German minister sees COVID-19 vaccine shortage well into April

A healthcare worker (left) provides hand sanitizer to a colleague outside one of the temporary wards dedicated to the treatment of possible COVID-19 coronavirus patients at the Nasrec Field Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Jan 25, 2021. (MICHELE SPATARI / AFP)

MEXICO CITY / NEW YORK / BOGOTA / DUBLIN / BRASILIA / RABAT / LISBON / LONDON / SANTIAGO / JOHANNESBURG / PRAGUE / BRUSSELS / SOFIA / MOSCOW / ROME / PARIS / BERLIN / GABORONE / ABUJA / HAVANA – Germany's health minister said on Thursday he expects the current shortage of coronavirus vaccines to continue well into April, as the government faced new criticism over the pace of its vaccination program.

"We will still have at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage of vaccine," Jens Spahn said in a Tweet, adding that he wanted to call a summit of federal and regional leaders in Germany to discuss vaccinations.

Germany is preparing entry bans for travellers from Britain, Portugal, Brazil and South Africa to limit the spread of the more contagious variants of the coronavirus raging in these countries, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Thursday.

Germany’s immunization commission recommended that AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine be authorized only for people between the ages of 18 and 64. 

The group, which evaluates vaccines for the German government, said there was insufficient information on the shot’s effectiveness for people over 65-years old.

Germany reported 17,553 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 2,178,828, and another 941 deaths.

Spahn has said it was encouraging that the number of new coronavirus cases was falling in Germany and that, if that trend continued, schools and nurseries should be the first places to re-open after a lockdown currently due to last until Feb 14.

Germany is preparing entry restrictions for travelers from Britain, Brazil and South Africa, the interior ministry said on Thursday, as concerns of more contagious coronavirus variants are rising.

South Africa

The number of people dying from COVID-19 during a resurgence of the disease may have peaked, according to a report on excess deaths published by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

The number of excess deaths, a measure of mortality over what would normally be expected from natural causes, fell to 13,374 in the week ending Jan 23 from a crest of 15,486 the week earlier, the SAMRC said in a statement on Thursday.

The SAMRC said that 125,744 excess deaths have been recorded since May 3 in South Africa. That compares with an official death toll of 42,550, the most in Africa. The country has recorded more than 1.4 million COVID-19 cases.

South Africa expects its first 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to arrive on Feb 1, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said 

South Africa expects the flight carrying its first 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to arrive on Feb 1, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday, boosting efforts to curb a second wave of COVID-19 driven by a more contagious variant.

The AstraZeneca shots, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), are destined for sorely stretched healthcare workers. Mkhize said that after the 1 million doses arrive at the OR Tambo international airport in Johannesburg, they would be subject to technical processes, including quality assurance, over 10 to 14 days before being distributed to all provinces.

Vaccines would be delivered free at the point of service.

READ MORE: WHO chief: Bilateral vaccine deals putting COVAX at risk


The World Health Organization’s Europe director Hans Kluge said on Thursday vaccine manufacturers were working non-stop to plug shortfalls in supplies to countries struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and urged them not to jostle for deliveries.

“Solidarity does not necessarily mean that each country in the world starts (vaccinating) at exactly the same moment … The good understanding is that no one is safe before everyone is safe,” Kluge told an online news briefing.

Asked about delays in expediting Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to patients across the 27-nation European Union, Kluge and a WHO-Europe vaccination expert, Siddhartha Datta, appealed to governments and manufacturers to cooperate in addressing “teething problems” in the rollout.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 100.9 million while the global death toll topped 2.17 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Americas region

More than 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in North and South America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

In the last week alone, 2 million more cases were reported in the Americas, with the United States the main driver of the outbreak, the WHO regional branch said. 

Throughout North America, there is growing pressure on hospital capacity and in some US states nearly 80 percent of ICU beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients, PAHO head Carissa Etienne said in a virtual briefing.

