The coronavirus has killed more than 2.5M people and infected over 116M worldwide. Here're the latest developments for March 5:

An employee unloads boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines after their delivery as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative, at Entebbe international airport, Uganda on March 5, 2021.
An employee unloads boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines after their delivery as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative, at Entebbe international airport, Uganda on March 5, 2021. (AFP)

Friday, March 5, 2021

Africans cheer rollout of COVAX vaccinations

Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda started inoculating frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable citizens against Covid-19 as Africa, the world's poorest continent and home to 1.3 billion people, stepped up its vaccination campaigns.

While some wealthy Western nations have already inoculated millions of people, many African states have struggled to secure doses and have yet to administer a single shot.

But the global vaccine-sharing COVAX facility, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI vaccine alliance and others, has begun to bear fruit in nations from Ghana to Rwanda.

Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to use pharmaceutical company Pfizer's doses that require ultra-cold storage.

President Paul Kagame's government, which prides itself on technological prowess but is often criticised as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required -70C.

The Kagame government, which has received both Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots via the COVAX facility, plans to vaccinate up to 30 percent of Rwanda's 12 million people by the end of the year.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and its biggest economy, inoculated healthcare workers with AstraZeneca shots on Friday, the start of a campaign that aims to vaccinate 80 million of the 200 million-strong population this year.

Nigeria to ok delivery of 3.92 million AstraZeneca doses on Tuesday under COVAX, but the facility only aims to cover 20 percent of the population in the countries it helps. Nigeria is also expecting at least 40 million doses from the African Union as well as 100,000 donated doses of India's Covishield vaccine.

Study indicates AstraZeneca effective against Brazil variant

Preliminary data from a study conducted at the University of Oxford indicates that the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC is effective against the P1, or Brazilian, variant, a source with knowledge of the study told Reuters.

The data indicates that the vaccine will not need to be modified in order to protect against the variant, which is believed to have originated in the Amazonian city of Manaus, said the source, who requested anonymity as the results have not yet been made public.

The source did not provide the exact efficacy of the vaccine against the variant. They said the full results of the study should be released soon, possibly in March.

Canada approves Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine

Canada's drug regulator has approved Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said, citing an unidentified source.

The federal health ministry was not immediately available for comment. Canada has already approved coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer Inc, Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc. 

Serbia to impose weekend lockdown after virus surge

Serbia will shut down all but essential businesses over the weekend to combat a spike in new cases, the government-appointed crisis team said.

Under the new measures only food stores, pharmacies and gas stations will be open from noon on Saturday until Monday morning.

While the Balkan state has become one of the world's fastest vaccinators in recent weeks, it has nevertheless recorded a steep surge in infections, recording around 4,000 new cases daily this week.

Doctors on the government's pandemic task force have been urging a longer lockdown, warning that the new cases are over stretching the health system to a "catastrophic" level.

France drops negative test requirement for Irish hauliers

France will no longer require proof of a negative test result from hauliers traveling directly from Ireland, the Irish transport government said, citing very low positivity rates among commercial vehicle drivers.

Irish traders are increasingly shipping goods directly to and from European ports, rather than the once-speedier route via the so-called UK land bridge, as a result of red tape and delays after Britain's exit from the European Union.

The Irish transport ministry said in a statement the French government had informed it of the decision.

Paris introduced the requirement in January after the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain became dominant in Ireland.

Poland's cases of British variant rising

A variant of Covid-19 first identified in Britain now accounts for 25 percent of the reported cases in Poland, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has said.

"At the start of January, the share of the British variant was around 5 percent ... Now, the most recent tests show that the share has been systematically growing and for the last 21 days we have almost 25 percent," Niedzielski told a news conference.

The minister partly blamed the British variant for the situation in Poland's north, which has reported a significantly higher rate of new cases than elsewhere in the country.

Niedzielski said coronavirus restrictions would be extended by one week in the northeastern region of Warminsko-Mazurskie and would also be imposed in the northern Pomorskie region.

Poland's healthcare system is under strain again and the minister said the government was reopening more temporary hospitals.

Russia reports nearly 29,000 virus-related deaths in January

Russia reported a steep drop in virus-related deaths in January on the previous month, as the epicentre of the country's outbreak Moscow lifted one of its last remaining pandemic measures.

The figures published by the Rosstat statistics agency showed 21,511 Russians died due to coronavirus in January, while a further 7,169 people died with the virus but primarily of other causes.

That total of 28,680 represented a 65 percent decline on December, Russia's deadliest month of the pandemic.

Czech Republic asks other countries for help with patients

The Czech Republic has asked Germany, Switzerland and Poland to take in dozens of patients as the situation in its own hospitals has reached a critical point, Prague's Health Ministry said.

The country of 10.7 million has been one of the hardest-hit globally in recent weeks as many regional hospitals, overwhelmed by the inflow of coronavirus patients, had to transfer them elsewhere, in some cases taking them hundreds of miles away.

"The large number of newly infected patients has intensified pressure on the healthcare system, and the number of patients requiring hospitalisation is growing," the ministry said.

As of Friday morning, there were 8,153 patients hospitalised, including 1,735 requiring intensive care, Health Ministry data showed.

More than 21M people in UK have had one dose of vaccine

Over 21 million people have now been given a first dose of vaccine in Britain, health authorities said.

Public Health England said that 21,358,815 people had received a first dose of vaccine, while there had been 236 deaths within 28 days of a positive test reported on Friday.

Italy reports 297 deaths, 24,036 new cases

Italy reported 297 coronavirus-related deaths against 339 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 24,036 from 22,865 the day before.

Some 378,463 tests were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 339,635, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 99,271 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 3.02 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 20,374 on Friday, up from 20,157 a day earlier.

France reports 23,507 new cases over 24 hours

 France reported 23,507 new confirmed cases, down from 25,279 on Thursday and down from 26,788 on Wednesday.

The French health ministry reported 439 new deaths, from 293 on Thursday, taking the total to 88,274. The total number of cases now stands at 3,859,102.

Turkey sees over 11,300 new infections

Turkey has reported 11,302 new coronavirus cases, including 698 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The total number of cases in the country passed 2.75 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 28,901, with 62 more fatalities over the past day.

UK variant might soon become dominant in Germany

A more contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain might soon become the predominant strain in Germany, making it hard to stop its spread, the head of the Robert Koch Institute has said.

Lothar Wieler said the B117 variant now made up more than 40 percent of coronavirus cases in Germany, compared to about 6 percent of cases four weeks ago.

"It is foreseeable that B117 will soon be the predominant variant in Germany and then it will be even more difficult to keep the virus in check because B117 is more contagious and even more dangerous in all age groups," he said. 

Russia reports 11,024 new cases, 462 deaths

Russia has reported 11,024 new cases, including 1,757 in Moscow, taking the national case total to 4,301,159.

Authorities said 462 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 88,285.

Around 6 percent of French cases are Brazilian/South African variants

Around six percent of cases in France are from the more contagious variants first found in Brazil and South Africa, French Health Minister Olivier Veran has said.

Veran also told BFM TV that France was doing all it could to avoid a new national lockdown, although the government would keep all options open, and that there were reasons to believe France's situation would improve in 4-6 weeks time as more of its population gets vaccinated against the virus.

On Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said around 60 percent of French cases were from the variant first discovered in England.

South Africa in talks with AU for vaccines for 10M people

South Africa is in negotiations with an African Union (AU) platform for vaccines for at least 10 million people, a top health official said.

Sandile Buthelezi, Department of Health director-general, said the government was seeking to conclude an agreement with the AU, Afreximbank and the Serum Institute of India over AstraZeneca vaccine doses it is selling to other African countries.

About 18 African countries would benefit from those doses, he added.

Moldova is first EU country to receive vaccines under Covax

Moldova became the first European country to receive vaccines from the global Covax scheme, Moldova President Maia Sandu has said.

She said on Twitter the first batch of 14,400 doses arrived in Moldova last night.

France could block vaccine shipments, similar to Italy

France could block shipments abroad of Covid-19 vaccines, similar to moves on this front by Italy, French Health Minister Olivier Veran has said.

Asked by BFM TV if France could follow Italy's move on this, Veran replied: "We could".

On Thursday, two separate sources told Reuters news agency that the EU had blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca's vaccine destined for Australia after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments.

The sources said AstraZeneca had requested permission from the Italian government t o export some 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant, near Rome. 

India crosses key vaccination milestone after lifting curbs

India has administered 1.4 million vaccine doses in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, the highest in a day since the campaign began in mid-January as the government moves to address initial hiccups.

The country of 1.35 billion people still has to nearly double its current rate of vaccination to meet its target of covering 300 million people by August. The two vaccines in use in India need to be administered in two doses, four to six weeks apart.

India has so far given 18 million doses to about 15 million people.

The vaccination pace increased this week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off an expansion of the drive to include the elderly and those aged 45-59 suffering from medical conditions.

The government has also roped in many private hospitals, allowing them to run vaccinations throughout the day and assuring there is no shortage of shots in the world's biggest vaccine-making country.

Malaysia detects two cases of new variant

Malaysia has detected two cases of a new variant that is thought to be more transmissible and resistant to antibodies, a senior health official said.

The variant, also known as B.1.525, was found in two people who had travelled from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.

Analysis of the travellers' tests indicated the presence of mutations including E484K and a similar suite of protein deletions seen in a variant of the virus first detected in Britain, Noor Hisham said.

Study shows Sinovac may not trigger sufficient antibody response to Brazil variant

Sinovac Biotech's vaccine may not trigger sufficient antibody responses against a new variant identified in Brazil, a small-sample lab study has shown.

Plasma samples taken from eight people vaccinated with Sinovac's CoronaVac failed to efficiently neutralize the P.1 lineage variant, or 20J/501Y.V3, researchers said in a paper published on Monday ahead of peer-review.

"These results suggest that P.1 virus might escape from neutralizing antibodies induced by... CoronaVac," researchers at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, Washington University School of Medicine in the United States, and a few other institutions said in the paper.

Hungary PM expects spike in hospitalisations 

Hungary's prime minister has said that up to 15,000-20,000 people could get into hospital as coronavirus infections surge, up from just over 6,800 now, which will put a big strain on the healthcare system in the coming weeks.

Viktor Orban, whose government announced tough new lockdown measures on Thursday to curb the third wave of the pandemic, told state radio that "there will be enough (hospital) beds and ventilators." 

Japan's Takeda seeks govt approval for Moderna vaccine

Japan's regulators have been asked to approve use of Moderna Inc 's vaccine, the third such vaccine in the nation that began its inoculation effort last month.

The filing was announced by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co , which is handling domestic approval and imports of about 50 million doses of the Moderna shot. 

Takeda has previously said approval could be given in May.

New Zealand to end lockdown on largest city

New Zealand will lift a lockdown on nearly two million people on Sunday, as authorities have said they are confident that a virus cluster in the country's largest city has been contained.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the stay-at-home order for Auckland will end early Sunday, one week after it was imposed in response to a mystery case that contact tracing could not explain.

It later emerged that family members of the infected person had defied isolation orders, socialising with friends who later tested positive.

Brazil reports 75,102 new cases, 1,699 deaths in 24 hours

Brazil recorded 75,102 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 1,699 deaths from Covid-19, said the Health Ministry.

Brazil has registered nearly 10.8 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 260,970, according to ministry data.

Japan to extend Tokyo area state of emergency

The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency to combat Covid-19 for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures until March 21, two weeks longer than originally scheduled, said Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

Under the state of emergency, the government has requested restaurants and bars to close by 8 PM and stop serving alcohol an hour earlier. People are also asked to stay home after 8 PM unless they have essential reasons to go out.

Tokyo, Chiba, Kana Ogawa, and Saitama prefectures, which make up 30 percent of the country's population, sought the extension past the originally scheduled end date of March 7 as new coronavirus cases had not fallen enough to meet targets.

China reports 9 new Covid-19 cases

China reported 9 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for March 4, compared with 10 cases a day earlier, said the country's health commission said.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 12 from 14 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,952, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Israel, Denmark, Austria agree on deal for vaccine development

Leaders from Israel, Austria, and Denmark announced in Jerusalem an alliance for the development and production of future generation coronavirus vaccines, a deal that has already sparked criticism in Europe.

The three countries will launch "a research and development fund" and begin "joint efforts for common production of future vaccines," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Denmark and Austria are European Union members, and the Israeli partnership has elicited critic ism from fellow EU state France, which said the European framework remained the best way to guarantee "solidarity" within the bloc.

Cyprus to let in Brits with Covid vaccine from May 1

Cyprus will allow British tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 into the country without restrictions from May 1, its tourism minister said.

British visitors are the largest market for Cyprus's tourism industry, which has suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. Arrivals and earnings from the sector, which represents about 13 percent of the Cypriot economy, plunged on average 85 percent in 2020.

Visitors would need to be inoculated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, he said. The second dose of a vaccine should be administered at the latest seven days before travel.

Cyprus has been in and out of lockdown for about a year, but its coronavirus outbreak has been mild compared to other countries.

Alabama extends Covid mask mandate for a month

Alabama's governor extended for another month an order mandating residents to wear face masks to protect against Covid-19, breaking with Mississippi and Texas as the issue again becomes the focus of political debate.

Alabama’s mask order, which had been due to expire on Friday, will now stay in effect until April 9, Republican Governor Kay Ivey told a news briefing.

Australia plays down Italy vaccine blockade

Australia played down the impact of Italy's landmark decision to block the export of 250,000 covid vaccine doses due to be delivered Down Under.

A spokesperson for the Australian ministry of health told AFP the shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine from Italy was "not factored into our distribution plan for coming weeks."

Italy's export ban was blamed on a shortage of vaccines in virus-hit Europe and the lack of urgent need in relatively virus-free Australia.

US Senate begins debating – and reading – Covid relief package

The US Senate, whipsawed over the $1.9 trillion Covid rescue package, finally took up the sweeping bill, with multiple hurdles ahead as President Joe Biden seeks to push his top legislative priority through Congress.

Republicans already appeared united in opposing the proposal over its high cost, and lawmakers braced for marathon days that will include up to 20 hours of debate and a lengthy list of amendments that will force contentious votes before the bill's final passage.

But Biden has been desperate to implement its key elements, including direct checks of up to $1,400 for most Americans, funding for vaccines, expanded unemployment benefits, resources to help open schools quickly and money to hard-hit businesses and communities.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies