Covid-19 has infected at least 122.6 million people around the world, with more than 2.7 million deaths. Here are virus-related developments for March 19:

AstraZeneca vaccines are ready to be administered at the local vaccination centre as the spread of Covid-19 continues in Hagen, Germany, on March 19, 2021.
AstraZeneca vaccines are ready to be administered at the local vaccination centre as the spread of Covid-19 continues in Hagen, Germany, on March 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Friday, March 19, 2021

WHO panel gives nod to AstraZeneca vaccine

The World Health Organization's vaccine safety panel has said that data from AstraZeneca's shot do not point to any overall increase in clotting conditions but it would continue to monitor its effects.

"The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (including Covishield) continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile, with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world," the WHO's global advisory committee on vaccine safety said in a statement issued after its independent experts met on Tuesday and on Thursday to review data.

Greece lifts some restrictions to relieve lockdown fatigue

Greece will lift some restrictions next week as part of a plan to gradually reopen a fragile economy even as its hospitals remain under severe pressure from stubbornly high infections, authorities have said.

Hair and beauty salons and archaeological sites will open from March 22, deputy minister to the prime minister, Akis Skertsos, told a regular weekly briefing.

A nighttime curfew nationwide will start two hours later, at 9 pm during weekends, he said.

UK reports over 4,800 new cases

The United Kingdom has reported 4,802 new cases of the disease, down from 6,303 a day earlier.  

The country reported 101 new deaths, up from 95 a day earlier, official daily data showed.

The data showed that a total 26.264 million people had received a first dose of vaccine and 2.011 million people had received a second dose.

Turkey reports over 21,000 new cases

Turkey has reported more than 21,000 new cases, according to Health Ministry data.

A total of 21,030 cases, including 934 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is over 2.97 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 29,864 with 87 fatalities over the past day.

Italy reports over 25,700 new cases

Italy has reported 386 deaths, against 423 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 25,735 from 24,935 the day before.

Italy has registered 104,241 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 3.3 million cases to date.

Indonesian Muslim body clears AstraZeneca use in emergency

AstraZeneca's vaccine has been cleared for use in Indonesia after the drug regulator declared it safe and clerics in the world’s most populous Muslim nation approved it for emergency use.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy had delayed using AstraZeneca's product after more than a dozen countries in Europe suspended the vaccine due to blood clots developing in some recipients. The World Health Organization said it saw no evidence the vaccine caused the clots, and some European countries were resuming its use.

Finland suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Finland has suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccine while it investigates two possible cases of blood clots, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said.

The institute said it estimated that the investigation would take at least one week. It said earlier this week that it had received any reports of cases of blood clots among people who had taken the AstraZeneca vaccine in Finland.

Swiss postpone plans to lift virus restrictions

Switzerland has postponed plans to relax its virus restrictions, the government said, citing increasing coronavirus cases and insufficient progress on vaccinations.

Switzerland had planned to allow outdoor events like football matches and concerts with up to 150 people from Monday as well as allowing restaurants to open terraces to outdoor diners, but instead opted for a more cautious approach as neighbouring France and Germany also rein in reopening.

"The risk of an uncontrolled increase in the number of cases is currently too great for further openings," the government said.

Senegal crosses threshold of 1,000 virus dead

Senegal crossed the symbolic threshold of 1,000 deaths, just as the West African state was scheduled to ease virus-related restrictions.

Like many African countries, Senegal's infection rate is far below that of the West. However the country has faced a second wave of cases since December.

Health authorities said that they had recorded 37,541 cases since the pandemic began, with 1,003 deaths.

French Prime Minister Castex gets AstraZeneca jab live on TV

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has received the AstraZeneca vaccine at a hospital near Paris, in an event that was broadcast live on French TV as part of efforts to restore public confidence in the vaccine.

Castex, 55, received the jab at the Begin military hospital in Saint-Mande. 

France's medical regulator Haute Autorite de Sante ruled on Friday that use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in France could resume after a suspension of several days, but said it should only be given to people aged 55 and older. 

Nepal becomes third country to give emergency nod to Indian vaccine COVAXIN

Nepal has given emergency authorisation to India's vaccine COVAXIN, becoming only the third country to approve the shot, developed by Bharat Biotech and a state research institute.

COVAXIN was shown to be 81 percent effective in an interim analysis of late-stage trial data on some 26,000 people in India. The vaccine was approved for emergency use in India in January and Zimbabwe cleared it early this month.

Netherlands sees biggest daily jump in cases since early Jan

Virus cases in the Netherlands have jumped by around 7,400 in the past 24 hours, marking the biggest increase since early January, Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus told the national news agency ANP.

Infections were around 20 percent higher on Friday than a week earlier, while the number of patients in hospitals increased by 7 percent in the past week.

Dutch public health authorities have repeatedly warned for an imminent new wave of infections, due to the rise of new mutations of the virus.

Seychelles approves Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

Seychelles has approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, becoming the 54th country to do so, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said.

Mexican president thanks Biden for agreeing on vaccine deal

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has thanked his US counterpart Joe Biden for agreeing to send more than 2.5 million vaccines to Mexico following a Mexican request to the United States to share doses.

Lopez Obrador told a news conference the United States will provide 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine to Mexico. The White House on Thursday said it would send about 2.5 million doses of the vaccine that it is not using. 

Sweden reports over 5,700 new cases

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 5,735 new cases, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 26 new deaths, taking the total to 13,262. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Taiwan to start shots next week with AstraZeneca vaccine

Taiwan will begin its vaccination programme using AstraZeneca Plc shots, its health minister has said, with Premier Su Tseng-chang volunteering to be inoculated first to underscore confidence in its safety.

Taiwan's first vaccines — 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot — arrived on the island earlier this month from a South Korean factory.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters that officials had now given the go-ahead for the shots to start being administered from Monday at 57 vaccination sites around the island.

Cameroon approves Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, suspends  AstraZeneca

Cameroon has approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for use, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said.

Cameroon's Health Ministry also suspended administration of AstraZeneca's vaccine it was scheduled to receive on March 20 as part of the global vaccines sharing scheme COVAX.

The ministry said in a statement on March 18 that the suspension was for precaution and prudence. It gave no further reasons for the decision or if it will go ahead and take delivery of its share of the vaccine.

Poland's total number of cases surpasses 2 million

Poland's total number of cases has surpassed 2 million, according to Health Ministry data, as Poland grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.

Poland has had 2,010,244 cases and 48,807 deaths in total since the start of the pandemic, the ministry data showed. Poland had 25,998 new coronavirus cases on Friday. 

Greece mulls lifting some restrictions

Greek authorities are considering lifting some restrictions as part of a plan for gradually re-opening a fragile economy, a minister has said, even as hospitals remain under pressure from stubbornly high case numbers.

Higher temperatures that encourage outdoor activities and optimism over ramping up vaccinations in April will allow epidemiologists to recommend a staggered lifting of curbs, Deputy Interior Minister Stelios Petsas told state television.

Greece has fared better than many other European countries, but it has seen more that 7,000 deaths and suffered heavily from a renewed surge in cases, which has forced the government to re-impose some restrictions that had previously been lifted.

Non-essential shops, restaurants and schools have closed as the country has imposed and lifted curbs since November.

Greece reported 3,073 daily infections on Thursday, with the total number of cases reaching 230,317.

Indonesia to start AstraZeneca vaccine distribution next week-official

 Indonesia aims to start distribution of AstraZeneca's vaccines by Monday at the latest following the food and drug agency's recommendation that it should be used, Health Ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi has said.

Siti said the vaccines would be distributed to regions in Indonesia and urged people not to be afraid of vaccination. The agency earlier said its benefits outweigh risks and recommended its use.

Indian drugmaker to produce 200 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V

The developer of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has said it had signed a partnership with an India-based drugmaker for the production of 200 million doses of the two-dose jab.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which backed the development of Sputnik V, said in a statement it had partnered with Stelis Biopharma "to produce and supply a minimum of 200 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine".

Denmark loosens restrictions for schools, groups

Denmark is opening up a bit more, allowing upper school classes and vocational education to return to classes if there is no local outbreak, and increasing the number of people who can gather outdoor to 10, up from five.

At the same time, the ceiling for people who can attend leisure activities and competitions organized by local sports clubs is raised from 25 to 50. Religious services can be held outdoor with a maximum of 50 people, but indoor services are still banned.

In neighbouring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg apologised for holding a birthday party last month in a restaurant with 13 people for her 60th birthday, thereby violating a recommendation of maximum 10 people gathering for one event.

“If you think you know the rules, you don’t check them, and I thought I knew them. I apologize for not knowing them well enough,” Solberg told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Bosnian capital begins virus lockdown measures

Authorities in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo have implemented lockdown measures to counter soaring infections.

The Sarajevo government said a nighttime curfew will start on Friday, from 9 pm until 5 am.

All bars and restaurants will shut down starting Saturday, except for food deliveries.

Authorities say the measures are necessary because of a “drastically worsened” epidemiological situation in the city.

Bosnia has seen a huge spike in daily new infections which have soared to over 1,700 from just a few hundred a few weeks ago.

This has put pressure on the already weak health system and caused a spike in deaths.

German minister says may have to re-impose some curbs

German health minister Jens Spahn has dampened hopes that further coronavirus restrictions will be lifted saying rising infections could mean that curbs to slow the spread of the virus may have to be re-imposed.

"The rising case numbers may mean that we cannot take further opening steps in the weeks to come. On the contrary, we may even have to take steps backwards," Spahn told a weekly news conference.

Oxford vaccine chief says reassuring that safety monitoring systems are working

Oxford's vaccine trial chief has said it was reassuring that safety monitoring systems were working after European Union and British regulators backed the shot which the university has made with AstraZeneca.

"What we really should be focusing on is that this is incredibly reassuring. The processes are working, the safety monitoring that we all expect from our authorities is happening," Andrew Pollard, who runs the Oxford Vaccine Group, told BBC radio, after both regulators said vaccinations could continue after reports of blood clots.

"We do need to continue to monitor safety, but in the end it's the virus we're fighting, not the vaccines."

Seoul ends mandatory coronavirus testing for foreigners after outcry

 Authorities in the South Korean capital of Seoul will scrap a controversial order for all foreign workers to be tested for coronavirus, they said, after an outcry sparked complaints by embassies and a human rights probe.

The move came after the headquarters of the nation's pandemic control effort said it had asked the city to withdraw the order and improve testing policies to eliminate discrimination or rights violations.

"The request is to prevent anti-Covid-19 efforts from causing any discrimination or human rights violations against citizens and foreign nationals," the headquarters said in a statement.

City authorities still recommended testing for both foreign and Korean workers in "high-risk" workplaces, however.

Kazakhstan detects possible variant in its biggest city

Kazakhstan has discovered infections in its biggest city, Almaty, showing a probable mutation, the Central Asian nation's healthcare ministry said.

Full genome sequencing tests will be needed to see whether the infections were caused by the British, South African or Brazilian variant, the ministry said in a statement.

It did not say how many infections were discovered.

Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, has tightened restrictions in Almaty this month, ordering shopping malls to close and limiting public transit working hours at weekends due to a rise in cases.

The former Soviet republic has confirmed about 280,000 cases of and pneumonia likely caused by it, with 3,550 deaths. It has vaccinated about 100,000 people so far and plans to vaccinate a million people next month, using the Russian Sputnik-V shots. 

Hungary's infections top 10,000, hit record 10,759

Hungary's daily infections have surpassed 10,000, hitting a new record at 10,759, the government said on its information website.

The daily death toll also hit a new record at 213 in the central European country of 10 million, while vaccinations continued and reached nearly 1.5 million people as the government races to contain the pandemic and reopen the economy

Russia reports 9,699 new cases, 443 deaths

Russia has reported 9,699 new cases, including 1,809 in Moscow, pushing the national case tally to 4,437,938 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 443 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking its death toll to 94,267.

Philippines sees new daily record cases

The Philippine health ministry has recorded 7,103 new cases, the country's biggest daily increase in infections, and 13 more deaths.

The ministry said total confirmed cases have increased to 648,066 while confirmed deaths have reached 12,900. The Philippines, its capital region in particular, is seeing a spike in new cases, including those with more transmissible variants.

India's coronavirus infections hit highest in more than three months

India has reported 39,726 new coronavirus cases, its highest in more than three months, as the worst-hit states, such as western industrialised Maharashtra, adopted fresh curbs to restrain the spread of the disease.

The tally of infections stands at 11.51 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil. Deaths rose by 154 to 159,370, data from the health ministry showed.

India's wealthiest state Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai recorded the most daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, stoking a new nationwide wave.

Maharashtra on Friday reported a record 25,833 new cases, with financial capital and megacity Mumbai logging 2,877.

Indonesia to resume use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Indonesia's Food and Drug agency (BPOM) has approved usage of AstraZeneca's Covid-19vaccine after reviewing reports that the vaccine had caused blood clots among some recipients in Europe, it said in a statement.

"The benefit of administering AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks, so the usage... may be started," the statement said.

Mexico limits nonessential travel on southern border

Mexico has announced restrictions on nonessential travel across its southern border with Guatemala and Belize “to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

The Foreign Relations Department did not explain why the measure was announced now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic.

But the result could help the administration of US President Joe Biden handle a wave of Central American migrants reaching the US border and it came on the same day the US confirmed it will send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Mexico.

Papua New Guinea orders restrictions

Papua New Guinea will tighten internal border controls, restrict personal movement, and enforce mask-wearing in public from next week, as the country confronts a steep rise in Covid-19 infections.

The authorities in the Pacific island nation of 9 million people also said they will ban mass gatherings, close schools and may order burials in a "designated mass grave" as part of sweeping measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

PNG has recorded a spike in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, with hundreds of new daily cases.

Total cases stand at just under 2,500 and deaths at 31, but health experts believe the true numbers are likely much higher.

Philippines approves emergency use of Sputnik V vaccine

The Philippines has approved Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said, as the Southeast Asian country battles a renewed surge in infections.

The vaccine, developed by Russia's Gamaleya Institute, is the fourth to get emergency use authorisation in the Philippines.

"The known and potential benefits of the Gamaleya Sputnik V vaccine...outweigh the known and potential risks of said vaccine," FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo told a news conference.

Interim data showed the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine had an efficacy of 91.6 percent in age groups 18 and older, Domingo said. 

UK to pilot Covid-19 certificates to reopen sports events

Britain will pilot using Covid-19 certificates to re-open sport to fans, culture minister Oliver Dowden said, saying it was crucial to get crowds back to major events this summer for the future of the industry.

"Another thing that we are considering is a Covid certification, and we'll be testing whether we can use Covid certification to help facilitate the return of sports," Dowden, whose department is responsible for sport, said.

"(We're) working with many, many people to see how we can get people back safely in large numbers, because if we don't manage to do it this summer... I'm really worried about the future of those industries," he added, also referring to theatres.

Health Canada follows European regulators in backing AstraZeneca's vaccine

Canada's health department has joined its European counterparts in backing AstraZeneca Plc's Covid-19 vaccine, saying the shots were not associated with an overall increase in blood clots. 

"Health Canada confirms that the benefits of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in protecting Canadians from Covid-19 continue to outweigh the risks," the regulator said in a statement. 

"To date in Canada, there has been one report of a stroke that occurred in an individual following vaccination," the regulator said. "This case has been assessed by Health Canada and determined not to be related to the vaccine."

EU countries to resume using AstraZenaca vaccine

Leading EU countries said Thursday they would resume AstraZeneca vaccinations after the European medical regulator said the jab is "safe and effective" and not associated with a higher blood clot risk after days of commotion around the shot.

The closely-watched announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) came after the WHO and Britain's health watchdog both said the vaccine was safe, adding that it was far riskier to not get the shot as several countries face a worrying rise in coronavirus cases.

After the EMA's announcement a raft of European countries said they would soon resume vaccinations, including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Covid-19 vaccine pioneers receive award

The CEO and chief medical officer of coronavirus vaccine developer BioNTech have received an award from a German publisher for their scientific and entrepreneurial work.

Their groundbreaking efforts led to the approval of the first vaccine against Covid-19 in December 2020.

German media and tech firm Axel Springer presented the pair with the special printing plate from a newspaper front page from December 22, 2020 - the day after the EU gave official approval to use the vaccine - immortalising their achievement.

Biden says 100 million US vaccines target will be met this week

President Joe Biden said that his goal of getting 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days in office will be met by Friday, far in advance of the original target.

"I'm proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into my administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans," he said in a White House speech.

Wendy Holdener tests positive at World Cup finale

Swiss Olympic medallist and world champion Wendy Holdener is out of the final World Cup alpine ski competition of the season after a positive coronavirus test.

Holdener, who won gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, tested positive along with trainer Klaus Mayrhofer.

Brazil's health minister swap to take effect 

Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has said that the replacement of his health minister will take effect with publication in the official gazette, as the country had its second-worst day of deaths caused by Covid-19.

Bolsonaro, who is under pressure from the worsening pandemic, defended his opposition to lockdowns on a social media webcast.

He said his government has asked the Supreme Court to stop what he termed "abuses" by governors in locking down economic activity, and sent a bill to Congress that would define as essential activities "anything that puts bread on the table."

On Monday, he named cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga to replace Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, a three-star army general who has come under fire for toeing the president's policies and failing to deliver timely supplies of vaccines to a country fast becoming the world epicentre of the coronavirus.

Brazil has its second deadliest day in its  outbreak , with 2,724 deaths, two days after reporting a record 2,841, according to the Health Ministry.

Mexico limits nonessential travel on southern border

Mexico has announced restrictions on nonessential travel across its southern border with Guatemala and Belize “to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

The government also prolonged the closure of its northern border with the United States to all but essential land traffic in response to the pandemic.

The Foreign Relations Department did not explain why the measure was announced now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic.

But the result could help the administration of US President Joe Biden handle a wave of Central American migrants reaching the US border and it came on the same day the US confirmed it will send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Mexico.

The country's health ministry reported 6,726 new cases and 698 deaths, bringing the total in the country to 2,182,188 infections and 196,606 fatalities.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies