The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 3.5 million people, infecting more than 168.8 million around the world. Here are updates for May 26:

This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient in the US in a lab on February 10, 2021.
This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient in the US in a lab on February 10, 2021. (Reuters)

Wednesday, May 26:

Biden orders intelligence report on Covid origins 

President Joe Biden has ordered US intelligence agencies to report to him in the next three months on whether the virus first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident.

Agencies should "redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days," Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

According to Biden, agencies are currently split over the two possible sources for the virus that swept the planet over the past year, killing more than 3.5 million people — a figure experts say is undoubtedly an underestimate.

PAHO: Virus deaths in Americas may be higher than reported

Almost half of the more than 3.5 million deaths reported so far in the world have occurred in the Americas, but the real numbers may be higher, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has warned.

Last week, the World Health Organization said deaths were being significantly undercounted worldwide.

"According to new projections, many more people are dying from COVID complications or from the pandemic's indirect impacts, like disruptions to essential services, that have put their health at risk," PAHO director Carissa Etienne said.

France's daily average cases fall to lowest since September

France's average daily number of new cases has fallen to its lowest level since mid-September while the number of people being treated for the virus in hospital continued to decline, official data showed.

The daily figure, averaged out over seven days, fell below 10,000, down from a 2021 high of over 42,000 in mid-April.

New confirmed infections rose by 12,646 over the past 24 hours to a cumulative 5.62 million since the start of the pandemic, a slower pace of growth than a week ago, when they rose by 19,000.

UK records over 3,000 cases

Britain has reported nine new deaths within 28 days of a positive test on and a further 3,180 cases of the disease, official government data showed.

That compared to 15 deaths and 2,493 cases reported a day earlier.

The data showed that 38.38 million people had received a first dose of a vaccine.

Italy reports over 3,900 new cases

Italy has reported 121 deaths against 166 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 3,937 from 3,224.

Italy has registered 125,622 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 4.2 million cases to date.

Turkey reports over 8,700 new cases

Turkey has registered a total of 8,738 cases, including 681 symptomatic patients, in the past 24 hours, reports the Health Ministry.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 5.2 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 46,787, with 166 more fatalities over the past day.

EU watchdog to rule on Pfizer for youths 

The European Medicines Agency will announce on Friday whether it has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for 12- to 15-year-olds, the regulator said.

If approved it will be the first vaccine to get the green light for young people in the 27-nation European Union. Pfizer is currently authorised for people aged 16 and older.

The EMA will give a briefing on Friday to "cover the outcome of the extraordinary meeting of EMA’s human medicine committee... to discuss the paediatric indication for Comirnaty", it said in an email on Wednesday.

Comirnaty is the brand name for the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German research firm BioNTech.

The US Food and Drug Administration has already authorised Pfizer for 12- to 15-year-olds.

Pakistan opens jabs to all adults to boost rates

Pakistan is offering jabs to its entire adult population in hopes of boosting vaccination rates, with only 5 percent of the population inoculated so far.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar announced on Twitter that the registration of those ages 19 and above will begin from Thursday. So far, the vaccination was open to those 30 years and above.

South Korea mulls dropping masks for vaccinated

South Korean officials say they plan to allow people to drop their masks from July if they have received at least one dose of a vaccine, as they mull incentives to promote inoculation.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-choel said the plan is contingent on the government succeeding in its goal of administering first doses to 13 million people by the end of June. Officials say people will continue to be required to wear mask indoors or at outdoor gatherings where it’s difficult to maintain distance.

Other incentives include providing vaccine-takers with discounts at public parks and museums and allowing them to participate in larger private gatherings.

The country is currently clamping down on social gatherings of five or more people.

Secrecy over Covid-19 science was catastrophic mistake, says UK ex-adviser

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former adviser, Dominic Cummings, described the secrecy surrounding decisions made by a grouping of top scientific advisers to the government as a "catastrophic mistake".

"I think there's absolutely no doubt at all that the process by which (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) SAGE (took decisions) was secret, and overall the whole thinking around the strategy was secret, was an absolutely catastrophic mistake because it meant there wasn't proper scrutiny," he told a parliamentary committee. 

Thailand adjusts vaccine plan to tame deadliest outbreak

Thailand is modifying its coronavirus immunisation strategy to target worst-hit areas and sectors where clusters are most likely to emerge, officials said, as it deals with its most severe outbreak yet and a low vaccination rate.

The strategy prioritises the epicentre Bangkok and nearby provinces, tourism hotspots, construction camps and potential spreaders, like public transport workers, the government's taskforce said.

Thailand reported a daily record 41 deaths, bringing overall fatalities to 873, about 90 percent of which were during the current outbreak that started early in April.

The outbreak is also responsible for the bulk of its total 137,894 cases.

Thailand is due to start mass vaccinations next month and of its than 66 million people, only 2.5 million have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, mostly the Sinovac brand.

Maldives imposes strict curbs as cases spike

The Maldives will restrict movement to curb a surge in infections that is putting pressure on the island's healthcare facilities, officials said.

People will be allowed out for a few hours each day for essential supplies and a strict curfew will be in place from 4 pm to 8 am (0300 GMT) the next day, the Health Protection Agency said.

The restrictions come as the Indian Ocean island has seen a rise in cases and is struggling with a shortage of medical staff, many of whom come from India which is battling its own deadly wave of infections.

One case found during Olympic test event period – Tokyo 2020 chief

Tokyo 2020 president said that one positive case was found during Olympic test events late April, but there was no further outbreak.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told a board meeting that one of the coaches flying into Japan to participate in an Olympic test event had tested positive for the coronavirus at an airport, and transferred into quarantine.

But Hashimoto reiterated that the organisers would ensure safety measures to hold the sporting event in July. 

China administered total of 546.71M doses of vaccines as of May 25

China administered about 19.5 million vaccine doses on May 25, bringing the total number of doses administered to 546.71 million, according to data released by the National Health Commission. 

Taiwan says China blocked deal with BioNTech for shots

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said that the government has not been able to sign a deal with Germany's BioNTech SE because of China's "intervention".

While Taiwan has previously said it had been unable to sign a final contract with BioNTech, it had only implied that Chinese pressure was to blame.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and frequently puts pressure on countries and firms to curtail their dealings with the island.

Malaysia reports 7,478 new cases, record daily rise

Malaysia reported 7,478 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily rise in infections since the start of the pandemic. 

EU and AstraZeneca battle in court over vaccine delays

The European Commission will confront drugs giant AstraZeneca in a Belgian court over coronavirus vaccine delivery shortfalls that hampered efforts to kickstart inoculations across the bloc.

Lawyers for both sides are due to appear before a judge in the French-speaking court in Brussels from 09:00 am (0700 GMT). Another hearing is scheduled for, the court said.

The EU is suing the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group in a bid to force it to deliver 90 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine before July.

The deadline for the contract was set for mid-June, according to the Commission, and the EU says the company will face financial penalties if it does not meet this deadline.

AstraZeneca delivered only 30 million doses in the first quarter out of the 120 million it was contracted to supply. For the current quarter which runs until June 30, it plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million initially promised.

AstraZeneca, Nipro sign vaccine deal for supply in Japan

AstraZeneca has signed a manufacturing agreement for its vaccine with Nipro Corpfor supply in Japan, the Tokyo-listed firm said, adding that the contract was for filling the shot into vials and packaging it.

Hawaii drops mask mandate for people outdoors

Hawaii is no longer requiring people to wear face masks outdoors as the number of coronavirus cases drops and more people get vaccinated.

Governor David Ige said that he will maintain a requirement that people wear masks indoors, whether or not someone is vaccinated. He also says he will encourage people who are in large groups outdoors to continue to wear masks.

Ige says that starting June 1, he will allow ocean sports competitions like surfing contests and canoe paddling races to take place.

The governor says 57 percent of Hawaii’s residents have received a t least one dose of coronavirus vaccine while just under half the population has been fully vaccinated.

Sri Lanka gets 2nd vaccine donation from China

Sri Lanka has received 500,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by China as the Indian Ocean island nation faces severe shortage of vaccines amid a recent rise in infections.

The vaccine stock that arrived early Wednesday is the second donation from China, following a shipment of 600,000 doses in March.

Sri Lanka is facing a shortage of vaccine after the producer in neighbouring India failed to provide the promised Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine stocks. The government on Tuesday agreed to buy 14 million doses of Sinopharm from China.

The current vaccination program is focused on Sri Lanka’s Western province, which includes the capital of Colombo and its suburbs.
It is where the majority of the country’s cases have been.

Sri Lanka so far has reported 167,172 coronavirus cases and 1,243 deaths.

Taiwan reports another rise in new domestic cases

Taiwan reported 633 new domestic cases, including 331 cases added to the totals for previous days as it continues to readjust its infection numbers following delays in reporting positive tests. 

Indian Covid-19 variant found in at least 53 territories – WHO

The variant first detected in India has now been officially recorded in 53 territories, a World Health Organization report showed.

Additionally, the WHO has received information from unofficial sources that the B.1.617 variant has been found in seven other territories, figures in the UN health agency's weekly epidemiological update showed, taking the total to 60.

The report said B.1.617 had shown increased transmissibility, while disease severity and risk of infection were under investigation.

Globally over the past week, the number of new cases and deaths continued to decrease, with around 4.1 million new cases and 84,000 new deaths reported, a 14 percent and two percent decrease respectively compared to the previous week.

The WHO's European region reported the largest decline in new cases and deaths in the past seven days, followed by the southeast Asia region.

UAE mandates vaccines for live events

The United Arab Emirates said vaccinations will be mandatory for people attending all "live events" from June 6, as the country pushes a vaccination campaign which has consistently been one of the fastest in the world.

The policy applies to all sports, cultural, social, arts exhibition, activities and events, a spokeswoman for the ministry of health said late on Tuesday. Attendees must also present a negative PCR test taken at least 48 hours before the event.

Trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates, last week said  vaccinations were required to participate in and attend concerts, sports events, bars, entertainment activities, and for weddings up to 100 people.

The UAE said more than 78.11 percent of the eligible population over 16 years old had now been vaccinated, and 84.59 percent of people aged 60 and over, without specifying if this meant two doses or one dose. 

India's total cases cross 27 million

India's total infections crossed 27 million, swelled by 208,921 new cases over the last 24 hours, while daily deaths from rose by 4,157.

The South Asian country's overall caseload is now at 27.16 million, while total fatalities are at 311,388, according to health ministry data.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 2,626 

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 2,626 to 3,656,177, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 270 to 87,726, the tally showed.

Thousands to get Covid tested after Melbourne stadium alert

Thousands of Australian Rules football fans were told to self-isolate and get tested after an infected spectator attended a match in Melbourne and the city raced to avoid another lockdown.

Australia's second biggest city is scrambling to contain a growing Covid outbreak, with 15 cases identified so far, including one who attended the clash between Collingwood and Port Adelaide which drew a crowd of more than 23,000 to the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.

The AFL said thousands of fans who sat near the positive case were now required to self- isolate until they received a negative test, while health officials were reviewing CCTV to determine if others had also been impacted.

The stadium is one of a growing list of venues across Melbourne visited by positive cases, leaving state health officials rushing to test and trace across the city of five million, which endured a devastating four-month lockdown after an outbreak last year.

Tokyo Olympics partner, calls for cancellation of Games

Japan's Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has called for the Summer Games to be cancelled in an editorial on Wednesday, citing risks to public safety and strains on the medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We ask Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer," the newspaper said in an editorial.

Much of Japan, including host city, Tokyo, remains under a third state of emergency that is widely expected to be extended beyond this month. Poll after poll has shown the majority of the public is opposed to holding the Games this summer, concerned about tens of thousands of athletes and officials descending on a country that has mostly remained closed to foreigners since last year.

By early morning on Wednesday, "Decision to cancel", taken from the title of the Asahi newspaper's editorial, had garnered more than 21,000 tweets.

South Koreans no longer need masks outdoors if vaccinated against COVID-19

South Korea announced that masks will no longer be required outdoors from July for those vaccinated with at least one Covid-19 shot.

The move is a bid to encourage older residents to get vaccinated as South Korea aims to immunise at least 70 percent of its 52 million people by September, from just 7% now.

People given at least one dose also will be allowed to gather in larger numbers starting June, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting on Wednesday.

He said all quarantine measures would be adjusted once more than 70% of residents had received their first dose.

South Korea reported 707 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 137,682 infections, with 1,940 deaths.

Thailand witnesses more covid-19 related deaths 

Thailand has reported a daily record of 41 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 873 since the pandemic started last year.

The country's coronavirus task force also reported 2,455 new infections, bringing the total of cases to 137,894.

UN official: Conflicts make controlling COVID more difficult can be headline

Despite last year’s UN call for global cease-fires to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, many conflicts never stopped including in Syria, Yemen and Congo and new ones erupted making it more difficult to control the spread of the virus and care for infected people in many countries, the UN humanitarian chief said.

While stressing the link between conflict, Covid-19, and health care at a virtual Security Council meeting on civilians caught in conflict,  Lowcock warned that deadly conflicts continued and emerged or got worse. 

“At the same time, insecurity, sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and administrative hurdles hindered humanitarian operations,” he said, and the pandemic made aid deliveries more difficult because of suspended flights, border closures, quarantine measures and lockdowns.

“While the need for robust health care systems has perhaps never been greater, paradoxically, health care is under attack,” he said.

“We need political solidarity, investment in basic infrastructure and services,” Maurer said. “We need better protection for civilians and more substantive and broader support for humanitarian action.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies