Covid-19 pandemic has infected close to 168 million people around the world, claiming at least 3.4 million lives. Here are updates for May 25:

Travellers walk with their luggage at Fiumicino Airport near Rome, Italy on May 17, 2021.
Travellers walk with their luggage at Fiumicino Airport near Rome, Italy on May 17, 2021. (Reuters)

Tuesday, May 25: 

EU summit welcomes Covid certificate to unlock travel

EU leaders have welcomed the introduction of a bloc-wide pass that they hope will unlock a tourist surge this summer.

The 27 member states want the EU Digital Covid Certificate, to be launched July 1, to turn the page on restrictions that have crimped Europeans' cherished freedom of movement.

Coupled with a separate plan to let in fully vaccinated travellers from countries outside the EU, to be defined by the middle of June, Europe believes its vital tourist industry could claw back some of the losses racked up since the start of the pandemic.

US study finds tiny number of vaccine ‘breakthrough’ cases

About 0.01 percent of people have become infected with Covid-19 between January and April despite being fully vaccinated, a US government study confirming the shots' high efficacy showed.

The report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented so-called "breakthrough" cases among 101 million people fully vaccinated in the United States.

"Even though FDA-authorised vaccines are highly effective, breakthrough cases are expected, especially before population immunity reaches sufficient levels to further decrease transmission," the report said.

Countries urge deeper probe of virus origins at WHO meet

The United States and other countries have called for a more in-depth investigation into the pandemic's origins, after an international mission to China earlier this year proved inconclusive.

Addressing the World Health Organization's main annual meeting of member states, representatives from several countries stressed the continued need to solve the mystery of how the virus first began spreading among humans.

"We underscore the importance of a robust comprehensive and expert-led inquiry into the origins of Covid-19," US representative Jeremy Konyndyk told the World Health Assembly (WHA).

The European Union, Australia and Japan were among others to call for more progress on the investigation, while the British representative urged for any probe to be "timely, expert-driven and grounded in robust science".

Mexico to start exporting AstraZeneca jabs to Latin America

Mexico will shortly begin exporting AstraZeneca vaccines to other Latin American nations, the government has said, under a joint production agreement with Argentina hit by a series of delays.

Following the deal struck in August to supply around 150 million shots, the Argentinian firm mAbxience is supplying the active component and Mexico's Liomont is responsible for bottling the vaccines.

A first shipment of 800,000 doses will be sent to Argentina this weekend, while Mexico will also receive its first batch, the government said, after delays blamed on a shortage of packaging supplies.

South Sudan to return 72,000 vaccines to Covax

South Sudan will return 72,000 doses of donated vaccines after concluding it cannot administer the jabs before they expire, a Health Ministry official told AFP.

The country received 132,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in late March from Covax, the global initiative to ensure lower-income countries receive jabs, but so far has administered less than 8,000 shots.

The rollout has been hampered by vaccine hesitancy and major logistical hurdles in the vast and underdeveloped country of 12 million, which, apart from the pandemic, faces an emergency food crisis and widespread armed insecurity.

Fourth Czech health minister resigns since start of pandemic

The Czech Republic has lost its fourth health minister since the pandemic struck last year.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that the current office-holder Petr Arenberger called him in Brussels, where Babis is attending a summit of European Union leaders to announce his resignation.

Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, was only sworn in by President Milos Zeman on April 7.

He has been recently under fire from the media because of alleged irregularities in his tax returns. He declared he owned more assets and had a higher income after he became a government minister than in the preceding years.

Turkey reports over 9,300 new cases

Turkey's Health Ministry has confirmed 9,375 new cases, including 693 symptomatic patients, across the country in the last 24 hours.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 5.2 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 46,621 with 175 fatalities over the past day.

Italy reports over 3,200 new cases

Italy has reported 166 deaths against 110 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 3,224 from 2,490.

Italy has registered 125,501 deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. 

The country has reported 4.2 million cases to date.

UK reports over 2,400 new cases

Britain has reported 2,493 further cases and 15 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

The government figures also showed the number of people who have received the first dose of vaccine rose to 38,192,417.

Moderna says vaccine 'highly effective' in adolescents

US biotech firm Moderna has said that trials had shown its vaccine is "highly effective" in adolescents aged 12-17 and the company would seek regulators' approval in June.

"We are encouraged that mRNA-1273 was highly effective at preventing Covid-19 in adolescents," CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

"We will submit these results to the US FDA and regulators globally in early June and request authorisation."

If green lit, as expected, it would be the second Covid vaccine authorised for use in US adolescents after Pfizer's, which began rolling out this month for 12-to-15-year-olds.

Pfizer in talks with India to supply it vaccines

Pfizer is in talks with the Indian government over supplies of its vaccine, the US drugmaker said on Tuesday, as New Delhi scrambles to bridge shortfalls, having pledged to fast-track approvals for overseas vaccines.

"Pfizer remains committed to continuing our engagement with the government of India towards making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for use in the country," a spokeswoman told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.

Last week, Reuters reported Pfizer was in talks with the government to defuse tension over supplies.

'No change' on Olympics, Japan says after US virus travel warning

A new US travel warning for Japan over virus risks will not affect this summer's pandemic-postponed Olympic Games, the Japanese government and Tokyo 2020 organisers said.

The US State Department advisory released Monday urges citizens to avoid travel to Japan, where the borders are already closed to almost all foreigners.

It cites government health advice, as well as "secondary factors such as commercial flight availability, restrictions on US citizen entry, and impediments to obtaining Covid test results within three calendar days".

The advisory comes with less than two months until the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed last year as the pandemic took hold.

Japan's government said the measure would not affect the Games.

Japan issues new travel advisory for UK, Denmark, other nations

Japan announced fresh travel measures for several countries with mandatory three-day quarantine for those coming from the UK, Denmark, Kazakhstan, and Tunisia.

Katsunobu Kato, chief Cabinet secretary and top spokesman for the Japanese government, told a news conference that new measures will apply from Friday to all new entries and returnees, Tokyo -based Kyodo News reported.

Besides, he added, the quarantine period has been extended to ten days from current six days for those coming from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the US asked its citizens not to travel to Japan “due to the coronavirus situation in the country.”

'Music soothes pain': Paris cellist plays for end-of-life patients

Once a week, the rooms of the Jeanne Garnier palliative care home in Paris reverberate to a different sound: a solo cello.

Claire Oppert, a concert cellist trained at the Moscow Conservatory, visits the facility on Fridays to play for its residents - many of whom are struggling with physical pain as well as coming to terms with incurable illness.

"I'm in permanent pain," said Micheline Leroux, a cancer patient at the care centre in southwest Paris, one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.

"But I find that music helps a little to escape the pain," said Leroux quietly, after listening to a stirring rendition of Albinoni's Adagio, a Baroque classic.

"You pay attention, and if it's a piece you know, you anticipate each coming note," she said.

India posts lowest rise in daily cases since April 14

India posted 196,427 new cases over the last 24 hours, its lowest daily rise in infections since April 14, while deaths from Covid-19 rose by 3,511.

The country's overall case load now stands at 26.95 million, while total fatalities are at 307,231, according to health ministry data.

Britain's virus vaccine rollout drives return to supermarkets

British shoppers are heading out to the supermarket more often as the country’s vaccination programme gathers pace, industry data showed on Tuesday.

Market researcher Kantar said shoppers made 58 million more visits to the supermarket in the 12 weeks to May 16 than they did in the same period last year when Britain was in the grip of the first wave of the virus.

“As the vaccine rollout moves full steam ahead, consumers are getting more confident venturing back out to stores,” said

Fraser McKevitt, Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight.

As of Monday over 38 million Britons had received a first dose of a vaccination.

UK's Shaftesbury posts wider half-year loss as pandemic pummels retail

Retail landlord Shaftesbury Plc reported on Tuesday a wider half-year loss, as pandemic-related restrictions battered the business of its core tenant group of non-essential retailers, restaurants and cafes.

Commercial property firms heavily exposed to non-essential retailers are among the worst hit in the UK real-estate sector, fighting steep valuation deficits and reduced footfall, as rental income dwindled due to strict Covid-19 restrictions. 

UK competition regulator looking into $39 bln AstraZeneca 

Britain’s competition regulator is reviewing AstraZeneca’s $39 billion buyout of US-based Alexion on concerns it could reduce competition in the UK market or elsewhere.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Tuesday it was inviting comments from any interested party on the deal to help its assessment, setting a deadline of June 3 for any submissions.

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, also a major virus vaccine producer, agreed to buy Alexion in December in its largest ever deal in a bet on rare-disease and immunology drugs and to diversify away from its fast-growing cancer business. 

Singapore sees uneven recovery after Q1 GDP tops forecasts

Singapore’s economy expanded more than first thought in the first quarter and the government maintained its growth forecast for the year, but struck a cautious note about recovery due to uncertainties from the pandemic.

Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 1.3% year-on-year in the first quarter, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said on Tuesday, higher than the 0.2% growth seen in the government’s advance estimate.

Manufacturing, finance and insurance and wholesale trade supported the expansion over the quarter. Analysts had expected a 0.9% increase, according to a Reuters poll.

Black fungus epidemic plagues India's virus fight

As India battles a virus crisis like no other, a large number of cases of a deadly fungal infection called mucormycosis, or “black fungus,” has triggered a new health challenge in the populous South Asian country.

Mucormycosis, which mainly affects people with weak immune systems and can lead to the loss of eyesight and the surgical removal of the nose and jaw bone to stop it from spreading, is being detected among patients who are recovering or have recovered from the virus which has created a cause of concern among people.

"The situation is alarming," Dr. Hemant Deshmukh, dean of the government-run King Edward Memorial Hospital in the financial capital Mumbai, told Anadolu Agency.

"Right now, if you ask me the numbers, it is something like earlier there were five cases in 25 years, and now you are seeing 25 in five days...Such is the situation."

While the government, which is battling the second wave of the pandemic, has not released detailed data about the severity of the infection, Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Sadananda Gowda last week wrote on Twitter that approximately 8,848 cases were reported across the country.

US reports lowest number of new cases in nearly a year

United States reported the lowest number of new virus cases in nearly a year, with new infections dropping 26% from the previous seven days to just under 180,000, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Deaths fell by 5% to 3,969 in the week ended May 23, the fewest deaths in a week since March 2020. 

About 39% of the country's population has been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, and 49% has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vermont leads the country with 69% of its residents receiving at least one dose, followed by Massachusetts at 65%.

Canada to deploy healthcare resources to help Manitoba

The government of Canada said it was preparing to deploy a number of healthcare resources for the province of Manitoba that is reeling under a third wave of the pandemic.

This comes after Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister last week said he had asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to supply critical care nurses, respiratory therapists and contact tracers to battle the raging health crisis in the province.

Canada will provide federal health human resources, medical staff through the Canadian Red Cross and support from the Canadian Armed Forces, a statement from the government said. 

The government is also prepared to bring in epidemiologists, laboratory technicians and increased testing capacity, three Canadian ministers confirmed in the statement.

United Airlines, union agree against mandatory vaccinations for pilots

United Airlines and its pilots' union have reached an agreement to prohibit the airline from mandating vaccinations to its pilots, the Air Line Pilots Association said on Monday (May 24).

"Since the vaccination is not mandatory, pilots who elect not to be vaccinated will not be subject to any discipline," the agreement stated.

United's CEO, Scott Kirby, had told workers at a meeting in January that the company may make the vaccine mandatory for employees and urged other companies to do the same.

The agreement between the airline and the union also adds that those pilots who have been vaccinated would be eligible for extra pay. 

Six Latin American, Caribbean heads call for equitable vaccine access

Six presidents of Latin American and Caribbean countries called Monday on the international community for equitable access to virus vaccines, asking those countries with the most doses to share them.

"We strongly appeal to countries which have a surplus of doses or which have already vaccinated their populations at risk, to implement measures so that these surpluses are distributed equitably and immediately," said a joint statement issued by Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado.

The appeal was signed by Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Bolivian President Luis Arce, Ecuador's Guillermo Lasso and Uruguay's Luis Lacalle Pou.

US warns against travel to Olympic host Japan

United States warned its citizens Monday not to travel to Olympic host Japan, citing the growing risk of the pandemic in the Asian nation just two months before the Games begin.

But the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it was still "confident" that American athletes will be able to participate this summer in Tokyo.

The warning came in a travel advisory issued by the State Department as Japan, which has been criticised for its slow inoculation rate, opened its first mass vaccination centers in a push ahead of the Olympics, which were postponed last year du e to the pandemic.

Hong Kong could soon bin millions of unused vaccine doses

Hong Kong may soon have to throw away millions of vaccines because they are approaching their expiry date and not enough people have signed up for the jabs, an official warned Tuesday.

Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world fortunate enough to have secured more than enough doses to inoculate its entire population of 7.5 million people.

But swirling distrust of the government as it stamps out dissent -- combined with online misinformation and a lack of urgency in the comparatively virus-free city -- has led to entrenched vaccine hesitancy and a dismal inoculation drive. 

Australia restores curfew in Melbourne after new outbreak

Australia's second largest city Melbourne has reinstated Covid-19 restrictions as authorities scrambled to find the missing link in a fresh outbreak that has grown to five cases.

Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people allowed at public meetings, and face masks will be mandatory indoors from 6 pm local time (0800 GMT) on Tuesday until June 4.

The latest Melbourne outbreak ends Victoria state's run of zero cases for nearly three months.

Victoria was the hardest-hit state during a second wave late last year, accounting for about 70% of total cases and 90% of deaths in Australia. The state, the country's second most populous, only controlled the outbreak after one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns.

One new locally acquired case has been reported in Melbourne, Merlino said on Tuesday, a day after four infections were reported in the city.

All five cases belong to one extended family across different households and could be traced back to the variant found in an overseas traveller who returned to Melbourneearly this month after completing quarantine in the city of Adelaide.

Authorities, however, said they could not yet find how the latest cases contracted the virus from the overseas traveller.

Puerto Rico ends pandemic curfew after a year in force

Puerto Rico has ended a nightly Covid-19 curfew after being in effect for over a year, while announcing that it would allow vaccinated visitors to enter the island without a negative coronavirus test result.

The island has been under curfew since March 2020, when the first coronavirus case was reported. Even when the curfew was changed, it mostly remained in effect between midnight and 5 AM.

Arriving visitors who are not vaccinated will still be required to present a negative coronavirus test or promise to offer a test result within 48 hours. The government intends to impose a $300 fine to those who don’t comply with the testing. 

In addition to letting in vaccinated visitors, the government said that beginning Friday it will offer the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccine to anyone who arrives at the Luis Munoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, which will eventually be offered to all visitors coming through other airports as well as the ferries services coming from the Dominican Republic.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you are a resident or not," Mellado said.

China reports 15 new cases 

China has reported 15 new Covid-19 cases in the mainland for May 24, down from 18 a day earlier, its national health authority said.

The National Health Commission announced that two of the new cases were local infections from the central province of Anhui. The rest were imported infections originating from overseas.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 18, down from 22 a daily earlier.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 91,006, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.

Haiti imposes curfew, mask use for pandemic

Haiti’s government has imposed a nightly curfew and other restrictions under an eight-day “health emergency” meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

All outdoor activity will be banned from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. under the decree issued by President Jovenel Moise.

The decree also makes the use of face masks mandatory for anyone out in public, while temperature checks and hand washing stations are required for all public or private buildings such as banks, schools, hospitals and markets. Social distancing in public places is set at 1.5 meters.

The president also has ordered public institutions to reduce staff on duty by 50%, while encouraging that other employees work from home.

Brazil nears 450,000 COVID-19 deaths, says Health Ministry

 Brazil's Healthy Ministry has registered 790 new Covid-19 deaths during the past 24 hours and 37,498 new cases of coronavirus.

The country has confirmed 449,858 deaths from the virus out of more than 16 million confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to ministry data. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies