The coronavirus has killed more than 2.5M people and infected over 116M worldwide. Here's the latest developments for March 6:

The US Capitol is seen in the evening hours on March 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images
The US Capitol is seen in the evening hours on March 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images (AFP)

Saturday, March 6, 2021

US Senate passes Covid-19 relief bill

The Senate has passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, plowing through a round-the-clock marathon of debate, negotiation and amendment proposals to adopt one of the largest legislative packages in US history.

Passed by 50 votes to 49 in a party line vote, the sweeping legislation now heads back to the Democratic-majority House of Representatives, where it is expected to be adopted barring a last-minute setback.

France reports more than 23,300 new cases

France reported 23,306 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Saturday, down from 23,507 on Friday.

The French health ministry reported 170 new Covid-19 deaths, taking the total to 88,444. The number of people in intensive care rose by nine to 3,689.

Turkey adds over 11,700 new infections

Turkey has reported 11,770 new coronavirus cases, including 702 symptomatic patients, according to Health Ministry data.

The total number of cases in the country passed 2.76 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 28,965, with 64 fatalities over the past day.

Italy reports 307 deaths, 23,641 new cases

Italy has reported 307 coronavirus-related deaths against 297 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 23,641 from 24,036 the day before.

Some 355,024 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 378,463, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 99,578 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak began in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 3.05 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 20,701 on Saturday, up from 20,374 a day earlier.

There were 214 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 222 on Friday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 2,571 from a previous 2,525.

When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerating quickly in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by about 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day. 

UK reports 158 new deaths

Britain reported 158 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test on Saturday, a drop from 236 on Friday.

New cases totalled 6,040, a slight rise on Friday's 5,947, government data showed, while the number of people who had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine rose to 21,796,278. 

Madagascar opposition protests against pandemic response

Hundreds of anti-government protesters took to the streets in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo on Saturday, denouncing alleged mismanagement of coronavirus funds and economic hardship.

Demonstrators in red t-shirts and face masks gathered for the first opposition protest to be authorised since presidential elections in 2018.

Authorities deployed a heavy military and police presence and flew a drone over the protest to surveil the crowd.

Swedish police break up coronavirus demonstration

Swedish police on Saturday started to disperse hundreds of opponents of coronavirus restrictions who staged a protest in the capital Stockholm in defiance of a ban on large gatherings.

Police blocked a bridge in the centre of the city and said on their website they were in dialogue with organisers to persuade demonstrators to disperse.

TV images showed police shoving some protesters, while the police said one officer had been slightly injured and taken to hospital.

France extends weekend lockdown to northern region

Hundreds of thousands of people in northern France went back into lockdown on Saturday, while health officials stepped up their nationwide vaccination campaign to make up ground after a slow start.

The residents of Pas-de-Calais on the north coast joined those in the region's port of Dunkirk -- and the Mediterranean resort of Nice -- already shut down on Saturdays and Sundays.

That puts more than two million people across France under the weekend restrictions, required to stay at home unless they can provide a written exemption.

With hospital capacity at 90 percent in Pas -de-Calais, the region's prefect insisted the new restrictions were necessary to prevent local health services from being overwhelmed.

Two thirds of the cases recorded there recently have been the more contagious variant first detected in England, said local officials.

But with a 6pm-6am curfew already in place and non-essential shops closed there, the new restrictions will hurt already hard-pressed businesses.

Finland postpones municipal elections as cases surge

Finland will postpone municipal elections due next month until mid-June as a surge in coronavirus cases raises concerns about low turnout and a possible spike in infections after polling day, the justice minister said on Saturday.

The municipal election that had been scheduled for April 18 will now be held on June 13, said Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson, warning that the poll's legitimacy could be compromised if too many people stayed home instead of voting.

"The risk that the elections will fail is too big," she told a news conference.

To date, Finland has recorded 61,552 coronavirus cases, 767 deaths and currently has 239 people hospitalised.

India asks states to prioritise vaccinations

India's federal government on Saturday asked local authorities to prioritise Covid-19 vaccinations in several districts of eight states including New Delhi that have seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, it said in a statement.

More than 60 districts across New Delhi, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Chandigarh, "continue to be of concern", the government said.

"These districts are seeing a decrease in total tests being conducted, low share of (tests), increase in weekly positivity and low number of contact tracing of the Covid positive cases," it added, citing a risk of transmission to neighbouring regions.

India is the second worst-hit country from the coronavirus after the United States, with more than 11 million recorded cases and over 150,000 deaths.

The country began vaccinations in mid-January and at least 12 million health and frontline workers have received the shot so far. India aims to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August.

President Buhari calls for Nigerians to follow his vaccine lead

President Muhammadu Buhari had his first Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday, part of a bid to boost public confidence as Nigeria attempts to inoculate 80 million people this year.

"As a demonstration of leadership and faith in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, I have received my first jab and I wish to commend it to all eligible Nigerians to do the same so that we can be protected from the virus," Buhari said.

Nigeria, with 158,042 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 1,954 deaths, has not been as hard hit as first feared, but aims to vaccinate 40% of its people this year, and another 30% in 2022.

EU seeks access to US-produced AstraZeneca vaccines – FT report

The European Union will urge the United States to permit the export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as it scrambles to bridge supply shortfalls, the Financial Times reported.

The 27-nation EU also wants Washington to ensure the free flow of shipments of crucial vaccine ingredients needed in European production, the FT report on Saturday said.

"We trust that we can work together with the U.S. to ensure that vaccines produced or bottled in the U.S. for the fulfilment of vaccine producers' contractual obligations with the EU will be fully honoured,” the FT quoted the European Commission as saying.

Hungary's cases hit 7,269 as lockdown looms

Hungary, which is imposing tough new lockdown measures to curb a spike in infections, has reported a record daily high of 7,269 cases, a jump of 14 percent from Friday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government on Thursday closed all schools and most shops as the central European country of 10 million grapples with some of the highest infection and death rates in the world.

Russia reports 11,022 cases

Russia has reported 11,022 new virus cases, including 1,820 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,312,181 since the pandemic began.

The government's coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 88,726. 

Sri Lanka to receive over 250K doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines on Sunday

Sri Lanka has said it will receive 264,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines on Sunday as its first batch of vaccines under the COVAX Facility.

The vaccines, which are being delivered through UNICEF, mark the first allocation of 1.44 million doses of vaccines from the COVAX Facility the Indian Ocean island nation will receive, said the ministry of health. The doses will be procured in stages until May.

Sri Lanka has so far received 1 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in neighbouring India, which donated half of the doses.

Dalai Lama received the first shot of the vaccine

The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, has received the first shot of the virus vaccine at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.

US Senate adopts Covid-19 jobless benefit compromise

The US Senate has broken a logjam when a centrist Democrat compromised on a key provision of the Covid relief package, setting the $1.9 trillion bill on a likely path to passage.

The Senate approved a Democratic compromise measure setting federal unemployment benefits for workers hit by the coronavirus pandemic at $300 per week through September 6, superseding a Republican measure adopted earlier in the day that would have cut off payments on July 18. 

Democrats had struggled to keep Senator Joe Manchin's support for expanded unemployment aid in the sprawling measure, and he threatened to side with Republicans in the evenly divided chamber.

But the deal, which reduced the jobless benefits, kept Manchin on board and allowed action to resume in the Senate as it navigates toward passage of President Joe Biden's top legislative priority sometime this weekend.

Merck says study shows antiviral drug causes quick reduction in virus

US drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said the experimental antiviral drug molnupiravir it is developing with Ridgeback Bio showed a quicker reduction in infectious virus in its phase 2a study among participants with early Covid-19.

"The secondary objective findings in this study, of a quicker decrease in infectious virus among individuals with early Covid-19 treated with molnupiravir, are promising," said William Fischer, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in a statement from the companies.

Germany reports 9,557 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 9,557 to 2,492,079, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 300 to 71,804, the tally showed. 

Protests in Paraguay over government handling of virus

Protestors angry over the Paraguay government's handling of the coronavirus crisis have clashed with police, with shops ransacked and cars set on fire.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as clashes in the centre of the capital Asuncion reportedly left around 20 injured.

Protestors rallied earlier outside the Congress building to demand the resignation of President Mario Abdo Benitez.

Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni, who has been under attack from lawmakers, including some from the ruling party, and by health worker unions, submitted his resignation, which he made public after a meeting with the president.

Mazzoleni is the latest of several top health officials forced from their jobs in recent weeks amid increasing anger across Latin America over the handling of the pandemic and slow rollout of vaccinations.

Brazil reports 75,495 new coronavirus cases, 1,800 deaths

Brazil recorded 75,495 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 1,800 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered nearly 10.9 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 262,770, according to ministry data.

Britain reports 5,947 new cases

Britain reported 5,947 new Covid-19 cases, down from 6,573 a day earlier, government data showed after a delay in the publication of daily statistics.

Earlier, Britain had reported that over 21 million people had received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and that there had been 236 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. 

Saudi Arabia eases some coronavirus-related restrictions

Saudi Arabia said it will ease coronavirus-related restrictions on entertainment and events and reopen cinemas, gyms and sports centres starting March 7, the state news agency reported, citing a source in the ministry of interior.

Authorities will increase inspection campaigns to ensure adherence to remaining measures such as restricting the number of gatherings in social events to 20 people only.

Great apes at San Diego zoo receive first Covid vaccines

Nine great apes at San Diego Zoo have become the first non-human primates given Covid-19 vaccinations, officials at the California zoo said.

Four orangutans and five bonobos were given two doses each of an experimental vaccine created specifically for animals by a veterinary pharmaceutical company.

The inoculations were carried out after eight gorillas at the same world-famous zoo contracted the virus from human staff in January.

Daily cases continue above 2,000 in Greece

Greek authorities reported 2,215 new cases with the Attica region remaining the epicentre, reporting almost half with 1,057 infections.

Professor of paediatric infectious diseases Vana Papaevangelou said the viral load has doubled in the last 15 days, with the number of active infections reaching 16,500.

Another 32 deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total since the first case was detected In Greece to 6,664.

It has confirmed 201,677 infections since the start of the pandemic.

California relaxes Covid reopening rules for Disneyland, stadiums from April

California paved the way for Disneyland, other theme parks, and outdoor stadiums to welcome guests sooner than expected as it relaxed reopening criteria following a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases and pressure from operators.

The move announced by the state health department will permit ballparks, stadiums, and mega-attractions including Disneyland, Magic Mountain, and Universal Studios to admit visitors from April 1, according to conditions in their county, and at reduced capacities.

Only outdoor activities are affected by the changes, which come as California's governor Gavin Newsom faces mounting pressure and a bid to recall him from office over his handling of the pandemic.

Theme parks will only be allowed to reopen if their county drops below the state's most-restrictive coronavirus "tier," and then initially at 15 percent capacity and for California residents only.

China reports 10 new cases

Mainland China reported 10 new Covid-19 cases, compared with nine cases a day earlier, said the country's national health authority.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 23 from 12 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,962, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Ecuador to allow municipalities to directly import vaccines

Ecuador's health ministry said it would allow municipalities to directly purchase vaccines against the novel coronavirus, provided they comply with requirements laid out in the central government's vaccination plan.

The approval comes after the country's largest cities of Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca requested that President Lenin Moreno allow them to import vaccines due to the slow progress of the government's plan.

The government says it has administered the first dose of Pfizer Inc's vaccine to some 53,000 people, namely healthcare workers in hospitals dedicated to treating Covid-19 patients, and the elderly living in nursing homes.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies