Coronavirus live news: pandemic not over but accelerating, WHO warns; Poland to lift lockdown

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: pandemic not over but accelerating, WHO warns; Poland to lift lockdown” was written by Jedidajah Otte (now), Tobi Thomas, Martin Belam and Martin Farrer (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th April 2021 17.40 UTC

Russian and Chinese media are systematically seeking to sow mistrust in Western Covid-19 vaccines in their latest disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing the West, a report by the EU said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

From December to April, the two countries’ state media outlets pushed fake news online in multiple languages sensationalising vaccine safety concerns, making unfounded links between jabs and deaths in Europe and promoting Russian and Chinese vaccines as superior, the EU study said.

The Kremlin and Beijing deny all disinformation allegations by the EU, which produces regular reports and seeks to work with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to limit the spread of fake news.

Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy “follows a zero-sum game logic and is combined with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine trust in Western-made vaccines,” said the EU study released by the bloc’s disinformation unit, part of its EEAS foreign policy arm.

“Both Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media, including official diplomatic social media accounts, to achieve these goals,” the report said, citing 100 Russian examples this year.

The EU and NATO regularly accuse Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilise the West by exploiting divisions in society.

Vaccine supply issues with AstraZeneca, as well as very rare side effects with Astra and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been seized upon, the report said.

“Both Chinese official channels and pro-Kremlin media have amplified content on alleged side-effects of the Western vaccines, misrepresenting and sensationalising international media reports and associating deaths to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Norway, Spain and elsewhere,” the report said.

Russia denies any such tactics and president Vladimir Putin has accused foreign foes of targeting Russia by spreading fake news about coronavirus.

Last year, China sought to block an EU report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Reuters investigation.

Progress with the UK’s vaccine rollout should limit the damage from any third wave of Covid-19 infections, one of England’s top doctors said on Wednesday, adding that there would likely still be bumps in the road in the coming year.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said that the “modelling consensus is clear that we will have what is called a third wave.”

He told a news conference:

I am personally hopeful that if the vaccine programme continues at pace, and continues to be as successful as it’s been, the third wave, so to speak, might just be a third upsurge and much less significant, because of the de-linking of cases to hospitalisations and deaths.

But I think it’s inconceivable to think that we will go from a period of relative calm […] with no further bumps in the road in terms of upswings in activity between now and this time next year.

He added he expected a rise in infections, likely in the in the autumn or winter, but it was hard to know for sure.

Britain’s deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a virtual news conference at 9 Downing Street in London, Britain, on 28 April, 2021.
Britain’s deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a virtual news conference at 9 Downing Street in London, Britain, on 28 April, 2021.
Photograph: Reuters

The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte is extending restrictions on movement and gatherings in the capital region and four nearby provinces for another two weeks to curb a sharp rise in infections.

The country is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals and medical workers in the capital Manila overwhelmed, while authorities face delays in the delivery of vaccines.

“I am sorry I have to impose a longer modified enhanced community quarantine. It is necessary,” Duterte said in a late night televised address.

Non-essential movement, mass gatherings and dining in restaurants will remain banned in Metro Manila and in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite for a further two weeks from 1 May, Reuters reports.

Mothers carry their babies as they lineup for checkup at a public health center in Manila, Philippines, on 27 April 2021. The Philippines on 26 April surpassed one million Covid-19 cases, making it the second highest in South East Asia after Indonesia, despite the country’s lockdown.
Mothers carry their babies as they lineup for checkup at a public health center in Manila, Philippines, on 27 April 2021. The Philippines on 26 April surpassed one million Covid-19 cases, making it the second highest in South East Asia after Indonesia, despite the country’s lockdown.
Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

The Department of Health recorded 6,895 new Covid-19 cases and 115 more deaths on Wednesday, bringing the tallies to 1.02 million confirmed infections and more than 17,000 fatalities.

While the government aims to inoculate 50 to 70 million out of the country’s more than 108 million people, the pace of its inoculation campaign has been slow due to difficulties in securing supply.

But Carlito Galvez, who is in charge of the government’s vaccine procurement programme, said that will change in the second half of the year when the bulk of the supply the country procured will have arrived, making 500,000 daily inoculations possible.

Galvez also said the Philippines has told Israel of its wish to get AstraZeneca shots which it no longer needs. Around 1.56 million people have so far received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. Only 3 million doses have been delivered, out of 140 million the Philippines aims to procure.

Pandemic not only not over but accelerating, WHO Americas office warns

The pandemic is accelerating, which is why equitable access to vaccines and effective preventive measures are crucial to helping turn the tide, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Wednesday.

PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

Our region is still under the grip of this pandemic, […] in several countries of South America the pandemic in the first four months of this year was worse than what we faced in 2020.

This shows that we will only overcome this pandemic with a combination of rapid and equitable vaccine access and effective preventive measures. This pandemic is not only not over, it is accelerating.

France has administered more than 20.9 million Covid-19 vaccinations since the end of December, including 14.8 million first injections, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

It said that 22.2% of the entire population and 28.3% of the adult population had now received a first shot against the virus.

The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in France fell again on Wednesday, with the total number of patients down by 370 and below 30,000 for the first time since early April.

The French health ministry also reported that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care had fallen by 64 to 5,879. It recorded 315 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals, down from 325 on Tuesday.

Updated

The British health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday said the UK had now secured 60m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be used for booster shots later this year,

Hancock also described the coronavirus situation in India as “harrowing”, but said the UK has no surplus of vaccines to give to the country.

The UK has given ventilators and oxygen concentrators to India, but Hancock said Britain was currently not in a position to give any vaccines.

The cabinet minister told a Downing Street press conference:

We’ve all seen the harrowing pictures of what is happening in India.

I think it pains each one of us who is seeing those scenes, not least because the bonds between our countries are so strong – they are ties of family and of friendship.

I’ve been in constant contact with my Indian counterpart and we’ve worked across the weekend to put together our first package of support of ventilators and oxygen concentrators. More supplies will be arriving later this week.

I’ve also been working with health minister for Northern Ireland Robin Swann to donate large-scale oxygen production equipment from Northern Ireland capable of producing over 1,000 litres of oxygen per minute, which is one of the main needs of the people of India.

[…]

We don’t have any excess doses of vaccine in the UK at the moment.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be taking back over now. If you have anything you’d like to flag, you can get in touch on Twitter @JedySays or via email.

Updated

Italy has reported 344 daily coronavirus deaths, a decrease of 29 from the previous day, with daily infections having risen to 13,385 compared to 10,404 the day previous.

So far, Italy has registered 120,256 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, which is the second-highest toll in Europe after the UK and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 3.99 million cases to date.

Reuters reports that patients in hospital with coronavirus, not including those in intensive care, stood at 19,860, a decrease from 20,312 a day earlier.

There were 168 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 177 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients decreased to 2,711 from a previous 2,748.

Reuters reports that the Turkish health minister, Fahrettin Kovar, has said that five cases of the India’s ‘double mutant’ Covid variant has been detected in the country. He also added that the Turkish health ministry has signed a deal for 50 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine.

Last week, Turkey recorded its highest number of daily deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in one day, at 362. So far, the country has recorded over 4.7 million cases and 39,000 deaths.

Turkey’s population of more than 83 million is spread out across Europe and Asia and covers some seemingly impregnable terrain. The vaccination effort with China’s CoronaVac jab kicked off with a bang in mid-January when Turkey innoculated more than a one million people in the first week.
Turkey’s population of more than 83 million is spread out across Europe and Asia and covers some seemingly impregnable terrain. The vaccination effort with China’s CoronaVac jab kicked off with a bang in mid-January when Turkey innoculated more than a one million people in the first week.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

A record 29 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin in 2021 amid a deepening crisis, a report by the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Unocha) has estimated.

Almost one in four people in the border areas of Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and north-east Nigeria are expected to need aid in 2021, 5 million more than a year ago, and a 52% increase on 2019.

Poverty, the climate emergency, armed conflicts, chronically high food insecurity and malnutrition have all contributed to the worsening crisis.

“In conflict-affected regions, civilians are facing an ever-increasing dramatic protection crisis. Millions of people had to flee their homes. Insecurity and violence are threatening lives and livelihoods, increasing human rights violations, and jeopardising social cohesion,” said the Unocha report, published on Monday.

“Women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Insecurity is also constraining humanitarian access, leaving communities without essential assistance, and exposing aid workers to increased risks. Across the region, Covid-19 is further compounding acute needs.”

Uber technologies has said that it is launching a new feature in its app to allow US customers to book coronavirus vaccine appointments.

Reuters reports:

Customers would be able reserve an appointment at a Walgreens pharmacy to receive a vaccine and book an Uber ride to travel there, the firm said in a product presentation.

The feature, which expands an Uber and Walgreens partnership announced in February, reflects the wider availability of COVID-19 inoculations in the United States, where every state has opened up vaccines to all adults.

For Uber, more vaccinations mean a quicker return to pre-pandemic travel and higher revenues, which tumbled during the pandemic. The number of journeys has already increased. March was the best month since the pandemic’s full force was felt.

 

Hi, Tobi Thomas here taking over while my colleague has a break. If you would like to get in touch with any tips, please do email me at tobi.thomas@theguardian.com. Thanks!

Doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine sent to Slovakia in March will have to be kept in storage for at least another month, after Moscow asked for some doses to be sent back for testing, Slovakia’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Slovakia received the 200,000 doses at the beginning of last month, part of what was intended to be a deal for 2 million doses that caused a political storm which led the prime minister to resign.

The vaccines have so far sat unused, with Slovakia’s drug agency SUKL refusing to endorse the product, citing a lack of data.

Russia has yet to win approval from the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency, for Sputnik V. So far, Hungary is the only EU country to have begun inoculations with Sputnik V without waiting for EMA approval.

Slovakia’s Health Ministry said a sample of 600 doses had been sent back to Russia for further tests at Moscow’s request, and that vaccinations with Sputnik V would not begin for at least a month, until those tests were complete. It did not say what sort of tests the Russians planned to carry out.

“The Russians asked us for this opportunity and we granted it,” Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky told a news conference shown online. “They want to check the batches.”

Slovakia’s purchase of Sputnik V caused a political storm, as then-prime minister Igor Matovic had bought the vaccine without telling his coalition partners. Matovic was forced to resign but returned to the new cabinet as finance minister.

Following the Slovak regulator’s refusal to endorse the vaccine, Matovic asked Hungary for additional testing. Russia asked Slovakia to return the 200,000 doses, which it declined to do.

Lengvarsky said on Wednesday he wanted Slovak experts to be satisfied with the vaccine’s safety before it is used in the country.

Slovakia has vaccinated nearly a fifth of its population with at least one dose, so far using only vaccines approved by the EMA.

Chile has designated pregnant women a Covid-19 vaccination priority and this week began issuing Pfizer doses to those with underlying health issues in their second or third trimesters.

Reuters reports:

Chile’s top public health official Paula Daza said women were being inoculated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since more information existed about its safety for pregnant women.

An estimated 230,000 will be offered vaccines, with those with health conditions followed by those working in high-risk jobs such as the health and education sectors.

Chile is running one of the world’s fastest Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, so far inoculating health workers, teachers, civil servants, journalists, and age groups progressively – at present people in their 40s.

More than 52% of the 15.2 million people it aims to vaccinate by July have received one dose of a vaccine, and 41.6% have received two. The country now becomes one of the first to roll out vaccinations for pregnant women.

The UK updated its guidance on vaccines earlier this month to include pregnant women, and the United States at the weekend.

Brazilian authorities said on Tuesday that pregnant women would be included among priority groups for vaccination, starting with those with underlying illnesses.

The Brazilians also said in recent days that women should delay their pregnancies if they can, because of concerns the virus may hit them harder and overcrowding in hospitals.

The coronavirus situation is improving in France, prime minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

As we reported earlier, president Emmanuel Macron will outline on Friday how restrictions will be progressively relaxed.

Reuters reports that the French government also plans to replace from the current state of health emergency – which gives officials greater power to impose tough measures to contain the spread of the virus – with a “transition regime” from 2 June that will run until 31 October.

This would allow the government to react swiftly if infections and hospitalisations were to climb again as France exits its lockdown, Castex told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

“The epidemic situation continues to improve at a regular pace. Virus circulation remains high but is on a real downward trend even though its impact on hospitalisation is limited, notably on the number of people in intensive care units,” Castex said.

He said weekly new cases numbers were declining and the R rate that measures the spread of the virus was now at 0.89, meaning that, on average, every 100 people infected will infect 89 other people, indicating another downward trend.

Chairs and tables are seen piled up in a closed restaurant in Paris amid in France, on 27 April, 2021.
Chairs and tables are seen piled up in a closed restaurant in Paris amid in France, on 27 April, 2021.
Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

France started its third national lockdown at the end of March.

Macron is hoping the lockdown and an accelerated vaccination campaign will improve France’s Covid-19 figures which would then allow certain businesses and leisure activities – such as outdoors dining – to reopen in mid May.

Indoor venues will not re-open before June, and only in regions where the Covid-19 figures have dropped sufficiently to allow this.

French schools reopened on Monday after a three-week closure.

Kenya’s health minstry said on Wednesday it was suspending flights to and from India after midnight on Saturday amid the coronavirus surge in that country.

Ran Balicher, director of Clalit Research Institute and Professor of Public Health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, told the British government’s science and technology committee it was difficult to say which measures had been directly responsible for the fall in cases in Israel, whether it be vaccines or green passes for specific settings.

Infections in the country have been declining sharply since the beginning of March, and since large parts of the population have been vaccinated, Israeli authorities are now awaiting US approval for use of Covid-19 vaccines in 12- to 15-year-olds, Haaretz reported.

Israel introduced an app that requires people to enter details, such as when they last tested negative for Covid-19, and then grants them a so-called “green pass” to enter certain settings such as restaurants.

Balicher said:

The key aim of the green pass in Israel is to provide for those people who are interested in participating in activities within high-risk settings, especially high-risk indoor settings, is to provide them with an opportunity for a safe participation in such an event.

Because as we all know, even as you get vaccinated, or if you are recovered, you are not fully immune and you are not 100% able to withstand the potential infection, asymptomatic infection and severe infection, there is residual risk.

So, especially for some of the people within the highest risk groups, when they go about and participate in such an event that takes place in an indoor setting, there is a residual meaningful risk that needs to be tackled.

The green pass rules allow these people to go into a restaurant, to go into a concert hall, to participate in some of these high-risk activities with the lowest risk possible.

He added there had been no outbreaks in the settings the green pass had been deployed in, even when there was a significant number of daily infections in the country.

Updated

Switzerland said Wednesday it would provide over $300 million to help boost access to jabs, tests and treatments in the fight against Covid-19, and to ensure developing countries get their fair share.

AFP reports:

The Swiss government voiced its commitment “to ensuring equitable access to vaccines, tests and medicines worldwide in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic sustainably.”

In a statement, Bern said it planned to donate some 300 million Swiss francs ($328 million, 272 million euros) to the Access to Covid Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The multi-billion-dollar global programme is coordinated by a range of international bodies including the World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the World Bank.

It aims to help develop and ensure access to vaccines, medicines and tests against Covid-19 and strengthen healthcare systems.

“While great progress has been made in the development of tests, treatments and vaccines, broad and equitable worldwide access to these resources is lacking,” [the Swiss government] said.

It voiced deep concern over the “emerging, highly contagious mutations of the virus”, which are complicating the pandemic fight.

“A quick, efficient end to the pandemic is very much in Switzerland’s interest,” it said, stressing that “the virus can only be successfully contained once its spread is curbed worldwide.”

The government said its main goal with supporting ACT-A was therefore to help developing countries.

ACT-A is in dire need of additional funds. It has sought $22 billion this year, but by the end of last week, it was still $19 billion short.

As we reported earlier, Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

Here some more detail from Reuters:

Mexico’s state-run vaccine manufacturer Birmex would handle the final packaging and filling of the vaccine, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in comments shared by the ministry.

Ebrard, whose government is aiming to quicken its pace of vaccinations, said about a million people in Mexico had been vaccinated with Sputnik V thus far.

“The results are very positive, which speaks of the quality of science and technological development in this country,” Ebrard said of Russia.

He said the pandemic had “opened the door for us to expand and deepen this relationship.”

Mexico’s Health Ministry said in late February it expected to receive 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V by April and an additional 16.6 million shots in May. Mexico has signed an agreement to acquire a total of 24 million doses.

Tunisia’s government said on Wednesday it will impose compulsory quarantine for a week on all visitors from 3 May and keep schools closed until 16 May to slow the spread of the virus.

Last week one of the government’s scientific advisers warned the health system was on the brink of collapse, with between 90-110 new patients in need of hospitalisation each day. Tunisia has only about 500 intensive care beds, Reuters reports.

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Tunis, Tunisia, on 26 April, 2021.
A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Tunis, Tunisia, on 26 April, 2021.
Photograph: Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters

There have been a further 35 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 211,389.

Public Health Wales said there was no new deaths, with the total in the country since the start of the pandemic remaining at 5,548.

Public Health Wales said a total of 1,800,428 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales, as well as 715,425 second doses.

Vietnam on Wednesday warned against mass gatherings ahead of long public holidays this weekend and said it would speed up its vaccine rollout amid a worsening coronavirus situation among its neighbours.

Reuters reports:

“A new Covid-19 outbreak is threatening to happen, especially during the upcoming holidays,” the health ministry said in a statement. It called for “unanimity and determination” among the public to keep the virus at bay.

Vietnam has been widely praised for its record in containing its outbreaks quickly through targeted mass testing and a strict, centralised quarantine programme.

That has helped keep its case tally to 2,865, with only 35 deaths reported since the pandemic began, one of the best records in Asia.

“For the sake of the country, of the community and of the people, each citizen should be unanimously determined to hold on to our success in preventing and fighting against Covid-19,” the statement said.

The ministry separately said provinces, especially those bordering Cambodia, need to increase vigilance due to people illegally crossing the border into Vietnam.

Cambodia has seen its case total jump from about 500 to 11,000 in the past two months, with 82 deaths, while nearby Thailand’s infections tally has more than doubled in April alone to nearly 62,000, with 178 fatalities.

Cases in Laos have nearly doubled since Saturday, to over 600, according to its state media.

“The global disease situation is evolving in a complicated manner, especially in some neighbouring countries, putting huge pressure on Vietnam,” deputy prime minister Truong Hoa Binh said in the statement.

The government on Wednesday said its Covid-19 vaccine rollout would be expedited, with the aim of administering all of the 928,800 AstraZeneca doses it has received so far by May 15. About 260,000 people have so far been inoculated.

A woman wearing face mask walks in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 27 April 2021.
A woman wearing face mask walks in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 27 April 2021.
Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

Japan to tighten immigration rules for travellers from India, Peru and four US states

Japan said Wednesday it will tighten border controls on travellers from the four US states of Tennessee, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as India and Peru in response to the spread of new variants of the virus detected there.

The new measure, to be effective from Saturday, requires people travelling from those areas to quarantine in a designated facility and take a Covid-19 test on the third day after their arrival, the Kyodo news agency reports.

Japan’s government is planning to introduce vaccine passports to help restart international travel, the agency reported on Wednesday.

The passports would take the form of scannable smartphone apps that carry Covid-19 inoculation information, Kyodo said, citing government sources.

The governors of Tokyo and the Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures urged residents Wednesday to refrain from travelling to, from and within the metropolitan area a day before the start of the country’s Golden Week holidays amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

The governors also jointly asked people to stay at home as well as stop drinking on streets and dining with non-family members.

Artwork by Japanese painter Akira Yamaguchi titled ‘Imayou yuraku-zu’ is displayed at Narita International Airport terminal 1 in Narita, Chiba prefecture on 27 April, 2021, as part of the Look of the Games - the visual identity of the Tokyo 2020 Games to welcome athletes and Games stakeholders from around the world to Japan.
Artwork by Japanese painter Akira Yamaguchi titled ‘Imayou yuraku-zu’ is displayed at Narita International Airport terminal 1 in Narita, Chiba prefecture on 27 April, 2021, as part of the Look of the Games – the visual identity of the Tokyo 2020 Games to welcome athletes and Games stakeholders from around the world to Japan.
Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update that India accounted for 38% of the 5.7 million cases reported worldwide to it last week.

Early modelling showed that the B.1.617 variant of the virus detected in India had a higher growth rate than other variants in the country, suggesting increased transmissibility, it said.

Indians struggle to register online for vaccination appointments the government plans to offer to all adults over the age of 18 from 1 May, as the second wave of infections has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week.

A policewoman gestures past notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on 28 April, 2021.
A police officer gestures past notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday.
Photograph: Niharika Kulkarni/Reuters

But the country, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not yet have the stocks for an estimated 600 million people becoming eligible, on top of ongoing effort to inoculate the elderly and people with other medical conditions.

Some people who tried to register said they failed, Reuters reports, while some people with appointments were told there were no vaccines available.

Updated

French president Emmanuel Macron will on Friday set out how Covid-19 restrictions will progressively be relaxed in the country, prime minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

“The epidemic situation continues to improve at a regular pace. Virus circulation remains high but is on a real downward trend even though its impact on hospitalisation is limited notably on the number of people in intensive care units,” Castex told reporters after a meeting of the French cabinet.

France’s main Covid-19 indicators all showed signs of improvement on Tuesday, with the seven-day average of daily new infections falling to 27,856, below 28,000 for the first time in more than a month.

Updated

WHO boss urges people to donate $7 and fund a Covid vaccine

People across the world are being encouraged to donate $7 for a dose of coronavirus vaccine in a World Health Organization-led push to raise extra funds for the Covax international Covid-19 vaccine-sharing programme.

Launching the “Go Give One” campaign on Wednesday, the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it would allow anyone who wants to “to play their part in vaccinating the world with a simple donation” and, in time, help end the pandemic.

The WHO estimates that $7 would cover the cost of buying and delivering a vaccine dose for someone in a low income country.

The campaign also will seek matching funds from businesses whose employees and customers make contributions.

“The best way out of this pandemic is by getting vaccines to everyone, starting with health workers and the world*s most vulnerable people,” Tedros said in a statement.

The campaign is scheduled to launch country by country over the coming year, starting with the UK, the US, Israel and Kenya. It is backed by global charities and companies, with an online giving platform at: http://www.gogiveone.org.

The Covax facility is aiming to secure 2bn Covid-19 vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.

Updated

Moderna Inc said on Wednesday the US government had agreed to increase the contract for the company’s Covid-19 vaccine by $236m to roughly $1.25bn, which also includes reimbursement for costs of late-stage clinical trials.

Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel said last week that the company was working on getting a Covid-19 booster shot authorised by late summer or early autumn that would provide improved protection against coronavirus variants, including a vaccine that would address the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.

Bancel said the preclinical data looked very encouraging, and that the clinical data should come as early as May.

Moderna’s two-dose vaccine is one of the three Covid-19 vaccines authorised for use in the US. Nearly 30%, or 96.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated as of 27 April, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Updated

The head of immunisation at Public Health England has told MPs it is “very important” as many people as possible are vaccinated before all restrictions are eased.

Speaking at the science and technology committee, Dr Mary Ramsay said:

It is really very important that we have as many people vaccinated before we release all those restrictions, so at the moment we are trying to balance it very carefully.

As more people get vaccinated we are releasing gradually, we’re observing what happens, and then that’s allowing us to carry on, but it does depend on what the future holds, how people behave, how the vaccine works.

She added that many people had only had their first vaccine dose and while the proportion of people with two jabs is increasing, there are still some elderly who have not been vaccinated and children cannot yet have a vaccine.

Ramsay said:

I think it will be very hard to say confidently that by X we can stop doing Y and I think it really is a question of keeping observing and keeping monitoring, so that we can get that balance right.

There is a risk that we get a resurgence as we release restrictions – hopefully that will mainly lead to mild disease and younger people, but there will still be the risk that those people can potentially pass this on to older individuals who are, for whatever reason, either unable to respond to vaccine, unvaccinated or maybe if the vaccine begins to lose protection over time.

Ramsay added that there could be “pockets” around the country where there are “worrying” rates of transmission.

Updated

Cyprus will allow fully vaccinated tourists from 65 countries into the country without having to test for Covid from 10 May, its tourism minister has confirmed.

The Mediterranean island will accept vaccines permitted by the European Medicines Agency and Sputnik V made by Russia – its second largest market.

“I think it’s a fantastic initiative and I think it’s very very important for people to know, that irrespective of [country risk] categorisation, if someone is fully vaccinated they no longer require tests to come to Cyprus,” deputy minister of tourism Savvas Perdios told Reuters.

The scheme will enable hassle-free travel from 65 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, the EU, the UK and Gulf states.

Cyprus had already opened up to those countries in a colour-coded risk assessment system based on testing.

Perdios said incoming traffic was already being registered from Israel. While the island’s intention to accept fully vaccinated tourists from the UK, its main market, generated a great deal of interest, clarity would only be forthcoming next month after the UK sets out guidelines for overseas travel, he added.

Polish PM announces lifting of lockdown from next week

Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday announced that Covid restrictions will be eased after a fall in new infections, promising to reopen retail outlets and hotels next week.

Polskie Radio reports:

By the end of May schools will return to on-site lessons, gyms will be allowed to reopen, and restaurants will be able to open to half capacity, Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters.

He added: “I daresay the worst is behind us in terms of infections.”

Shopping malls, DIY and furniture stores will be able to reopen on May 4, with sanitary restrictions in place, Morawiecki announced.

The youngest schoolchildren will return to on-site classes on the same date, while museums and art galleries will be allowed to open.

Hotels will be able to admit guests from May 8, while restaurants and cafes will be allowed to serve customers in open-air gardens from May 15.

From the same day, a mixed system of on-site and online classes will be brought in for secondary school pupils.

All pupils will return to on-site classes on May 29. The same day, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will be able to open at half capacity, while wedding receptions will be allowed with a maximum of 50 guests, Morawiecki announced.

Morawiecki said there were ground for “cautious optimism” but added that the coronavirus “is still very, very dangerous.”

Officials on Wednesday reported 8,895 new coronavirus infections and 636 more deaths, bringing the country’s total number of cases during the pandemic to 2,776,927 and fatalities to 66,533.

Poland on Monday eased coronavirus restrictions in regions with fewer Covid cases. Beauty parlours and hairdressers in such areas were allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, a system of mixed on-site and online education was brought in for younger pupils in 11 provinces.

Medical staff treat patients infected with coronavirus Covid-19 at the intensive care unit of the Modular Hospital of the Military Medical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, on 22 April 2021.
Medical staff treat patients infected with coronavirus Covid-19 at the intensive care unit of the Modular Hospital of the Military Medical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, on 22 April 2021.
Photograph: Leszek Szymański/EPA

Amid India’s Covid-19 crisis, migrant workers are abandoning cities and heading for their villages in droves in a repeat of last year’s exodus when the lockdown shut industries and left them jobless – but this time they are worried about safety.

India’s total number of fatalities from Covid passed 200,000 on Wednesday and now stands at 201,187, with nearly 18 million people infected, according to government data,.

The cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Surat and Bangalore are under lockdown.

Healthcare facilities have been overwhelmed and hospitals grapple with shortages of oxygen, medical supplies and staff.

Reuters reports:

India’s strict lockdown measures last year, such as severing transport links, took a toll on the nation’s estimated 100 million migrant workers, triggering an exodus from cities where they worked in garment factories, building sites and brick kilns.

Hundreds died in road accidents while walking, cycling and travelling in trucks and vans in intense heat, charities said.

As the second wave of Covid-19 started sweeping through India last month, migrants who had returned to work after months of staying jobless again began a hasty retreat, fearing transport services could again get suspended.

At least three migrant workers died when an overcrowded bus from Delhi overturned in central India, local media reported.

But officials and campaigners said the impact of the lockdown this year was not as severe as in 2020 because industries had not been shut entirely and trains remained operational.

The government this month revived migrant worker helplines that were set up last April and announced financial assistance for employers who hire those who lost work in the pandemic.

“The volume of incoming calls on our helplines is not as much as last year. We have also told employers to hold on to workers,” said D.P.S. Negi, India’s Chief Labour Commissioner.

Until a few weeks ago, migrant rights non-profit Gram Vikas in eastern Odisha state had linked workers with jobs in Kerala and arranged transport for them but that has stopped.

Many of them have now booked tickets to return to their villages as infections at workplaces have spiked and many fear contracting the infection, the charity’s officials said.

Indian migrant workers and people walk down to go back to their home town at the city railway station in Bangalore, India, on 26 April 2021.
Indian migrant workers and people walk down to go back to their home town at the city railway station in Bangalore, India, on 26 April 2021.
Photograph: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

Two thirds of people in Spain over the age of 60 have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday during a visit to a Johnson & Johnson lab in Toledo.

Describing the data as “promising,” Sanchez reaffirmed a national target to fully inoculate 70% of Spain’s 47 million population before the end of summer.

Spain aims to allow overseas holidaymakers intro the country from June under the Covid digital health certificate scheme, the country’s secretary of state for tourism has said.

Over 50% of UK adults are likely to have Covid antibodies, study suggests

More than half of adults in the UK are now likely to have Covid-19 antibodies, new figures have suggested.

The estimates, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on a sample of blood test results for the week ending 11 April and range from 57.8% of adults in Scotland to 68.3% in England, with 61.0% for Wales and 62.5% for Northern Ireland.

PA reports:

The presence of Covid-19 antibodies implies someone has had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.

It takes between two and three weeks after infection or vaccination for the body to make enough antibodies to fight the virus.

Antibodies then remain in the blood at low levels, although these levels can decline over time to the point that tests can no longer detect them.

The [estimates] reflect the ongoing impact of the vaccine rollout across the UK, in particular the increasing number of people who have received both doses and are now fully vaccinated.

Once infected or vaccinated, the length of time antibodies remain at detectable levels in the blood is not fully known.

It is also not yet known how having detectable antibodies, now or at some time in the past, affects the chance of getting Covid-19 again.

The ONS estimates are for people in private households and do not include settings such as hospitals and care homes.

Team leader for housebound vaccinations, Julie Fletcher, prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to housebound patient Gillian Marriott at her home in Hasland, near Chesterfield, central England on 14 April, 2021.
Team leader for housebound vaccinations, Julie Fletcher, prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to housebound patient Gillian Marriott at her home in Hasland, near Chesterfield, central England on 14 April, 2021.
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Japan has only used about a fifth of its imported Covid-19 vaccine doses so far, government data showed on Wednesday, despite having secured the largest amount of vaccines in Asia.

Only 1.6% of its population have been given just over 3.2 million jabs so far, the slowest among wealthy countries, Reuters reports.

The country’s vaccination programme kicked off in February, and by the end of April, Japan will have imported almost 17 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to a schedule from the Cabinet Office.

Most jabs have been given to healthcare workers.

By comparison, South Korea, which began its inoculation campaign after Japan, has administered two thirds of the 3.87 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer vaccines it has received so far, inoculating 4.7% of its population.

The main reason for Japan’s slow vaccine rollout appears to be a lack in manpower: Japanese regulations say only doctors or nurses can administer the jabs. The health ministry last week decided that dentists may also deliver shots.

Osaka Prefecture reported a record daily high of 1,260 new cases on Wednesday, while Tokyo confirmed 925 fresh infections, the highest figure since 28 January.

The figure in Osaka broke the previous record of 1,242 set just a week ago, while the tally in the capital was the most since late January, when it reported 1,065 infections, The Japan Times reports.

Hyogo Prefecture reported 600 new cases, its second-highest daily figure ever, and Kyoto Prefecture logged 140 new infections.

The two prefectures, together with Tokyo and Osaka, are under the nation’s third pandemic-related state of emergency.

People walk through a train station in Tokyo on 28 April, 2021.
People walk through a train station in Tokyo on 28 April, 2021.
Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

India’s western state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, may extend its lockdown by a fortnight until mid-May, the state’s health minister said on Wednesday.

The state’s plan to open vaccinations to everyone aged over 18 from 1 May will also be scrapped due to a shortage of doses, Rajesh Tope told reporters.

On Tuesday, Tope urged people to pre-register and schedule vaccination appointments instead of walking into a centre.

Tope said Maharashtra had appealed to the government to intervene and help if the state is unable to procure the required vaccine stock due to shortages.

Hundreds of women across Nigeria have reported being raped or sexually assaulted in a surge since the pandemic began, according to police and officials.

Reuters reports:

Some experts say this represents only a fraction of cases.

The president’s office referred Reuters’ questions to the Ministry of Women Affairs. The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what action they had taken to combat rape and gender-based violence.

Around the world, police and prosecutors, victim support teams and women’s movements, as well as the United Nations, have reported rising domestic violence during coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Lagos state […] saw a nearly 40% increase in rape and domestic and sexual violence in 2020, official data showed.

After a string of high-profile attacks, including the gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl in northern Jigawa state, president Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency in June last year to tackle the crisis.

Police did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but in June last year they said reports of rape had risen during the pandemic and introduced measures to improve police response to gender-based violence.

Some Nigerian women are now acting to address the problem of sexual violence, saying that cases have ended in few prosecutions, widespread stigmatization and a tendency to blame victims.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and am taking over for the next few hours. If you have anhything to flag you think we should be covering, feel free to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can email me.

Updated

Today so far…

  • India recorded 360,960 new cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning according to health ministry data, another new daily global record. The ministry also said that India’s total number of fatalities had passed 200,000 to stand at 201,187.
  • As hospital and intensive care beds in the capital, Delhi, have filled far beyond capacity, the instruction from doctors has been for patients to find oxygen for themselves.
  • The Indian Premier League will continue as scheduled, a senior Indian cricket board official has said, despite fierce criticism.
  • Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, has said countries have failed to unite to provide an adequate global response to prevent the “tragic” coronavirus outbreak from overwhelming India. He singled out wealthier nations for failing to provide equitable access to healthcare around the world.
  • Leading scientists are urging the UK to share the Covid vaccines it has bought with other nations, to tackle the soaring death toll and reduce the spread of the virus and new variants around the world.
  • The EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders has warned that countries introducing their own Covid vaccination certificates would be left with a dangerous myriad of disjointed solutions if the bloc fails to build a joint system.
  • International travellers from the UK will be asked to demonstrate their Covid vaccination and testing status using the NHS smartphone app, the government has confirmed, as transport secretary Grant Shapps promised to release a list of possible holiday destinations within a fortnight.
  • Trade unions in Britain are calling for an immediate public inquiry into the country’s nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid – one of the worst totals in the world.
  • Children from the first three grades in Poland are expected to go back to school next week as coronavirus infections fall, health minister Adam Niedzielski said.
  • Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow.
  • China’s vaccine makers are looking at mixing their jabs and whether a booster shot could help better protect against Covid-19.
  • Pakistan recorded more than 200 Covid-19 deaths in a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the government said it was considering stricter lockdowns.
  • Data from France has shown that the country’s Covid crisis is beginning to ease as French president Emmanuel Macron plans to relax restrictions in the next few days.

And that is your lot from me, Martin Belam, this morning. I will be back bright and early tomorrow. Jedidajah Otte will be here to take you through the rest of the day, and Andrew Sparrow has our UK live blog here.

Indian Premier League cricket to continue as scheduled – officials

The Indian Premier League will continue as scheduled, a senior Indian cricket board official has said, despite fierce criticism of the Twenty20 competition being played in the midst of a surge in Covid cases that has gripped the world’s second most populous nation.

The senior BCCI official, however, said the cricket was providing important solace and entertainment to many people during hard times, even though fans are not being allowed into stadiums to watch the games. The tournament is watched by millions of viewers on television.

“It’s probably more important now to hold IPL, when there is so much negativity around,” the official said. “We should not underestimate the power of sport to spread positivity. At least fans are absorbed in it at home. Otherwise many of them will step out without masks. The league generates considerable money for the economy. It has to be seen from that context, too. How does stopping IPL help?”

Satish Menon, chief executive of Punjab Kings, echoed the sentiment: “For people sitting at home, we’re providing entertainment. Otherwise they’ve very little to do.”

Matches were played as planned on Tuesday and are scheduled to continue every day at six venues across the nation until 23 May, when there is a break before the playoffs. Punjab’s Menon said the possibility of a wholesale exodus of the many top foreign players who flock to the league every year looked unlikely.

“I don’t think you can get a better sanitised environment than what we have been provided. We’re completely insulated from any pandemic,” he added. Asked if any of Punjab’s foreign recruits might return home, he added: “I don’t think so. I have not even heard even one player asking for returning home.”

Read more here: IPL show lifts the gloom and will go on despite Covid crisis, claims BCCI official

The EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders has warned that countries introducing their own Covid vaccination certificates would be left with a dangerous myriad of disjointed solutions if the bloc fails to build a joint system.

Gabriela Baczynska reports for Reuters on wrangles within the EU. It is pushing to launch a shared digital health pass to allow tourists to travel freely this summer, but discussions are not yet settled on costs, data and privacy issues, as well as technical and medical aspects of the new system, among others.

“If we can deliver politically, the technical solution will be ready in time. If we don’t, we risk fragmentation across Europe, with a multitude of possibly incompatible national solutions,” said.

“We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens,” he told the European parliament.

Tourism-reliant southern EU countries like Spain and Italy are keen to launch the new tool as soon as possible to help their economies mauled by the pandemic. But they face a more reluctant north. With no central gateway to ensure interoperability in place for now, countries including Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Germany and France, are introducing their own solutions to record vaccinations.

As the bloc is now facing a third wave of infections, sceptics say discussions about restarting free travel are premature given low vaccination levels on the continent.

Another issue still to be resolved is whether antibody tests provide adequate proof that a person who has recovered from Covid-19 is immune. Some EU countries, including Belgium, are also worried about discriminating against those who cannot or would not get the jab.

Updated

Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically

A quick snap from Reuters here that Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow, in a TV interview shared on Twitter by the fund marketing the vaccine.

Mexico’s top diplomat had travelled to Moscow on Sunday amid talks to hammer out plans for Mexico to bottle the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically after delays in shipments.

Bottling the Russian shot in Mexico could start as early as May, said the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad.

Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose government is aiming to quicken its pace of vaccinations, said about a million people in Mexico had been vaccinated with Sputnik V thus far.

Updated

If you missed it earlier, Dr Anthony Fauci is worth a couple of minutes of your time. The White House’s chief medical adviser has said countries have failed to unite to provide an adequate global response to prevent the “tragic” coronavirus outbreak from overwhelming India.

He singled out wealthier nations for failing to provide equitable access to healthcare around the world. “We’re all in this together. It’s an interconnected world. And there are responsibilities that countries have to each other, particularly if you’re a wealthy country and you’re dealing with countries that don’t have the resources or capabilities that you have,” he said.

 

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK live blog for the day, so if you are after UK news, then you can head and join him there …

I’ll be here with the latest Covid news from around the globe.

Updated

NHS app will be used as Covid ‘vaccine passport’ for foreign travel

Kevin Rawlinson has a fuller write-through here of what UK transport minister Grant Shapps has been saying in the media this morning:

International travellers will be asked to demonstrate their Covid vaccination and testing status using the NHS smartphone app, the government has confirmed, as the transport secretary promised to release a list of possible holiday destinations within a fortnight.

Grant Shapps said work has started on developing the app many people currently use to book appointments with their GPs so that it can show whether they have been vaccinated and tested for the virus.

But he was coy about when people would be able to start travelling abroad for holidays in interviews on Wednesday morning, saying the public would have to “wait and see” when they could go to some of the most popular foreign holiday destinations.

Asked how the traffic light system for international travel would be decided, he said: “There will be four factors that we will be looking at when we look at a country: we will be looking at their rates of vaccination; we will also want to look at the rates of coronavirus in that country; how many concerns there are about various mutations of the virus in that particular place; and how accurate we believe the reporting to be.”

He added: “In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application – actually, it will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on – to be able to show that you have had a vaccine or that you’ve had testing.”

Read more of Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: NHS app will be used as Covid ‘vaccine passport’ for foreign travel

Updated

If you didn’t see it earlier, Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi has this latest despatch for us from India:

As a devastating Covid-19 second wave has enveloped India, the capital, Delhi, has found itself gasping for breath, as cases have soared and oxygen supplies have run low – and, in some hospitals, have run out entirely, leaving patients to die in their beds.

As hospital and intensive care beds in the capital have filled far beyond capacity, the instruction from doctors has been for patients to find oxygen for themselves. As a result, demand for oxygen cylinders has soared to unprecedented levels, with some hidden market vendors selling a single oxygen cylinder usually worth 6,000 rupees (£58) for upwards of £700.

But a civilian oxygen army has also stepped into the breach in the city, providing cylinders and oxygen refills free of charge to those in desperate need. Arora is part of the Sewa Satkar Trust, which distributes free oxygen cylinders across Delhi to those who call. But its capacity is nowhere near enough to meet the ever-growing demand.

“The situation in Delhi is particularly terrible: people are dying on the roads and outside of hospitals when they cannot get the oxygen they need,” he said. “We do the best we can but it’s so painful to have to say no, because every day we just don’t have enough. Sometimes we have to switch off our phones so we can relax, even just for half an hour.”

Recently even Delhi’s largest private hospitals such as Vedanta have been calling “telling us they have shortages and asking we help provide them with emergency cylinders”, said Arora.

He added: “It’s very clear that both the central and state governments have failed, and so it’s up to small NGOs and civilians to try and step in and do what we can. But it’s not enough, it’s not even nearly enough to fill the gap.”

Read more of Hannah Ellis-Petersen’s report here: ‘People phone up pleading’: the volunteers battling India’s oxygen crisis

Chinese vaccine makers are looking at mixing their jabs and whether a booster shot could help better protect against Covid-19, Huizhong Wu reports for Associated Press.

Sinovac and Sinopharm, the two Chinese manufacturers that combined have exported hundreds of millions of doses all over the world, say they’re are considering combining their vaccines with those from other companies.

Earlier this month, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, said that current Chinese vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus and mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness. Gao later tried to walk back his comments, saying he was talking in general about improving vaccine efficacy.

Researchers in Brazil who conducted Sinovac’s clinical trials in the country released new data this month that reconfirmed the company’s previously announced 50% efficacy rate. The paper, which has not yet been peer reviewed but was published on a website for scientists, showed that the Sinovac vaccine was 50.7% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 cases and much stronger against severe disease.

China National Biotech Group has a plan for future “sequential use” of their vaccines, Li Meng, the head of international cooperation for the company, said today at an international conference.

The practice is being considered in other countries as well. British scientists are studying a combo of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots. The study is also looking to test different intervals between doses, four weeks and 12 weeks apart.

The results of such investigations may have public health implications worldwide as governments around the world face delays in getting their vaccines in a timely manner and logistical hurdles in rolling out the shots.

The constant clamour for international travel that we are hearing in some sections of the UK media this morning makes quite a contrast with the scenes coming out of India, where medical supplies are being flown in to try and help the stricken country with its Covid crisis.

Singapore is the latest country to deliver much-needed oxygen for use in India’s hospitals.

More on UK holidays: holidaymakers could be able to visit Portugal from the “middle of May”, the nation’s ambassador to the UK has said.

Asked when Portugal will be opening its borders to tourists from the UK, Manuel Lobo Antunes told Sky News: “As soon as possible, this is not just a unilateral matter, we have to coordinate this issue with our British friends and the UK government.

“But we are hopeful, as we have been saying for these last months, that from the middle of May, regular mobility between the UK and Portugal and vice versa, can be established, that’s our hope.”

PA Media reports that asked if Britons who have not been vaccinated can travel into the country, he added: “Yes, that’s the idea, that’s what we wanted, to as much as possible go back to the regime that existed before the pandemic. It’s in that direction we are working and that is possible.”

Earlier, the UK transport minister Grant Shapps raised the prospect that the NHS coronavirus app could be used to prove vaccination or testing status to facilitate international travel later this year.

Updated

UK transport minister Grant Shapps has continued his round of press appearances about UK restrictions on foreign travel this morning.

Asked about the status of travel to Spain on Times Radio, PA Media reports Shapps saying: “Spain specifically, I’m afraid I just don’t have the answer to that because the Joint Biosecurity Centre will need to come up with their assessment and we can’t do that until a bit nearer the time. So we will need to wait and see.”

Spain’s tourism minister has previously suggested the country would welcome British tourists immediately, but Shapps’ caution suggests it is possible that the Sun may have slightly jumped the gun with their awkward pun this morning.

Updated

Some children expected to return to in-school learning in Poland next week

Children from the first three grades in Poland are expected to go back to school next week as coronavirus infections fall, health minister Adam Niedzielski said this morning.

Reuters report that the government is on track to ease some restrictions as the country of 38 million seems to have combated its third wave of the pandemic.

“I think that from next Tuesday, 4 May, children from grades 1-3 will return to school. We have only one question – which we will resolve shortly – whether it will be nationwide, or whether some regions will have hybrid teaching,” Niedzielski told radio station RMF24.

Poland implemented nationwide restrictions in mid-March, closing theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas, with even harsher restrictions closing kindergartens and hair salons put in place later that month.

There’s been some reaction in the UK media to the Public Health England study that shows vaccines cutting transmission rates in England as well as preventing more serious infection symptoms.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, told BBC Breakfast the PHE findings on transmission were “significant”.

He added: “We know that these vaccines are very good at preventing severe symptoms but they’re not 100% effective, so it’s really important if someone does get infected having been vaccinated, they aren’t likely to pass the virus on to others, because then that reduces the risk of the virus spreading further and potentially putting vulnerable people who may not have protection at risk.”

He said the study offered “extra evidence to suggest we do need as many people to be vaccinated as possible, even if you are not at severe risk of developing severe symptoms, because that way we’re getting much higher levels of protection across the population, protecting the vulnerable and, hopefully, further reducing the number of people who will get severely ill and sadly die from the disease.”

PA Media also notes that Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the Covid-19 clinical information network, described the results as “very, very reassuring” and “certainly better than many of us expected just a few months ago”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It shows that the immune system is doing something a lot more than we were expecting of it really.”

He said it is known from other studies that infection is “typically much milder” in people who have been vaccinated and added that with two doses the outcome is “almost certainly going to be even better”.

Updated

Pakistan records more than 200 Covid deaths in a day for the first time

Pakistan recorded more than 200 Covid-19 deaths in a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the government said it was considering stricter lockdowns.

Umar Farooq reports for Reuters from Islamabad that a total of 201 new deaths were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the country’s overall death toll from the virus to 17,530, according to the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the government’s pandemic response. The previous highest daily death count was 157 recorded on 23 April.

Only about 2m vaccinations have been administered in Pakistan, and the country has struggled to procure supplies to cover enough of its population. Officials have said health care facilities are at risk of being overwhelmed. Pakistan has very limited health resources, with ventilators and oxygen in short supply.

Around 6,286 Covid-19 patients were being treated in 631 hospitals on Tuesday, and more than 70% of ventilators and oxygenated beds were occupied in hospitals in many major cities, according to the NCOC.

A resident wearing a protective mask walks past Pakistan Army soldiers on patrol to enforce coronavirus disease safety protocols in Karachi.
A resident wearing a protective mask walks past Pakistan Army soldiers on patrol to enforce coronavirus disease safety protocols in Karachi.
Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Stricter measures were taken in a handful of cities with the highest positivity rates this week, and health minister Faisal Sultan has warned that such steps could be extended to other areas if the public did not heed advice on social distancing, wearing masks, and other precautionary measures, especially during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan with the upcoming Eid holiday next month.

“Please keep your Ramadan and Eid simple this year, so we can fight this disease and get through this difficult situation,” Sultan said.

Updated

I mentioned earlier that leading scientists are urging the UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations. Here are the words of Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, on the matter:

This pandemic is a long way from over. The scenes in India, where Covid-19 continues to overwhelm health systems and sink the economy, are harrowing. In many countries, hospitals are flooded with patients and face shortages of vital medical supplies.

At a global level, I fear the worst is yet to come. Across the world, there have been almost 100,000 reported deaths in the 10 days since the global total passed the 3m mark. Because of a lack of data collection, the true figure is likely much higher. Each death is a tragedy, the loss of a loved one, an untold story.

Why, when we have vaccines and treatments for Covid, are we still seeing horrific reports of this virus raging through communities? The responsibility for this lies with global political leaders. While science has made significant progress, producing vaccines, treatments and tests in record time, the G20 have failed to come together and back the sustained global response that is desperately needed.

This puts our hard-won scientific progress at risk. Science is only useful if it’s delivered to society. Until vaccines and tests for Covid are available to everyone, we won’t be able to stop this pandemic and its devastating consequences. Ensuring the world’s population has access is the best way to drive down transmission, reduce deaths and prevent dangerous new variants from emerging.

Right now, global political leaders are the only people who can make these essential resources available. Rich countries – including the UK and US – have bought up the majority of existing vaccine supplies. They urgently need to start sharing these doses with the rest of the world, alongside national rollouts in their own countries, and through the Covax programme. And they must set out a timetable for how these donations will be increased as they vaccinate more of their populations domestically.

Read more here: Dr Jeremy Farrar – Political leaders must ensure Covid vaccines aren’t the preserve of the rich

A time-consuming but crucial part of the vaccination campaign in Italy are house-to-house visits to deliver doses to the elderly. The country has the world’s second-oldest population and tends to care for its aged at home rather than in institutional facilities.

Alessandro Tarantino and Gordon Walker have been out in the Lazio region around Rome for Associated Press with Dr Elisa Riccitelli and nurse Luigi Lauri on their rounds. The doctor and nurse manage just 12 shots a day – six in the morning, six in the afternoon, but it is seen as a vital job in protecting Italy’s most vulnerable from the pandemic.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli, right, and nurse Nurse Luigi Lauri wear protective gear before entering in the home of an elderly Rome resident.
Doctor Elisa Riccitelli, right, and nurse Nurse Luigi Lauri wear protective gear before entering in the home of an elderly Rome resident.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

In the Lazio region, 30,000 people are over the age of 75 and with conditions that made it impossible for them to get to vaccination centres.

To make sure they hit all their appointments on time – one vial of Pfizer for the morning six, one vial for the afternoon – the local public health centre struck a deal with Uber so its visiting vaccination teams could have a dedicated car and driver. The 500 free rides from Uber cut down on time spent finding parking spots in Rome’s notoriously congested streets.

And when they ring a doorbell, they are welcomed inside like heroes.

“It’s really a very nice feeling,” Riccitelli said. “We often vaccinate bedridden patients who cannot move, the extremely elderly, so the feeling is that we’re doing something really useful.”

“I feel amazing, like yesterday and the day before that, amazing,” said 96-year-old Patrizia Cumbo, who has dementia, after she got her shot. She lives with her caregiver and received her jab from the living room recliner where she spends most of her days.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli with Patrizia Cumbo, 96 years old, after she had a dose of Covid vaccine in her home.
Elisa Riccitelli with Patrizia Cumbo, 96 years old, after she had a dose of Covid vaccine in her home.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

A bedridden Giorgio Tagliacarne, 85, said he hoped his jab would spell the end of a year of isolation, which was particularly acute given he and his wife used to sail for pleasure around the world.

“This way now maybe my grandchildren can come visit me, which until now is something I have avoided,” he said, as his wife sat nearby.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli talks with 85-year old Giorgio Tagliacarne, in his bed, after he received a dose of Covid vaccine at his home in Rome.
Elisa Riccitelli talks with 85-year old Giorgio Tagliacarne, in his bed, after he received a dose of Covid vaccine at his home in Rome.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Riccitelli and Lauri take full precautions when they enter each home, donning dedicated protective gear and masks. Riccitelli notes relevant medical data and handles consent forms, while Lauri prepares and administers the vaccine, which they carry in an insulated bag to keep it cold. Then they wait 15 minutes to ensure there are no adverse reactions, and move onto the next appointment.

“Fortunately we have never seen any side-effects,” Riccitelli says. “After 15 minutes we say goodbye with a big smile.”

Updated

Shapps: NHS app will be used to show vaccine or testing status for international travel

The relentless drumbeat continues in the UK about whether people will be able to have foreign holidays this summer. Transport minister Grant Shapps has been doing the media round this morning. He has told Sky News “We need to do this carefully.”

He also suggested that it would be May when the government would be able to inform people which countries they will be allowed to visit without quarantine on return.

In a move that will anger people opposed to the imposition of vaccine passports, Shapps revealed that Britain is working on using the existing National Health Service coronavirus app to show that people have received their Covid-19 vaccine for international travel.

“It will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS … to be able to show that you’ve had a vaccine or that you’ve had testing, and I’m working internationally with partners across the world, to make sure that that system can be internationally recognised,” he said.

Reuters report he will be chairing a meeting of G7 transport ministers from the G7 next week to discuss the plan further.

Britain has earmarked 17 May as being the earliest date when international travel would be allowed for non-essential reasons, with a “traffic light system” based on individual countries’ Covid risk levels.

“The data does continue to look good from a UK perspective notwithstanding those concerns about where people might be travelling to and making sure that we’re protected from the disease being re-imported,” Shapps said.

Updated

Here’s Alistair Smout for Reuters with a recap of the overnight news of that Public Health England study which says that Covid-19 vaccines deployed in England can cut transmission of the coronavirus by up to a half, in addition to the protection the shots offer against symptomatic infection.

Smout reports that the new research showed that people who became infected with the coronavirus three weeks after receiving one dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38% to 49% less likely to pass it on to household contacts compared to those who were unvaccinated.

The shots also stop a vaccinated person developing infection to start with, reducing the risk by around 60% to 65% from four weeks after one dose of either vaccine.

UK health minister Matt Hancock has said: “This study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus. It further reinforces that vaccines are the best way out of this pandemic as they protect you and they may prevent you from unknowingly infecting someone in your household.”

The study included over 57,000 contacts from 24,000 households in which there was a lab-confirmed case that had received a vaccination, compared with nearly 1 million contacts of unvaccinated cases.

Leading scientists urge UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations

Leading scientists are urging the UK to share the Covid vaccines it has bought with India and other nations, to tackle the soaring death toll and reduce the spread of the virus and new variants around the world.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said rich countries including the UK that have bought up most of the vaccine supply “urgently need to start sharing these doses with the rest of the world, alongside national rollouts in their own countries, and through the Covax programme. And they must set out a timetable for how these donations will be increased as they vaccinate more of their populations domestically.”

Writing in the Guardian, Farrar called on the UK to lead the world, through its presidency of the G7. “We have already vaccinated over half of our population – including those who are most at risk from Covid-19. In fact, the UK has given almost as many doses to its own citizens than Covax has been able to ship to 120 countries in dire need of jabs,” he said.

Covax, the UN-based initiative to get vaccines to the most vulnerable 20% of the population of every country, has managed to deliver only a fifth of the doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expected by May, because of global shortages and problems with supply.

One in four people in high-income countries are now protected but only one in 500 in low-income countries, where unvaccinated health workers are still putting their lives on the line. The US has announced it will give India 60m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet licensed for use in the US.

Farrar said sharing vaccines was in every country’s self-interest. “The shores Covid now rages upon may seem distant to some, but the reality is that so long as the virus continues to spread in other countries, it continues to be a threat to everyone. If we allow Covid-19 to keep spreading, it will go on evolving, increasing the risk of new variants that could cross borders and evade vaccines and treatments.”

Read more of Sarah Boseley’s report here: Leading scientists urge UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations

Updated

We mentioned below about the crematorium crisis in New Delhi that is the latest manifestation of the devastating wave of Covid sweeping India.

We’ve just published a video showing workers constructing the makeshift pyres that are mentioned in the main story. However, some readers might find this video distressing:

 

Spain has opened up the prospect of tourists returning to the country from June under a Covid digital health certificate scheme.

Fernando Valdés, Spain’s secretary of state for tourism, told the World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Mexico on Tuesday that the programme – under which tourists could show they have been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus – would prove “fundamental to offering travellers certainty”.

Read the full story here:

Trade unions in Britain are calling for an immediate public inquiry into the country’s nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid – one of the worst totals in the world.

The Trades Union Congress said the inquiry should examine whether workers were kept safe enough after about 15,000 people of working age died from Covid in England and Wales.

It comes as new accounts emerge of the power struggle within Downing Street that saw Boris Johnson at odds with his key advisers over whether to implement a second lockdown in November. The prime minister was against the shutdown.

France outbreak easing, data shows

Data from France has shown that the country’s Covid crisis is beginning to ease as French president Emmanuel Macron plans to relax restrictions in the next few days.

French health authorities said on Tuesday that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units fell by 58 to 5,943, after the tally set a one-year high of 6,001 on Monday, Reuters reports.

A woman rides her bicycle near the Eiffel tower at Trocadero square in Paris.
A woman rides her bicycle near the Eiffel tower at Trocadero square in Paris.
Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The total number of people in hospital with Covid-19 also fell, by 315 to 30,281, a 17-day low.

New infections went up by 30,317 over 24 hours but the 3.65% increase versus last Tuesday is the lowest week-on-week rise since 2 January.

India records another global record of daily cases

India recorded 360,960 new cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning according to health ministry data, another new daily global record.

The ministry also said that India’s total number of fatalities had passed 200,000 to stand at 201,187. The Guardian takes its figures for deaths from the Johns Hopkins University tracker, which shows fatalities on 197,984.

The World Health Organization is sending extra staff and supplies to India to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, says the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding: “WHO is doing everything we can, providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies.”

 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 22,231 to 3,332,532, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 312 to 82,280.

The Indian variant of the virus has been detected in Fiji, sparking fears of a “tsunami” of Covid-19 cases. Pacific editor Kate Lyons reports:

The permanent secretary for health and medical services, James Fong, said six new cases had emerged in quarantine facilities on Tuesday and events in India showed the threat posed by the strain could not be underestimated.

“We cannot let that nightmare happen in Fiji,” he said in a televised address.

Read the full story:

Fires from funeral pyres can be seen at night in New Delhi
Fires from funeral pyres can be seen at night in New Delhi
Photograph: Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, our south Asia correspondent, writes from Delhi about the civilian oxygen army that has stepped into the breach, providing cylinders and oxygen refills free of charge to those in desperate need. Read her full story here:

Updated

Crematoriums in the Indian capital of New Delhi are being forced to make makeshift funeral pyres in a measure of the desperate plight facing the country.

Grieving relatives of the dead are having to wait 20 or more hours for a funeral pyre amid an explosion of new Covid cases.

Photographs taken in Delhi on Tuesday showed smoke billowing from dozens of pyres lit in a car park that had been turned into a makeshift crematorium. Elsewhere, workers built makeshift pyres on land outside crematoriums.

You can read the full report here:

 

We must help India, says Fauci

America’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, has told Guardian Australia’s Melissa Davey that richer countries must give more help to India as it faces a desperate fight against coronavirus.

He tells Mel that the virus can’t be defeated without a more equitable response.

The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world. And that’s something that, unfortunately, has not been accomplished. Often when you have diseases in which there is a limited amount of intervention, be it therapeutic or prevention, this is something that all the countries that are relatively rich countries or countries that have a higher income have to pay more attention to.

You can read the whole piece here and also watch Dr Fauci making his remarks at this video:

 

Updated

New Zealand is donating NZ$1m (US$720,000) to assist with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in India.

“We stand in solidarity with India at this difficult time, and commend the tireless efforts of India’s frontline medics and healthcare workers who are working hard to save lives,” foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

Mahuta announced on Wednesday that the donation would go to assist India via the International Federation of the Red Cross, which is providing oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and other medical supplies.

Good morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are. I’m Martin Farrer and welcome to the Guardian’s live blogging of the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation in India once again dominates our coverage as the Covid crisis in the country continues to worsen: here are the main developments in India to start with:

  • Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has told the Guardian that the India crisis shows a global response is needed whereby richer countries could make vaccines and other medical equipment available to poorer ones.
  • Crematoriums in the capital New Delhi are being forced to construct makeshift funeral pyres as they struggle to cope with the huge number of victims of the devastating wave.
  • The country is braced for another record number of Covid cases on Wednesday after setting new records for the past week.
  • The World Health Organization has blamed the India crisis on a “perfect storm” of factors such as mass gatherings, low vaccination rates and more contagious variants.

Other key developments around the world:

Updated

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