Covid-19 has infected more than 129 million people and taken over 2.8 million lives. Here are the virus-related developments for March 31:

Drone footage shows gravediggers wearing protective suits burying a coffin as spotlights illuminate the graves during night burials in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 30, 2021.
Drone footage shows gravediggers wearing protective suits burying a coffin as spotlights illuminate the graves during night burials in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 30, 2021. (Reuters)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Top health agency says coronavirus surge could be worse than last year for Americas

Countries in the Americas could see a worse surge in cases than the previous surge last year, with Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba already suffering more, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.

Director Carissa Etienne said the end of the southern hemisphere summer, following holidays where families and friends grouped together and spread cases, had prompted spikes. 

She urged people to stay at home and urged governments to think hard before lowering movement restrictions. 

France may soon have 100,000 Covid-19 deaths

France may soon have 100,000 Covid-19 deaths, French President Emmanuel Macron has said in a prime-time speech.

On Wednesday, the government reported a cumulative death toll of 95,337 since the start of the epidemic.

France will close its schools and child care centres for three weeks, Macron said.

France had closed its schools for two months during the first Covid-19 lockdown but had left them open during the second lockdown in November and has kept them open since, although with some limits on attendance numbers.

"It is the best solution to slow down the virus, " Macron said.

EU drug watchdog backs AstraZeneca vaccine

Europe's medicines regulator has reiterated its backing of AstraZeneca's vaccine, saying no particular group of age, sex or a previous medical history was especially susceptible to blood clotting after receiving the shot.

However, while repeating that the vaccine's benefits outweigh risks, it cautioned that people should be aware of the "remote possibility" of rare blood clots occurring, and must seek immediate medical attention in case of symptoms.

"A causal link with the vaccine is not proven, but is possible and further analysis is continuing," the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement.

Brazil detects new variant similar to South African

Brazil has detected a new variant in Sao Paulo state that is similar to the one first seen in South Africa, Dimas Covas, the president of the state's Butantan biomedical institute, said.

Italy reports over 23,900 new cases

Italy has reported 467 deaths against 529 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 23,904 from 16,017.

Some 351,221 tests were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 301,451, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 109,346 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 3.58 mil lion cases to date.

Macron to make address as third wave swamps French hospitals

French President Emmanuel Macron is to address the nation and is expected to announce that schools will close in April as he seeks to change the course of a third wave of infections that risk overwhelming hospitals.

A government official said an extension of the April school holidays was an option.

An operation to transfer intensive care patients from overloaded hospitals to lesser-hit regions and a full lockdown in the hardest -hit parts of France had also been discussed, the source said.

Turkey to produce 50M doses of domestic vaccine

If all phases successfully end, Turkey will have 50 million doses of an "innovative" vaccine candidate, the country's industry and technology minister has said.

Speaking to the reporters in parliament, Mustafa Varank said Phase-1 human trials of the vaccine started on Saturday.

Stressing that the vaccine development process is not an easy one, Varank noted that the first phase can be completed in two months at the earliest.

"If all phases are successfully completed, we will have a vaccine candidate at the end of the year, with a capacity of 50 million doses," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkey recorded 39,302 new cases of Covid-19, highest daily level since beginning of coronavirus pandemic. It also reported 152 daily deaths. 

Virus pushed US 2020 deaths beyond 3.3 million

The pandemic pushed total US deaths last year beyond 3.3 million, the nation's highest-ever annual death toll, the government has reported.

The virus caused approximately 375,000 deaths, and was the third leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer.

Deaths in the US now top 550,000 since the start of the pandemic.

WHO: Sinopharm, Sinovac vaccine data show efficacy

Two Chinese jabs are safe and effective, WHO experts have said after reviewing partial data, providing a potential boost to countries from Australia to Europe struggling to roll out vaccines fast enough.

Fewer than 600 million jabs have been given out across the world, three months after vaccination programmes began in earnest in Western countries and leaders hailed the drugs as the only safe way out of punishing lockdowns.

Vaccine specialists at the World Health Organization did not issue any advice on how to use China's jabs, saying they would wait until a decision had been taken on whether to grant them emergency licences.

Cases rising in most Spanish regions

The rate of diagnosed infections has been rising in most Spanish regions led by the more contagious variant first detected in Britain, Health Minister Carolina Darias has said.

"We are at a crucial moment. There is an increase, a slow one but still an increase of the incidence, and a prevalence of the Britain variant," she told a news conference.

The minister added the government was expecting the delivery of more than one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday. 

EU to have received 107M vaccine doses by end of week

European Union member states will have received a total of 107 million doses of vaccines by the end of this week, a European Commission spokeswoman has said.

Deliveries for the first three months of the year are made up of 67.2 million doses from BioNtech-Pfizer, 29.8 million from AstraZeneca, and 9.8 million from Moderna, the commission said.

The overall figure was revised down dramatically after the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca slashed the number it was providing from a contracted 120 million doses.

UN: Yemen receives first vaccines

War-torn Yemen has received the first shipment of vaccines, the UN children's agency said, a week after the country's coronavirus committee warned of a public health "emergency."

The AstraZeneca doses arrived in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen's de facto capital, where the internationally recognised government is based after being routed from Sanaa in the north by Houthi rebels in 2014.

"Yemen received 360,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses shipped via the Covax facility," UNICEF said in a statement, referring to the World Health Organization-backed global scheme to provide jabs to countries in need.

"This first batch is part of 1.9 million doses that Yemen will initially receive throughout 2021," it added.

Ukrainian capital to close schools, restrict transport

The Ukrainian capital Keiv, which has the highest infection rate in the country, will close all schools and kindergartens and restrict public transport from April 5, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Wednesday.

"We have no other option. Otherwise, there will be hundreds of deaths every day," he said on Telegram messenger.

Austria likely to order Russian Sputnik V next week

Austria will probably order a million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine next week, which would involve deliveries spread between April and early June, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said.

"We are in the final metres and a Sputnik order can probably be placed next week," Kurz said in a statement issued by his office after he met Russia's ambassador to Austria. 

The deal would involve 300,000 doses being delivered in April, 500,000 in May and 200,000 in early June, the statement added. 

Israel plans to give Pfizer's vaccine to adolescents upon FDA approval

Israel has plans to administer the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds upon FDA approval, the health minister said after the manufacturer deemed the shots safe and effective on the cohort.

"The Pfizer announcement is terrific news," Yuli Edelstein said over social media. 

"There is nothing more in order now than a speedy approval of more vaccine procurements (by Israel), so we can be poised to vaccinate immediately upon FDA approval." 

Pfizer vaccine safe, effective on adolescents in trial, companies say

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said their Covid-19 vaccine was safe and effective and produced robust antibody responses in 12- to 15-year olds, paving the way for them to seek US emergency use authorisation in weeks.

Pfizer hopes that vaccinations of the group could begin before the next school year, Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Pfizer's vaccine is already authorised for use in people starting at age 16. The new study offers the first evidence of how the vaccine will also work in school-age adolescents.

In the trial of 2,260 adolescents aged 12 to 15, there were 18 cases of Covid-19 in the group that got a placebo shot and none in the group that got the vaccine, resulting in 100 percent efficacy, the companies said in a statement.

Russia registers world's first Covid-19 vaccine for animals

Russia has registered the world's first vaccine against Covid-19 for animals, the country's agriculture safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said.

Russia already has three coronavirus vaccines for humans, the most well known of which is Sputnik V. Moscow has also given emergency approval to two others, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac.

The vaccine for animals, developed by a unit of Rosselkhoznadzor, was named Carnivac-Cov, the watchdog said.

Australia misses vaccine target as concerns grow over slow rollout

Australia will fall well short of its initial vaccination target, Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted, claiming European export restrictions were partly to blame.

Largely coronavirus-free Australia has been heralded globally as a pandemic success story, but it is one of the few rich nations to have an extremely limited vaccination rollout.

So far, just 670,000 doses have been administered in Australia, according to official statistics, far below the initial plan to jab four million people by the end of March.

Ukraine reports record daily high of 407 related deaths

Ukraine registered a record daily high of 407 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, health minister Maksym Stepanov said.

The previous high of 362 deaths was on March 25.

Stepanov said 11,226 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours. Ukraine has reported a total of 1,674,168 coronavirus cases and 32,825 deaths. 

India's daily cases rise at slower pace than day earlier

India reported 53,480 new virus cases, health ministry data showed, the second day that cases have risen less than the day before.

Deaths were at their highest since mid-December, according to a Reuters tally, with 354 people dying of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, the ministry said, taking total mortalities to 162,468.

India has been reporting a spike in cases this month, with its richest state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, accounting for a majority of its case load.

China locks down city on Myanmar border over virus fears

A Chinese city near the border with Myanmar has imposed a lockdown after six coronavirus cases were reported, the first significant cluster of Covid-19 disclosed in almost two months.

Three asymptomatic cases in Ruili, a city of over 210,000 people, were also recorded as Myanmar nationals, aged between 24 and 28, according to health authorities in Yunnan province.

Ruili will also test all its residents for the virus, and everyone will go under "home quarantine" for a week, said an official notice.

This means that residents are not to leave their homes without "special reasons", and only one member of each household can leave to buy daily necessities with permission.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 17,051 - RKI

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 17,051 to 2,808,873, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 249 to 76,342, the tally showed. 

Australia's Queensland reports fewer new cases, eyes easing curbs

Australia reported a drop-off in new cases of locally acquired Covid-19 in Queensland, fuelling optimism that a three-day snap lockdown in state capital Brisbane will be lifted ahead of the Easter holidays.

More than two million residents of Australia's third-largest city have been asked to stay home until Thursday evening as authorities rushed to contain two distinct virus clusters, which have grown to 17 cases.

"Fingers crossed, all will be looking good for Easter," Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

Japan wants further probe into Covid-19 origins

Japan is calling for further investigation into the origins of Covid-19, saying the WHO report released this week was based on work that faced delays and lacked access to essential virus samples.

“In order to prevent future pandemics, it is indispensable to carry out prompt, independent and experts-led investigations that are free of surveillance,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “We are concerned that the latest investigation faced delays and the lack of access to virus samples.”

Paris mayor calls for schools to be closed to rein in Covid-19

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that schools should be closed to rein in the spread of the virus, speaking ahead of possible new restrictive measures to be announced later in the day by the government.

"I think the schools should be closed", Hidalgo told BFM TV.

Macron, Merkel discuss vaccine cooperation with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed possible cooperation on vaccines with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a joint video conference on Tuesday, Macron's office has said in a statement.

Mexico reports 807 more fatalities

Mexico has reported 807 new confirmed Covid-19 fatalities, bringing the country's total to 202,633 deaths, according to health ministry data.

The government says the real case numbers are likely significantly higher, and separate data published recently byt he health ministry suggested the actual death toll from coronavirus may be at least 60 percent above the confirmed figure

Brazil reports record 3,780 deaths

Brazil has registered 3,780 Covid-19 deaths, a new record in the Latin American nation which now regularly accounts for about a quarter of coronavirus deaths worldwide on any given day, more than any other country.

Cases rose by 84,949, the ministry said. Deaths now total 317,646 while cases amount to 12,658,109.

Pfizer to move up vaccine deliveries to Canada

Pfizer has agreed to move up deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, one day after restricting AstraZeneca jabs over safety concerns.

"Pfizer has now confirmed that they will be moving up five million doses from later in the summer into June. That will bring our total from 4.6 million to 9.6 million doses for that month alone," Trudeau told a news conference on Tuesday.

The arrival of these, as well as Moderna and AstraZeneca shots, bringing total doses expected by June 30 to more than 40 million, will allow the country to "begin our ram p-up phase" and meet its goal of inoculating all Canadians by the end of summer, he said.

"We want to get more doses of vaccines... to as many Canadians as possible in the coming months," he said.

Hospitals in Ecuador's capital overwhelmed 

Ecuador's health system is under severe strain from a spike in Covid-19 and some hospitals in the capital Quito are working above capacity to treat patients, doctors have said.

Ecuador suffered a brutal outbreak of coronavirus in early 2020, primarily in the largest city of Guayaquil. Authorities controlled the situation after several months, but in recent weeks have seen cases jump in cities around the country.

"The saturation of the health system is not only in Quito but at the national level," Dr. Victor Alvarez, president of the doctors association of the state of Pichincha, where Quito is located, told reporters. 

"Seeing images of patients lying on the ground, or perhaps on a military mattress, receiving oxygen in emergency units, that's sad."

Over dozen US states to open up vaccinations to all adults

More than a dozen states will open vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of Covid-19 shots for tens of millions of Americans amid an increase in coronavirus cases.

States opening eligibility to anyone ages 16 and older on Monday included Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Ohio, North Dakota and Kansas.

Meanwhile, the director of the CDC warned of another wave of infections after cases in the US rose 10 percent over the last week. Several Northeastern states and Michigan have seen the biggest increases, with some reporting hundreds or thousands more new cases per day than two weeks ago.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York state residents over 30 are now eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations, and everyone over 16 will be eligible starting April 6.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies