The coronavirus has killed over 2.5 million people and infected almost 115 million globally. Here are the virus-related developments for March 2:

A man receives a dose of COVISHIELD, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, in New Delhi, India, March 1, 2021.
A man receives a dose of COVISHIELD, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, in New Delhi, India, March 1, 2021. (Reuters)

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Merck to help produce J&J vaccine

A Biden administration official says drugmaker Merck will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly-approved coronavirus vaccine.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.

The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose vaccine. Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and only produced 3.9 million doses ahead of its receiving emergency use authorisation on Saturday. The company says it is on pace to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

Tunisia detects first cases of British coronavirus variant

Tunisia has recorded its first cases of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain, the health ministry said.

The ministry did not give further details.

Venezuela receives donated coronavirus vaccine from China

 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that 500,000 doses of China's Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine had arrived in the South American country, along with protective material for medical personnel.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez received the shipment on Monday night, state media reported.

"The Chinese vaccine will reinforce the immunisation process," Maduro said on Twitter late on Monday.

Norway may tighten national restrictions against virus, says health minister

Norway may tighten national restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the country's health minister said.

The Nordic country has one of the lowest rates of infections in Europe but a recent resurgence in new cases, particularly in the capital Oslo where the more contagious variant first identified in Britain now dominates, is a cause for concern for authorities.

"We could be seeing the beginning of a third wave," Bent Hoeie told a news conference.

Spain to buy 17 million more doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine as part of EU contract

Spain will buy 17 million more doses of the coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna as part of a new contract negotiated by the European Union, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said.

The government intends to have 70 percent of the 47 million population vaccinated by the summer, she reiterated, adding that 1.3 million people in Spain were fully vaccinated so far. 

India vaccine drive expands to those over age 60

An estimated 10 million people in India have registered to get vaccinated since the country expanded its vaccination drive beyond health care and frontline workers.

India’s health ministry says 5 million registrations had been recorded in an online system for registrations, and on average each registration is for two people to get the shots. In the past 24 hours, India has vaccinated more than 200,000 people who are above the age of 60 or have underlying medical conditions.

Bosnia gets 10,000 vaccines from Serbia

Bosnia has received 10,000 vaccines from neighbouring Serbia amid a dispute with the international COVAX mechanism over a delay in planned shipments.

Bosnia has threatened to sue the program unless the vaccines arrive as agreed. The country has asked for 1.2 million vaccines that would cover about one third of its population.

France uses only quarter of Astrazeneca vaccine doses –ministry 

France has used only a quarter of its AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses, a health ministry official indicated, saying its utilisation rate stood at 24 percent as of February 28, well below a target set at 80-85 percent.

This compares with 82 percent for vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and 37 percent for those made by Moderna.

"It is true that we are facing issues with AstraZeneca vaccines," the official said without elaborating.

Ukraine's president takes vaccine to reassure sceptics

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a coronavirus vaccine shot during a visit to the frontline in the eastern Donbass region, hoping to reassure sceptics that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Lagging behind the rest of Europe, Ukraine has only just started vaccinating its 41 million people after receiving its first batch of 500,000 Indian-made AstraZeneca shots last month, prioritising frontline healthcare workers and the military.

Sweden records 11,804 new vieus cases, 56 deaths since Friday

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 11,804 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed.

The figure compared with 10,933 cases during the corresponding period last week.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 56 new deaths, against 64 the corresponding period last week, taking the total to 12,882. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

142 countries to get 237 million vaccines doses from COVAX by end May  WHO

Some 237 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine are expected to be delivered to 142 countries by the end of May through the COVAX facility, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told a news conference that vaccine deliveries were planned on Tuesday to Angola, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

Ghana's president Nana Akufo-Addo said his West African country, which has begun its innoculation campaign with COVAX doses, aimed to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2021.

Hungary must prepare for surge in Covid-19 cases 

Hungary must prepare for a surge in Covid-19 cases during a third wave of the pandemic due to the spread of the British and South African variants of the novel coronavirus, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller said.

As of Monday, Hungary had detected five cases of the South African variant of the virus, she said.

"The pandemic is progressing at an enormous pace throughout Europe and in Hungary, the number of cases rises day after day as well, even as 721,000 people had already received (at least) the first dose of a vaccine," Muller told an online news briefing.

Malaysia approves Sinovac, AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines for use

Malaysia granted conditional approval for the use of vaccines made by UK firm AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac, just days after launching its nationwide Covid-19 inoculation programme.

Malaysia began its vaccination drive on February 24 using a shot developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as it tries to rein in a spike in infections and help revive an economy that recorded its worst slump in more than two decades last year.

The conditional approval means Malaysia will use the vaccines developed by Astrazeneca and Sinovac, but both firms, along with Pfizer, will be required to provide additional data on rolling submissions to ensure the vaccines' effectiveness and safety, health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.

Pakistan extends flight bans on UK, South Africa

Pakistan’s civil aviation authority is extending restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and some other countries until March 14 to avoid the spread of more contagious new coronavirus variants.

The measures were imposed in January after other countries also applied restrictions on travel from Britain and South Africa.

Later Pakistan also imposed similar restrictions on travel from Portugal, Netherlands, Tanzania, Botswana, Columbia, Comoros, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Zambia, Brazil and Mozambique. These restrictions are to remain until March 14.

10 percent of dangerous non-food product alerts Covid-19-related

The European Commission says nearly 10 percent of all alerts for dangerous non-food products sold on the EU market last year were related to Covid-19.

The EU’s executive arm released data on its alert system designed to take off dangerous items off the market. According to the annual report, 9 percent of all alerts raised in 2020 were related to coronavirus products, “mostly masks meant to protect but failing to do so.” The commission also mentioned disinfectants containing toxic chemicals or UV sanitisers exposing users to radiation.

Austria to stop relying only to EU for vaccines

Austria’s leader says his country and Denmark intend to stop relying solely on the European Union for coronavirus vaccines and will work with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz plans to visit Israel with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on vaccine research and production cooperation.

Sri Lanka decides on island to bury Covid-19 dead

Sri Lanka’s government said that it has earmarked a small island off the northern coast to bury the bodies of those who die of Covid-19.

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said health authorities are now preparing rules for safe burial at Iranaithivu island.

The government last month approved burials for Covid-19 victims after insisting that it may contaminate ground water. All those died of the disease were cremated, a rule resisted by many as insensitive toward religious beliefs, especially of the Muslims.

The matter also became a topic at the ongoing UN human rights council sessions.

South Korea expands contact tracing 

South Korean authorities are expanding contact tracing and inspecting safety conditions in thousands of factories following a growing spread of the coronavirus among migrant workers.

Lim Seung-kwan, a doctor who heads anti-virus efforts at Gyeonggi Province, near capital Seoul, said at least 84 foreigners tested positive over the weekend in the city of Dongducheon, one of eight locations where the province set up testing stations for migrant workers.

Lim said Gyeonggi has also launched an inspection into the conditions at some 11,000 factories in the region that hire migrant workers and have them live in dormitories.

Alarm rises over surging infections in Serbia

Serbia’s epidemiologists have called for the government to introduce a state of emergency and a strict lockdown to halt a surge in coronavirus infections in the Balkan country.

The numbers of daily new cases have been rising sharply in the nation of 7 million despite a mass inoculation campaign that has reached 1 million people already.

Chief epidemiologist Predrag Kon told the state RTS television that “we must ban contacts or we will break, and then realise what it means when the health system collapses.”

Health authorities say more than 4,000 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised in Serbia and the country is reporting a few thousand new cases daily.

Russia reports 10,565 new cases

Russia has reported 10,565 new cases of Covid-19, including 1,277 infections in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,268,215.

Authorities said 441 people had died during the past 24 hours, which pushed the official death toll to 86,896.

Germany to extend virus lockdown until March 28

Germany is planning to extend its coronavirus lockdown until March 28 while easing some restrictions from next week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to discuss lockdown and easing options with the 16 state heads on Wednesday, as coronavirus cases in Germany hit more than 2.4 million and public frustration mounts over restrictive measures and a sluggish vaccine roll-out.

The draft document, seen by Reuters, states that starting from March 8 a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet, up from a maximum of two people under current rules.

UK's Prince Philip remains in hospital after two weeks

Britain's Prince Philip was receiving treatment and undergoing heart tests , two weeks after the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth has been admitted to hospital in London as a precaution after he felt unwell.

Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was transferred  from the private King Edward VII hospital to St Bartholomew's Hospital, which is a centre of excellence for cardiac care, for tests for a pre-existing heart condition and treatment for an unspecified infection which is not Covid-related.

His 14-night stay in hospital is the longest he has needed treatment, although Buckingham Palace has said he is comfortable and responding to treatment.

Moderna to apply as early as Friday for Japan vaccine approval

 Moderna Inc is set to apply for Japanese government approval of its coronavirus vaccine as early as Friday, Kyodo News has  reported.

Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co is handling domestic approval and imports of the Moderna shot and local production of Novavax Inc's vaccine.

Iraq receives first batch of vaccines from China

Iraq has  received its first 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm  vaccine donated by China as the country is struggling to cope with a new surge of the disease.

An Iraqi military transport plane carrying the first batch of the vaccines from China landed at Baghdad International Airport late on Monday.

The doses will be offered to health workers, elderly people and members of the security forces first, the Iraqi health ministry said in a statement.

Nigeria's first vaccines land in capital city of Abuja

Nigeria's first Covid-19 vaccines, Oxford/AstraZeneca shots from the international COVAX scheme has landed in the capital city Abuja.

The 3.92 million doses will kick off the arduous task of inoculating Africa's most populous nation.

Nigeria, with 200 million residents, is the third West African country to take delivery of COVAX shots, after Ghana and Ivory Coast, both of which have already begun vaccination campaigns.

Twitter to label vaccine misinformation

Twitter has said it will start labelling misleading tweets about Covid-19 vaccines and boot users who persist in spreading such misinformation.

The one-to-many messaging service introduced a "strike system" that will gradually escalate to a permanent ban after the fifth offending tweet.

"We believe the strike system will help to educate the public on our policies and further reduce the spread of potentially harmful and misleading information on Twitter," the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.

"Particularly for repeated moderate and high-severity violations of our rules."

Twitter users will be notified when a tweet is labeled as misleading or needs to be removed for breaking the platform's rules, earning a strike, according to the company.

Indonesia says identifies two cases of British variant

Indonesia has detected two cases of the more infectious Covid-19 variant first discovered in Britain.

The spokesman for the country's Covid-19 task force Wiku Adisasmito declined to comment further on the new variant, known as B117.

US must stick to two-shot strategy for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines- Fauci

The United States must stick to a two-dose strategy for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci has told the Washington Post newspaper.

Fauci said that delaying a second dose to inoculate more Americans creates risks.

He warned that shifting to a single-dose strategy for the vaccines could leave people less protected, enable variants to spread and possibly boost skepticism among Americans already hesitant to get the shots.

He added that he spoke with UK health officials on Monday who have opted to delay second doses to maximize giving more people shots more quickly. Fauci said that strategy would not make sense in the United States.

China aims to vaccinate 40 percent of population by end-July

China is aiming to vaccinate 40 percent of its population against Covid-19 by the end of July, requiring a significant increase in inoculations even as it ramps up exports of vaccines.

Zhong Nanshan, a coronavirus expert who helped shape China's Covid19 response, said  the current ratio of vaccine doses administered per 100 people in China is 3.56, much lower than those in Israel, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

In an online forum held by China's Tsinghua University and the Washington-based Brookings Institution on Monday, Zhong said the target was 40% by the end of June, citing his contacts at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Germany reports 4,732 new cases 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 4,732 to 2,447,068.

The reported death toll rose by 60 to 70,105,  the data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

Philippines reports first cases of  South African variant

The Philippines has documented six cases of the South African coronavirus variant raising concern among its experts that the current vaccines might be less effective.

The Philippines started its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, an important milestone for a country among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, but the discovery of another variant could complicate its recovery effort.

Of the six cases with the South African variant, three were detected locally and two were Filipinos returning from overseas. The origin of the other case was still being verified.

The Philippines has so far found 87 cases with the more transmissible variant.

WHO: World won't vanquish virus this year

It is unrealistic to think the world will be done with the pandemic by the end of the year, the World Health Organization warned.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said it might however be possible to take the tragedy out of the crisis by reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

But the virus remains in control, he added, especially given that global new case numbers increased last week after six consecutive weeks of decline.

"It will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year," Ryan told journalists.

"But I think what we can finish with, if we're smart, is the hospitalisations, the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic."

Ryan said that vaccinating front-line health care workers and those most vulnerable to severe disease would "take the fear... out of the pandemic."

But he added that recent progress could not be taken for granted and "right now the virus is very much in control."

Brazilian states blast Bolsonaro over pandemic during worst phase yet

Disgruntled with President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of a pandemic in its most severe phase, 16 Brazilian governors accused the far-right leader of misleading the country and state authorities urged a nationwide curfew and closure of airports.

A year after Brazil's outbreak began, it has killed over 255,000 Brazilians and yet little more than 3% of the 210 million population has been vaccinated, raising criticism of Bolsonaro for failing to secure timely supplies of vaccines.

Last week was the deadliest yet for Brazil's outbreak, averaging nearly 1,200 confirmed deaths per day according to Health Ministry data.

Intensive care units in the country's main cities have reached critical occupancy levels not seen since the first peak of the pandemic last July.

State governors have again adopted restrictions limiting all but essential services, including in Brazil's capital city, Brasilia, which decreed a 24-hour lockdown.

Colombia 1st in Americas to get vaccines from UN programme

Colombia became the first country in the Americas to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccines from the United Nations-backed Covax initiative, a program meant to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are inoculated but that has so far struggled to assist nations around the globe.

The arrival of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the South American country’s capital, Bogota, came a few days after the anniversary of the first case found in the region.

The Pan American Health Organization said it expects to in crease vaccine access in the region through the Covax effort each month, with plans to bring about 280 million vaccines to the Americas and the Caribbean by the end of the year.

States in US ease restrictions despite warnings

With the US vaccination drive picking up speed and a third formula on the way, states eager to reopen for business are easing restrictions despite warnings from health experts that the outbreak is far from over and that moving too quickly could prolong the misery.

The push to reopen comes as vaccine shipments to the states are ramping up. Nearly 20% of the nation’s adults, or over 50 million people, have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 10% have been fully inoculated 2.5 months into the campaign to snuff out the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

France, Germany struggle to sell AstraZeneca vaccine safety

French and German authorities are fighting to convince more people that AstraZeneca's vaccine is just as effective as others.

Stocks of the vaccines from the British-Swedish firm are going unused in both countries despite the desire to end a pandemic that has sparked a social and economic calamity on a scale not seen since World War II.

Only 273,000 doses of the jab developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University have been administered in France out of 1.7 million received as of end-February, according to health ministry figures.

The poor take-up comes even as the target group for the jabs, health workers over 50 and people with other serious health risks, can get the vaccine directly from their doctor instead of waiting for appointments at vaccination centres.

Experts say it is also cheaper to produce than the two other vaccines approved for Europe, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and does not require ultracold storage, making it easier to deploy.

But both France and Germany had refused to authorise AstraZeneca's vaccine for people over 65, fanning fears over its effectiveness.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies