COPENHAGEN / BRUSSELS / CARACAS / LONDON / MOSCOW / HAVANA / LISBON / NAIROBI / BRASILIA / BERLIN / MEXICO CITY / ZURICH / BUENOS AIRES / QUITO / ADDIS ABABA - Icelanders will no longer need to wear masks or keep a safe distance from other people as all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on Saturday, the country's health minister said on Friday.
The North Atlantic country has generally combated the COVID-19 outbreak well via a rigorous testing and tracing system, but it has instituted lockdown measures several times in the last year to curb infection spikes.
"We are restoring the society we are used to living in and which we have longed for," Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir said.
Iceland will likely be the first country in Europe to lift all of its COVID-19 restrictions, Svavarsdóttir said, according to news website Kjarninn.
Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 180 million while the global death toll topped 3.9 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Venezuela received its first shipment of doses of leftist ally Cuba's Abdala coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez said, while slamming wealthy countries for "sabotaging" the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.
Authorities did not specify how many doses had arrived from Cuba, but did say that Venezuela had signed a contract to purchase 12 million doses of the shot. Cuba said earlier this week that the three-shot Abdala vaccine had proved 92.28 percent effective in last-stage clinical trials.
President Nicolas Maduro's government in April said it had paid the COVAX initiative for 5 million doses, which have not yet arrived. Officials said earlier this month that four of its payments had been "blocked."
"Rich countries have sabotaged this solidarity mechanism to distribute vaccines to the world," Rodriguez said. "Rich countries try to use the vaccines as an instrument of political blackmail."
The UK added Spain’s Balearic islands and Malta onto its quarantine-free “green” travel list, and said rules will be relaxed later for more destinations for people who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
Airline shares gained on Friday after the announcement, which will boost the country’s ailing travel industry ahead of the school holidays that begin next month. Bermuda, Madeira, and a number of Caribbean destinations were also added to the list.
Opening up the island destinations to UK tourists will offer some measure of relief to a UK aviation industry that’s been whipsawed by changing travel rules - most recently when Portugal was abruptly pulled off the green list.
However, the prospects for Britons hoping to take trips in Europe are still uncertain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested the whole European Union should coordinate its rules closely and be more cautious about allowing entry to travelers from countries outside the bloc with high rates of the delta variant of the virus - which would include the UK.
Britons who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be given extra freedom to travel around the world, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, as the UK prepares to set out new rules on foreign trips.
British officials have been weighing up allowing people who have been fully vaccinated to return to England without the need to quarantine for 10 days after visiting medium risk destinations. Johnson signaled on Thursday that the government will move ahead with the plan.
Later in the day, the UK added Spain’s Balearic islands and Malta onto its quarantine-free “green” travel list, and said rules will be relaxed for more countries later for people who are double-vaccinated against coronavirus. Bermuda, Madeira, and a number of Caribbean destinations were also added to the list.
"Six countries including Tunisia and Haiti will be put on the red list," Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter.
He added that British residents who have been fully vaccinated will not have to isolate when traveling from countries on the amber list, according to government plans that will be explained in more detail next month.
The UK on Thursday reported 16,703 new coronavirus cases and 21 more deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 4,684,572 with 128,048 deaths, according to official data.
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A facility in Cape Town could produce Africa’s first vaccines using messenger RNA, the breakthrough science of the global inoculation effort against COVID-19, within 15 months of signing a technology transfer agreement.
The World Health Organization this week announced it will establish its first-ever mRNA technology transfer hub in the city in an agreement with Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines Ltd and the Biovac Institute. The global health body is in talks with potential partners who would work with the South African companies to produce the vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the world’s least-vaccinated continent.
While talks are being held with large companies that already have mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, most negotiations are taking place with smaller firms that are still trialling the shots, Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said. Pfizer Inc, together with its partner BioNTech SE, and Moderna Inc are the two groups globally with approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Africa has surged at an unprecedented pace as the continent grapples with a third wave that has posed a dire threat to public health infrastructure, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent was grappling with a surge in COVID-19 infection fuelled by the easing of containment measures, cold weather and the presence of new variants.
Statistics from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) showed that the continent had reported 5,288,323 COVID-19 cases and 139,226 fatalities as of Thursday.
Russia on Friday launched into circulation its fourth vaccine against COVID-19, the one-dose Sputnik Light, the Kommersant daily reported.
Sputnik Light deploys just the first dose of Russia's flagship Sputnik V vaccine, which uses a first shot and booster separated by a gap of at least 21 days.
The decision to approve and deploy Sputnik Light was driven by the fact that the first component of the standard vaccine was produced in significantly larger quantities than the second dose, Kommersant cited a government sources as saying.
The report came as Russia reported 20,393 new COVID-19 cases, including 7,916 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 5,409,088.
The government coronavirus task force said 601 more deaths were logged, bringing the death toll to 132,064.
Russia's holiday resort region on the Black Sea told tourists on Thursday it would not let them visit later this summer without a COVID-19 vaccination, part of a government campaign to speed up the inoculation drive amid a wave of infections.
The region ordered hotels and health resorts to admit people from July 1 only if they have tested negative or were vaccinated against COVID-19.
From Aug 1, that requirement will be tightened and people will only be allowed in if they have had the vaccine, the regional authorities said.
Chile’s senate approved Thursday a measure extending the country’s state of catastrophe to Sept 30, following approval from parliament’s lower house, effective from July 1.
The step gives the government the ability to close borders and impose quarantines and curfews to fight COVID-19.
Earlier in the day, the country confirmed the first case of the Delta variant in the country, after analyzing the test results from a Chilean patient who came from the United States, authorities said.
"We have officially confirmed the presence of a patient with the Delta variant, who came from the United States and entered through the Santiago airport," Minister of Health Enrique Paris said during a speech before the Chamber of Deputies.
As of Thursday, Chile has reported 1,531,872 COVID-19 cases and 31,797 deaths.
An elderly woman receives the first dose of the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 3, 2021. (FEDERICO PARRA / AFP)
The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, will need to get an annual vaccine booster to be protected against variants, an internal document seen by Reuters shows.
The estimate is included in a report, which is to be discussed on Thursday at a board meeting of Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-leads the WHO's COVID-19 vaccine program COVAX. The forecast is subject to changes and is also paired with two other less likely scenarios.
The document shows that the WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its "indicative" baseline scenario, and boosters every two years for the general population.
It does not say how these conclusions were reached, but shows that under the base scenario, new variants would continue to emerge and vaccines would be regularly updated to meet these threats.
The document, which is dated June 8 and is still a "work in progress," also predicts under the base case that 12 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses will be produced globally next year.
The document predicts manufacturing problems, regulatory approval issues and "transition away from some technology platforms" as potential drags on supplies next year.
The scenarios will be used to define the WHO's global vaccination strategy and the forecasts may change as new data emerges on the role of boosters and the duration of vaccine protection, Gavi says in another document, also seen by Reuters.
Cuba on Thursday reported 16 deaths from COVID-19 in the past day, its second-worst daily toll, bringing the total number of deaths to to 1,209, according to the Ministry of Public Health.
The highest daily toll of 18 was was reported on April 29.
Also on Thursday, the country reported 1,880 new cases, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 174,789.
Portugal registered on Thursday 1,556 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since Feb 19, official figures showed.
The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 869,879, according to the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health (DGS).
Two more deaths were logged, taking the toll to 17,079.
The Portuguese government extended the "calamity situation" in the country until July 11, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, Portuguese minister of state for the presidency.
US President Joe Biden warned of the risks posed by a highly transmissible and potentially deadlier coronavirus variant as he prodded Americans to get vaccinated amid a decline in the pace of inoculations.
“This new dangerous variant continues to emerge,” Biden said in Raleigh, North Carolina, as he warned of the delta variant, first observed in India. “It’s now the most common variant in America. Unvaccinated people are incredibly vulnerable.”
Biden spoke Thursday as part of his administration’s effort to re-ignite a US vaccination campaign that is slowing to a crawl.
Also on Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the drug Actemra for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 adults and pediatric patients, the health agency said. In the clinical trials, Actemra was shown to reduce the risk of death and time taken to recover by hospitalised patients, the FDA said.
In another development, Hawaii will from July 8 drop a requirement for pre-travel coronavirus testing and quarantine upon arrival for domestic travelers who have been fully vaccinated in the US, Governor David Ige said on Thursday.
"Hawaii is expected to reach a 60 percent fully vaccinated rate by July 8. Because of that, we will be able to safely relax some of the travel and social restrictions currently in place", the governor said on Twitter.
Brazil recorded 73,602 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,032 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Thursday.
Brazil has registered more than 18.2 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 509,141, according to ministry data.
Mexico's health regulator has given approval to US drug maker Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for use in children 12 years old and older, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Twitter on Thursday.
"It's the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized for adolescents in our country," he said.
The health ministry on Thursday reported 5,340 new cases of COVID-19 in the country and 221 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,493,087 infections and 232,068 deaths.
The more infectious Delta coronavirus variant will become dominant in Germany over the summer, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.
"The Delta variant will have the upper hand over the summer, it's more a matter of weeks than months," Spahn said at a news conference, adding the variant currently makes up more than 15 percent of coronavirus cases reported in Germany.
Spahn said the spread of the variant would depend on how many people get vaccinated and on infection incidence.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 774 to 3,725,580, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed earlier in the day.
The reported death toll rose by 62 to 90,678, the tally showed.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said two unvaccinated children on the Adventure of the Seas turned up positive for COVID-19 following routine testing that’s required before returning home.
Both are under age 16 and were immediately quarantined, the cruise operator said Thursday on its website. One was asymptomatic and the other had mild symptoms, the company said.
Members of the two guests’ larger party were all vaccinated and tested negative, Royal Caribbean said. The company also identified close contacts and tested them as well, with all reported having been vaccinated and returning negative results.
The guests and their travel party disembarked Thursday in Freeport in the Bahamas and are on their way home to Florida.
The company said 92 percent of guests were fully vaccinated and the remaining 8 percent are under 16 years old. All of its crew have received inoculations.
Argentina on Thursday reported 24,463 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 4,350,564.
According to the Ministry of Health, in the same period, 452 more people died of the disease, taking the death toll to 91,438.
Currently, there are 291,493 active cases, including 7,199 patients in intensive care units (ICUs).
Despite the decline in infections, the ICU occupancy rate nationwide remains above 70 percent.
The country has administered some 19,155,355 vaccine doses, with 15,329,459 people having received their first dose and 3,825,896 fully vaccinated.
In this April 19, 2021 photo, a patient waits to receive a dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine at a newly-opened vaccination center in Lausanne, Switzerland. (VALENTIN FLAURAUD / AFP)
Switzerland's move to allow large public events with 10,000-plus people from Saturday comes as government data appears to show vaccines are helping control new infections that are mostly hitting people who remain unprotected.
Only 209 of 180,000 new infections recorded in Switzerland between Jan 27 and June 21 were in people fully vaccinated with shots from Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech, according to Swiss Federal Health Ministry data provided to Reuters on Thursday.
The ministry said the vast majority of these so-called breakthrough cases - infections of fully vaccinated people - that were studied using genetic sequencing involved the Alpha variant, first recorded in Britain and which began spreading in Switzerland around the new year.
Just a single breakthrough infection has been reported for the more infectious Delta variant, first documented in India.
"There is currently no evidence that the Delta variant leads to more vaccine breakthroughs than Alpha," a health ministry spokesman said.
Ethiopia registered 99 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 275,601 as of Thursday evening, according to the Ministry of Health.
Another four more deaths and 642 new recoveries were also reported, taking the toll to 4,296 and the total number of recoveries to 257,429.
Ecuador saw 376 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally and death toll to 449,483 and 15,778, respectively, the Ministry of Public Health said Thursday.
Most daily increases were confirmed in Pichincha province with 153 cases, of which 145 were registered in the capital city Quito, Ecuador's epicenter of the pandemic.
In the public health system, the occupancy rate of intensive care has reached 84 percent while other units reported 81 percent, according to health ministry data.
A family walks past a mural promoting vaccination for COVID-19 in Duduza township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, June 23, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)
South Africa is expanding its coronavirus-inoculation program as the pace of vaccine deliveries accelerates, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.
Health authorities received 1.5 million J&J vaccines over the past week, and are expecting a further 2.1 million Pfizer shots to be delivered next month, Kubayi-Ngubane said in a virtual briefing on Friday. The government will also open up registrations for people aged 50 and older and will begin inoculating that group from July 15, she said.
“With the anticipated flow of vaccines to come, we are now confident that we will be building towards that 300,000 daily mark target that the president has set for us,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
South Africa vaccinated a record 115,000 people on Thursday amid a third wave of coronavirus cases that have been concentrated in the commercial hub of Gauteng province. The country recorded 16,078 new infections on Thursday.
While an unexpected surge to a record 10,870 daily infections on Wednesday may portend a worse outcome, data to date show the province will likely have about 65,000 active cases from June 29 to July 9 before they begin to decline, a presentation by Bruce Mellado, a member of Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s advisory committee, showed.
Of the 40 million people the country estimates it needs to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity, just 2.55 million have received a dose of vaccine.
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