Published: 10:17, February 18, 2021 | Updated: 01:23, June 5, 2023
Virus: AstraZeneca doses go unused in Germany
By Agencies

People eat their lunch outside a closed restaurant Paris on Feb 1, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

BRUSSELS / LONDON / PARIS / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / WASHINGTON / MADRID / STOCKHOLM / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / ROME / BERLIN - After a clash last month over whether EU countries would get their fair share of AstraZeneca’s vaccine shipments, fewer than one-tenth of the doses delivered to Germany have been administered in the initial days of the rollout. Some health-care workers also say they’re concerned about side effects amid reports about unexpectedly strong reactions.

Germany isn’t alone: Some French health workers are also pushing to get shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech instead.

The fast-spreading virus variant first found in the UK now makes up more than 20 percent of cases in Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

“We must assume that it could also dominate here soon,” Spahn said in a tweet on Wednesday, citing data from the Robert Koch Institute. The share of variants from South Africa and Brazil is also rising, but is at a much lower level, Spahn said.


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday proposed that the Group of 20 (G20) set up an emergency task force to prepare a "Global Vaccination Plan" against COVID-19.

"We have come together to create the COVAX facility, the one global tool to procure and deliver vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. COVAX requires to be fully funded. But we must do even more. Our efforts need to be comprehensive and well-coordinated everywhere," said Guterres.

The world urgently needs a Global Vaccination Plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise as well as production and financial capacities, he told an open debate of the Security Council on "ensuring the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity."

"I believe the G20 is well placed to establish an emergency task force to prepare such a Global Vaccination Plan and coordinate its implementation and financing," said Guterres.

This task force should include all countries in which there is a capacity to develop vaccines or to produce them if licenses are available, together with the World Health Organization and Gavi, other relevant technical organizations and international financial institutions. The task force would have the capacity to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors, he said.


The European Union (EU) on Wednesday stepped up its efforts to detect and fight COVID-19 variants by bringing together various stakeholders to develop new and adapted vaccines.

A new project called "HERA Incubator" will gather researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers and public authorities in the EU and globally to detect new coronavirus variants, provide incentives to develop new and adapted vaccines, speed up the approval process for these vaccines, and ensure the scaling up of manufacturing capacities.

The incubator will also serve as a blueprint for the EU's long-term preparedness for health emergencies, the European Commission said in a statement.

"New variants of the virus are emerging fast and we must adapt our response even faster," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The bloc has signed a second contract with US firm Moderna to purchase additional 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, Von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

Hailing it as good news, she said the extra doses added to the portfolio of vaccines the EU had contracted in order to meet its target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of adults by mid-September.

With the new agreement, the EU countries now have access to 2.6 billion doses of three EU-authorized vaccines -- Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Another three upcoming vaccines are still due to be authorized for use in Europe.

Global tally

Almost a year after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, global infections show signs of slowing. There were 2.7 million new COVID-19 cases in the week ended Feb 14, the lowest since October, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in total infections from the previous week, the weakest gain since the start of the pandemic and less than half the rate seen a month earlier.

The death toll is also beginning to ease, but at a less dramatic pace. Daily fatalities have averaged less than 10,000 over the past five days, down from a peak of more than 18,000 in mid-January.

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 109.8 million while the global tally topped 2.42 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

READ MORE: Virus: S. Africa to start vaccine rollout after J&J shots arrive


UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore on Wednesday called on the UN Security Council to extend a humanitarian pause for COVID-19 vaccination.

"We need a global cease-fire. At a minimum, we need your help to extend the call made in Resolution 2532 for a humanitarian pause for the duration of vaccine delivery and administration," Fore told a Security Council open debate on "ensuring the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity."

Resolution 2532, which was adopted in July 2020, calls on all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days, in order to enable the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance, provisions of related services by impartial humanitarian actors, and medical evacuations.

By the time of adoption, no COVID-19 vaccines had won official approval.

Snow in New York on Feb 7. Bad weather across the nation has delayed deliveries, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)


Three worrisome COVID-19 variants are now circulating in the U.S. and the federal government needs significance resources to track their progress, according to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variants, which emerged initially in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, have all now been seen in the U.S., said Rochelle Walensky, the CDC chief, in a question and answer session hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The agency has already warned that the highly contagious mutant strain that emerged in the U.K. could become dominant among Americans in the next two months. There are now 19 cases of the mutation first reported in South Africa in the US, she said, and two cases of a variant initially detected in Brazil in two states.

One priority for fighting the variants in the US is to put strong public health surveillance in place that can track changes in the virus, according to Walensky. The CDC is partnering with state laboratories to get 750 samples a week to sequence, she said, and has arranged with private and academic laboratories to contribute data as well.

US President Joe Biden told 10 top union leaders on Wednesday that his US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and a separate measure to modernize US infrastructure would boost the US economy and create millions of good-paying jobs.

About one-third of US troops who have been offered a COVID-19 vaccine have declined the inoculation, initial Pentagon data show. The choice still allows personnel to deploy.

Over 3 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to a latest report of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association.

US researchers will conduct a new study to evaluate the effects of remdesivir in pregnant women who have been prescribed the drug to treat COVID-19, according to a release of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday.

 A study posted on the website of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on Wednesday shows that antibody effector functions are a crucial part of effectively treating infections with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but are dispensable when the antibodies are used to prevent infection.

ALSO READ: Biden unveils plan to pump US$1.9t into virus-hit economy


Coronavirus infections in England have fallen “significantly” in recent weeks, a boost to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he weighs how quickly to re-open Britain’s economy.

National prevalence of the virus was down by two-thirds in the first half of February compared to January, according to a survey by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori, one of the country’s largest coronavirus studies. The number of infected people fell to 51 per 10,000 at the time of the latest survey in February, down from 157 per 10,000 in January.

Another 12,718 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,071,185, according to official figures released Wednesday.

The country also reported another 738 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 118,933. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

The latest figures were revealed as nearly 16 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said the government would "not rest" until the vaccine was offered to all over-50s by the end of April.

Earlier Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will be focusing on "data, not dates" as he is set to announce a roadmap for easing England's coronavirus lockdown next week.


France is extending the duration of quarantine to 10 days for those who test positive to COVID-19 in the northeastern section of the nation where virus circulation and the prevalence of new variants is particularly high. The French government also said testing and tracing campaigns will intensify there, and that vaccines will be earmarked for the area.

France on Wednesday registered 25,018 new COVID-19 infections, while 310 patients died in the past 24 hours.

To date, the country has recorded 3,514,147 people having caught COVID-19, of whom 83,122 have died.

As of Wednesday, a total of 25,974 people with COVID-19 remained hospitalized, down by 265 from the previous day, while 3,350 patients were in intensive care, two more than on Tuesday.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting earlier in the day, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal noted a slight improvement in the country's coronavirus indicators, but warned that it was too early to relax the restrictions.

"The number of new cases decreased by 10 percent this week. The number of hospitalized patients has slightly decreased but it would be unreasonable to ease our efforts and claim victory. ... The virus variants' circulation presents a real threat," Attal said.

The Netherlands 

The Netherlands set aside 8.5 billion euros in a multi-year support plan for the country’s education system, to help pupils and schools hit by the pandemic.

To remove study delays caused by the outbreak, primary and secondary schools can use extra funds on targeted measures such as tutoring for pupils in small groups. About 6,600 primary schools will on average get 180,000 euros per school in the coming year, while the 650 secondary schools will receive more than 1.3 million euros on average. Tuition fees for university students will be cut in half next year.


Six people who contracted but recovered from COVID-19 have been reinfected with a coronavirus variant that was first identified in South Africa, according to the health authority of a western state of Austria.

These people tested positive for a second time between the beginning of January and mid-February and the mutation has been detected in all of them, said Elmar Rizzoli, head of the Tyrolean Coronavirus task force on Wednesday.

"According to the information currently available, all six cases of the second infection showed a mild course," he added.

The number of mutation cases of the variant first identified in South Africa has increased to 343 in the Alpine state, with 137 active ones, according to the Tyrolean Coronavirus task force.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The first drive-in facility for COVID-19 testing has been launched in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), said the government of the Sarajevo Canton on Wednesday.

"This drive-in testing facility meets all epidemiological standards. Our intention is to help primarily those patients with special needs and physical disabilities to get tested without leaving a car," said Haris Vranic, Minister of Health of Sarajevo Canton.

He said that the drive-in facility is not commercial, and only patients with electronic referral from their family doctor will be able to get tested, adding that the test result will be sent to patients via an app within 6-8 hours and all patients who test positive will be immediately sent to their nearest COVID medical station and treated appropriately.


The Federal Council of Switzerland announced Wednesday that it plans to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions starting from March 1.

The Swiss government said at a press conference Wednesday that at the first stage of its exit strategy, it proposed to open shops, sport and leisure facilities and to allow outdoor events of up to 15 people from March 1.

However, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and theaters in the country will remain closed and a work-from-home policy will be maintained until further notice.

The Swiss government clarified that only "activities that carry a low risk of infection will be allowed first".

North Macedonia

Vaccination against COVID-19 started in North Macedonia on Wednesday in a hospital in the capital city of Skopje, Media Information Agency (MIA) reported.

According to MIA, the first citizens to receive COVID-19 shot were a doctor and a head nurse of the Infectious Disease Clinic in Skopje.

Via a Facebook post, Health Minister Venko Filipce announced the start of the immunization process against COVID-19 in North Macedonia.

According to Filipce, the vaccination process will continue with the medical staff in COVID-19 centers and hospitals in Skopje, to be followed by the healthcare workers in other hospitals across the country and in private hospitals.


Chinese manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines are open to all potential users, said Chinese Ambassador to Cyprus Liu Yantao on Tuesday.

There is not yet an ongoing negotiation between the European Union (EU) and Chinese vaccine producers, but Chinese manufacturers "are open to all potential users," said Liu in an interview with the state-run Cyprus News Agency.


More than 1,000 students and employees from the education system had tested positive for COVID-19 since schools across Romania reopened for in-person learning and teaching on Feb. 8, the Ministry of Education announced in a statement on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, 600 students and 472 employees from schools and kindergartens were confirmed infected with the novel coronavirus, between Feb. 8 and 16:00 Wednesday. A total of 542 classes had their activity suspended during this period.

Education Minister Sorin Cimpeanu urged parents not to send their children to school or kindergarten if they have "the slightest symptoms of illness."


The Albanian Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 1,075 new COVID-19 cases and 18 COVID-19-related deaths in the last 24 hours.

According to Health Ministry, the medical staff conducted a total of 3,901 COVID-19 tests, of which 1,075 citizens resulted positive to the virus, raising the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 95,726.

On Wednesday, the ministry reported 18 COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total number of fatalities in Albania to 1,600.

Meanwhile, a total of 890 citizens were reported as recovered from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, raising the total number of confirmed recoveries to 59,684.


Government parties in the Czech Republic, which is in the middle of one of the fastest-spreading and deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in Europe, are arguing over a plan to reopen shops and schools.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority cabinet is under pressure from the public and the opposition to ease lockdown measures that shut most of the nation’s shops, bars, restaurants and schools. Babis’s ANO party wants to reopen stores next week and return children to in-class learning in March. Its coalition partner is against it.


Hungary registered 2,853 new cases on Wednesday, the most in six weeks, with officials warning of an increase in infection rates due to the spread of a more contagious variant. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pledged not to tighten restrictions, which include a daily curfew and the closure of restaurants and cultural venues.

The government is hoping expedited deliveries of vaccines from China and Russia, on top of shots bought via the European Union, will allow a gradual easing of lockdown measures from April.

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a senior citizen care home in Premnitz, Germany, on Dec 30, 2020.  (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)


Mexico's Minister of National Defense Luis Cresencio Sandoval said Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will quarantine at home under medical supervision.

"I will continue my duties in quarantine from home, under medical treatment and relying on the officials of the National Defense Ministry in keeping with the chain of command," said the 61-year-old minister.


Chile's Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 2,330 new COVID-19 infections and 15 deaths in the last 24 hours, for a total of 784,314 cases and 19,659 deaths.

In its daily report, the ministry added that to date, 743,306 people have recovered from COVID-19 and 20,958 remain active.

Chile has been facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases since December, but health authorities reported on Wednesday a 15 percent nationwide decrease in the number of patients in the last two weeks. Likewise, in 14 regions of the country, the number of cases has dropped during the same period. 


Brazil was approaching 10 million COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, after 56,766 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 9,978,747, according to the Health Ministry.

In its daily report, the ministry also reported 1,150 deaths in the same period for a death toll of 242,090.


Tunisian Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 787 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 225,116.

The death toll from the virus rose by 34 to 7,651, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reached 1,356, including 288 in intensive care units, while the total number of recoveries reached 185,421, it added.

South Africa

A laboratory study suggests that the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE vaccine by two-thirds, and it is not clear if the shot will be effective against the mutation, the companies said on Wednesday.

The study found the vaccine was still able to neutralize the virus and there is not yet evidence from trials in people that the variant reduces vaccine protection, the companies said.

Still, they are making investments and talking to regulators about developing an updated version of their mRNA vaccine or a booster shot, if needed.

As the vaccination program got under way in South Africa on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa was among those first to be vaccinated at the Khayelitsha Hospital in Cape Town.

"Taking the vaccine was quick, easy and not so painful," he said after the vaccination, urging all healthcare workers to register in order to be vaccinated.


Africa’s total reported death toll from COVID-19 was approaching 100,000 on Thursday, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.

A seamless roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine in Africa hinges on improving the knowledge of the continent's frontline health care workers in critical areas like storage, supply chains management and effective communication to the public,  the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Ambrose Talisuna, emergency preparedness programme manager at WHO Regional Office for Africa said that a critical mass of trained healthcare workers is key to boost COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and uptake in the continent.

"There is a need to train and prepare African healthcare workers to administer the COVID-19 vaccine effectively," Talisuna said at a virtual briefing in Nairobi.


Zimbabwe will soon register Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s vaccine for approval as it seeks to boost supplies for its COVID-19 vaccination program that’s due to start on Thursday.

“We are in the process of registering Sinovac right now,” John Mangwiro, the deputy health minister, told lawmakers in the capital, Harare, according to a transcript of a speech on parliament’s website. “They have given us phase 1, phase 2 and we are waiting for documents for the next phase, and they will be registered shortly.”

The southern African nation took delivery of 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines from China on Monday. It targets distribution of these shots to high-risk groups including health-care workers, and customs and immigration officials. The new coronavirus strain first detected in South Africa that some vaccines are less effective against is estimated to account for about 61 percent of cases in Zimbabwe.


Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 479,579 on Wednesday as 508 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Health, the death toll mounted to 8,517 as 13 COVID-19 patients died in the last 24 hours.

The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased to 461,466 after 838 new ones were added, while 419 people are in intensive care units, the statement said.

The COVID-19 fatality rate in Morocco stands at 1.8 percent while the recovery rate is 96.2 percent.

Meanwhile, 2,081,013 people have been vaccinated so far against COVID-19 in the country.


Algeria on Wednesday reported 178 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the North African country to 111,247.

The death toll from the virus in Algeria rose to 2,947 after two new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.

Meanwhile, 159 more patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 76,549, the statement added.


The Somali government on Wednesday banned public gatherings and called on non-essential workers to work from home amid rising cases of COVID-19 in the country.

The ministers of health, information and security said the infection rate has gone up in February after nine people died and 100 new cases were reported on Tuesday, signaling the resurgence of the deadly virus.

Fawziya Abikar Nur,  Minister of Health and Human Services said 15 people died in less than 48 hours in Martini Hospital and another 50 have been admitted to government hospitals, indicating that the risk of the disease has increased.


Senegal on Wednesday night received the first batch of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, First Lady Marieme Faye Sall, senior government officials, Chinese Ambassador to Senegal Xiao Han and representatives of the World Health Organization also attended the delivery ceremony at Blaise Diagne International Airport.