This illustration picture shows vials with “COVID-19 VACCINE” stickers attached and syringes with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca at the back on Nov 17, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)
LONDON / HARARE / RIO DE JANEIRO / BRUSSELS / RABAT / SOFIA / GENEVA / PARIS / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / CHILE / ATHENS / OTTAWA / SKOPJE / QUITO / VILNIUS / TUNIS / ALGIERS / BUCHAREST / ROME / MEXICO CITY / BAMAKO / BERLIN / MOSCOW – AstraZeneca Plc has informed European Union officials on Friday it would cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 percent to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems, a senior official told Reuters.
AstraZeneca was expected to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 EU countries by the end of March, the official who was involved in the talks said.
The decrease deals another blow to Europe’s vaccination drive after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine to the bloc this week
The EU official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, added that AstraZeneca planned to begin deliveries to the EU from Feb 15, in line with original plans.
The company confirmed the drop in deliveries without giving specific details on the magnitude of the shortfall.
AstraZeneca told EU officials at a meeting that the cut was due to production problems at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by its partner Novasep, the EU official said.
EU governments “expressed deep dissatisfaction with this,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter after the announcement.
The EU drug regulator is due to decide on approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Jan. 29.
The decrease deals another blow to Europe’s vaccination drive after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine to the bloc this week.
Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 98.2 million while the global death toll topped 2.1 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on Jan 22, 2021. (LEON NEAL VIA AP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new English variant of COVID-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality although he said evidence showed that both vaccines being used in the country are effective against it.
Johnson said that the impact of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissable, was putting the health service under “intense pressure”.
Boris Johnson said that all the current evidence showed the two vaccines being used in the country – the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford shots – remained effective against old and new variants
Johnson said however that all the current evidence showed both vaccines – the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford shots – remained effective against old and new variants.
Johnson also said Britain may have to implement further measures to protect its borders from new variants of COVID-19.
Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said the evidence about mortality levels was “not yet strong”, and came from a “series of different bits of information”, stressing there was great uncertainty around the data.
The British government on Friday reported 40,261 new cases and 1,401 additional fatalities, bringing the tally to 3,583,907 and the death toll to 95,981, official data showed.
The latest estimates from the health ministry suggest that the number of new infections was shrinking by between 1 percent and 4 percent a day. Last week, it was thought cases were growing by much as 5 percent, and the turnaround gave hope that the spread of the virus was being curbed, although the ministry urged caution.
Data published earlier on Friday showed that 5.38 million people had been given their first dose of a vaccine, with 409,855 receiving it in the past 24 hours, a record high so far.
The COVAX vaccine initiative, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Friday that it will purchase up to 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The rollout of the vaccine, which has already received WHO’s emergency use approval, will commence with the successful negotiation and execution of supply agreements, according to a COVAX announcement.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the new agreement with Pfizer should allow vaccinations to begin in February for health workers, although details of supply arrangements are still being finalised.
COVAX also confirmed that it will exercise an option to receive its first 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII), as per an existing agreement with the SII. The majority of the 100 million doses have been earmarked for delivery in the first quarter of the year.
ALSO READ: COVAX says to provide 1.8b vaccines to poor countries
France passed the threshold of 3 million COVID-19 cases on Friday, after 23,292 new cases were registered in the past 24 hours.
Another 649 newly reported fatalities took the death toll to 72,647 – the seventh biggest in the world.
Pressure is building on France’s hospital system, with 2,912 COVID-19 patients currently in intensive care units, although France is stepping up its COVID-19 vaccination program.
The health ministry said on Friday a total of 963,139 people had received a COVID-19 vaccine in France.
Brazil’s Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) unanimously approved on Friday the emergency use of another 4.8 million doses of the CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac.
The request was made by the Sao Paulo-based Butantan Institute on Monday, a day after Anvisa authorized the use of the first batch of 6 million doses of CoronaVac.
Brazil registered 1,096 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 215,243, the Health Ministry said Friday.
Another 56,552 COVID-19 cases were reported over the past day, bringing the national count to 8,753,920, the ministry said.
A variant of the coronavirus already accounts for about half of new infections in the Brazilian Amazonian city of Manaus, raising concerns about a greater risk of spread, a researcher warned on Friday.
Meanwhile, the state of Sao Paulo announced a return to the strictest phase of quarantine starting on Monday, with the closure of bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses during nights and weekends due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. The new measures will last until Feb 7.
READ MORE: Italy bans flights from Brazil after new virus variant reported
Authorities in Zimbabwe have confirmed that the country’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joel Matiza died of COVID-19 on Friday.
Matiza was the third government minister to die of the disease within a week and the fourth since the coronavirus was first reported in the country in March, 2020.
Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 tally has surpassed the 30,000 mark after the country recorded 639 new cases in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said Friday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will begin considering China’s two COVID-19 vaccines – made by Sinopharm and Sinovac – for emergency approval next week, WHO Assistant Director-General Mariangela Simao said on Friday.
Simao said the WHO was also looking into providing emergency approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine from manufacturing sites in South Korea and India.
Follow-up doses of the COVID-19 vaccines could be given up to six weeks later if it’s not feasible to get them in the recommended interval, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, with the US Food and Drug Administration saying that slight delays shouldn’t affect the protection offered by the vaccine.
The CDC said it had administered 19.1 million vaccine doses as of Friday.
About one in 400,000 recipients of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had a severe allergic reaction to the first shot, according to a CDC study released on Friday. The research, which tracked 10 cases of anaphylaxis among about 4 million doses administered through Jan 10, concludes that such reactions to the vaccine still appear to be rare.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States fell by the most ever, the latest sign that relief may be coming to a health-care system that’s been fighting the virus for almost a year.
The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by 2,773 in a single day to 119,927, according to COVID Tracking Project data. The one-week drop of 9,020 was also a record, the data show. And the decrease is accelerating on a percentage basis. However, the absolute number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals is still extraordinarily high.
Between 150 and 200 National Guard deployed to Washington, D.C., to provide security for President Joe Biden’s inauguration have tested positive for the coronavirus, a US official said on Friday.
So far, the US has reported over 24.8 million confirmed cases and more than 414,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
In another development, Biden turned to executive action to help Americans with finances depleted by the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, as his more ambitious legislative proposals face mounting opposition on Capitol Hill. Biden directed his administration to boost food assistance for needy Americans and leverage federal contracts to improve pay for low-wage workers in executive orders signed Friday at the White House.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that he will authorize private companies and local governments to purchase COVID-19 vaccines directly, as the government seeks to speed up vaccinations against the pandemic.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only one being administered in Mexico.
Mexico’s Health Ministry on Friday reported 21,007 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 1,440 additional fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 1,732,290 cases and 147,614 deaths.
South Africa’s regulator granted the health department permission to distribute the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in its first nod for COVID-19 inoculations.
The National Department of Health has been recognized by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority as a supplier of the Serum Institute of India (SII), Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement late Friday.
South Africa recently struck a deal with SII to receive the country’s first coronavirus vaccines this month and next, as part of the earliest phase of a plan the government says will inoculate two-thirds of the population by the end of 2021.
An initial 1.5 million doses will come from the institute, which is producing the version developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford, Mkhize said in a statement earlier this month. They will be reserved for health workers, and negotiations are ongoing with other manufacturers about further supplies, he said.
Almost 10 months after the first coronavirus case was detected in South Africa, the official death toll has breached the 40,000 mark.
The country now has almost 1.4 million confirmed cases – more than triple the number of any other African nation. That may in part be due to the fact that it has conducted almost 7.9 million tests, way more than its continental peers.
A second wave of infections has largely been driven by a new strain of the virus that studies show is about 50 percent more transmissible than earlier versions.
The test positivity rate has however slowed over the past week to 19 percent, from a peak of 35 percent, and there had been a promising decline in hospital admissions, the health ministry said Friday.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,417 to 2,122,679, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday.
The reported death toll rose by 879 to 51,521, the tally showed.