Similar rates are seen in many states in Mexico, where the number of cases is tripling in some regions, she warned.

The hospital situation in Brazil is particularly worrisome, with three-quarters of ICU beds occupied in many Brazilian states, she said.

Variants that have emerged in the region or outside of it have been detected in 14 countries in North and South America, PAHO said.

Only a few cases of the British and South African mutations have been found, mainly on travelers, and they do not appear to be spreading in the region, according to PAHO, but the Amazon variant that has emerged in the Brazilian city of Manaus does appears to have a high transmission rate.


Brazil has registered another 1,283 COVID-19 deaths and 63,520 new cases, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil, home to the world's second highest number of coronavirus deaths after the United States, has registered over 220,000 deaths, and nearly 9 million cases since the start of the pandemic, the Health Ministry data show.


Poland will allow stores in shopping centers to reopen from Feb. 1, while keeping other restrictions in place for at least another two weeks. The easing comes as the country of 38 million citizens has vaccinated 1 million people, including 150,000 inoculated with a second dose.

“The average number of new infections is dropping but we have to keep mitigating risks related to the international situation and the fact that a new virus strain is spreading,“ Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference on Thursday.


Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday reported 17,944 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 1,623 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,806,849 cases and 153,639 deaths.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is doing “very well” and is in the process of “full recovery” from COVID-19, a few days after he tested positive for the virus, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said on Thursday.

Lopez Obrador, 67, was experiencing brief episodes of fever and a minor headache, but "virtually no other discomfort," Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said during a regular government news conference. 

"He is still very active, not only with minimal symptoms, but he continues to carry out his functions," Lopez-Gatell said.

Meanwhile, deaths in Mexico jumped nearly 37 percent between January and August as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country and 184,000 more people died than during the same period in 2019, Mexico's statistics institute (INEGI) said on Wednesday. 

COVID-19 was the second-leading cause of death nationwide during the eight-month period, after heart disease, it said.

This illustration picture shows COVID-19 vaccine vials and syringes with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca at the back on Nov 17, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)


The European Union (EU) failed to make a breakthrough in crisis talks with AstraZeneca on Wednesday and demanded the drugmaker spell out how it would supply the bloc with reserved doses of COVID-19 vaccine from plants in Europe and Britain.

"We regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule and request a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the fast delivery of the quantity of vaccines that we reserved for Q1," EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a tweet.

The root of the dispute is AstraZeneca’s decision to prioritize the UK over the EU for its limited vaccine supplies following a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims to be a breach of contractual commitments

AstraZeneca said in a statement it had a constructive conversation with the EU about the complexities of scaling up production and had committed to closer coordination on working out deliveries in the coming months.

The root of the dispute is AstraZeneca’s decision to prioritize the UK over the EU for its limited vaccine supplies following a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims to be a breach of contractual commitments. The quarrel could add another thorn to the tumultuous post-Brexit ties between Britain and the EU.

Earlier, Kyriakides said at a news conference that two of the four factories from which AstraZeneca has committed to providing vaccines to the EU are in Britain.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told newspapers on Tuesday the EU contract was based on a best-effort clause and did not commit the company to a specific timetable for deliveries.

But EU Commission officials said on Wednesday that the contract stipulated that the company had also committed to providing vaccines from two factories in Britain. They added the firm had not provided sufficient explanations on why doses could not be shipped from stocks at fully functioning factories.


Pfizer Inc and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine appeared to lose only a small bit of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the US drugmaker.

The study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which has not yet been peer-reviewed, showed a less than two-fold reduction in antibody titer levels, indicating the vaccine would likely be effective in neutralizing a virus with the so-called E484K and N501Y mutations found in the South African variant.

The study was conducted on blood taken from people who had received the vaccine. Its findings are limited because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in the new South African variant.

The scientists are currently engineering a virus with the full set of mutations and expect to have results from that in around two weeks, according to Pei-Yong Shi, an author of the study and a professor at UTMB.

ALSO READ: Vaccines may work less well on variants, UK's Hancock says


Colombia will restrict flights to and from Brazil for a month to prevent the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus circulating there, President Ivan Duque said on Wednesday.

Monitoring at the border between Brazil, Latin America's largest country, and Colombia will also be increased, the president said.

Cargo flights will continue operating with security measures in place, he added.

Colombia has reported more than 2 million coronavirus infections, as well as 52,523 deaths from COVID-19.


It is "very unlikely" that Irish people will be able to go on foreign summer holidays this year as herd immunity is unlikely to have been achieved in time, Ireland's deputy prime minister said on Wednesday.

Leo Varadkar said that under current rules, it was against the law to go on a foreign holiday and the government's current assumption was that it might take the vaccination of 70-80 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity.


Britain said it remained confident that its supply of vaccines would not be disrupted after a row between the European Union and vaccine maker AstraZeneca over supplies.

“We are in constant contact with the vaccine manufacturers and remain confident that the supply of vaccine to the UK will not be disrupted,” a government spokeswoman said.

Britain said the EU had established its own supply chains, and that supplies and delivery agreements between the EU and AstraZeneca were not for the UK government to comment on.

Britain said on Thursday it must receive all of the COVID-19 vaccines it had ordered and paid for after the European Union asked AstraZeneca if it could divert supplies of the Oxford-developed shots from Britain.

Asked repeatedly by the BBC if the British government would prevent AstraZeneca diverting essential vaccine supplies from Britain to the EU, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove said the crucial thing was that Britain received its orders as planned and on time.

Meanwhile, Gove said Britain will review a list of countries affected by quarantine measures, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday confirmed tougher border quarantine measures will be imposed on passengers arriving in the UK from hot spot regions such as South America, South Africa and Portugal.

“In order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government-provided accommodation such as hotels for 10 days, without exception,” the prime minister told members of Parliament Wednesday. “They will be met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine.”

Johnson also put England on notice that the national virus lockdown will continue for at least another six weeks, and said schools will stay closed until at least March 8.

The announcement came as the UK recorded on Wednesday its second highest daily death toll from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. An additional 1,725 fatalities within 28 days of a positive test took the nation's COVID-19 toll to 101,887.

The country recorded a further 25,308 cases of the disease on Wednesday, up from 20,089 the day before.

Data showed that 7,164,387 people have now been given their first dose of the vaccine, including 311,060 who received it in the last 24 hours.


Morocco will start rolling out its mass coronavirus vaccination program on Thursday, the royal palace said, the first African country to do so.

The North African country has received 2 million doses ofAstraZeneca's vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and 500,000 doses of the vaccine made by China's Sinopharm. It began distributing them to centers around the country earlier this week.

The palace said vaccinations will be available for free to all Moroccans over the age of 17 but that health, security and teaching staff will receive the first shots.

As of Wednesday, Morocco had recorded 468,383 coronavirus cases, including 8,207 deaths, with 13,995 cases still active.


The variant of COVID-19 first discovered in England, which is said to have a higher rate of transmission, has been found in 10 percent of the COVID-19 cases in France, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

Attal reiterated in an interview with France Inter radio on Thursday that the option of a stricter lockdown remained open to President Emmanuel Macron's government, but he did not provide more specific detail.

On Wednesday, Attal said a nightly curfew is failing to slow the spread of infections in France. Scenarios being discussed range from a very strict lockdown to maintaining the status quo, Attal said. It was unlikely no action would be taken, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron is likely to wait until Saturday, two weeks after the curfew was lengthened, before deciding on the next step and is concerned that more curbs on public freedoms may trigger acts of civil disobedience, a government official said.

France reported 26,916 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the biggest one-day jump since mid-November when France was in its second lockdown and a further sign that a tighter curfew is not containing the virus. The new cases pushed the cumulative total over 3.1 million.

The number of people who have died from the virus rose by 350 to 74,456.

Soldiers prepare beds in a new COVID-19 ward being set up at the Military Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, Jan 26, 2021. The military hospital is expanding its number of beds available to take COVID-19 patients from the National Health Service. (ARMANDO FRANCA / AP)


Portugal is in a terrible phase of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said, warning that it would be some weeks before things might start to improve and only limited help could be expected from abroad.

Costa said the situation had worsened partly because his government relaxed restrictive measures between Christmas and the end of the year, but also due to the virulence of a new variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

Hospitals in Lisbon flooded with COVID-19 patients are at risk of failing to meet soaring demand for oxygen, the head of Portugal's doctors association said, as Germany sent military medics to the country to evaluate how they can help.

Portugal on Wednesday reported a record daily toll of 293 fatalities, as well as 15,073 new cases. In total, the country has logged 11,305 deaths and 668,951 cases.

Portugal's largest hospital is struggling to cope with the number of patients and a spokesman said it only has one bed left in its COVID-19 ICU and around 10 on the ward

Hospitals are using two-thirds of their intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients and military hospitals are converting cafeterias into wards.

Portugal's largest hospital, the Santa Maria in Lisbon, is struggling to cope with the number of patients and a spokesman said it only has one bed left in its COVID-19 ICU and around 10 on the ward.

German military medical experts sent to Portugal "will be exploring the situation on the ground and trying to clarify what kind of support is needed and feasible," a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday evening, confirming a report in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.

Meanwhile, Portugal will suspend all flights to and from Brazil from Jan 29 until Feb 14, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday, citing a worsening COVID-19 pandemic globally and in Portugal, as well as new variants of the virus detected elsewhere.

Only humanitarian and repatriation flights will be allowed, with travellers required to provide a COVID-19 test taken 72 hours in advance before boarding and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival back in Portugal, it said in a statement.

ALSO READ: Glaxo, Eli Lilly join forces to test COVID-19 antibody cocktail


New coronavirus infections in Spain hovered near a record high as a third wave continues to grow following a relaxation of restrictions on movement over the holiday period. 

New virus cases rose to 18,462 on Wednesday compared with 15,660 on Tuesday. That was near the all-time record of 18,504 on Jan 21. 

The infection rate rose to 900 per 100,000 people while hospitalizations fell slightly to 24 percent of available beds.

The region of Madrid has halted its vaccination campaign after getting half the expected vials last week, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported, citing the regional government’s vice-president.


Norway put in place the strictest border controls since March to reduce the risk of the more infectious variant of the virus taking hold. 

Foreign nationals that aren’t residents of Norway and don’t have close family in the country will be denied entry from Thursday night, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said at a press conference in Oslo.

Meanwhile, Norwegian deliveries are set to return to the agreed rate starting next week after the country received 15 percent fewer doses this week, TV2 reported, citing Joachim Henriksen, a spokesman for Pfizer in Norway. Norway will receive doses faster than the initial estimates, TV2 reported.


Chile's health regulator on Wednesday approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use among its population by a unanimous vote of its advisory board.

The approval from the Chilean Public Health Institute (ISP) is for the use of 6.6 million doses as part of a two-dose regime for Chileans over the age of 18 and without an upper age limit.

Chilean trade vice-minister Rodrigo Yanez, in charge of vaccine supply agreements, said four million doses that had been purchased direct from the company would start to arrive at the end of March and be administered until June.

He said another 2.6 million AstraZeneca doses purchased through the COVAX vaccine alliance facility were also expected to arrive in March.

Chile recorded 3,371 new cases and 17 more deaths, bringing the total caseload to 709,888 with 18,040 deaths, the Ministry of Health reported Wednesday.

Authorities reported that 56,759 people had received their first doses of vaccine, while 10,315 had been given the second dose.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic's coronavirus vaccination drive was in chaos on Wednesday after the Health Ministry called for a two-week halt to new vaccinations amid a supply shortage, only to be rebuked by Prime Minister Andrej Babis and the health minister.

