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Friday, May 28, 2021, 10:55
UK adds to virus arsenal with approval of one-shot J&J vaccine
By Agencies
Friday, May 28, 2021, 10:55 By Agencies

In this April 30, 2021 file photo, a pharmacist fills a syringe with a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at Vaccine Village in Antwerp, Belgium. (VIRGINIA MAYO / AP)

GENEVA / MEXICO CITY / BERLIN / LONDON / LUSAKA / KAMPALA / RABAT / TIRANA / BANJUL / HAVANA / COPENHAGEN / QUITO / SANTIAGO / BOGOTA / JOHANNESBURG / RIO DE JANEIRO / MOSCOW / PRAGUE / BUDAPEST / ADDIS ABABA / WINDHOEK / YAOUNDE / KIGALI / DUBLIN / ALGIERS / KINSHASA / ROME - Britain's medicine regulator has approved Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine for use, the health ministry said in a statement on Friday, making it the fourth COVID-19 shot available for use in the country.

The health ministry said that the government had decided to order 20 million doses of the single-shot vaccine, also known as Janssen, amending an original order for 30 million doses. The government said the shot would be available later in the year. 

"As Janssen is a single-dose vaccine, it will play an important role in the months to come as we redouble our efforts to encourage everyone to get their jabs and potentially begin a booster programme later this year," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

England may need to wait longer than planned before COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted as a coronavirus variant first found in India spreads rapidly in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Thursday.

Next steps would depend on how robust the country's "vaccine fortifications" against the variant were, according to the British prime minister.

Weekly figures showed there were nearly 7,000 confirmed cases of the variant B.1.617.2 in Britain, double of last week's total.

Hancock told parliament that a formal assessment would be made on June 14 as to whether restrictions could be lifted on June 21.

In Scotland, the semi-autonomous government maintained tighter restrictions in Glasgow, the country’s biggest city, for at least another week amid rising case numbers linked to the variant that was first detected in India, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

The decision means that the city of about 600,000 people are still not allowed to travel in and out of the city or go into each other’s houses. Hospitality businesses, such as pubs and restaurants, are still subject to stricter controls than the rest of the country.

Scotland identified more than 640 new coronavirus case on Thursday, the biggest daily increase since March 25.

EU

Europe's medicines regulator on Friday backed the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12, paving way for a broader roll-out in the region after similar clearances in the United States and Canada.

The European Medicines Agency's endorsement comes weeks after it began evaluating extending use of the vaccine, developed with Germany's BioNTech, to include 12- to 15-year olds. It is already being used in the European Union for those aged 16 and older.

Czech Republic

Czech restaurants, bars, night clubs and other hospitality venues can serve customers indoors from Monday, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Friday, announcing a quicker-than-planned easing of COVID-19 restrictions following a court ruling.

From Monday, swimming pools, saunas and casinos will also be allowed to reopen, while the numbers of participants allowed at culture and sports events will rise.

For restaurants self-tests for COVID-19 will suffice, while for all other venues that are allowed to reopen people will have to get tested professionally, Vojtech said.

As of Tuesday, the country will let in vaccinated visitors from Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany, as well as Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. Croatia should join the list too, but the deal has yet to be finalized, the foreign ministry said.

As of Friday morning, the seven-day number of reported cases per 100,000 dropped to 34. The country of 10.7 million has distributed 5 million doses of vaccines in total so far, and 1.37 million people have now received two doses.

Italy

All Italians aged over 16 will be able to be vaccinated from June 3 onwards, the government's COVID-19 commissioner said on Friday, with the country also preparing to extend the campaign to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has so far urged regional health authorities to give priority to the elderly, who are especially vulnerable to the disease.

"From 3 June, all regions will be able to open up to all age groups (over 16)," commissioner Francesco Paolo Figliuolo said.

Some 11.2 million Italians, or 19 percent of the population, have completed their vaccination cycle as of Friday, while more thanb 20 million people have received a first shot.

Figliuolo said vaccinations might soon be opened up to some 2.3 million Italians aged between 12 and 15 if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Italian regulators give the green light.

Hungary

Hungary has identified two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in India, the government official in charge of vaccinations said on Friday.

"The Indian variant is present in Hungary, according to experts we cannot exclude the possibility of a new wave of the pandemic," Istvan Gyorgy, deputy minister and head of the government's task force on vaccinations, said at a news conference.

Surgeon General Cecilia Muller added one of the two patients has recovered already. Contact tracing was unable to establish how they were infected. Neither of them spent time abroad recently.

Hungary has been badly hit by the pandemic, and according to Johns Hopkins University data is the country with the most deaths per 100,000 people. 

WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) experts are preparing a proposal on the next studies to be carried out into the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

Fadela Chaib said at a UN briefing that experts would prepare a proposal for WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but that there was no set timeline.

Earlier this week WHO's top emergency expert Mike Ryan said that talks with member states would continue in coming weeks.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 347 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 270,527 as of Thursday evening, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry said 19 more deaths were reported, bringing the toll to 4,127.

Another 1,210 more recoveries were registered, taking the total number of recoveries to 234,426.

Rwanda

Rwanda will start the second phase of nationwide COVID-19 vaccination on Saturday, Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) said in a statement on Friday.

Following the first-phase rollout that vaccinated 350,400 people, Rwanda will start the new vaccination drive to fully immunize those who had received first doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the statement.

Rwanda has received an additional 247,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX mechanism, including 117,600 doses donated by the government of France, it added.

As of Thursday evening, Rwanda had reported 26,843 confirmed cases, along with 25,453 recoveries and 351 deaths.  

Cameroon

The COVID-19 positivity rate in Cameroon has been falling as the vaccination campaign goes on, Minister of Public Health Malachie Manaouda said.

"The positivity rate has dropped from 24 percent to 7 percent. From every indication, this second wave of the virus is getting over but we must remain vigilant," he said.

The minister attributed the falling posititity rate to an ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign and residents' adherence to health guidelines such as keeping social distance and wearing face masks.

Sweden

Travelers coming from the Nordics will no longer have to show a negative COVID-test to enter Sweden from next week, Minister for the Interior Mikael Damberg said on Friday.

Travelers from other countries within the EU will still have to show a negative test until June 30. Travelers from outside the EU are still banned.

Meanwhile, Sweden will ease some of its COVID-19 restrictions from June 1 as new cases have fallen sharply in recent weeks, the government said on Thursday, as it presented a roadmap to open up society.

The remaining rules and recommendations will be eased in five steps with the aim to have all of them wound down by September. The voluntary guidelines include asking citizens to work from home, wearing masks in certain situations and to keep social interactions as low as possible.

Sweden registered 1,366 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, health agency statistics showed, the lowest number of new daily cases for more than seven months, though the agency said the figures could be revised because of a technical error.

Congo

Thirty-two members of parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or about 5 percent of the total, have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, the vice-president of the National Assembly said.

Even as Congo, like many other African countries, has officially reported relatively few cases and deaths, the virus has rippled through the corridors of power, killing prominent lawmakers and members of the president's entourage.

"The latest update announced by the government reports 31,248 confirmed cases and 780 deaths, among them 32 members of parliament," said Jean-Marc Kabund, the first vice-president of the lower house of parliament.

The remarks were made to colleagues on Thursday, and Kabund's staff shared a video on Friday.

Just 19,597 people in the country have taken the vaccine since the rollout began on April 19, according to government figures. Congo's population is around 80 million.

Denmark

Denmark's government on Friday launched its new digital "corona passport," an app named Coronapas, in a bid to facilitate travel within the European Union (EU) this summer.

Developed by the Ministry of Health, the Danish Health Data authority, Statens Serum Institut (SSI) and the Danish Agency for digitization, Coronapas documents information about test results and vaccinations in both Danish and English.

"Coronapas can be used to travel in Europe from July 1. It will apply within the EU as official evidence that you have either been tested negative, vaccinated or are immune because you have been infected," said Minister for Finance Nicolai Wammen at a joint press conference held by the ministries of finance, health and transport.

The daily count of positive COVID-19 samples, as a proportion of tests taken, has hit record high in Denmark since the end of January as 1,119 infections were recorded from 160,549 tests taken, according to Thursday's figures from the Statens Serum Institut (SSI).

The positive percentage within the last 24 hours equals to a rate of 0.70 percent. Between the end of January until the beginning of May, the daily positive infection rate was about 0.50 percent daily, according to SSI.

To date, Denmark has recorded a total of 277,399 COVID-19 cases and 2,511 deaths.

Austria

Austria will remove further restrictions from June 10 amid a decline in cases and growing inoculations. 

Restaurants will be allowed to serve larger groups while sport and cultural events will be held with a higher, 75 percent limit on spectator capacity, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters Friday.

Participation in social events will still require either a negative test, proof of vaccination or having recovered from the virus. 

The cabinet pledged further easing measures from July, including allowing weddings and larger festivities. 

More than 3.5 million people, or 46 percent of eligible, have received at least a first vaccine dose in Austria.

Ireland

Ireland plans to adopt a COVID-19 certificate to help citizens move more freely across the European Union from mid-July and will apply the same broad approach to arrivals from the United States and Britain, senior ministers said on Friday.

Asked about local media reports that ministers are set to agree later on Friday to introduce the so-called EU "green certificate" from July 19, Transport Minister Eamonn Ryan told national broadcaster RTE that it would be in that time frame.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Dublin would not follow British-run Northern Ireland in allowing unencumbered travel for arrivals from the rest of the United Kingdom, citing concerns over the rapid spread there of the coronavirus variant first found in India.

The more transmissible variant accounts for 6-7 percent of cases in Ireland, Ryan said.

Algeria

Algerian medics fear next week's reopening of national borders will trigger a new surge in COVID-19 cases despite health measures, as people living abroad rush home to see family.

Algeria, an oil producer, closed its borders and suspended flights in March 2020 when the global pandemic struck, only reopening them to humanitarian flights from France between January and March this year before another wave of infection began.

It will reopen the borders again on June 1 to flights from France, Tunisia, Spain and Turkey, but not to Gulf states where many Algerians also live and work.

Algeria has registered 126,000 coronavirus cases and 3,300 deaths.

The government briefly decided to postpone the resumption of flights but then changed its mind, while adding additional restrictions.

"We can open partially as long as we follow the conditions, including a PCR test and a five-day confinement upon arrival," Mohamed Yousfi, head of Algeria's infectious diseases organization told Reuters.

Namibia

Namibia on Friday said all travelers coming from or transiting through hotspot regions, such as India, are required to repeat the SARS CoV2 PCR test 7 days after arrival in the country, an official said.

Ben Nangombe, the Health Ministry's executive director, said that those coming from hotspots will have to undergo the second test at their own expense.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula announced that Antigen Rapid Diagnostic Test results will no longer be accepted for entry into Namibia at ports of entry.

"All other travelers entering the country, are required to produce a SARS CoV2 PCR negative result, valid for 7 days from the date of specimen collection," he said.

Greece

Greece is ready to use a COVID-19 travel certificate before its EU-wide launch on July 1 to attract foreign travellers and save its tourism sector from a second summer lost to the coronavirus.

Greece was one of the early advocates of a certificate that would ease European Union travel curbs and help pull the country's economy from recession by lifting tourism revenues.

The European Council and parliament last week reached a deal on the digital green certificate following a rapid pick-up of vaccinations allowing widespread lifting of coronavirus curbs.

"Greece is ready to launch this digital certificate earlier than July 1," said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a presentation of the pass on Friday, calling on EU countries to ensure they stick to the deadlines and facilitate travel over the summer.

Greece, which relies on tourism for a fifth of its economy, saw just seven million tourists and 4 billion euros in revenues in 2020, down from a record 33 million visitors and 18 billion euros in revenues in 2019. It expects tourist arrivals this year to reach half the levels seen in 2019.

This file photo shows US company Gilead Sciences headquarters on April 30, 2020, in Foster City, California. (BEN MARGOT / AP)

Russia

Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit from US company Gilead Sciences that challenged a Russian government decision to let a Russian firm develop and market the anti-COVID-19 drug remdesivir without Gilead's consent.

The Russian government late last year granted Russian drugmaker Pharmasyntez a compulsory licence for one year to manufacture the drug under a different name without Gilead's permission.

The government said in a decree at the time that the move was in the interests of Russia's own security. According to the decree, Russia had to pay compensation to the drug's patent-holder. The amount was not specified.

Pharmasyntez had asked the Kremlin to allow it to produce a generic version of remdesivir before the government decree was issued. Vikram Punia, its director, said the company had also written to Gilead in July last year to try to obtain their consent in the form of a voluntary licence, but had not heard back.

Gilead said in a statement it was disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling and called the issuance of a compulsory licence "unnecessary and counterproductive".

Germany

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday called for ramping up global COVID-19 vaccine production in her speech at the Global Solutions Summit 2021.

Merkel called on G20 countries to support the international campaign ACT-Accelerator "to the best" of their abilities by accelerating the development of tools against COVID-19 and making them available to all countries in a fair manner.

As one of the ACT Accelerator's largest donors, Germany would support the global initiative with 2.2 billion euros (US$2.7 billion), she said.

In another development, Germany plans to expand COVID-19 inoculations to children aged 12 and older starting June 7 as Europe’s largest economy seeks a way out of the pandemic.

Merkel emphasized that immunizations for children would be voluntary and wouldn’t impact school participation. 

“We will be able to make every citizen including children a vaccination offer by the end of the summer,” Merkel said. She added that a digital European vaccination certificate would be ready by early July.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 169.00 million while the global death toll topped 3.51 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

France

France keeps on accelerating its vaccination campaign, with 685,589 total injections on Thursday, which was a record, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in an interview on France Info radio station.

The pace will keep accelerating as the country is receiving more and more doses. “I rejoice that there’s real enthusiasm about getting vaccinated,” Attal said, adding that all levels of government are mobilized to make sure a maximum number of people get the shots. Efforts include sending buses to country towns or medical staff knocking of the doors of isolated or older citizens.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in Rwanda that shipping COVID-19 vaccines to Africa is not just a moral duty but it is also in Europe and the world's interest in order to prevent the resurgence of new virus variants.

Macron said France was on track to deliver 30 million COVID-19 vaccination doses to Africa by year-end, that Germany would also deliver 30 million doses and that collectively the European Union would deliver more than 100 million doses to Africa this year.

He said that if all countries did not get vaccinations, the virus will continue to spread and develop new variants which then in turn may reappear in countries that have already vaccinated their populations.

Mexico

Mexico expects to have 12.5 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses bottled within its borders by June, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Friday, as the country seeks to ramp up its inoculations program.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Thursday that the country’s health regulator COFEPRIS has granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine against COVID-19.

“This authorization for emergency use certifies that the vaccine meets the quality, safety and efficacy requirements necessary to be applied,” COFEPRIS said in a separate statement.

Earlier on Thursday, Mexico reported more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19.

Uganda

Uganda's Ministry of Health on Friday said the country recorded 637 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily increase amid the second wave of the virus, bringing the total number of infections to 45,231.

So far, the country has registered 43,401 recoveries and 361 deaths, the ministry said in a statement.

A total of 565,163 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 using AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the ministry. 

On Thursday, the ministry reported that there was an increase in the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Henry Mwebesa, director-general of health services at the ministry told reporters here that as of May 18, more than 29 schools from 17 districts have recorded a total of 803 cases and one death.

The director said as the ministry is going to move the COVID-19 vaccines distributed countrywide to the most affected districts.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 518,122 on Thursday as 314 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The country's coronavirus death toll rose to 9,134 with three new fatalities during the last 24 hours, while 193 people are in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

ALSO READ: Virus: WHO sets new targets for vaccinating world's poorest

Albania

The Technical Committee of Experts on the coronavirus situation in Albania on Thursday announced further relaxations of the restrictive measures against COVID-19.

The committee convened on Thursday to present the new anti-COVID measures as the epidemiological situation in the country is stable and the number of new infections has dropped significantly in May.

Starting from June 1, citizens will not be required to wear a mask in public areas, but the mask will continue to be obligatory indoors and while using public transportation, according to Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection and head of the committee Mira Rakacolli.

The Gambia

The Gambian health ministry confirmed Thursday the detection of a COVID-19 variant after two travellers who came from India two weeks ago tested positive.

"Recently, the two travelers arriving from India fell ill after two weeks and reported to a health facility for testing and were found to be positive. Their samples were sequenced and the results were found to be the new variant identified in India," the country's health ministry said.

The ministry noted that that seven family members of the infected persons also tested positive and were placed in isolation receiving treatment.

The Gambia has recorded 5,978 positive cases so far, including 5,754 recoveries and 178 deaths.

Cuba

Cuba registered 1,102 new COVID-19 infections and nine more deaths in the last 24 hours, for a total of 137,730 cases and 921 deaths, the Public Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Of the new daily cases, 1,070 were from community transmission, according to the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported on Thursday 1,098 new COVID-19 infections and 43 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the caseload to 422,329 and death toll to 14,909, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Another 5,448 deaths are considered to be COVID-19 related, but not verified, according to the ministry.

Chile

Chile will tap bond markets to help finance US$10.8 billion worth of fresh measures aimed at confronting a persistent coronavirus outbreak, Finance Minister Rodrigo Cerda said.

Expanded aid for families and cash transfers to small companies announced by President Sebastian Pinera will enlarge the deficit, Cerda told Radio Futuro. The measures will be paid for by windfalls from higher copper prices, the government’s sovereign funds and extra debt, he said.

Meanwhile, Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris reported on Thursday 8,117 new COVID-19 infections and 185 more deaths, for a total of 1,352,723 cases and 28,809 deaths.

The daily caseload was the highest since April 10, when it climbed to 8,124 infections.

United States

US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in an interview with ABC that the US is taking a “very close look” at vaccine passports for international travel. The White House has regularly dismissed any suggestion that it would create some federal document certifying vaccination status.

The US Food and Drug Administration and Johnson & Johnson are expected to announce as early as Friday that contamination problems at a COVID-19 vaccine plant in Baltimore are resolved and that vaccine production can resume, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The FDA had halted production of J&J's vaccine at the plant, run by Emergent BioSolutions Inc, in April after an inspection flagged numerous serious quality control and sanitary issues.

The regulator is now expected to give the plant an emergency use authorization to produce COVID-19 vaccine as early as Friday, the Journal said, citing US officials.

Meanwhile, black people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 at twice the rates of White people, according to Covid-Net, a hospital surveillance network for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disparities reflect the same long-running inequities in health care and wealth that have contributed to higher rates of diabetes and obesity. They also underscore the urgency for the US to improve its vaccination campaign in the Black community.

It’s clear that Black and Hispanic communities want the vaccines more than now-famously hesitant groups such as Republicans and White Evangelical Christians - and yet they’ve received fewer by comparison.

Colombia

Colombia reported 513 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the nationwide death toll to 86,693, the health ministry said Thursday.

The ministry said 25,092 new infections were reported, bringing the national tally to 3,319,193.

A total of 8,842,360 doses of vaccines have been administered in the South American country, with 3,195,848 people having been fully inoculated.

South Africa

The South African government on Thursday warned of an impending third wave of COVID-19 infections, calling on citizens to stick to guidelines and receive vaccines.

A new wave has already struck central provinces of Gauteng and the Free State, said Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the Presidency.

The cabinet "further reminded all South Africans of the imminent third wave and reiterated the importance of preventing the transmission of COVID-19 by strictly adhering to the non-pharmaceutical interventions," she said while briefing the press a day after a cabinet meeting.

The rising infections puts pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to reintroduce stricter lockdown measures.

The country has been slow off the mark to administer vaccines, with the just 761,903 people out of a population of almost 60 million having received shots.

Brazil

Brazil on Thursday reported 2,245 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the national count to 456,674, the Ministry of Health said.

Tests detected 67,467 new cases, bringing the accumulated caseload to 16,342,162, the ministry said.

ALSO READ: Italy bans flights from Brazil after new virus variant reported


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