Covid-19 has killed more than 3.1M people and infected over 150M others globally. Here are all the coronavirus-related developments for April 29:

A man, wearing a protective face mask, walks past a closed restaurant in Paris amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic in France on April 29, 2021.
A man, wearing a protective face mask, walks past a closed restaurant in Paris amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic in France on April 29, 2021. (Reuters)

Thursday, April 29:

France detects first case of Covid-19 Indian variant

A case of the Indian variant of the virus has now been detected in mainland France, a regional health agency director said.

"We have identified that it was the Indian variant" from someone who had returned from India, Benoit Elleboode, director of an agency in the southwestern department of Nouvelle-Aquitaine told BFMTV and CNews televisions.

The announcement came two days after Health Minister Olivier Veron said that "no case of the variant of Indian origin" had been detected in mainland France.

EMA to quickly review Eli Lilly, Incyte arthritis drug for use

The European Medicines Agency has said it will conduct an accelerated review of Eli Lilly and Co's rheumatoid arthritis drug Olumiant for hospitalised patients getting oxygen, as the search for treatment options continues.

Olumiant, on which Lilly partners with US drugmaker Incyte Corp, is the latest arthritis medicine to be repurposed in efforts to combat the virus, with other prominent examples Actemra from Roche Holding AG and Kevzara from Sanofi SA .

While Actemra and Kevzara are large-molecul e monoclonal antibodies, Olumiant is a so-called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor small-molecule drug that works by blocking action of enzymes that play a role in immune system processes that lead to inflammation.

Pakistan to get 15.4M vaccine doses

Pakistan has purchased 13 million doses of vaccine from three Chinese companies, its health minister told Reuters.

Faisal Sultan said Pakistan had procured the vaccine from Sinopharm, CanSinoBio and Sinovac.

The purchased vaccine is expected to begin arriving in May with 6.7 million doses and the rest in June.

Turkey reports over 37,000 new cases

Turkey has reported over 37,674 cases, including 2,715 symptomatic patients across the country, according to the latest Health Ministry data.

Turkey’s overall tally is now over 4,788,700, while the nationwide death toll rose by 339 over the past day to reach 39,737.

Italy reports over 14,000 new cases

Italy has reported 288 deaths against 344 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 14,320 from 13,385.

Italy has registered 120,544 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 million cases to date.

Sputnik V markers to sue Brazilian regulator

Russian developers of the Sputnik V vaccine have said that they were suing Brazilian regulator Anvisa for defamation, accusing it of having knowingly spread false information without testing their product.

The board of Brazilian health regulator rejected importing Sputnik V after technical staff warned of flaws in its development along with incomplete data regarding the vaccine's safety and efficacy.

A crucial issue for the Brazilian regulator was the risk of other viruses used to make the vaccine reproducing in patients, which an Anvisa expert had called a "serious" defect.

Denis Logunov, the main developer of Sputnik V, denied that the two viral vectors, or adenoviruses, used to produce the shot could replicate.

Vietnam reports first local cases in over a month

Vietnam has detected its first locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus in 35 days, as authorities ordered tighter surveillance to prevent a new outbreak.

Four members of a family in northern Ha Nam province and one person in southern Ho Chi Minh City were infected, the Health Ministry said, having all been in contact with an individual who had returned from Japan and tested positive, despite clearing quarantine.

Authorities ordered provinces and state agencies to tighten screening and controls and contact-tracing efforts were launched after the community infections were found, state broadcaster Vietnam Television reported.

Greece: All adults can receive vaccines before July

Greece’s health minister has said any adult who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so by the end of June as the country ramps up its vaccination drive.

Vassilis Kikilias, speaking on Greece’s Skai radio on Thursday, said the country was going to be carrying out 100,000 vaccinations per day as of May 5, and that “any adult who wishes to” will be able to receive a vaccine by June 30.

Greece, a country of about 11 million people, has so far administered just over 3 million vaccine jabs. 

France to shorten nightly curfew, reopen businesses

The French government will begin relaxing its curfew from May 19, Europe 1 radio reported on its website.

Europe 1 said President Emmanuel Macron had said in an interview with local newspapers that the nightly curfew will be moved from 1900 to 2100 CET from May 19, to 2300 from June 9. The curfew cease on June 30.

French cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other cultural venues and businesses that have been closed due to the pandemic will also  reopen in several stages from May 19.

Ireland to reopen all shops in May

Ireland will press ahead with plans to reopen all retail stores, personal services and non-residential construction in May with hotels, restaurants and bars to follow sooner than expected in early June, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said.

The government committed a month ago to reopening all shops for the first time this year in May and hotels in June if it could avoid a fourth wave of the disease and speed up its vaccine programme — criteria that it has met.

Thailand makes masks mandatory, bans Bangkok dining

Thailand has added more measures to arrest its biggest outbreak yet, including a nationwide requirement to wear masks in public and a ban on dining at restaurants in and around its capital.

Authorities reclassified Bangkok and five provinces as highest-controlled zones. There are 46 others with broad restrictions after a third wave that has seen more than half of the country's overall infections this month alone.

Spain's regulator lets PharmaMar test treatment on patients

Spain's PharmaMar has said it received Spanish regulatory approval to carry out a late-stage trial of its Aplidin drug on patients hospitalised with moderate infection.

PharmaMar now has the authorisation to conduct randomised controlled tests on Spanish patients to test the efficacy of its drug, usually used as a cancer treatment, in a so-called Phase III trial for use in cases, it said in a statement.

Sweden sees over 7,000 new cases

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 7,158 new cases, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 2 new deaths, taking the total to 14,002. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Germany reports cases of a variant found in India

Germany has said that it had cases of a variant feared to be contributing to a devastating surge in India, the latest country to detect the strain.

"We have isolated cases in Germany, we will release a new report tomorrow," Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease agency, told reporters when asked about the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, which was first found in India.

Romania detects first case of a variant found in India

Romania has reported its first case of a variant first identified in India, the Health Ministry said.

The case was diagnosed in a 26-year-old patient who arrived in Romania roughly a month ago and presented light symptoms.

The ministry said its national public health institute said the identified mutation was not the more infectious one believed to have generated the sharp rise in cases in India.

India posts another spike in deaths, record 3,645 fatalities

India has recorded 3,645 new Covid-19 deaths, a new record for the country, and a spike of over 350 from the previous day, according to health ministry data.

The country, which is experiencing a relentless new wave of infections, has now seen 204,832 deaths in total from the coronavirus pandemic.

Its number of infections rose by 379,257 in the last 24 hours.

BioNTech eyes vaccine for 12-15 year olds from June in EU

BioNTech has said that it expected its Covid-19 vaccine, jointly developed with Pfizer, to be available to 12-to-15-year-olds in Europe from June.

The German firm's CEO Ugur Sahin told Der Spiegel weekly that it was "in the final stretches" of preparing its submission for European regulatory approval. The evaluation of the trial data "takes four to six weeks on average", he added.

South Korea says Novavax, Sputnik V vaccines submitted for regulatory approval

South Korea's drug safety ministry has said that Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and a shot developed by Novavax have been submitted for preliminary regulatory approval.

Russia reports 9,284 new cases, 364 deaths

Russia has reported 9,284 new Covid-19 cases, including 3,215 in Moscow, pushing the infection tally to 4,796,557.

Moderna beefs up manufacturing for 2021-22 doses

Moderna has announced it is beefing up global manufacturing of its vaccine in an effort to produce up to 3 billion doses in 2022.

The company predicts supplying between 800 million and 1 billion doses worldwide this year. But it’s looking ahead as much of the world still will need a first round of vaccinations next year. Modera is planning to be ready if and when people may need a booster shot.

Moderna’s vaccine is authorised for use by adults in the US, European Union and multiple other countries. The company expects data soon from a US study of the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, and has begun testing the shots in younger children.

Philippines extends lockdown to mid-May

The Philippines is extending an already month-long lockdown by two weeks as the country’s worst coronavirus infection spike starts to ease but remains alarming.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks on Wednesday night that the second-most restrictive lockdown level will now run through May 14 in metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces, a region of more than 25 million people. Mayors, however, cut a nine-hour night curfew in metropolitan Manila to six hours to help battered businesses.

Duterte is warning mayors and village chiefs that they face jail if they don’t prevent gatherings and other events that violate the pandemic restrictions.

South Korea begins vaccinating athletes ahead of Tokyo Olympics

About 100 South Korean athletes and coaches travelling to Tokyo for the Olympics this year will receive their first doses of vaccine, as the country struggles to keep its inoculation drive on track amid supply shortages.

Roughly 500 others will be vaccinated by the first week of May before they travel to Japan, the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) said. Overall, more than 900 people from South Korea's delegation will be vaccinated.

About a third of Mexicans show exposure to virus

As many as one-third of Mexicans may have been exposed to the virus by the end of 2020, according to a study of random blood samples taken between February and December.

Antibodies were found in 33.5 percent of samples from blood banks and medical laboratory tests in Mexico unrelated to the virus. 

The levels varied according to regions; the highest exposure rate was in the northwest, from Baja California to Chihuahua, at 40.7 percent. The lowest was in western states, at 26.6 percent. In general, areas along the US border had higher rates.

Tajikistan in talks to buy Russian Sputnik V vaccine

Tajikistan has started talks with Russia on registering and buying its Sputnik V vaccine against the virus, the central Asian nation's healthcare ministry said.

The first round of talks was on Wednesday, the ministry added, but gave no details on potential volumes. The mass inoculation campaign in the former Soviet republic now uses the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Cambodia reports daily record of 698 cases

Cambodia has reported a daily record of 698 new virus cases, the health ministry said in a statement issued late on Wednesday, as the country struggles to contain a wave of infections that emerged about two months ago.

The Southeast Asian nation has recorded one of the world's smallest caseloads, but the outbreak first detected in late February has seen infections climb to 11,761, with 88 deaths.

Lufthansa flies into another quarterly loss

Lufthansa has lowered its expectations for a travel rebound in 2021 despite optimism about vaccines, as the pandemic pushed the German airline giant into another quarterly loss.

The group reported a $1.2 billion net loss over the January to March period, slightly beating analyst expectations.

The result was also much improved on the 2.1 billion euro loss it booked over the same period a year earlier, when the first wave upended air travel and left planes grounded worldwide.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 24,736 - RKI

The number of confirmed cases in Germany has increased by 24,736 to 3,357,268, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 264 to 82,544, the tally showed. 

Scientists back Brazil over Sputnik V vaccine ban

Scientists have backed Brazil's drug regulator's decision to stop the import of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on the basis that batches they tested carried a live version of a common cold-causing virus.

Top virologist Angela Rasmussen told AFP the finding "raises questions about the integrity of the manufacturing processes" and could be a safety issue for people with weaker immune systems, if the problem were found to be widespread.

Russia's Gamaleya Institute, which developed the vaccine, has denied the reports.

The issue centers around an "adenovirus vector" -- a virus that normally causes mild respiratory illness but in vaccines is genetically modified so that it cannot replicate, and edited to carry the DNA instructions for human cells to develop the spike protein of the coronavirus.

This in turn trains the human system to be prepared in case it then encounters the real coronavirus.

The Sputnik V vaccine uses two different adenovirus vectors to accomplish this task: adenovirus type 26 (Ad26) for the first shot, and adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) for the second shot.

According to a slideshow uploaded online, scientists at Anvisa, Brazil's regulator, said they tested samples of the booster shot and found it was "replication competent" -- meaning that once inside the body, the adenovirus can continue to multiply.

They added that this had likely occurred because of a manufacturing problem called "recombination," in which the modified adenovirus had gained back the genes it needed to replicate while it was being grown inside engineered human cells in a lab.

Brazilian regulators did not evaluate the first shot.

But on Monday they denied a request from several states in the northeast of the country to acquire more than 30 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The federal government has additionally ordered 10 million.

Brazil nears 400,000 virus deaths

Brazil is on the verge of registering 400,000 deaths this week, after the Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 3,163 new virus deaths in 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 398,185.

Brazil is quickly catching up with the world's worst death toll in the US, which has seen more than 570,000 casualties in total but less than a thousand deaths per day in recent weeks.

Brazil's crisis has spiraled out of control in recent months, with patchy restrictions on circulation and a highly contagious new virus variant driving infections.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, has drawn harsh criticism for playing down the dangers of the virus, shunning masks and pushing unproven remedies.

Younger Brazilians are increasingly being affected, with those in their 20s showing the greatest increase in deaths so far this year, according to a report published by government biomedical institute Fiocruz last week.

Brazil's Health Ministry also reported on Wednesday 79,726 new confirmed cases, which now total 14,521,289.

EU slams China, Russia for promoting fake vaccine info

Beijing and Moscow have stepped up "state-sponsored disinformation" campaigns denigrating Western-developed vaccines while promoting their own, the EU said.

"The so-called 'vaccine diplomacy' follows a zero-sum game logic" that seeks to "undermine trust in Western-made vaccines, EU institutions and Western/European vaccination strategies," said a report from the EU's foreign service, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Since December, Russian media, authorities and state companies have united behind pushing the Sputnik V vaccine while using "antagonistic messaging" to accuse the EU of "sabotaging" the Russian jab, the report said.

"Pro-Kremlin media outlets, including the official Sputnik V Twitter account, have sought to undermine public trust in the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and cast doubt on its procedures and political impartiality."

Beijing meanwhile was promoting its vaccines as "more suitable for developing countries," including those in the Western Balkans, while deploying "misleading narratives" about the safety of Western vaccines and even on the origin of the virus, the EU report said.

Mexico to begin bottling Sputnik V vaccine

Mexico will begin bottling and packaging the Sputnik V vaccine, Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said, two days after Brazil refused to approve the shot.

Mexico has already received more than 1 million doses of Sputnik V in recent months. Ebrard said the state-owned company Birmex is working with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to prepare the bottling operations.

The announcement came after Brazil’s health regulator cited safety concerns while rejecting several states’ requests to import almost 30 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, prompting criticism from the Russian government.

During a visit to Russia, Ebrard brushed off criticism of the vaccine as “propaganda.”

UK orders 60m Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses

Britain on Wednesday announced that it had ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for a booster programme aimed at protecting the most vulnerable during winter.

Britain has been the European country worst-hit by the virus, recording more than 127,000 deaths, although it rolled out a successful mass-vaccination campaign in early December, using AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Nearly 34 million first doses have been administered, and a quarter of the adult population, or 13.5 million people, have received a second dose, according to official figures released Wednesday.

The booster programme will be aimed at protecting the most vulnerable before winter.

The news came as a study by the Public Health Agency of England (PHE) showed that a single dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine reduces transmission within the same household by up to a 50 percent.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies