Covid-19 has killed more than 3.2M people and infected over 156.4M others globally. Here are all the coronavirus-related developments for May 6:

A health worker talks to colleagues as they prepare to receive a coronavirus vaccine at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, March 5, 2021.
A health worker talks to colleagues as they prepare to receive a coronavirus vaccine at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, March 5, 2021. (Reuters)

Thursday, May 6:

WHO warns of Covid-19 spike in Africa

With slow Covid-19 vaccine rollouts and new variants making inroads, the risk of a new wave of infections in Africa remains high, the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa has warned.

WHO said Africa-bound Covid-19 vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India have been delayed for the foreseeable future.

"The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a press briefing.

Turkey adds over 22,000 new cases

Turkey reported over 22,300 new coronavirus cases, the Health Ministry has said.

A total of 22,388 infections, including 2,401 symptomatic patients, were confirmed in the last 24 hours.

Turkey's overall Covid-19 tally is now over 4.97 million, while the nationwide death toll rose by 304 over the past day to reach 42,187.

Minnesota, Virginia join US states easing restrictions

The governors of two more US states have said they were lifting most restrictions that were put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus after sharp drops in infection rates and deaths.

Both Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled plans for easing or even completely erasing limits, saying all changes were hinged on vaccination numbers going up, which has helped to diminish Covid-19 case numbers.

Northam said Virginia would lift all restrictions on June 15, except for a mask mandate.

Germany to allow AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults

Germany will allow AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine to be administered to adults of all ages and aims to offer 12-18 year olds a vaccine by the end of August as it seeks to speed up its rollout, Health Minister Jens Spahn has said.

The country's 16 regional health ministers have agreed with Spahn to reverse a previous decision to restrict the AstraZeneca shot to people over 60 years old. He also said that the current 12-week gap between first and second doses of AstraZeneca vaccinations could be shortened.

Pfizer CEO 'not at all' in favour of US patent waiver

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said he was against a US-backed proposal to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines and that production should be ramped up in existing facilities instead.

In an interview with AFP, Bourla said his company, which developed its vaccine with German firm BioNTech, was "not at all" in favour of the call from the United States to waive patent protections for coronavirus jabs.

The widely praised move by the US announced on Wednesday is seen by proponents as a way to boost production in developing countries that so far have received far fewer jabs.

But Bourla, reflecting the pharmaceutical industry's long held position, insisted patents are not the main roadblocks to more production and that building new plants would be counterproductive.

"We should focus our efforts in what we can build right now, that is enough capacity to produce billions of doses," he said.

"The problem is that there are no facilities in the world outside the ones that we can build ourselves, that can make mRNA vaccines," he said, referring to type of Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Germany rejects US proposal to waive patents

Germany has rejected a US proposal to waive patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines, saying the greatest constraints on production were not intellectual property but increasing capacity and ensuring quality.

Number of ICU patients in France sees biggest drop in a year

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU) in France fell by 171 to 5,231, the biggest one-day drop in 12 months, health ministry data has showed.

The ministry also reported 219 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals over 24 hours, down from 244 on Wednesday. 

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden has announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.

"In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe," Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden's Public Health Agency, told a press conference.

Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.

Italy reports 258 deaths, 11,807 new cases

Italy reported 258 coronavirus-related deaths against 267 the day before, the health ministry has said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 11,807 from 10,585.

Italy has registered 122,263 deaths linked to Covid-19 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 4.08 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 16,867 on Thursday, down from 17,520 a day earlier.

There were 127 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 142 on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 2,308 from a previous 2,368.

UK records 2,613 cases, 13 deaths

Britain recorded a further 2,613 cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, and 13 deaths, official data has showed.

The daily case number was up on the 2,144 reported on Wednesday while the number of fatalities was down from the 27 reported a day before.

On vaccines, a further 139,097 people were given a first dose in the 24 hours and 404,226 were given a second. In total, 34.93 million people have received a first dose and 16.29 million have received a second.

US jobless claims dip to new pandemic low

New applications for jobless aid in the United States dropped below 500,000 last week for the first time since the pandemic began as Covid-19 vaccines helped businesses rehire.

The Labor Department reported on Thursday that there were 498,000 seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits made in the week ended May 1. That is 92,000 fewer than the week prior and a sharper drop than forecast, bringing the closely watched metric of the labor force to a new low after it spiked when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

The report provides the latest evidence that coronavirus vaccination campaigns and government stimulus spending are aiding the US labor force, which is still short millions of jobs lost to the business restrictions meant to stop the virus from spreading.

Novavax firms up deal with Covax for first 350M jabs

Novavax has inked a deal for the first 350 million of its Covid-19 vaccine doses bound for the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility, the US biotech firm has said.

Novavax, which signed a memorandum of understanding in February to provide 1.1 billion doses in total, penned an advance purchase agreement with Covax for the first tranche.

They will be supplied, subject to regulatory approval, from the third quarter of 2021 onwards into 2022.

The Serum Institute of India plant is expected to manufacture and deliver the remaining 750 million Novavax doses.

India's govt eases hospital oxygen shortage as demand jumps

Under order by the Supreme Court, India's government has agreed to provide more medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, potentially easing a 2-week-old shortage that worsened the country's exploding coronavirus crisis.

Government officials also denied reports that they have been slow in distributing life-saving supplies donated from abroad.

The government raised the oxygen supply to 730 tons from 490 tons per day in New Delhi as ordered by the Supreme Court. The court intervened after 12 Covid-19 patients, including a senior doctor, died at New Delhi’s Batra Hospital when it ran out of medical oxygen for 80 minutes last week.

EU working towards 'long Covid' treatments

With the EU's vaccination rollout picking up, the European Commission has said it would back a new generation of improved coronavirus treatments, especially for people suffering "long Covid".

"It's really crucial that, alongside vaccines, we also step up our work on therapeutics," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told a media conference.

The commission's strategy aims to build a bigger treatment portfolio going beyond the one medicine that has so far proved effective: the antiviral drug Remdesivir.

Bees in the Netherlands trained to detect Covid-19 infections

Dutch researchers have trained bees, which have an unusually keen sense of smell, to identify samples infected with Covid-19, a finding they said could cut waiting times for test results to just seconds.

To train the bees, scientists in the bio-veterinary research laboratory at Wageningen University gave them sugary water as a reward after showing them samples infected with Covid-19. They would get no reward after being shown a non-infected sample.

Having got used to the system, the bees were able to spontaneously extend their tongues to receive a reward when presented with an infected sample, said Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the project.

Pfizer/BioNTech to supply vaccines for Olympic athletes

US drugs giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech has announced a deal with the International Olympic Committee to provide vaccines to competitors and staff at the Tokyo Games.

In a statement, the firms said they would coordinate with national sporting bodies to make sure that coronavirus vaccines are available to anyone who needs one before travelling to Japan.

Poland detects first cases of Brazilian coronavirus variant

Poland has detected its first three cases of the Brazilian variant of the coronavirus, the health minister has said, as the European nation starts to emerge from a third wave of the pandemic.

Poland tightened quarantine rules in May for people travelling from Brazil, India and South Africa after cases of an Indian variant of the virus were detected in the Warsaw and Katowice areas.

The three cases of the Brazilian variant were detected in Poland's southern Silesia region, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said.

Poland has so far reported 2,818,378 coronavirus cases and 68,993 deaths.

Russia authorises single-dose Sputnik Light Covid vaccine

Russia has authorised the one-shot Sputnik Light version of its Covid-19 vaccine for use, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has said, a move that could help vaccine supplies go further in countries with high infection rates.

Developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, the slimmed-down vaccine, which the RDIF said is 79.4 percent effective against Covid-19 and costs under $10 a dose, has been earmarked for export and could increase the number of people with partial immunity.

One of its main potential uses is as a vaccine that can be shipped to a country in the grip of an acute outbreak which needs to be subdued quickly.

EU ready to 'discuss' Covid vaccine patent waivers

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that Brussels was ready discuss a US-backed proposal to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines.

But she stressed that Europe's priority would be to boost global supplies, and implicitly criticised the US and the UK for limiting vaccine exports.

On Wednesday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Washington now supports calls for a global waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines while the pandemic rages.

US President Joe Biden had been under pressure to back the move, which could help poorer nations produce cheaper generic versions of the latest jabs.

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, hailed Biden's "historic" decision, which Europe has up to now resisted.

Russia backs waiving patents

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he supported the idea of a waiver on patent protections for coronavirus vaccines as Russia registered its fourth virus jab called Sputnik Light.

A campaign to lift patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines picked up steam on Thursday, with French, German and EU leadership saying they were ready to discuss a proposal by US President Joe Biden, before Putin added his support.

"We are hearing from Europe an idea that, in my opinion, deserves attention - namely, to remove patent protections from vaccines against Covid-19 altogether," Putin said during a televised meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.

"Russia would of course support such an approach," Putin said, urging Golikova to work out the logistics.

"As I have said many times... We should not think about how to extract maximum profit, but about how to ensure people's safety."

Italy travel pass will also be valid for tourists from outside EU

Italy's Tourism Minister has said the pass that the country will introduce from the middle of May for travellers clear of Covid-19 will be valid also for arrivals from outside the European Union.

"This will be for everybody, especially for tourists from outside the EU," Massimo Garavaglia told SkyTg24.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said an EU travel pass will be introduced in the middle of June, allowing easy travel across the continent for those who have been vaccinated or just tested negative, or could prove they had recently recovered from the virus.

Fiji locks down hospital over coronavirus death

Soldiers and police in the Pacific nation of Fiji have surrounded and locked down a major hospital.

Health authorities say they are quarantining 400 patients, doctors, nurses and other staff within the compound until they can determine who had contact with a coronavirus patient who died there.

The 53-year-old patient at Lautoka Hospital was only the third person to die from the virus in Fiji, which has about 1 million people. But the nation’s leaders are deeply worried that the latest outbreak is spreading, especially after two doctors at the hospital tested positive for the virus.

A health official says the hospital is closed and all medical services are being diverted to other facilities. The official says those sequestered in the hospital will be provided with food, bedding and whatever other supplies they need.

France widens vaccine rollout to 16-17 year olds at high risk of major illness

France has decided to widen its Covid-19 vaccine rollout to people aged 16-17 who could face a high risk of a major illness from the virus, said the country's health ministry, as the country gradually accelerates its vaccine programme.

The health ministry said this category of 16-17 year olds would be allowed to get the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine from Thursday onwards. 

Younger people filling up intensive care wards in Americas, PAHO says 

Covid-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has said.

In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, Carissa Etienne said.

Hospitalisation rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70 percent in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20s are now being hospitalised for Covid-19 than people in their 70s.

"Despite all we learned about this virus in a year, our control efforts are not as strict, and prevention is not as efficient," Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington.

"We are seeing what happens when these measures are relaxed: Covid spreads, cases mount, our health systems become overwhelmed and people die," she said.

Canada continues to report significant jumps in infection s in highly populated provinces such as Ontario as well as in less populated territories of the North and Yukon, home to remote and indigenous communities, according to PAHO.

Puerto Rico and Cuba remain significant drivers of Covid-19 cases in the Caribbean, which is facing a new surge of the virus, PAHO directors said.

Cases are rapidly accelerating in the Guyanas and across Argentina and Colombia, where weekly case counts are five times higher today than they were this time last year and hospitals are reaching capacity in large Colombian cities.

In Central America, Guatemala is seeing significant spikes in cases and Costa Rica is reporting record-high infections.

While vaccines are being rolled out as fast as possible, they are not a short-term solution because they are in short supply, said Etienne, the WHO's regional director.

Thailand assures foreign residents they can be vaccinated

Thailand has sought to assure its foreign residents that they can get Covid-19 vaccinations, countering comments by some officials suggesting they would be at the end of the line for inoculations.

Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of Thailand's Department of Disease Control, made the pledge as Thailand fought to control an outbreak in the heart of its capital that has sickened thousands of people in the past month, Thais and foreigners alike.

He said at least 70 percent of Thailand's population had to be inoculated to create herd immunity and that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha “mentioned clearly that everyone on Thai soil, both Thais and foreigners, can access the vaccines.”

“Foreigners and diplomats will have the same criteria as Thais," Opas said, adding that the country had a population of 67 million Thai nationals and 3 million foreigners.

More than 2.5 million foreigners in Thailand are from neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. 

Many work on construction sites and in factories. The rest, about 200,000, are mostly professionals legally living in Thailand and retirees — from Australia, China, Britain, Europe and the United States.

India sees record daily rises in infections, deaths

India has reported more than 400,000 coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by a record 3,980.

The South Asian nation's tally has surged past 21 million, boosted by the record 412,262 new cases. Its death toll now stands at 230,168, health ministry data show.

Germany's cases rise by 21,953 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 21,953 to 3,473,503, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases has showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 250 to 84,126, the tally showed.

South Africa registers 2,073 new cases, 46 deaths

South Africa has registered 2,073 coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours for a total of more than 1.58 million, the country’s health minister said.

“Today, 46 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported, which brings the total deaths to 54,557,” Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update to the nation.

Mkhize said over 10 million Covid-19 tests have been conducted since the virus was first detected in the country last March.

Covid curbs reinstated in Sydney as Australian officials trace mystery case

Australian officials have reinstated social distancing measures across greater Sydney, as they scrambled to find missing transmission links in a Covid-19 case connected to an Indian variant of the virus.

The measures, which also cover Sydney's neighbouring regions of Wollongong, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains, were spurred by the detection of Covid-19 in a 50-year-old man, who passed the infection to his wife.

The case, the first local transmission in NSW in more than a month, baffled health officials given the man had no known links to high-risk jobs or people.

Testing has determined the man was infected with a variant first detected in India and genomic sequencing had linked the case to a returned traveller from the United States, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said on Thursday, but there was no clear transmission path between the two people.

It appeared to be the first time officials had reported the local transmission of an India virus variant in Australia.

Tests on the infected man had showed a higher viral load than typically seen in infected people, potentially increasing the chance that the man has spread the disease, officials said.

Pfizer-BioNTech jab offers 95% protection in large study

The largest real-world study yet of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has confirmed that the jab provided more than 95 percent protection against, but found that the level dropped significantly when people received just one of the two prescribed doses.

The authors of the research from Israel's national vaccination campaign said it showed real-world proof that the pandemic could be ended by rapid, global vaccination programmes.

An analysis of public health data from Israel, one of the countries with the highest proportion of fully-vaccinated adults, showed the vaccine was extremely effective in protecting even elderly individuals at a time when the more infectious English variant was dominant, according to the results published in the Lancet medical journal.

By the start of April, nearly 5 million people in Israel had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, more than 70 percent of the population.

The study found that two doses conveyed 95.3 percent protection against infection and 96.7 protection against death seven days after the second dose.

After 14 days, that protection increased to 96.5 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

But the protection was considerably lower when people received just a single vaccine dose.

Between seven and 14 days after the first dose, protection against infection was found to be 57.7 percent, and protection against death 77 percent.

The authors said that one dose may provide a shorter window of protection, especially in an environment where new viral variants emerge.

Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech shot for 12 and older

Canada has become the first country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for ages as young as 12.

Dr Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, confirmed the decision for ages 12 to 15 and said it will help children return to a normal life. 

The US and the European Union are also reviewing it.

The vaccine was previously authorised for anyone 16 or older.

The US Food and Drug Administration is also expected to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for young people by next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement by Canada comes barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorised for those age 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in late March released preliminary results from a vaccine study of 2,260 US volunteers ages 12 to 15 showing there were no cases of the virus among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 18 among those given dummy shots.

Sharma said the evidence is there that the vaccine is safe and effective in that age group.

Australia races to trace source of mystery case in Sydney

Australian authorities have raced to track the source of a mystery infection in Sydney, the first locally transmitted case in the city in more than a month, warning residents to brace for more cases.

Health officials are baffled by the case of a man in his 50s who tested positive on Wednesday, given he had no known links to high-risk jobs or people.

The New South Wales (NSW) state health department issued an alert naming more than a dozen venues visited by the unidentified man in recent days, including restaurants, cafes and shopping centres.

Tests on the man showed a higher viral load than typically seen in infected people, potentially increasing the chance that the man has spread the disease, the health department said. Considered to have been infectious since April 30, he was the first case reported in NSW since March 31.

Authorities are investigating whether the case is genetically linked to anyone in the quarantine system or cases in other states, and are also checking which virus variant is involved.

Mexico's virus death toll passes 218,000

Mexico's health ministry has reported 267 new confirmed virus deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities in the country to 218,007.

Separate government data published in March suggested the real death toll may be at least 60% above the confirmed figure.

Brazil reports almost 74,000 new daily cases

Brazil recorded 73,295 additional confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, along with 2,811 deaths, the Health Ministry has said.

Brazil has registered nearly 15 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 414,399, according to ministry data. 

Novavax shows 43% efficacy against South African variant

Novavax Inc's vaccine had efficacy of 43% against infections caused by the South African variant in a group that included people with and without HIV, and 51% in people who were HIV negative, according to a new analysis.

The post-hoc analysis was published in the New England Journal of Medicine along with full data from the company's trial in South Africa, which included nearly 2,700 volunteers who had not been previously infected with the virus.

Results announced in January showed efficacy of 49.4% against symptomatic cases in the South African trial looking at a mixture of the original virus and the South African variant, and 60.1% among those who were HIV-negative.

The study also showed that prior infection with an earlier version of the virus did not reduce the risk caused by the South African variant among people who got placebo shots.

The average age of trial volunteers was 32. Most cases were mild-to-moderate.

WHO hails 'historic' US support for vaccine patent waiver

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has hailed the United States' support for a global waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, describing it as a "historic decision".

The WHO chief wrote on Twitter that the move was a step towards vaccine equity, "prioritising the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time".

"Now let's all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving Covid-19 vaccines," he added.

Tedros has for months pleaded for such a patent waiver, an idea backed by India and South Africa, arguing this would help to ramp up production and make vaccines much more accessible for poorer nations.

US President Joe Biden's administration earlier announced its support for a global waiver and will negotiate the terms at the WTO.

While intellectual property rights for businesses are important, Washington "supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines," US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.

Guatemala receives first batch of Sputnik V vaccines

Guatemala has taken delivery of its first consignment of Sputnik V vaccines, with 50,000 doses arriving despite Guatemalan concerns Russia could cancel the deal after the confidential vaccine contract was leaked.

Guatemala's government at the end of March acquired 16 million doses from Russia for $79.6 million. 

A week later, half the amount was paid and Russia offered to ship 100,000 doses in the last week of April, but the vaccines were delayed.

Over the weekend Guatemalan newspaper El Periodico published the contract online, prompting President Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday to suggest in an interview that deal could be canceled due to a breach of confidentiality.

Pedro Brolo, Guatemala's Foreign Minister, at a press conference with a Russian diplomat, said the two sides were working to resolve their differences.

Moderna booster shots sees good data against variants

US biotech firm Moderna has announced initial data from a small clinical trial that showed its booster shots improved people's immune responses against key variants of concern.

Forty participants were tested for their levels of neutralising antibodies six to eight months after their primary vaccination series of two shots.

A third shot of either the origin al Moderna vaccine or a variant-specific booster improved antibody levels against two major variants, which were first detected in South Africa and Brazil.

The variant-specific booster performed better than the original shot, producing almost twice as many neutralising antibodies.

The company is also testing a third type of booster, which is a combination of the other two types, and plans to announce results for it soon.

Neutralising antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that are custom-made to bind to a specific structure of a microbe.

In the case of the coronavirus, these are its spike proteins that dot the surface giving it its distinctive crown-like appearance.

Binding to these spikes prevents the virus from latching on to and invading our cells.

Neutralising antibodies are therefore important first lines of defence that prevent infection.

The immune system does however contain many other key players which, especially among people who were vaccinated against the original virus or previously infected, can kick in and prevent severe disease, even if a variant breaks through and infects the host.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies