Published: 10:23, March 4, 2021 | Updated: 23:49, June 4, 2023
Germany rejects EU executive call to ease virus border curbs
By Agencies

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural painting featuring an angel's wings and halo, at a shopping mall in south west Berlin on March 2, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP)

JOHANNESBURG / LONDON / UNITED NATIONS / KIGALI / NAIROBI / PARIS / MADRID / STOCKHOLM / PRAGUE / ROME / SANTIAGO / WARSAW / KIEV / BRUSSELS / BUCHAREST / BERLIN / OTTAWA / BUDAPEST / MOSCOW / CONAKRY / MINSK / BRUSSELS - Germany told the European Union it would uphold its latest border restrictions imposed to curb the spread of new coronavirus variants, snubbing calls from the bloc’s executive European Commission, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The Brussels-based executive last week asked Germany and five other countries to ease unilateral restrictions on movement of goods and people, saying they have “gone too far” and were putting a strain on the bloc’s cherished single market.

But Germany’s EU ambassador replied in a March 1 letter, which was seen by Reuters: “We have to uphold the measures taken at the internal borders at the moment in the interest of health protection.”

World Obesity Federation

Countries where more than half of adults are overweight have recorded COVID-19 mortality rates in excess of 10 times those in other nations, according to a report by the World Obesity Federation.

Of the 2.5 million pandemic deaths reported by the end of February, 2.2 million were in countries above the 50 percent threshold, the study showed, suggesting obese people should be included in priority groups for testing and vaccinations.

Obesity has almost tripled worldwide in the past four decades and is on the rise all over the world. Last year the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned it’s a “global pandemic in its own right.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, being overweight has been associated with a higher risk of hospitalization, admission to intensive or critical care, and the need for mechanically assisted ventilation.

In the UK, overweight people were 67 percent more likely to need intensive care after contracting COVID-19. Those considered obese were three times as likely to require ICU treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of COVID-related deaths could have been prevented if all countries had overweight prevalence below 50 percent, the report said. The organization called for better obesity prevention and treatment strategies.

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases reported worldwide stood at 115.2 million while the global death toll topped 2.56 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 3,924,755 as of Thursday noon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the 55-member African Union (AU), said the death toll related to the pandemic stood at 104,672, while some 3,501,772 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

The coronavirus may permanently establish itself in Africa unless more is done to ensure the expeditious roll out of COVID-19 vaccines, the head of the disease control body said Wednesday.

This includes lifting a waiver on intellectual property rights to enable manufacturers to produce vaccines on the continent, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an online briefing.

“If by the end of 2022, we haven’t vaccinated at least 60 percent of the population, then the chances that we’re moving toward an endemic situation of COVID on the continent becomes very, very real,” he said. “I don’t think the continent has the ability to withstand those shocks.”

The risk of the virus becoming permanent in Africa, which has recorded 3.9 million COVID-19 cases, would have a “substantial impact on economies,” Nkengasong said.

The United Nations has delivered million of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa through COVAX, the global tool to procure and deliver vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, said a spokesman on Wednesday.

Vaccines have been delivered to Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), The Gambia, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

ALSO READ: World Bank readies virus funds for about 30 African nations

Moderna

Some people who get Moderna’s vaccine experience delayed rashes that can be four inches wide or more and take around six days to resolve, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers reported details on 12 cases of reactions that appeared eight or more days after people received their first dose. They were typically treated with ice and antihistamines, although some patients needed steroid treatments. About half also got skin reactions after the second dose, though they were less severe.

Evidence of the reactions appeared in earlier studies. Moderna’s final-stage trial of the vaccine noted delayed reactions at the site of the first injection in about 0.8 percent of the 30,420 participants, and among 0.2 percent at their second dose. They typically resolved within about five days.

This undated photo shows a vial of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

The EU

The European Medicines Agency said it has started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to test compliance with safety and quality standards, the first major step in gaining approval for use in the European Union (EU).

“The rolling review will continue until enough evidence is available for formal marketing authorization application,” the agency said in a statement Thursday. “While EMA cannot predict the overall timelines, it should take less time than normal to evaluate an eventual application because of the work done during the rolling review.”

“Following EMA approval, we would be able to provide vaccine for 50 million Europeans starting from June,” Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and is in charge of its international roll-out, said in a statement Thursday.

“We expect that several more EU countries will register Sputnik soon before EMA approval,” Dmitriev said in an interview.

Sweden

A baby, who tested positive for COVID-19 two days after birth, was confirmed infected while in the womb, Swedish doctors said on Wednesday.

This is the first case in Sweden where a baby got infected with COVID-19 during the mother's pregnancy, and subsequent tests showed that the baby had developed its own antibodies.

As there have been very few cases where babies had been confirmed infected in the womb, the findings were published in the scientific journal British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

The 27-year-old mother was admitted to the university hospital in Malmo last year after displaying COVID-19 symptoms. She also had abdominal pain and the fetal movements were reduced. The baby showed signs of lack of oxygen and declining heart sound and it was decided to perform an emergency cesarean section.

"We studied the placenta under a microscope and could observe viral protein in all the areas of the placenta that were most affected. We also noticed that the placenta was infected on both the baby's and the mother's side," Mehreen Zaigham, a doctor, said.

"Until two weeks before the mother fell ill, the fetus' growth was normal and routine check-ups did not show any infection. Therefore, we see a clear connection between the infection and the effect on the placenta."

Zaigham said the case proved that the placenta can be affected even if the mother has only a mild infection.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street for the House of Commons, where he will be to announcing the Budget 2021, in London, Britain on March 3, 2021. (RAY TANG / XINHUA)

UK

Britain’s medical regulator on Thursday said it would fast-track vaccines for coronavirus variants, adding that the makers of already-authorised shots would not need new lengthy clinical trials to prove their adapted vaccines will work.

The accelerated process is based on that used for seasonal flu vaccines each year, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said, and would be based on robust evidence that the shots create an immune response, rather than full clinical trials.

The British government will fund what it believes to be the world's first study assessing the effectiveness of a third dose of vaccine to combat COVID-19, according to a three-point plan in Budget 2021 announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on Wednesday.

The government is committing 22 million pounds (US$30.70 million) to studies that test the effectiveness of a combination of different COVID-19 vaccines. It will also fund the world's first study assessing the effectiveness of a third dose of vaccine to improve the response against current and future variants of COVID-19, according to the Budget.

Britain started its COVID-19 vaccination program in December, and more than 20.7 million people ihave been given the first jab of a coronavirus vaccine, according to official data.

The government on Wednesday reported 6,385 new coronavirus cases and 315 additional deaths, bringing the tally to 4,194,785 and the toll to 123,783, according to the data.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England dropped below 10,000 on Wednesday for the first time since November, according to figures from the National Health Service (NHS) England.

The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England has dropped since January, but the rate of decline has slowed and cases might be on the rise in some areas, researchers at Imperial College London said on Thursday.

In another development, Britain’s aviation minister said Wednesday that restarting travel after COVID-19 lockdowns needs to be done by countries working together and that the government hoped holidays would be allowed as soon as possible after May 17.

Belarus

Belarus reported 1,174 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, taking its total to 291,621, according to the country's health ministry.

There have been 1,273 new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 282,039, the ministry added.

So far, 2,011 people have died of the disease in the country, including nine over the past 24 hours, it said.

Hungary

Hungary reported 6,278 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, its highest daily tally in three months, while the number of deaths also increased sharply to 152, government data showed.

The Hungarian government could announce further lockdown measures on Thursday, including the closure of primary schools and shops until early April in response to a recent spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, website Index.hu reported.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff holds a briefing later in the day where he is expected to outline decisions made at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The virus has infected 446,178 people in the country of 10 million so far and killed 15,476.

As of Thursday, more than 785,000 people in Hungary had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Finland

The coronavirus pandemic is starting to burden Finland’s hospitals as the weekly number of confirmed infections hit a record, the health ministry warned.

While more patients are forecast to need treatment in hospitals and intensive care units in the coming week, ICUs continue to have capacity, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said on Thursday.

The government is set to invoke emergency powers on Friday, which would allow non-urgent care to be delayed as the pandemic spreads. According to the current estimates, an infected person passes the virus on average to about 1.15 to 1.35 others, as the more infectious UK strain circulates.

Just under 60,000 people in Finland have tested positive for the coronavirus and 759 people have died of the illness since the initial outbreak. Finland is now the second-worst affected in the Nordic region in terms of 14-day incidence, after Sweden, according to WHO data.

Russia

Russia on Thursday reported 11,385 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,150 in Moscow, taking the national case total to 4,290,135.

Authorities said 475 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 87,823.

Healthcare workers receive a patient suspected of having COVID-19 at the HRAN Hospital in Brasilia, Brazil, March 3, 2021. (ERALDO PERES / AP)

Brazil

Brazil reported record deaths from the coronavirus for a second straight day as the country’s richest state tightens rules to contain the spread.

Deaths rose by 1,910 in last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said, pushing the total to 259,271. Confirmed cases increased by 71,704, to 10,718,630.

Sao Paulo state said that all non-essential businesses, such as shops and gyms, will have to remain shut for the next two weeks.

Brazil’s senate backed a US$7.8 billion round of COVID-19 aid for the poor in a first-round vote late on Wednesday and scheduled a second round for the following morning.

The plan approved by the senate so far allows the government to take on debt to finance four monthly payments of 250 reais to some 40 million Brazilians at a cost of 44 billion reais (US$7.8 billion). Last year, the government spent 322 billion reais on a more generous program that benefited over 60 million Brazilians with stipends of as much as 600 reais per month.

US

US President Joe Biden said the governors of Texas and Mississippi were wrong to lift mask mandates in their states, calling the decisions “Neanderthal thinking.”

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier that though cases have halted their decline from January highs, it’s not yet time to lift restrictions.

Meanwhile, New York state said starting March 22 the outdoor limit on residential gatherings will increase to 25 from 10. Limits for social events will rise from 50 to 100 people indoors and to 200 outdoors. Venues that hold fewer than 10,000 people can open at 33% capacity from April 2, with up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Social distancing and face coverings are still required for attendance.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also said domestic travelers would not longer be required to quarantine or test-out within 90 days of full vaccination.

New York City could be able to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all residents by late April, the city’s health commissioner said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Greece

Greece is further restricting movement around the nation after a surge in new virus infections placed intensive care capacity under pressure.

Citizens will now be restricted to their own municipalities for essential shopping, or to a maximum of two kilometers distance from their homes. Car travel to destinations for personal exercise is banned.

Greece recorded 2,702 new virus cases Wednesday, the highest daily increase for over three months. Athens and its surrounding Attica region accounted for nearly half of the cases, even though the area has been in a strict lockdown since Feb 11. The new measures will begin at 6 am on March 4 and will run until at least March 16.

“We are returning to the logic of last March,” Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said. “We stay in our neighborhoods.”

Attica is classified as a so-called red zone where schools are already closed and non-essential shopping is prohibited. Despite the curbs, the number of new cases is higher than when they were first introduced.

Intensive care units in the region are now running at a 90 percent occupancy rate for virus patients compared with 71 percent on Feb 9. The second-largest city Thessaloniki also becomes a red zone.

South Africa

Research by South African scientists suggests that antibodies triggered by exposure to the country’s dominant coronavirus variant can prevent infection by other variants, the scientists said on Wednesday.

The findings in laboratory studies offer hope that COVID-19 vaccines based on the 501Y.V2 variant first identified late last year could protect against multiple variants circulating in different parts of the world.

Alex Sigal from the Africa Health Research Institute said vaccines designed with the 501Y.V2 variant in mind “might be cross-protective to other variants, ... this gives you some idea how this problem of variants can be solved”.

Penny Moore, a professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said the antibody response from the 501Y.V2 variant was only reduced threefold against the first-wave virus, whereas the response from the first-wave virus was reduced nine-fold against 501Y.V2.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the research was encouraging and that genomics surveillance had helped the government respond to the pandemic.

In another development, South African authorities said they’d seized about 2,400 doses of fake coronavirus vaccines after following up on a global alert issued by Interpol warning that criminal networks were trying to cash in on the inoculation rollout. The bogus shots were found at a warehouse in Germiston, near Johannesburg, and three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested, the police said in a statement.

Rwanda

Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to secure COVID-19 shots from Pfizer, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerated.

Officials said Rwanda will get the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 shots to be dispatched to Africa under the vaccine-sharing scheme. The Pfizer vaccine presents an extra logistical challenge because it requires ultra-cold storage.

The batch of 102,960 doses were due in Kigali on Wednesday, hours after a flight landed carrying 240,000 AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of India, the health ministry said. The government has installed special infrastructure to keep the vaccine at -70 degrees.

“Rwanda is one of the first countries among the low income countries to have ultra-cold chain,” said Fode Ndiaye, the United Nations’ resident coordinator.

Rwanda plans to start its vaccination drive on Friday, prioritizing frontline health workers and others at high risk. It hopes to vaccinate 30 percent of its roughly 12 million people before the end of this year.

The first arrival of COVID-19 vaccines to Kenya is offloaded from a Qatar Airways flight at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, in the early morning of March 3, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)

Kenya

Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

The batch, which arrived on a Qatar Airways passenger flight, is the first of an initial allocation of 3.56 million doses by the global COVAX facility.

“We have received ... machine guns, bazookas, and tanks to fight this war against COVID-19,” Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe exulted as the doses arrived at Nairobi’s main airport.

Kenya, which has so far recorded 106,470 infections and 1,863 deaths, has taken a major economic hit from the virus, which cut the flow of tourists, a crucial source of foreign exchange and jobs.

Nairobi plans to prioritize 400,000 health workers nationwide in a vaccination campaign starting on Friday, the health ministry said.

READ MORE: UNICEF: 168m children missed nearly a year of schooling

Guinea

A batch of China-donated COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Conakry, capital of Guinea, on Wednesday.

"I believe that with the support of China, Guinea will surely overcome the epidemic," said Guinean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahima Khalil Kaba.

Kaba said that after Guinea raised its demand for vaccines to China, the Chinese side responded quickly and actively and offered help as soon as possible.

Guinea has so far reported a total of 16,154 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 91 deaths, and 15,033 recoveries.

Spain

Spain's COVID-19 death toll surpassed 70,000 on Wednesday after the Ministry of Health reported 446 additional fatalities.

The overall toll now stands at 70,247.

The ministry also reported 6,137 new cases, pushing the tally to 3,136,321. The figure is lower than the 3,204,531 cases reported on Monday, after a correction carried out on Tuesday removed more than 70,000 cases that had been counted twice.

The incidence of the virus continued to drop to 159.57 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Wednesday also saw Spain surpass 4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered, as the ministry reported that 4,059,320 doses have been administered, with 1,287,002 people having received two doses.

In another development, the Spanish government said it would maintain the mandatory quarantine requirement for passengers arriving from Brazil and South Africa to stop the spread of the coronavirus variants.

It also extended the curbs to arrivals from other countries including Botswana, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Peru and Colombia. The move takes effect from March 8.

France

France is preparing for a possible easing of coronavirus restrictions from mid-April as it banks on an acceleration of its vaccination campaign against the pandemic, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

France registered 26,788 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative tally to 3.81 million.

The total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 fell slightly to just over 25,000 on Wednesday, but the number of patients in intensive care rose by another 51 to 3,637, a new 2021 high and the highest since the end of November.

The health ministry also reported that the cumulative death toll of the virus had risen by 322 to 87,542.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a news conference on Thursday to provide an update on the country’s health situation.

As of Wednesday, 3,133,478 people in France have received at least one dose of vaccine against the coronavirus, according to government data website.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic will receive an extra 100,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from their European Union partners.

“Thanks to EU solidarity and the Commission’s SOS mechanism, the Czech Republic will receive an extra 100,000 doses of @pfizer next week,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic has also been offered a loan of 100,000 doses by France, and smaller amounts by Israel and some German states.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has asked China for deliveries of coronavirus vaccines made by China’s Sinopharm, the Czech president’s spokesman said.

“According to a report from the Czech embassy in Beijing, the Chinese side has decided to immediately meet this request,” the spokesman said in a statement on the president’s website.

Slovakia

Slovakia will receive an extra 100,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from their European Union partners.

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic posted a comment on Facebook, saying: “Slovakia can rely on its European partners in tough times. I am glad that we were able to reach a final agreement on the so-called ‘SOS’ vaccines.”

Matovic has also looked beyond the EU for help, shaking his own ruling coalition by ordering buying doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

READ MORE: Russian vaccine purchase sparks government crisis in Slovakia

Slovakia’s hospitals have recently been stretched by record numbers of coronavirus patients, around 4,000. The country of 5.5 million has reported 7,489 coronavirus deaths.

Two women wearing face masks walk on a bridge over the river Main in Frankfurt, Germany, March 3, 2021. (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders on Wednesday agreed a phased easing of coronavirus curbs but added an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers get out of control.

Under Wednesday’s five-stage plan, up to five people from two households will be allowed to meet from March 8, with children under 14 exempt. Some shops, including book stores and garden centers, can reopen.

