Covid-19 wrap: US military offers South Korea troops J&J vaccine, UK unclear on further lockdown easing

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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) Monday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 3 381 042 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 Monday.

At least 162 941 730 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 Sunday, 9 624 new deaths and 565 136 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were India with 4 106, followed by Brazil with 1 036 and Colombia with 520.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 585 970 deaths from 32 940 921 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 435 751 deaths from 15 627 475 cases, India with 274 390 deaths from 24 965 463 cases, Mexico with 220 433 deaths from 2 381 923 cases, and the United Kingdom with 127 679 deaths from 4 450 777 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Hungary with 302 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants, followed by the Czech Republic with 279, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 274, the Republic of North Macedonia 250 and Montenegro 249.

 - AFP

US military offers J&J vaccines for South Korean troops

SEOUL – The US military has offered to provide some Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) coronavirus vaccines for South Korean troops, the defence ministry said on Monday, as South Korea struggles with a shortage of Covid-19 shots.

The offer comes days before President Moon Jae-in is due to visit Washington for his first summit with US President Joe Biden, amid calls for Moon to secure more and faster deliveries of US-made vaccines.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that US Forces Korea (USFK) had offered to give 13 000 doses of J&J's vaccine, citing unidentified government sources.

The ministry declined to confirm how many shots USFK had offered, but said it was discussing how to use them with USFK and health authorities.

"USFK had conveyed its willingness to provide J&J vaccines for the vaccination of our soldiers," the ministry said in a statement.

USFK spokesperson Colonel Lee Peters declined to confirm the offer, but told Reuters that it was working closely with the South Korean government on the US-authorised use of Covid-19 vaccines.


India says 'minuscule' clotting cases after AstraZeneca vaccine

NEW DELHI – India has found 26 suspected cases of bleeding and clotting among recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the health ministry said on Monday, describing the risk as "minuscule" out of the 164 million doses administered.

Some countries have suspended or restricted use of the shot over fears of possible side effects, though health experts have said its benefits outweigh the risks.

This is the first time India has reported any serious reaction to the use of the vaccine, branded locally as Covishield.

India's adverse events committee reviewed 498 instances of serious and severe side effects following the injection of the shot, the ministry said, 26 of which were potentially "thromboembolic" – meaning the formation of a clot in a blood vessel that might break loose and plug another vessel.

The ministry said the rate of these events in India was about 0.61 per million doses, much lower than Britain's 4 and Germany's 10.

"Bleeding and clotting cases following Covid vaccination in India are minuscule and in-line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions," the ministry said in a statement that cited data from the committee.


No decision yet on 21 June lockdown easing - PM Johnson's spokesperson

LONDON – Britain's government cannot yet make a judgement on whether to go ahead with a further easing of lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June and wants to see as much data as possible before deciding, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesperson said.

"We're not at the point where we can make a definitive judgement," the spokesperson told reporters. "We want to keep a close eye on the data, we want to get as much data in as possible before considering the next steps."


Netherlands eases lockdown as coronavirus infections fall

AMSTERDAM – The Netherlands will ease its coronavirus lockdown measures slightly this week as the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations has eased pressure on hospitals, health minister Hugo de Jonge said.

Amusement parks and zoos will be allowed to reopen as of Wednesday, while outdoor service at bars and restaurants will be extended by two hours until 20:00.

Next steps to ease the lockdown are expected in the coming three weeks, De Jonge said.


Dubai eases Covid-19 restrictions, allows full hotel capacity

Dubai on Monday eased Covid-19 restrictions, allowing hotels in the regional tourism hub to operate at full capacity and permitting concerts and sports events where all attendees and participants have been vaccinated.

The United Arab Emirates ranks highly globally for Covid-19 testing and vaccination rates.

Social distancing and compulsory face masks will continue, Dubai's Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said. Capacities for restaurants and entertainment venues also increased.

The UAE has in recent weeks banned entry from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to guard against the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant.


Saudi Arabia to reopen to foreign tourists soon, official says

Saudi Arabia plans to soon reopen to foreign tourists, a senior tourism official said on Monday after the kingdom announced the lifting of quarantine restrictions for certain foreign arrivals.

The kingdom announced late on Sunday that non-citizens arriving from certain countries and who were fully vaccinated against or recently recovered from Covid-19 would no longer be required to quarantine in designated government hotels.

Those new measures, however, only apply to residents, government and business travellers or those visiting friends and family, but not foreign tourists, according to the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA).

STA Chief Executive Fahd Hamidaddin told Reuters the kingdom would reopen to foreign tourists this year, with an announcement expected to be made "very soon".

Hamidaddin declined to say exactly when.


Portugal greets first UK tourists as travel curbs lifted

Faro – British holidaymakers returned to Portugal on Monday as the country seeks to revive its battered tourism industry after lifting travel restrictions that had been imposed to curb Covid-19.

Britons are the biggest contingent of tourists in Portugal, a country whose economy relies heavily on foreign visitors.

Portugal imposed a strict, two-month confinement earlier this year to control a new wave of coronavirus infections. It lifted restrictions on visitors from Britain and most European Union countries from Monday.

"It's nice to get away and be back here," said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the southern town of Faro with his wife and 11-year-old son.

"We're very excited," Thompson said, 11 years after his first visit to the coastal region of Algarve.

Some 30 flights from the UK were expected in Portugal on Monday, including 17 taking around 5 500 passengers to Faro.


Singapore shuts schools, Taiwan bars foreigners to battle outbreaks

Singapore will close schools from Wednesday as authorities warned new coronavirus strains such as the one first detected in India were affecting more children.

Taiwan also shut schools in the capital Taipei to control an outbreak, and the island banned all foreigners from entry or transit for a month unless they had a residency card.

Both governments have been tightening restrictions to fight a recent rise in cases, after remaining relatively unscathed during the pandemic compared with the rest of the world.

Authorities in Singapore said on Sunday that primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges would shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on 28 May.

The announcement came after Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted coronavirus cases, the highest daily count in eight months. Some of the cases involved children linked to a cluster at a tuition centre.

An additional 21 local transmissions were reported Monday.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, citing a conversation he had with the ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, said on Sunday that the B.1.617 strain, first detected in India, "appears to affect children more".

 - AFP

Malaysia mulls shutdown of richest state amid Covid-19 surge

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia's health ministry on Monday said it may push for a total lockdown of the country's most industrialised state if current coronavirus curbs are unable to rein in a spike in new cases.

The government banned social activities and travel between districts and states two weeks ago, as part of a Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed before the Eid-al-Fitr holidays, as it grapples with a surge in Covid-19 infections that experts have said may involve highly contagious variants.

Business activity can still operate, but the government may need to shut that down in the state of Selangor if the situation worsens, Health Minister Adham Baba said.

Selangor is a key contributor to gross domestic product and employment as the country's shipping hub and industrial capital.

It is also where the world's top rubber glove manufacturers such as Top Glove have set up operations.

"If the MCO is unable to contain the spread, then a full MCO would be something that can be considered," Adham told a virtual news conference.

Selangor, the country's richest and most populous state, has reported well over a thousand new Covid-19 cases daily since 5 May, making up at least a quarter of the daily cases nationally.


Thailand reports another Covid-19 record after prison clusters

BANGKOK – Thailand reported on Monday a daily record of 9 635 new coronavirus cases, nearly three-quarters of which were prisoners infected in jail clusters, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a third wave of infections.

The combined cases bring its total infections to 111 082. Thailand also announced 25 new deaths on Monday, bringing its overall coronavirus fatalities to 614.

The Covid-19 taskforce said 10 748 inmates had been infected with the coronavirus this month, according to tests on 24 357 prisoners in eight jails.

Authorities have been carrying out testing in seven other prisons and more positive cases are expected, said Aryut Sinthoppan, director-general of the Department of Corrections.

"Prisons are overcrowded, so there are limitations to hygiene and disease control efforts," Aryut told reporters, adding that authorities aim to test every prisoner.


India reports 281 386 new coronavirus infections

BENGALURU – India on Monday reported 281 386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4 106.

The South Asian nation's total case load is 24.97 million with the death toll at 274 390, health ministry data showed.


Russia reports 9 328 new Covid-19 cases, 340 deaths

MOSCOW – Russia on Monday reported 9 328 new Covid-19 cases, including 3 573 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 4 949 573.

The coronavirus taskforce said 340 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes, taking its death toll to 116 211. The state statistics agency keeps a separate tally and has said it recorded around 250 000 deaths related to Covid-19 between April 2020 and March 2021.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 5 412 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 5 412 to 3 598 846, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 64 to 86 160, the tally showed.


Taiwan reports 333 new domestic Covid-19 cases

TAIPEI – Taiwan reported 333 new domestic Covid-19 cases on Monday, amid a rise in community transmissions.


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