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UK expands vaccine program as more age groups offered shot











This photo shows a sign outside a vaccination tent during the pilot project of pop up vaccination drive ‘Vaxi Taxi’ in Kilburn, London, Feb 28, 2021. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP)

ADDIS ABAB / SANTIAGO / SAN JOSE / QUITO / LONDON / PARIS / LISBON / ROME / CARACAS / STOCKHOLM / MOSCOW / BERLIN / ALGIERS / RABAT / BUDAPEST / HAVANA / DUBLIN – The United Kingdom is expanding its vaccination program in a signal the country is on track to meet its targets in fighting COVID-19. 

About 1.7 million people aged 56 to 59 are being invited to book an inoculation, the National Health Service said on Sunday. More than 80 percent of people between 65 and 69 took up the offer. Those aged 50 to 55 are set to be invited shortly.

The government hopes the pandemic can be contained by a vaccine program that has already delivered a dose to nearly 22 million people, as well as regular testing. It plans to offer a first dose to everyone over 50 by the middle of April, extending to all adults by the end of July.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a plan to re-open the economy in phases, starting with schools from Monday. 

The reopening of England’s schools to all pupils on Monday will mark the first step back towards normality, and is only possible because of the efforts of the public to bring COVID-19 infection rates down, Johnson said.

The UK reported 6,040 new cases and another 158 deaths, bringing the tally to 4,213,343 and the overall toll to 124,419, according to official figures released Saturday.

In another development, Prince Charles paid tribute to the courage shown throughout the Commonwealth in response to coronavirus in a broadcast that will air on Sunday.

The prince was joined by other royals, including his elder son and heir Prince William, in talking about the impact of COVID-19 in messages recorded for a program marking Commonwealth Day dedicated to the countries, mainly from the former British empire, that maintain links with Britain.

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 116.54 million while the global death toll topped 2.58 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa tally

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded across Africa reached 3,948,029 as of Saturday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll related to the pandemic stood at 105,275, while some 3,526,325 people have recovered, according to the Africa CDC.

Algeria

Algeria on Saturday reported 156 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number in the North African country to 123,104. 

The death toll rose to 3,010 after three additional fatalities were added, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Meanwhile, another 122 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 79,006, according to the statement.

Municipal police officers patrol Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 5, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (SILVIA IZQUIERDO / AP)

Brazil

Brazil’s weekly cases and deaths surged to records, the Health Ministry reported, as the nation battles a variant fueling a potent new wave of the virus.

The nation reported 69,609 new cases on Saturday, ending a week with 421,604 new infections. The previous record of 379,061 weekly cases was reported the second week of January. Total cases are now 10.9 million, the most after the US and India.

Another 10,104 fatalities were reported, breaking a record set the previous week. The total number of deaths now stands at 264,325, second after the US.

ALSO READ: WHO warns of ‘mass trauma’ caused by COVID-19 pandemic

Chile

More than 4 million people in Chile have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and more than half a million people have received two doses, the Ministry of Health reported on Saturday.

According to the Department of Statistics and Health Information, a total of 4,041,536 people have been inoculated, and 551,485 people have received both jabs.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado said Chile has donated 20,000 vaccines to Ecuador.

Chile has so far registered over 21,000 deaths from COVID-19, the Ministry of Health said. 

According to the ministry, 5,037 new cases were reported, bringing the total caseload to 850,483.

Another 80 newly reported deaths took the overall toll to 21,008.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica on Saturday marked one year since the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was identified in the country.

To date, the country has registered 206,640 cases and 2,833 deaths, with an average of 566 cases and 7.7 deaths recorded per day over the last year, according to the Ministry of Health.

According to the latest report from the Central American Population Center of the University of Costa Rica, the reproduction rate of the virus has stayed below 1 since the beginning of the year, meaning the spread of the disease has slowed significantly and could be nearing extinction.

On Saturday, there were 244 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, with 133 of them in intensive care units, according to the health ministry.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s vaccination program continued to advance, with the latest data showing that 149,812 doses had been administered so far.

Cuba

Cuban health authorities registered on Saturday 750 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths.

The new figures brought the overall totals to 54,835 confirmed infections 344 fatalities, according to Francisco Duran, national director of hygiene and epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health.

“In the last three days, the number of confirmed cases has been decreasing, but they are still high figures,” he said.

Havana, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, has also seen a decline in infections, but the capital continues to be under curfew, with fines for those not wearing masks.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced earlier in the day on Twitter that the phase 3 of clinical trials had begun for the vaccine candidate Abdala, one of the five vaccines being developed by Cuban scientists.

Ecuador

Ecuador has registered 1,873 new COVID-19 infections and 21 more deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 292,943 and the death toll to 11,246, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday.

According to the ministry, the country has also recorded another 4,774 “probable deaths” from COVID-19, though these have yet to be confirmed.

Of the country’s 24 provinces, Pichincha has been the most affected by the pandemic, having recorded a total of 102,140 cases and 2,341 deaths.

Most of the active cases in Pichincha are concentrated in the capital city of Quito, which on Saturday hit 94,353 cases after registering 337 more in the last 24 hours.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia on Sunday received its first 2.2 million COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX.

“After a long wait of uncertainties, hope has become a reality in this morning of March 7, when Ethiopia has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccine which is the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India,” said Minister of Health Lia Tadesse.

The Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health on Saturday evening reported that 956 new COVID-19 cases were registered over the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 165,029.

Another 16 newly reported deaths took the death toll to 2,420, the ministry said.

The total number of recoveries increased by 354 to 137,785, it said.

EU

The European Union (EU) will ask the US to authorize the export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.

The European Commission plans to raise the matter in upcoming talks focused on increasing cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, the newspaper cited EU officials as saying. It will also ask the US to ensure the free flow of shipments of key vaccine ingredients needed for European production, including those for mRNA inoculations.

READ MORE: Britain tells EU: Vaccine export curbs endanger virus fight

Finland 

Finland is postponing its countrywide local elections by two months as the coronavirus pandemic takes a turn for the worse.

Eight of nine parliamentary parties support moving the municipal vote to June 13 from April 18, Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson said in a message posted on Twitter on Saturday.

France

France reported 23,306 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday, down from 23,507 on Friday, and bringing the cumulative tally to 3,882,408.

The French health ministry also reported 170 additional COVID-19 deaths, taking the overall toll to 88,444. The number of people in intensive care rose by nine to 3,689.

As of Saturday, 3.581 million people have received a first jab in France.

French police cleared the banks of the River Seine in central Paris on Saturday over concerns people were getting too close together and not respecting coronavirus social distancing rules.

Hundreds of people were asked to leave the area – popular for strolling and picnicking on sunny days – and police officers closed the riverbanks for the rest of the day.

Police has regularly been clearing the area over the past few weeks with warmer weather bringing people out to take advantage of the sunshine before a curfew kicks in from 6 pm to 6 am.

Customers wait for the opening of a branch of German discounter ‘Aldi’ in Hamburg, Germany, on March 6, 2021, the first day the discounter starts offering new COVID-19 quick tests for sale. (HALLER / DPA VIA AP)

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,103 to 2,500,182, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. 

The reported death toll rose by 96 to 71,900, the tally showed.

Germany has lowered its COVID-19 risk assessment for the US by one notch, effective Sunday.

While a decline in infections means the US is no longer classified as a “high-incidence” country, it’s still a “risk area” because the one-week average of new cases exceeds the threshold of 50 per 100,000 residents, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said on its website.

Germany also lifted a travel warning for several parts of Croatia, including Istria, a popular tourist destination. By contrast, a travel warning for parts of Greece was expanded to the whole country, which the Foreign Ministry said is “strongly affected” by the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Germany rejects EU executive call to ease virus border curbs

Hungary

The Hungarian government reported Saturday a record 7,269 new COVID-19 cases were registered in the past 24 hours, raising the cumulative caseload to 459,816.

The death toll went up by 146 to 15,765 while the total recoveries stood at 333,045. 

Currently, there were 7,243 patients being treated in hospitals, including a record 751 people on ventilators, according to figures from the government’s coronavirus information website.

As of Saturday, 949,497 people had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 304,880 have received both jabs, according to the website.

Ireland

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced on Saturday that half a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the country, which roughly accounts for one-tenth of Ireland’s total population.

“Good news. The vaccines are having a significant impact on mortality and serious illness,” Martin tweeted. “The number of COVID patients in hospitals and ICU is reducing all the time.”

Statistics from the Irish Department of Health showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has been developing in a generally downward trajectory over the last few weeks thanks to the strict COVID-19 restrictive measures adopted by the government as well as the rollout of vaccination in the country.

The health department reported Saturday 539 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 222,699 with 4,419 deaths.

Italy

The government of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is considering tighter curbs, including making the entire country a high-risk “red” zone at least during weekends, to counter a surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

“The second wave never stopped, we’re seeing a very strong pickup due to the variants, which is leading us to take measures that are ever-more restrictive,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Speranza did not rule out turning the whole of Italy into a red zone at least at weekends, and a stricter curfew. “It’s clear that we will monitor the epidemiological situation, adapting the measures in the light of the variants,” he said.

The UK strain of COVID-19 is now dominant in the country and cases are rising again, touching two-month highs.

Italy reported 307 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday against 297 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 23,641 from 24,036 the day before.

To date, Italy has registered 99,578 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 3.05 million confirmed cases.

The country has so far administered 5.29 million vaccine doses, with 2.7 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

Mauritius

Mauritius has stopped inbound commercial flights, effective midnight Saturday until further notice, after six local COVID-19 cases were detected over two days, Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal said.

The objective of the move is to free up space for people to be placed in quarantine following a contact-tracing process, Jagutpal told reporters in the capital, Port Louis. The suspension of flights would provide the ministry with breathing space as it rolls out vaccinations to the population, he said.

The Indian Ocean island nation is set start a general vaccination program on Monday after inoculating frontline workers and the elderly. People landing in Mauritius must undergo a 14 day-quarantine, during which they are tested for the virus.

Before the latest cases were detected, all Mauritius infections had been among people arriving from overseas.

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry on Saturday reported 6,561 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 779 fatalities, bringing its total to 2,125,866 infections and 190,357 deaths.

Health officials have said the real number of infected people and deaths in Mexico is likely significantly higher than the official count.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Saturday 407 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of confirmed cases in the North African country to 485,974.

The total number of recoveries increased to 471,919 after 509 new ones were added.

The death toll went up by three to 8,676.  

Meanwhile, 3,913,615 people have received the first dose of vaccine against COVID-19 in the country, and 578,942 have received both jabs.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (right) receives a dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 6, 2021. (ROBERT OBA / XINHUA)

Nigeria

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, together with his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, received the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine Saturday.

Buhari and Osinbajo received the shot live on television, one day after the COVID-19 national vaccine program commenced with the vaccination of healthcare and frontline workers at the National Hospital in Abuja.

Buhari described his decision to take the vaccine in public as “a demonstration of leadership and faith in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines”.

Paraguay

Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez asked all members of his cabinet to resign following Friday’s unrest in the capital, Asuncion, over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Activists in normally peaceful Paraguay are reportedly organizing a second night of anti-government protests. 

Portugal

Passengers flying indirectly to Portugal from Britain or Brazil must present a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before departure and quarantine for two weeks upon arrival from Sunday onwards, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

The move is designed to close a loophole which allowed travelers from Britain and Brazil to reach Portugal by stopping over in a country from which travel was authorized.

Direct humanitarian and repatriation flights will still be authorized but passengers must present a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before departure and quarantine for 14 days. The measures are due to be reviewed on March 16.

Portugal, which has so far reported 808,405 COVID-19 cases and 16,486 deaths, is set to begin a sector-by-sector lifting of restrictions next week after nearly two months of strict lockdown following a devastating surge in cases at the beginning of the year.

Opinions are divided among the Portuguese people over the creation of an European vaccine passport for COVID-19.

During a talk show on Portuguese television channel SIC on Friday, political commentator Luis Pedro Nunes said the “European vaccine passport” is not going to work as there are different types of vaccines and not all of them offer the same protection against COVID-19.

Clara Ferreira Alves, a writer and literary critic, said that the creation of a vaccine passport is an idea that is “extremely aggressive and impossible to put into practice”.

Meanwhile, another commentator of SIC, Daniel Oliveira, said he does not see ethical problems with the vaccine passport as such a document already exists for diseases such as yellow fever.

Russia

Maxim Oreshkin, an economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been infected with the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Saturday.

Putin has not met Oreshkin in person recently and the president’s meeting with cabinet members on economic issues next week will not be postponed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Rwanda

More than 50,000 people in Rwanda were vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday, the first day of a nationwide vaccination campaign, Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije said.

“Generally the vaccination exercise started smoothly across the country due to adequate preparation in terms of personnel and other necessary requirements,” Ngamije said in a news program on the national broadcaster Rwanda Television.

Vaccines have been distributed to about 45 hospitals and 508 health centers across the country for a three-day vaccination campaign, which targets priority groups including health personnel, frontline workers and those older than 65 years or with underlying health conditions.

Ngamije received the jab during the formal launch of the vaccination campaign at Masaka hospital, in the suburbs of the capital city Kigali. He called on all those who are eligible for vaccination to receive their jabs.

Anti-lockdown protesters demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions in Stockholm, capital of Sweden, on March 6, 2021. (HENRIK MONTGOMERY / TT VIA AP)

Sweden

Swedish police on Saturday dispersed hundreds of opponents of coronavirus restrictions who staged a protest in the capital Stockholm in defiance of a ban on large gatherings.

Police blocked a bridge in the centre of the city and said on their website they were in dialogue with organizers to persuade demonstrators to disperse.

TV images showed police shoving some protesters. Police said six officers were injured, one of whom was taken to hospital. Fifty people were moved on under a temporary pandemic law.

TV images showed hundreds of people had gathered. According to Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, demonstrators had travelled from several parts of Sweden, which has a ban on public gatherings of more than eight people.

Sweden, which has 10 million inhabitants, registered 4,831 new coronavirus cases on Friday, and 26 new deaths, taking the death toll to 13,003.

US

The US Senate on Saturday passed President Joe Biden’s US$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, which will now be sent to the House for a vote on Tuesday.

READ MORE: US Senate passes US$1.9t relief bill after marathon session

The measure comes as the US has been witnessing a decline in new infections. US COVID-19 cases increased by about 65,000 Friday, in a week in which new infections declined by 12 percent. 

But cases and hospitalizations remain high, falling just recently to the levels of the surge last summer. Deaths remain well above that level. Hospitalizations in New York, the state with the highest levels in the US, fell to less than 5,000 for the first time since early December.

To date, the US has reported 28.95 million confirmed cases and more than 524,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The country has administered 87,912,323 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Saturday morning and delivered 116,355,405 doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Mandating the wearing of masks was associated with a decrease in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation, according to a new study of the CDC.

In another development, US scientists are skeptical of a one-shot regimen for Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccines, saying there isn’t enough evidence that a single dose provides long-term protection, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“It is essential that these vaccines be used as authorized by FDA in order to prevent COVID-19 and related hospitalizations and death,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told the Journal.

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores have received their first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Venezuelan state television reported on Saturday, while the country received a second shipment of the vaccine.

Images of both Maduro and Flores receiving their doses were broadcast on state television. Maduro said he felt “fine” after receiving the injection.

Venezuela had received the first 100,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine on Feb 13. Maduro said authorities had administered around 60 percent of those doses, prioritizing medical personnel as well as officials and lawmakers in the first phase.

Later on Saturday, Venezuela’s health ministry said the second batch of 100,000 Sputnik V doses had arrived from Moscow via a flight operated by state airline Conviasa.

Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said Venezuela has a total of 700,000 doses of vaccines, 500,000 from China and 200,000 from Russia. 

Venezuela has reported 141,356 cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,371 deaths, well below levels of its South American peers. 

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