Retailers can reopen provided case numbers are below 50 cases per 100,000 people over seven days in the relevant region. If the incidence rises above 50, "click and meet" restrictions kick in, whereby customers book a slot to go to the store.

If the metric rises above 100 on three consecutive days, the emergency brake will take effect and restrictions revert to those in force before March 8.

Remaining restrictions - including the closure of hotels, restaurants and other non-essential retail outlets - were extended until March 28, with the next round of talks set for March 22.

From March 8, the government will pay for all asymptomatic citizens to have a quick coronavirus test at least once a week. 

Germany will also accelerate its immunization program, using the maximum time allotted between first and second doses to get more people some level of protection from the disease.

Doctor’s offices will also be integrated into the campaign by early April, Merkel said.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 11,912 to 2,471,942, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 359 to 71,240. 

Mexico

Mexico on Wednesday registered 7,793 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 857 additional fatalities, bringing the total to 2,104,987 cases and 188,044 deaths, health ministry data showed.

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases. 

Montenegro

Montenegro, with one of the highest infection rates in Europe, is relying on police and the army to enforce virus restrictions, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, according to a government statement Wednesday.

The Adriatic state of 650,000 is also curbing intercity travel and suspending non-essential services as a last-ditch attempt to avoid a complete lockdown, Finance Minister Milojko Spajic said in a briefing in the capital city of Podgorica. 

“The pandemic is also a financial problem, but we cannot chose between health and the economy,” Spajic said.

In another development, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccines donated by China arrived Wednesday and was welcomed by Health Minister Jelena Borovinic Bojovic and Chinese Ambassador to Montenegro Liu Jin.

Montenegro is among the first countries in Europe to receive vaccine donation from China, which "embodies the good wishes of the Chinese people and the traditional friendship between the two countries," Ambassador Liu said in his speech.

By Wednesday, Montenegro has recorded over 77,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,000 deaths.  

Lithuania

Lithuania eased some of its lockdown restrictions to allow contacts between two households outdoors, as well as sports or cultural sessions of up to five people outdoors. 

The government is also introducing a requirement to hold a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous three days to be eligible for entry to the country.

Lithuania reported on Wednesday 503 new cases, bringing the cumulative caseload to 200,351, including 3,281 deaths and 186,209 recoveries, the Department of Statistics said.

The incidence rate in the last 14 days stands at 254.7 per 100,000 residents.

So far, 180,235 people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 73,811 have received both jabs.

Customers carry their takeaway orders from a cafe in Milan, Italy, on March 2, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

Italy


Almost one year after the Italian financial capital became the first European region to enter into a hard lockdown, the city is facing again major restrictions.

All schools will be closed until March 14. No one will be able to leave town if not for business and health reasons. Milan citizens won’t be allowed to reach their holiday houses. Bars and restaurants will remain closed while shops can stay open.

The Lombardy region around Milan will be put under the so-called “reinforced orange” alert from midnight, according to a statement. Italy has a three-tier system in place that classifies regions by low, medium and high-risk based on the numbers of cases.

The decision follows a surge in cases in the original epicenter of the pandemic in Europe. Daily coronavirus infections in the country reached a two-month high Wednesday. Italy is nearing 3 million cases since the beginning of the outbreak last year as deaths may pass the grim milestone of 100,000 in the next few days.

Italy will administer a single vaccine dose to those who have already been infected with COVID-19, the health ministry said late Wednesday.

The recommendation applies to people diagnosed with COVID-19 between three and six months previously.

Italy reported 20,884 new cases and 347 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the overall tally and toll to 2.98 million and 98,635 respectively.

Lesotho

Lesotho received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday.

The African country received 36,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via the COVAX initiative, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

“This is a momentous occasion ... COVID-19 has taken a toll on countries around the world and Lesotho is no exception. We know this is the first step," said Richard Banda, WHO representative in the southern African country.

Chile

Chile's government on Wednesday again urged the public to protect themselves to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Chile reported 3,053 new cases and 20 more deaths, raising the total caseload to 835,552 and the toll to 20,704.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said that thanks to joint efforts, Chile has the vaccines needed to immunize the entire population.

"We have not returned to normal and will not return to normal by June 30," said Paris, referring to the date by which 80 percent of the population is expected to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the government.

"This week we are going to exceed 4 million vaccinated, and we committed to 5 (million) by the end of March," Paris said.  

Poland

The Polish biotechnology company Mabion has signed a preliminary agreement with US drugmaker Novavax to produce its COVID-19 vaccine, Mabion announced on Wednesday.

The agreement is the latest sign of Poland's effort to increase the sourcing of additional vaccines, following delivery issues of the vaccines purchased by the European Union.

The Polish Development Fund, a state-owned financial group, has provided Mabion with 40 million Polish zloty (US$10.6 million) in loans and equity to double the capacity of its production plants.

Ukraine

Ukraine has reached an agreement to receive 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday.

"In February, we launched a vaccine campaign against coronavirus. As we promised ... general contractual agreements have reached almost 30 million doses this year," Ukrinform news agency quoted Shmyhal as saying on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, Ukraine has recorded a total of 1,364,705 COVID-19 cases, 26,397 deaths and 1,182,036 recoveries, according to health authorities.  

Belgium

Belgium will administer AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to people aged over 55, an inter-ministerial conference on health decided on Wednesday.

The decision followed the advice from the Superior Health Council, which had previously greenlighted the AstraZeneca vaccine for use among people older than 55.

"The opinion of the experts was perfectly clear. AstraZeneca is an excellent vaccine. It is an excellent vaccine also for the elderly," Frank Vandenbroucke, the country's health minister, said on local television RTBF Wednesday.

To date, Belgium has recorded a total of 774,344 coronavirus cases and 22,141 deaths.

Canada

Canada’s advisory panel on immunization recommended on Wednesday that to make the most of limited supplies, the gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should be extended to four months, up from six weeks.

“Canada will be able to provide access to first doses of highly efficacious vaccines to more individuals earlier,” the panel said on its website. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia have already announced a four-month gap.

Canada has recorded a total of 22,045 COVID-19 deaths compared to some 513,000 in the United States.

A first batch of 500,000 vaccine doses from AstraZeneca arrived on Wednesday. These had not been included in Ottawa’s initial plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, noting regulators were also examining other vaccines.

“We are very optimistic that we are going to be able to accelerate some of these timelines,” he said.

Romania

The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 reached one million in Romania on Wednesday, health authorities said.

"The vaccination campaign is progressing well. We are at the top of Europe," Prime Minister Florin Citu said, stressing that "we will make sure to continue like this”.

According to Citu, the next target is to vaccinate 10.4 million Romanians by the end of September.

So far, 1,641,874 vaccine doses have been administered to 1,022,066 people in Romania. 

Since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, the country's health authorities have registered 5,587 adverse reactions to the jabs.

Algeria

Algeria on Wednesday reported 163 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the North African country to 122,593.

The death toll rose to 2,996 after five more fatalities were added, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 147 new recoveries were logged, bringing the total number of recoveries to 78,584, according to the statement.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,161 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, pushing the tally to 161,974, the Ministry of Health said.

Deaths rose by five to 2,391 while the total recoveries increased by 364 to 136,443, according to the ministry.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) recorded 29 COVID-19-related deaths in the past 24 hours, almost double the daily average in the second half of February, according to an official count on Wednesday.

Another 894 new cases were also reported in the country in the past 24 hours, a sharp increase from the average daily count of 350 cases in mid-February.

Edin Forto, prime minister of Sarajevo Canton, said his government will meet Thursday with the health authorities to discuss the possibility of stepping up the preventive measures.

To date, BiH has registered 133,982 cases of COVID-19 and 5,174 deaths, according to official data.

Morocco

Morocco reported 594 new COVID-19 cases and another eight fatalities on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative caseload to 484,753 with 8,653 deaths, the health ministry said in a statement.

The total number of recoveries increased to 470,425 after 557 new ones were added.

Meanwhile, 3,745,173 people have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine while 360,689 have received both jabs.

Denmark

Denmark has detected its first case of the coronavirus variant that was first identified in Brazil, Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Twitter on Wednesday.

The case involved a person living in the Greater Copenhagen region, according to the minister.

Two other highly contagious virus variants - the B117 identified in Britain and the B1351 variant identified in South Africa - have already been identified in Denmark, according to the Statens Serum Institut (SSI).

The B117 strain was found in 5,138 people in Denmark between Nov 14, 2020 and Feb 25, 2021, according to an SSI press release issued on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Denmark has so far reported 13 cases involving the B1351 variant, of which two most recent cases were locally transmitted, the SSI said.

According to the SSI, Denmark registered 574 new infections and three deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall tally and toll to 212,798 and 2,370, respectively.