Covid-19 has infected over 167M people and has killed more than 3.4M globally. Here are virus-related developments for May 24:

Vials labelled
Vials labelled "Sputnik V coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine" are seen in this illustration picture taken on May 2, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday, May 24: 

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine highly effective against Brazil virus variant

Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine is highly effective in fighting off and neutralising the aggressive coronavirus variant first discovered in Brazil, according to Russia's Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and a study conducted by researchers in Argentina.

Brazil's P1 coronavirus variant, behind a deadly Covid-19 surge in Brazil, has spread throughout hard-hit Latin America. Scientists in Brazil have found that the variant's mutations could make it more resistant to antibodies, raising international concern over its potential to render vaccines less effective.

The Argentina-based study, carried out by the Dr Vanella Institute of Virology of the National University of Cordoba (UNC), however, found a strong immune response against the variant in those vaccinated with Sputnik V.

"The study confirmed that the immunity developed in people vaccinated with 'Sputnik V' neutralises the Brazilian strain after having received two doses, and even after the first," the RDIF said in a statement on Monday.

More than 28M vaccine shots administered in Turkey

Turkey has administered over 28.06 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine since the launch of a mass vaccination campaign on January 14, according to official figures.

As of Monday, more than 16.05 million people have received their first doses, while over 12 million have been fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry also confirmed 7,523 new coronavirus cases, including 702 symptomatic patients, across the country in the last 24 hours.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 5.19 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 46,446 with 178 new fatalities over the past day.

As many as 10,003 more patients won the battle against the virus, taking the total number of recoveries past 5.03 million.

Over 52.5 million coronavirus tests have been done to date.

The latest figures show that the number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition stands at 1,745.

White House says cannot confirm report on Covid-19 origins

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that the United States could not confirm a Wall Street Journal report on the origins of Covid-19 and needed more information.

Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, a month before China reported the first cases of Covid-19, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing a US intelligence report.

Psaki said the United States hopes the World Health Organization can move into a more transparent investigation of the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

China rejects claim of illness at Wuhan lab in late 2019

China has dismissed as "totally untrue" reports that three researchers in Wuhan went to hospital with an illness shortly before the coronavirus emerged in the city and spread around the globe.

Since infecting its first victims in the central Chinese city in late 2019, the pathogen has afflicted almost every country in the world, killing more than 3.4 million people and pummelling national economies.

Beijing has always fiercely fought the theory that it could have escaped from one of its laboratories.

Citing a US intelligence report, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the trio from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were affected as early as November 2019, suffering from "symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness".

China disclosed the existence of an outbreak of pneumonia cases in Wuhan to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019.

Asked about the reports on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described them as "totally untrue".

Bahrain daily virus deaths hit record as cases surge

Bahrain's Health Ministry has reported 23 deaths from Covid-19, the highest daily toll in the small island nation which has seen a surge in coronavirus cases to record levels.

The Gulf Arab state last week restricted access to most public venues to immunised people after the spike in infections, which authorities mostly blamed on large gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and Eid holiday.

Bahrain, a country of 1.7 million people, had on Sunday recorded 3,177 new Covid-19 infections and 11 deaths. That took its tally to more than 218,000 cases with over 800 deaths.

Earlier this month authorities said they would expand the country's vaccination campaign to include adolescents aged 12-17.

UK records 2,439 new cases, three deaths

Britain has recorded 2,439 new cases of Covid-19, and said there had been three deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

The government figures also showed 38,070,038 people had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Italy reports 110 deaths, 2,490 new cases

Italy has reported 110 coronavirus-related deaths against 72 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 2,490 from 3,995.

Italy has registered 125,335 deaths linked to Covid-19 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 4.19 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 8,950 on Monday, down from 9 ,161 a day earlier.

There were 48 new admissions to intensive care units, same as Sunday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 1,382 from a previous 1,410.

Some 107,481 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 179,391, the health ministry said.

Malta leads EU with 70 percent Covid vaccine coverage

Malta, which leads the European Union in coronavirus vaccinations, will on Monday reach its target of giving 70 percent of adults at least one dose, the health minister announced.

The Mediterranean island, which has a population of around 500,000, declared it had reached "herd immunity" -- although the EU's definition for such a milestone is tougher.

After around 475,000 doses, around 42 percent of the population is fully vaccinated with both doses of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine, or with a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials said .

China offers vaccines, medical experts to Taiwan to fight Covid

The Chinese government has offered to urgently send Covid-19 vaccines and medical experts to Taiwan to help it battle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, but drew a swift and angry response from Taipei.

China and Chinese-claimed Taiwan have sparred repeatedly during the pandemic.

Thailand to extend dose gap for AstraZeneca vaccine to 16 weeks

Thailand will extend the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine to 16 weeks, in an effort to inoculate more people faster, a senior health official said on Monday.

The plan follows a similar decision by Spain to stretch the gap between two AstraZeneca doses to 16 weeks, which is beyond the 12 weeks maximum interval approved by the European Medicines Agency. A 16-week interval has not been tested in human trials.

Thailand's change, from a 10-week gap previously, comes ahead of the planned start of a mass immunisation campaign from June, for which AstraZeneca's vaccine will be the main one used.

Singapore airport tightens measures after Covid-19 outbreak

Singapore's airport has said that it was stepping up measures to keep out the coronavirus, including further segregating arrivals and about 14,000 workers into different risk zones, after it became the country's largest active Covid-19 cluster.

The Changi airport cluster, which involves over 100 cases, may have initially spread through a worker who helped an infected family arriving in the country, according to authorities. Some of the cases included the B.1.617 variant first detected in India.

Workers in the highest risk zone - the terminal piers, arrival immigration hall and baggage claim - will be vaccinated, segregated from other staff, given full protective clothing and subject to enhanced testing, the airport operator said in a statement.

Passengers from very high-risk countries will be escorted through immigration to their quarantine facilities without going through the other terminals, it said.

Malaysia probes allegations of under-dosage of Covid-19 shots

Malaysia has said that it was investigating allegations that some recipients of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine were not injected with the correct dosage.

At least two recipients have said in recent days that they were given less than the required amount, posting videos on social media of the jab being administered to support their claim.

The health ministry did not say whether the recipients of the vaccines were under-dosed, but said it took serious note of the allegations and announced new rules for medical personnel administering the jab.

The injector should show the syringe filled with the right amount of vaccine to the recipient before the jab and the emptied one after, the ministry said.

Russia reports 8,406 new cases, 319 deaths

Russia has reported 8,406 new Covid-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, including 2,487 in Moscow, pushing the national infection tally to 5,009,911 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 319 people had died of coronavirus-related causes, taking its death toll to 118,801. The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and said that Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths related to Covid-19 from April 2020 to March 2021. 

Covid shadow hangs over WHO international meet

Calls for World Health Organization reform and steps to avert future pandemics feature high on the agenda as the UN agency kicks off its annual member state meeting on Monday.

With the virus crisis still raging and wealthy nations continuing to hoard most doses of life-saving vaccines, the WHO's main decision-making body will have plenty to discuss.

The 74th World Health Assembly (WHA) will begin Monday with statements from national leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, health ministers and other high-level representatives of the WHO's 194 member states.

The discussions run until June 1 focussing heavily on efforts to rein in the pandemic and on calls to revamp the entire global health approach to help prevent future Covid-like catastrophes. 

Mexico reports lowest daily death toll in over a year

Mexico's health ministry registered 50 new confirmed deaths, the lowest daily increase reported from the pandemic in over a year, according to government data.

The rise, which brought the official death toll to 221,647, was the smallest since the final Sunday of April 2020, and it follows a steady decline in new daily infections in Mexico during recent weeks as a vaccine roll-out gathers pace.

Mexico has said the real number of deaths and infections is likely considerably higher than the official tally.

Taiwan says considering extending virus alert level

Taiwan is considering extending its second highest virus alert that was due to expire at the end of the week, the health minister said on Monday, as he reported a further increase in domestic cases despite tighter social restrictions.

However, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung also said an infection peak was registered last Monday and should continue to decline.

"Judging from the trend of confirmed cases, it seems that the peak has reached a certain point," Chen said.

Taiwan has been batt ling a rise in infections after months of relative safety, shocking a population used to living with few restrictions, though the total case numbers remain low compared to some other parts of the world.

Japan's Osaka city crumples under virus onslaught

Hospitals in Japan's second largest city of Osaka are buckling under a huge wave of new infections, running out of beds and ventilators as exhausted doctors warn of a "system collapse", and advise against holding the Olympics this summer.

Japan's western region home to 9 million people is suffering the brunt of the fourth wave of the pandemic, accounting for a third of the nation's death toll in May, although it constitutes just 7% of its population.

The speed at which Osaka's healthcare system was overwhelmed underscores the challenges of hosting a major global sports event in two months' time, particularly as only about half of Japan's medical staff have completed inoculations.

"Simply put, this is a collapse of the medical system," said Yuji Tohda, the director of Kindai University Hospital in Osaka.

"The highly infectious British variant and slipping alertness have led to this explosive growth in the number of patients."

Pressure to accept China vaccines intensifies in Taiwan

A surge in domestic cases in Taiwan after months of relative safety is intensifying pressure on the government to accept vaccines from China, as the island has vaccinated just 1% of the population with no immediate sign of new shots arriving.

The Chinese-claimed island and Beijing have repeatedly sparred over the pandemic since it began.

Taipei accuses Beijing of spreading fake news and preventing its full participation at the World Health Organization, while Beijing says Taipei is playing political games with its people's lives by refusing Chinese vaccines.

Taiwan has only received about 700,000 vaccine doses to date, all from AstraZeneca Plc, which are rapidly running out. It has millions more on order, including from Moderna Inc. 

Rohingya camps in Bangladesh report single-day high 

Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh recorded the highest number of single-day cases Sunday with 49 new infections, pushing the total tally to 992.

After testing 312 Rohingya, 49 were reported positive in the last 24 hours, the office of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission er (RRRC) said in a report released Sunday night.

The death toll among Rohingya from the virus in the world’s largest refugee camps also rose to 15, including two fatalities recorded in the last two days, the report added.

Bangladesh is home to more than 1.2 million stateless Rohingya, most of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.

India has third highest virus death toll in the world

India crossed another grim milestone of more than 300,000 people lost to the virus as a devastating surge of new infections that exploded with fury has shown signs of easing.

The milestone, as recorded by India's health ministry, comes as slowed vaccine deliveries have marred the country's fight against the pandemic, forcing many to miss their shots, and a rare but fatal fungal infection affecting infected patients has worried doctors.

India's death toll is the third-highest reported in the world, accounting for 8.6% of the nearly 34.7 million fatalities globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater.

The health ministry Monday reported 4,454 new death in the last 24 hours, bringing India's total fatalities to 303,720. It also reported 222,315 new infections, which raised the overall total to nearly 27 million. Both are almost certainly undercounts.

Taiwan blames China for latest WHO meeting snub

Taiwan hit out at China over its continued exclusion from a crucial annual gathering of World Health Organization members which starts this week and is focused on averting the next pandemic catastrophe.

The 74th World Health Assembly, which kicks off Monday, will arguably be one of the most important in the WHO's history, amid calls to revamp the organisation and the entire global approach to health in the wake of the pandemic.

But Taiwan -- which had one of the world's best pandemic responses -- remains locked out of the meeting for the fifth consecutive year, despite growing global international support for its inclusion.

That is because China, which views the self-ruled democracy as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, has waged an increasingly assertive campaign to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage.

Japan opens mass vaccination centres ahead of Olympics

Japan opened its first mass vaccination centres on Monday in a bid to speed up a cautious virus inoculation programme with just two months until the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The two military-run centres in Tokyo and Osaka will administer thousands of shots daily, initially to elderly residents of the cities, as the country battles a fourth wave of virus cases.

Just two percent of Japan's population of 125 million are fully vaccinated so far -- compared to around 40 percent in the United States and 15 percent in France.

Criticism has been mounting over the relatively slow rollout, hindered by strict medical rules and complex bureaucracy, but the first people to get a jab at the Tokyo centre said they were excited to move on with their lives.

Aussie skateboarders test positive in Games setback

A team of Australian skateboarders was disqualified from an Olympic qualifying event in the United States after three positive tests in their group.

Two skateboarders, including 13-year-old Charlotte Heath, and a coach tested positive in the United States, and others in the group were ruled out of the qualifier in Des Moines, Iowa, because they were deemed close contacts of the coach.

Melbourne skater Heath revealed on social media that she had tested positive. The identity of the other skater to test positive was still unclear.

"My understanding is the 13-year-old is very well supported by her sport and also ... by her parents or a parent over there," Australia's Olympic Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman told reporters on the Gold Coast on Monday.

SoftBank CEO slams Olympics as Japan races to catch up on vaccinations

Japanese tycoon Masayoshi Son warned of significant dangers around holding the Olympics in Tokyo, where the government on Monday kicked off a mass vaccination drive to catch up with other countries and ensure a “safe and secure” Games.

In a series of tweets, the influential SoftBank Group CEO expressed bewilderment and concern about the Tokyo Olympics, calling Japan a “vaccine laggard” and saying the slow inoculation drive less than two months before the start of the Games could put people’s lives at risk.

“Currently more than 80% of people want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled. Who and on what authority is it being forced through?” the billionaire executive wrote in a Twitter post in Japanese over the weekend.

Samsung BioLogics shares rise after agrees to make Moderna vaccine

Shares in South Korean drug contract manufacturer Samsung BioLogics rose as much as 5.2% in early Monday trade, after it agreed to fill-finish manufacture Moderna's vaccine.

The agreement was part of Moderna Inc and Novavax Inc entering into a deal with the South Korean government to manufacture their virus vaccines.

The wider market was down 0.2% as of 0007 GMT.

England pilots new support initiatives to boost self-isolating in higher virus areas

New support initiatives will be piloted in nine areas of England with higher virus rates, including from variants, as part of government efforts to boost testing and self-isolation, the health ministry said on Monday.

The incidence of infections in Britain is still low but clusters of the Indian variant, believed to be more transmissible than the dominant Kent variant, are growing, and could derail plans to further ease lockdown measures.

A total of $17 million will be provided by government for accommodation for those in overcrowded households, social care support and communications assistance for those who don't have English as their first language, among other steps.

Funding will go to several areas including Yorkshire, Lancashire and the London borough of Hackney.

British employers call for economic transformation

British employers called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday to overhaul regulation and tax rules to help them meet the challenges of Brexit, the post-pandemic recovery and preparing for a net-zero carbon economy.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said 2021 should be a turning point for economic policy to break the pattern of weak productivity that has weighed on growth for more than a decade.

“This country will never have a greater opportunity to transform our economy and society,” CBI Director-General Tony Danker said. “This is the moment where we have a genuine chance to make big bets on how the UK economy will grow and compete.”

The CBI urged regulators to prioritise investment, the creation of economic clusters around the country to foster innovation and better skills training.

Australia’s Victoria state investigates two likely positive cases

Australia's second most populous state Victoria on Monday said it was investigating two suspected positive virus cases in Melbourne, which if confirmed would be the first community transmissions in the state in nearly three months.

Victoria was the worst hit Australian state during a second wave of virus late last year, accounting for about 70 per cent of total cases and 90 per cent of deaths. The state only controlled the outbreak after one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns.

Australia has avoided the high virus numbers seen in many developed countries by closing its international borders in the early stages of the pandemic, lockdowns and social restrictions. It has reported just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.

The report of the new likely infections come as the federal government considers a plan that would allow fully vaccinated residents to travel freely between the states if regional borders have to be closed during future virus outbreaks.

Study shows dogs can detect Covid-positive arrivals

Sniffer dogs trained using smelly socks worn by people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus could soon be used at airports or mass gathering venues to pick up the "corona odour" of Covid-19-infected people, British scientists said.

Working in teams of two, the Covid-trained dogs could screen a line of several hundred people coming off a plane within half an hour, for example, and detect with up to 94.3 percent sensitivity those infected, the scientists said.

Presenting results of an early stage study - which involved some 3,500 odour samples donated in the form of unwashed socks or T-shirts worn by members of the public and health workers - the researchers said the dogs were even able to sniff out asymptomatic or mild Covid-19 cases, as well as cases caused by a mutant variant that emerged in the UK late last year.

"Dogs could be a great way to screen a large number of people quickly and prevent Covid-19 from being re-introduced into the UK," said Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University's department of biosciences who worked on the study.

Wuhan lab staff reportedly sought hospital care before Covid-19 outbreak disclosed

Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a previously undisclosed US intelligence report.

The newspaper said the report - which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits - may add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the Covid-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.

The report came on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization's decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

Australian skateboarding hopefuls test positive

A team of Australian skateboarders was disqualified from an Olympic qualifying event in the United States after three positive Covid-19 tests in their group, Australian media reported.

Two Olympic hopefuls and a coach tested positive after arriving in the United States, and others in the group were ruled out of the qualifier in Des Moines, Iowa, because they were deemed close contacts of the coach, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Brazil registers 35,819 new cases

Brazil has registered 35,819 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total in the country to 16,083,259, the health ministry said.

Deaths rose by 860 and now total 449,068. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies