Covid-19 has infected more than 128 million people and taken some 2.79 million lives. Here are virus-related developments for March 29.

Pakistan's President Arif Alvi (L) inspects the guard of honour during the military parade to mark Pakistan's National Day in Islamabad on March 25, 2021.
Pakistan's President Arif Alvi (L) inspects the guard of honour during the military parade to mark Pakistan's National Day in Islamabad on March 25, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Russia registers one-shot Sputnik Light vaccine for use

Russia's Health Ministry has registered the one-shot Sputnik-Light version of its vaccine for use, the TASS news agency reported.

Russia said last week that it had completed clinical trials for the slimmed-down vaccine, which it has cast as a possible temporary solution to help countries with high infection rates make the vaccine go further.

Moscow has said that its two-dose Sputnik V vaccine will remain the main version used in Russia. 

Johnson & Johnson says to start delivering Covid vaccine to Europe on April 19

Johnson & Johnson has said it will start delivering its single-shot vaccine to Europe on April 19, giving the continent a boost as it struggles to speed up its vaccination drive.

The pharmaceutical giant's jab was approved by European regulators in mid-March, following approval of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Kosovo PM gets first vaccine shot to encourage take-up

Prime Minister Albin Kurti has become the first person to get a vaccine shot at the start of Kosovo's inoculation campaign on Monday, saying he wanted to set an example that would encourage people to take part in the campaign.

Doctors and nurses lined up after Kurti in a sports hall in the capital Pristina to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Moderna says shipped 100M vaccine doses to US

Moderna Inc has said it shipped 100 million doses of its vaccine to the United States, of which 88 million have been delivered to date in the first quarter of 2021.

The company expects to meet its promise of delivering the second batch of 100 million doses by the end of May and the third batch by the end of July, by delivering 40-50 million doses per month.

Pakistan's president, defence minister test positive for virus

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi and Defense Minister Pervez Khattak have tested positive for the virus.

“I have tested positive for Covid-19. May Allah have mercy on all Covid affectees,” said Alvi on Twitter.

Alvi was administered the first dose of a vaccine on March 15. “But antibodies start developing after 2nd dose that was due in a week,” according to Alvi.

The country’s defence minister has also contracted the virus, said Imran Ismail, the governor of southern Sindh province.

Palestinians get Chinese-donated vaccines

Palestinians have received 100,000 doses of Sinopharm's vaccine donated by China to help broaden an initial campaign to vaccinate medical staff, the elderly and the chronically ill.

Palestinian health authorities have been mounting a limited vaccination drive among the 5.2 million people living in the Israel-occupied West Bank and Gaza, using vaccines provided by Israel, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.

So far, more than 69,000 Palestinians have received their first dose of the vaccine, and around 7,600 people have had both shots, according to a Health Ministry statement.

Turkey reports over 32,000 new cases, tightens measures

Turkey has reported  32,404 new cases, according to the Health Ministry.

A total of 32,404 infections, including 1,325 symptomatic patients, were confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

With 154 new related fatalities, the nationwide death toll has reached 31,230.

Turkish President Erdogan announced tighter measures, including a full weekend lockdown in place during the month of Ramadan, citing the rising number of high-risk cities across the country.

France reports 9,094 new cases 

France has reported 9,094 new cases and 360 deaths, Health Ministry data showed.

The number of patients in intensive care increased by 102 to 4,974, more than the 4,919 high of the second lockdown in mid-November. 

France's total confirmed cases rose to 4,554,683 and death toll to 68,957.

Italy reports over 12,900 new cases

Italy has reported 417 deaths against 297 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 12,916 from 19,611.

Italy registered 108,350 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 3.54 million cases to date.

UK reports 4,654 new cases

The United Kingdom has recorded a further 23 deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the last 28 days, and 4,654 new cases, official data showed.

The daily deaths figure is up from the 19 recorded on Sunday. The number of new cases marks an increase from the 3,862 recorded a day earlier.

The data also showed that 30.44 million people have now had a first dose of the vaccine, while 3.67 million have had a second dose. 

Ethiopia to get 300,000 doses of Sinopharm shot

Ethiopia has said it would receive 300,000 vaccine doses from China's state-backed China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

The Sinopharm doses are the first shots Ethiopia has secured outside the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative, Health Minister Lia Tadesse told Reuters in a text message.

In the past month, Ethiopia has recorded a 26 percent increase in coronavirus infections and deaths rose by 18 percent, Health Ministry data shows.

J&J in deal to supply vaccines to African Union member states

Johnson & Johnson said that its unit, Janssen Pharmaceuticals NV, entered into a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to make available up to 220 million doses of its single-shot vaccine candidate.

The company said that the delivery of these vaccines to African Union's 55 member states will begin in the third quarter of 2021.

India cases pass 12M mark

Indian authorities clamped down on one of the country's biggest Hindu festivals as the country passed 12 million cases with financial hub Mumbai recording its highest-ever rise in daily infections.

Public celebrations to mark Holi, a popular festival where people smear colour on each other, were banned in some states and territories, including the capital Delhi, over fears they could become 'super-spreader' events, with police patrolling streets in Mumbai to prevent large gatherings.

Merkel faults German 'perfectionism' for current virus woes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed her country's difficulties during the pandemic, from the slow vaccine rollout to the back-and-forth over lockdown rules, partly on “a tendency toward perfectionism” and called for greater flexibility to tackle the latest surge in cases.

In an hour-long TV interview with public broadcaster ARD late Sunday, Merkel acknowledged that mistakes were made by her government, including on plans for an Easter lockdown, which had to be reversed.

Slovenia reimposes restrictions

Slovenia, which had eased some of its restrictions in February, said that they would be reimposed until mid-April in view of the deteriorating situation in some neighbouring countries.

"We're in a race against time," Prime Minister Janez Jansa told a news conference, announcing the closure of shops selling non-essential items, as well as cultural and religious venues, a ban on public gatherings and limits on travel between April 1 and 12.

People would be asked to work from home where possible and schools would resume distance learning, he said.

Portugal extends Britain, Brazil flights suspension until mid-April

Portugal extended a suspension of flights to and from Britain and Brazil until April 15, with only humanitarian and repatriation flights allowed, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The country, which has so far reported 16,837 deaths and 820,407 cases, suspended flights to and from Brazil and the UK in January to prevent the spread of variants.

The new variant initially discovered in Britain was partly responsible for a devastating surge in cases at the start of 2021, putting hospitals under crippling strain.

English vaccine take-up lower in minority groups, ONS says

The take-up of vaccines was much lower among minority groups in the first three months of rollout in England, the Office for National Statistics said, amid concern the benefits of the programme are being unevenly felt.

Britain's vaccine rollout is the fourth fastest in the world, with more than 30 million having received a first dose, a success which Prime Minister Boris Johnson is using to cautiously reopen society and the economy.

However, there is concern that the rollout is unevenly distributed, and fewer numbers in some Black and south Asian groups, which have suffered higher death rates, have received a COVID-19 shot.

Russia's RDIF signs deal to produce Sputnik V vaccine in China

Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund and China's Shenzhen Yuanxing Gene-tech have agreed to produce over 60 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against the virus in China, RDIF said.

RDIF, which is marketing Sputnik V globally, said that commercial production was due to start in May. 

WHO warns against widening gap in vaccine distribution

The World Health Organization warned against a widening gap between numbers of virus vaccines in wealthy countries and those distributed to poorer nations through the global Covax initiative.

"The gap between the number of vaccines administered in rich countries, and the number of vaccines administered through Covax is growing every single day," UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"The unequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage, it's also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating," Tedros added, during a virtual conference hosted by the United Arab Emirates to address global immunisation.

Russia reports 8,711 cases

Russia reported 8,711 new virus cases, including 1,612 in Moscow, which pushed the national tally to 4,528,543 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus task force said that 293 deaths had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking its death toll to 98,033. 

Hong Kong to reopen pools, beaches as infections ease

Hong Kong will ease some restrictions, the government said, allowing swimming pools and beaches to open and shortening the quarantine period for some international arrivals to 14 days from 21.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told a press briefing that local infections had come down considerably, giving the administration room to relax some measures.

Beaches and swimming pools would reopen from April 1, while religious gatherings could resume with maximum capacity of 30 percent. Cinemas and theme parks would be able to increase capacity to 75 percent from 50 percent.

UK to provide sports with further $68.88M in support package

The UK government said it is providing a further $68.88 million in support grants for sports in the latest tranche of its winter survival package to help deal with the financial impact of the pandemic.

The government said in a statement that horse racing, rugby league, speedway and drag racing would receive a combined $55 million, while National League soccer clubs across Steps 1-6 will get $13.7 million.

Hungary says broad reopening may come in late May, June

Hungary may hold off from broad reopening measures until half of its population is vaccinated, the minister responsible for healthcare said late on Sunday, flagging the possibility of a longer lockdown as the country grapples with record infections.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces an election in 2022, is balancing the world's highest daily per capita coronavirus death rates, according to Johns Hopkins University, with a need to reopen the economy to avoid a second year of deep recession.

Taiwan says no progress in BioNTech vaccine talks

There has been no progress on talks to seal a deal with Germany's BioNTech SE for its vaccine though talks are continuing, Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said.

Taiwan complained last month that the firm had pulled out of a deal to sell it 5 million doses at the last minute, possibly due to Chinese pressure. BioNTech responded by saying it did plan on providing the vaccine.

China administers 106.61M vaccines as of March 28

China carried out about 4.20 million vaccinations against the virus on March 28, bringing the total number administered to 106.61 million, according to data released by the National Health Commission on Monday.

Euro zone bond yields hold firm as cases rise

Euro zone government bond yields steadied in early Monday trading while the German debt took a breather after notching up its best weekly performance in 3.5 months as rising virus cases sent investors scurrying back to safe-haven assets.

Core euro zone bond yields have fallen in recent weeks as a resurgence in cases of virus and new lockdowns in Germany, France and elsewhere, rattle investor confidence in the region's economic recovery.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend pressured states to step up their pandemic response to try to stem the rise in cases.

Philippines locks down economic hub to fight virus surge

More than 24 million people in the Philippines' economic hub entered a lockdown, as officials warned the week-long restrictions could be extended if coronavirus infections do not fall.

People have been ordered to stay home unless they are essential workers as Metro Manila – the national capital region – and four neighbouring provinces struggle to curb a surge that has strained hospitals.

Only hours into the latest lockdown imposed on the region – which accounts for around half of the country's economic activity – the health department's epidemiology chief Alethea de Guzman warned it could be prolonged to bring about a "sustained" drop.

WHO report says animals likely source of Covid-19

A joint WHO-China study on the origins of Covid-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.

The findings were largely as expected and left many questions unanswered. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

The report’s release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China.

UK resumes outdoor gatherings as lockdown eases

The United Kingdom enters the second phase of its lockdown easing thanks to a successful vaccination drive, but the government is urging vigilance as another wave sweeps Europe.

After schools reopened on March 8, England's stay-at-home order will be relaxed to enable outdoor gatherings of up to six people, or two households, in what newspapers are dubbing "Happy Monday".

Germany registers 9,872 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 9,872 to 2,782,273, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 43 to 75,913, the tally showed. 

North Macedonia gets vaccines from Covax

North Macedonia got the first batch of 24,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines out of a total 100,000 that are expected to arrive through the COVAX system by April.

North Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce, accompanied by the US and EU ambassadors, welcomed the vaccine shipment at the country’s main airport near the capital Skopje.

He said the first 20,000 people to be immunised are over 75s and the chronically ill. The vaccination process will start Wednesday.

First batch of Covax vaccines arrive in Kosovo

The first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Covax facility arrived in Kosovo, the last country in the continent yet to start inoculation.

Authorities said they got 24,000 vaccines through the Covax system which will be used for medical personnel, elderly people and those with chronic diseases.

Kosovar health authorities have reported 87,981 total confirmed cases and 1,840 confirmed deaths from the virus as of Monday.

China reports 15 cases 

China reported 15 new virus cases in the mainland for March 28, up from eight a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 18 from 19 a day earlier.

Mexico says deaths likely 60 percent higher than confirmed toll

Mexico's death toll from the pandemic is likely at least 60 percent higher than the confirmed number, putting it in excess of 300,000, according to government data.

Updated figures on excess mortality in a table published by Mexico's Health Ministry showed that by the end of the sixth week of this year, 294,287 fatalities "associated with Covid-19" had been registered on death certificates in Mexico.

That was 61.4 percent higher than the confirmed death toll of 182,301 given as a comparison in the same table.

South Korea approves J&J vaccine

A panel of South Korean advisers recommended a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson was safe and effective, the food and drug safety ministry said, moving the single-dose shot a step closer to receiving regulatory approval.

When granted a greenlight, the J&J vaccine will be the third  vaccine authorised in South Korea, following ones from AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech, both of which require two doses.

Japan vaccine czar says inoculation pace to accelerate in May

Japan's vaccine minister, Taro Kono, said that the pace of inoculation in the country would accelerate in May, with 10 million doses expected to be imported every week that month.

"Starting in May, there will be no bottleneck in supply," Kono told Reuters in an interview. Officially the minister in charge of administrative reform, Kono was tapped in January to lead Japan's vaccination push.

Japan started its vaccination campaign last month, later than most major economies and dependent on imported doses of Pfizer Inc's vaccine.

Abu Dhabi to produce Sinopharm vaccine

A new pharmaceutical plant in Abu Dhabi will start making a vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm later this year under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42 (G42).

The plant, which is being built in the Khalifa Industrial Zone of Abu Dhabi (KIZAD), will eventually have a production capacity of 200 million doses a year with three filling lines and five automated packaging lines, a statement from the joint venture said on Monday.

UN chief Guterres flags virus debt crisis for developing world

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world faces intense issues of debt sustainability because of the virus crisis that have not been properly understood or addressed, the Financial Times reported.

"The response to Covid and to the financial aspects [of the crisis] has been fragmented, and geopolitical divides are not helping," Guterres told the FT.

Countries such as Brazil and South Africa had borrowed heavily from domestic lenders rather than from foreign investors, at interest rates much higher than those available to rich countries, making the dangers less visible than in previous emerging market debt crises, according to Guterres.

Australia's Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown

Australian authorities announced a snap three-day COVID-19 lockdown in the northern city of Brisbane from Monday afternoon, as they attempt to stamp out an outbreak of the virulent UK variant of the virus.

About 2 million people in the city, the country's third largest and the capital of Queensland state, will be required to stay home from 5 p.m. local time except for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise.

State officials reported four new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases on Monday, taking the cluster of cases linked to the UK variant to seven. The first case in the new cluster was reported on Friday.

Brazil cases top 12.5 million

Brazil recorded 1,656 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and 44,326 additional cases, the Health Ministry said, taking the total case count above 12.5 million.

Brazil's official death toll now stands at 312,206, according to ministry data.

Chile postpones April election on new constitution 

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has said he will ask Congress to postpone the election of an assembly to write a new constitution for the country from April until May, due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

The country has seen a fresh wave of infections since the end of Southern Hemisphere summer vacation season last month.

"The elections that were to be held on Saturday April 10 and Sunday April 11, will be held on the weekend of Saturday the 16th of May," Pinera said in a televised speech.

The vote is to elect not only members of the Constituent Assembly, in charge of writing a fresh constitution, but governors and mayors as well.

Colombia reports cases in shelters for Venezuelan refugees

Colombian health authorities have detected four coronavirus infections in three shelters in Arauquita set up for refugees who have fled clashes between the military and illegal armed groups in Venezuela, the local mayor said.

Hundreds of Venezuelans are arriving in Colombia each day, worsening a humanitarian crisis spread across 18 makeshift shelters and forcing national, provincial and local authorities to team up with international organizations - such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - to coordinate efforts.

"We're already beginning to see a new crisis, which we knew could happen, that the health crisis would begin to appear, with Covid cases that we hope will be controlled quickly and will not overwhelm us," Etelivar Torres, the mayor of Arauquita, told Reuters.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies