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Wednesday, December 02, 2020, 22:59
Interpol warns virus vaccines could be targeted by criminals
By Agencies
Wednesday, December 02, 2020, 22:59 By Agencies

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a wallpaper on anti-coronavirus measures pasted across a wall of tunnel in Warsaw, Poland, Nov 7, 2020. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

CHICAGO / WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / MBABANE / TBILISI / PARIS / ROME / OTTAWA / SANTIAGO / LISBON / LONDON / STOCKHOLM / MADRID / BUENOS AIRES  / BOGOTA / LOS ANGELES / BERLIN / COPENHAGEN / KAMPALA / HARARE / KIEV / NICOSIA / WARSAW / MOSCOW / GENEVA - The Interpol global police co-ordination agency warned on Wednesday that organized criminal networks could be targeting COVID-19 vaccines, and could look to sell fake shots.

Interpol said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

"As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives," said Interpol Secretary-General Juergen Stock. 

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 63.9 million while the global death toll topped 1.48 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

WHO

People living in areas with COVID-19 spread should wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools if ventilation is not adequate, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in new advice issued on Wednesday.

Health workers could wear N95 masks if available when caring for COVID-19 patients, but the only proven protection is when they are doing aerosol-generating procedures, the WHO said, updating its previous guidance of June.

EU

European Union regulators offered a fresh set of safe-travel recommendations to make it easier for people to cross national borders within the bloc while guarding against another resurgence of the coronavirus.

The guidelines in the run-up to the end-of-year holidays are an attempt to strike a balance between the responsibility of EU governments for health policy and the role of the European Commission in preventing barriers in the single market. 

People travelling during the pandemic shouldn’t automatically be considered as high-risk for spreading infection, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said on Wednesday. The prevalence of the coronavirus among travelers is estimated to be lower than for the general population, the groups said.

Argentina

Argentina reported 198 additional COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the toll to 38,928, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

The country also reported 8,037 new cases, bringing the tally to 1,432,570, said the ministry.

Buenos Aires, the worst-hit province in the country, posted 2,128 new cases and 67 more deaths.

Austria

Austria is reopening schools for students under 14 years of age, as well as most stores and services such as hairdressers from next week, subject to social distancing rules. Restaurants and hotels will remain shuttered over Christmas and New Year’s, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told journalists in Vienna.

The government will extend economic aid measures for affected businesses, Kurz said. It also imposed mandatory quarantine for travelers from neighboring countries over the holiday period to discourage cross-border trips. The limit for meetings at home will be lifted to as many as 10 people over the holidays, however.

Belarus 

Belarus reported 1,689 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking its total to 139,908, the Health Ministry said.

There have been 1,608 new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 117,195, the ministry added.

So far, 1,174 people have died of the disease in the country, including eight over the past 24 hours.

Brazil

Indigenous people, health workers and those aged 75 years and older will be at the front of the line to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Brazil's Health Ministry said on Tuesday as it unveiled a four-stage preliminary plan for national immunization.

People aged 60 to 74 will be vaccinated in the second stage, and those with prior health conditions such as heart or kidney disease would be covered in a third stage.

Brazil's four-stage preliminary plan for national immunization against COVID-19 would cover 109.5 million people out Brazil's total population of 212 million

The final stage, before making a vaccine available to the wider population, would include teachers, security personnel and first responders, along with prison staff and inmates, the Health Ministry said. The four stages would cover 109.5 million people out Brazil's total population of 212 million.

A senior ministry official said the ideal candidate for Brazil would be a less costly one-dose vaccine that can be transported and stored at temperatures between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius

The ministry said it has so far guaranteed access to 142.9 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19, of which 100.4 million doses are under an agreement with AstraZeneca, and another 14.5 million through the WHO-led COVAX Facility.

The ministry said it was in the process of buying 300 million syringes and needles in Brazil and another 40 million abroad.

The ministry reported earlier that 50,909 new infections were registered in the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally since early September, along with 697 additional deaths.

The country has now registered 6,386,787 cases and 173,817 deaths in total, according to ministry data.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro said his government cannot keep giving emergency aid to informal workers indefinitely, signaling policy makers don’t intend to extend the benefit that expires at year-end.

Canada

Canada continued seeing sharply increased COVID-19 cases, with a total of 382,812 COVID-19 cases and 12,195 deaths registered as of Tuesday evening, according to CTV.

More than 6,100 new cases were reported across the country on Tuesday.

The number of people experiencing severe illness continued to increase. The Public Health Agency of Canada said that over the past seven days, there were on average over 2,250 individuals with COVID-19 being treated in Canadian hospitals, including over 450 in critical care, and an average of 87 deaths were reported each day.

Chile

Chilean officials estimated that the country's healthcare system might see as many as 9,560 new COVID-19 cases daily in a worst case scenario of a second wave of infections, according to a leading daily on Tuesday.

By January, Chile could be looking at three different situations: 3,026 new daily cases; 6,608 daily cases, similar to the second waves currently seen in Europe; or 9,560 daily cases, the daily El Mercurio reported, citing Health Minister Enrique Paris.

The worst case scenario would entail 2,622 daily cases more than during the height of Chile's pandemic on June 14, when 6,938 infections were reported in a day.

On Tuesday, Chile reported 1,119 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 552,864, as well as 20 more deaths, taking the death toll to 15,430.

Colombia

Colombia reported 7,986 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 1,324,792, health authorities said Tuesday.

Another 168 newly reported deaths took the toll to 36,934, the National Institute of Health said.

Cyprus

Cyprus expects to get its first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of December, a government advisor said on Tuesday.

Zoi Dorothea Pana, advisor to the minister of health, said at a news conference that both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have pledged to start supplying the vaccine this month, without specifying an exact date. 

She said that Cyprus will receive 1,192,043 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine starting this month through to the second quarter of 2022.

Delivery of 391,637 doses of the Pfizer vaccine is also scheduled to start in December and continue until the third quarter of 2021.

The government said it planned to vaccinate the entire population of almost 900,000 people living in the government-controlled territory of the eastern Mediterranean island, adding that vaccination will not be compulsory.

The latest official records showed that the country has recorded 10,565 confirmed cases and 49 deaths.

A teacher poses questions to her students in a classroom rearranged to comply with social distancing rules, at the Norrebro Park primary school in Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 29, 2020. (THIBAULT SAVARY / AFP)

Denmark

Denmark's Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced a decision to introduce new nationwide COVID-19 recommendations and restrictions, focusing on young residents and the Copenhagen metropolitan area.

According to the ministry, people aged 15 to 25 years old in 17 metropolitan municipalities in and around the Copenhagen area were identified as the principal group driving the virus transmission and are urged to get tested before Christmas.

The health authorities will utilize testing facilities aimed primarily at the young, which will "move like a caravan" through all 17 affected municipalities, said Minister of Health Magnus Heunicke, adding that he hoped the initiative would test around 200,000 young people.

The government recommended that teaching and examinations at higher educational institutions inside the municipalities be conducted online.

Children and young people up to the age of 21 will be limited to 10 people in a group for all activities, while a curb on mass gatherings of 500 people at seated events will be further tightened nationwide, except for events such as religious, sports and cultural activities.

The recommendations take effect immediately while all requirements will take effect on Dec 7 and will stay in place until Jan 2, 2021, according to the ministry.

According to the ministry's data, the infection rate among residents in the metropolitan area accounted for 50 percent of all confirmed cases in the country during Nov 21-27.

Denmark has so far reported 81,949 COVID-19 cases and 846 deaths, according to the Statens Serum Institut, a governmental public health and research institution under the health ministry.

Estonia 

Estonia has reported 524 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the nation's tally to 13,019, the country's health board said on Wednesday.

The country's death toll stands at 122 with one death reported the same day, while 7,608 people have recovered and 17 are still in serious condition.

Eswatini

Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, has been transferred to a hospital in neighboring South Africa for further treatment, the tiny absolute monarchy's government said on Tuesday.

Eswatini Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a statement Dlamini was moved to "guide and fast track his recovery".

The southern African nation of around 1.2 million people has so far recorded 6,419 positive cases with 122 confirmed deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A closed chairlift station is pictured at the "Portes du Soleil" ski resort in Chatel, France, Dec 1, 2020. (JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT / KEYSTONE VIA AP)

France

France will make random borders checks to stop people getting infected with COVID-19 by crossing into countries where ski resorts remain open, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

The measures, also aimed at appeasing French resorts operators complaining of an uneven playing field, will apply to France's borders with Switzerland and Spain, where it is expected ski slopes will be open during the festive season.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the country should be in a position to embark on a broader COVID-19 vaccination campaign between April and June next year, after initially targeting a smaller group of people

Castex's remarks came after President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that the country will put restrictions on people traveling abroad to find ski resorts not subject to COVID-19 shutdowns this Christmas.

Macron also said that France should be in a position to embark on a broader COVID-19 vaccination campaign between April and June next year, after initially targeting a smaller group of people.

New COVID-19 infections in France stayed below 10,000 for the third day in a row on Tuesday, a sequence unseen since mid-September, and the number of people hospitalized resumed a downward trend.

Health authorities reported 8,083 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative caseload to 2,230,571, the fifth-highest in the world.

The number of people hospitalized for the disease fell by 619 to 27,639, below 28,000 for the first time since Nov 4. The number of patients in intensive care units declined by 146 to 3,605.

The death toll rose by 775 to 53,506. But the seven-day moving average of daily additional deaths stood at 467, below 500 for the first time in more than three weeks.

Georgia

Georgia reported 4,033 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing its tally to 143,376, the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health said.

Of the new cases, 1,705 were confirmed in the capital city of Tbilisi, the center said.

As of Wednesday, 121,621 patients have recovered, while 1,342 others have died, it said.

Germany

Germany recorded 24,766 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, and daily fatalities jumped to a seven-month high of 483.

The rise in infections - the biggest in six days - took the total caseload to 1,094,678, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Germany’s death toll now stands at more than 17,000.

According ata from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday, coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 17,270 to 1,084,743 and the reported death toll rose by 487 to 17,123.

Italy

The Italian government is set to tighten restrictions during the Christmas and New Year holiday season.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told the Rome Senate that a new decree, due to come into force on Friday, will prolong a three-tier system that tailors restrictions to regional contagion levels.

Meanwhile, Italy will launch a massive, free coronavirus vaccination program early next year, with health workers and the elderly to be given priority, Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.

"We finally see land, we have a clear route to a safe harbour... It seems likely that from January we will have the first vaccines," he told the Senate.

Speranza said the government had options to buy 202 million COVID-19 vaccine shots from various companies.

Health operators, elderly people and those living in nursing homes will be vaccinated first, Speranza said, adding that the main part of the campaign will be carried out between spring and summer 2021.

Italy reported 785 COVID-19-related deaths on Tuesday, up from 672 on Monday, and 19,350 new infections, compared with 16,377 the day before, the health ministry said.

Italy has now seen 56,361 COVID-19 fatalities, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain's, and has also registered 1.62 million cases.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 32,811 on Tuesday, down 376 on the day before. The number in intensive care fell by 81 and now stands at 3,663.

READ MORE: Virus worsens Europe's inequalities in another way - fertility gap

Mexico

Mexico's government was due to sign a contract on Wednesday with pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the delivery of its coronavirus vaccine, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Tuesday.

Mexico's contract with Pfizer will include ways to minimize the challenges associated with its vaccine, which requires that it be transported and stored at -70 degrees Celsius.

Lopez-Gatell said Mexico's military will help with the vaccination process.

He also said that Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit has begun its coronavirus clinical trial in Mexico, where it is looking to have up 20,000 subjects.

Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 8,819 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 825 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,122,362 cases and 106,765 deaths.

Poland

Poland's total number of coronavirus cases passed one million on Wednesday, according to health ministry data, as the country grapples with a shortage of doctors and medical supplies amidst the second wave of the pandemic.

Poland has now recorded 1,013,747 confirmed cases and 18,208 related deaths, the data showed.

Portugal

Portugal’s director-general of health, Graca Freitas, has tested positive for Covid-19 and is in self-isolation, the country’s Health Ministry said. Freitas has had mild symptons and has cancelled a press conference that was scheduled for Wednesday.

Securing a coronavirus vaccine for all European countries will be a top priority for Portugal when it takes over the presidency of the European Union next January, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Tuesday.

"We must guarantee we have a vaccine available which is effective in stopping COVID and which permits us to reach on the same day all countries of Europe," Costa said at a news conference with European Council President Charles Michel.

Roche

A Roche Holding AG test that detects the presence and level of coronavirus antibodies inside people was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.

The test, known as the Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 S, identifies antibodies tied to the virus’s distinctive spike protein, a target for several of the leading vaccines in development. The test could be used to evaluate how well the shots work, including over time, Roche said in a statement announcing the approval. 

Like other antibody tests, it could also be used to identify potential plasma donors. 

Roche will begin shipping the new antibody test to US laboratories in the next week, where it will be processed using a Roche automated platform that produces results in about 18 minutes.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered authorities to begin mass vaccinations against COVID-19 from next week in Russia.

“Let’s agree on this - you will not report to me next week, but you will start mass vaccination ... let’s get to work already,” Putin told Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.

Russia reported a record 589 deaths linked to the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the official number of deaths to 41,053.

Authorities also reported 25,345 coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, including 5,191 in the capital Moscow, and 3,684 in St Petersburg, bringing the national cumulative tally to 2,347,401.

New beds sit in the new Isabel Zendal hospital during the official opening of the facility in Madrid, Spain, Dec 1, 2020. (PAUL WHITE / AP)

Spain

The Madrid region on Tuesday inaugurated a 100-million-euro hospital to treat COVID-19 patients but unions say a lack of healthcare workers has raised questions about how it will be staffed.

The new hospital, named Isabel Zendal in honour of a 19th century nurse who led early vaccination campaigns, was built in just three months near Madrid airport. It will eventually have a capacity of 1,056 beds, including 48 intensive care beds, the regional authority said.

In a first step, a wing with 240 beds, including an intensive care unit, will open. That wing will require 669 staff including nurses, doctors and technicians.

Spain on Tuesday reported 8,257 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total up to 1,656,444, - Western Europe's second highest after France. The death toll climbed by 442 to 45,511.

Sweden

Swedish parents have been told to keep young children away from kindergartens and primary schools should a member of the child's household test positive for COVID-19, according to new recommendations from the country's Public Health Agency on Tuesday.

Up until now, the Public Health Agency has said that the recommendation applies to older children, including high-school pupils. In its statement on Tuesday, the agency emphasized that young children do not tend to be highly infectious and that the main purpose of the new recommendation was to alleviate the burden of kindergarten and school staff.

The new recommendation was announced as the country's COVID-19 death toll neared 6,800, with more than 17,600 new cases reported between Friday and Tuesday, Public Health Agency's figure showed. Out of those, 117 had succumbed to the disease.

Currently, there were 239 patients in intensive care, according to the Swedish Intensive Care Registry.

Uganda

Uganda registered on Tuesday 576 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily increase, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 21,035.

A total of 55 new recoveries were recorded, bringing the total number of recoveries to 9,044, according to a statement by the health ministry.

So far, Uganda has recorded 205 deaths from COVID-19.

UK

The British parliament approved a system of regional COVID-19 restrictions for England on Tuesday despite a rebellion within Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own party which underlined growing unhappiness at his handling of the pandemic.

More than 40 percent of people in England will be subject to the toughest tier of restrictions on their daily life from Wednesday, when the government shifts to its new approach after a month of national lockdown, with just 1 percent in the lowest band.

The UK reported Tuesday 13,430 new COVID-19 cases and 603 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, both up on Monday's tallies, according to government data. 

In total, the UK has recorded a total of 1,643,086 confirmed cases and 59,051 deaths, according to government data.

READ MORE: UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot, first in the world

Ukraine

Ukraine's Health Minister Maxym Stepanov said he will no longer recommend that the government continue weekend quarantines to quell the spread of COVID-19 since it has little effect, UNIAN news agency reported Tuesday.

The number of new cases dropped after the weekend but overall, the restrictions did not bring the expected effect, Stepanov said in an interview with a local TV channel.

The minister said that Ukraine should have at least three weeks of a complete lockdown to have a visible positive effect.

Ukraine confirmed 13,141 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 758,264, its health ministry said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, 169 patients have died of the disease over the past day, taking the nationwide death toll to 12,717.

Medical workers talk in a hallway of a newly opened field hospital for COVID-19 patients in Cranston, Rhode Island, Dec 1, 2020. (DAVID GOLDMAN / AP)

US

US officials on Tuesday unveiled plans to begin vaccinating millions of Americans against COVID-19 as early as mid-December, as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in the United States soared once more to unprecedented heights.

The chief adviser of the Operation Warp Speed program said that 20 million people could be inoculated by the end of 2020, and that by the middle of 2021 most Americans will have access to highly effective vaccines.

Meanwhile, the US CDC will soon shorten the length of self-quarantine recommended after potential exposure to the coronavirus to 10 days, or 7 days with a negative test, a federal spokesperson said

Some 60 million to 70 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine could be available per month beginning in January, after the expected regulatory approval of products from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, Moncef Slaoui said.

ALSO READ: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech seek EU approval for vaccines

Slaoui's remarks came on the same day a panel of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voted 13-to-1 to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line to receive initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines when they become available.

Later in the day, the US Transportation Department said it has made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of COVID-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

Meanwhile, the CDC will soon shorten the length of self-quarantine recommended after potential exposure to the coronavirus to 10 days, or 7 days with a negative test, a federal spokesperson said. The CDC currently recommends a 14-day quarantine in order to curb the transmission of the virus.

The US COVID-19 toll topped 270,00 Tuesday while the nation's tally surpassed 13.6 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The CDC reported 13,447,627 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 152,022 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 1,251 to 267,302.

Florida became the third US state to log more than 1 million COVID-19 cases Tuesday, along with 18,600 deaths, according to the state's Department of Health.

Los Angeles County saw its highest tally of new cases and hospitalizations, with 7,593 fresh infections and a total of 2,316 patients in hospitals. The most populous county in the US also recorded 46 mroe deaths.

Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government has limited the number of people permitted at any public gathering to 100 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said that in view of the need to promote the tourism sector, closing hours for restaurants would be extended from 6:30 pm to 8 pm.

As of Monday, Zimbabwe has recorded 10,034 COVID-19 cases, 8,489 recoveries and 277 deaths.

Meanwhile, the country reopened a number of its busiest land borders on Tuesday to private motorists and pedestrians under a phased reopening of ports of entry and exit. 

Patients on some cancer therapies 'may be contagious for months'

COVID-19 patients who received cancer treatments that suppress their immune system may remain contagious and able to spread the coronavirus for two months or more, according to a study published on Tuesday.

In the new study, researchers analyzed sputum and swab samples from 20 immunosuppressed cancer patients infected with the new coronavirus. They found that three were contagious for more than three weeks after their symptoms began, including one who remained contagious for 61 days.

The three patients had received either a stem-cell transplant or therapy with genetically engineered immune cells called CAR T-cells within the previous six months. Two of the three had developed severe COVID-19. None of them had antibodies to the virus.

Current public health recommendations for COVID-19 patients with weak immune systems are based on limited data and may need to be revised, the researchers said in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.



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