Russia on Saturday reported 20,921 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 2,668 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,698,273.
Authorities also reported an additional 559 deaths, raising the official total to 68,971.
The Spanish Health Ministry on Friday registered 42,885 new COVID-19 cases and 400 deaths in the past 24 hours.
The new figures took the tally to 2,499,560 and the death toll to 55,441.
Also on Friday, the Madrid region announced that it was bringing forward its nighttime curfew by an hour to 10 pm-6 am. Bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses will have to close at 9 pm, while the number of people allowed to sit at the same table will be reduced from 6 to 4. All meetings between non-cohabitants in homes will be prohibited until at least Feb 8.
Meanwhile, the regional government in the northern Basque region announced that it was closing the perimeters between all municipalities in the region and preventing movement between towns.
In another development, a steady drip-feed of public officials admitting to having been vaccinated ahead of priority groups has sparked uproar on social media in Spain at a time when several regions are tightening restrictions in an effort to curb a spike in infections.
Several local mayors admitted to getting vaccinated before their turn, while the regional health chief of the exclave of Ceuta was heavily criticized both for getting vaccinated early and for saying he had done this under pressure from his staff.
Belgium will start to ban non-essential travel from or to the country starting on Jan 27 until March 1, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced Friday.
“Foreign nationals entering our country for professional reasons will have to show a double test: a negative PCR test on departure and a negative PCR test on arrival,” said De Croo.
“Non-medical contact professions can only reopen at the earliest from Feb 13, under the condition that the epidemiological situation improves compared to the current situation, and the evaluation will be made in the Consultation Committee on Feb 5,” he said.
The epidemiological situation in Belgium remains weak. From Jan 12 to 18, there were 1,963 new infections on average per day, the public health institute Sciensano said on Friday.
To date, Belgium has recorded a total of 686,827 COVID-19 cases and 20,620 deaths.
Passengers wait for the train at the Brussels Central Station in Brussels, Belgium, Jan 22, 2021. (ZHANG CHENG / XINHUA)
Morocco on Friday approved the emergency use of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
“The vaccine meets all the conditions of quality, efficacy and safety, and does not present any potential side effects,” it said.
The first batch of coronavirus vaccines developed by Sinopharm will arrive in Morocco on Jan 27, the ministry said earlier.
Morocco on Friday reported 1,138 new COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths, taking the number of infections in the country to 464,844 and the death toll to 8,105.
The first cases of the new UK coronavirus variant have been confirmed in Bulgaria, an official said on Friday evening.
The new cases were detected in eight patients earlier on Friday, Todor Kantardjiev, director of the National Center of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, said in an interview with the Bulgarian National Television.
Among the eight were some who had just arrived from Britain.
Bulgaria has so far reported 213,864 COVID-19 cases and 8,741 deaths. Vaccination is underway in the Balkan country, where 25,251 people have already been inoculated.
Norway is imposing the strictest measures since March 12 in the area around the capital in an attempt to suppress infections of the more contagious coronavirus variant.
All shops, cinemas, restaurants and churches will be closed and the service of alcohol banned until Jan 31, Health Minister Bent Hoie announced in a webcast speech on Saturday. Amateur sports and leisure activities won’t be allowed.
“This is a very serious situation, and we must do what we can to stop the outbreak,” Hoie said. “If the virus mutation spreads in Oslo, it will be very difficult to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the country.”
The new variant was detected on Friday in two nursing home residents in Nordre Follo bordering Oslo, with no known route of transmission.
Under the new rules to take effect from midday on Saturday, grocery stores, chemists and gas stations will be allowed to remain open and funerals will be permitted. The measures are based on the assumption that the new variant is more infectious, but not necessarily more dangerous, the health minister said.
Italy reported 472 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, against 521 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 13,633 from 14,078.
Italy has now registered 84,674 COVID-19 deaths since its outbreak came to light last February, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.44 million cases to date.
Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 21,691 on Friday, down by 354 from a day earlier.
There were 144 new admissions to intensive care units, against 155 the day before. The total number of intensive care patients fell by 28 to 2,390.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded on the African continent reached 3,368,330 as of Friday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
The death toll stood at 82,954 while a total of 2,824,960 recoveries had been reported, the Africa CDC said.
Mali has chosen to use the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in its plan to initially immunize 4.2 million people, targeting medical staff, the elderly and those with comorbidities, the health minister said on Friday.
Fanta Siby said the vaccines, which unlike some others do not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, would arrive at the end of March.
On Thursday the government said it wanted to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, costing over 31 billion CFA francs (US$57 million), with financial assistance from global vaccine alliance GAVI.
The West African nation has so far recorded 7,911 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths.
Cuban health authorities said on Friday they had detected an imported case of a coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.
The authorities could not confirm if the variant “has been introduced or extended to community transmission of the virus in the country, but we cannot rule it out either, due to the high number of cases that are being registered daily,” said Guadalupe Guzman, a researcher at the Pedro Kuori Institute of Tropical Medicine, at a health ministry press conference.
The ministry reported 530 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the national count to 20,060.
Four more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing January’s death toll to 42, the highest monthly figure since April 2020, when 57 deaths were registered in a month.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Health said on Friday that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the East African country has risen to 132,881 after 555 new cases were reported.
Another three more fatalities took the death toll to 2,060, the ministry said.
According to the ministry, there were some 12,306 active cases, of which 227 patients were said to be in severe conditions.
Indoor restaurants, bars and cafes in the Romanian capital Bucharest will be allowed to partially operate starting from Monday, local authorities said Friday.
Eateries will be allowed to operate between 6 am and 9 pm at a maximum capacity of 30 percent.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Health recommended the Bucharest Emergency Management Committee to postpone the decision as the second and the third cases of infection with a new virus variant were detected in Bucharest.
With 413 new COVID-19 cases, the capital remains the city with the largest number of infections in the country. Nationwide, 2,699 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative caseload to 706,475.
The Finnish government on Friday evening announced stricter restrictions on non-Finnish travelers from European Union nations entering the country and a larger testing plan for arrivals, in an effort to curb the spread of the more infectious variants of COVID-19.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said at a press conference that work-based travel from other EU countries will be restricted to only essential services. Important family reasons would also be accepted and transit travel will be allowed.
The restrictions will take effect next week.
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru said all passengers in ports of entry will be subject to testing as of next week.
Ecuador registered on Friday 969 new cases of COVID-19 infection in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 237,158, the Ministry of Public Health said.
The ministry also reported 30 deaths, bringing the death toll to 9,913.
Ecuador launched its pilot vaccination program against COVID-19 on Thursday, starting with frontline healthcare personnel and seniors in nursing homes.
Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos said the program was off to a good start on Friday.
Mass vaccination in the South American country will begin in March, in accordance with international vaccine supply.
Tunisia has recorded its highest daily COVID-19 toll with 103 fatalities, according to a report released Friday night by the health ministry.
Meanwhile, 2,389 new infections were also registered, according to the report.
In total, Tunisia has recorded 6,092 deaths and 193,273 confirmed cases so far.
Chile on Friday reported 4,956 new COVID-19 cases, the highest figure since infections peaked in June, bringing the total caseload to 690,066.
According to the Ministry of Health, 84 more people have died from causes associated with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 17,786.
Some 645,035 patients have recovered from the disease, while 26,889 are in the active stage.
Health authorities also announced that 54,458 people have received the first of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 8,364 had received both the first and second doses, as part of a national vaccination campaign.
The Greek government announced on Friday a further extension of the current nationwide lockdown to Feb 1, as part of efforts to address the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
Middle school and high school students will return to classrooms for first time on Feb 1 after two and a half months of online learning, Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias said.
The epidemiological data indicate that the COVID-19 situation has stabilized in the past three weeks, Vana Papaevangelou, an associate professor of pediatrics who participates in the committee of experts advising the Greek Health Ministry on the management of the COVID-19 crisis, said.
Currently, Greece has some 6,000 active cases of coronavirus, of which half are in the Attica region, she said.
The National Public Health Organization (EODY) on Friday reported 585 new cases and 28 deaths, bringing the tally to 151,041 and the death to 5,598.
People stand in a queue outside a clothing shop as police patrol on Ermou Street, Athens’ main shopping area, on Jan 22, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)
North Macedonia reported Friday 307 new COVID-19 infections, raising the tally to 90,124, according to the health ministry.
Fourteen more patients have succumbed to the disease, taking the number of fatalities to 2,768.
Health Minister Venko Filipce said that so far, health authorities have not detected any cases of the new UK variant in the country.
Protective measures remain in force despite the fact that the number of new cases has decreased, Filipce added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday that his government will build two mobile hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area for COVID-19 patients.
Trudeau said that the mobile hospitals will provide up to 200 additional beds, effectively freeing up space in some of the region’s hardest-hit hospitals for those who need to be warded in intensive care units (ICU).
“The increase in cases this month has put a real strain on hospitals and for Ontario in particular the situation is extremely serious,” he said.
There were more than 400 COVID-19 patients in critical care in Ontario hospitals as of Jan 18, according to CTV on Friday.
As of Friday afternoon, Canada has reported a total of 735,950 COVID-19 cases and 18,799 deaths, according to CTV.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
China’s Sinopharm has donated a batch of epidemic prevention supplies to a hospital in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), according to the Chinese Embassy on Friday.
The company handed over 36 boxes of anti-epidemic supplies, including protective suits and surgical masks, to the hospital, a representative of China Sinopharm International Corporation Central Eastern Europe Branch told Xinhua.
Minister of Health and Social Welfare of the Republika Srpska Alen Seranic thanked the Chinese corporation and said that the anti-epidemic supplies will play a role in the hospital’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, BiH has reported 119,420 COVID-19 cases and 4,555 deaths.
Algeria on Friday reported 272 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 105,124.
The death toll rose to 2,856 after three more fatalities were recorded, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Friday that his country would get enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate 70 percent of its population during the first half of 2021.
“European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assured us that Lithuania will be able to vaccinate 70 percent of the country’s adult population in the first and second quarters of this year because we will receive four million vaccines during the period,” Nauseda said following a virtual European Council meeting.
Describing effective mass vaccination as a big challenge facing the country, the president said he expected to achieve herd immunity by July 6.
To reach that target, Lithuania, a small Baltic country with a population of about 2.8 million, will need to vaccinate 10,000 people per day in February and up to 34,000-35,000 per day in the second quarter, according to the president.
The Swedish Public Health Agency said on Friday that people who have traveled to Brazil, UK and South Africa should be tested for COVID-19 and avoid contact with others when they return to Sweden.
The Public Health Agency urged everyone who come to Sweden after visiting the UK, South Africa or Brazil to stay at home for at least seven days and avoid contact with others as much as possible, and to test themselves as soon as possible, with a follow-up test five days after their arrival in Sweden. The rest of the household are also asked to stay home waiting for test results.
Unitaid, a global health initiative that works with partners to bring about innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat major diseases in low and middle income countries (LMICs), and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) on Friday announced that they have finalized an agreement to cut by half the costs of antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests.
In a media statement released Friday, Unitaid and FIND also said that they will increase capacity to produce “264 million test kits” during “the coming 12 months”.
According to the statement, the move will cut the price of such tests from US$5 to US$2.5 each, and would increase the supply of those tests to LMICs.
The availability of these tests will be sufficient to meet approximately 50 percent of the total estimated antigen testing needs of LMICs, Unitaid spokesman Herve Verhoosel said.
While high-income countries are now conducting 252 tests per 100,000 people each day, the rate in LMICs is 10 times lower, at just 24 tests per 100,000 people, he said.
Pfizer said on Friday it had finished enrolling children aged between 12 and 15 in a study testing its COVID-19 vaccine, as the US drugmaker seeks to expand the shot’s use among different age groups.
The study, which was announced in October, had enrolled over 2,000 participants, a Pfizer spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna Inc, which are being rolled out in the United States, are not yet available for use in children due to a lack of study data.