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Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 23:04
Parliament backs Merkel's push for more lockdown control
By Agencies
Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 23:04 By Agencies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes her face protection mask off to give a press statement at the Chancellery in Berlin on March 25, 2021, following a European Union (EU) summit via video conference with EU leaders. (MICHAEL KAPPELER / POOL / AFP)

OTTAWA / KIEV / MEXICO CITY / BUENOS AIRES / LONDON / SAO PAULO / ADDIS ABABA / ROME / RABAT / BUCHAREST / HAVANA / STOCKHOLM / TUNIS / BERLIN / SANTIAGO / ZURICH - Germany’s lower house of parliament backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial lockdown law, as officials struggle to check a fresh wave of coronavirus infections that’s putting intense pressure on hospitals.

Merkel’s ruling coalition pushed the legislation through after her government failed to find common ground with regional leaders on measures needed to fight the pandemic. The law -- which expires at the end of June -- triggers tighter restrictions in virus hotspots, including nighttime curfews and closing schools and non-essential stores.

“We have to break this third wave” by reducing contact as far as possible, Health Minister Jens Spahn told lawmakers during a stormy Bundestag debate. “The situation is serious, very serious,” Spahn added. “The scene in many hospitals remains dramatic, and some patients are having to be transfered and treatments delayed.”

Merkel moved to effectively override regional authorities because the renewed surge in infections threatens to overwhelm some intensive-care units. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs has been rising steadily since mid-March, and is close to 5,000, not far from a peak of 5,745 scaled at the beginning of January. 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 24,884 to 3,188,192, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.

The reported death toll rose by 331 to 80,634, the tally showed.

EU

The European Union’s (EU) long-awaited COVID-19 shot surge is finally here, raising hopes the continent can bring the pandemic under control and reopen economies faster than expected.

The inflection point came this month, with Germany nearly doubling the pace of vaccinations after an increase in supplies and the decision to let general practitioners administer doses in their regular offices. France, Italy and Spain are following a similar trajectory.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said it will restart deliveries of its vaccine to the EU after the bloc’s drug regulator said Tuesday the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks of a possible link with cases of rare blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) noted there had been more than 300 cases worldwide of rare blood clotting incidents combined with low platelet counts after use of COVID-19 vaccines.

There were 287 occurrences with the AstraZeneca vaccine, eight with Johnson & Johnson’s shot, 25 for Pfizer and five for Moderna, said Peter Arlett, head of data analytics at the EMA.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the J&J decision was “good news for the roll-out of vaccination campaigns across the EU”. 

Now, with people getting their shots faster, the bloc should be able to finally get past the contentious open-and-close cycle of lockdowns and get economies motoring along safely again.

The EU rollout could get another jolt if CureVac NV’s vaccine candidate gets approved soon, since many of the German biotech company’s 300 million planned doses for this year would stay on the continent.

The CureVac evaluation by the EMA could take place by the end of May, Nicola Magrini, director general of Italy’s drug agency, said on Radio24 on Wednesday.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 142.96 million while the global death toll topped 3.04 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 4,447,656 as of Wednesday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic stands at 118,541, while 3,991,479 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

Argentina

Argentina reported more than 29,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, along with a record occupation of intensive care units in the capital Buenos Aires and the greater metropolitan area.

According to the Ministry of Health, tests detected 29,145 new infections in the last 24 hours, with 61.79 percent of them reported in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, bringing the nationwide tally to 2,743,620.

Another 316 people died of the disease, raising the pandemic death toll to 59,792.

Some 6,510,615 people in Argentina have been vaccinated, including 821,214 people who have received both doses.

Also on Tuesday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia's sovereign wealth fund, and Argentine pharmaceutical company Laboratorios Richmond announced that Argentina will become the first country in Latin America to begin producing the Sputnik V vaccine. 

A woman has her temperature measured at a store entrance in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 19, 2021. (RAHEL PATRASSO / XINHUA)

Brazil

Brazil reported Tuesday 69,381 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 14,043,076.

The health ministry said that 3,321 more deaths were registered, raising the death toll to 378,003.

Brazil is in talks to buy another 100 million doses of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, Communications Minister Fabio Faria said on Tuesday, as the country scrambles to procure more shots after a sluggish start to its vaccination program.

If the deal is signed, the new supply would begin to be delivered at the end of the year, in order to secure supplies for next year’s immunization drive, a source with direct knowledge of the subject said.

Brazil had already closed one deal for 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine produced with German partner BioNTech SE. The first delivery of that order is due to arrive next week. Between April and June, a total of 15.5 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses are due to arrive, the health ministry said.

Separately, Pfizer said on Tuesday that Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa had authorized the vaccine to be stored at -20 degrees Celsius (-4F) for up to two weeks, which will facilitate logistics across the large tropical nation.

Canada

Toronto health authorities will order workplaces across Canada’s biggest city to close if they have more than five confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The decision Tuesday overrides less stringent provincial orders, and follows a similar move by Peel Region, a western suburb. It comes as the city struggles to contain a surge in variant cases that threatens to collapse the local health-care system.

Workplaces, or portions of workplaces, will be required to close for at least 10 calendar days if five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified in a two-week period. Some - notably childcare centers, healthcare facilities and those providing critical services - may be exempt. The order will be issued on April 23rd, the city said.

Intensive care units in Toronto and other parts of the province have been overwhelmed by the recent surge in cases.

Ontario province reported 3,469 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, down from Monday's 4,447 cases, while its hospitalizations hit new heights.

According to the provincial government, there were 2,360 patients currently being treated, 773 of whom were in intensive care units, a number never before seen during the pandemic, and 537 were in need of a ventilator.

In another development, the Canada-US border agreement restricting non-essential travel has been extended another month to May 21 amid the COVID-19 third wave, Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Tuesday.

People line up at a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Canada, on April 20, 2021. (RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday 5,071 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 1,136,435.

The death toll rose by 40 to 25,317.

Health Minister Enrique Paris noted that 12 regions in the country showed a decline in COVID-19 infections in the last seven days.

The central region of Maule recorded the highest national incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Paris.  

Cuba

Cuba reported 1,183 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, the highest daily tally seen in the country, bringing the cumulative caseload to 95,754 cases, the Ministry of Public Health said.

There were seven newly reported deaths, taking the toll to 538, the ministry said. 

The high number of infections in the last day reflects "the complexity of the epidemiological situation in the country, with a very high transmission rate in some regions," said Francisco Duran, the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology.

Havana reported 544 cases in one day, with an incidence rate of 365.5 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Cyprus

Cyprus has recorded an all-time high of 941 new coronavirus infections in one day since the outbreak of the pandemic in early March 2020, the health ministry announced on Tuesday.

The ministry said the cumulative caseload has topped 58,000, while the death toll reached 295 in the country with a population of less than one million.

It added that 277 patients were now in special COVID-19 hospitals, pushing public health facilities to their limits.

About 25 percent of the population has been vaccinated up to now, with the Health Ministry expecting the rate to go up to 65 percent by mid-June.  

Denmark

Denmark's health authorities said on Wednesday it expects to announce its decision on how to proceed with Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine next week pending further investigations into its possible link to rare blood clots.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,524 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 245,155 as of Tuesday evening, the country's health ministry said.

Another 47 newly reported deaths pushed the overall toll to 3,439, the ministry said.

The East African country also reported 1,290 more recoveries, taking the tally of recoveries to 181,935.

France

French domestic travel restrictions, set up to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, will end on May 3, said a government source, as President Emmanuel Macron's administration eyes a gradual exit from the latest lockdown.

Macron announced France's third, national lockdown at the end of March, and the government has said it could re-open some businesses and leisure activities - such as outdoor seatings at bars and restaurants - by mid-May.

France’s health authorities said on Tuesday an additional 14 patients had been take to intensive care units (ICU) with COVID-19 infection, bringing the total to a new 2021 high of 5,984.

Greece

Greece was to allow restaurants to re-open early next month, state minister George Gerapetritis said on Wednesday.

"Our intention is to have a coordinated opening of the restaurants after Easter," the minister told Greek state television ERT.

Greek Orthodox Easter falls on May 2.

Hungary

Hungary’s government sought lawmakers’ approval to extend a state of emergency that allows it to rule by decree. The regime would last until mid-September. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been criticized for using emergency powers on matters that go beyond the immediate virus response.

The country has given at least a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine to more than a third of its population and authorities are planning an accelerated campaign to inoculate more people with the use of incoming shots produced by China’s Sinopharm, according to the Telex news website.

Iceland

Iceland's government said on Tuesday it would propose tightening some of its border controls in order to ease domestic COVID-19 restrictions.

Passengers entering Iceland from countries with high infection rates - 1,000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants - will need to go into quarantine, while authorities can also prohibit unnecessary travel to Iceland from those countries.

The changes will take effect from April 22 to June 30.

Rules currently in place regarding vaccine certificates remain unchanged until June 1.

Italy

Italy is aiming to open the country to tourists in mid-May, pledging a range of measures to protect visitors as it scrambles to rescue a sector devastated by lockdowns and restrictions on movement.

The government will introduce so-called vaccine passports earlier than the rest of the European Union, Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia said in an interview. “Conditions are right to start the summer season on May 15,” Garavaglia said.

Separately on Tuesday, Italy’s health ministry recommended that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine be used for people over the age of 60, after Europe’s drugs regulator said the jab may be linked to blood clotting issues among younger people.

Italy reported 390 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday against 316 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 12,074 from 8,864.

In total, Italy has registered 117,633 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 3.89 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 23,255 on Tuesday. There were 182 new admissions to intensive care units, bringing the total to 3,151.

J&J

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said it will restart deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the EU following the bloc’s drug regulator assessment of the shot on Tuesday.

READ MORE: EU finds possible link between J&J vaccine and blood clots

J&J will also seek to raise awareness of the symptoms of the rare clots to ensure they’re correctly diagnosed and treated, the company’s chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels, said in a statement. Doctors are being advised not to use the anticoagulant heparin.

A German scientist studying extremely rare blood clots linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine said J&J has agreed to work with him on the research after similar serious side effects emerged in recipients of its shot.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gets a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 at the presidential palace in Mexico City, April 20, 2021. (FERNANDO LLANO / AP)

Mexico

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador received the AstraZeneca shot against COVID-19 on Tuesday, urging trust in vaccines after several countries limited the use of AstraZeneca due to suspected links to rare blood clots.

On the same day, Mexico launched its immunization plan for teachers and other educational personnel in five states with vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical firm CanSino.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said at a press conference that 529,989 teachers were expected to be immunized in those states, both in private and public schools from elementary to university levels, with a gradual extension to other states.

The Mexican government plans to inoculate the more than 3 million people in the education sector with CanSino vaccines, which only require one dose, according to Lopez-Gatell, adding that with that, "we plan to return to classes" in May.

Over 14.5 million people had been vaccinated in Mexico as of Monday, mostly people over 60 years old and medical personnel, while more than 18.8 million vaccines have been distributed, according Lopez-Gatell's report.

Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 4,262 new cases and 582 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,311,172 infections and 213,048 deaths.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 506,669 on Tuesday after 720 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll went up to 8,959 following seven newly reported fatalities, and there were 376 people in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The total number of recoveries increased by 625 to 492,725, according to the statement.

A total of 4,684,557 people have received the first COVID-19 shot, and 4,193,888 people have received the second dose.

Netherlands

The Netherlands will resume the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Tuesday.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be used as planned and we’ll start using it tomorrow”, De Jonge said at a news conference, a few hours after Europe’s drug regulator said it backed the overall benefits of the vaccine against any risks.

Panama

Panama will purchase another 2 million doses of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech's vaccine against COVID-19, bringing its total purchase of this vaccine to about 7 million doses, the government said on Tuesday.

The Central American nation has already received about 600,000 doses of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech's vaccine.

With the additional purchase, the government said its vaccines portfolio will reach 9 million doses, enough for more than 90 percent of its population.

Portugal

Portuguese health authorities reported on Tuesday that 2,015,225 people are partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 20 percent of the population.

Of the total, 689,329 are fully vaccinated, which corresponds to 7 percent of the population, according to the Directorate-General for Health (DGS).

Ninety-one percent of those aged 80 and over have been given the first dose while 58 percent have completed both doses. Of those aged 65-79, 42 percent have received the first dose and 4 percent with the second.

Portugal started its vaccination campaign on Dec 27 and has so far administered 2,983,590 doses of vaccines from suppliers approved by the EU, the DGS noted.

Roche

Swiss drugmaker Roche's trial of a pill against COVID-19 in Britain has been delayed as the vaccine rollout in that country made it tough to find patients for its phase 2 study, the company's drugs division chief said on Wednesday.

Drugs chief Bill Anderson said that Roche is now lining up additional clinical trial sites in hopes of getting the program on track for the pill, an antiviral oral treatment called AT-527 that Roche is developing with Atea Pharmaceuticals.

Romania

Romania reported 237 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, a daily record, bringing the toll to 26,618.

The National Committee for the Coordination of Vaccination Activities against COVID-19 (CNCAV) also reported 2,931 new infections, taking the tally to 1,034,003.

The country’s intensive-care units in COVID-19 hospitals have been consistently full for the past few weeks, according to the government’s virus taskforce. 

To date, over 2.737 million Romanians have been vaccinated, including 1.658 million who have had both shots.

The country plans to allow private companies to open vaccination centers for inoculating employees and family members, Prime Minister Florin Citu said. The country seeks to inoculate about 5 million people by June.

Russia

Russia reported 8,271 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 1,988 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,727,125.

The government coronavirus task force said 399 people had died of the virus in the past 24 hours, pushing the overall death toll to 106,706.

Sweden

The number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care continued to rise in Sweden as the caseload surpassed 900,000, the authorities said on Tuesday. 

On Monday afternoon, Sweden reported 416 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the country. At the beginning of January, 390 people required ICU treatment.

"The situation is very strained in some places and we do not see that the trend has started to turn downwards," Johnny Hillgren, intensive care physician responsible for the national intensive care register told the news agency TT.

According to the Public Health Agency's latest statistics, 789 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants have been confirmed in the past 14 days, pushing the number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic to nearly 916,830. The death toll stands at 13,825, according to the Public Health Agency.

Swedes under 65 who have had one shot of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine will be given a different vaccine for their second dose, the Swedish Health Agency said on Tuesday.

Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine clearly outweighed the risks for people over 65. 

Tunisia

Tunisia's health ministry on Tuesday reported 2,169 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 289,230.

The death toll went up by 93 to 9,918, while the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients stood at 2,472, including 483 in intensive care units, the ministry said.

A total of 1,240,902 lab tests have been carried out in Tunisia so far, said the ministry. 

"The rate of positive lab tests reached 30 percent, which is high and still taking an upward trend," Tunisian Minister of Health Faouzi Mehdi said in a statement broadcast on the state television Wataniya 1.

To date, a total of 239,398 Tunisians have been vaccinated, according to the latest figures published by the ministry. 

Ukraine

Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said the country has overcome the peak of the third COVID-19 wave, the ministry's press service reported on Tuesday.

Last week, Ukraine recorded almost 13,500 fewer COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week. The number of hospitalizations also decreased by 3,500.

"Despite the fact that the situation has stabilized, we have no right to ignore anti-epidemic rules and recommendations," said Stepanov.

As of Tuesday, 1,961,956 COVID-19 cases and 40,367 deaths have been registered in Ukraine, and1,499,752 patients have recovered, according to the health authorities.

UNICEF

Problems that have delayed AstraZeneca supplies to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility have been resolved, UNICEF told Reuters on Tuesday, saying it should receive 65 million doses by end-May from manufacturers outside India.

COVAX is also holding talks with New Delhi for the Serum Institute of India (SII) to resume supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine, UNICEF said.

In addition to the 65 million doses expected from outside India, mostly made in South Korea, it also anticipates receiving 50 million doses next month from the SII compared with almost none this month.

“While discussions on the resumption of SII deliveries continue, COVAX will continue to transmit vaccines from other delivery partners,” such as Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca outside India, UNICEF said.

“A number of shipments are currently being planned to ensure that all available supplies are put to use without delays following release from the manufacturers. Plans are also being laid to make up lost ground as soon as supply allows.”

A customer scans a QR code for the NHS Test and Trace, as he and his friends prepare to take a table at a bar in the Soho area of London, April 16, 2021. (NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP)

UK

Britain is likely to see a "summer surge" in coronavirus cases as many adults are not immunized, a British government advisory scientist said Wednesday.

Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory committee that advises Britain's health departments on immunisation, said modelling shows coronavirus cases will rise in the summer as lockdown is relaxed.

"The models that we've seen on JCVI clearly point to a summer surge in cases as the lockdown is relaxed, because there are still many people in the adult population who've not been immunized," he told the BBC.

Finn, from the University of Bristol, said Britain is still "vulnerable" and the dates for easing restrictions may need adjusting.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain must stand ready for another wave of coronavirus later this year, as he launched a new program to find home treatments to limit the impact of mutant COVID-19 strains.

Johnson insisted the UK is still on track to reopen the economy according to the government’s “road map” - which aims to end restrictions by June 21 - but warned: “We cannot delude ourselves that COVID has gone away.”

“The majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of COVID at some stage this year,” Johnson told a televised press briefing on Tuesday.

In a bid to curb the potential spread of infections, a new government antiviral task force will seek to identify home coronavirus treatments that can be rolled out ahead of the winter flu season

In a bid to curb the potential spread of infections, a new government antiviral task force will seek to identify home coronavirus treatments that can be rolled out ahead of the winter flu season.

The aim is to secure at least two antiviral drugs, either in a tablet or capsule form, for people to take at home if they test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus. Scientists believe they could help protect those who have not been vaccinated.

ALSO READ: EU, UK see AstraZeneca clot link, back use despite ‘rare side effect’

The government is looking into how best to reopen the economy in the coming months using a COVID certification program, which Johnson said would not come into force before May 17. He did not rule out this including proof of vaccination but said immunity and testing were also important factors.

The UK reported Tuesday 2,524 new cases and 33 more deaths, bringing the tally to 4,393,307 and the toll to 127,307, according to official data.

More than 33 million people have been vaccinated, according to the data.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a major move of the region's lockdown easing from Monday next week. Travel will be permitted between Scotland and other parts of Britain and all shops will be allowed to reopen. Pubs and restaurants can also reopen, but alcohol will only be served outside.

Switzerland 

Switzerland will pursue a three-tiered reopening strategy, with each phase contingent on the epidemiological situation and the proportion of the public vaccinated. In light of the still-fragile situation, social distancing restrictions are unlikely to be eased further before late May, the government said.

The second stage will begin once the general public has been vaccinated, which is likely to be in July and will allow in-person teaching to resume at universities, a relaxation of capacity limits at sporting facilities and potentially the re-opening of indoor dining at restaurants. In a final phase, remaining restrictions will be unwound. If Covid-19 infections surge again, the government can backtrack on any of the reopening steps.

Switzerland’s drug regulator is still awaiting data needed to consider whether to approve AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, a Swissmedic official said on Tuesday, adding the information “unfortunately” had yet to be submitted.

Claus Bolte, Swissmedic’s head of approvals, said AstraZeneca’s approval process had dragged on as part of a “curious” situation, marked by the company’s release of initial efficacy data in March that drew US officials’ rebuke, before days later issuing slightly worse numbers.

US

The US has administered 213,388,238 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Tuesday morning, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

A total of 211,581,309 vaccine doses had been administered by April 19, the CDC said.

North Dakota and the province of Manitoba have undertaken a joint initiative to vaccinate Canada-based truck drivers transporting goods to and from the US. The arrangement was announced by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who said it was the first such program between a Canadian and American jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s fourth wave of COVID-19 is intensifying with hospitalizations reaching the highest since the end of January at 553, Governor Jared Polis said at a Tuesday news conference. 

Most patients admitted to Colorado hospitals are between 20 and 50, a “concerning trend,” said Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist. The state has opened four on-demand vaccine sites to reverse the trend.


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