The coronavirus has killed over 2.5 million people and infected over 115 million globally. Here are the virus-related developments for March 3:

Greek health workers protest outside the Ministry of Health in Athens on February 23, 2021.
Greek health workers protest outside the Ministry of Health in Athens on February 23, 2021. (AFP)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Greece extends lockdown, tightens restrictions 

Greece has extended a lockdown and tightened restrictions in Athens and other affected regions to stem a surge in new infections, authorities said.

The lockdown in the wider Athens region, which was set to end on March 8, has been extended to March 16, Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told a news briefing.

Authorities reported 2,702 daily infections on Wednesday, up from 2,353 the previous day. It is the highest daily figure reported this year. 

Turkey reports over 11,500 new cases

Turkey has reported 11,520 new cases, including 689 symptomatic patients.

With the new cases, the country's overall caseload surpassed 2.73 million, and the tally of fatalities stands at 28,771 after 65 people died over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data released on Wednesday.

Guinea gets donation of 200,000 vaccine doses from China

Guinea received a donation of 200,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China as it seeks help from multiple sources to halt the spread of the coronavirus, foreign affairs minister Ibrahima Khalil Kaba told Reuters.

The West African nation of around 12 million is awaiting its first shipment of 864,000 doses from the global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX, which started deliveries to developing countries last week.

Guinea has reported 16,154 infections and 91 deaths. It is also conducting a parallel Ebola vaccination campaign after an outbreak was detected last month.

Guinean authorities are also in talks to obtain 400,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V, a health ministry official said last month.

Sixty doses of the Russian vaccine were previously provided on an experimental basis, with President Alpha Conde and some ministers among those inoculated. 

Serbia sees rise in cases from new strains

Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country's massive vaccine rollout.

Some 4,056 people tested positive since Tuesday, the health ministry said, more than double the daily number of infections seen a few weeks ago.

In a regional hospital in Serbia's southern city of Nis, doctors and nurses clad in protective suits struggled to help new patients, some in serious condition.

Milorad Jerkan, the director of the public health centre in Nis said new, more contagious virus strains were behind the rise in cases but also people failing to adhere to basic health measures.

The government is weighing between the need to keep the economy going and the need to contain the disease.

Italy reports 347 deaths, 20,884 new cases

Italy reported 347 coronavirus-related deaths against 343 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 20,884 from 17,083 the day before.

Some 358,884 tests were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 335,983, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 98,635 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 2.98 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 19,763 on Wednesday, up from 19,570 a day earlier.

There were 222 new admissions to intensive care units, in line with Tuesday's. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 2,411 from a previous 2,327.

When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerating quickly in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by about 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day. 

Sao Paulo toughens restrictions as Brazil Covid-19 wave bites

Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state, announced tough new measures to slow a snowballing coronavirus pandemic in the country with the world's second highest Covid-19 death toll.

From Saturday, bars and restaurants will only operate via delivery, while malls and non-essential businesses will be shut, Governor Joao Doria said. The measure, which come as Brazil notches record daily deaths, are due to last two weeks, he said.

Hungary to extend AstraZeneca jabs to people over 60

Hungary plans to extend the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine to people older than 60 after data showed its efficacy in the group, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller said as the country ramped up its inoculation campaign.

A week ago, Hungary became the first European Union member to start inoculating people with China's Sinopharm vaccine after rolling out Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as well, even though neither has been granted approval for emergency use by the bloc.

In order to ensure as many people as possible get at least a first dose of a vaccine fast, the Hungarian government has already extended the gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

It also has widened the gap between the AstraZeneca doses to 12 weeks.

Its AstraZeneca vaccination program scheduled for this coming weekend is still only for people aged 18 to 60 who have chronic diseases.

Hungary plans to administer more than half a million jabs over the next week with the five available vaccines, as it tries to boost vaccinations to contain a third wave of the pandemic partly fueled by the British variant of the virus.

France eyes possible easing of restrictions from mid-April

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

"We will still face hard times, it is true, but for the first time in months, the return to more normal living conditions is in sight," Attal told reporters following a meeting of the French cabinet.

"It is neither a distant nor uncertain horizon - it is an horizon that is getting closer and closer.

We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it," he said.

"The president (Emmanuel Macron) asked us to submit proposals that could allow for a cautious re-opening of the country soon."

Earlier this week, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France will retain its current measures aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks.

Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, sports and music venues.

Second UK trial to study gout drug colchicine as Covid-19 treatment

Gout medication colchicine will be tested in a large UK study looking into potential early-stage treatments and enrollment criteria was widened for the latest arm of the trial, University of Oxford researchers said.

The drug had shown promise in reducing hospital admissions in patients in a Canadian study, but not much is known about how it can affect recovery time, control severity of symptoms and prevent hospitalisations altogether, researchers said.

Global coronavirus infections have hit nearly 115 million as new, highly transmissible variants are prompting researchers to tweak their testing strategies, and repurpose existing medicines to aid vaccine rollouts.

The trial, backed by the British government and called PRINCIPLE, is assessing drugs that may be used at home in the first 14 days of infection to help patients recover quicker and ward off the need for further intervention or hospitalisation.

Earlier this year, the study ruled out common antibiotics azithromycin and doxycycline as possible treatments, and is still studying asthma drug budesonide.

Adults either 18 to 64 years of age with shortness of breath from Covid-19 or certain underlying health conditions that put them at high risk, or those aged over 65 can volunteer for the colchicine arm of the trial, Oxford said.

Colchicine is an inexpensive drug already being tested in UK's RECOVERY study, which is the world's largest trial of treatments for patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

Drug maker says vaccine in India 81 percent effective

The interim analysis of results from an Indian vaccine maker’s late stage trials shows its vaccine to be about 81 percent effective in preventing illness from the coronavirus.

The Bharat Biotech vaccine was controversially approved by India in January without waiting for trials to confirm that the vaccine was effective. Since then 1.3 million of doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India.

The interim results are based on 43 trial participants who were infected by the virus. Of these, 36 hadn’t received the vaccine, the company says. A second analysis will be conducted for 87 cases, and a final analysis 130 cases.

Health care workers have been reticent to take the shots and health experts are concerned the regulatory shortcut has amplified vaccine hesitancy.

Bharat Biotech has already signed an agreement with Brazil to supply 20 million doses of the vaccine by September.

Czechs turns to other nations to treat its patients

With hospitals in some parts of the Czech Republic filled up, the country turned to Germany and other European countries with a request for help.

The Czech Republic, one of the hardest-hit European Union countries, has been facing a surge of new cases attributed to a highly infectious coronavirus variant that is believed to originate in Britain.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said neighbouring Germany has offered dozens of beds in its hospitals to treat Czech Covid-19 patients. He said 19 of them were immediately ready.

Hamacek said that Switzerland was another country ready to help with 20 beds in its hospitals while offering to take care of the transport of the patients.

Talks were also underway with Poland to provide around 200 beds.

After the day-to-day increase of new confirmed cases reached 16,642 on Tuesday, the fourth highest since the start of the pandemic, a record of more than 8,000 patients needed hospitalisation.

Some hospitals in western Czech Republic near the German border, the central part of the country around Prague and the Pardubice region east of Prague couldn't admit anymore patients and they have to be transported to clinics elsewhere in the country.

It wasn't immediately clear when patients might be taken abroad.

Estonia to shut restaurants, shops at weekends

Restaurants and non-essential shops in Estonia must close at weekends as part of a drive to contain a surge in infections, the government said.

On weekdays restaurants will have to close their doors at 6 pm, it also said, as the Baltic nation of 1.3 million battles the second highest per capita rate of infections in the European Union after the Czech Republic.

Estonia said on Tuesday it had recorded 1,121 cases over the previous 14 days per 100,000 people, more than twice the level seen a month ago.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the new restrictions were needed to relieve pressure on the stretched healthcare system, and she urged Estonians to reduce their social interactions to a minimum.

Turkish researchers say Sinovac is 83.5% efficient

The vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech has an efficacy of 83.5 percent based on final results of Phase III trials, Turkish researchers said, a downward revision from a preliminary finding of 91.25 percent.

The final efficacy rate was based on 41 infections, 32 of which had received a placebo, said Murat Akova, head of the Phase III trials conducted in Turkey.

The rate is based on participants who presented at least one symptom of Covid-19 along with a positive PCR test at least 14 days after the second dose of the vaccine, Akova said.

He added that the vaccine prevented hospitalisation and severe illness in 100 percent of cases, saying the six people who were hospitalised were all in the placebo group.

"Because there were no important side effects (in the trial)... let alone the fact that this vaccine is being used widely in our country and no side effect was reported, we can say comfortably that it is safe," said Serhat Unal, member of the government's advisory Science Council.

Japan to extend state of emergency for Tokyo

Japan's government plans to extend a state of emergency over the coronavirus for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures by two weeks, until March 21, broadcaster TBS reported.

While new cases have fallen significantly from a peak in early January, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the pace of decline had slowed, expressing concern that it may not be enough to lift restrictions.

First Pfizer vaccines to Africa under Covax go to Rwanda

The first doses of the Pfizer shots to be dispatched to Africa under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme were to arrive in Rwanda, as efforts to inoculate the world's poorest nations accelerate.

The batch of 102,960 doses will arrive in Kigali later on Wednesday, the health ministry said, hours after a flight carrying 240,000 doses AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India also landed. 

Russia reports 10,535 new cases, 452 deaths

Russia has reported 10,535 new cases, including 1,284 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,278,750.

Authorities said 452 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 87,348. 

Blast at Dutch virus testing centre; no one hurt

Dutch police have said a blast smashed windows at a coronavirus testing center in a small town north of Amsterdam in the early morning. Nobody was hurt.

Police in the North Holland province tweeted that “an explosive went off” near the test center in Bovenkarspel just before 7 am (0600 GMT).

Police have taped off the area about 60 kilometres north of Amsterdam and are investigating the cause of the blast.

In January, rioters torched a coronavirus test facility in the fishing village of Urk on the first night of a 9 pm to 4 :30 am nationwide curfew imposed as part of the government’s lockdown

Modi's ministers choose much-criticised Bharat Biotech's Covaxin vaccine

Government ministers and officials have been following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting for an Indian-made Covid-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.

India's health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticised Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.

Many state officials and doctors have refused to take Covaxin before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.

US, Asia allies plan vaccine strategy to counter China

US is working with allies Japan, India and Australia on a plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines in Asia to counter the influence of China.

In recent weeks, the White House has held talks with other members of the Quad, a diplomatic and security initiative between the countries, the Financial Times newspaper reported.

Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific policy coordinator, is spearheading the effort and has held many meetings with ambassadors from the group, according to the report.

Ukraine Covid-19 hospitalisations rise to record

A record number of Ukrainians have been taken to hospital with coronavirus over the past 24 hours while the quantity of lethal cases remain consistently high.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook that 3,486 people were hospitalised in the past day, the highest number since the epidemic hit the country of 41 million last year.

The number of hospitalisations did not exceed 2,000 during the peak of the epidemic in late 2020, but began to rise in late winter during the second wave of the epidemic.

Stepanov said 7,235 new cases were registered over the past 24 hours with 185 deaths. Ukraine has reported 1,364,705 coronavirus cases and 26,397 deaths so far.

South Korea probing two deaths after AstraZeneca's vaccine

South Korean authorities have said they are investigating the deaths of two people after a media report said the pair - both with pre-existing conditions - died within days of receiving AstraZeneca's  vaccine.

A 63-year-old nursing home patient with cerebrovascular disease developed symptoms, including high fever, after being given the AstraZeneca vaccine, Yonhap news agency reported. The person was moved to a larger hospital on Tuesday, but died after showing symptoms of blood poisoning and pneumonia, Yonhap said.

Another person in their 50s with a cardiac disorder and diabetes died on Wednesday after suffering multiple heart attacks, having received the same vaccine a day earlier, the agency said.

First vaccines arrive in Taiwan

The first batch of virus vaccines has arrived in Taiwan, the health minister said, adding the island is hoping to secure more vaccines as it prepares to begin its immunisation campaign.

About 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccines landed at Taipei's main international airport in the morning, Chen Shih-chung told reporters. He declined to say when the shots will start being administered.

Chen said while the amount of vaccines that arrived only represented a "relatively small" number of what the island has ordered from AstraZeneca, the shipment marked a "very meaningful" event for Taiwan's health workers.

Vaccination programme gathers pace in Malaysia

Malaysia has stepped up its vaccination campaign, a day after granting conditional approval for the use of vaccines made by UK firm AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac.

Medics continued to press ahead with a programme of inoculating health workers and other people in high-risk groups.

Malaysia began its nationwide campaign a week ago, using a shot developed by US drugmaker Pfizer, as i t tries to rein in a spike in infections.

Vaccinations at Pittsburgh football stadium

Hundreds of people have received Covid-19 vaccination shots at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, home of the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers.

More than 4,000 people are expected to get their shots during a weeklong vaccination clinic sponsored by the Steelers and supermarket/pharmacy chain Giant Eagle.

Giant Eagle spokesperson Jannah Jablonowski told Pittsburgh TV station WTAE that all of those receiving the vaccine are in Pennsylvania's Group A category for eligibility.

Kenya receives 1 million vaccines from Covax

Kenya has received just over 1 million doses of a virus vaccine in the first batch from the global Covax initiative that was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

Some 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, arrived in Nairobi early Wednesday, according to a joint statement from UNICEF, the World Health Organization, international vaccine alliance GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe expressed excitement and optimism that the vaccines would help stop the spread of the coronavirus that has forced the East African country to partially lock down its economy with devastating consequences for many citizens.

Germany's Merkel set to agree to cautious easing of lockdown

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been poised to agree a gradual relaxation of coronavirus curbs with regional leaders, but the rules can be tightened again if infections jump.

Pressure is growing on the government to set out clear plans to restore normal activities after months of pandemic lockdown, even though daily cases have begun creeping up again and the pace of vaccination has been sluggish.

The draft plans say that from March 8 a maximum of five people from two hous eholds, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet.

The tally of infections rose by 9,019 to 2,460,030 , an increase of more than 1,000 over last week, while the death toll rose by 418 to 70,881.

Michigan to loosen coronavirus curbs

US state of Michigan has announced a loosening of its coronavirus restrictions, allowing larger gatherings and easing limits on capacity for restaurants and other businesses.

The easing in curbs comes as reported infections in the state decline.

The revised state health department order will take effect on Friday and last through to April 19.

Saudi Arabia: Vaccine mandatory for Hajj

Saudi Arabia's health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend the Hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

"The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the Hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come)," the report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of the Hajj.

In 2020, the kingdom dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims to around 1,000 to help prevent the spread of the virus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.

Biden vows enough vaccine for all US adults by end of May

President Joe Biden said that the US expects to take delivery of enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritise vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy programme. 

He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March as part of his administration's efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

African countries receive vaccines from Covax scheme

Millions of shots from the global Covax scheme arrived in Nigeria, Angola and DRC, as African countries ramped up their vaccine rollouts.

While the continent's most populous country Nigeria received almost four million jabs, sub-Saharan Africa's largest nation by area DRC got 1.7 million, Angola welcomed more than 600,000 doses and The Gambia was expected to take roughly 30,000.

Last week, Ghana and Ivory Coast were the first African countries to receive vaccines from Covax, which is aiming to supply two billion doses by the end of the year.

Richer countries have surged ahead with vaccinations while many poorer nations still wait for deliveries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that the crisis cannot end unless everyone can inoculate their populations.

However, there are still critical hurdles for African countries like Nigeria and DRC, with sketchy infrastructure and an array of security challenges.

Palestinian vaccine rollout under fire over doses for VIPs

The Palestinian Authority confirmed that it diverted some vaccination doses meant for medical workers to VIPs as critics charged but said this involved a small fraction of inoculations.

A health ministry statement said 10% of the 12,000 doses it received were given to the Palestinian national football team, government ministers, presidential guards and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization's topmost Executive Committee. Another 200 doses went to the Jordanian royal court, after a request from Amman.

But it said the other 90% went to health workers treating cases in intensive care units and emergency departments, and health ministry workers.

The ministry statement followed criticism from several Palestinian human rights and civil society groups, who urged an investigation into the vaccination programme, saying it was not transparent.

Texas becomes biggest US state to lift mask mandate

Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted a state mask mandate and said he was authorising businesses restricted because of the pandemic to open "100 percent."

"For nearly half a year, most businesses have been open either 75 percent or 50 percent and during that time, too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities," Abbott said.

"Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills," the Republican governor said in a speech to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

Abbott said he was lifting the restrictions because of the arrival of vaccines, and better testing and treatments.

Abbott imposed a mask mandate in the second most populous US state eight months ago.

He said an executive order rescinding his previous orders and restrictions would take effect on Wednesday.

Abbott's move lifting restrictions came despite a warning on Monday by Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19," Walensky said.

"I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic," she said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies