This article titled “Coronavirus blog as it happened: surge testing to begin in east London after variants detected; WHO approves Moderna vaccine ” was written by Nadeem Badshah,Mattha Busby,Clea Skopeliti, for theguardian.com on Saturday 1st May 2021 23.11 UTC
That’s it for today from the global blog team. Thanks for following our coverage – more to follow in a few hours.
The Duke of Sussex has expressed pride that his Sentebale charity has managed to continue helping children in Africa during a year which “hasn’t been easy” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prince Harry co-founded Sentebale in 2006 to help vulnerable children in Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi, including those who are affected by extreme poverty and the HIV/Aids epidemic, PA reports.
Covid-19 meant that tried-and-tested programmes, which involve people coming together in groups, were ruled out at a time when support for children and young people was “needed more than ever”, Harry and Sentebale co-founder Prince Seeiso of Lesotho stated.
The princes said: “Our role as a communicator was a valuable asset, enabling us to reach out and support communities when they needed it most.
“Despite limited resources, we are proud to say that Sentebale stepped up to meet the moment.
“This is a testament to our staff and volunteers – to their creativity, flexibility, and passion.
“As we begin recovering from Covid-19, now is also the time for Sentebale to look to the future and the role we will and must play.”
Brazil registered 2,656 Covid-19 deaths on Saturday and 66,964 new confirmed cases, according to data released by the nation’s health ministry.
The South American country has now registered 406,437 total coronavirus deaths and 14,725,975 total confirmed cases, Reuters reports.
Thousands of people attended the first day of the Wuhan Strawberry Music Festival on Saturday in China.
The festival was making a return in the city, where Covid-19 first emerged, after it was forced to be online only last year due to lockdown restrictions.
A representative for the organisers told Reuters that numbers were being restricted this year, adding that around 11,000 people were there on Saturday.
Barriers were set up in front of each stage and security personnel restricted numbers in those areas. Some spectators wore masks, but many did not.
Jordan has detected three cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant in people who had not travelled.
“Two cases were recorded in Amman and one in Zarqa in people who did not travel, which confirms that the emergence of mutated cases does not necessarily have to come from outside, but rather as a result of specific reproduction,” health minister Firas Al-Hawari told Al Mamlaka TV.
Jordan recorded on Saturday 704 cases of Covid-19 with 35 deaths, bringing the total cases detected in the kingdom to 712,077 with 8,871 deaths, according to the health ministry, Reuters reports.
Australia received its first delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in mid-February and has begun the mammoth task of immunising every willing adult in the country.
Repeated delays to Australia’s vaccine rollout – triggered by supply issues, logistical failures and changing health advice – have dramatically reshaped the government’s plan for vaccinating Australians.
The target of fully vaccinating the entire population by the end of October has been pushed back and the changing advice surrounding the AstraZeneca and associated blood-clotting risks for younger Australians has meant Pfizer vaccines are preferred for that cohort.
A summary of today’s developments
- Spain has announced passengers arriving from India must go into quarantine for 10 days to avoid spreading Covid-19, Reuters reports.
- Portugal has extended flight restrictions until 16 May that prevent non-essential travel from countries including Brazil with high coronavirus incidence rates, and added India to the list.
- There have been 1,907 new coronavirus cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,418,530. The death toll has increased by seven today, which increases the total to 127,524.
- Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has lifted the lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools, as the rate of infections eases in the east African country.
- Mexico’s health ministry reported 3,025 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 261 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,347,780 and fatalities to 217,168.
- France reported 25,670 new confirmed Covid-19 infections, taking the total to 5.6 million, Reuters reports.
- Crowds gathered in the capitals of Finland and Sweden on Saturday as hundreds marched in protest over their governments’ measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, AFP reports.
- Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to clear a crowd of several hundred gathered in a park to protest against Covid lockdown rules.
World leaders have been warned that unless they act with extreme urgency, the Covid-19 pandemic will overwhelm health services in many nations in South America, Asia, and Africa over the next few weeks.
Only billions of pounds of aid and massive exports of vaccines can halt a humanitarian catastrophe that is now unfolding rapidly across the planet, scientists and world health experts said.
Mexico’s health ministry reported 3,025 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 261 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,347,780 and fatalities to 217,168.
Separate government data published in March suggested the real death toll may be at least 60% above the confirmed figure, Reuters reports.
A total of 41,277,728 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between 8 December and 30 April, according to NHS England data, which is a rise of 477,124 on the previous day.
NHS England said 28,771,540 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 115,366 on the previous day, while 12,506,188 were a second dose, an increase of 361,758, PA reports.
For British IT consultant Yogen Shah, India’s Covid-19 crisis is deeply personal.
Associated Press reports:
Shah joined volunteers from one of Britain’s largest Hindu temples who set out to raise £500,000 by racking up 7,600 kilometers (4,722 miles) on stationary bikes — roughly the distance from London to Delhi — in 48 hours.
“I think every single person of Indian origin will have someone affected over there,” Shah, 40, said outside the temple in London.
“And anywhere around the world that you have Covid, you feel for that human being, you feel for that person, whether they’re Indian origin or not.”
India recorded more than 400,000 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the first time daily infections topped that milestone.
The country reported 3,523 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, raising overall fatalities to 211,853.
A potential for coronavirus cases to “reignite” remains as many adults are still unvaccinated, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK’s government has warned.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the country was on the cusp of being able to loosen more restrictions.
But he warned that, with around 35% of adults not yet vaccinated, there was the potential for the “spark to reignite” and cases to rise again.
Prof Walport added: “We are on the cusp of being able to move to the next step of relaxation, it’s absolutely right that vaccines have been spectacularly successful but not everybody is protected.
We’ve got 35% of adults who are not vaccinated and 60% who have only had one dose and the truth is the virus has not gone away.
“The mistake that has been made repeatedly really is relaxing just slightly too early. What we need to do is get the numbers right down, it’s important that we don’t act as an incubator for variant cases that might be able to resist immunity.”
Pope Francis kicked off a month-long marathon of worldwide Roman Catholic prayer on Saturday to ask God for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and said money spent on armaments should be used instead to prevent future outbreaks.
Francis presided at the recital of the rosary in St. Peter’s Basilica on the first day of May, a month Roman Catholics traditionally dedicate to daily prayer to the Madonna, Reuters reports.
Each day during the month, Roman Catholics have been asked to pray for a specific category of people affected by the pandemic, such as those who were unable to say goodbye to their dying loved ones, health workers, the poor, the homeless and those thrown into economic difficulty.
The pope prayed that “this difficult trial ends and that horizons of hope and peace return”.
France reported 25,670 new confirmed Covid-19 infections, taking the total to 5.6 million, Reuters reports.
Kenya Airways announced later on Saturday that it would resume domestic flights between Nairobi and two cities, Kisumu and Mombasa, on Sunday.
It comes after Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the Covid-19 lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools as the rate of infections eases.
Curbs on travel in the capital Nairobi and four surrounding counties will be lifted, and schools will be allowed to reopen following an Education Ministry calendar.
Crowds gathered in the capitals of Finland and Sweden on Saturday as hundreds marched in protest over their governments’ measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, AFP reports.
A protest in Helsinki that drew around 300 participants resulted in about 50 arrests, Finnish police tweeted.
In Stockholm between 500 and 600 people marched with banners demanding “freedom and truth”, in an event that lasted more than two hours despite police attempts to disperse the crowd.
Pakistan will reduce the number of international flights by 80 per cent to help curb rising Covid-19 cases, the government said on Saturday.
The restrictions will come into effect on May 5 and will run to May 20, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement, though it did not specify which flights or destinations would be affected by the measure, Reuters reports.
The controls will be reviewed on May 18, the government said in a statement endorsed by the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s response to the pandemic.
The restrictions will be applied to chartered and private flights as well as scheduled services.
All international passengers upon arrival at Pakistani airports on remaining services would be required to undergo rapid antigen testing (RAT) and will also have to show an RT-PCR test conducted within 72 hours before boarding a Pakistan-bound flight.
Passengers with a negative Covid-19 test will still undergo self-quarantine at home for 10 days, and those found positive will be shifted to a self-paid facility for the same period of time. Inbound passengers will also need to download an app on to their phones to help monitor their movements.
There will be exemptions on these controls for children younger than 12 years old, disabled persons, high-level international dignities and Pakistani deportees.
Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to clear a crowd of several hundred gathered in a park to protest against Covid lockdown rules.
The defiant, mainly young crowd had assembled for the so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, as a follow up to an action that was broken up last month.
The prime minister, Alexander de Croo, had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed before the order to clear the park was given
AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown before police moved in.
“We see that health measures are not being respected,” police announced on Twitter, after drones equipped with loudspeakers called for masks and distancing.
“Brussels police will proceed to clear the area,” the tweet read.
The number of people in intensive care units in France with Covid-19 fell for the fifth day running, decreasing by 94 to 5,581, health ministry data showed on Saturday.
The ministry also reported 195 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals, compared with 270 on Friday, Reuters reports.
Surge testing is to be deployed across parts of east London after several cases of the South African and Brazilian variants were detected.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said NHS Test and Trace was working with Tower Hamlets council to provide additional testing and genomic sequencing in targeted areas within the E1 postcode from Sunday.
It follows the identification of “several” confirmed cases of the variant B.1.351, first seen in South Africa, and the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.
The department said all the confirmed cases were self-isolating and that there were no links between the new cases and the cluster of cases recently identified in the south London area.
Everyone aged 11 and over who lives, works or is educated in these postcodes is being encouraged to take a test when invited, whether they are showing symptoms or not, the DHSC said.
Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25% higher than the same period a year ago.
Associated Press reports:
More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year in Russia, compared with 460,000 for those months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report.
The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russian officials underplay the severity of the pandemic in the country.
The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from Covid-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number.
The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which Covid-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which Covid-19 influenced other diseases and accelerated death.
A fire in a Covid-19 hospital ward in western India killed 18 patients on Saturday, as the country grappling with the worst outbreak yet stepped up a vaccination drive for all adults even as some states said they did not have enough jabs.
Associated Press reports:
India on Saturday set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. Another 3,523 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the overall fatalities to 211,853, according to the Health Ministry. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The fire broke out in a Covid-19 ward on the ground floor of the Welfare hospital in Bharuch, a town in Gujarat state, and was extinguished within an hour, police said. The cause is being investigated.
Thirty-one other patients were rescued from the blaze by hospital workers and firefighters and their condition was stable, said police officer BM Parmar.
India’s government on Saturday shifted its faltering vaccination campaign into high gear by saying all adults aged 18 and over could get jabs.
UK records further 1,907 Covid-19 cases
There have been 1,907 new coronavirus cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,418,530.
The death toll has increased by seven today, which increases the total to 127,524.
Spain has announced passengers arriving from India must go into quarantine for 10 days to avoid spreading Covid-19, Reuters reports.
Earlier, Portugal extended until 16 May flight restrictions that prevent non-essential travel from countries including Brazil with high coronavirus incidence rates, and added India to the list.
Hundreds of mainly young Belgian people have gathered in a Brussels park in defiance of coronavirus restrictions and police orders.
AFP has the story:
The so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, is a follow-up to an action last month that was broken up by police with horses and water cannon, causing injuries. Ahead of the event, prime minister Alexander de Croo had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed.
By late afternoon, AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown as police moved in. “We’re here to protect our freedom. Masks? I don’t wear them anymore. I want to be free,” said an 18-year-old high schooler from Flanders.
As a police car rolled on to the grass close to the heart of the gathering, the merry-makers chanted: “Freedom, Freedom.” A helicopter and a drone hovered overhead, but the protesters’ music all but drowned out police demands for masking and social distancing.
“It’s been a year,” a 21-year-old from the capital told AFP. “A whole year we can’t go out. After a while you need an alternative.”
Belgium is under its second national lockdown as a coronavirus prevention measure and bars and restaurants have been shut since late October. But a vaccination drive is picking up speed and outdoor dining and drinking is due to resume on 8 May, and authorities have appealed for calm.
Norton, a 23-year-old cook who has lost his restaurant job, said the plan was not to provoke violence but to demand an end to what he called “illogical” anti-virus measures.
Elsewhere in the Belgian capital, people demonstrated to mark International Workers’ Day.
The World Health Organization has listed Moderna’s Covid vaccine for emergency use, the agency said, the fifth to be given the status meant to expedite countries’ own approval of shots.
Reuters has the story:
“The objective is to make medicines, vaccines and diagnostics available as rapidly as possible to address the emergency,” the WHO said in a statement.
WHO assistant director-general Mariangela Simao said it was important to have more vaccines available because of supply problems for other shots, including from India, a main source of vaccines for the global Covax vaccine sharing programme. India has restricted exports because of a crisis of infections.
Moderna announced this week an expansion plan for its production network to boost its capacity to up to three billion doses in 2022.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) already in January had recommended Moderna’s vaccine for all age groups 18 and above.
The Geneva-based health organization is still considering COVID-19 vaccines from Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac following an extended review, with decisions due by the end of next week.
Experts have warned of backlogs of undiagnosed dementia cases and worsening standards of care after official figures revealed a collapse in assessing and monitoring patients in England during the pandemic.
NHS data shows the number of people who were assessed for dementia has fallen to less than half the level before the pandemic – 10,535 in February 2021 compared to 23,392 in February 2020.
In that time, the number of people receiving an initial memory assessment fell by two-thirds, while the number of referrals to memory clinics – which help diagnose dementia – fell by 42%. Partly as a result, the total number of patients aged over 65 with a dementia diagnosis fell by just over 43,000 – a drop of 10%.
“When I talk to people with dementia, their families, the absolute lack of contact and support is very apparent, and accessing things like GPs has been a challenge,” said Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK.
Thousands of people have also joined 1 May rallies in more than 70 cities across Spain today in the first Labour Day demonstrations since the pandemic began.
AFP has the story:
Wearing masks and observing social distancing, demonstrators marched through the streets waving banners although in many places, numbers were capped to ensure anti-Covid measures were respected.
The main demonstration in Madrid, which was limited to 1,000 people, began at midday local time under the slogan “Now it’s time to deliver” with the participants marching from the town hall to the city’s Puerta del Sol square.
Seven government ministers attended the march, including labour minister Yolanda Diaz as well as representatives of the three left-wing parties running in Tuesday’s regional election in Madrid.
At the rally, union leaders Pepe Alvarez of the UGT and the CCOO’s Unai Sordo urged the government to honour commitments delayed by the pandemic, such as repealing a controversial labour reform, raising the minimum wage and approving a law on equal pay.
Alvarez said it was critical to ensure the funds were used “to face up to the needs of its citizens and … to make a change to its production model”.
Thousands of people have joined traditional May Day protests across France today, gathering despite Covid-19 restrictions to demand social and economic justice and voice their opposition to government plans to change unemployment benefits.
Reuters has the story:
About 300 rallies were organised in Paris and other cities including Lyon, Nantes, Lille and Toulouse. In the French capital, trade unionists were joined by members of the “Yellow Vest” movement that triggered a wave of anti-government protests three years ago and by workers from sectors hit hard by pandemic restrictions such as culture.
Marchers, most wearing masks in line with Covid-19 rules, carried banners reading: “Dividends, not unemployment benefits are the income of lazy people” and “We want to live, not survive”.
“Loads of money is going to those who have plenty and less tor those who have nothing as reflected in the unemployment insurance reform plan that we want scrapped,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT labour union said.
Most demonstrations were peaceful, although Lyon police scattered a group of about 200 people who were throwing fireworks, the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes prefecture said on Twitter.
Scotland has recorded one new coronavirus death and 175 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to latest data.
It means the death toll under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – stands at 7,660. Scottish Government figures published on Saturday show the daily test positivity rate remained at 1.1%.
There were 67 people in hospital on Friday with recently confirmed Covid-19, which was no change over 24 hours. Of these patients, nine were in intensive care, also down three.
So far 2,811,343 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and 1,263,862 have received their second dose.
India should go into lockdown for several weeks to arrest the current devastating surge in Covid cases, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci has said.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has resisted imposing a national lockdown after a nationwide shutdown a year ago caused widespread human suffering and a painful economic hit.
“I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things,” the Indian Express daily quoted Fauci as saying in an interview. “But also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country,” he said.
“And if you shut down, you don’t have to shut down for six months. You can shut down temporarily to put an end to the cycle of transmission,” he added. No one likes to lock down the country… But if you do it just for a few weeks, you could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.”
Many states have imposed heavy restrictions on activity, particularly in the western state of Maharashtra and the capital New Delhi where hospitals are at breaking point. The capital extended its shutdown for another week today.
Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25% higher than the same period a year ago, and it reported thousands more deaths due to Covid-19 in March than tallied by the country’s coronavirus task force.
Associated Press reports:
More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year, compared with 460,000 for those months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report issued Friday.
The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russia underplays the severity of the pandemic in the country.
The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from Covid-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number. The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which the coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which Covid-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which Covid-19 influenced the development of other diseases and accelerated death.
According to the task force, throughout the pandemic 110,502 people have died in Russia of Covid-19 as of Saturday — 392 of them in the past day. The country has recorded more than 4.8 million confirmed cases.
Portugal is to extend until 16 May flight restrictions that prevent non-essential travel from countries with high coronavirus rates, including Brazil and India – a new addition to the list.
Travellers from countries where 500 or more cases per 100,000 people have been reported over a 14-day period – which also include South Africa, France and the Netherlands, among others – can only enter Portugal if they have a valid reason, such as for work or healthcare, the government said. They must then quarantine for 14 days.
People from countries where the incidence rate is 150 or more Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, such as next-door Spain and Germany, can also travel by plane to Portugal only for essential reasons.
They will have to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure for Portugal. Those without a test will have to take one upon arrival and wait for the result at the airport.
Portugal’s 1,200-km-long land border with Spain reopened today after more than three months of restrictions and border checks.
Nightclubs and bars have launched legal action against the Scottish government’s coronavirus restrictions, describing the curbs as “no longer justifiable or proportionate”.
The trade body Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland said it was mounting an attempt to end caps on venue numbers and limited opening hours. In Scotland, hospitality venues are currently allowed to serve customers alcoholic drinks outdoors only, while the limited return of indoor hospitality has come with an 8pm curfew.
Announcing the judicial review, the NTIA said:
The hospitality sector in general, and late-night sector in particular, has been driven to the edge of insolvency by the severe restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic.
Scottish government support has been wholly inadequate to compensate for operating losses and a majority of businesses have now incurred unsustainable debt as a result.
Even worse, all strategic framework funding has now ended while there is no end date for the restrictions that make these businesses commercially unviable.
Turkish police have detained more than 200 people attending May Day marches amid a coronavirus-related curfew, Reuters reports, citing witnesses and the Istanbul governor’s office.
A total of 212 demonstrators were arrested as police threw people to the ground before detaining dozens of them near Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
The governor’s office said some unions were permitted to hold memorials to mark the annual holiday, while others who had “gathered illegally” in violation of the lockdown, and ignored calls to disperse, were detained.
State-owned Anadolu Agency said 20 protestors were also detained in the western city of Izmir.
Turkey entered a 17-day lockdown this week, imposing stay-home orders and closing schools and some businesses, to curb a wave of coronavirus infections.
India has received 150,000 Sputnik-V vaccine doses from Russia, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry has said in a statement reported by Reuters.
“Millions of doses” of the vaccine, which will be sold in India by Dr Reddy’s Labs Ltd, will follow, the spokesman added.
As of Saturday, everyone in India over the age of 18 is eligible for a vaccine, but the country is reportedly running out of doses. State governments in Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have reported shortages or a complete lack of availability of jabs.
The country is battling a dramatic surge in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals, leading to shortages of medical oxygen and beds.
In Delhi, where it is estimated that a person dies from Covid-19 every four minutes, crematoriums are expanding at a rapid pace, attempting to increase capacity to cope with 1,000 cremations a day.
The Netherlands has delayed its next phase of lockdown easing by at least a week as cases and pressure on hospitals remains high.
“We are passing the peak of the third wave. But the decline [of the infection rate] is not strong enough yet,” health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Twitter.
Gyms, zoos and amusement parks had been due to reopen on 11 May, but this has now been postponed to at least 18 May, Reuters reports.
The country slightly relaxed its restrictions last week, lifting a night-time curfew and allowing bars and restaurants to serve small groups outdoors between midday and 6pm.
The number of coronavirus patients in Dutch intensive care wards has surged in recent weeks to its highest in a year as infections swelled to levels last seen at the start of the year.
People are being urged to remain patient before the next relaxation of lockdown restrictions as there is still a possibility for coronavirus cases to “reignite”, amid reports that family and friends in England could be allowed to hug in just over a fortnight.
The success of the vaccine rollout and sharp reduction in coronavirus cases and deaths has led ministers to support the move, according to the Times. If approved, this would mark the first time that people in England have been allowed to have physical contact outside of their household or bubble for more than a year.
As coronavirus rages through Delhi, India, it has become nearly impossible to get a Covid test, writes Mukul Kesavan, essayist and author who teaches history at Jamia Millia Islamia university.
If you are lucky enough to get one, it takes up to a week to get the result. Until it arrives, if you have a severe case of Covid and need hospitalisation, you can’t be admitted to a hospital because you don’t have the paperwork to prove you are positive.
Delhi’s state government imposes a curfew to break the chain of transmission. Thirteen months on from the imposition of the first lockdown, it’s clear that we aren’t back to square one; we have been transported, unaccountably, to some strange circle of hell.
Cambodia’s army has begun a drive to vaccinate nearly half a million people in the parts of Phnom Penh worst-hit by Covid, but there is criticism of the use of the military as the south-east Asian nation looks to step up the pace of inoculations.
The country, which had been one of the least affected by the pandemic, is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases that has seen the total number of infections jump from about 500 to 13,790 since late February, including all 96 of the deaths it has recorded.
Phnom Penh is under lockdown until 5 May and has declared some districts of the capital “red zones”, banning people from leaving their homes except for medical reasons.
Senior military official Eth Sarath said 471,573 people would be inoculated with China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac shots during a one-month campaign led by the military, according to a Ministry of Defence statement posted on Facebook.
“To date, more than 1.3 million Cambodians, including foreigners, diplomats and civil society workers in Cambodia, have been vaccinated,” the defence ministry said.
Soeung Senkaruna, senior human rights worker at local rights group ADHOC, criticised the use of the military, saying people might feel intimidated.
“Whether they want it or not, seeing soldiers like these, they are worried, they are scared in case they do not want to make a decision, do not want to get the jab,” he said.
Kenya lifts lockdown as infection rate falls
Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has lifted the lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools, as the rate of infections eases in the east African country.
Reuters has the story:
Curbs on travel in the capital Nairobi and four surrounding counties are to be lifted, and schools will be allowed to reopen. Religious services will resume with some restrictions, while political gatherings would still be banned, he said in a speech.
An evening curfew that currently starts at 8pm will now be 10pm. The changes will be in effect from midnight on Saturday, Kenyatta said. Under the restrictions now being relaxed, Nairobi and surrounding counties were treated as one zone, with residents barred from traveling to other areas.
Cases in Kenya, the richest country in East Africa, have fallen from last month’s peak but it is still among the top five nations in Africa reporting new infections and deaths, according to a Reuters tracker.
Kenya reported 497 new infections and 17 deaths within the past 24 hours, according to the latest health ministry data released on Friday. Overall, the country of 53 million has recorded nearly 159,000 cases and around 2,700 deaths.
A Covid-19 vaccine campaign has begun in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave, with a 45-year-old frontline nurse becoming the first to receive a UN-secured jab.
The Associated Press reports:
Nizar Fattouh, a nurse in Ibn Sina Hospital in Idlib city, received one of 53,800 AstraZeneca vaccines delivered to northwest Syria through Turkey on 21 April.
The vaccines come amid a new surge of infections in the war-torn country. Syrian supplies of oxygen are depleted and its hospitals were already overwhelmed from 10 years of conflict and deteriorating health care services.
The AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered to the rebel-controlled area through a border crossing with Turkey, the northwestern territory’s only gateway to the outside world.
He said the small quantity of jabs is set to prioritise health care workers and aid personnel who are on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus. Infections among health care workers in the enclave have been high, accounting for as many as 30% of confirmed cases at one point.
There are over 21,000 confirmed infections in the rebel-held enclave, home to 4 million people, most of them displaced from different parts of Syria by the conflict. At least 641 have died in the area from Covid-19 related complications. Conflict has subsided in the area, but outbreaks of violence are still reported.
UK-based doctors of Indian heritage are deploying telemedicine to their colleagues in the South Asian nation to help them battle the escalating coronavirus crisis there.
PA Media reports:
Members of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) are working to help their counterparts get some breathing space as case numbers grow.
A BAPIO member, Prof Parag Singhal, told Sky News: “We are trying to do as much as we can in the form of fundraising to send equipment in the form of oxygen concentrators, creating capacity for ICU beds.
“So that’s one stream of work, but we are also trying to offer help to our exhausted colleagues in India – doctors are overstretched, they’re working too hard.”
They are offering long-distant consultations and advice to patients who do not need critical care, and also analysing the results of tests conducted in Indian hospitals. Prof Singhal said that BAPIO’s telemedicine project so far had 250 volunteers, and they are aiming to get 1,000.
One way BAPIO volunteers are helping out remotely is by analysing the results of CT scans. Prof Singhal told Sky News: “A lot of people are getting scans but [the results] are not getting reported in a timely manner.
“The second thing is, hospitals are having two cohorts of patients – one is those who are seriously ill, and require intensive care management, and the other is those who are less ill.”
Japan’s western region of Osaka has confirmed a record daily total of 1,262 new coronavirus cases, along with 41 deaths, national broadcaster NHK reports.
Reuters has the full story:
Osaka’s previous high was 1,260 infections, announced on Wednesday, NHK said. The capital Tokyo has also seen a surge in infections, with 1,050 new cases on Saturday, according to the broadcaster, after reporting in excess of 1,000 cases on Thursday as well.
The worsening situation has sharpened focus on whether the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games can or should go ahead, with the opening ceremony only 12 weeks away.
While Japan has avoided the kind of explosive outbreak of the virus seen in some other countries, the latest rise in infections has stoked alarm, with a surge in one variant and a critical shortage of medical staff and hospital beds in some areas.
The flare-up comes despite Osaka, Tokyo and two other prefectures having been placed since Sunday under states of emergency requiring the closure of bars, restaurants serving alcohol, department stores, cinemas and other commercial facilities larger than 1,000 square metres.
The Philippines has received its first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, the president’s office has said.
The 15,000 doses of Sputnik V, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, will be used in four cities in the capital region, the Philippines’ coronavirus hotspot, the health ministry said.
It was supposed to arrive on 25 April, but was delayed by logistical issues. The Philippines is negotiating to buy 20 million doses of Sputnik V, as part of its target to inoculate up to 70 million adults this year.
It has so far received 4.04 million vaccine doses, more than 86% of which were from China’s Sinovac Biotech and the rest from AstraZeneca through the Covax facility. More than 1.8 million doses had been administered as of 27 April, government data showed.
Canada’s drug regulator has said that doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine recently delivered to the country were produced at a Baltimore plant where the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) halted production.
Health Canada said in a statement that it will hold the vaccine doses until it is satisfied they meet its standards, and is consulting with J&J and the FDA. The first shipment of 300,000 J&J vaccine doses arrived in Canada earlier this week.
The FDA halted production of the vaccines at a US manufacturing plant owned by Emergent BioSolutions earlier this month as it investigates an error that led to millions of doses being ruined in March.
Late yesterday, Health Canada said it had learned that the active ingredient in the vaccine had been made at the Emergent site, and the final vaccines were manufactured at a different site outside the US.
A Brazilian court has confirmed the impeachment of Rio de Janeiro’s state governor Wilson Witzel over alleged graft in the purchase of medical supplies and services to fight the pandemic.
Witzel, who denies any wrongdoing, had been temporarily removed from power in August 2020. Brazilian prosecutors say that Witzel bought 700 million reais ($128.76 million) in ventilators which have never been delivered to treat Covid patients.
The Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, is reportedly planning to start vaccine production in other countries as it struggles to meet supply commitments.
“There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days,” chief executive Adar Poonawalla was quoted as saying by the Times in an interview. Poonawalla said last week that the Serum Institute would be able to raise its monthly output to 100m doses by July, later than a previous timeline of end-May. Several states in India have run out of vaccines against Covid-19.
He hoped to increase the Serum Institute’s production capacity from 2.5bn to 3bn doses a year within six months, the Times reported, adding that he flew to London before Britain banned travellers from India eight days ago.
Vaccine companies have faced sustained criticism over a refusal to relax patent rules to allow for wider manufacturing of jabs, which are in relatively short supply. One of the industry’s defences has been that some alternative manufacturing sites may not possess enough expertise to safely and effectively operate.
Following Liverpool’s Circus club night test event, UK culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has hailed a key milestone “in our journey back to normality”.
This weekend is another huge moment in our journey back to normality. This week Liverpool have hosted the first major indoor events without social distancing or Covid restrictions and tonight 3,000 clubbers will once more head to the Bramley-Moore Dock warehouse to enjoy another night of brilliant DJ sets, with 5,000 people at an outdoor gig at Sefton Park tomorrow.
I have seen first hand just how important these research events are. Yesterday, I visited the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to watch the Snooker World Championship. With the event initially requiring social distancing – starting with a third of the venue’s capacity – this is being gradually eased in time for the finals, where capacity will rise to 100% on Sunday and Monday.
DJ Marea Stamper, aka The Blessed Madonna, said that there had been an “incredible energy” at the club night. Speaking to BBC Breakfast she said the event was also “incredibly emotional” and she had seen people crying.
Of course the whole thing sort of operated silently as a science experiment, they were studying ventilation and crowd patterns, but every precaution was taken to make sure we were safe. People presented their test results very proudly.
I think we felt excited but also proud to be a part of creating the protocols that would lead to the reopening of all kinds of things, from football matches to any kind of event, it doesn’t have to be a big rave.
Thailand has reported a new daily record of 21 coronavirus deaths in one day, the health ministry said, as the south-east Asian country prepared to open registration for a long-awaited mass vaccination campaign.
The health ministry today reported 1,891 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 67,044 since the pandemic began last year, with 224 deaths. Thailand is fighting a fierce third wave of infections, the worst of the pandemic after a year of relative success in controlling the virus.
The new outbreak includes the highly transmissible B117 variant and has accounted for about half of its total cases and deaths during the pandemic. A slow rollout of vaccines has churned public frustration, with the 2.5m doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine received so far going mostly to medical and frontline workers and the most vulnerable.
Registration for vaccinating the general public begins today through mobile applications, with about 16 million people over 60 or those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes getting priority. By late afternoon, nearly 200,000 people across Thailand had registered and booked appointments to get vaccinated, health authorities said.
Ban on Australians returning from India ‘may breach law’
The travel ban preventing Australians in India from returning home could be subject to legal challenges, with lawyers and academics believing the extraordinary measure may breach the law.
Scott Morrison’s government has been condemned for its “outrageous” decision to introduce fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both, for anyone defying a travel ban preventing Australians returning home from India.
The travel ban officially begins on Monday, in what is believed to be the first time Australia has banned its own citizens from returning home.
Griffith University human rights law professor Sarah Joseph said the ban, implemented under the Biosecurity Act, must satisfy section 477 of that act, which states that the measure has to be “appropriate” and “no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances”.
Hong Kong migrant worker groups have criticised plans to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory for all foreign domestic workers, labelling the move “discriminatory and unjust”.
Health officials said they were planning to roll out mandatory inoculations for the 370,000 domestic helpers in the city, mostly poorly-paid women from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Those wanting to apply for work visas – or renew their current ones – would need to show they had been vaccinated, officials said Friday. If the plan goes ahead it would be the first time Hong Kong has directly tied working rights for foreigners to vaccines.
“This is clearly an act of discrimination and stigmatisation against migrant domestic workers,” said Dolores Balladares Pelaez, the chair of United Filipinos in Hong Kong.
Labour groups representing domestic workers said they were angered other foreigners – and locals working in environments such as care homes – were not also required to get vaccinated. “Again, we are being singled out and targeted,” Pelaez added.
Health officials announced the vaccination plan after two domestic helpers were found to be infected with one of the more virulent strains of the coronavirus. All domestic workers have also been ordered to get tested over the coming days – a measure that did not extend to the families they work for.
Hong Kong labour secretary, Law Chi-kwong, defended linking domestic worker visas to vaccination. “Of course they can choose not to work in Hong Kong as they are not Hong Kong residents,” Law said.
Counting on an accelerating vaccination campaign to keep new infections in check, much of continental Europe has announced plans for a gradual exit from lockdown over the coming weeks as case numbers begin to fall. Here is where things stand:
Director of public health in Liverpool, England, Matt Ashton has said it was “wonderful” to see the looks on clubbers’ faces as they returned to the dance floor at a pilot event for 3,000 people in the city.
PA Media reports:
He told BBC Breakfast that the event gave a glimpse of what the future might hold but stressed it was still a scientific experiment about how more events could be opened in the future.
Ashton added: “This is a scientific experiment, both before and after the event people have to return to doing the things they are supposed to, so following the rules in place.
“We have to deal with Covid still as if it is still around because it is, even if it is at low levels, so we have to be cautious in our approach. And for me that’s why it is so important that we collect the science around this to allow us to do this safely and properly in the future.
“But it is still wonderful to see the looks on people’s faces as they were at the event last night. It just gives a glimpse of what think we think the future might hold.”
Researchers at the event will gather evidence for the Events Research Programme (ERP) on how small and large-scale events could be permitted to safely reopen.
Attendees had to live within a Liverpool postcode and test negative to a Covid-19 lateral flow test to gain entry to the club, as well as undergo a more accurate PCR test after the event.
Ashton said pilot events like the club night in the city were crucial to opening up the economy again and letting people return to normal life. Asked if the data from the pilots will be crucial to opening up society again in late June, he said:
Yeah, don’t forget this is a crucial part of our economy, in Liverpool it’s over 40% of our economic output, so it’s really important we start to get the economy opening again. But also just in terms of a return to normal life, all of us being social creatures and doing the things we want to do more.
So the evidence base is absolutely essential. This is going to be part I think of a longer journey of understanding how we live with Covid more safely in the future.
He added that people who tested positive following the pilot club night will be expected to self-isolate and then be followed up by contact tracers as normal.
Anybody who tests positive after the event would go back into normal self-isolation and we would follow them up and ask them where they have been and who they have been in contact with.
But the likelihood is if it is people who have attended the event then it will be through the event and that allows us to speak to other people about it as well.”
When asked if everyone at the event will be tracked afterwards and for how long he said: “Everybody who attended with a ticket, absolutely will be. We ask people to take a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] five days afterwards and that helps us identify any virus that happened as a result of the event. I’m not expecting any.”
Canada will start getting Pfizer Covid vaccines from the US next week, a company spokesperson said, in what is to be the first time the US has allowed that company’s jabs to be exported to Canada.
The Associated Press reports:
Despite Canada’s tightly woven commercial ties with the U.S., it has been getting Pfizer’s vaccines from Belgium until now because U.S. authorities had kept supplies made in the U.S. for domestic use.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau repeated yesterday that starting next week, Canada will be receiving 2 million doses a week from Pfizer alone.
Vaccinations have ramped up in Canada in recent months. Every adult in Quebec will be eligible to make a vaccine appointment on May 14 and in Ontario, Canada’s largest province, every adult can book an appointment starting May 24.
Trade-dependent Canada previously lagged on vaccinating its population of 38 million because it lacks the facilities to manufacture the vaccine itself.
Pfizer has delivered almost 160 million doses to the U.S. from its Kalamazoo, Michigan, plant and that figure is expected to reach 200 million by the end of May.
Disneyland in California, US, reopened yesterday after an unprecedented 13-month closure, with hugs and handshakes with characters off limits, and parades and fireworks shows shelved to limit crowding.
The Associated Press has the story:
The world-famous theme park is admitting only state residents and operating under a limited capacity for now with visitors needing to wear masks and only being able to remove them to eat in designated areas.
The reopening highlights a big shift for the nation’s most populous state from just months ago when Covid cases were surging, hospitals were running out of ICU beds, and hundreds of people died from the virus each day.
Now, California has the country’s lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose.
Theme parks were among the last California businesses allowed to reopen, in contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running, though at lower-than-usual capacity, since July.
At an early morning flag ceremony, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek thanked the park’s employees, many who greeted each other with fist-bumps and bright-eyes, though their smiles were concealed by constellation face masks. He asked them to “bring the magic back” for visitors who were kept away during the 412-day closure.
Pakistan plans to reduce the number of inbound international flights to 20% of current numbers to curb rising Covid cases, the official body overseeing the country’s pandemic response said.
“In view of prevailing global and regional disease trends, Pakistan has decided to reduce inbound international travel from 5 May to 20 May,” said the National Command Operation Center (NCOC) on Twitter.
It was not immediately clear which routes and air carriers would be affected. The NCOC added the decision would be reviewed on 18 May.
Pakistan has seen record deaths in recent days from the coronavirus, and stricter restrictions on movement and gathering in public are planned for the upcoming Eid holiday.
The Australian government is to introduce penalties including fines and jail time for anyone who tries to return home from India, with treasurer Josh Frydenberg defending the moves as “drastic” but needed.
The move comes after two Australian cricketers who had been in India returned home on Thursday after transiting through Qatar, despite the government earlier in the week banning all direct flights from Covid-ravaged India.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced the strengthening of border controls late last night, saying that anyone who attempted to defy the rules would be hit with fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both.
Reuters reports that human rights groups have criticised the ban, suggesting the government’s focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.
“This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country,” Human Rights Watch’s Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement. “The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments.”
Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has today eased tough restrictions imposed last month geared to prevent the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
Reuters has the story:
In early April, Kyiv limited its public transport services, closed schools and kindergartens, theatres and shopping centres, and banned spectators from sporting events.
Starting from today, the capital will allow the operation of transport, cafes and restaurants, although passenger and customer numbers will be restricted. Wearing masks is still mandatory in transport and public places.
Shopping malls and sports clubs will be able to reopen, while schools and kindergartens will open from 5 May, local authorities said.
Last month, Kyiv recorded some of highest numbers of new infections among Ukrainian regions, but new cases dropped significantly last week.
India daily cases top 400,000 for first time, government ‘ignored warnings on variant’
India has posted a record daily rise of 401,993 new coronavirus cases today as the country opened up its humungous vaccination drive to all adults, although several states warned of acute shortages.
Reuters has the story:
It was the first time India’s daily case count had topped 400,000 after 10 consecutive days over 300,000. Deaths related to Covid-19 jumped by 3,523 over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 211,853, according to official data.
The world’s biggest producer of Covid-19 vaccines has a limited number of shots available, worsening a grim second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues while families scramble for scarce medicines and oxygen.
The chief minister of the hard-hit state of Delhi yesterday implored people not to queue at vaccination centres, promising more vaccines would arrive “tomorrow or the day after”.
India’s eastern Odisha state said it had received a consignment of 150,000 shots but would only allow a few people to get shots due to lockdown restrictions preventing movement.
Meanwhile, a fire in a hospital about 115 miles south of Ahmedabad killed 16 coronavirus patients and two staff, the latest in a series of deadly accidents at hospitals.
A forum of scientific advisers set up by Modi administration warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country, five scientists who are part of the forum told Reuters.
Despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. Millions, largely unmasked, attended religious gatherings and election rallies that were held by Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition politicians.
England Covid rule that ‘turned care homes into prisons’ to be scrapped
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to everyone reading. I’m Mattha Busby, here bringing you global coronavirus updates for the next couple of hours.
My colleague Peter Walker has the latest on the scrapping of a rule forcing care home residents in England who go on any sort of outside visit to then spend two weeks in their room. One campaign group said the regulation had turned “care homes into prisons”.
Under new guidance to begin from Tuesday, those in care homes will not have to self-isolate if they leave the home to be in the garden of a relative or friend, or to visit outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches.
John’s Campaign, which is campaigning for better visiting rights, launched a legal challenge arguing that the mandatory self-isolation brought in three weeks ago, regardless of the age or health of the individual, was discriminatory and unlawful.
Law firm Leigh Day, which was helping John’s Campaign and other groups with the challenge, quoted the parents of a 30-year-old man with autism who lives in a home as saying they were unable to visit him because he did not understand why he could not go out with them, and became distressed.
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