The ministry recommended regional health officials halt new COVID-19 vaccinations for two weeks to prioritize second doses due to concern about delivery delays.

But Health Minister Jan Blatny later said on Czech Television that shortages were not such that first doses had to be stopped altogether.

"This (health ministry instruction) was unnecessary … The vaccination centers need to deal with this themselves, they know how many vaccines they are getting," said PM Babis.

The country of 10.7 million has inoculated more than 222,000 people, and more than 17,000 have already received a second dose, health ministry data as of Tuesday showed.

So far,956,155 cases and 15,453 deaths have been reported.

The Czech government will meet on Thursday to discuss possible tighter measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Babis said.


Russia reported 19,138 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including 2,897 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,793,810 since the pandemic began.

Authorities said 575 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 71,651.

Russia's supply of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to Latin America, a key overseas sales area, may be delayed by up to three weeks as production capacity is ramped up to meet high demand, a blow for countries relying on it for their inoculation programs.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Gamaleya institute said they were expanding capacity to produce more of the vaccine to meet demand in Latin America, where Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and others are looking to use it.

"We are now upgrading facilities located outside of Russia to ensure the supply to Argentina and the rest of the region. As a result, we will see a significant increase in production in the second quarter," RDIF and Gamaleya said in a statement.

"Until then, some batches may have delays of up to 2-3 weeks."


The United States is ramping up COVID-19 vaccine rollout as January marks the deadliest month yet since the onset of the pandemic in the country.

With nearly 80,000 reported deaths through Jan 26, the first month of 2021 is the deadliest month yet since the pandemic hit the US a year ago.

Overall, the US has recorded over 25.5 million cases and more than 429,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Nationwide, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 24,652,634 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Wednesday morning and distributed 47,230,950 doses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted restrictions in most hot spots across New York state, declaring an end to the post-holiday surge in cases and hospitalizations. New York City said it will receive 17,000 additional vaccine shots next week, after President Joe Biden's administration boosted deliveries.

Meanwhile, Texas National Guard troops are being deployed to remote areas to vaccinate rural populations that can’t access clinics in towns and cities.

On virus aid, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris were directly engaged in building support for a US$1.9 trillion economic recovery plan in Congress.


The European Union (EU) shuts its door to visitors from Japan following a surge in coronavirus cases there, according to an EU official.

EU governments decided to remove Japan from their common list of countries whose residents should be allowed to visit the bloc during the pandemic, the official said on the condition of anonymity; the update of the EU’s recommended travel “white list” keeps the US and most other nations off it.

The ouster of Japan – approved by EU member-country envoys at a meeting in Brussels following a recommendation by experts – shrinks the European list of permitted travel to residents of just seven states: Australia, China, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.


Bulgaria's Vice-President Iliana Yotova has tested positive for the coronavirus, but was in good general health and has shown only mild symptoms of the disease, the president's office said on Wednesday.

President Rumen Radev tested negative for the virus, the office said in a statement.

South Africa variant

Laboratory testing found that Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc's COVID-19 antibody cocktail can combat a coronavirus variant first found in South Africa, but a similar drug from Eli Lilly and Co is inactive against it, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Researchers at Columbia University, the US National Institutes of Health and Regeneron found by testing lab samples that Lilly's bamlanivimab is inactive against the coronavirus strain first identified in South Africa, according to the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed but was published online on BioRxiv, a website for research.

The study also found that one of the two antibodies used by Regeneron for its cocktail was significantly less effective against the South African variant, but the antibody cocktail itself remained potent.

Meanwhile, when Lilly's bamlanivimab was used in combination with a treatment from ShanGLAghai Junshi Biosciences , its activity against the South African variant was still largely crippled, according to the study.

People wearing face masks walk on a street in Rome, Italy, Jan 27, 2021. (CHENG TINGTING / XINHUA)


Italy reported 467 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, down from 541 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 15,204 from 10,593.

Italy has now registered 86,889 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 2.501 million cases.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 21,161 on Wednesday, compared with 21,355 a day earlier.

There were 115 new admissions to intensive care units, against 162 the day before. The total number of intensive care patients stood at 2,352, down from 2,372 on Tuesday.


Botswana plans to vaccinate every citizen in the nation against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic once available, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said Wednesday.

Masisi said vaccinating the whole population is the quickest possible time to deal with this global pandemic, because vaccinating only 20 percent of the population will not hit the number needed to treat to neither provide protection nor get immunity out of it.

Botswana has recorded 20, 658 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 124 deaths so far.


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday signed the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021, a new law aimed at controlling the pandemic in the most populous African country.

The law stipulates physical distancing of at least two meters and limits the number of people to be admitted in an enclosed environment, said Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

Gatherings of more than 50 persons are banned in enclosed spaces, except for religious purposes, in which the number of people should not exceed 50 percent of the places' capacity, according to the law.

The law also includes operational rules for public places like open markets, malls, supermarkets and restaurants. No person is allowed to visit such places except when "he is wearing a face covering that covers the nose and mouth," according to the law, which also encourages hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers.


Cuba on Wednesday added four COVID-19 deaths to its January death toll, bringing the figure to 58 and making it the month with the most deaths related to the disease since the start of the outbreak in the country.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, a record 825 new infections were also recorded in a day, of which 801 were community transmissions – also a record high.

"There is a significant transmission in all provinces and municipalities of the country, so protocols and measures to confront the pandemic are being adjusted," said Francisco Duran, the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology.

Overall, the Caribbean country has logged 23,439 cases, including 18,325 recoveries and 204 deaths. 


Ethiopia registered 476 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 135,045, said the Ministry of Health on Wednesday.

The death toll reached 2,083 after eight more deaths were reported, the ministry said.

The country will soon launch a mask-wearing campaign in schools nationwide, the Ministry of Education said on the same day.

The move is aimed at boosting awareness of wearing masks to fight the virus in schools across the country, the ministry said in a statement.


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday reiterated his call for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"I want to utilize this vital platform today to once again urge all countries, economies, and manufacturers to work with – and through – the COVAX facility to realize the commitments of equitable access, especially for the most vulnerable," the UN chief said in his pre-recorded video message to the High-level Webinar on the African COVID-19 Vaccine Financing and Deployment Strategy.

"We must ensure that vaccines are seen as a global public good – people's vaccines – accessible and affordable to all," said Guterres. "We must work together to prioritize those most at risk in all countries and close the financing gap."

"Vaccine equity is in every country's self-interest. It is also the fastest way to reopen the global economy and start a sustainable recovery," said the UN chief.

Africa tally

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded on the African continent reached 3,473,940 as of Wednesday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll stood at 86,898, the Africa CDC said.


Ghana reported 616 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking the  tally to 62,751, according to the Ghana Health Service (GHS).

The death toll reached 377 after five more deaths were reported, said the GHS.

All 16 regions in Ghana have reported active cases, with the capital leading with 2,025 active infections.


The Tunisian Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 1,661 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 202,323.

The death toll went up by 76 to 6,446, the ministry said in a statement.


Algeria on Wednesday reported 262 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 106,359.

The death toll rose to 2,877 after six more fatalities were added, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.


Argentina has ordered restrictions on the number of flights to and from Brazil, the United States, Europe and Mexico due to the epidemiological situation caused by COVID-19, according to information released on Wednesday by state news agency Telam. 

The measure, adopted by the National Civil Aviation Administration, reduces flight connections with the United States, Europe and Mexico by 30 percent of current services, and 50 percent for Brazil.

The measure went into force on Wednesday, even though the actual implementation will begin on Feb 1, according to Telam.


Belarus reported 1,718 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, taking its total to 242,851, according to the country's health ministry.

There have been 2,131 new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total recoveries to 229,199, the ministry said.

So far, 1,688 people have died of the disease in the country, including 10 over the past 24 hours, it said.


The Swiss Federal Council announced Wednesday further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, including boosting mass testing in the country.

"It is believed that more than half of COVID-19 infections are transmitted by people who do not display symptoms," reads a statement released by the Council.

"By extending the testing strategy, the government hopes that local outbreaks of the virus, for example in schools, can be identified and contained at an early stage," the statement reads

Other measures include stricter fines for people not respecting sanitary measures.

In addition, Switzerland will require negative coronavirus tests from people entering the country from high-risk areas as of Feb 8, the government said.

Health authorities have reported here nearly 518,000 cases and 8,545 deaths in Switzerland and neighboring Liechtenstein since the pandemic broke out in February, 2020.

North Macedonia

The Ministry of Health of North Macedonia has identified the country's first case of the new coronavirus variant that first found in the United Kingdom, Health Minister Venko Filipce said on Wednesday.

Filipce said on social media that the new variant was found in the sample of a 46-year-old patient, who was declared to have recovered on Jan 22.

The patient reportedly had no travel history and no coronavirus positive contacts either.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported 394 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 91,555, along with 80,008 recoveries and 2,821 fatalities.


The man in charge of Sweden’s COVID-19 response has been caught breaking his own advice on face masks on at least two occasions in the past week, according to state broadcaster SVT.

The Director-General of the country’s Public Health Agency, Johan Carlsson, was seen at Stockholm central station during rush hour without a face mask and also traveled on a bus without facial protection after 4 p.m. “It’s of course embarrassing,” he said, adding that he wasn’t aware of the time.

Sweden has banned mink breeding until the end of the year due to fears of new coronavirus mutations that might exacerbate the COVID-19 crisis.

A ban on the import of live mink has also been introduced.

The government announced that it had commissioned the National Veterinary Institute and the Board of Agriculture to examine animal husbandry in Sweden to reduce the risk of infection from animals. They shall also propose further measures to minimize the risk of human-animal transmission.

Ten cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among residents at a Swedish care home despite that they have completed a two-dose vaccination, reported Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

The virus was believed to have entered the care home in Sweden's second-largest city Gothenburg via employees, as five staff members were also confirmed infected.

The residents were given the first dose of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech on Dec. 27, 2020 and the second one on Jan. 19. Lab tests confirmed on Tuesday that they had contracted the disease, the report said.

Sweden on Wednesday reported 4,183 new COVID-19 cases and 178 additional deaths. The country has now reported a total of 560,472 cases and 11,425 deaths.


Slovenia on Wednesday recorded 1,850 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 161,684, according to the National Institute of Public Health.

According to the national COVID-19 tracker site Sledilnik, there were 17,905 active cases in the country. 

Meanwhile, the death toll went up by 19 to 3,425.

Slovenia has retested 877 samples of positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the coronavirus taken in the last two weeks, and 16 of them showed two genetic changes matching the new UK virus variant.

Tjasa Zohar Cretnik, the head of the National Laboratory for Health, Environment and Food, told media on Wednesday that "for the time being," the coronavirus variant has not spread extensively in the country.


The Lithuanian government on Wednesday extended the existing nationwide COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions on movement for another month until Feb 28.

"The quarantine restrictions have contributed to slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Lithuania, but morbidity rates are still high," the government said in a press release.

At present, the 14-day incidence of COVID-19 stands at 498.2 cases per 100,000, less than half the figure in December, according to the data of the Department of Statistics.

Lithuania reported on Wednesday 1,278 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 179,212, including 2,716 deaths and 123,562 recoveries.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, and she assured him the bloc's measures to track vaccine exports would not affect deliveries to Canada.

Meanwhile, the Canadian province of Quebec on Wednesday retreated from a controversial requirement for homeless people to follow a curfew aimed at curbing the spread of novel coronavirus, after a court ruled it put them in danger.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Chantal Masse granted an injunction suspending the curfew's application to the homeless, arguing that their "lives, security and health were being put in danger".

Quebec's Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant said on Twitter the province would "modify its decree in order to exempt homeless people from the curfew," and not challenge the court ruling.


Ukraine's parliament on Thursday backed plans to accelerate and simplify the registration of COVID-19 vaccines as the country prepares to start vaccinating its 41 million people.

The government has said it expects to receive 100,000 to 200,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer under the global COVAX scheme in February and to vaccinate the first 367,000 people against COVID-19 in the first stage.

None of the existing vaccines has yet been registered in Ukraine. Thursday's vote was on a first reading of the legislative amendments and a second reading will be required for them to take effect.


Georgia on Thursday reported 723 new COVID-19 cases, taking its tally to 256,287, according to the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Data from the NCDC showed that 932 more patients have recovered in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of recoveries to 246,459.

Meanwhile, 19 people died in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 3,127.


Hungary is extending a partial coronavirus lockdown in force since early November until March 1, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyas said at a press briefing that any easing of restrictions now would lead to a tighter lockdown later, and Hungary could only start easing the measures if the number of cases falls sharply or if large numbers are inoculated.

"The measures taken in November have helped slow down and keep the pandemic under control," Gulyas said. Hungary has so far reported 363,450 cases and 12,291 deaths.

Hungary had vaccinated 161,215 people as of Thursday using Pfizer and Moderna shots, the government said. Gulyas said vaccines arriving through the EU's procurement process would not be enough to achieve mass inoculation.

Gulyas said Hungary would receive the first batch of Russia's Sputnik V shot by the end of February, enough to inoculate 300,000 people.

Gulyas also said that the government would accelerate the approval process for vaccines, granting emergency use approval to any shot already administered to at least a million people globally. However, local health authorities would screen any new vaccine to be used in Hungary, he said.


Zimbabwe plans to rely on an immunization program already in place for other diseases to roll out COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they arrive.

The Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control with the Health Ministry, Portia Manangazira, told the Parliamentary Committee on Health that the national COVID-19 vaccine readiness assessment had already been done, state-run Herald newspaper reported Thursday.

Manangazira said the Health Ministry came up with a deployment strategy that would be used once the program starts.

"I am happy to say as a country we have a very robust immunization program and the ministry through the Expanded Program on Immunization has conducted a national readiness assessment for the COVID-19 vaccine and we have also come up with a Zimbabwe COVID-19 national deployment and vaccination strategy," said Manangazira.


The Ugandan government on Thursday said the country would receive COVID-19 vaccines in April or May this year.

A government statement issued here by the Uganda Media Center said the vaccines would cost the country US$164 million and that 9 million people would benefit.

Priority would be given to people who face the highest risk like the elderly, persons with underlying health conditions, health workers and social workers including security services.

There are ongoing discussions on whether to allow private health facilities provide the vaccines to travelers and people who may not be on the priority list but are able to buy the vaccine.


Zambia's COVID-19 cases surpassed the 50,000 mark as the country continues to see a surge in cases during the second wave, its health ministry said on Thursday.

The cases reached 50,319 following 1,408 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours out of 13,524 tests done, representing a 10.4 percent positivity rate.

According to the figures, 1,489 patients were discharged during the same period, bringing the total recoveries to 42,771 while 17 people died, bringing the total deaths to 705.


The new strain of more contagious COVID-19 variant first discovered in Britain has been identified during sequencing in positive specimens in Senegal, Professor Souleymane Mboup confirmed during Thursday's daily COVID-19 briefing of the Senegalese health ministry.

According to Mboup, Institute for Health Research, Epidemiological Surveillance and Training (IRESSEF), the institute founded by him, in collaboration with the Medical Research Council The Gambia (MRCG), has carried out sequencing samples collected during the second wave of Senegal's COVID-19 pandemic through Whole Genome sequencing and next-generation sequencing.