Covid-19 has infected more than 126 million people and has claimed 2.77 million lives. Following are pandemic-related updates for March 26.

Pedestrians walk in a street on the eve of a new lockdown in France's Rhone department, in Lyon, southeastern France on March 26, 2021.
Pedestrians walk in a street on the eve of a new lockdown in France's Rhone department, in Lyon, southeastern France on March 26, 2021. (AFP)

Friday, March 26, 2021

Germany lists France as Covid-19 'high-risk' zone

Germany has declared the whole of France a "high-risk" area for infections, a move that means travellers need to show a negative virus test and quarantine upon arrival.

France, including all French overseas departments, is now considered "at particularly high risk of infection due to a particularly high number of cases," Germany's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.

Anyone travelling from France will have to be able to produce a negative test that is less than 48 hours old upon entry, before beginning a 10-day quarantine period in Germany.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic were meanwhile downgraded from the highest alert red list of "virus variants regions" to "high-risk" areas.

Brazilian institute announces home-made vaccine

Sao Paulo's Butantan biomedical institute has announced it is developing a "100 percent Brazilian" vaccine and expects to start using it in July.

Butantan is the largest vaccine producer in Brazil and makes the CoronaVac shot produced by Chinese firm Sinovac — the most widely used against the pandemic in the South American country.

ButanVac will also be produced in Thailand and Vietnam and distributed to poorer countries.

Kenya imposes Nairobi lockdown, shuts schools

Kenya has placed Nairobi and nearby counties under partial lockdown and closed schools and bars in those areas as a deadly third wave gripped the country.

In a national address, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned emergency measures were required to curb the highest rates of coronavirus infection seen in Kenya since the pandemic began a year ago.

Hospital admissions have surged 52 percent in the past two weeks while the rate of positive tests hovers around 20 percent — a 10-fold increase since January, he said.

UN: Seafarers, aircrew should get vaccine priority

Seafarers and aircrew should be considered among "essential workers" prioritised for vaccination as they play key roles in global trade and mobility, the United Nations  has said.

The World Health Organization, along with the UN's agencies for labour, migration and civil aviation, highlighted in a joint statement that air and sea personnel would be key to the world's socio-economic recovery from the pandemic.

Mauritania launches vaccination campaign

Mauritania has began administering vaccines, immunising medical staff first as part of a nationwide campaign in the West African state.

Mohamed Bebbaha, the head of the reanimation department in a virus ward in the capital Nouakchott's central hospital, received the first dose.

Mauritania, a vast but sparsely populated desert country, has officially declared 17,712 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with 447 deaths.

Italy's Draghi looks to reopen schools next month

The Italian government will let many school classes reopen next month, even if they are in virus hotspots, but a broader relaxation of curbs will depend on infection rates, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

Much of Italy is in lockdown as authorities seek to tame a third wave of cases, but Draghi told a news conference that getting pupils back to school was a top priority.

Many schools in regions such as Lazio, centred on Rome, will reopen from April 1 after a two-week absence, wh ile all children aged up to 12 should return to their classrooms following the forthcoming Easter holidays.

US to distribute 11M Johnson & Johnson shots next week 

The US government will distribute 11 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine next week in its continued effort to get 200 million shots in people's arms in the first 100 days of President Joe Biden's term, the White House has said.

The United States is still on track to deliver on its goal of making shots available to all adults by the end of May, Jeff Zients, the White House's virus response coordinator, told reporters.

Britain approves 20-second virus test

Britain's medicine regulator has approved a 20-second virus test, the product's distributor said as it launched a testing system it said could be used in airports, sports venues and businesses.

Rapid tests are seen as a key plank of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown, but concerns have been expressed about the accuracy of existing lateral flow devices.

The Virolens test, which is made by British start-up iAbra and TT Electronics, has been trialled at Heathrow Airport, and uses swabs of saliva.

Histate, which is distributing the test, said it would launch with immediate effect following the approval in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and was hoping for a further rollout in the coming months.

Lebanese to get two vaccine doses for $38 

Lebanon's private sector is importing 1 million vaccines and plans to sell two doses for $38 excluding the hospital fee to the nation already going through its worst economic crisis.

Tens of thousands have lost their jobs and the local currency has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar, leading to inflation and shortages in food products and medicines.

The minimum salary in Lebanon is currently 675,000 Lebanese pounds or $60.

Lebanon received its first batch of 50,000 doses of Russian Sputnik V vaccines on Friday, making it one of few nations where the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is being boosted by private sector initiatives.

Lebanon, a small nation of six million people including around one million Syrian refugees, began its inoculation campaign in mid-February after finalising a deal for some two million doses with Pfizer.

According to Lebanese Health Ministry, the country has so far received 224,640 Pfizer doses over the past six weeks with nearly 100,000 doses already administered. Lebanon’s government also began receiving AstraZeneca vaccines this week, with 33,600 doses that arrived on Wednesday.

The Pfizer vaccines are funded by the World Bank while AstraZeneca vaccines will be provided under the UN-backed COVAX programme.

Poland reports new daily record of 35,143 cases

Poland has reported a record number of coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day, with 35,143 new cases, health ministry data showed as the country's healthcare system is testing the limits of its capacity.

The government has announced more restrictions on Thursday to curb the surging number of infections.

Germany ratifies $885B EU virus recovery fund

Germany has ratified an enormous $885-billion (750-billion-euro) EU coronavirus recovery fund, breaking its taboos against debt pooling among members of the bloc to drag the continent back onto the path of growth.

After the lower house of parliament approved the fund on Thursday, the upper house Bundesrat greenlit it on Friday.

Lula: Brazil virus deaths 'biggest genocide in our history'

Brazil's over 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus amount to the "biggest genocide" in the Latin American country's history, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said in a scathing attack on current leader Jair Bolsonaro. 

"On Tuesday, 3158 people died of Covid in Brazil. It's the biggest genocide in our history," Lula told Germany's Der Spiegel weekly, adding that Bolsonaro had lied to the Brazilian people about the pandemic.

After a corruption conviction against him was annulled earlier this month, recent opinion polls suggest that Lula is the best-placed politician to challenge far-right incumbent Bolsonaro in next year's elections.

France slams Russia's Sputnik vaccine as 'propaganda' tool

France has accused Russia of using its Sputnik V vaccine as a tool to spread Moscow's influence and message rather than as way to fight the global health crisis.

"In terms of how it is managed, it (the Sputnik V vaccine) is more a means of propaganda and aggressive diplomacy than a means of solidarity and health aid," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio. 

The Russian vaccine has come under much criticism in Western countries, while President Vladimir Putin – who got a Sputnik jab himself on Tuesday – has dismissed the scepticism as "strange".

India tells foreign partners local vaccine demand rising

India has told its international vaccine partners that domestic demand is rising due to an increase in infections, the foreign minister said, confirming that local needs will now be prioritised.

"In the coming weeks and months ... obviously there will be a demand spike and obviously people are preparing for it," Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told the Times Network's India Economic Enclave.

Germany to list France as high-risk zone

Germany will classify France as a high-risk zone for Covid-19, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, in a move that could see Berlin tighten border controls and require mandatory quarantine to enter the country. 

The decision will come into force on Friday and be announced by the national health institute, the Robert Koch Institute, according to the newspaper FAZ. 

Covid-10 incidence rates, which measure the number of infections in every 100,000 people over the previous seven days, have crossed the threshold of 200 in numerous French departments.

Russia's case tally passes 4.5 million mark

Russia's Covid-19 case total has reached 4,501,859 after authorities reported 9,167 new infections nationwide in the last 24 hours, including 1,813 in Moscow.

The government coronavirus taskforce also said that 405 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing its death toll to 97,017.

Philippines reports record 9,838 new cases

The Philippine health ministry has logged 9,838 new virus infections, its highest number of new daily cases.

The country has seen record new cases in three of the past five days, while the infections reported in the past 10 days accounted for a tenth of its total of 702,856 cases.

The ministry said deaths have increased to 13,149, after 54 more casualties were recorded. 

Norway delays decision on AstraZeneca jab suspension

Norway will delay its decision on whether to resume the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine, broadcaster TV2 reported.

Authorities suspended the rollout of the vaccine two weeks ago after several younger inoculated people were hospitalised, some of whom later died.

Britain has no immediate plans for Covid passports for pubs

Britain has no immediate plans to use Covid-19 certificates to control entry into pubs and other venues when they are allowed to reopen for indoors trading in May, Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said.

"We are considering a whole range of things and doing that very carefully; we are looking into the practical issues, the ethical concerns, and we are being guided by the best medical and scientific opinion," he told Times Radio.

"We will be bringing forward the outcome of that work in the coming weeks; we don't have an immediate plan to take action," he said, adding that measures wouldn't be in place by May 17 when restrictions are further eased.

Hungary PM says no room to ease lockdown measures

Hungary has no room to loosen lockdown measures yet due to a rise in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, adding doctors would start vaccinating pregnant women with Pfizer-BioNTech's and Moderna's vaccines.

Orban said the government planned to limit the number of shoppers allowed in shops from the weekend, while possibly keeping shops open longer in the evening. The decisions will be published on Saturday.

Hungary reported a record high daily tally of 275 virus deaths.

Romania extends night time curfew to curb new virus cases

Romania's centrist government has extended a night-time curfew to stem a rise in new coronavirus infections but will relax movement restrictions for pending religious holidays, authorities said late.

The European Union state reported 6,651 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily tally this year, bringing the total number of cases to 919,794 since the pandemic reached over a year ago. The government, which has extended a state of alert, has stopped short of enforcing a strict lockdown.

Officials said they will restrict the movement of people from 8 pm and shut down shops from 6 pm from Friday until Sunday in towns with more than 4 cases per 1,000 people. The movement will be restricted from 8 pm throughout the week in towns with 7.5 cases per 1,000 people.

Ukraine posts record daily high of 18,132 new cases

Ukraine has registered a record daily high of 18,132 new virus cases, health minister Maksym Stepanov said.

The previous record was the 16,669 cases registered a day earlier.

The total number of infections reached 1,614,707, with 31,461 coronavirus related deaths.

India to soon widen vaccination campaign beyond those above age 45

India will widen its virus vaccination campaign in the "near future" to include more people, instead of restricting it to those above age 45, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.

The federal government has already announced everyone older than 45 will be eligible for vaccination from April 1. 

States have demanded that all adults be included as virus cases surge in the country.

Thailand urges calm after death of Covid-19 vaccine recipient

Thai health officials rushed to calm public fears after confirming a man had died 10 days after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine earlier this month.

The cause of death was from an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and rupture, senior health official Sopon Mekton said, adding the country's vaccination campaign would continue.

The man was inoculated on March 3 and died on March 13.

"I am confident this death is from the aneurysm and not related to the vaccine," Sopon told a news conference.

An AAA is the swelling of the main blood vessel that leads from the heart and ruptures can be fatal.

Pakistan exceeds 4000 daily cases for the first time

Pakistan has reported over 4000 Covid-19 cases for the first time since the peak of the first wave back in summer June-July 2020.

The last time Pakistan hit the 4000 virus case mark was on July 2, 2020.

Today, the country hit the number with 4368 cases. This time around, it is Punjab province that is being ravaged by it with over 2500 cases.

The number of cases in Islamabad stood at 600 and just 230 in Sindh province.

US workers enticed with bonuses, time off to get Covid-19 vaccine

As Covid-19 vaccination drives get into gear across the United States, some businesses are offering transportation, paid time off and bonuses of up to $500 to encourage workers to get the jab.

Labour-intensive industries like slaughterhouses, supermarkets and farms, whose workers are at higher risk of contracting the virus, have taken the lead, with several large grocery chains offering two to four hours of paid leave time for employees to get vaccinated.

Germany's cases rise by 21,573

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 21,573 to 2,734,753, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 183 to 75,623, the tally showed. 

India infection rise in record high

India's new coronavirus infections have risen by 59,118 overnight, the highest daily rise since October 18, health ministry data showed.

The country's overall caseload stood at 11.85 million.

India reported 257 new deaths from coronavirus, taking the overall tally to 160,949, the data showed. 

South Korea extends distancing curbs as case count hits month high

South Korea has said it will extend its coronavirus distancing rules, which include an outside dining curfew and ban on gatherings of five or more people, for two weeks as its daily new cases hit a one-month high.

The government decides whether to ease or tighten distancing curbs every two weeks, and the current rules have been in place since mid-February.

Under the rules, restaurants and cafes must close by 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than four people are restricted, with a few exceptions.

Moderna delays shipment of about 600,000 vaccine doses to Canada

Moderna Inc has delayed the shipment of 590,400 doses of its Covid-19 vaccine that were due to arrive in Canada this weekend, the federal procurement minister said.

Moderna informed Canadian officials that the delay was due to a "backlog in its quality assurance process", Anita Anand said, adding that the company assured the remaining doses will be shipped no later than Thursday next week.

Canada was set to receive 846,000 doses from Moderna this week, of which 255,600 were delivered on Wednesday, a government source told Reuters.

Australia reports first locally acquired virus case in a week

Australia reported its first locally acquired virus case in more than a week after a 26-year-old man tested positive, prompting authorities to place restrictions on hospitals, retirement homes and disability centres.

The person who contracted the virus has been infectious for a week but stayed mostly isolated at home since Monday after developing symptoms, Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Visitors will be banned in hospitals and retirement homes in state capital Brisbane starting Friday as authorities urged the city's residents to wear masks indoors and when using public transport.

Brazil surpasses 100,000 new cases in a day

Brazil has surpassed 100,000 new virus cases in one day, adding another grim record in country where the pandemic has killed more than 300,000 people, the health ministry said.

With the new cases, at least 12.3 million people are now known to have been infected with the coronavirus in Brazil. After the United States, it is the hardest-hit country anywhere in the world.

The toll has risen steadily since February, due to factors including people's abandoning social distancing norms and a new virus variant that emerged here and is believed to be more contagious than the original strain.

Argentina says it will restrict flights from Brazil, Chile, Mexico

Argentina has decided to suspend flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting on Saturday to prevent different strains of the coronavirus from entering the country as it braces for a second wave of infections.

The government said in a statement that the measures, which include tests and mandatory isolation for citizens who return from other regions, will take effect on Saturday.

Colombia grants emergency use for J&J virus vaccine

Colombia has approved emergency use of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot virus vaccine, the director of food and drug regulator INVIMA said as part of a government address.

The approved vaccine is developed by Janssen, the pharmaceutical wing of Johnson & Johnson.

China imports 11 new virus cases, same as a day earlier

China has reported 11 new virus cases on March 25, in line with the previous day, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 31 from 10 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed virus cases in mainland China now stands at 90,147 while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Poor AstraZeneca messaging distracts from sound data on vaccine – scientists

Scientists who have watched with dismay a series of disputes over AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine say strong efficacy data from a large US trial should lay concerns to rest, but worry the skirmishes may leave a lasting mark on public trust.

Spats with governments across Europe about production, supplies, possible side effects and the vaccine's merits have dogged the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker for months. And a highly unusual public rebuke from US scientists monitoring the government-funded trial this week added to its woes.

While the disputes have raised questions about AstraZeneca's messaging and communications, what is crucial, scientists say, is that the product at the heart of all this appears sound.

California, Florida, North Carolina announce expanded vaccine eligibility

Several US states have announced broad expansions of their Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, with California opening immunisations to all adults aged 50 and older starting April 1 and Florida making anyone 40 and up eligible from Monday.

California, the most populous state, said it would further widen vaccine eligibility to all individuals at least 16 years of age beginning April 15, while Florida, ranking third in US population, said it would lower its age threshold to 18 and up on April 5.

North Carolina said it was accelerating its timeline for vaccination eligibility to begin making shots available to all adults on April 7.

The three states join a growing list moving well ahead of the Biden administration's goal of expanding coronavirus immunisations to US adults of all ages by May 1.

Immunised Gibraltar drops night-time virus curfew 

Pubgoers in Gibraltar stayed out until the early hours on Thursday night, as the tiny British territory lifted its coronavirus curfew with most of its population inoculated.

With its hospital free of Covid-19 patients and only one new coronavirus infection reported in a full week, The Rock ended its midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew, allowing bars and restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m.

"For the first time in ages, I've been able to go down to dinner with a few friends, not had to rush back home," said pubgoer Kevin Ruiz.

Mexico deaths pass 200,000

Mexico has become the world's third country to surpass 200,000 coronavirus deaths, following the United States and Brazil.

The nation's Covid-19 fatality toll now stands at 200,211, the health ministry said in its daily update.

EU warns will block AstraZeneca jabs

AstraZeneca cannot export any more vaccines from Europe until it makes good on its contracts with the European Union, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said after a meeting of the leaders of the 27-nation bloc.

"We have to and want to explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share," she told a news conference late on Thursday, adding that companies had to honour their contracts with the EU before exporting to other regions. "And this is of course the case with AstraZeneca," von der Leyen said.

"I think it is clear for the company that, first of all the company has to catch up, has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines."

US gives Palestinians $15 mln

The Biden administration is giving the Palestinians $15 million to aid in their Covid-19 response in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the US State Department said in a statement.

The funds from the US Agency for International Development would help support efforts by the Catholic Relief Services in healthcare facilities as well as address food insecurity, the statement said.

Venezuela business group proposes directly buying 6 million vaccines

Venezuela's largest business organisation has presented a proposal to buy 6 million vaccine shots for private sector workers and families, a plan that would require the approval of the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela has received 700,000 doses, of which 500,000 were donated by Sinopharm and the rest are Sputnik V. Opposition leaders are separately negotiating to buy vaccines via the Covax program using funds frozen in the United States.

The plan would not generate profit for any of those involved, Fedecamaras president Ricardo Cusanno said, adding that it would only use vaccines that had been approved for use by the health ministry.

The vaccines would be distributed over four and a half months in 100 private clinics, Cusanno said. The funds would come from companies or potentially from financing by multilateral lenders, he said.

Peru hits new case record

Peru has registered a record high of 11,260 new coronavirus cases in a single day as it suffers from the spread of a more contagious variant first identified in Brazil, a shortage of medical equipment, and overstretched hospitals.

Peru's total caseload since the virus first hit in March last year is now 1,492,519 and 50,656 deaths, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday night.

During the first wave of infections, Peru reached its peak with 10,143 infected on August 16, according to official data.

In this second wave, the country is seeing the impact of a new COVID variant known as P1 first discovered in neighbouring Brazil. Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay are also seeing infections peak, according to data gathered by Reuters.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies