Covid-19 wrap: EU vaccine rollout 'unacceptably slow', France bans outdoor drinking, new Brazil variant

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Coronavirus toll at 10:00 (GMT) Thursday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2 816 908 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 10:00 (GMT) on Thursday.

At least 128 851 200 cases of coronavirus have been registered.

The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

On Wednesday, 11 978 new deaths and 637 012 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Brazil with 3 869 new deaths, followed by United States with 1 076 and Poland with 620.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 552 073 deaths from 30 460 836 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 321 515 deaths from 12 748 747 cases, Mexico with 203 210 deaths from 2 238 887 cases, India with 162 927 deaths from 12 221 665 cases, and Britain with 126 713 deaths from 4 345 788 cases.

 - AFP

Europe vaccine rollout 'unacceptably slow', case surge 'worrying' - WHO

Copenhagen – The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday slammed Europe's "unacceptably slow" vaccine rollout and said the region's surge in coronavirus infections was "worrying".

"Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic... However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow" and is "prolonging the pandemic", WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

"We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now," he added.

The organisation said that Europe's virus situation was "more worrying than we have seen in several months".

Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but "last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases," it said.

The total number of deaths in Europe "is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million," it said.

 - AFP

Kazakh leader threatens to sack cabinet over slow vaccine rollout

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Thursday he may sack the Central Asian nation's government if it fails to accelerate the Covid-19 vaccine rollout this month after a relatively slow start.

The former Soviet republic launched a mass vaccination campaign in February using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and has so far administered both of the required shots to about 47 000 people – less than 0.2% of the population – while only about 137 000 people have had a single shot.

"You must turn the situation around in April," Tokayev's office quoted him as telling a government meeting. "Otherwise personnel decisions will follow that will disappoint you. I mean not just the (health) minister but the cabinet as a whole."

Tokayev said the government had failed to secure sufficient vaccine supplies in advance and he personally had to discuss the matter with foreign leaders.

If efforts to speed up the rollout succeed, Tokayev said, the government may start lifting some restrictions next month to allow small businesses to return to work.


Peak of French Covid-19 wave could be within 10 days - Veran

PARIS – France could hit the peak of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in seven to 10 days with the new restrictive measures announced on Wednesday by French President Emmanuel Macron, Health Minister Olivier Veran told France Inter radio.

Macron ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks as he sought to push back the third wave of Covid-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

"We could reach a peak of the epidemic in seven to 10 days if all goes according to plan," Veran said.

"Then we need two extra weeks to reach a peak in intensive care units (ICUs) that could occur at the end of April."

Daily new Covid-19 infections in France have doubled since February to average nearly 40 000. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care breached 5 000 this week, exceeding the peak hit during the six-week second lockdown enforced late last year.


France to ban outdoor drinking under new virus restrictions

Paris – Alcoholic drinks will be prohibited in French parks and other outdoor public spaces as part of the new limited nationwide lockdown to stem the Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday.

Addressing the National Assembly, Castex also said authorities would be quick to disperse groups of more than six people on riverbanks or squares after the new restrictions unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron late on Wednesday.

Castex said he "unreservedly" condemned people who had not been respecting the rules, after images of beer-swigging crowds on riverbanks under spring sunshine in cities including Paris and Lyon.

Meanwhile, prosecutors should "systematically" probe organisers of clandestine parties for putting the lives of others in danger, he added.

By decreeing school closures and systematic work-from-home protocols, Macron hopes to ease pressure on hospitals facing a new surge in coronavirus cases that are overwhelming intensive care units.

But he refrained from demanding that people stay in their homes or avoid socialising completely, and authorised travel between regions over the coming Easter weekend.

 - AFP

Australia's Brisbane lifts snap virus lockdown ahead of Easter

Brisbane – Stay-at-home orders for more than two million people in Australia's third-biggest city Brisbane were lifted on Thursday, ending a snap coronavirus lockdown just ahead of the traditionally busy Easter holidays.

The three-day lockdown ordered on Monday saw schools, restaurants and bars forced to close after an outbreak in Brisbane, with health officials saying it was necessary to stop the virus spreading and bolster contact tracing.

It was the latest in a series of mini lockdowns in Australian cities this year, which authorities say have quickly brought virus outbreaks under control and avoided more onerous measures.

Just one new case was detected in Brisbane on Thursday, taking the number of cases to 14, allowing restrictions to be eased.

Masks will be mandatory in public spaces while restrictions on gatherings and dancing will also remain in place.

"We're not out of the woods yet so... for the next two weeks if we all do the right thing, we can get through this together," state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

 - AFP

Canada's most populous province to return to Covid-19 lockdown - media

Montreal – Canada's most populous province is expected to return to lockdown after a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, local media reported on Wednesday.

Premier Doug Ford is set to announce that Ontario – home to 14 million people, more than a third of the country's population – will return to lockdown for 28 days from Saturday, TV channels CBC and CTV reported.

The province has reported 2 000 new cases daily for a week, double the daily infections seen in the beginning of March.

The number of patients in intensive care also rose to 421 on Wednesday, equalling the peak reached in January, according to Radio-Canada.

Essential services will remain open with capacity limited to 50%, while non-essential shops will be reduced to 25%.

Gyms and hairdressers will also be closed, although schools are expected to remain open until the week beginning 12 April.

Canada has recorded more than 982 000 cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday, with nearly 23 000 deaths.

 - AFP

Lockdown home-working thwarts Germany's burglars

BERLIN – The number of break-ins in Germany fell to an all-time low last year because so many people were working from home, the insurance industry association GDV said on Thursday.

Insurance claims for break-ins fell to 85 000 in 2020, 10 000 fewer than the year before and the lowest level since records began in 1998.

"The fall in break-ins is largely due to people spending so much time at home thanks to the coronavirus pandemic," GDV head Joerg Asmussen said. "Burglars often had no opportunity to carry out the deed."

As a result, damages fell to €230 million, €70 million less than the year before, while the average size of an individual claim fell by 10% to €2,750 euros, the association said.


Brazil detects new coronavirus variant similar to South African variant

SAO PAULO – Brazil has detected a new Covid-19 variant that is similar to the one first seen in South Africa, the head of Sao Paulo's Butantan institute said on Wednesday, as Latin America's biggest country notched another record daily death toll.

Butantan President Dimas Covas said the patient with the variant had no history of travel to South Africa. The South African variant has alarmed public health experts as there are questions of how effective current vaccines are against it. Brazil is grappling with its own homegrown variant, called P1, which appears to be fuelling a record-breaking run of infections.

"It is a variant similar to that of South Africa, although there is no history of travel or contact with travellers from South Africa," said Covas, whose biomedical institute is run by Sao Paulo state. "There is a possibility that it is an evolution of our P1 towards this mutation in South Africa."

Brazil reported a daily record of 3 869 new Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, with 90 638 new coronavirus cases in the prior 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil is grappling with the worst phase of its outbreak, which has already killed more than 321 000 Brazilians, the world's second-highest death toll after the United States.


Egypt gets 854 400 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine - ministry

CAIRO – Egypt on Wednesday received 854 400 doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as part of the global COVAX agreement, the health ministry said.

COVAX was established by the Geneva-based GAVI vaccine alliance and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the equitable distribution of vaccines.

The shipment is part of 40 million doses that Egypt is set to receive via GAVI.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has received approval for emergency use from WHO and the Egyptian Drug Authority, the ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

The shipment will be tested in the authority's labs before the vaccination of medical workers, the elderly, and eligible groups of citizens with chronic diseases, he added.


German president Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab

Berlin – German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday received the first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, just two days after authorities recommended use of the controversial jab only for people aged 60 and over.

"I trust the vaccines authorised in Germany," Steinmeier, 65, said in a statement after getting inoculated at Berlin's Military Hospital.

"Vaccinating is the decisive step on the path out of the pandemic. Use the opportunities available. Join in!" he added.

German officials have been at pains to shore up public confidence in AstraZeneca's vaccine, which has been on a rollercoaster ride in Europe.

Germany's STIKO vaccine commission on Tuesday said it recommended use of the jab only for people 60 and older following concerns over several blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

People under the age of 60 can still take AstraZeneca in consultation with their doctor and if they are fully aware of the potential risks.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is 40 years old, told reporters on Thursday that he would be willing to take AstraZeneca "when it's my turn".

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said she is up for the Anglo-Swedish company's vaccine when it is her turn.

 - AFP

India's daily new infections highest in more than five months

NEW DELHI – India reported 72 330 new Covid-19 infections overnight, data from the health ministry showed on Thursday, the highest since 11 October.

India's overall caseload stood at 12.22 million, making it the third-most affected globally, behind the United States and Brazil.

The country reported 459 deaths, taking the total to 162 927, the data showed.


Brazil sees record 3 869 Covid-19 deaths, health ministry says

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil on Wednesday reported a daily record of 3 869 new Covid-19 deaths, with 90 638 new coronavirus cases in the prior 24 hours, the health ministry said.


Poland reports new daily record of 35 251 coronavirus cases

WARSAW – Poland reported a new daily record of 35 251 coronavirus cases on Thursday, health ministry data showed, as the country grapples with a third wave of the pandemic that has pushed its health service to its limits.

In total, the country of 38 million has reported 2 356 970 cases of the coronavirus and 53 665 deaths.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 24 300 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 24 300 to 2 833 173, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 201 to 76 543, the tally showed.


Russia reports 9 169 new Covid-19 cases, 383 deaths

MOSCOW – Russia reported 9 169 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, including 2 151 in Moscow, pushing the infection tally in the country to 4 554 264 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 383 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking Russia's death toll to 99 233.

Russia's statistics service, which is keeping a separate tally, has reported a much higher toll and said that more than 200 000 Russians died of Covid-19 through January.


Ukraine reports record daily Covid-19 deaths for second day in a row

KYIV – Ukraine registered a record daily high of 421 coronavirus-related deaths over 24 hours for the second day in a row, health minister Maksym Stepanov said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Ukraine reported 407 deaths and Stepanov told the government infections were likely to rise further over the next one to two weeks.

Stepanov said 17 569 new infections were reported over the past day and a record high 5 160 people were hospitalised. On Wednesday, Ukraine reported 11 226 new cases, far below the record 18 132 cases last week.

Ukrainian capital Kyiv, which is still leading in the number of new infections, will impose a strict lockdown from 5 April, restricting public transport, closing all schools and kindergartens.

Ukraine has reported a total of 1 691 737 coronavirus cases and 33 246 deaths.


Sweden registers 8 304 new Covid-19 cases, 33 deaths on Thursday

STOCKHOLM – Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered 8 304 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 33 new deaths, taking the total to 13 498. 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.


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