Covid-19 has infected some 123 million people and killed around 2.7 million. Here are the virus-related developments for March 20:

Britain's PM Boris Johnson gestures after receiving the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington at St.Thomas' Hospital in London, on March 19, 2021.
Britain's PM Boris Johnson gestures after receiving the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington at St.Thomas' Hospital in London, on March 19, 2021. (AP)

Saturday, March 20, 2021

UK hits milestone as half of all adults get first dose

Britain has hit a Covid-19 vaccination milestone with more than half of all adults having had at least one injection, health secretary Matt Hancock has said, making it the world's first major economy to achieve that level of inoculation.

Britain's vaccine roll-out, which has raced ahead of those in the European Union and the United States, means the country is on track to ease lockdown measures and re-open the economy in line with its plan, Hancock said.

"The vaccination programme is our route out of the pandemic," Hancock told Sky News on Saturday. Official data showed 26.9 million had received a first dose of vaccine, up from 26.3 million the previous day.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had AstraZeneca's vaccine on Friday, tweeted "Let's keep going" after the announcement that half of all adults had had a first shot.

IMF sees signs of stronger global recovery, but significant risks remain

The No 2 official at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pointed to emerging signs of a stronger global economic recovery, but warned that significant risks remained, including the emergence of mutations of the coronavirus.

IMF First Deputy Managing Director Geoffrey Okamoto said that in early April the Fund would update its January forecast for global growth of 5.5 percent to reflect additional fiscal stimulus spending in the United States, but gave no details.

In a speech to the China Development Forum, Okamoto raised concerns about the growing divergence between advanced economies and emerging markets, with some 90 million people seen falling below the extreme poverty threshold since the pandemic began.

Okamoto said China had already recovered to pre-pandemic growth levels ahead of all large economies, although private consumption was still lagging investment there.

Outside of China, he said, there were worrying signs of a widening gap between advanced economies and emerging markets.

US administers 121.4M doses of vaccines

The United States has administered 121,441,497 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Saturday morning and distributed 156,734,555 doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The tally is for Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson's vaccines as of 6:00 am ET on Saturday, the agency said.

According to the tally posted on March 19, the agency had administered 118,313,818 doses of the vaccines, and distributed 154,199,235 doses.

The agency said 79,367,225 people had received at least one dose while 43,036,818 people are fully vaccinated as of Saturday.

A total of 7,648,211 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said. 

Chile sets daily record for cases even as vaccination drive plows ahead

Chile broke its single day record for new cases of the coronavirus, health officials have said, leaving hospitals on the verge of collapse even as the South American nation races on with a mass vaccination program.

Cases have been ticking up for weeks following the end of the southern hemisphere summer holiday, but soared to 7,084, above the previous high of 6,938 last June, the data shows.

The fast rising caseload has filled critical care wards north to south, leaving Chile with just 198 beds available for new patients.

All of the capital Santiago, the economic engine, is in strict lockdown this weekend.

Turkey reports over 21,000 new cases

Turkey has reported more than 21,000 new coronavirus cases, according to Health Ministry data.

A total of 21,061 cases, including 958 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 2.99 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 29,959 with 95 more fatalities over the past day.

As many as 18,815 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.8 million.

More than 36.16 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 190,129 done since Friday.

The latest figures show that the number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition fell to 1,538.

Brazil in talks with US for excess vaccines: foreign ministry 

Brazil's government has been in talks since March 13 about potentially importing excess Covid-19 vaccines from the United States, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry has said on Twitter.

The Foreign Ministry and the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, in cooperation with the Health Ministry, are negotiating with the US government, according to the ministry's tweet.

The White House on Friday announced plans to "loan" 4 million AstraZeneca shots that have already been produced in the United States to Canada and Mexico.

The White House has no plans to loan doses to other countries, according to an administration official.

International spectators to be barred from entering Japan for Olympics

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Organising Committee has said that international spectators will not be allowed to enter Japan during the Olympic Games which are scheduled for this summer.

