Brussels, 29 July: Poll shows majority of Greeks support mandatory vaccination
A survey conducted by Alco polling company and released on Thursday shows that close to two thirds of respondents believe vaccination can beat the coronavirus pandemic and support mandatory vaccination for some groups of workers. The results come in the wake of the government push to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of the summer, Reuters reports. The survey, ordered by the government earlier this month, showed that 63% of respondents believe COVID-19 vaccines are very safe or safe, while 73% support making vaccination mandatory for nursing home staff and healthcare workers. Roughly 59% of unvaccinated respondents say they are not planning to get vaccinated.
Brussels, 29 July: AstraZeneca’s vaccine sales triple in second quarter
British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals posted COVID-19 vaccine sales of 894 million dollars in the second quarter of the year, more than tripling results from the quarter before. The company expressed hope that US regulators will approve its vaccine by the end of the year, Reuters reports. AstraZeneca reported revenues from sales of the vaccine of 1.17 billion dollars in the first half of the year, noting that the average price per dose stood at 3.7 dollars. Its competitors, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, expect revenues from sales of their respective COVID-19 vaccines this year to total of 33.5 billion, 19.2 billion and 2.5 billion dollars, respectively.
Brussels, 27 July: Italy reports rise in new infections, hospitalisations
Italy reported 24 COVID-19-related deaths on Tuesday, up from 22 on Monday, while the number of daily new confirmed infections stood at 4,522 in contrast with 3,117 the day before. The number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients – excluding those in intensive care – reached 1,611, up from 1,512 on Monday, Reuters reported. The number of patients in intensive care increased from 182 to 189, with 16 new admissions on Tuesday compared to 11 on Monday. The authorities did point out that they conducted 241,890 COVID-19 tests the previous day, up from 88,247.
Brussels, 27 July: Ireland offers COVID-19 vaccines to children 12 and up
Ireland decided to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12 to 15 on Tuesday, having previously approved vaccination for 16- and 17-year-olds. Over 84% of Irish adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot and close to 70% are fully vaccinated, Reuters reported. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of vaccines developed by US Pfizer and Moderna pharmaceuticals for teenagers. Denmark, France and Greece have lowered their vaccination age to 12. Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, noted that the government aims to have children aged 12-to-15 fully vaccinated in September.
Brussels, 26 July: Sweden tests efficacy of financial incentives for vaccination
Researchers at Sweden’s Lund University are testing to see if financial incentives can motivate people to get COVID-19 shots. They are offering a group of unvaccinated citizens under 60 years of age the equivalent of 23 dollars to get their shots, CNBC reported on Monday. Besides offering one group the financial incentive, the researchers have provided information about vaccines to another group, have asked a third group to come up with a convincing argument to persuade others to get vaccinated and requested a fourth group to compile a list of loved ones they would want to enjoy vaccine protection. Other EU governments are also resorting to different methods and ploys to help boost vaccine uptake.
Brussels, 26 July: Italy’s PM warns health crisis response led to a food crisis
At the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi has warned that “the health crisis has led to a food crisis”. He cited the need to respond to the food crisis as forcefully as the world has to the health crisis. After stagnating for five years, world malnutrition and hunger rose in 2020 from roughly 118 million people to about 768 million, he said, as reported by Reuters. Draghi stressed that malnutrition, including under- and over-nutrition, was the leading cause of illness and death last year. UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that production of food is responsible for about one third of greenhouse gas emissions and roughly 80% of biodiversity loss, hence the need for reforms.
Brussels, 26 July: Positive epidemiological trends continue in UK
Positive epidemiological trends continued in the UK for the fifth consecutive day on Sunday, with the number of new confirmed infections dropping from 48,161 on 18 July to 29,173. The seven-day average dropped 15.4% compared to the week before, presenting the first sustained drop in the country that has not coincided with a nationwide lockdown, BBC reported on Monday. The latest Office for National Statistics records show an estimated 92% of adults in the UK have antibodies thanks to at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot or a previous infection. Most epidemiologists and data scientists expect the coronavirus pandemic will not have a defined end point. Instead, they believe that the disease may become endemic and continue to circulate in parts of the population.
Brussels, 26 July: French parliament passes new restrictions
The French parliament adopted new regulations today, introducing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for health workers as well as making “health passes” a must for domestic travel and accessing some public venues. France has experienced a wave of protests over the new measures, which were unveiled six days ago, France24 reported. The new rules require all health workers to start getting vaccinated by 15 September while restrictions on movement will come into effect at the start of August for adults and for everyone aged 12 and above from 30 September on. Depending on epidemiological trends, the rules are to remain in effect until 15 November.
Brussels, 22 July: Italy to make more rights contingent on COVID-19 pass
The Italian government has announced plans on Thursday to make a broader range of social mobility rights contingent upon COVID-19 passes. From 6 August on, the pass will be required for entering gyms, sports stadiums, swimming pools, spas, casinos, museums and cinemas, Reuters reported. Italy introduced the pass in June, but only for travel in the EU, access to care homes and to attend large weddings. Roughly 48.2% of Italians are fully vaccinated and about 14.1% are in line for their second COVID-19 vaccine shot. “Calls for people not to get vaccinated are a call for people to die”, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi asserted. “If you don’t vaccinate, you get sick, you die or you let other people die”.
Brussels, 22 July: Pharmacies in Germany stop issuing COVID-19 passes
Pharmacies in Germany have stopped issuing COVID-19 passes because of a security breach, the German Pharmacists’ Association (DAV) announced on Thursday. According to the association, hackers had managed to breach security and were issuing fake COVID-19 passes, Reuters reports. The passes restore some basic rights, especially freedom of movement, and are issued to fully vaccinated people. Besides pharmacies, Germany’s vaccination centres also issue the documents. “The DAV, in consultation with the Health Ministry, stopped issuing certificates on Wednesday to investigate further,” the DAV said. It added that it remains unclear as to whether pharmacies will resume issuing the documents or whether more security measures will prove necessary.
Brussels, 22 July: China rejects further WHO probe into origin of pandemic
China has rejected the World Health Organization (WHO) plan to re-investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2, taking issue with the plan’s refusal to dismiss the laboratory origin hypothesis. While the WHO called on Chinese authorities to cooperate and be transparent, Beijing declined to do so, asserting that the planned investigation was unscientific, Reuters reports. Liang Wannian, a co-leader of the first WHO-China probe, noted “we believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard”. He maintained that the laboratory leak hypothesis should be investigated in other parts of the world, insisting that other countries should check whether SARS-CoV-2 leaked from their laboratories.
Brussels, 22 July: Study finds COVID-19 vaccines effective against Indian variant
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 vaccines developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals and its British-Swedish counterpart, AstraZeneca, are effective against the variant first identified in India. Two shots of the Pfizer vaccine are 88% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, while two jabs of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca showed 67% effectiveness, DW reports. Researchers stressed the need to take two shots in order to achieve a high degree of protection, noting that one jab of either vaccine was about 33% effective against the variant from India.
Brussels, 21 July: France introduces domestic COVID-19 pass
France has introduced domestic COVID-19 passes for accessing cultural venues, with President Emmanuel Macron coming under fire for what critics describe as a heavy-handed approach. The measure announced earlier this month spurred protests across the country, as reported by DW. In April this year, Macron asserted that there “would never be a right of access that discriminates among the French”, but he has since changed his mind and introduced COVID-19 passes that are required to enter coffee shops, restaurants, cinemas, museums, sports matches and shopping malls. France’s Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, warned on Tuesday that the number of new confirmed infections increased approximately 150% in the last week.
Brussels, 20 July: EMA starts review of Sanofi and GSK’s COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) started a real-time review of Vidprevtyn, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by French Sanofi pharmaceuticals and its British counterpart GlaxoSmithKline. Late-stage trials for the vaccine started in May and the two pharmaceutical companies are hopeful their vaccine will be approved by the end of the year, Reuters reported on Tuesday. “EMA will assess the compliance of Vidprevtyn with the usual EU standards for effectiveness, safety and quality”, the agency stressed. Sanofi pointed out that reviews of the vaccine are starting at the World Health Organization, as well as in Canada, Singapore and the UK.
Brussels, 18 July: COVID-19 deaths drop in Italy, infections stagnate
The number of COVID-19-related deaths in Italy dropped to three on Sunday in contrast with 13 on Saturday. This was the lowest level since August last year. At the same time, the number of new confirmed infections stood at 3,127 on Sunday compared to 3,121 on Saturday, Reuters reported. Experts speculated that the minimal growth of new infections was due to celebrations in the wake of the European football championship, which Italy won. The Ministry of Health stated that the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients had reached 1,136 on Sunday, up from Saturday’s 1,111. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care dropped from 162 to 156.
Brussels, 19 July: England lifts most remaining COVID-19 restrictions
England lifted most of the remaining restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic on Monday. Reactions to the so-called “Freedom Day” move have been decidedly mixed, with critics urging caution and proponents welcoming the removal restrictions, DW reported on Monday. The authorities rescinded almost all the nation’s pandemic-related measures, with nightclubs and indoor venues allowed to reopen at full capacity and face masks no longer legally required. England has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to roughly 88% of its citizenry and fully vaccinated about 68%, BBC reported on Sunday.
Brussels, 16 July: Hungary will offer third COVID-19 vaccine shot
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Friday that the country will offer a third COVID-19 vaccine shot to citizens from August. He also announced that the government is to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for health workers, Reuters reports. Orbán stressed that the third shot should come four or more months after the second one, adding that it will up to doctors to decide which shot to administer as the third dose. He said the government also plans to offer COVID-19 jabs to children aged 12-to-16 in early September, before the start of the school year.
Brussels, 15 July: WHO calls on China to cooperate on SARS-CoV-2 origin probe
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), called on China on Thursday to cooperate in the investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2. He declared that the laboratory leak hypothesis had been dismissed prematurely in announcing that WHO is preparing a new investigation. “We hope there will be better cooperation to get to the bottom of what happened”, he said, as reported by RFI. Commenting on the initial WHO investigation, he recalled how “raw data was not shared” and that there had been “a premature push” to dismiss the laboratory leak hypothesis. Noting that lab leaks are not uncommon, Tedros stressed the importance of “checking what happened, especially in our labs”. Pointing out that more than four million people have died from COVID-19, he said he believed “we owe it to them to know what happened.”
Brussels, 14 July: Thousands protest against new rules in France
Roughly 19,000 protesters turned out against France’s new health rules on Wednesday, according to police reports. They rallied against the government’s plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for health workers and vaccine passes for access to most public places, RFI reported. Some 2,250 protesters gathered in Paris. Other demonstrations took place in Bordeaux, Lyon, Strasbourg and elsewhere in the country. Under the latest rules, people who are not vaccinated would have to present a recent negative test to enter restaurants, for example. However, since the government first announced the new rules, a record number of citizens have made appointments to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Brussels, 14 July: Thousands of Greeks protest against COVID-19 vaccination
More than 5,000 people protested against COVID-19 vaccination in Athens on Wednesday and called on Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to resign. On Monday, the Greek government made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for nursing home staff and health workers, Reuters reports. Cardiologist Faidon Vovolis, head of the Free Again movement which organised the protest, asserting that “every person has the right to choose”, pointed out that “we’re choosing that the government does not choose for us”. The protest was held under a heavy police presence in front of the parliament building in Athens. It was the largest rally against the vaccination drive in the country to date.
Brussels, 13 July: Greece makes vaccination mandatory for some workers
Greece has made vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for healthcare workers and nursing home staff, and announced plans to reimpose restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus. Greece also declared that it would start administering vaccines to youths aged 15-to-17 this week, Reuters reported. Maria Theodoridou, head of the national vaccination committee, pointed out that “the risk of illness in these ages is small, but real”, noting that the age group can spread the virus “to the environment, which could include vulnerable or unvaccinated people”. Greece has fully vaccinated roughly 41% of its population and the government aims to reach 70% by the end of the summer.
Brussels, 13 July: Parts of Spain reimpose restrictions as infections rise
Regions in Spain that have been most affected by the recent rise in infection numbers have reimposed restrictions in order to control the coronavirus pandemic. Fernando Simón, head of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies, suggested that the slowing growth rate of infections could mean that the latest wave is plateauing, Reuters reported. Pointing to Catalonia having reported 725 cases per 100,000 people last week, Simón attributed the rise to the growing number of local and foreign tourist arrivals. He commended the authorities in severely affected regions for reimposing restrictions and concluded “we are still in a situation where we have to reduce risks.”
Brussels, 12 July: Pfizer, US authorities disagree on need for booster dose
US Pfizer pharmaceuticals is to meet with federal officials in its bid to secure authorisation for a booster dose. The move comes days after Pfizer and its partner, German BioNTech biotechnology company, announced plans to seek US and EU regulatory approval for a booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters reports. The US Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are resistant, stressing that the US population does not need a third shot at present. Pfizer cited data that shows the risk of infection increases six months after vaccination while noting that new variants are spreading.
Brussels, 12 July: Welsh, UK government advisor supports full reopening
John Watkins, a Welsh and UK government adviser, has declared that the successful vaccination drive and rise of immunity levels make it safe to lift the lockdown. “We’ve got a considerable amount of the adult population vaccinated now and we know that vaccination reduces transmission as well as reduces adverse events”, he said, according to BBC. “And we know that in young people, where the bulk of infections are occurring at the moment, that actually they have got far less chances of adverse events, so I think we’re at a reasonably good place to start opening up society”, he observed. Watkins went on to note that “since the whole idea about shutting down society” in the first place was about “protecting the NHS”, it was reasonable to conclude that “the NHS is protected” as far as possible.
Brussels, 9 July: Study confirms children at extremely low risk from COVID-19
An analysis of COVID-19 data conducted by researchers from UK universities showed an overall mortality rate of 0.0002% in children. Scientists from the universities of Bristol, Liverpool and York, and from University College London described their studies as being the most comprehensive to date, BBC reported. Data from the first years of the coronavirus pandemic in England show that 25 people under 18 died from COVID-19, and that 15 of the deceased had underlying or life-limiting conditions. Scientists pointed out that children with multiple health issues, especially those who were obese or who suffered from neurological and heart illnesses, were most at risk. However, they also, emphasised that instances of absolute risk remained low.
Brussels, 9 July: Indian variant becomes dominant in France
The Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, predicted that the SARS-CoV-2 variant first identified in India will become the dominant variant in France this weekend. He noted that the variant accounted for close to 50% of all new cases, Reuters reported. Government officials announced plans to discuss the health situation on Monday and stressed that all options are on the table, including plans to make vaccination mandatory for health workers. Véran said a consensus was possible to make vaccination compulsory for health workers, but he indicated that the authorities had yet to make a decision.
Brussels, 8 July: State of emergency declared in Tokyo, to last through Olympics
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a state of emergency in Tokyo on Thursday. It is to last through the Olympics. The move is aimed at curbing a new wave of COVID-19 infections, DW reports. The country previously banned foreign spectators from attending the Olympics and had limited domestic attendance to 50% of venue capacity or up to 10,000 spectators maximum. “Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures”, Suga said, indicating that further details of the emergency plan would be announced soon.
Brussels, 7 July: Dutch government considers response to spike in new cases
The Dutch government is deliberating over how to respond to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, Hugo de Jonge, declared the sharp rise in infection numbers as “a reason to request urgent advice from the outbreak management team”. Dutch authorities lifted most of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions at the end of June because of positive epidemiological trends, Reuters reported on Wednesday. De Jonge pointed out that approximately 75% of the new cases are among young people, a reminder that vaccines were initially made available to the elderly and that most young people did not have to opportunity to get vaccinated.
Brussels, 7 July: Over 90% of adults in Wales have antibodies, survey estimates
According to the latest blood sample survey in Wales, 91.8% of adults have COVID-19 antibodies. Roughly two thirds of people under 25 have antibodies, up from just over 50% some two weeks ago, BBC reports, citing the survey. The estimated proportion of adults with antibodies in Wales stood at 82.1% one month ago. Compared to other UK nations, Wales boasts the highest proportion of population with antibodies, followed by England with 89.8%, Northern Ireland with 87.2% and Scotland with 84.7%. The Office for National Statistics noted that the survey reflects the effects of the vaccination campaign, but stressed that it is not a precise measure of the campaign.
Brussels, 6 July: Greece sees spike in COVID-19 cases
Greece reported a daily spike of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, after weeks of decline, and announced plans to reimpose restrictions. Greek health authorities pointed out that 1,797 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday, compared to 801 on Monday, Reuters reported. Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias announced that “effective 8 July, restaurants, bars, clubs and entertainment venues will operate only with sitting clients and in line with legislated capacity rules”. Authorities maintained that many new infections are connected with entertainment, in explaining why restrictions are to be reimposed on the sector.
Brussels, 6 July: Germany to lift remaining restrictions next month
Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, believes the country’s remaining coronavirus pandemic restrictions could be removed next month. He stated the curbs should be scrapped once the authorities have offered COVID-19 vaccines to everyone, predicting this could happen next month, Reuters reported. Germany has administered the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to roughly 56.5% of the population, with close to 39% fully vaccinated. “When everyone in Germany has received a vaccine offer, there is no longer a legal or political justification for any kind of restriction”, Maas declared.
Brussels, 5 July: French Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine should be available this year
France’s Sanofi pharmaceuticals noted on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine should be available this year, stressing that the vaccine is based on the same technology used in some of its seasonal flu vaccines. Sanofi France head Olivier Bogillot noted “this is the technology that was the most efficient a year ago, before messenger RNA”, adding that it has been “proven for a few years now”. In contrast, the COVID-19 vaccines developed by US Pfizer and Moderna pharmaceuticals are based on new mRNA technology. Phase III trials of the vaccine are currently underway, with the Secretary of State for Economy and Finance, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, predicting the French vaccine could convince many reluctant French people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Brussels, 5 July: Most restrictions in England to be lifted this month
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce plans to phase out remaining health restrictions in England this week and plans to lift most restrictions on 19 July. The final decision is due on 12 July. The government notes that new cases are expected to rise as restrictions are lifted, Reuters reports. “As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgement when going about our lives”, Johnson said. According to government data, roughly 86% of adults have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with about 64% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 5 July: France’s Health Minister warns of fourth wave
France’s Minister of Solidarity and Health Olivier Véran warned on Sunday that a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections could hit the country before September. He pointed out that the variant first identified in India is very contagious and added that the number of new infections has stopped dropping in the last five days, RFI reported today. Véran stressed the importance of vaccination, testing and tracing in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients in France stood at 7,913 on Sunday, down from 8,986 on the previous Sunday. The number of patients in intensive care has dropped from 1,345 to just over 1,000.
Brussels, 2 July: J&J vaccine 85% effective against Indian variant
Glenda Gray, head of the South African Medical Research Council, noted on Friday that data shows the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) pharmaceuticals is 85% effective against the Indian variant also called Delta. “All the data that we see indicate good immediate and sustained immune response against Delta, and we see surprising durability in the immune response for the single dose J&J right up to eight months”, Gray said, as reported by DW. A J&J statement stressed that “current data for the eight months studied so far shows that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generates a strong neutralizing antibody response that does not wane; rather, we observe an improvement over time”.
Brussels, 2 July: Portugal to bring back curfews to fight rising infections
Portugal announced plans to reimpose lockdowns on Friday to curb the spread of the Indian variant of SARS-CoV-2. The new curfews are aimed at preventing younger people from gathering at night. The Minister of the Premiership, Mariana Vieira da Silva, cited the importance of following the rules, avoiding gatherings and preventing new infections, the New York Times reported. Portugal registered close to 2,500 new infections on Thursday, the highest daily increase since February, but still significantly lower than the January peak of over 16,000.
Brussels, 1 July: EU countries begin using Covid-19 travel pass
Starting today, EU countries have begun using the so-called European Covid-19 travel pass, a digital document with an accompanying QR code which can show details of vaccination or results of a recent coronavirus test. It can be printed or displayed on a smartphone screen, and presented at bus or train stations, airports or borders to ease travel within the Union. The pass is expected to reduce delays and help the EU’s ailing tourism sector recover and partially return to form in the tourist season ahead, since many of the bloc’s southern members rely on tourism as a significant contributor to their respective GDPs.
Brussels, 1 July: Spike in youth infections in Spain reverses falling trend
After weeks of falling infection rates in Spain, the trend seems to have reversed after the descent slowed down and a fresh surge was recorded on Wednesday, with 117 recorded cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Spain’s health authorities note that the spike is not evenly distributed among all age groups, but seems to be focused on the 20-29 year-old demographic, as well as adolescents between 12 and 19. The younger group shows a current two-week incidence of 287 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, while the 20-29 group saw its incidence explode more than 40 points in a day, to 293 cases per 100,000. In several Spanish regions, the incidence among younger age groups is even greater, as pandemic measures are being wound down and younger Spaniards return to having an active nightlife.
Brussels, 30 June: French study warns lockdowns affect children’s development
A study by the Clermont-Ferrand hospital shows that lockdowns have negative effects on children’s cognitive skills and health and could cause long-term complications. Preliminary results of the study have been submitted for publication, with researchers warning that children were out of shape after lockdowns and struggled to accomplish basic cognitive tasks, RFI reported. Study coordinator Martine Duclos stressed “the results are catastrophic”, adding that “we’ve never seen anything like this”. In one year of lockdowns, the observed children’s body mass index increased between 2 and 3 points on average. “The year of confinement has been catastrophic”, Duclos exclaimed, citing the importance of childhood as a “crucial moment for brain plasticity”.
Brussels, 29 June: Health regulators investigate possible vaccine side-effect
A study of the effects of COVID-19 vaccines in the US military shows heart inflammation rates that are higher than expected, albeit still very low. The inflammations were noted in patients who had received shots developed by US Pfizer and Moderna pharmaceuticals, Reuters reported on Tuesday. US authorities started investigating the potential connection between the vaccines and heart inflammation in April after Israel launched its own investigation into Pfizer vaccines. Regulators in several other countries have launched similar investigations into the issue.
Brussels, 28 June: Greece offers young people incentives for vaccination
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced plans to offer young people incentives to get their first COVID-19 vaccine dose as part of the campaign to increase vaccination rates through the summer season. He noted that the government will offer 150 euro cash cards and one month of phone data, Reuters reported. According to government figures, roughly one-third of Greeks are fully vaccinated. A government official pointed out on Monday that 80% of the population could be vaccinated by the end of the summer if Greeks show more willingness to get their shots.
Brussels, 29 June: Indian variant gaining dominance in France
The COVID-19 variant first identified in India now accounts for approximately 20% of cases in France, according to the Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran. Speaking to France Info radio, he said last week’s estimate put the figure between 9% and 10% but added that the share “keeps on increasing in percentage if not in absolute terms as the total number of cases is decreasing”. The seven-day average of daily infections in France dropped to 1,819 on Monday, in contrast with a mid-April peak of 42,225. Véran stated that the variant “is gradually becoming dominant, as it does in all countries in the world, since it is more contagious.”
Brussels, 28 June: Italy continues to reopen, lifts outdoor mask mandate
Italy lifted its outdoor mask mandate on Monday as epidemiological trends continue to improve and the country carries on with its reopening plan. All of Italy’s 20 regions were classified as low-risk on Monday, with approximately one third of citizens over the age of 12 vaccinated, RFI has reported. Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, welcomed the “encouraging result” but advised that “caution and prudence is still needed, especially because of the new variants”. Italy started to lift COVID-19 restrictions last month.
Brussels, 28 June: Spain tightens rules for UK visitors, Germany seeks ban
Spain has reimposed the requirement for UK travellers to present proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests if they want to visit the Balearic Islands. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated that “what we are going to do is apply to British tourists who go to the Balearic Islands the same requirements we make of other European citizens”, Reuters reports. At the same time, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wants an EU-wide ban on UK visitors, regardless of their vaccination status, according to The Times. Merkel insists that the UK must be declared a “country of concern” due to rising infection rates. She is looking to discuss the move at the level of the EU, where she can be expected to face resistance from Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain, the British newspaper reported.
Brussels, 25 June: More funds, tighter rules for COVAX
The GAVI vaccine alliance has approved an additional 775 million dollars for the COVAX initiative it directs in cooperation with the World Health Organization. In addition, GAVI set stricter rules for accessing vaccines that currently deter middle-income countries by requiring advance payment in full for vaccines, Reuters reports. According to GAVI’s internal reports, membership in the COVAX initiative is expected to drop from roughly 190 countries at present to between 120 and 130 next year. “Starting in 2022, the model will enable self-financing participants that rely on the facility to access doses to continue procuring vaccines through COVAX under revised terms and conditions”, GAVI announced.
Brussels, 24 June: WHO predicts most vulnerable will need annual COVID-19 boosters
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts those most vulnerable to COVID-19 will need annual vaccine boosters to protect them against mutations, according to an internal document. Major pharmaceutical companies, including US Pfizer and Moderna, have been stressing the need for boosters to maintain immunity levels, Reuters reported on Thursday. The WHO document reportedly considers there is a need for annual vaccine boosters for most vulnerable groups and biennial boosters for the general population. According to the WHO base scenario, new SARS-CoV-2 variants will continue to emerge and vaccine boosters will be required regularly to maintain protection.
Brussels, 23 June: Epidemiological trends continue to improve in Northern Ireland
Epidemiological trends continued to improve in Northern Ireland on Wednesday with no COVID-19-related deaths recorded in 24 hours, according to the Department of Health. Authorities reported 188 new cases on Wednesday, noting that three care homes are struggling with outbreaks, the BBC reported. The Republic of Ireland reported no COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, with 384 new confirmed infections. The number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients stood at 41, 13 being in intensive care. Colm Henry, chief clinical official of the Health Service Executive, noted that roughly 61% of adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, with about 31% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 23 June: Greece continues to reopen as infections wane
Greece has scrapped mandatory mask wearing outdoors and announced plans to continue lifting pandemic-related restrictions. Remaining curfews will be scrapped on Monday, with restrictions on gatherings relaxed. Vana Papaevangelou, a government health adviser, described the country’s improved epidemiological picture as “clear and pleasant”. However, Papaevangelou warned that “as long as the virus circulates among us there should not be any complacency. The longer it circulates, the higher the chances of new mutations”. Earlier this week, the Greek government reported that approximately 43.1% of citizens had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab, with roughly 30.24% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 22 June: Turkey starts Phase III trial for its COVID-19 vaccine
Turkey started Phase III trials for its Turkovac COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. President Recep Erdoğan announced the vaccine should be available for use this year, Reuters reported. “It is not clear how long this disease will go on and how much mutation it will go through”, Erdoğan said, noting that “it is critical that we have our own vaccine”. Turkey’s vaccination campaign has picked up pace, with more than one million jabs administered per day last week. The country currently uses COVID-19 vaccines developed by Chinese Sinovac and US Pfizer and, having been granted emergency authorisation, Russia’s Sputnik V.
Brussels, 23 June: Oxford University tests ivermectin’s effectiveness against COVID-19
The University of Oxford announced on Wednesday that it is testing the effectiveness of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, against COVID-19. The move is part of the PRINCIPLE study, which tests possible treatments for COVID-19, Reuters reports. EU and US regulators as well as the World Health Organization have advised against the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19. However, some countries use the drug to treat the illness, including India. Chris Butler, one of the lead investigators of the trial, asserted that “by including ivermectin in a large-scale trial like PRINCIPLE, we hope to generate robust evidence to determine how effective the treatment is against COVID-19, and whether there are benefits or harms associated with its use”.
Brussels, 22 June: WHO announces COVID-19 vaccine production in South Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that production of COVID-19 vaccines is now envisaged to take place in South Africa, the first such initiative on the continent. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, pointed out that the ability to make medicines and vaccines will help Africa on its “path to self-determination”, France24 reported on Tuesday. “It’s been shown now that we just cannot continue to rely on vaccines that are made outside of Africa because they never come”, Ramaphosa said, noting “they never arrive on time and people continue to die”. According to WHO, the tech transfer hub could start producing COVID-19 vaccines in about 12 months.
Brussels, 22 June: Italy continues to reopen as epidemiological trends improve
Italy is to lift its outdoor face mask requirement on 28 June as the country continues to relax its pandemic-related restrictions. Italian authorities decided to start lifting restrictions in April as epidemiological trends began to improve, Reuters reports. The number of new infections is in decline, reaching the lowest point recorded this year, and the pressure on hospitals is dropping accordingly. Approximately 52% of Italians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, with roughly 26% fully vaccinated. Nineteen of the Italy’s 20 regions are classified as lowest-risk in the country’s four-tier system, with the Aosta Valley region the second-lowest.
Brussels, 21 June: France continues to reopen, lifts curfew
French authorities scrapped the nationwide curfew on Sunday as the country continues to lift pandemic-related restrictions. France was one of the last EU member states to maintain a nationwide curfew, apart from Greece and Italy, RFI reported. Some opposition politicians claim the move is designed to score political points, a claim Prime Minister Jean Castex denies, citing epidemiological trends that are improving faster than expected. Health Minister Olivier Véran pointed out that “with 2,000 to 3,000 cases a day, it is no longer the virus that is tracking us, it is we who are tracking it”. France has fully vaccinated about 18 million people, a figure the authorities hope to push to 35 million by the end of August.
Brussels, 20 June: Epidemiological trends in Italy improve
Epidemiological trends in Italy continue to improve, as the number of daily new infections dropped from 1,197 on Saturday to 881 on Sunday. Italian authorities reported 17 COVID-19-related deaths on Sunday, down from 28 on Saturday, Reuters reports. The number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients dropped from 2,504 on Saturday to 2,444 on Sunday, while the number of patients in intensive care dropped from 394 to 389. Italy administered 150,522 coronavirus tests on Sunday, down from 249,988 the day before. To date, the country has reported 127,270 deaths connected with COVID-19 and 4.25 million infections.
Brussels, 17 June: Face masks no longer mandatory outdoors in France
France’s Prime Minister, Jean Castex, announced on Wednesday that face masks would no longer be mandatory outdoors other than in crowded areas such as stadiums. He said public health experts had advised on the move in view of the decline in the number of COVID-19 hospitalisations, Reuters reported. Face masks are still mandatory in most shops, workplaces and on public transport. Also, the curfew is to be lifted this week. Meanwhile, the Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, noting that France has administered at least one vaccine shot to 60% of its adult population, has indicated that vaccines are being made available to citizens aged 12 and over.
Brussels, 18 June: Israel to share COVID-19 vaccines with Palestine
Israel is to provide one million or more COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals to the Palestinian National Authority (PA), in line with the vaccine-sharing agreement that has been announced by the country’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The PA agreed to reciprocate, noting that it is expecting its own shipments later this year, Reuters reports. “Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine”, Bennett’s office and the relevant Israeli ministries announced. A PA source confirmed the arrangement, noting that Palestinians should receive their Pfizer shipments in August or September, after which they would in turn share with Israel.
Brussels, 16 June: German CureVac jab effectiveness below 50%
German CureVac pharmaceuticals announced on Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine CVnCoV is about 47% effective, attributing the poor performance to the growing number of variants. The company stressed that its mRNA vaccine failed to “meet pre-specified statistical success criteria” in its Phase III trials, DW reported. The World Health Organization claims vaccines that are more than 50% effective are suitable for use, with those developed by US Moderna and Pfizer pharmaceuticals more than 90% effective against initial variants. CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said the poor results showed how important it is to develop new vaccines to protect against the growing number of new variants.
Brussels, 17 June: As calls for SARS-CoV-2 origin probe mount, China deflects
With more and more experts and politicians calling for an investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 increases, China insists the probe should focus on the US, rather than Wuhan. Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention chief epidemiologist Zeng Guang, when interviewed by the state-owned Global Times, said that the focus of the investigation should shift to the US, Reuters reported. He concluded that “all bio-weapons-related subjects that the country has should be subject to scrutiny”. Zhao Lijian, Deputy Director of China’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, asserted that the pandemic had “multiple origins” and that other countries must cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO). China has been under fire over its lack of transparency and the limited degree to which it has cooperated with the WHO.
Brussels, 16 June: England to make vaccination mandatory for care homes staff
England will make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for staff in care homes. Workers are to be allowed 16 weeks to get vaccinated or face redeployment and layoffs. Government officials are expected to announce the move this week and are to discuss similar plans for other care and health workers soon, according to the BBC. Industry organisations have warned that making vaccination compulsory could cause more difficulties in the sector since it is already struggling to hire enough workers. Independent Care Group chairman Mike Padgham noted “people should be vaccinated, every member of staff should take up the vaccine, but I just think persuasion rather than coercion or compulsion is the way to deal with it”. He suggested the move could run into legal obstacles.
Brussels, 15 June: Slovenia ends state of emergency, lifts restrictions
Slovenia ended its state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, after eight months. The Ministry of Health noted that most remaining pandemic-related restrictions are to be lifted, with sports and cultural events allowed to reopen at 75% capacity for people who have been vaccinated, or who can present recent negative tests or proof that they have recovered from COVID-19. Franc Vindišar, State Secretary at the Ministry of Health, pointed out that some restrictions will remain in force, including social distancing and mandatory face masks indoors. Approximately 45% of adult Slovenes have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, with roughly 32% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 14 June: Study shows vaccines not as effective against Indian variant
A study published in a research letter in the medical journal The Lancet on Monday shows that vaccines are not as effective against the Indian variant of SARS-CoV-2 also known as Delta. It shows the coronavirus vaccine developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals protects against infection in 79% of cases after two shots, compared to 92% against the Chinese variant, Reuters reported on Monday. The shot developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals provides protection against the Indian variant in 60% of cases, in contrast with 73% against the virus first identified in China. England has announced it is delaying its planned reopening due to the growing numbers of infections with the Indian variant.
Brussels, 15 June: AstraZeneca’s antibody treatment fails to meet expectations
British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals noted on Tuesday that its antibody treatment intended to prevent symptomatic COVID-19 fails to deliver. According to the study of the effectiveness of the treatment, it lowers the risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms roughly 33% compared to a placebo, which, Reuters reports, is statistically insignificant. AstraZeneca executive vice president Mene Pangalos pointed out that “while this trial did not meet the primary endpoint against symptomatic illness, we are encouraged by the protection seen in the PCR negative participants following treatment”. The pharmaceutical company developed the treatment with US government support and planned to supply the country with 500,000 doses. AstraZeneca noted on Tuesday it was discussing how to proceed with the US government.
Brussels, 14 June: Ukraine reports lowest number of daily infections in 12 months
Ukraine’s Ministry of Healthcare has reported the country’s lowest number of new daily coronavirus infections in the last year. Ukraine reported 420 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the lowest number since 8 June last year when it stood at 394, Reuters reports. Data from Sunday shows 13 COVID-19 deaths, a record low. With a population of roughly 41 million, Ukraine had reported approximately 2.22 million coronavirus infections and 51,692 deaths by Monday, making it one of Europe’s most affected countries to date.
Brussels, 14 June: England to delay reopening plans over rising infection numbers
England is planning to delay its planned reopening planned on 21 June by four more weeks because of rising infection numbers, according to government sources. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm the move at a press conference later today, Reuters reports. England was to have implemented stage four of its reopening plan a week from today. This would have included lifting restrictions on the numbers attending events. However, some experts cautioned that more people should be vaccinated before restrictions are lifted. Scotland is to adopt Level Zero restrictions on 28 June, while Northern Ireland is planning to relax some restrictions on 21 June and Wales is to review current restrictions on 25 June. The UK has administered the first COVID-19 vaccine shot to more than 41 million people, with close to 30 million fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 11 June: G7 to give poorer countries up to 1bn COVID-19 vaccine shots
The UK, host of the G7 talks, has announced the group will provide up to one billion COVID-19 vaccine shots to poorer countries. US President Joe Biden pledged to provide 500 million doses and the UK announced it would add at least 100 million, RFI reported on Friday. The UK government pointed out that the move is aimed at ending the pandemic next year. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa, stressed that African countries depend on vaccine donations in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Oxfam predicted that charity would not be enough to end the pandemic. The international NGO asserted that uneven distribution of vaccines was morally wrong.
Brussels, 10 June: Pfizer cuts vaccine deliveries to Norway
US Pfizer pharmaceuticals has cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine doses to Norway by 400,000. The company originally planned to deliver 1.2 million shots to Norway in July, but announced on Thursday it would deliver 800,000, Reuters reported. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health confirmed the cut and pointed out it will delay the country’s vaccination drive about two weeks. Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg previously announced the country would offer the first COVID-19 vaccine shot to all adults by the end of July. Norway is not using the vaccine developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals but is administering the vaccine developed by US Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals under certain conditions.
Brussels, 10 June: Denmark continues to lift restrictions
Denmark continues to lift pandemic-related restrictions, the government having announced plans today to scrap mandatory face masks. Starting from Monday next week, masks will be mandatory only for standing passengers on public transport, Reuters reported. Denmark’s Minister of Justice Nick Hækkerup pointed out “the development in infections is at a stable level while vaccinations of Danes run at a good pace.” The authorities have also announced that bars and restaurants are to be allowed extend working hours gradually. In addition, Denmark will allow more spectators to attend the UEFA Euro 2020 football championship matches being held in Copenhagen.
Brussels, 10 June: EP greenlights COVID-19 passports
The European Parliament has approved the introduction of COVID-19 passports to allow restriction-free travel between EU member states. The new document is to be introduced in time for the summer tourist season and should help the travel industry get back on its feet, RFI reported. The system has already been implemented in Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic, but EU member states still have not adopted common travel rules. The new travel certificate system still needs to be approved by EU member states, after which it should come into effect on 1 July and remain operational for 12 months. The passports will be issued by individual EU member states rather than a centralised EU system.
Brussels, 9 June: EU to join US in SARS-CoV-19 origin investigation push
The EU will join the US in the move to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-19, according to a draft prepared for the mid-June Brussels summit. EU ambassadors will review the document this week, according to Reuters. Besides plans to cooperate on the investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, the EU and the US should work together against China’s military, political and economic rise. In addition, the document shows they plan to end long-standing trade disputes and prevent similar spats in the future. “We call for progress on a transparent, evidence-based… study on the origins of COVID-19, that is free from interference,” the draft notes.
Brussels, 9 June: France continues to lift restrictions
France continues to lift pandemic-related restrictions as epidemiological trends continue to improve. French authorities now allow indoor dining on Wednesday and have relaxed the lockdown, with people free to stay out until 11 p.m. If epidemiological trends continue to improve, the curfew should be lifted at the end of the month. However, face masks remain mandatory even outdoors. France reopened its borders to fully vaccinated EU citizens on Wednesday. Travel restrictions for non-EU citizens remain stricter. The country has administered the first COVID-19 vaccine shot to roughly 55% of adults and the number of patients in intensive care has dropped to 2,394, in contrast with roughly 6,000 at the end of April.
Brussels, 8 June: Pandemic response fails on mental health
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warns in a recent report that the COVID-19 pandemic response has failed on the mental health front. It noted that while access to mental health services is improving, roughly two thirds of people who wanted care say they had difficulty getting it, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. OECD notes that lockdowns and other pandemic-related restrictions have put pressure on mental health. “Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, levels of mental distress have increased sharply, especially among young people, with the prevalence of anxiety and depression even doubling in some countries”, the OECD report concluded.
Brussels, 7 June: WHO cannot get China to share information on pandemic origin
Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Health Emergencies Programme, noted on Monday that the UN agency cannot force China to share information on the origin of SARS-CoV-2. He announced that WHO would propose additional investigations into the origin of the pandemic but reiterated that the organisation does not “have the power to compel anyone in this regard”. The WHO team that visited China earlier this year to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic warned that Chinese authorities had restricted their access to data. The impetus to investigate the lab leak hypothesis has been reinvigorated since social media companies stopped censoring what they asserted was misinformation about the pandemic.
Brussels, 7 June: No new confirmed cases in Malta on Monday
Malta’s Minister of Health Chris Fearne announced on Monday that there were no new confirmed COVID-19 cases, but urged citizens to remain cautious. Maltese authorities allowed bars, theatres and cinemas to reopen this week as part of the plan to gradually lift pandemic-related restrictions, Reuters reported. “Today is the first day with zero cases since last summer”, Fearne pointed out. “it is essential that we maintain discipline and responsibility”, he cautioned. Malta has administered at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine to roughly 75% of adults, with more than 50% fully vaccinated. The number of new confirmed infections has been in single digits for weeks.
Brussels, 7 June: Spain eases travel restrictions
Spain reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from all parts of the world today, Monday, with the aim of reviving its tourism sector. Minister of Health Carolina Darias announced that “Spain is a safe destination” and declared it to be “in the process of reclaiming its global leadership in tourism”, DW reported. Tourists arriving from Europe can now enter Spain with negative antigen tests, rather than the more expensive RT-PCR tests. The UK, which is Spain’s largest source market, still requires people returning from Spain to quarantine. The Spanish economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which accounted for roughly 12% of the country’s GDP in 2019.
Brussels, 4 June: Cyprus eases local travel restrictions
Cyprus eased local travel restrictions on Friday, reopening checkpoints between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island that had been closed as part of pandemic-related restrictions. A year since they were closed, nine checkpoints were reopened that had been used by thousands of people daily before the restrictions were put in place, Reuters reports. The Unite Cyprus Now unification group pointed out that “the closure split families, friends and loved ones and risked cementing the division of our country”. According to the new rules, negative tests are required for crossing the checkpoints, with both sides agreed to re-evaluate the situation biweekly. Until now, the fact that different rules were being applied on the two sides made crossings next to impossible.
Brussels, 3 June: Epidemiological trends continue to improve in France
Epidemiological trends continued to improve in France on Thursday, with the seven-day average of daily coronavirus deaths dropping below 100 for the first time since late October last year. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care dropped to 2,677 compared to a peak of some 6,000 in late April, Reuters reported on Thursday. The seven-day average of confirmed new daily infections stood at 8,350, dipping below 9,000 for the first time since late September last year. The number of new confirmed daily infections stood at 8,161 on Thursday, with the accumulative total reaching roughly 5.69 million. France ended its third lockdown at the end of March, with epidemiological trends improving steadily since.
Brussels, 3 June: Survey shows eurozone recovery in May
A survey conducted by IHS Markit shows eurozone economic activity recovered in May as authorities eased many pandemic-related restrictions. As epidemiological trends improved and vaccination drives picked up pace in the eurozone in May, authorities lifted some restrictions, allowing the service sector to start reopening, Reuters reports. The IHS Markit chief business economist Chris Williamson noted how “the eurozone’s vast service sector sprang back into life in May, commencing a solid recovery that looks likely to be sustained throughout the summer”. He cited how demand had surged to the highest levels since early 2018 as authorities allowed some businesses to reopen.
Brussels, 3 June: Donors pledge additional US$ 2.4 billion for COVAX
Donors pledged almost 2.4 billion dollars to the COVAX scheme on Wednesday, with nations and private enterprises providing cash and COVID-19 vaccine doses to the scheme. The move should equip COVAX to provide 1.8 billion vaccine shots to poorer nations by early 2022, sufficient to inoculate roughly 30% of adults in those countries, according to Reuters reporting. Japan pledged 800 million dollars, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressing the country would also provide some 30 million locally-made vaccine doses. Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain, stressing the importance of leading by example, said the country would provide 50 million euro and 15 million vaccine shots.
Brussels, 2 June: WHO approves Sinovac jab for emergency use listing
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese Sinovac Biotech biopharmaceutical company. The move allows the use of the vaccine in the COVAX scheme and signals to national regulators that the shot is safe and effective, Reuters reports. WHO recommends the vaccine for people over 18 and notes there is no upper age limit. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus notes the vaccine is easy to store, making it suitable for use in poorer countries. This is the second Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine that the UN agency has approved, the first being that made by Sinopharm. According to Sinovac, more than 430 million shots of its vaccine had been administered by the end of May.
Brussels, 1 June: Epidemiological trends in Germany continue to improve
Germany lowered the COVID-19 risk level from very high to high on Tuesday as new infections continued to decline. Minister of Health Jens Spahn noted that authorities will have offered vaccines to between 80% and 90% of adults by mid-July, Reuters reported on Tuesday. “In view of the developments – both in infection numbers and the situation in intensive care units – we see the dynamics that led us to the new evaluation”, the minister said, cautioning that “the pandemic is not over… things can change quickly and there are too many examples around the world of where things have gone wrong”. Roughly 43% of Germans have received the first COVID-19 shot and about 18% have received two shots.
Brussels, 1 June: WHO claims toponymic disease names stigmatise nations
The World Health Organisation (WHO) asserts that toponymic disease names stigmatise nations, announcing it would replace such names of COVID-19 variants with Greek alphabet letters. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s COVID-19 response, stressed that the new names “will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion”, RFI reports. The WHO also noted that “people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory”. The UN agency organisation did not specify whether names such as the Spanish flu, Ebola, Lyme disease, the Zika virus and other diseases with toponymic names should be changed.
Brussels, 1 June: Spain could scrap mandatory masks outdoors
Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies, has stated that the mandatory use of face masks outdoors could be scrapped, citing positive epidemiological trends. Close to 40% of Spaniards have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and infection figures have been dropping for months, Reuters reported. In the last two weeks, infection rates dropped to 121 per 100,000 people, almost halving since April. Most of Spain made the wearing of face masks mandatory outdoors a year ago. “I believe it could be feasible that the mask would not be needed in outdoor open spaces in mid- or late June and very likely, almost with certainty, at the end of July”, Simón observed.
Brussels, 31 May: France provides vaccines to all adults
France started offering COVID-19 vaccines to all adults today, having stopped prioritising key professions, people over 50 and those with health problems. The country has administered the first shot to approximately 38% of its population, roughly 25.4 million people, while close to 12 million have been fully vaccinated, RFI reported on Monday. Epidemiological trends in France continue to improve, with authorities planning to continue lifting pandemic-related restrictions. Starting on 9 June, restaurants and coffee shops should be allowed to reopen indoor spaces and the nationwide curfew will be pushed from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Brussels, 31 May: WHO to consider proposed reforms
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced it is to consider proposed reforms aimed at strengthening the UN agency. WHO has been criticised for its handling of the coronavirus crisis. The EU proposed that member states should drive the reform effort, Reuters reported. Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, noted “we really do welcome the recommendations within the resolutions and also the decision to take this forward to an international agreement or framework convention on preparedness and response for pandemics”. Among the proposals, the WHO should have the authority to investigate new outbreaks quickly and investigators should be in a position to share their findings without delay.
Brussels, 27 May: US to launch new investigation into origin of SARS-CoV-2
US President Joe Biden called on intelligence agencies on Thursday to probe the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Ned Price, spokesman for the US Department of State noted “China’s position that their part in this investigation is complete is disappointing and at odds with the rest of the international community that is working collaboratively across the board to bring an end to this pandemic and improve global health security”. The Chinese Communist Party insists the US “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing”. US tech giant Facebook announced it would stop censoring posts that are not in line with the company’s position on the lab leak hypothesis, asserting that “new facts” have emerged.
Brussels, 27 May: Sweden lifts restrictions as epidemiological trends improve
The Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, announced plans on Thursday to lift some pandemic-related restrictions next month. He pointed out that epidemiological trends continue to improve, stressing “we are beginning to glimpse the beginning of the end”, DW reported. According to Sweden’s reopening plan, authorities will gradually lift remaining restrictions by September. Approximately 44.3% of adult Swedes have received one COVID-19 vaccine shot, with about 15.7% fully vaccinated. Sweden’s death toll is higher compared than in other Nordic countries but lower than in the majority of EU member states that imposed lockdowns. In recent months, the number of cases per capita in Sweden was among the highest in the EU, but the death toll was among the lowest in the bloc.
Brussels, 27 May: Spain vaccinates farm workers ahead of harvest season
Spain is vaccinating farm workers in preparation for the harvest season to avoid a repeat of the COVID-19 outbreaks on farms that occurred last year, RFI reports. The Mayor of Alcarràs, Jordi Janés, mindful that “we had a really rough time last year”, pointed out how “municipalities were locked down, fruit packing stations were closed” because of pandemic. Since many temporary farm workers are illegal migrants, locals have been stressing that all workers should be vaccinated, including illegal migrants. Often such workers end up living in cramped housing quarters, which favours the spread of coronavirus. Spain is an important provider of produce for the rest of the EU and its agriculture attracts cheap labour in harvest season.
Brussels, 26 May: ’Summer of peace’ beckons as German pandemic rates drop
The infection rate in Germany dropped below 50 per 100,000 people on Wednesday, reaching the lowest level since October last year, Reuters reports. Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn, was upbeat, noting that “one goal is clear: as many vaccinations as possible, as few infections as possible, until the end of June, then it will be a really good summe.”. Thus far, Germany has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to approximately 40% of the population, with about 14% fully vaccinated. While Spahn advocates vaccination of adolescents and children, government adviser Rüdiger von Kries of the Institute of Social Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, urges caution. He pointed out that uncertainty over risks remains high, citing how the authorities know “practically nothing” about any negative long-term effects in adolescents, and predicting that vaccination of children would not be recommended.
Brussels, 25 May: France criticises anti-Pfizer propaganda attempts
France’s Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, has condemned moves to solicit the spread propaganda against the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals, Reuters reported on Tuesday. “I do not know where this comes from, from France or abroad”, Véran noted, condemning the campaign as “pathetic, dangerous and irresponsible” while warning that “it does not work”. Several social media personalities had commented on being approached anonymously with offers of money in exchange for creating and spreading propaganda against the Pfizer shot. Léo Gasset, who operates the DirtyBiology channel on YouTube, said he had been the recipient of “a partnership proposal to bust the Pfizer vaccine in video”. He urged people to keep in mind “if you see videos about this, you will know that it is a set-up.”
Brussels, 25 May: Poland to launch lottery to encourage vaccination
Michał Dworczyk, Poland’s Chief of the Chancellery, has announced the launch of a lottery to encourage Poles to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Reuters reports. Pointing out that the polls show roughly 70% of Poles want to get vaccinated, Dworczyk said the government wants to make sure they follow through. “We are carrying out another advertising campaign… we have sports people involved, we have actors involved, influencers involved”, he noted. Top prizes in the lottery include a hybrid automobile and a cash prize of approximately 273,000 US dollars. In addition, the government is offering cash prizes to the first 500 municipalities to achieve a vaccination rate of 75%.
Brussels, 24 May: Malta vaccinates 70% of adults
Christopher Fearne, Health Minister of Malta, announced on Monday that the island has vaccinated 70% of adults against COVID-19, making it the first EU member states to achieve herd immunity, Reuters reported on Monday. He said some 42% of the adult populations had received two vaccine shots and that “vaccines are being administered at a rate of one every five seconds”. Fearne declared that face masks will remain mandatory outdoors for vaccinated people until 1 July. However, they will not be compulsory on beaches from 1 June on. Malta lifted restrictions on gyms on Monday and now allows restaurants to stay open until midnight, whereas previously they had to close at 5 p.m.
Brussels, 24 May: WHO laments failure of COVAX
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented the failure of the UN agency’s COVAX initiative on Monday, noting that it had provided just 72 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 125 countries, Reuters reported. This was enough to inoculate about 1% of their total populations, he observed, as he called on countries to donate vaccines to help vaccination rates reach 10% by September and 30% by the end of the year. Tedros said vaccine makers should be offering their products to COVAX first. It was unacceptable that wealthy countries are producing and using up the lion’s share of vaccines, he declared.
Brussels, 24 May: WHO starts one-week Assembly discussion on COVID-19 pandemic
The World Health Assembly, WHO’s governing body, convenes for its 74th annual session on Monday to discuss the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, DW reports. Participants in the week-long session will review the organisation’s approach to global health emergencies with a view to overhauling the system in place. The annual meeting is being held online this year, as it was in 2020, because of the pandemic. Besides efforts aimed at controlling the pandemic, the issue of alleged vaccine hoarding is upo for discussion along with calls for WHO reforms. Speaking before the opening session, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted “the past year has been the most testing in our organisation’s history.”
Brussels, 23 May: Epidemiological trends in France continue to improve
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France dropped for the 20th consecutive day on Sunday to stand at 3,515, almost 50% fewer than five weeks ago, Reuters reports. At the same time, the number of daily coronavirus deaths dropped to 70, a seven-month low, while the seven-day average of new daily infections fell below 13,000, to the lowest level since the end of 2020. France started lifting pandemic-related restrictions in May and has announced plans to reopen fully by July. Approximately 34.5% of citizens had received at least one vaccine dose by Sunday, with roughly 14.5% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 20 May: WHO says COVID-19 vaccines are effective against variants
Hans Kluge, Regional Director for Europe of the World Health Organisation (WHO), stressed on Thursday that all WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against all variants, DW reports. At the same time, the WHO Europe division urged caution when it comes to international travel. “All COVID-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available, approved vaccines”, Kluge said. His statement comes against the backdrop of WHO fears about the coronavirus variant first identified in India, which has been confirmed in approximately half of the 53 countries covered by WHO Europe. To date, WHO far approved vaccines developed by US Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, British-Swedish AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinopharm.
Brussels, 21 May: Hungary to lift most restrictions this weekend
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Friday that the country would lift most remaining pandemic restrictions this weekend as the number of vaccinated people in the country reaches the five million mark, Reuters reports. Face masks will no longer be mandatory and people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 500 outdoors. Hungary has administered at least one vaccine shot to close to 50% of its population thanks to approval of Chinese and Russian vaccines. Orbán also said that the moratorium on loans is to be extended until the end of August, while the government continues talks with banks about reaching an agreement on the future of the measure.
Brussels, 19 May: Spain to lift AstraZeneca shot restrictions
Spain’s Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, announced on Wednesday that people under 60 years of age whose first COVID-19 inoculation was with the British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals vaccine can now choose either either the AstraZeneca vaccine or the US Pfizer vaccine for their second shot, Reuters reports. According to a Spanish study, it is safe for people whose first shot was the AstraZeneca vaccine to receive AstraZeneca or the Pfizer jab as their second shot. Approximately 1.5 million Spanish citizens who had received the first AstraZeneca shot now have the additional option.
Brussels, 19 May: UK steps up testing to fight Indian variant
The UK is stepping up testing and vaccination in areas of concern to fight against the spread of the COVID-19 variant first identified in India, according to BBC. Roughly 2,967 cases were confirmed in the UK by Wednesday, up from some 2,300 on Monday. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, cited data that shows the Indian variant is more infectious, making it all the more important that people should get vaccinated. He noted that areas of concern were identified by analysing wastewater and monitoring travel patterns, and concluded the government is “determined to do all that we can to ensure this new variant doesn’t put our recovery at risk.”
Brussels, 19 May: EU proposes alternative to patent rights waiver
EU Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis has put forward an alternative to the proposed waiver of patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reports. He said he believes the EU can more effectively provide vaccines to the global community by ramping up production, lowering cost and sharing vaccines more widely. Dombrovskis suggested that export restrictions be minimised and that vaccine makers provide more shots to developing countries at production cost. He pointed out that current World Trade Organisation rules allow nations to grant “compulsory licenses” to makers without the approval of patent holders for purposes of cost-price production.
Brussels, 19 May: Austria, France ease restrictions
Austria and France eased pandemic restrictions on Wednesday, DW reports. Austria allowed restaurants, hotels and theatres to reopen after more than five months. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz noted that “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter”. Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein pointed out that mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors has been scrapped. France has allowed coffee shops and restaurants to reopen outdoor spaces, with indoor spaces scheduled to reopen on 9 June. In addition, theatres, cinemas and museums are allowed to reopen, but visitors must maintain distance and wear face masks. The curfew in France has been reduced by two hours and is now in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Brussels, 17 May: Germany to offer free vaccines to all adults next month
Germany’s Minister of Health Jens Spahn announced on Monday that the country will lift priority restrictions on COVID-19 vaccination as of 7 June, thereby allowing all adults to apply for immunisation, Reuters reports. He made clear it would not be possible to vaccinate all adults in June, given current supply problems and logistical limitations. He noted that the Government had promised all adults would have an opportunity to get vaccinated by the end of summer and was confident the target can be achieved. He added that the German authorities are now discussing plans to allow vaccination of adolescents between 12 and 16 years of age.
Brussels, 18 May: Dutch economy contracts under restrictions
The Dutch national statistics office noted on Tuesday that the economy contracted 0.5% on quarterly level in the first quarter of the year, the result of pandemic restrictions, Reuters reports. The drop marked the start of a recession as the Dutch economy shrank 0.1% in the final quarter of 2020. As restaurants and bars remained closed while the operation of non-essential stores was limited, consumption in the Netherlands dropped 3.5% in the first quarter of this year. The country started easing restrictions last month, allowing stores and outdoor areas of restaurants and coffee shops to reopen. Dutch GDP dropped 3.7% in 2020, putting it on par with 2009.
Brussels, 17 May: Most of UK continues to reopen
England, along with most of Scotland and Wales, continued to lift pandemic restrictions on Monday, with indoor areas of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants reopening as well as cinemas, sports venues and museums, RFI reported. International travel may resume to selected countries and people are allowed to hold private gatherings if they comply with certain restrictions. “Together we have reached another milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared, noting that the National Health Service is not under excessive pressure. On Sunday, Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment, pointed out that the UK’s speedy progress was the result of “one of the highest vaccine uptake rates in the world.”
Brussels, 16 May: Epidemiological trends in France continue to improve
Epidemiological trends continue to improve in France. On Monday, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care dropped for the 13th consecutive day, Reuters reported. The number of COVID-19 deaths in hospitals dropped to 81 on Monday, down from 112 on Saturday. The number of new confirmed infections on Sunday stood at 13,948, down from 15,685 on Saturday. France is planning to lift some restrictions on Wednesday, with restaurants and bars to reopen outdoor areas closed since the end of October last year, RFI reports. In addition, non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, as will cinemas, museums and theatres, albeit with some health restrictions. France met its mid-May target to administer at least one vaccine shot to 20 million people and aims to reach 30 million by mid-June.
Brussels, 14 May: Greece opens doors to vaccinated tourists
Greece’s Minister of Tourism, Harry Theoharis, launched the holiday season Thursday evening on an upbeat note, declaring that “we leave behind the dark clouds of fear and insecurity”, RFI reports. Greece is hoping this year’s tourist season will generate more revenue than the last one, which was so affected by the coronavirus crisis. On Wednesday, the government announced that tourists arriving on the Greek islands by air or sea must present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. Health facilities on most islands are more limited than on the mainland, compounded by the fact that a campaign to vaccinate island populations is underway. Grigoris Tasios, head of the Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers, predicted that hotel capacities will start filling up in late June or early July. Roughly 20% of hotels will reopen this week, with the remainder to resume business gradually by the end of June, he stated.
Brussels, 14 May: Seven-day incidence rate in Germany drops below threshold
The seven-day incidence rate in Germany dropped to 96.5 per 100,000 people as of Friday, dipping below the 100 threshold for the first time in some two months, Reuters reports. If the incidence rate exceeds 100 new confirmed coronavirus infections, the federal government can impose nationwide curfews, restrictions on working hours and private gatherings. According to Robert Koch Institute data, the rate stood at roughly 126 last week, dropped to 103.6 on Thursday and dipped further to 96.5 on Friday. German Health Minister Jens Spahn noted last week that the third wave of infections has passed, with several states announcing gradual reopening plans on Tuesday.
Brussels, 11 May: Serbian authorities allegedly sold vaccines to North Macedonians
Vranje authorities in the south of Serbia sold COVID-19 vaccines to North Macedonians for 40 euro per shot, according to multiple independent sources, as reported by the InfoVranjske portal on Tuesday. Serbia’s Security Intelligence Agency (BIA) launched an investigation and police arrested two suspects in Vranje. Two Vranje pubic officials from the ranks of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) are responsible for the illegal sale of State vaccines, sources say. Vranje Healthcare Centre head Ljiljana Antić reportedly yelled at volunteers and removed them from the centre when North Macedonians came, while SNS’ Mayor of Vranje Slobodan Milenković held a meeting with the volunteers days after the incident.
Brussels, 13 May: Number of coronavirus infections in England halved since March
According to the real-time assessment of community transmission (REACT) study released on Thursday, the number of coronavirus infections in England has dropped about 50% compared to March, Reuters reports. The study shows that roughly one in 1,000 people are infected. Matt Hancock, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, welcomed the findings saying they “demonstrate the impact our incredible vaccination rollout is having on COVID-19 infection rates across the country”. The data shows that infection rates are similar across all regions, with rates highest among younger demographic groups (up to 0.21%) and lowest among those aged 75 and over, at 0.05%. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not included in the study since they track their cases independently.
Brussels, 11 May: Before and after studies show lockdowns harm children
Studies conducted by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) before the coronavirus outbreak and during pandemic lockdowns show that the lockdown meaasures stunt physical and mental development of children, DW reported on Tuesday. KIT sports scientist Alexander Woll, who has been analysing movement patterns among children for close to a decade, warned “this extended period of restricted movement is a bigger problem for young children and teenagers than learning deficiencies in the cognitive field”. He pointed out that studies conducted before authorities’ first response to the pandemic and those conducted during first and second lockdowns made comparative analysis possible. German authorities are starting to recognise the negative effects of restrictions on children and have allocated some 2 billion euro for “catch-up measures” to address learning deficiencies and promote extracurricular activities, including sports.
Brussels, 11 May: Parts of Germany to start lifting restrictions
Several states in Germany are planning to start lifting pandemic restrictions in response to nation-wide positive epidemiological trends, Reuters reports. Berlin authorities decided on Tuesday to start phasing out restrictions, with plans to lift the curfew and some shopping restrictions on 19 May and to permit outdoor dining from 21 May should the seven-day incidence rate stay lower than 100 per 100,000 people for three consecutive days. Authorities in Rhineland-Palatinate announced a three-stage reopening plan starting from today. Germany’s Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, said states should start reopening and that it was important to allow the resumption of outdoor activities. However, he cautioned that authorities should re-impose restrictions if epidemiological trends take a turn for the worse. On Friday, Spahn stated that Germany had emerged from the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Brussels, 10 May: New daily infections in France reach 2021 low
The number of new daily infections in France dropped to 3,292 this week, the lowest this year, Reuters reportsThe seven-day moving average dropped to 17,767, in contrast with the mid-April peak of 42,225. At the same time, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care continued dropping, making Monday the seventh consecutive day of decline. Hospitalisations stood at 25,666, reaching a seven-week low, while the seven-day moving average of daily deaths dropped to 222, the lowest since October last year. France lifted its latest lockdown last week and is planning to phase out pandemic restrictions by the end of June. France’s Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, noted that restaurants and bars are to reopen on May 19 as planned.
Brussels, 11 May: EU wants 120mn AstraZeneca vaccines by end June
The EU attorney in the case against British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals over delayed deliveries has noted that the bloc wants the company to deliver 120 million COVID-19 shots by the end of next month, Reuters reported. AstraZeneca originally agreed to deliver 300 million vaccine shots to the EU by the end of June. Later, it announced that production was delayed and said it planned to deliver 100 million doses by the deadline. The EU attorney stated that the bloc hopes AstraZeneca will deliver the full 300 million shots by September. AstraZeneca’s attorney pointed out that the European Commission launched two cases against the company. In one case, the EC wants deliveries to be speeded up and in the second it is seeking financial compensation. The first hearing in the new case is slated for 24 September while the next hearing in the first case is set for 26 May.
Brussels, 10 May: UK continues to lift restrictions, pubs allowed to reopen
The UK continues to phase out pandemic control restrictions, with the government now to allow pubs to reopen indoor areas after months, Reuters reports. The government unveiled a four-step plan to reopen the country back in February, allowing indoor gatherings of up to six people from 17 May, under Step 3. Coffee shops and restaurants will be allowed to reopen indoor areas, as will sports venues and cinemas. “The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted. The reopening applies to England, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales planning their own reopening efforts.
Brussels, 9 May: Spaniards celebrate end of lockdown with ‘freedom fiestas’
Much of Spain has celebrated the widespread lifting of the country’s pandemic-curfew by holding “freedom fiestas” over the weekend, Reuters reported on Sunday. While curfews in 13 of the country’s 17 regions were removed, Navarra, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands opted to keep them in place. Since most regions had not lifted restrictions affecting the opening hours of restaurants and bars, people gathered outdoors and their end-of-curfew celebrations took the form of street parties.. While Spain was one of EU member states most hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, epidemiological trends have been improving and the country’s vaccination campaign has been picking up speed, all of which helped prepare the ground for reopening. Local authorities in the Basque Country tried to keep the curfew in place, even though it was rejected in court last week. The region has Spain’s highest infection rate, at 448 per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 199.
Brussels, 6 May: Danish Council on Ethics warns against excessive restrictions
The Danish Council on Ethics has cautioned that, once operational, reliance on the just introduced COVID-19 pass should be gradually reduced to ensure that “it is only used as long as it has a significant effect on the fight against the epidemic”. Denmark recently introduced the pass in order to restore some basic rights to citizens who have been vaccinated or have recently tested negative or recovered from COVID-19. The pass is available in digital and analogue versions, and relies on testing since roughly 12.7% of Danes have been fully vaccinated. Since trust in public authorities is high in Denmark, the new measure has encountered little resistance. In fact, polls indicate that not much more than 10% of citizens support the Men in Black protest movement, which opposes the new measure. Lars Ramme of the Danish Chamber of Commerce welcomed the pass, saying: “it’s a major success because it has combined the reopening of the economy and has boosted testing”.
Brussels, 6 May: Germany closer to two-tier system
The lower house of the German parliament approved new regulations on Thursday to restore some basic rights for citizens who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from it, DW reports. The upper house is expected to pass the new rules this week. According to the proposed rules, vaccinated people and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will be granted curfew exemptions, the right to enter museums and some shops. However, they will still have to wear face masks, maintain social distance and they will not be allowed to visit hotels and restaurants. The ruling coalition, the Greens and The Left support the bill, the Free Democratic Party abstained and the Alternative for Germany is opposed. Germany’s Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Christine Lambrecht, called the bill an “important step and an imperative for the rule of law”, while stressing the importance of protecting basic rights. Germany has thus far administered at least one vaccine shot to approximately 30.6% of the population, with about 8.6% fully vaccinated.
Brussels, 5 May: Citizens under lockdown in Turkey, tourists exempt
The Turkish government has exempted foreign tourists from the nationwide lockdown in a bid to revive tourism, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Tourists are required to provide negative coronavirus tests, but they are allowed to roam the streets while citizens are confined to their homes. Residents can only leave their homes for essential shopping and or for work if they are employed in key sectors. Those who violate the lockdown are subject to fines. Turks are expressing frustration over the new rule aimed at getting the tourist industry back on its feet. The sector accounts for up to 12% of the country’s economy. Tourism revenues stood at some 12 billion US dollars in 2020, representing an annual decline of approximately 66% attributable to the coronavirus crisis. Most foreign tourists currently in Turkey are from Russia, Ukraine, Latin America and the UK.
Brussels, 6 May: US now supports vaccine patent waiver, EU open to idea
The US has reversed its position and now supports the idea of waiving patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines to help poorer countries fight the pandemic, Reuters reports. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai stressed “this is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures”. She pointed out that striking a deal would take time. Following the announcement, shares of large pharmaceutical companies dropped. At the same time, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today announced that the EC has reversed its position and is now open to discussing the waiver. “The EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”, she said. The EU had opposed the idea, pointing out that it would not solve the problem quickly since poorer countries lack manufacturing capacity.
Brussels, 5 May: Survey shows majority see COVID-19 curbs as excessive
According to a survey conducted on a sample of more than 50,000 people from 53 countries by the Alliance of Democracies (AoD) NGO, a majority of people view their respective national restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic as excessive, Reuters reports. At the same time, some 58% of respondents say they are happy with how their governments have responded to the pandemic. Approximately 53% of respondents see the restrictions as excessive and an infringement of their rights and freedoms. AoD co-founder Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO Secretary General and former Danish Prime Minister, stressed “we now need to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering more democracy and freedom to people. Most of the respondents in the US cited tech giants as the biggest threat to democracy, with about 64% of those surveyed listing economic inequality. Some 41% of US respondents see social media as having a positive impact on democracy in contrast with 76% in Venezuela and 72% in Hong Kong, where protesters organised on social media before they were banned.
Brussels, 4 May: Epidemiological trends continue to improve in France
The growth of new daily confirmed coronavirus infections in France slowed down on Tuesday. Epidemiological trends have continued to improve for the third consecutive week, according to Reuters . The number of new cases increased 2.64% compared to last Tuesday, in marked contrast to a weekly increase of more than 6% during the April lockdown. The French government is planning to lift restrictions gradually by the end of June, noting that the vaccination campaign is picking up pace. Health Ministry’s records indicate that the number of hospitalised patients dropped slightly on Tuesday to 28,427. The number of patients in intensive care dropped from 5,630 to 5,504. The number of COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday stood at 257, down from 311 on Monday.
Brussels, 3 May: EC wants to reopen EU in time for tourist season
The European Commission has called on EU member states to ease pandemic-related travel restrictions next month to allow foreign tourists to enter the bloc, Reuters reported on Monday. The EC proposal would permit entry to the bloc for foreign tourists from countries with a “good epidemiological situation” as well as for those who have been fully vaccinated. EC President Ursula von der Leyen stressed it was “time to revive tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely”. EU members are to discuss the proposal today. An official has expressed hopes that the move would be approved by the end of the month. Besides safety issues, the EC stressed the importance of reciprocity when it comes to imposing restrictions on leisure travel from non-EU countries. It recommended that EU member states should allow entry for those fully vaccinated with shots approved by the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation.
Brussels, 3 May: EU official says Novavax to start shipping vaccines
The US Novavax vaccine development company is to start delivering COVID-19 vaccines to the EU by the end of the year, according to an EU official, Reuters reported on Monday. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not approved the vaccine, but did start a rolling review in February. The EU deal with Novavax is conditional on the vaccine being approved by the EMA. The official noted that Novavax could end up supplying the EU with up to 200 million shots. A formal contract could be signed this week. While the company could start delivering vaccines to the EU this year, the bulk would be delivered next year. The EMA has not set a deadline for deciding on the vaccine. The European Commission noted that it has secured enough COVID-19 vaccine shots to inoculate at least 70% of adults by the end of July.
Brussels, 30 April: Turkey bans sale of alcohol, cites health fears
As part of the three-week lockdown that won’t be end until 17 May, Turkey has imposed a ban on the sale of alcohol, DW reports. The Turkish government argues the ban will prevent large gatherings and group drinking. Critics, however, note that a ban on the consumption of alcohol in public other than in specifically designated places already exists. Republican People’s Party (CHP) legal expert Muharrem Erkek warned “something is happening here that we should take seriously: an encroachment on people’s lifestyles and private lives, an attack on justice and freedom”. Attorney Doğan Erkan pointed out that “an intrusion on the lives of people who buy alcohol on the market and drink it at home has nothing to do with fighting the pandemic”. Since the ban has no legal foundation, he concluded that the move does not comply with the Constitution, a view backed up by constitutional law expert Metin Günday, who said consumers, traders and suppliers of alcohol have grounds for an appeal.
Brussels, 29 April: France presents re-opening plan
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has announced a four-phase plan to ease pandemic restrictions and re-open the country, Reuters reported on Thursday. The government is to start relaxing the nationwide curfew and allow bars, coffee shops and restaurants to re-open outdoor areas on 19 May. The curfew is to be phased out by the end of June. Foreign tourists are to be allowed entry from 9 June if they present a valid “health pass”. Macron did point out that the timetable is flexible and stressed that regions can adapt their respective approaches to local epidemiological trends. He also spoke of the need to speed up vaccination campaigns in Europe and in developing countries. France, he added, will start offering COVID-19 shots to obese adults in May. As to a vaccination passport, Macron stressed that “a health pass will never be a right of access that differentiates the French”, noting that since “it pertains to public liberties, parliament will debate the matter”.
Brussels, 29 April: Swiss drug maker to boost production of Moderna vaccine
The Swiss Lonza Group biotech company has announced plans to double its production capacity for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US Moderna pharmaceuticals, Reuters reports. Lonza is to open three new production lines in Switzerland. They should be operational in the first half of 2022 and would increase Moderna’s output to some 3 billion vaccine doses. Lonza noted that it already started recruitment for the planned expansion of production, noting that is has learned “from its previous ramp-up of Moderna drug substance production lines”. The company pointed out how it had built three production lines last year at some US$ 77 million per line, each requiring between 60 and 70 employees. In February, Lonza CEO Pierre-Alain Ruffieux predicted it would take several months for the first three lines to start production at full capacity. According to RTS, the Swiss public broadcaster, Lonza is recruiting Nestlé employees to work on vaccine production temporarily.
Brussels, 29 April: Number of cases in Germany continues to decline
The seven-day average of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany dropped to 155 per 100,000 people on Thursday, the lowest level in two weeks, according to the Robert Koch Institute disease control and prevention agency, Reuters reports. The German Federal Government uses the figure to decide whether to impose more restrictions or lift them. Several German states imposed new restrictions during the weekend as newly expanded powers of the Federal Government came into effect enabling the central authorities to overrule local government units that refuse to impose tough restrictions. According to these new rules, federal authorities can impose curfews, limits on private gatherings and more if cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents. If the figure exceeds 165 per 100,000 for three consecutive days, schools must switch to online learning. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Germany was roughly 5,000 lower on Thursday compared to one week ago.
Brussels, 27 April: Portugal continues to ease restrictions
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has announced the country will continue to lift restrictions and end the state of emergency on Friday Reuters reports. Infection numbers are dropping sharply, which is why the government decided to end the state of emergency declared in mid-January. “Without a state of emergency, it is necessary to maintain or adopt all essential measures to prevent setbacks”, Rebelo de Sousa noted. “If necessary, I will not hesitate to move forward with a new state of emergency”. Portugal began easing pandemic-related restrictions in mid-March, re-opening schools, coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls and museums subject to health rules. The final phase of removing the restrictions starts next week, with all sport activities as well as big events being permitted to resume subject to limitations.
Brussels, 27 April: Ukraine raises US$ 90mn from IBRD for vaccines
Ukraine has reached an agreement with the World Bank on a loan worth 90 million US dollars to buy COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reports. The Ukrainian Ministry of Finance pointed out “the project will provide funds for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for the population of Ukraine in addition to the number of vaccines that were guaranteed under the COVAX and GAVI partnership”. So far, Ukraine, with a population of some 41 million, has received 500,000 doses of the vaccine developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals. They arrived at the end of February, followed by 215,000 doses developed by Chinese Sinovac Biotech at the end of March and 117,000 shots developed by US Pfizer under the COVAX scheme, which arrived earlier this month. Yesterday, the Ministry of Health noted that roughly 540,000 citizens had received their first shot while authorities have registered more than two million cases of infections.
Brussels, 27 April: France to ease COVID restrictions
Élisabeth Borne, France’s Minister of Labour, Employment and Integration, noted in an interview with BFM TV on Tuesday that the government will likely start lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the coming period, Reuters reported. She said President Emmanuel Macron should announce the plan in the coming days. France imposed a nation-wide lockdown at the end of last month in response to a spike in infection numbers. Macron is looking to improve epidemiological trends by imposing the lockdown and speeding up France’s vaccination campaign. If trends improve, the government plans to allow gradual re-opening of some sectors of the economy and to lift restrictions on select leisure activities. Schools in France re-opened on Monday after three weeks. Macron announced outdoor areas of restaurants and bars are to be allowed re-open next month. Indoor venues will remain closed until June and then re-open only in regions where epidemiological trends are favourable.
Brussels, 27 April: Turkey’s President Erdoğan announces ‘full lockdown’
Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan has announced a “full lockdown” will come into effect on Thursday and remain in place through 17 May in the latest move to curb the spread of coronavirus, Reuters reports. Citizens will not be allowed to travel between cities without approval, schools will close and public transport will be limited. Citizens will have to stay indoors, with exceptions allowed for urgent medical treatment and essential shopping. Manufacturing and food sector workers as well as emergency service workers will be exempt. “At a time when Europe is entering a phase of re-opening, we need to rapidly cut our case numbers to below 5,000 not to be left behind”, Erdoğan stated, noting that “otherwise we will inevitably face heavy costs in every area, from tourism to trade and education”. Earlier this month, Turkey imposed a weekday curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., with full lockdowns during weekends.
Brussels, 26 April: Italy gradually lifting COVID-19 restrictions
Italy is gradually lifting pandemic-related restrictions, with cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants and theatres now scheduled to re-open on Monday in the most of the country, Reuters reports. Of Italy’s 20 regions, 14 are classified as yellow zones, five as orange and Sardinia as red. Coffee shops and restaurants are allowed to re-open outdoor areas, but indoor areas must remain closed for six weeks. Outdoor contact sports are allowed, with gyms and pools to re-open gradually in the coming weeks. Many schools in yellow zones have abandoned the system of alternating classroom attendance with remote learning. Cultural heritage sites and museums have re-opened with strict limitations on visitor numbers. The Colosseum has re-opened for individual visitors but not for groups.
Brussels, 25 April: EC confident bloc will inoculate 70% of adults by mid-July
European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton predicts the bloc will vaccinate 70% of adults against COVID-19 by mid-July, DW reported on Sunday. “We are confident that we will be able to produce a sufficient number of vaccines to achieve the goal of collective immunity”, he said in an interview with the Greek To Vima daily. Breton said more than 400 million vaccine doses would be distributed across the bloc in the second quarter of the year, adding that EU member states should prepare to speed up their vaccination campaigns. According to AFP, the EU had administered 128 million shots to 21% of the bloc’s population by Saturday. Malta had vaccinated 47% of its population, followed by Hungary with 37%. Last week, the EC announced it would secure as many as 1.8 billion COVID-19 shots developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals between 2021 and 2023. Breton stated that production of vaccines in the EU would reach some 3 billion doses per year by the end of 2021.
Brussels, 22 April: France to lift domestic travel restrictions next month
France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex announced plans to lift domestic travel restrictions on 3 May, but has stressed that the 7 p.m. curfew would remain in place, Reuters reported on Thursday. He announced that schools would reopen on Monday and that outdoor areas of bars and restaurants as well as cultural venues could reopen in May if epidemiological trends improve. “The third wave of the disease is behind us”, he proclaimed. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has announced mandatory 10-day quarantine for arrivals from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India and South Africa from Saturday on. He said the move is aimed at preventing the arrival of new coronavirus variants. People in quarantine are permitted to go outdoors between 10 a.m. and noon, he added. According to Minister of Solidarity and Health Olivier Véran, the government is considering giving obese people early access to vaccines in May.
Brussels, 22 April: German President signs new emergency federal powers into law
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed the Federal Government’s new emergency powers into law on Thursday, DW reported. The new law allows federal authorities to impose restrictions in states if infection numbers exceed certain thresholds, including curfews and other limits on freedom of movement. The lower house of parliament passed the law on Wednesday and the upper house approved it earlier on Thursday. Previously, Germany’s 16 states were free to implement federal guidelines as they saw fit, a factor seen by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government as contributing to high infection rates. According to police estimates, some 8,000 Germans protested against the law in Berlin on Wednesday. However, Janos Dahmen of the Greens maintained that the law does not go far enough. The German Foundation for Patient Rights meanwhile has called for note to be taken of parameters such as vaccination rates and pressure on hospitals to avoid potential legal challenges. The constitutionality of the law could yet be contested.
Brussels, 21 April: Greece to reopen in time for tourist season
Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced on Wednesday that the country should reopen for tourists on 15 May, Reuters reports. He cited the apparent stabilising impact of current vaccination campaigns on the coronavirus pandemic. “The vaccines, the self-tests and the better weather make us confident that this unprecedented adventure is ending”, he observed. However, he also urged citizens not to travel for the Orthodox Easter weekend at the end of the month. Mitsotakis stressed that, absent another surge in infections, restaurants would reopen on 3 May, followed by schools on 10 May. The Greek government previously said it hoped the country would reopen in mid-May to allow tourism to resume, which traditionally accounts for some 20% of Greek GDP. Earlier this month, the government launched distribution of home testing kits with the specific aim of bringing the pandemic under control in time for the tourist season.
Brussels, 22 April: WHO and EMA to review Sputnik V jointly in May
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced today that it plans to start a joint review of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on 10 May, Reuters reports. Russia has submitted Sputnik V for inclusion on WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL). WHO says that “inspections for good manufacturing practices will take place from 10 May to first week of June”. A joint WHO-EMA team is currently inspecting good clinical practices related to Sputnik V and the agency indicated that “we are still receiving information from the producer”. Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, attended a meeting with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva on Tuesday. Afterwards, Tedros stated WHO’s appreciation of Russia’s efforts “to fulfil the Emergency Use Listing criteria for vaccines”. To date, WHO has approved EUL for COVID-19 vaccines developed by US Pfizer, British-Swedish AstraZeneca and US Johnson & Johnson.
Brussels, 21 April: Germans protest expansion of government powers
Hundreds of protesters were gathering in Berlin today to voice their concern over the planned expansion of Federal Government’s powers, Reuters reported. The new law would allow Germany’s Federal Government to impose restrictions in federal states that refuse to do so, including curfews, limitations on private gatherings, and the operations of stores and more. Critics claim the move impinges on personal freedoms, with thousands of protestors expected to rally outside the Bundestag. German citizens, mindful of threats to their freedoms experienced under Nazi and Communist regimes, have been demonstrating in towns across the country in the last few weeks. The controversial draft law is up for discussion in the upper house of parliament on Thursday.
Brussels, 21 April: WHO says COVAX delivered more than 38 million doses
A World Health Organisation (WHO) update on the COVAX initiative notes that more than 38 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were delivered through the scheme by 8 April, Reuters reported on Wednesday. According to WHO, COVAX aims to deliver at least two billion doses by the end of the year. At the start of April, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the facility was facing a “serious challenge” in securing enough shots and he called on pharmaceutical companies to help the countries donating e vaccines to deliver them quickly. Tedros reported that Covax had delivered more than 20 million doses to 20 countries by the beginning of March in contrast to the roughly 38.4 million supplied to 102 countries by early April, a year on from the launch of the facility. The first vaccine doses delivered via COVAX arrived in Ghana and Ivory Coast in late February this year.
Brussels, 19 April: German Federal Government takes emergency powers
The German Federal Government has taken on emergency powers to curb the spread of coronavirus, DW reported on Monday. The ruling coalition seeks to change planned curfew rules and other restrictions German lawmakers are scheduled to discus on Wednesday. The ruling parties propose starting nighttime curfews at 10 p.m., an hour later than originally planned, as part of a drive on their part to ease existing federal rules overall. This includes allowing citizens to jog or walk alone until midnight, hitherto not permitted. Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn called on local government units to exercise their own authority until the federal authorities prepare their plan, stressing “no one needs to wait for the law”. If the lower house adopts proposed rules on Wednesday and the upper house then greenlights the proposal, the new regulations should remain in effect until 30 June.
Brussels, 20 April: Austria follows through with EU vaccine-sharing plan
Austria announced today that it is arranging for the delivery of 651,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US Pfizer pharmaceuticals and the German BioNTech biotechnology company to Western Balkan countries, DW reports. “With this initiative we are showing that we are not leaving the region behind”, Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Schallenberg, declared, noting “these are vaccine doses that the EU explicitly secured from the beginning for the purpose of passing them on to partners”. Deliveries are to be made to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia from May, he said. BiH will receive 214,000 doses, Albania 145,000 and North Macedonia 119,000. The European Commission outlined the vaccine-sharing plan in January, with Austria undertaking to coordinate EU distribution efforts in the Western Balkans and indicating that initial deliveries could be followed by more.
Brussels, 19 April: Australia, New Zealand lift mutual travel restrictions
Australia and New Zealand have agreed to lift mutual travel restrictions after more than one year, DW reported on Monday. The two countries imposed pandemic control travel restrictions in March last year that required travellers to quarantine for two weeks upon entry. Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern noted “it is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia”. Whether “returning family, friends or holidaymakers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself”, she added. Her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison called the move beneficial for both countries, noting it should boost economic growth. The two PMs announced they hoped to include more countries in the unrestricted travel arrangement once they are seen as safe. However, they also cautioned that restrictions could be re-imposed in the event of new outbreaks and so advised that the latest travel arrangement would be under “constant review”. Australia lifted travel restrictions before New Zealand, which delayed the move over sporadic outbreaks in Australia.
Brussels, 19 April: Spain to delay second shot to boost immunisation
Spain’s Ministry of Health is considering the possibility of delaying second COVID-19 shots to people under the age of 80 in a bid to increase the number of people who receive at least one dose, according to the Monday edition of the newspaper El Mundo, Reuters reports According to the plan, Spain was to administer the second shot of vaccines developed by US Pfizer and Moderna pharmaceuticals eight weeks after the first shot. If the plan is approved, Spain would scrap the strategy focused on administering the full course to vulnerable groups as quickly as possible. Israel and the UK have opted to spread out the shots to achieve herd immunity as soon as possible and are reporting reporting positive results for this approach. According to Friday’s data, Spain has administered two shots to about 7% of its population, with approximately 19% receiving at least one. The country still hopes to fully inoculate 50% of the population by late July. Minister of Health Carolina Darias announced on Monday that Spain should receive 1.7 million Pfizer vaccine doses at the start of May.
Brussels, 15 April: Portugal continues to ease restrictions
Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa announced on Thursday that the country is to continue easing coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Reuters reports. However, while most regions are to enter the third phase of easing restrictions next week, municipalities with high transmission rates will remain subject to more severe restrictions. “These sets of measures are neither prizes nor punishments”, Costa said, noting “hey are public health measures for the safety of the population”. After a lockdown in January, Portugal started easing restrictions in March. Cinemas, high schools, universities, indoor restaurant areas and shopping malls are to re-open on Monday in the majority of municipalities. “This is really a fight against the pandemic we have to do together”, Costa stressed. “The effort cannot be wasted until the vaccination process is effective”, he declared.
Brussels, 16 April: Sweden eases restrictions for those who have been vaccinated
The Public Health Agency of Sweden (FoHM) announced today that restrictions for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are to be eased, Reuters reports. Approximately 20% of Swedes have received at least one vaccine shot thus far. FoHM Director-General Johan Carlson stated “now it is okay for a vaccinated grandmother to hug her grandchildren”. However, he cautioned that being vaccinated does not mean people are allowed to live their lives as normal. Authorities stressed that infection rates in Sweden are the second-highest in Europe, so restrictions cannot be eased for non-vaccinated people. According to Sweden’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Lena Hallengren, “so far, not enough people have been vaccinated so that it makes a difference to the pressure on the health system or on the spread of the infection in general”. Sweden’s vaccine coordinator Richard Bergström, citing the fact that the country is negotiating the purchase of Russian Sputnik V vaccines, noted that several EU countries aim “to have a contract in place when – or if – the vaccine is approved”.
