Covid-19 has infected some 123 million people and has claimed over 2.7 million lives. Here are virus-related developments for March 21:

A model of the coronavirus is seen attached to a sign during a protest against the government's coronavirus disease restrictions in Kassel, Germany on March 20, 2021.
A model of the coronavirus is seen attached to a sign during a protest against the government's coronavirus disease restrictions in Kassel, Germany on March 20, 2021. (Reuters)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Germany considers extending virus curbs into April

Europe continued to grapple with resurgent coronavirus infections, as Germany considered extending restrictions into April despite street protests and EU leaders abandoned plans to attend a summit on the pandemic.

Thousands of protesters angry at Covid-19 restrictions rallied in cities across Europe over the weekend, even as several nations reimposed partial lockdowns to fight new surges in infections.

A memo from several of Germany's regions, seen by AFP news agency, said the country's partial lockdown should be extended into April because of rising infection rates driven by Covid variants.

Travel needs to be cut to a minimum, with quarantines and negative tests required for those re-entering Germany, the memo warned.

South Africa sells AstraZeneca vaccines to other African countries

South Africa has concluded the sale of AstraZeneca vaccines it had acquired but did not use to other African Union (AU) member states, the Health Ministry has said.

The country had paused AstraZeneca vaccinations last month because of a small trial showing the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the dominant local coronavirus variant.

At the time, South Africa had received 1 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of India and the delivery of another 500,000 was pending.

The ministry said it had in the past weeks worked to ensure that all member states identified by the AU vaccines acquisition teams as recipients of the vaccines were compliant and had obtained all regulatory approvals, permits and licences to roll out the vaccines in their respective countries.

"The minister can confirm that the full purchase amount was received by the department on Monday last week," it said in a statement.

Cuba to vaccinate 150,000 frontline workers 

Cuba has announced it will vaccinate 150,000 frontline workers as part of the final phase of a clinical trial of the country's leading Covid-19 vaccine candidate amid a surge in cases.

The shots using the Soberana 2 vaccine will start on Monday and target medical and other personnel at high risk, the authorities said.

"Cuba could immunise 150,000 people immediately from Covid-19, as the phase 3 trial of this vaccine is demonstrating it is very safe," Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca tweeted.

Soberana 2 has been in the final phase of a clinical trial for the past three weeks involving 44,000 volunteers from the general population.

The Communist-run Caribbean island nation, which has long experience with developing and exporting vaccines, is one of a handful in the region that have not started vaccinating against Covid, as it is counting on its own candidates.

UK reports 33 new Covid-19 deaths

The daily number of Covid-19 deaths in the United Kingdom has fallen to 33, the lowest figure since Oct. 5 and down from peaks of well over 1,000 daily cases in January and February, official data showed.

The number of new confirmed cases was 5,312, while the seven-day total number of cases was 38,145, down 4.4% on the previous seven-day period.

The number of people who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine rose to 27.6 million, well over half the adult population. A total of 2.3 million have had both doses.

Italian parents and children protest against school closures

Thousands of Italian parents, children and teachers have protested in squares up and down the country against what they call the unnecessary closure of schools to try to curb Covid-19 infections.

The protests, the first of any significance against Mario Draghi's national unity government that took office last month, were held in more than 35 squares nationwide including Rome's Piazza del Popolo and Milan's central Piazza Duomo.

Demonstrators in Rome wore dunce's caps to indicate the impact of the closures on students' education, while in Milan pupils' messages and placards were propped against their school rucksacks placed on the ground.

Numbers at each venue were limited due to coronavirus restrictions on gatherings.

"Open schools, whatever it takes," read one placard held aloft by a child in Rome, in reference to Draghi's famous promise to save the euro when he was European Central Bank chief in 2012.

Turkey's daily Covid-19 deaths rise above 100

The number of daily Covid-19 deaths in Turkey has shot up above 100 for the first time since early February, and the cumulative number of cases topped three million.

A total of 102 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, the government figures showed, bringing the total death toll to 30,061.

The government data also showed 20,428 cases had been recorded in the same period, raising the cumulative number of cases to 3,013,122.

Superspreader virus fears for massive India religious gathering

A huge religious gathering in northern India could fuel a surge in Covid-19 cases, the government has warned as it called for an increase in testing and other health protocols.

The annual Kumbh Mela festival usually attracts millions of devout Hindus over three months, but was shortened to 30 days as India –– the world's third-most infected nation with nearly 11.6 million coronavirus cases –– grapples with the pandemic.

Authorities had already warned about a recent uptick in infections nationally, with some states imposing restrictions on movement and activities.

Virus fears have not stopped large crowds of pilgrims ––  mostly maskless and with no social distancing –– from attending the gathering, with more than three million pilgrims taking part one day earlier this month.

Up to 40 pilgrims and locals were testing positive every day at the festival in Haridwar in Uttarakhand state, the health ministry said.

"This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turning to an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh," it added.

Too early for Britons to book summer holidays abroad, minister says

It would be premature for Britons to book summer holidays overseas as Britain must avoid a situation where holidaymakers return with vaccine-resistant variants of Covid-19, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

Half of all adults in Britain have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, placing it well ahead of all other major economies, and of neighbouring European countries where the vaccine rollout is slow and chaotic.

Wallace said Britain should avoid throwing away the gains of its vaccination campaign by allowing dangerous variants into the country via returning tourists.

Madagascar leader backs herbal 'cure' over Covid vaccines

Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina has said he does not plan to vaccinate himself against Covid-19, preferring a herbal "remedy", and is in no hurry to launch mass inoculations for his citizens.

"Personally I have not yet been vaccinated and I do not have any intention of getting vaccinated," he said in a televised address.

Rajoelina has widely boasted the virtues of a locally-brewed artemisia plant infusion to fight coronavirus.

'None of us have had a great Covid,' says EU Commissioner McGuinness

Countries around the world were unprepared for a global pandemic and have struggled to deal with the virus, a European Union commissioner said when asked by the BBC about the bloc's stop-start rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"Frankly, none of us have had a great Covid. I think all of us should put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this global pandemic, we did not do our best at the beginning, but we are doing our best now to protect our citizens," said Mairead McGuinness, EU Commissioner for Financial Services and Financial Stability.

Japan PM vows no virus rebound as emergency measures end

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to do his utmost to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus ahead of the Olympic torch relay and his upcoming visit to Washington.

Suga was addressing his ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s annual convention, just hours ahead of the planned lifting of a virus state of emergency in the the Tokyo region. Suga said after the state of emergency is lifted is "an extremely important time” for virus prevention.

“We must not put our guards down ... to prevent the infections from rebounding," he said.

China steps up vaccination, considers differentiated visa policies

China has accelerated its vaccinations against Covid-19, administering 10 million doses in around a week, and is considering varied visa policies based on vaccination and virus conditions in different countries, officials said.

The country had administered 74.96 million vaccine doses as of Saturday, health commission spokesman Mi Feng told a news briefing. That is up from 64.98 million as of March 14.

China aims to vaccinate 40 percent of its 1.4 billion people by the middle of the year, according to state media and a top health adviser. China was among the first countries to begin administering vaccines last year and has been exporting millions of doses, but its vaccination rate has fallen behind those of such countries as Israel and the United States.

Philippines records second-highest daily spike, announces new restrictions

The Philippines recorded 7,757 additional virus cases, the second-highest single-day increase in the Southeast Asian nation since the pandemic began.

The daily tally follows Saturday's record infections and marks the third straight day confirmed new cases topped 7,000.

In a bulletin, the Department of Health (DOH) said total recorded cases had risen to 663,794 while confirmed deaths had reached 12,968, with 39 more fatalities recorded. Total recoveries increased by 15,288 to 577,754.

The country will also expand tighter Covid-19 restrictions to include four provinces surrounding the capital region, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said. 

The restrictions currently in effect in Metropolitan Manila will also be imposed in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, including night curfews and the prohibition of mass gatherings, Harry Roque said.

Russia reports 9,299 new cases, 371 deaths

Russia reported 9,299 new virus cases, including 1,511 in Moscow, pushing the national tally of cases to 4,456,869 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 371 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 95,030. 

Bulgaria virus hospitalisations jump to record high

The number of coronavirus patients in Bulgarian hospitals has risen to 8,545, the highest level since the start of the pandemic last March, official health data showed.

A surge in infections in the third Covid wave has prompted the Bulgarian government to close schools, nurseries, restaurants, big shops and gyms from Monday for 10 days ahead of the April 4 parliamentary election.

With 2,541 new cases in the past 24 hours, the country of 7 million people has reported 302,480 cases and 11,966 deaths in total. 

UAE expands virus vaccination drive

The United Arab Emirates urged all citizens and residents aged 16 and above to register for virus vaccinations from Sunday as the Gulf state widens its immunisation drive after inoculating about 56 percent of the eligible population.

The UAE, the region's commercial and tourism hub and a global travel centre, has set a blistering pace for its vaccine rollout to keep its economy open for business. It ranks second globally behind Israel for doses per 100 people.

The health ministry said in a statement on state media late on Saturday that the move comes after nearly 73 percent of elderly Emiratis, residents and those with chronic diseases have been vaccinated.

The country is providing four types of vaccine free of charge.

India's Serum to delay further vaccine shipments to Brazil, Morocco, Saudi

The Serum Institute of India (SII) has told Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Morocco that further supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be delayed due to surging demand at home and as it works through a capacity expansion, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The news comes as India, the world's biggest vaccine maker, is being criticised domestically for donating or selling more doses than inoculations conducted at home, despite reporting the most number of coronavirus infections after the United States and Brazil.

India is currently seeing a second surge of cases, taking its total to about 11.6 million.

Thousands protest Europe virus curbs as surges prompt fresh restrictions

Thousands of protesters angry at Covid-19 restrictions rallied in cities across Europe as several nations reimposed partial lockdowns to fight new surges in infections.

The coronavirus, which has killed more than 2.7 million people, has been spreading faster recently, with the number of new infections up globally by 14 percent in the last week, according to AFP data.

That has forced governments to impose social distancing and movement restrictions again, even as vaccines are rolled out, with residents in Poland, parts of France, and Ukraine's capital the latest to face fresh curbs.

AstraZeneca counters Indonesian Muslim concerns over Covid-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca said its Covid-19 vaccine contains no pork-derived ingredients, countering an assertion in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, that the drug violates Islamic law.

Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical council, the Indonesia Ulema Council, said on its website on Friday that the vaccine is "haram" because the manufacturing process uses "trypsin from the pork pancreas."

Still, the council approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use given the pandemic emergency.

But AstraZeneca Indonesia spokesman Rizman Abudaeri said in a statement: "At all stages of the production process, this virus vector vaccine does not use nor come in contact with pork-derived products or other animal products."

Germany's confirmed virus cases rise by 13,733 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 13,733 to 2,659,516, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 99 to 74,664, the tally showed. 

China reports 12 new virus cases vs four a day earlier

China reported 12 new virus cases on March 20, up from 4 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said all the new cases were imported from abroad.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed, was eight, the same as a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 90,099, while the death toll remained at 4,636. 

Republic of Congo presidential candidate tests positive for Covid-19 amid election

The leading opposition presidential candidate in Republic of Congo was receiving oxygen at a private hospital after being diagnosed with Covid-19, a family member said, casting Sunday's election into doubt on the eve of the vote.

The election's outcome was already all but certain even before confirmation of Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas' illness.

Miami Beach declares state of emergency over uncontrollable crowds

Throngs of revellers flocking to Miami Beach in Florida for spring break have become so uncontrollable that authorities declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew meant to quash the party.

The move marks the second year in a row that fun has been curtailed at the popular spring break destination – last March because the pandemic was just ramping up and this year due to unruly and destructive crowds.

Authorities announced that visitors must be off the street and that restaurants would close their doors at 8:00 pm in South Beach, the epicentre of the city's nightlife, following an increase of violence and vandalism over recent days.

Tourists in Mexico party like there's no Covid

Tourists writhe their bodies to pumping techno beats on dance floors along Mexico's Caribbean coast – a magnet for people from around the world who want to party during a pandemic.

The Latin American country is among those worst hit by Covid-19 with a death toll fast approaching 200,000.

But such worries seem a world away in tourist resorts like Tulum and Cancun, where visitors can dance late into the night at discos, electronic music festivals and invitation-only parties.

UK police arrest 36 at anti-lockdown protests

London police have arrested dozens of people after thousands turned out in the British capital to protest against ongoing coronavirus lockdown restrictions, with the city's police force in the spotlight over its officer's conduct after a series of recent incidents.

The Metropolitan Police Service said it had made 36 arrests, most for breaching months-old virus regulations that outlaw leaving home except for a limited number of reasons.

Several thousand people were estimated to have gathered for the demonstrations, which began Saturday lunchtime at Hyde Park.

After the crowd marched through central London, a group of around 100 returned to the park where police said they threw missiles at officers.

Mexico records 608 more deaths

Mexico has registered 608 additional fatalities from the coronavirus, bringing the country's death toll to 197,827, health ministry data showed on Saturday. 

BioNTech founder: Most Germans can get vaccinated by summer's end

The founder of BioNTech , partner with Pfizer in making one of the first coronavirus vaccines to be approved for use, is optimistic that the virus will be under control in most European countries by the end of the summer despite a faltering vaccine roll-out.

In Germany, owners of shuttered shops and would-be holidaymakers are increasingly restive over restrictions. Some 20,000 people protested against lockdown in the central city of Kassel on Saturday.

European Union governments are facing criticism over the slow start to their vaccination campaigns, with supply hiccups leaving the bloc lagging far behind countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States.

But BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin said he was optimistic the problems would prove temporary, adding it was possible to ensure 70 percent of Germans were vaccinated by the end of September, at which point he said the virus would pose few problems.

"In many European countries and the US we will probably not need lockdowns by summer's end," he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "There'll be outbreaks, but they'll be background noise. There'll be mutations, but they won't frighten us."

Brazil reports 79,069 new cases

Brazil has recorded 79,069 additional confirmed cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,438 deaths, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered nearly 12 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 292,752, according to ministry data.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies