Published: 10:37, October 30, 2020 | Updated: 13:03, June 5, 2023
Pfizer, Astra vaccines said to be in accelerated UK review
By Agencies

In this Sept 9, 2020 photo, a health worker injects a person during clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, US. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

SOFIA / LJUBLJANA / LISBON / RABAT / RIO DE JANEIRO / SANTIAGO / BUENOS AIRES / BRUSSELS / WASHINGTON / PARIS / MADRID / ROME / LONDON / MOSCOW / STOCKHOLM / ADDIS ABABA / NAIROBI / WARSAW / ALGIERS / BERLIN / PRAGUE / KIEV / BUDAPEST / VATICAN CITY / AMSTERDAM - The UK’s drug regulator has started accelerated reviews of COVID-19 vaccines under development from Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, as Britain gets ready to approve the first successful shot as quickly as possible.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency started a so-called rolling review of the Pfizer vaccine in recent weeks, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who didn’t want to be identified because the procedure hasn’t been announced publicly. The agency is also conducting an expedited review of Astra’s vaccine, which the company is co-developing with the University of Oxford, a spokesman for Astra confirmed.

The reproduction “R” number of the COVID-19 epidemic in Britain fell slightly for the second week in a row, government scientists said on Friday, adding the estimated growth rate had slowed too.

The “R” number was 1.1-1.3, down from 1.2-1.4, the UK’s Government Office for Science said. That means on average every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 13 other people.

The estimated daily growth rate of the epidemic was +2 percent to +4 percent, down from +3 percent to +6 percent last week.

A national lockdown in England is not inevitable to contain an increase in COVID-19 cases, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday, adding that a localized approach could work if everyone stuck to the rules for their area.

The UK, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, has said it would stick with a system of local lockdowns despite a new study which showed cases in England doubling every nine days.

The UK reported 280 additinonal deaths of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 28 days, and 23,065 new cases on Thursday. 

Austria

Austria’s daily coronavirus infections jumped by more than a quarter to a new record on Friday, nearing the level at which the government says hospitals will be stretched beyond capacity, as it works on new restrictions to stem the surge.

Friday's official tally of 5,627 was a jump from Thursday's 4,453, itself a record high, suggesting the conservative-led government is running out of time to bring the numbers under control. The peak here of the first wave in March was 1,050.

A man wearing a face mask walks over a bridge with the buildings of the banking district in the background, in Frankfurt, Germany, Oct 29, 2020. (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)

Germany

Germany’s coronavirus cases have surged past 500,000 after an increase of 19,409 in the 24 hours through Friday morning.

The daily gain -- to 506,381 -- was less than Thursday’s record of 23,553, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But it confirms a trend of rapidly rising cases in the past few weeks that Chancellor Angela Merkel has characterized as a “dramatic situation.”

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, virus cases increased by 18,681 to 499,694 while the death toll rose by 77 to 10,349.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 45 million while the global death toll topped 1.18 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Poland

Poland reported a record 21,629 new coronavirus infections on Friday, the health ministry said, with the country facing hospitals being overloaded and the prospect of mass protests in Warsaw against an abortion ban.

The ministry also said that 202 people died of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the overall death toll to 5,351 people.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was not considering a full lockdown, after Poland's caseload surpassed 300,000

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters on Thursday that he was not considering a full lockdown, after the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeded 300,000 in the country.

Doctors say the pandemic will likely accelerate next week following All Saints' Day on Nov 1 when millions of Poles traditionally visit cemeteries, and estimate that the number of reported infections is far below the reality.

Morawiecki said the government would discuss any measures related to that on Friday but has so far refused to ban or curtail cemetery visits.

Meanwhile, Morawiecki appealed to abortion rights activists to halt mass protests, saying they would fuel more coronavirus infections and threaten the elderly.

Spain

Spain's Canary Islands have passed a law obliging tourists visiting the archipelago's hotels to present a negative COVID-19 test result as part of efforts to prevent imported infections. Under the new decree, hotels will require guests over the age of 12 to provide a negative test result taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival.

Spain's coronavirus tally climbed by 23,580 cases on Thursday, marking a new one-day record as the hard-hit country struggles to control its second wave of infections, Health Ministry data showed on Thursday.

While the cumulative tally rose to 1,160,083, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said the real total is likely above 3 million, as many infections aren't captured in the national statistics.

The death toll rose by 173 to 35,466, accelerating from the previous day but below Tuesday's figure of 267, which was the sharpest one-day rise of the second wave.

The parliament on Thursday voted in favor of extending a nationwide state of emergency by six months, until May 9, giving regional authorities extra powers to control a second wave of the virus.

Netherlands

The number of new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rose by more than 11,000 over the past 24 hours to a new record, data released by the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) on Friday showed.

The RIVM said the number of confirmed new cases of COVID-19 was 11,119, compared to a high of 10,343 on Oct 26. The number is being closely watched by the Dutch government, which is weighing tighter curbs.

US

In the United States, new cases topped 86,000, setting a new daily record, as the outbreak intensifies ahead of next week’s presidential election.

The White House coronavirus task force has warned that much of the US is in the grips of an "unrelenting" rise in COVID-19 cases, urging tough countermeasures, while at least nine states on Thursday reported record daily increases in new infections.

New York and New Jersey are seeing a jump in cases again, while a record outbreak is spreading across the Midwest states. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation's top infectious expert, said infections were on the rise in 47 states, and patients were overwhelming hospitals across the country. He indicated that the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine might become available to some high-risk Americans in late December or early January, if all goes well.

Fighting a surge, Pueblo in Colorado imposed a two-week overnight curfew as the city’s largest hospital grapples with a three-fold increase in COVID-19 patients. No one will be permitted on city streets between 10 pm and 5 am starting Friday, Mayor Nick Gradisar said at a news conference. Violators will face penalties up to one-year in jail and a US$1,000 fine. 

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, the US has reported over 8.9 million confirmed cases and more than 228,000 deaths.

Russia

Moscow residents who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 may be able to do so as early as next month if large volumes of doses are supplied by then, city authorities said on Friday as Russia's daily tally of cases rose past 18,000 to a record high.

Russia's daily tally of coronavirus cases surged to a record high of 18,283 on Friday, including 5,268 in Moscow, taking the nation's caseload to 1,599,976

Russia reported 18,283 new cases, including 5,268 in Moscow, taking the nation's caseload to 1,599,976. Authorities also reported 355 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 27,656.

The Kremlin said there was a shortage of doctors across Russia. In Moscow, Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said the rise in cases and hospitalizations was beginning to slow, giving the authorities cause for "moderate optimism."

Rakova said the capital was creating a large network of specialized vaccination rooms with 2,500 high risk people - primarily doctors and teachers - having already been vaccinated, Russian news agencies reported.

Around 9,000 Moscow residents have received both shots of the Sputnik V vaccine as part of an ongoing large-scale trial, its developer was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying on Thursday. The vaccine is taken in two doses, with a 21-day gap.

Mass vaccination of the public is not yet possible, as the necessary number of doses of the vaccine have not yet been delivered, Rakova said on Friday, speaking on the Russia 24 TV channel, adding she thought that this could happen next month.

Russia is facing challenges in scaling up production of its vaccine with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday citing issues with the availability of equipment.

Hungary

The first shipment of coronavirus vaccines is expected to arrive in Hungary in late December or early January, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.

Orban said Hungary was talking to China and Russia as well about vaccines, which could allow Hungary access to two or three different vaccines in the spring.

Hungary reported a record 3,286 rise in daily new coronavirus infections on Friday, while the number of patients in hospitals jumped to 3,753 from 3,197 registered on Thursday, the government said.

Orban said that existing rules on mask wearing should be obeyed, without flagging any new restrictions.

Ukraine

A total of 378,729 COVID-19 cases, with 7,041 deaths, have been registered in Ukraine as of Friday, while 155,026 patients have recovered, according to the country's health ministry.

A record 8,312 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the country in the past 24 hours, while 3,394 patients recovered, the ministry added.

Ukrainian Health Minister Maxym Stepanov said at a briefing Friday that the country should avoid complete lockdown.

BioNTech

BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin expects efficacy results from its late-stage trial of its potential coronavirus vaccine to be available shortly and said the company could file for US approval in mid-November if the data are positive.

"We will certainly be smarter in a fortnight," Sahin said in a video interview with regional publisher VRM posted online late on Thursday, adding he expects first efficacy data in late October, early November.

"We are optimistic," he said, adding if the data are positive, a request for emergency approval could be submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in mid-November.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic reported 13,051 new coronavirus cases for Oct 29, Health Ministry data showed on Friday.

The total number of cases now stands at 310,068 in the country of 10.7 million, while deaths total 2,862.

Czech President Milos Zeman on Thursday appointed Jan Blatny as the country's new minister of health, according to the president's office.

His appointment comes less than a week after former health minister Roman Prymula was photographed leaving a restaurant that should have been closed under COVID-19-related restrictions. Prymula was later asked to resign by the prime minister.

A large sign with a hand sanitizer dispenser is seen on a street in London, Britain, on Oct 29, 2020. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP)

EU

The European Commission will spend 220 million euros (US$260 million) to move COVID-19 patients across borders of the 27-nation bloc to prevent healthcare systems in the most affected countries from collapsing, the head of the European Commission said.

"The spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently," Ursula von der Leyen said after a videoconference of EU leaders to coordinate the EU's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also said the EU would work for the quick validation, at EU level, of rapid antigen tests and that the Commission was in talks with four companies to secure potential COVID vaccines, after it had already sealed supply deals with other three.

The EU Commission also said it will work to have a common passenger locator form by the end of the year to trace travelers in the bloc.

EU leaders agreed to fairly distribute among EU countries a vaccine against the virus, once such a vaccine becomes available, President of the European Council Charles Michel said after the virtual meeting.

ALSO READ: WHO eyes vaccine insurance coverage for poor nations

Vatican

Pope Francis’ weekly general audiences, which had resumed with the public participating, will be moved back indoors and held virtually after one participant tested positive for the coronavirus, the Vatican said on Thursday.

According to a statement, the audiences will be held from the pope’s official private library, as they were during the height of the lockdown in Italy earlier this year.

In recent weeks, the public was allowed to return to the audiences, held first in a Vatican courtyard and then in a Vatican auditorium. But a participant at the Oct 21 audience tested positive for the virus, according to the statement, prompting the change.

As of next Wednesday, Nov 4, the audiences will go back to being held in the library in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace without public participation “in order to avoid any eventual future risk to the health of the participants.”

Argentina

Argentina on Thursday reported 372 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 30,442, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry also reported 13,267 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the nation's tally to 1,143,800, including with 946,134 recoveries.

Buenos Aires province remains the worst hit among all provinces with 543,181 infections.

Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia said Thursday the virus situation was improving in the country.

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime critic of stay-at-home measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said on Thursday that it was "crazy" for countries to start locking down again to control second waves of the virus.

Most Western countries and parts of Latin America have reported their highest single-day surges in the past few weeks. Many governments, with the notable exception of the United States, have started taking stronger measures to bring the spread of the virus under control.

Brazil recorded 513 additional COVID-19 deaths and 26,106 new infections, the health ministry said on Thursday, bringing the tally to 5,494,376 cases and the toll to 158,969 deaths.

Brazil expects to have a vaccine approved and ready for use in a national inoculation program by June, the head of the country's health regulator Anvisa, Antonio Barra Torres told Reuters on Thursday. 

People wearing protective masks walk on  a street of Paris, France, Oct 29, 2020. (LEWIS JOLY / AP)

France

France reported on Thursday 47,637 newly confirmed coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking its tally past 1.28 million. The death tally went up by 235 to 36,020.

The number of people going into hospital with the virus fell to 976, after three consecutive days of about 1,200 hospitalizations per day.

There are now 21,183 people in hospital with COVID-19. The number of people in intensive care went up by 111 to 3,156.

French people will only be allowed to leave the house for food shopping, commuting to work, medical or pressing family reasons, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday after France ordered new lockdown.

Working from home will be mandatory all the week in France except when it is technically impossible, Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Thursday, as France ordered a new lockdown.

READ MORE: Lockdowns underscore stakes in EU

Medical personnel tend to patients in the Intensive Care Unit of the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome, Italy, Oct 29, 2020. (ALESSANDRA TARANTINO / AP)

Italy

Italy registered 26,831 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the start of the health crisis and up from the previous record of 24,991 posted on Wednesday.

The ministry also reported 217 COVID-related deaths compared with 205 the day before.

A total 38,122 people have now died in Italy from COVID-19, while 616,595 infections have been registered to date.

The northern region of Lombardy, centered on Italy's financial capital Milan, remained the hardest hit area, reporting 7,339 new cases on Thursday against 7,558 on Wednesday. The southern Campania region was the second-worst affected, chalking up 3,103 cases.

Sweden

Sweden extended its COVID-19 restrictions to more regions on Thursday, including the capital Stockholm, as the country reported a record 3,254 fresh infections in 24 hours.

Swedish Television (SVT) on Thursday quoted State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell as saying that "Stockholm County, Vastra Gotaland County and Ostergotland County will have stricter restrictions to reduce the spread of infection."

According to the SVT report, people staying in the above regions are advised to refrain from spending time indoors in shops, malls, museums, libraries, bathhouses and gyms. However, people can still visit grocery stores and pharmacies.

Sweden has so far reported 121,167 confirmed cases and 5,934 deaths, according to the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

Africa

COVID-19 cases are accelerating in some parts of Africa and governments should step up preparations for a second wave, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Thursday.

Over the past four week, cases have increased by 45 percent per week on average in Kenya, by 19 percent in Democratic Republic of Congo and by 8 percent in Egypt, Africa CDC's head John Nkengasong said.

Nkengasong urged governments “not to get into prevention fatigue mode”.

There have been 1,748,335 infections and 42,151 deaths recorded across the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

Beginning in August, many governments eased restrictions, however, and a trend of decreasing cases has flattened, Matshidiso Moeti, Africa director for the WHO said in a separate online press conference on Thursday.

Ecuador

Ecuador is registering the lowest rates of COVID-19 deaths and infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, President Lenin Moreno said on Thursday.

"Every day the indicators are improving," Moreno said at a virtual meeting with members of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a U.S.-based forum.

Ecuador, which has the region's seventh-largest COVID-19 outbreak, reported 1,394 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 166,302.

The death toll stands at 12,622, including 4,310 deaths suspected of being related to COVID-19 but not verified.

Chile

Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris on Thursday unveiled a plan to prepare for a second novel coronavirus outbreak.

Paris said the plan drawn up by the Ministry of Health "will allow us to have beds and to have all the apparatus of the public and private system available to patients who may appear."

According to official data, Chile registered 1,519 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 507,050.

Another 86 deaths were also registered over the last day, taking the death toll to 14,118.

Algeria

Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's health condition is "stable and does not cause concern", the presidency said on Thursday, a day after being flown to Germany for medical checks.

"His medical staff is optimistic as to the results of checks," it said in a statement. Tebboune, 75, had entered a military hospital in Algiers after senior aides tested positive for COVID-19.

Moderna

US biotechnology company Moderna said on Thursday it was preparing for the launch of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate globally.

"We are actively preparing for the launch of mRNA-1273 and we have signed a number of supply agreements with governments around the world," said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel in a statement.

In addition to the Phase 3 study of mRNA-1273, which is fully enrolled, Moderna now has four programs in Phase 2 studies, according to Bancel.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Thursday 4,320 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of infections in the country to 212,038.

The total number of recoveries increased by 3,320 to 174,911 while the death toll rose by 66 to 3,572, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Portugal

Portugal posted 4,224 COVID-19 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally ever reported, according to the epidemiological bulletin of the Directorate-General for Health (DGS). The new cases pushed the overall tally to 132,616.

Another 33 deaths related to the disease were also reported, raising the death toll to 2,428.

The number of hospitalized people has continued to rise for more than a week, with 1,834 people currently hospitalized, of whom 269 are in intensive care units.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called for an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers on Saturday to define new "immediate actions" to control the pandemic.

Slovenia

Slovenia recorded 2,488 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national tally to 30,644, according to official figures released on Thursday.

Another 14 deaths were logged, raising the toll to 292.

The number of patients in intensive care units rose to 109 as hospitalisations hit 660, according to official figures. 

Mateja Logar of the Department of Infectious Diseases of UKC Ljubljana hospital said that all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients were full.

Bulgaria

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has gone into self-isolationg after his secretary general, Dimitar Stoyanov, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, the press office of the presidency said.

Stoyanov has been on leave since Monday and his last contact with employees of Radev's administration was on Oct 23.

Besides the president, employees with whom Stoyanov had contact with have also gone into self-isolation and will work from home in accordance with the regulations of Sofia's Regional Health Inspectorate, the press office said.

The Bulgarian Health Ministry on Thursday reported a record high of 2,760 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the national tally to 45,461.

The death toll rose by 36 to 1,197, the ministry said.