A doctor administers a dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine against COVID-19 to a patient in his office in Rome, Italy, March 1, 2021. (CECILIA FABIANO / LAPRESSE VIA AP)
GENEVA / ABIJAN / ACCRA / LONDON / PARIS / HELSINKI / BANJUL / MADRID / MEXICO CITY / RIO DE JANEIRO / STOCKHOLM / HARARE / ALGIERS / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / KIEV / WARSAW / LA PAZ / PRAGUE / BRUSSELS / LISBON / MOSCOW / CARACAS / TORONTO – Dubious intermediaries have offered governments across the European Union (EU) a total of about 1 billion non-existent COVID-19 vaccine doses worth about 14 billion euros, the bloc’s anti-fraud agency told Reuters on Monday.
Such middleman are asking for advance payments and giving no delivery details, Ville Itala, the head of the European anti-fraud office OLAF, said, stressing that pharmaceutical companies insist they sell directly to governments.
The scams OLAF was investigating came from both professional criminals and individual opportunists tied in a long chain of intermediaries often leading outside the EU, Itala said.
Itala said OLAF was not yet aware of counterfeit vaccines being pushed on the EU market but that was bound to come.
“There can be financial consequences. But there is also another aspect – trust of the people. That’s why it’s important now to prevent this, so that people can trust that if they go to take the vaccine, they are the real ones,” he said.
In another development, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said things will get better in the second quarter after a difficult first quarter, as a new contract with BioNTech and Pfizer comes into effect and as Johnson & Johnson likely begins shipping.
Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, von der Leyen said she and her colleagues initially underestimated how hard it would be to achieve mass production of vaccines after initial breakthroughs, but also defended her strategy.
“The problem will, slowly but surely, change from too little supply of vaccine doses into ensuring we administer the doses we have properly and speedily,” she said.
Raimonde Goudou Coffie, Ivory Coast’s culture minister, receives a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on March 1, 2021. (DIOMANDE BLE BLONDE / AP)
Ivory Coast, Ghana
The first COVID-19 inoculation campaigns in Africa using vaccines provided by COVAX, a global initiative for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, began on Monday in Ghana and Ivory Coast, also known as Cote d’Ivoire, the WHO said.
The campaigns follow vaccine deliveries to both countries last week, with Ghana taking delivery of 600,000 doses on Feb 24 and Cote d’Ivoire 504,000 doses two days later, the WHO said in a press release.
Both countries received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which was granted Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by the WHO on Feb 15.
In Ivory Coast, Patrick Achi, the secretary-general at the presidency, was the first to be vaccinated at a sports complex in the commercial capital Abidjan.
Medical personnel, teachers and security forces members were also being vaccinated in the first phase of the campaign targeting 3 percent of the population.
In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo and his wife received the vaccine at a military hospital in an effort to boost public confidence ahead of the campaign.
Ivory Coast has recorded 32,754 infections and 192 coronavirus-related deaths. According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Ghana has reported 84,023 cases and 607 deaths.
ALSO READ: Groundwork urged for Africa effort on jabs
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded on the African continent reached 3,899,093 on Monday evening, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
The death toll from the disease stood at 103,762, according to the Africa CDC.
The number of new coronavirus infections globally rose last week for the first time in seven weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
“We need to have a stern warning for all of us: that this virus will rebound if we let it,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead for COVID-19, told a briefing. “And we cannot let it.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the rise in cases was “disappointing but not surprising” and urged countries not to relax measures to fight the disease
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the rise in cases was “disappointing but not surprising” and urged countries not to relax measures to fight the disease.
Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert, said the global fight against the coronavirus was in a better state now than it was 10 weeks ago before the roll-outs of vaccines had begun. But it was too early to say the virus was coming under control.
The WHO said it was “unrealistic” to expect the COVID-19 pandemic to be over by the end of 2021.
“But I think what we can, if we’re smart, finish with the hospitalizations, the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic,” Ryan said.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the WHO, added that “the goal of COVAX is to bring an end to the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021.”
In another development, a WHO expert panel said the drug hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent COVID-19 and has no meaningful effect on patients already infected.
The WHO’s Guideline Development Group (GDG) expert panel wrote in the BMJ British medical journal that the drug is “not worthwhile” exploring in further research studies of possible COVID-19 treatments.
This “strong recommendation”, the experts said, is based on high-certainty evidence from six randomized controlled trials involving more than 6,000 participants both with and without known exposure to COVID-19.
COVID-19 infections in the United States had the biggest monthly decline in February, plunging 61 percent to about 2.42 million, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg show. That helped lower the death count from January by 25 percent to 71,772.
Overall, almost 514,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19 and about 28.7 million residents – or 8.7 percent of the population – have been infected by it.
About 735 cases of a coronavirus variant that emerged in New York City in November have now been identified in the US, including 585 in the last two weeks, a federal health official said.
The variant, known scientifically as B.1.526, has traveled extensively through the metropolitan New York region, and individual cases have also been found in 14 other states, including Texas, Wyoming and Maryland, according to Gregory Armstrong, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advanced Molecular Detection Program.
In another development, former US President Donald Trump privately received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine while still in office in January, aides familiar with the matter say, at a time when other public officials took shots on-camera to boost public confidence in the vaccines.
Trump and his wife, Melania, have now received both doses of vaccine, said one of the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) will ship nearly 4 million doses of its vaccine around the United States this week, but a top executive said on Monday that the next round of deliveries is contingent on regulatory approvals at a new plant. The drugmaker expects to deliver another 16 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this month. But none is expected to go out next week.
Healthcare workers attend a training at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the Peel Region, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on March 1, 2021. (NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)
Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 114.4 million while the global death toll topped 2.53 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Finland declared a state of emergency due to the worsening situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, allowing the government to shutter bars and stop dining at restaurants for three weeks from March 8.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said at a press conference that restrictions on movement may also be introduce, adding that the situation will depend on how the pandemic progresses.
The government is also preparing an aid package to the affected businesses.
The two-week COVID-19 occurrence rate in Finland rose to 128 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said on Monday. In the Uusimaa district including the capital Helsinki, the rate was 254 per 100,000 residents.
Finland reported 392 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the country’s tally to 58,064. The death toll rose by eight to 750.
France expanded its guidelines for AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, saying it can now be used to immunize the elderly.
All three vaccines currently in use, including AstraZeneca’s, show “remarkable efficacy,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said.
France and other European Union countries such as Germany originally advised giving the Astra vaccine only to people under 65, saying there wasn’t enough clinical-trial data on efficacy in older people.
Meanwhile, France will retain its current measures aimed at curbing the pandemic, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks, Veran said on Monday. Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants and museums.
Veran’s announcement came as French health authorities reported that the number of people being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) for COVID-19 had risen by 52 to 3,544, exceeding the 3,500 level for the first time since Dec 1, 2020.
Officials reported 4,703 new cases and 375 more deaths over the past 24 hours, pushing the tally to 3.761 million and the toll to 86,803.
Colombia became the first nation in the Americas to get COVID-19 shots through the COVAX program, giving a boost to a vaccination drive that has lagged regional peers.
The 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived on Monday in Bogota, with President Ivan Duque calling on all parties involved to “accelerate the distribution” of the shots. Colombia has purchased 20 million doses through the program.
Russia reported 10,565 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,277 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,268,215.
Authorities said 441 people had died in the last 24 hours, which pushed the official death toll to 86,896.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization released new guidelines on Monday advising against vaccinating people who are 65 years and older with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, citing lack of information about efficacy in that age group.
The vaccine was authorized for people who are 18 and older by drug regulator Health Canada on Friday. The committee’s recommendations are not binding, but may influence provincial vaccination plans.
Health Canada’s decision noted that available clinical trial data was too limited to reliably estimate how well the vaccine worked in people 65 and older.
But it also said “emerging real world evidence” in places that had already started using the vaccine suggested a potential benefit and no safety concerns.
A forklift truck transports a batch of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines at Kosice Airport, Slovakia, March 1, 2021. (FRANTISEK IVAN / TASR VIA AP)
Slovakia will get 2 million doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine from Russia in a move the European Union member’s leader hailed as life-saving for its citizens.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic said his health minister will authorize the use of the shots on Monday, skirting the usual approval from the Slovak drug regulator.
The country received the first batch of Russian vaccines on Monday and shipments will continue through June, Matovic told reporters in Kosice, eastern Slovakia.
Slovakia is currently the world’s leader in coronavirus deaths per capita over a seven-day period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The nation recorded 125.3 deaths per million citizens in the period, followed by the neighboring Czech Republic.
It is now second in the EU, joining Hungary in granting emergency approval of the Russian vaccine.
Venezuela has approved the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine against the novel coronavirus, the South American country’s health ministry said on Monday, after it began administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last month.
The ministry did not specify how many Sinopharm doses it would acquire or when they would arrive. President Nicolas Maduro had previously said the country was in talks with China over the possible use of its vaccines.
“Thanks to the cooperation between China and Venezuela we are able to attend to the health and life of our people,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
Venezuela’s National Academy of Medicine said on Monday that the country has secured enough vaccine supplies to inoculate some 38 percent of the population, the second-lowest level in Latin America and ahead of only El Salvador.
Official data shows Venezuela has reported 139,116 coronavirus cases and 1,344 deaths.
Chancellor Angela Merkel faces further pressure to lay out a path to ease Germany’s coronavirus lockdown after Finance Minister Olaf Scholz became the latest senior official to call for a quicker reopening of Europe’s largest economy.
Merkel’s coronavirus cabinet, which includes Scholz, met on Monday to prepare for a critical meeting with state leaders on Wednesday.
Merkel and the state premiers are set to agree on a broad extension of current lockdown measures until the end of this month, including shuttered non-essential stores, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues, Business Insider magazine reported Monday, citing government sources it did not identify by name.
At the same time, officials want to lay out a timetable for a gradual easing of curbs beyond March that relies on reducing the incidence rate to 70, rather than 35, the magazine said. A broad extension of current restrictions to the end of the month is one option being considered, a person familiar with the discussion told Bloomberg.
At Wednesday’s meeting between Merkel and other state leaders, there could only be small opening steps and each would have to be secured with more widespread testing, Saxony Premier Michael Kretschmer said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 3,943 to 2,451,011, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The reported death toll rose by 358 to 70,463.
A single shot of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines can cut hospitalizations among older people by around 80 percent, according to a study, in a further boost for the UK’s immunization program.
The report from Public Health England, published Monday, also found that one vaccine shot reduces the chance of people aged over-70 becoming ill by some 60 percent.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a press conference in London the “exciting” data was a “sign that the vaccine is working”. But he urged people to “keep sticking to the rules” of the country’s third national lockdown, adding: “Let’s not blow it now.”
More than 20.2 million people in the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine so far, over one-third of all adults.
New data provided to Bloomberg by YouGov show that 65 percent of British people say they would support a document that would theoretically allow vaccinated people to return to workplaces, bars and even travel again before those who haven’t had their shots.
The government on Monday reported another 5,455 new cases and 104 additional deaths, bringing the tally to 4,182,009 and the toll to 122,953, according to the latest official figures.
Hancock said surge testing has been put in place in parts of England after six cases of the coronavirus variant first found in Brazil were detected in Britain. Five of them have been identified while officials are still seeking a missing person in England who has been infected with this variant of concern but did not complete the registration form properly.
READ MORE: UK’s Johnson moves to reassure Britons over new virus strain
The Czech Republic registered a record 1,568 coronavirus patients who are hospitalized in serious condition and need extracorporeal oxygenation or ventilation.
The nation of 10.7 million, which is fighting Europe’s worst outbreak, had 148,924 active cases as of Monday, according to health ministry data.
Authorities deployed around 26,000 police officers and 3,800 soldiers on Monday to enforce the three-week order limiting free movement, though there were exemptions for work-related travel.
They also shut pre-schools and classes for first and second grade pupils. Other pupils were already learning from home.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis has rejected calls to shut industry, saying this would cause job losses.
Instead, the government approved on Monday mandatory COVID-19 tests for companies with at least 50 employees in a move that aims to reach about 2 million workers in the next two weeks.
Police officers check cars on a road between the towns of Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov, near Kosov, Czech Republic, March 1, 2021. (VACLAV PANCER / CTK VIA AP)
Austria extended lockdown measures for the majority of the country on Monday following government meetings with scientists, opposition parties and provincial governors in Vienna.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ruled out even outdoor dining until Easter as incidence rates in eastern regions of the country doubled to about 200 over the past month.
Only restaurants and cafes in the far-western province of Vorarlberg got the go-ahead to reopen from March 15 after infections fell.
The Gambia has received more than 37,000 syringes of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, the Gambian government and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Monday.
“We are finalizing preparations for the vaccine rollout and our priority is to give the first injections to frontline health workers and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions,” Gambian Health Minister Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said.
Bolivia on Monday launched a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in the western department of La Paz with vaccines developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm.
The South American nation on Thursday launched the largest immunization campaign in its history in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, inoculating high-risk groups with the Sinopharm vaccines.
Bolivia has recorded 249,010 COVID-19 cases and 11,649 deaths from the disease.
Mexico’s coronavirus czar is back home after being hospitalized for COVID-19 last Wednesday, but will still be monitored and receive treatment, a health official said on Monday, as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 186,000.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the face of Mexico’s response to the pandemic, “is practically asymptomatic … he will remain at home over the coming days under medical supervision,” said Jose Luis Alomia, head of epidemiology for the health ministry.
Mexico registered 437 coronavirus fatalities on Monday, bringing its overall death toll to 186,152, according to health ministry data.
The data also showed an additional 2,343 confirmed cases, for a total of 2,089,281 cases. The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.
Brazil recorded 35,742 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 778 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Monday.
Brazil has registered nearly 10.6 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 255,720, according to ministry data.
The number of new coronavirus cases, deaths and the 14-day incidence rate of the virus continued to fall in Spain, according to data published by the Ministry of Health on Monday.
The ministry reported 15,978 new cases for the 72-hour period between 14:00 local time (1300 GMT) on Friday and 14:00 local time on Monday.
The figure was a drop from the 20,849 new cases that the ministry reported last Monday. The number of new cases has declined for five consecutive weekends.
In total, Spain has logged 3,204,531 confirmed cases.
Another 467 people had died from COVID-19 in the 72-hour period, raising the total number of fatalities to 69,609.
Meanwhile, the 14-day incidence rate of the coronavirus fell from 252.19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants a week ago to 175.63 cases on Monday, although the incidence in the Autonomous Community of Madrid was considerably higher, standing at 284.58 cases per 100,000.
So far, 3,829,465 vaccine doses have been administered in Spain, and 1,261,484 people have received both shots.
Cuba’s Public Health Ministry on Monday reported 811 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 50,590.
The ministry also reported two more deaths, lifting the toll to 324.
Of the new cases, 377 were posted in Havana, the epicenter of the pandemic, while 85 were reported in the western province of Pinar del Rio, and 60 in Camaguey province with 60, said Francisco Duran, the ministry’s national director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran.
The recent surge in coronavirus infections in Poland is primarily caused by the virus variant that was first identified in Britain, Polish Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Monday.
Niedzielski said that the coronavirus reproduction rate in Poland stood at 1.19.
On Monday, Poland recorded 4,786 new cases on Monday, pushing the tally over 1.7 million. The death toll stood at 43,793.
The Polish government will discuss the potential purchase of COVID-19 vaccines with its Chinese counterparts, according to a readout from a Monday phone call between Presidents Andrzej Duda and Xi Jinping. Details of possible supplies will be figured out by special working group.
Poland has already administered 8.39 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per 100 people, one of highest ratio in the EU, according to Bloomberg tracker.
Ukraine’s Minister of Health Maxym Stepanov was vaccinated against COVID-19 with the AstraZeneca vaccine, the health ministry’s press service reported on Monday.
Nationwide, a total of 3,141 people have been vaccinated as of Monday since the beginning of the vaccination drive on Feb.24.
As of Monday, a total of 1,352,134 COVID-19 cases, 26,050 deaths and 1,171,724 recoveries have been recorded in Ukraine, according to health authorities.
A sign reminding students of anti-COVID-19 measures is seen on a fence of a school in Dublin, Ireland, March 1, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Primary and secondary schools in Ireland on Monday reopened as scheduled under a phased reopening plan announced by the government.
Under the plan, all the primary school students up to 2nd class and Leaving Certificate students or the students in their last year of secondary school education can return to classrooms starting from March 1.
The remaining students of primary schools and the fifth-year students of secondary schools will resume in-school education on March 15, followed by the reopening of all the secondary school classes on April 12.
Over 320,000 primary and secondary schools on Monday returned to classrooms for the first time since the closure of schools in Ireland last December following the outbreak of the third wave, Irish national radio and television broadcaster RTE reported.
Statistics from Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Center showed that over the past two weeks up to Feb 27, a total of 1,403 children aged 12 years and younger in Ireland had been infected with COVID-19.
Bulgaria reported 2,588 new coronavirus cases, the highest since Dec 15. The Balkan country reopened restaurants and pubs on Monday despite rising numbers of hospitalized patients and deaths and amid a deficit of vaccines that is slowing the inoculation process.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera inaugurated the 2021 school year on Monday, after in-person classes were suspended more than a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To prepare for the reopening of schools, the government last week prioritized teachers and education workers in the country’s mass vaccination campaign.
The vaccine drive, which began on Feb 3, has seen more than 3.3 million people inoculated so far, most of them with doses from the Chinese laboratory Sinovac.
In just two weeks, more than half of the 513,000 teachers and education workers have been vaccinated, Pinera said.
Chile has recorded a total of 829,770 COVID-19 cases and 20,660 deaths, the Ministry of Health said Monday.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has increased dramatically in Sweden.
In ten days, the figure has jumped from 197 to 240, with many of them admitted in the past two days, the TT news agency reported on Monday.
More than half of the country’s regions have registered an increase in the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The Vasterbotten region in the northern part of Sweden is the most affected.
The region of Stockholm has also recorded a dramatic 70 percent increase in the past ten days in the number of patients requiring intensive care. The situation is not as bad as it was during the peak of the second wave, but the region’s director of health and medical care believes the third wave has arrived.
Algeria on Monday reported 163 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the North African country to 122,255.
The death toll rose to 2,983 after four additional fatalities were added, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
Another 136 new recoveries were registered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 78,294, the ministry said.
Also on Monday, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad announced the curfew imposed in 19 provinces will be extended by 15 days, official APS news agency reported.
Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone Hu Zhangliang on Monday officially presented a batch of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines to Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio.
The vaccines arrived in Sierra Leone on Thursday last week.
Portuguese health authorities decided on Monday to increase the interval between the administration of the first and second dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from 21 to 28 days.
“We have to fine-tune our plan, making adjustments to reality, depending on the vaccine arrival schedule and the calendar changes,” Assistant Secretary of State for Health Antonio Lacerda Sales told journalists.
With this change, the official said it would be possible to meet the country’s goal of vaccinating another 100,000 people by the end of March.
To date, about 35 percent of the population aged 80 and over and 70 percent of Portugal’s healthcare professionals have received the first dose of the vaccine.
As of the end of February, Portugal had administered 868,951 vaccines doses, according to official data.
The Somali Ministry of Health on Monday said it’s planning to reintroduce COVID-19 restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus amid a spike in infections.
Minister of Health and Human Services Fawziya Abikar Nur warned the COVID-19 situation in Somalia was dire and called on citizens to adhere to health measures that were introduced to curb the spread of the virus.
Last week, Somalia shut schools for two weeks.
Nur said her ministry has submitted a proposal to the government to consider a second lockdown, noting the robust measures introduced at the beginning of the outbreak in April 2020 had worked in containing the virus’ spread.
The nation has confirmed 7,392 COVID-19 cases and 243 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Morocco reported on Monday 112 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the North African country to 483,766.
The total number of recoveries increased by 299 to 469,345, while 394 people were in intensive care units.
The death toll rose to 8,637 as 14 additional fatalities were registered in the last 24 hours, while
So far, a total of 3,568,670 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the country.
Zimbabwe on Monday eased a coronavirus lockdown and overnight curfew imposed in January by allowing businesses to fully reopen after the rate of new infections slowed in the last two weeks.
In the past 48 hours, Zimbabwe has recorded only 45 new infections and no COVID-19 related death.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a televised address Zimbabweans could now travel without restrictions, informal businesses would re-open and companies would resort to normal business hours. An overnight curfew would start from 10 pm to 5:30 am.
But restaurants would open for take-away only, while nightclubs and gyms remain closed.
Mnangagwa said schools, which have remained closed since mid December, should get ready to re-open but did not give a date.
Zimbabwe has to date reported 36,089 COVID-19 cases and 1,463 deaths, a majority of which have been recorded this year.