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Published: 10:43, October 19, 2021 | Updated: 23:42, October 19, 2021
Dutch coronavirus cases jump 44% as hospitals feel strain
By Agencies
Published:10:43, October 19, 2021 Updated:23:42, October 19, 2021 By Agencies

Customers sit on a terrace alongside a canal in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on April 28, 2021, as the Dutch government eased the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. (FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

RIGA / BUJUMBURA / JOHANNESBURG / LONDON / MOSCOW / DUBLIN / ALGIERS / WASHINGTON / BRUSSELS / WARSAW / KYIV / SOFIA / PRAGUE / AMSTERDAM - New coronavirus infections in the Netherlands jumped 44 percent in the week through Tuesday, forcing several hospitals in the country to cut back on regular care to deal with a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Infections reached their highest level since the end of July at 25,751, official data showed, rising for the third consecutive week following the easing of many social distancing measures in the Netherlands last month.

Infections reached their highest level since the end of July at 25,751, official data showed, rising for the third consecutive week following the easing of many social distancing measures in the Netherlands last month

Some 48 COVID-19 deaths were recorded, twice as many as in the previous week.

Hospital admissions in the country of 17.5 million increased by one-fifth from a week earlier and are now back at the level of early September.

That has forced several hospitals to cancel regular care, by postponing planned operations or by limiting surgery to the most serious cases, mainly in regions where vaccination rates are low.

"Most of those in hospital with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated," the Dutch Institute for Public Health said on Tuesday. "At intensive care units this is the case for 4 out 5 patients."

According to government data, 83 percent of the Dutch adult population has been fully vaccinated.

The Dutch government eased most COVID-19 restrictions on Sept 25 and introduced a "corona pass" showing proof of vaccination for visitors to bars, restaurants, clubs or cultural events.

Algeria

The Algerian government announced Monday the full lift of nationwide lockdown as the COVID-19 infections dropped remarkably.

The health authorities on Monday reported 78 new infections over the past 24 hours compared to 87 cases a day before.

Consequently, "the government has decided on Monday to fully lift lockdown measure over the rest of 23 provinces as of Oct 20 for 21 days," reads a statement of the Prime Minister Office.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria reported 4,979 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest daily count since March 24, as it battles the more contagious Delta variant, health ministry data showed.

A total of 214 people died from the virus in the past 24 hours, according to the figures, bringing the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 22,488.

Bulgaria has seen a rise in new infections since the start of September. There is a high level of distrust in vaccines and only 24 percent of the adult population are fully inoculated, compared with an average of 74 percent in the EU.

More than 6,200 people were in hospitals, with 537 in intensive care units, overwhelming the health system.

The health ministry is considering new restrictions or the introduction of a health pass to limit the spread of the infection.

Burundi's Minister of Health Dr Thaddee Ndikumana (center) Minister of Interior Gervais Ndirakobuca (right) and China's ambassador to Burundi Zhao Jiangping (left) attend a ceremony to mark the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines to the country, in Bujumbura, Burundi on Oct 14, 2021. (BERTHIER MUGIRANEZA / AP)

Burundi 

Burundi on Monday rolled out its first COVID-19 vaccines, months after most African countries, the latest step in the East African nation's shift towards a more active approach to containing the pandemic.

The vaccination campaign started in the commercial capital of Bujumbura without fanfare. Dozens of city residents queued quietly at a vaccination site, telling Reuters they heard about the drive through word of mouth.

No government officials were present to officially inaugurate the launch.

"I rushed to take the vaccine because I have a trip very soon and, of course, I also want to protect myself," said 30-year-old Blaise, who asked to only use his first name. "People's fears are groundless. I am reassured by the fact that I was with a doctor when I got it."

The jabs administered Monday were part of a Chinese donation of 500,000 Sinopharm doses.

Burundi, a country of about 11.5 million, has reported 14 COVID-19 deaths and more than 19,300 positive cases. The country has only sporadically provided data on the spread of the virus over the past 18 months.

ALSO READ: Life after COVID-19: EU re-thinks budget rules for new era

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic detected 2,521 new cases of COVID-19 on Oct 18, the highest daily tally since late April, data from the Health Ministry showed on Tuesday.

The count is almost double the reported number for the same day last week.

The country of 10.7 million has fully vaccinated 6.03 million people as of Monday.

This file photo dated April 20, 2021 shows an exterior view of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (PETER DEJONG / FILE / AP)

European Medicines Agency (EMA)

Europe's drug regulator said on Monday it was evaluating use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as five, while also taking steps to aid an increase in production and boost the shot's reach.

The European Medicines Agency said it would review data, including results from an ongoing study, for the vaccine - known as Comirnaty. It has already been authorized for use in those 12 years of age and older in the European Union and United States.

The two-shot vaccine, based on new mRNA technology, was found to induce a strong immune response in five- to 11-year- olds in a clinical trial of 2,268 participants, the drugmakers said last month.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech submitted data on Comirnaty for young children last week.

While children are less susceptible to severe COVID-19, they can spread the coronavirus to others, including those more at risk of severe illness.

Alongside vaccinating children, regulators and drugmakers are also considering booster doses for the vulnerable, underscoring the need to increase production and extend access to protection from the virus to as many people as possible.

The EMA also said on Monday it had approved two more manufacturing sites for producing the vaccine in the Italian cities of Monza and Anagni, while also giving the green light to a ready-to-use formulation of Comirnaty.

The sites would produce up to 85 million additional doses to suppply the European Union in 2021, the regulator said. Pfizer and BioNTech are the biggest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the bloc.

The drugmakers' new approved formulation that does not require dilution would also allow for longer storage and easier transportation at regulator refrigerator temperatures of 2 C to 8 C.

Finland

Finland’s health authorities recommended offering third vaccinations to people over the age of 60, people staying in assisted-living facilities and those at risk of severe illness.

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that enough people have been vaccinated to permit ending a national state of emergency as scheduled on Nov 25, Bild newspaper reported Monday, without saying where it got the information.

Spahn told a meeting of regional leaders that a complete return to normalcy would nevertheless only be possible in the spring of next year at the earliest.

Parents and their children queue in rain outside the Citywest vaccination center, in Dublin on Aug 14, 2021. (DAMIEN STORAN / PA VIA AP)

Ireland

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Ireland has jumped by about 45 percent over the last two weeks, putting a huge pressure on the local public healthcare system, reported Irish national radio and television broadcaster RTE on Monday.

The report quoted figures from the Department of Health as saying that there were 484 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the country as of 8 am on Monday (local time), up over 45 percent compared to 333 people being treated in hospitals on Monday two weeks ago.

Of all the COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals, 73 were in intensive care units (ICU), said the report.

The Health Service Executive, a state agency responsible for public health service in Ireland, said in a Sunday night update that there were only 11 adult ICU beds left available in government-run hospitals along with one paediatric ICU bed.

The "shocking and disappointing" rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions as a result of COVID-19 is disrupting regular hospital services in the country, leaving no hospital beds for many non-COVID-19 patients, the report quoted a local doctor as saying.

Latvia's Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins speaks with the media as he arrives for a dinner, prior to an EU summit, at the Brdo Castle in Kranj, Slovenia on Oct 5, 2021. (DARKO BANDIC / AP)

Latvia

Latvia announced a COVID-19 lockdown from Oct 21 until Nov 15 to try to slow a spike in infections in one of the least vaccinated European Union countries.

"Our health system is in danger ... The only way out of this crisis is to get vaccinated," Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said after an emergency government meeting, blaming low vaccination rates for the spike in hospitalizations.

Only 54 percent of Latvian adults have been fully vaccinated, well below EU average of 74 percent, EU figures show.

"I have to apologize to the already vaccinated," Karins said, announcing that shops, restaurants, schools and entertainment will be closed, with only essential services available and a curfew in place from 8 pm to 5 am.

Only essential manufacturing, construction and critical jobs will be allowed to continue in person.

One of the two largest Riga hospitals began installing makeshift beds for COVID-19 patients in its atrium to cope with the influx, the national broadcaster reported.

No travel restrictions were announced "since infection rates elsewhere are much lower, and we don't see immediate risks", Karins said.

New cases in Latvia increased by 49 percent in the week to Sunday, its health authority said, according to the BNS wire.

The Latvian government cancelled most planned hospital operations last week amid an increased need for beds and staff as COVID-19 cases climb.

The country had reported the second-worst infection numbers in the EU, after neighbour Lithuania, in the fortnight to Oct 10, with 864 new cases per 10,000 people.

This file photo taken on June 4, 2021 shows a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Paris, France. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

Moderna

Moderna Inc CEO Stephane Bancel says the world will soon be “soon be swimming” in vaccines as the supply of COVID-19 shots rises. 

Speaking at a health conference in Boston on Monday, Bancel recalled how the US earlier this year shifted within months from a scarcity to easily available shots in every pharmacy. 

“The same thing is going to happen around the world very soon, and my guess is two-to-three months,” he said.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television at the same conference, Bancel said that most of Moderna’s vaccine output next year would go to poorer countries. 

But Bancel said that simply sharing the technology with other companies in developing countries wouldn’t help produce vaccines faster, as mRNA is a new technology and there aren’t mRNA factories lying anywhere in the world.

Pfizer

Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE are seeking Canadian approval for their vaccine for children as young as 5. The country’s health regulator said it will “prioritize” the review.

Poland

Poland will report 3,931 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a deputy health minister said, an increase of almost 85 percent compared to the previous week.

“I don’t have good news… 3,931 new people have been infected, if we compare that to last Tuesday it is an increase of almost 85 percent,” Waldemar Kraska told public broadcaster Polskie Radio 1, adding that 64 people had died.

Romania

Romania reported the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, forcing the country to seek assistance from the World Health Organization in an attempt to limit the burden on already overwhelmed hospitals.

The country is paying the price for having the European Union’s second-lowest vaccination rate, reporting 561 fatalities in the past 24 hours. That brings the toll to more than 42,000. New infections, at almost 19,000 since Monday, also reached a new high.

A crisis expert from the WHO will meet in the coming days with the Romanian authorities to try to find solutions to the escalating situation.

A woman wearing a face mask walks in Moscow on Oct 5, 2021. (DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP)

Russia

Russia reported a record daily number of coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Russia's COVID-19 task force reported 1,015 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest single-day toll since the start of the pandemic, as well as 33,740 new infections in the past 24 hours.

Separately, many Russian regions on Monday announced plans to keep cafes, museums and other public venues open only to those who have recently recovered from COVID-19, have proof of inoculation with a Russian vaccine or a negative coronavirus test, as new cases in the country hit a record.

The round of unpopular measures that limits freedoms in Russia comes as the number of daily COVID-19 infections reached an all-time high of 34,325 despite the state-driven vaccination program.

St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city of around 5 million people, said on Monday only people with a QR code showing they meet the criteria will be allowed to visit cafes or restaurants from Dec 1, joining many other regions that have imposed similar restrictions.

From Nov 15, St. Petersburg will require a QR code for those who want to attend swimming pools, gyms, theatres and cinemas.

Earlier this year, Moscow was first to impose a QR code system, under which a unique electronic code was required to visit restaurants, gyms, beauty parlours, hairdressers, cinemas or to stay in hotels. The system was halted in mid-July.

The restrictions, designed to rein in the COVID-19 surge, prompted a backlash from businesses that said the measures threatened the closure of thousands of firms in the service industries. But they helped increase the number of vaccinations.

ALSO READ: WHO: 6 out of 7 COVID-19 infections in Africa undetected

This photo taken on April 28, 2021 shows vials of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in Moscow, Russia. (EVGENY SINITSYN / XINHUA)

South Africa

South Africa's drugs regulator said on Monday that it was not approving an emergency use application for Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 shot for now, citing concerns about its safety for people at risk of HIV.

South Africa has one of the world's highest HIV burdens, and some studies have suggested that administration of vaccines using the Adenovirus Type 5 (Ad5) vector - which Sputnik V does - can lead to higher susceptibility to HIV in men.

Viral vector vaccines like Sputnik V use modified viruses as vehicles, or vectors, to carry genetic information that helps the body build immunity against future infections.

SAHPRA, the regulator, said it had asked for data demonstrating Sputnik V was safe in settings with high HIV prevalence, but that it had not received enough to establish this.

"SAHPRA resolved that the ... (emergency) application for Sputnik V ... not be approved at this time. SAHPRA is concerned that use of the Sputnik V vaccine in ... a setting of a high HIV prevalence and incidence may increase the risk of vaccinated males acquiring HIV," the statement read.

The Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V, said: "Concerns about the safety of Ad5-vectored vaccines in populations at risk for HIV infection are completely unfounded," adding that SAHPRA would get all the information it needed.

More than 250 clinical trials and 75 international publications confirm the safety of vaccines and medicines based on human adenovirus vectors, the institute added.

SAHPRA said it had consulted with local and international scientific experts to reach its decision, and that relevant safety data could still be submitted as its "rolling review" of the vaccine would remain open.

UK

The spread of COVID-19 among children in England is fuelling a recent rise in cases nationally and causing concern among some scientists that vaccines are being rolled out in schools too slowly, risking the welfare of children and adults alike.

COVID-19 cases in Britain as a whole are much higher than in other European countries and are rising. On Friday one survey suggested prevalence was at its highest level since January, with 8 percent of secondary school children infected.

Vaccination rates for the age group in England are lagging those in many European countries and even Scotland, which some scientists have attributed to mixed messaging around shots for children, a later start and inflexibility with the rollout.

"The worry at the moment is it is clear that the vaccination program in 12 to 15-year-olds is not going very well," Lawrence Young, virologist at University of Warwick, told Reuters, adding that the spread of other viruses could lead to a "perfect storm" in the winter for the National Health Service if cases spread to older, more vulnerable adults.

Last month, Britain's chief medical officers recommended that children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a COVID-19 vaccine to help reduce disruption to their education.

But with children and teachers missing school time having caught COVID, some believe the rollout started too late.

The health service set a target of offering all children vaccination shots by the school half-term break, which starts next week.

Data released on Thursday showed that 28.8 percent of children aged 12-17 had received a COVID-19 shot.

But while the rollout to 16 and 17-year-olds began in August, before schools went back, term had restarted for three weeks in England by the time the rollout to 12- to 15-year-olds had begun.

A member of the public receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at an inoculation center in Derby, central England, on Sept 20, 2021. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)

The recommendation to vaccinate those children was delayed after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) declined to recommend broad vaccination of over-12s, saying the benefit to health was marginal and referring the decision to the chief medical officers.

Whether or not vaccines prevent mild COVID and transmission in schools in light of the more contagious Delta variant is one major point of difference between those who believe vaccinations should have begun earlier and the JCVI, which says a deliberate and transparent process was crucial to maintaining trust.

"The extent to which we could have modified the situation, or indeed are now modifying this situation, by immunizing children always was going to be and remains modest," Adam Finn, a JCVI member, told Reuters.

Finn said that as the risks of both infection and the shots were small, it was right that children and parents should be able to decide for themselves whether to get the shot, and said the focus should not be on the overall proportion who decide to take up the offer.

Meanwhile, Britain reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in three months on Monday as the number of infections reached levels last seen when lockdown restrictions were in place in England during the summer.

Infection numbers in Britain are currently much higher than in other western European countries and have risen more 60 percent in the last month.

Government data showed there were 49,156 new cases of coronavirus, up from 45,140 on Sunday, and the highest daily total since July 17.

Ukraine

Ukraine registered a record daily high of 538 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The previous high of 481 deaths was on April 7.

The ministry’s data showed 15,579 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours. Ukraine has reported a total of 2.66 million coronavirus cases and 61,348 deaths.

Food and Drug Administration building is shown Thursday, Dec 10, 2020 in Silver Spring, Md. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP)

United States

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow Americans to get a different booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine than the one initially taken, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The FDA in September authorized a booster dose of Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech's two-shot COVID-19 vaccine for those aged 65 and older and some high-risk Americans.

The regulator's advisory panel has also backed the use of Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

The government would not recommend one shot over another, and it might note that using the same vaccine as a booster when possible is preferable, the NYT report said, citing people familiar with the agency's plans.

The FDA declined to comment on the matter.

US health officials have been under pressure to authorize the additional shots after the White House announced plans in August for a widespread booster campaign pending approvals from the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study by the National Institutes of Health last week showed people who got Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine as a first shot had a stronger immune response when boosted with vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. 

This photograph taken on March 5, 2021 shows the flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

WHO

A World Health Organization-led program to ensure poorer countries get fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments aims to secure antiviral drugs for patients with mild symptoms for as little as $10 per course, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

Merck & Co's experimental pill molnupiravir is likely to be one of the drugs, and other drugs to treat mild patients are being developed.

The document, which outlines the goals of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) until September next year, showed that the program wants to deliver about 1 billion COVID-19 tests to poorer nations, and procure drugs to treat up to 120 million patients globally, out of about 200 million new cases it estimates in the next 12 months.

The plans highlight how the WHO wants to shore up supplies of drugs and tests at a relatively low price after losing the vaccine race to wealthy nations which scooped up a huge share of the world's supplies, leaving the world's poorest countries with few shots.

A spokesperson for the ACT-A said the document, dated Oct 13, was still a draft under consultation and declined to comment on its content before it is finalized. The document will also be sent to global leaders ahead of a G20 summit in Rome at the end of this month.

The ACT-A asks the G20 and other donors for additional funding of $22.8 billion until September 2022 which will be needed to buy and distribute vaccines, drugs and tests to poorer nations and narrow the huge gaps in supply between wealthy and less advanced countries. Donors have so far pledged $18.5 billion to the program.

This undated image provided by Merck & Co shows their new antiviral medication. Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co said on Oct 1, 2021 that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus and that it would soon ask health officials in the US and around the world to authorize its use. (MERCK & CO VIA AP)

The financial requests are based on detailed estimates about the price of drugs, treatments and tests, which will account for the program's biggest expenses alongside the cost of distributing vaccines.

Although it does not explicitly cite molnupiravir, the ACT-A document expects to pay $10 dollar per course for "novel oral antivirals for mild/moderate patients".

The ACT-A document showed that its target is to reach a deal by the end of November to secure the supply of an "oral outpatient drug", which it aims to be available from the first quarter of next year.

The money raised would initially be used to "support procurement of up to 28 million treatment courses for highest risk mild/moderate patients over the next 12 months, depending on product availability, clinical guidance, and volumes changing with evolution of needs," the document showed, noting this volume would be secured under an advance purchase agreement.

Larger additional amounts of new oral antivirals to treat mild patients are also expected to be procured at a later stage, according to the document.

In addition, the program plans to invest massively in COVID-19 diagnostics in order to at least double the number of tests carried out in poorer nations, defined as low income and low-middle income countries.

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