Olympic and Paralympic tickets purchased by overseas residents will be refunded, it said in a statement.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed last year to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Police clash with Covid protesters in German city

Police have used pepper spray to disperse people protesting against coronavirus curbs in the German city of Kassel, in one of the country's largest such rallies so far this year.

Several thousand people gathered at the main protest site on a square in the city centre, packed closely together without wearing face masks, an AFP reporter saw.

Scuffles erupted when a group of demonstrators tried to break through a police cordon to join up with other protesters, resulting in shoving and prompting officers to use pepper spray.

"This is not what a peaceful protest looks like," North Hesse police tweeted.

Officers had used "pepper spray and batons" against protesters, police said, adding that there had been "repeated attacks" against emergency service workers.

"We don't tolerate such attacks," they wrote, saying they had water cannon on stand by.

The protest was called by the "Querdenker" or Lateral Thinkers movement, an umbrella group that has organised some of Germany's largest "anti-corona" demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.

Thousands protest Covid measures in Switzerland

Thousands of demonstrators have descended on the small northern Swiss town of Liestal to demand an end to anti-Covid measures that have shut restaurants and other venues for months.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people, many wearing white protection jumpsuits, gathered in the small town in the Basel canton for what they have called a "Silent Protest", according to estimates by journalists on site.

The protesters, many not wearing face masks, held signs with messages reading "Enough!", "Vaccines kill" and "Let love guide you, not fear".

They accuse the Swiss government of using dictatorial powers to impose restrictions aimed at reining in Covid-19 transmission.

The demonstration, which had police authorisation, is the latest in a series of public protests across the country in recent months, including one earlier this month in the small, picturesque town of Chur that drew over 4,000 people.

Parts of France enter lockdown amid confusion and frustration

Nearly a third of French people has entered a month-long lockdown with many expressing fatigue and confusion over the latest set of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

The government announced the new measures on Thursday after a jump in Covid-19 cases in Paris and parts of northern France.

The new restrictions are less severe than those in place during the lockdowns of spring and November 2020, raising concerns that they may not be effective.

There was frustration among so-called non-essential shop owners forced to close down.

Stores allowed to stay open include those selling food, books, flowers and chocolate as well as hairdressers and shoemakers, but not clothes, furniture and beauty shops, according to a list released on Friday evening.

Russia reports 9,632 new cases, 392 deaths

Russia has reported 9,632 new Covid-19 cases, including 1,728 in Moscow, pushing the national tally of cases to 4,447,570 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 392 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 94,569. 

Philippines reports record 7,999 new infections

The Philippine Health Ministry has recorded 7,999 new coronavirus infections, the second straight day that the country posted a record high in daily reported cases.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases have risen to 656,056 while confirmed deaths have reached 12,930, after 30 more were recorded.

The Southeast Asian nation is battling a renewed surge in infections, including those of the new and more transmissible variants, delaying the further reopening of its pandemic-stricken economy.

India cases surge to four-month high, some lockdowns return

India has reported 40,953 new coronavirus cases, the biggest daily jump in nearly four months, with its richest state and economic backbone Maharashtra accounting for more than half the infections.

Deaths rose by 188 to 159,404, the health ministry reported, underscoring a resurgence of the virus in the world's third worst affected country, after the United States and Brazil.

Some regions in India have already reimposed containment measures, including lockdowns and restaurant closures, and more are being considered.

Doctors have blamed the fresh infection wave on people's relaxed attitude to mask-wearing and other social distancing measures, warning that hospital wards were swiftly filling up in states like Maharashtra.

Ecuador health minister quits after 19 days on the job

Ecuador's health minister has resigned after just 19 days in the job, the government said, amid a growing scandal over the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to well-connected figures. 

In his letter of resignation, Rodolfo Fardan stressed that he was stepping down for "strictly personal" reasons.

Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno – whose term ends on May 24 – has named surgeon Mauro Falconi as the new minister.

China's first local coronavirus case since February, vaccinated 

China's first local coronavirus case since February was a staff worker at a hospital and had received two shots of a vaccine between end-January and early February, state media reported.

The patient, identified by her surname Liu, had been working in the quarantine area of a hospital in Xian city since March 4, and was mainly responsible for collecting samples of quarantined people for coronavirus testing, reported the Health Times.

The Health Times is listed as a newspaper published under The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party.

China had reported the case on Thursday, making it the country's first locally transmitted case since February 14.

Germany's cases rise by 16,033  RKI

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 16,033 to 2,645,783, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 207 to 74,565.

Paris enters new lockdown as Europe resumes AstraZeneca jabs

A third of France's population was under a new partial lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19, as some European countries resumed AstraZeneca vaccinations following an all-clear from EU regulators and the WHO.

The pandemic is still speeding up worldwide, with the number of new global coronavirus infections rising by 14 percent over the last week compared to the previous week, according to AFP data. 

China reports four new virus cases vs 11 a day earlier

China has reported four new virus cases on March 19, up from 11 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 cases, rose to eight from five cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 90,087, while the death toll remained at 4,636. 

Scientists probe new theories on whether AstraZeneca shot linked to blood clots

Scientists are exploring several possibilities that might explain at least 18 reports of extremely rare blood clots in the brain that occurred in individuals in the days and weeks after receiving the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

European investigators have put forward one theory that the vaccine triggers an unusual antibody in some rare cases; others are trying to understand whether the cases are linked with birth control pills.

But many scientists say there is no definitive evidence and it is not clear whether or why AstraZeneca's vaccine would cause an issue not shared by other vaccines that target a similar part of the coronavirus.

Most of the rare blood clots have been seen in women and most cases have been reported in Europe. Two cases have been reported in India.

LA mayor criticises state over vaccination rules

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says a lot of pandemic deaths could have been prevented in California if the state had focused earlier on vaccinating people in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Garcetti also said the federal and state governments haven’t given local officials like him enough freedom to inoculate who they feel are most at risk.

Brazil registers record cases

Brazil has had a record 90,570 Covid-19 cases reported in the last 24 hours and 2,815 deaths, the second deadliest daily toll since the pandemic began a year ago, the Health Ministry said.

Ending the most lethal week yet in a surge of the virus driven by a more contagious local variant, the South American country has now registered 11,871,390 cases in all, while the death toll has risen to 290,314, according to ministry data.

Yemen intensive care units full with patients

Occupancy in intensive care units in quarantine centres has reached maximum capacity in Yemen because of a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days, Yemen’s health minister said.

Authorities are dealing with a shortage of intensive care equipment and oxygen tubes required to treat virus patients, Qasim Buhaibeh said on Twitter.

Buhaibeh urged Yemenis to comply with measures, wear masks and stay away from crowded places.

Germany blocks travel from Poland without negative test

Germany is classifying neighbouring Poland as a high-risk Covid-19 zone, meaning that people crossing the border from Poland will need a negative test.

From Sunday, people entering Germany from Poland will have to show a negative PCR or antigen test, according to the Robert Koch Institute, which has also placed Cyprus and Bulgaria in the same high risk category.

The three countries represent a "very high risk of infection" particularly because of the rate at which the virus is spreading there, namely beyond 200 new cases per 100,000 of the population in a week, the institute said.

Germany has also placed Austria's Tyrol state and the Czech Republic in the same category, as well as the French Moselle region, but without imposing permanent checks on the border with France.

At the same time, the institute removed the Portuguese Algarve region from its red list as it did recently with the Spanish island of Mallorca and the other Balearic islands, resulting in a surge in the supply of flights to these destinations.

Italy's government approves package for virus-hit economy

Italy's government has approved a $38-billion-dollar (32-billion-euro) economic relief package for coronavirus-stricken businesses and workers.

It included 11 billion euros of grants to worst-affected firms that will be paid out by the end of April, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a news conference.

Draghi called the decree a "partial answer" to those who are struggling with the fallout from the pandemic, "but the best that we could do" given budgetary constraints.

Around 8 billion euros were earmarked for welfare support, including for furloughed and unemployed workers, and almost 5 billion euros for vaccinations and the health sector.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies