variants of concern are taking a particularly strong hold in Western Canada, with Regina city seeing nearly all of its cases from the variants, prompting local health officials to urge caution and warn that lockdowns may return.

Chile

The Chilean Ministry of Health reported on Sunday 6,836 cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), for a total of 931,939 cases, as well as 99 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 22,279.

According to the ministry, 871,234 patients have recovered from the disease so far and 37,958 are in the active stage, while 2,229 people are currently hospitalized in intensive care units, including 1,906 on ventilators.

In the last two weeks, cases have increased by 36 percent in the country, a situation that has coincided with the end of the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere as well as the resumption of face-to-face classes and other activities.

"We must call on all inhabitants … to strengthen their efforts to reduce mobility, to reduce the number of times they go out, and if possible, not to go out. Always wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and continue hand washing. Washing is essential for self-care," said Health Minister Enrique Paris.

Paris said that only the regions of Magallanes, Aysen and Antofagasta have managed to reduce the number of cases in the last 14 days.

Colombia

Colombia registered 5,963 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking its nationwide tally to 2,337,150, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection said on Sunday.

The country also reported 121 more related deaths, raising the national death toll to 62,028, said the ministry.

According to the ministry, a total of 1,182,098 citizens have been vaccinated in the South American country, all of whom are health personnel and people over 70 years of age.

In addition, 54,528 people have already received the second jab.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,724 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 187,365 as of Sunday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said 12 new deaths from the COVID-19 were reported across the country, bringing the national death toll to 2,659.

The East African country reported 1,179 more recoveries, taking the national count of COVID-19 recoveries to 147,452.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous nation, has so far reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the East Africa region, and the fifth most affected country in Africa in terms of positive cases.

According to the ministry, Ethiopia currently has 37,252 active COVID-19 cases, of which 605 in under severe health conditions.

The latest figures from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Ethiopia's COVID-19 cases accounted for about 4 percent of the African continent's total confirmed cases

The East African nation has so far conducted 2,279,472 COVID-19 medical tests, the ministry said  Ethiopia started COVID-19 vaccine jabs last week shortly after the country received its first 2.2 million COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, a global initiative to ensure quick and equal access to vaccines against the virus.

Ghana

Ghana's fighting with COVID-19 has improved as the number of daily cases fell, an official with the health service said here on Sunday.

"Active cases declined from over 8,000 daily to less than 3,500 over the past four weeks, and reported cases have declined from 800 cases daily to about 250," the Director General of Ghana's Health Service (GHS) Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said at a press conference.

A total of 450,000 persons have had the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, he added.

He also announced that the security agencies had commenced investigations on the stealing and selling of the AstraZeneca vaccines for private gains in Ghana, and assured the GHS will co-operate with investigators to bring the perpetrators to book.

According to the GHS, as of Sunday the number of the country's confirmed cases stood at 89,500 with 85,455 recoveries and 720 deaths.

Italy

Thousands of Italian parents, children and teachers protested in squares up and down the country on Sunday against what they call the unnecessary closure of schools to try to curb COVID-19 infections.

The protests, the first of any significance against Mario Draghi’s national unity government that took office last month, were held in more than 35 squares nationwide including Rome’s Piazza del Popolo and Milan’s central Piazza Duomo.

Demonstrators in Rome wore dunce’s caps to indicate the impact of the closures on students’ education, while in Milan pupils’ messages and placards were propped against their school rucksacks placed on the ground.

A general view shows a usually picturesque, deserted Borgo Pio small lane in Rome on March 20, 2021, as a fresh surge in COVID-19 coronavirus infections caused the government to shut schools, restaurants and shops in most of Italy on March 15, for at least three weeks. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP)

Numbers at each venue were limited due to coronavirus restrictions on gatherings.

“Open schools, whatever it takes,” read one placard held aloft by a child in Rome, in reference to Draghi’s famous promise to save the euro when he was European Central Bank chief in 2012.

Most Italian schools for all ages have been closed since March 15, when Draghi ramped up efforts to control the virus, with students attending lessons online from home.

“We are asking for one thing: that our schools be given the status of essential public services and immediately reopened,” the Rome arm of the “Open Schools” national network that organized the demonstrations said in a statement.

Since Italy’s outbreak began 13 months ago schools have closed and re-opened at various times depending on age groups and local infection levels, but overall there has been less face-to-face schooling than in most other European countries.

The latest closures were the last straw for millions of parents forced to work from home or pay for child care.

The government says the closures are needed due to rising infection rates, and particularly the increasing prevalence of the variant first discovered in the UK, in which contagion is high among younger age groups.

Draghi promised on Friday that schools would be the first thing to reopen when current COVID restrictions are eased.

Libya

Libya's Minister of Health of the new Government of National Unity, Ali Zanati, on Sunday met with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Libya, Elizabeth Hoff, and discussed providing anti-COVID-19 vaccines to Libya.

"The meeting touched on the problems facing southern Libya in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the closed isolation centers, most-infected areas, and the severe shortage of medical oxygen," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The two sides agreed on a cooperation mechanism to provide COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, the statement added.

It was also agreed to establish an emergency operation chamber comprising the western, the eastern, and the southern regions of Libya to exchange information and experience, and to enhance cooperation between all concerned parties, the statement said.

There have been 151,605 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Libya so far, including 138,312 recoveries and 10,787 deaths, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

Niger

A batch of China-donated COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Niamey, capital of Niger, on S.

President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou, Prime Minister of Niger Brigi Rafini, Niger's acting Health Minister Ahmed Boto and Chinese Ambassador to Niger Zhang Lijun attended the handover ceremony at the airport.

 "I would like to ask the Chinese ambassador to convey our thanks to the Chinese government and to Chinese people," Issoufou said.

The president also congratulated the excellent and diverse cooperation between Niger and China, saying that "Today we have just received a donation from the Chinese government of anti-COVID-19 vaccines. I take this opportunity to congratulate the dynamism of the cooperation that exists between Niger and the People's Republic of China." 

According to Issoufou, with this donation, Niger will start the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 next Saturday, prioritizing vaccination of health personnel, then people who have comorbidity and the elderly, and the defense and security forces.

Niger has so far reported a total of 4918 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 185 deaths, and 4538 cured cases.

Zambia

The Zambian government on Sunday expressed optimism that the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will significantly reduce infections in the country.

The Minister of Health Jonas Chanda said in a release that countries that have rolled the vaccine in the southern African region have seen a reduction in new cases, noting that attaining good vaccine coverage was essential for immunity as evidenced in countries administering the vaccine.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's COVID-19 death toll has risen to 12,019 after 53 new deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, official data showed Monday.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed infections rose by 943 to 303,423, according to the country's COVID-19 information portal.

During the same period, 534 people recovered from the disease, raising the country's total recoveries to 234,771.

The current numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive-care patients stood at 8,660 and 690 respectively.

Rwanda 

Rwanda has so far detected 12 cases of the COVID-19 variants first found in South Africa and Britain, it's health minister said on Sunday.

Out of 400 samples assessed for possible new strains between October 2020 and February 2021, 10 samples has the new strain first found in South Africa and two has the new strain first found in Britain, Daniel Ngamije was quoted by the national broadcaster Rwanda Television as saying.

All the 12 patients have fully recovered without infecting other people, as they were isolated in designated places, he said.

Rwanda has no other COVID-19 variants based on thorough tests and assessment done in all parts of the country, he said.