Brussels, 14 April: Denmark stops administering AstraZeneca vaccine
Denmark has decided to stop administering the COVID-19 vaccine developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals because of its possible link to blood clots, Reuters reports. Danish health authorities expect the move to cause delays but had hoped its vaccination campaign could be wrapped up by early August once the country starts administering the vaccine developed by US Johnson & Johnson (J&J) pharmaceuticals. However, the rollout of the J&J vaccine has been delayed in Europe due to similar clotting fears and Denmark has suspended its use. The J&J vaccine accounts for approximately one third of Denmark’s contracted supply. Søren Brostrøm, the head of the Danish Health Authority, stated that investigations into the AstraZeneca vaccine “showed real and serious side-effects”. The authorities had therefore opted “to continue the vaccination programme for all target groups without this vaccine”. He noted that studies based on data from Denmark and Norway show one in 40,000 people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine could suffer from the rare blood clot complication.
Brussels, 14 April: Switzerland to ease restrictions next week
Switzerland has announced plans to ease restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic next week, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Swiss authorities are to allow restaurants to re-open outdoor areas and spectators to attend sports events. Concert venues, theatres and cinemas will be allowed to re-open subject to restrictions that include mandatory face masks and social distancing. The Swiss government decided to start lifting restrictions despite negative epidemiological trends. Alain Berset, head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, cited favourable weather conditions and the fact that most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated as reasons. “We think taking the risk is justifiable”, he said, noting too that many people have had enough of restrictions, claiming that 14 months is plenty. “What we are trying to do is re-open in a prudent way, so as not to lose control and plan our next steps”, Berset advised.
Brussels, 14 April: Czech researchers warn obese people are hit harder by COVID-19
Ladislav Dušek, head of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic, has warned of the correlation between obesity and COVID-19 hospitalisations, DW reports. “Unfortunately, the Czech Republic is one of the record holders with regard to obesity in Europe”, he noted, adding that 80% of the country’s hospitalised COVID-19 patients are obese or overweight. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation has pointed out that “the correlation between obesity and mortality rates from COVID-19 is clear and compelling”. The World Obesity Federation cited research from the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that there is a clear link between obesity and the likelihood of dying from COVID-19. Obesity researcher Jozef Čupka stated that “even the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 in the first place increases a lot with obesity”. Overweight people are more likely to require hospitalisation if they fall ill, he said. They have a greater chance of needing intensive care if hospitalised and they face a higher risk of death if admitted to intensive care. Commenting on restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic, Čupka noted that they also contribute to the problem insofar as indoors exercise facilities have been shut down, which, along with restrictions on movement, have contributed to a rise in alcohol consumption and caused weight gain increases.
Brussels, 13 April: Norway plans to ease restrictions this week
Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg announced plans to lift some coronavirus pandemic restrictions this week, Reuters reported on Tuesday. While Norway boasts some of the lowest infection rates in Europe, the country imposed severe restrictions last month in response to the growing number of hospitalisations. “The infection numbers are now down”, Solberg said, an indication that “the measures look to have had an effect”. She announced that people would be allowed to gather in homes in groups larger than three from Friday this week and that restaurants will be allowed to serve alcoholic drinks if certain conditions are met. Groups of up to 200 will be allowed to attend outdoor events, twice as many as the cap for indoor events.
Brussels, 13 April: UK variant not as severe as claimed
According to a study published in The Lancet, the weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, the UK variant of coronavirus does not cause a more severe version of COVID-19 as claimed, Reuters reports. The study, which looked at 496 patient cases in Britain, showed no difference in clinical outcomes of patients infected with the UK variant compared to those infected with other strains. “Our data, within the context and limitations of a real-world study, provide initial reassurance that severity in hospitalised patients with B.1.1.7 is not markedly different from severity in those without”, the researchers noted. The study did confirm claims that the UK variant is more transmissible. According to a separate study, also published in The Lancet, vaccines should be effective against the British variant since reinfection rates are comparable to those of other strains.
Brussels, 13 April: Britain on path to vaccinate all adults by end July
The UK has offered COVID-19 vaccination to people over age 50 and is on track to vaccinate all adults by August, Reuters reports. Britain has implemented one of the fastest vaccination campaigns, second only to Israel with regard to the proportion of people who received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced “we will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress towards our target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July”. The UK started administering vaccines developed by US Moderna pharmaceuticals on Tuesday, making it the third vaccine used in Britain. Moderna’s vaccine is based on new mRNA technology similar to that developed by its US counterpart Pfizer, but it has the advantage of not having to be kept at extremely low temperatures. The UK’s successful vaccination campaign helped the country to re-open all shops and other parts of the economy on Monday. The National Health Service has now invited people over age 45 to book their vaccination appointments.
Brussels, 11 April: US stresses need to determine origin of SARS-CoV-2
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of finding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 on Sunday, criticising Chinese authorities for making the investigation more difficult and the pandemic worse than it had to be, Reuters reported. He pointed out that China had refused to grant access to data to international experts, which meant that the pandemic “got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise”. Last month, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the Chinese authorities had withheld data from the WHO-lead investigation team and that this made it all the more important that a further investigation take place. After last month’s release of the joint China-WHO report on the origin of the virus, Western countries called on Beijing to provide full access to relevant data to independent experts. “We need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened, in order to have the best shot possible at preventing it from happening again,” Blinken maintained, saying “that’s why we need to get to the bottom of this.”
Brussels, 10 April: Moscow hides COVID-19 death toll
Records of the Russian Federal State Statistics Service are not in line with Moscow’s reports on the COVID-19 death toll, according to New York Times reporting on Saturday. Statistics show some 362,000 excess deaths in Russia in the period between April and December last year, while Moscow reported about 57,000 COVID-19 deaths. Not all excess deaths are from COVID-19, but the discrepancy in Russia is significantly higher compared to other countries. In the observed period, Russia saw 28% more deaths than normal, which presents a greater increase compared to most Western countries. Russia had imposed a two-month lockdown last spring and lifted most restrictions last summer. Polls suggest most Russians do not trust Moscow’s COVID-19 reports, with a poll in February showing 60% of respondents were not planning to take the Sputnik V vaccine.
Brussels, 8 April: Slovakia and Russia clash over Sputnik V
Slovakia’s State Institute for Drug Control (SÚKL) noted on Thursday that the doses of Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines it received are different from those scrutinised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and international scientists, Reuters reported. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which promotes Sputnik V on foreign markets, denied the claims and described them as “fake news”. It called on Slovakia to send samples to the EMA for testing and return the shipment to Russia. “All Sputnik V batches are of the same quality and undergo rigorous quality control at the Gamaleya Institute”, RDIF insisted. SÚKL warned about gaps in the data on pre-clinical testing, stressing that “a substantial part of the data, approximately 80%, was not supplied even after repeated requests”. Slovakia’s Finance Minister, Igor Matovič, the former Prime Minister who stepped down over lack of transparency in the procurement of Russian vaccines, noted that Slovakia had ordered 2 million shots of Sputnik V.
Brussels, 8 April: UK supplies 717,000 AstraZeneca shots to Australia
The UK has supplied Australia with 717,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca, according to the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, DW reports. Australia previously had called on the EU to release vaccine shipments after the bloc halted the export of AstraZeneca shots because the company was in violation of contractual obligations. According to the Herald’s report, a British official had stressed that the shipments to Australia did not come at the expense of the UK’s inoculation campaign. Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President of the EC for an Economy that Works for People, noted last month that the EU would grant or deny export approval based on vaccination rate, the epidemiological situation and access to shots in destination countries. The bloc first introduced export restrictions in January this year in an effort to sort out its botched vaccination campaign. As part of the bloc’s spat with Britain, EU Council President Charles Michel accused the UK of blocking vaccine exports, which the UK denied. The Sydney Morning Herald noted that the UK had not imposed restrictions, given that it had delivered vaccines to Australia.
Brussels, 8 April: ECHR says compulsory vaccination may be legal
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled on the issue of compulsory vaccination, concluding that such a move would not be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, DW reported on Thursday. The ruling comes in response to a complaint by Czech families over mandatory vaccination of children. The ECHR described the measures as likely “necessary in a democratic society” and added that the decision of the Czech authorities had been in the “best interests” of children. The ruling that the policy does not violate rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human rights, while setting a precedent, does not mean EU member states will force their citizens to get vaccinated. According to Czech regulations, children must be inoculated against nine diseases. The families bringing the case before the ECHR had been protesting being fined and denied access to kindergarten nurseries.
Brussels, 7 April: Scientists call for new investigation into origin of SARS-CoV-2
A group of 24 researchers and scientists from Australia, Europe, Japan and the US have called for a new investigation into the origin of SARS-CoV-2, stressing that the probe conducted jointly by China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) did not provide credible answers, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The scientists claimed that the investigation had been tainted by politics, that critical samples and records “remain inaccessible” and that the investigators based their conclusions on unpublished research from China. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted last week that China withheld data. Liang Wannian, a senior official at the National Health Commission of China, claimed this was not true. Liang indicated that further joint probes in China were not possible and suggested the investigation should focus on other countries. Jamie Metzl of the US Atlantic Council think tank called on China to share the data that can disprove the lab leak hypothesis.
Brussels, 6 April: EMA sends mixed messages about AstraZeneca shot
Marco Cavaleri, head of Health Threats and Vaccines Strategy at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), on Tuesday said he believed that a causal link between the COVID-19 vaccine developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals and blood clots had been established, according to The Guardian. Later that day, the EMA denied it had found a causal link and stressed that its review is still underway. While several EU member states have suspended the use of the shot, the EMA, the World Health Organisation and the British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have maintained that the vaccine should continue to be used since the benefits outweigh the risks by far. Since then, most countries have resumed vaccinations with the shot, but several have limited its use to people over 55, 60 or 65, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Brussels, 6 April: Protesters want BiH government to resign over vaccination drive
Hundreds of protesters called for the resignations of government officials on Tuesday in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, over the government’s failure to launch a vaccination campaign, Reuters reported. Police estimated the protest turnout to be approximately 500, plus another 300 in the accompanying motorcade. Bosnian authorities have ordered 1.2 million shots through the COVAX programme. The first shipment of 50,000 shots arrived last week. China, Serbia and Turkey have donated roughly 100,000 shots, while the EU agreed to provide an additional 900,000 doses, which have yet to arrive. MP Maja Gasal-Vražalica, protest co-organiser, stressed “our incapable government is gambling with our lives every day of the coronavirus pandemic, and we are gambling too if we remain silent”. Protesters called on central and regional government officials to step down and demanded the introduction of mandatory negative COVID-19 tests for people entering the country.
Brussels, 6 April: Gibraltar completes vaccination campaign, scraps restrictions
Gibraltar has completed its COVID-19 vaccination campaign and has eased restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, DW reported on Tuesday. Authorities have scrapped curfews and restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants, to the relief of locals. Last week, British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, noted that “Gibraltar became the first nation in the world to complete its entire adult vaccination programme”. Samantha Sacramento, Minister for the Health Authority, Justice, Multiculturalism, Equality and Community Affairs, pointed out that Gibraltar is gradually returning to normal, but stressed “I think psychologically, we’ve got some catching up to do.” Besides almost all 34,000 Gibraltarians, most Spanish commuters who work in Gibraltar have been vaccinated. In contrast, only 6% or so of Spaniards have been vaccinated, the only groups fully vaccinated to date including the elderly, teachers and healthcare workers.
Brussels, 6 April: Number of foreign tourists in Spain down 93.6% in February
The number of foreign tourists who visited Spain in February dropped 93.6% on the annual level as a result of pandemic control restrictions, Reuters reported on Tuesday. The number of foreign tourists that visited the country last year dropped approximately 80% year-on-year, making the February slump even more devastating since tourism accounts for approximately 10% of Spain’s GDP. Revenues from international tourism plunged 93.3% annually in February, which has put many businesses in the sector in jeopardy. Visitors from France accounted for approximately 25% of foreign tourists in February, followed by Germany. Many French tourists decided to visit Spain to get away from lockdowns in France, drawn by open bars and restaurants. The total number of foreign tourists visiting Spain in February stood at 284,311, down approximately 34.6% compared to January.
Brussels, 1 April: WHO Europe criticises EU’s vaccination campaign
Hans Kluge, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, criticised the EU’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign as “unacceptably slow” on Thursday, Reuters reports. He was concerned that slow rollouts could prolong the coronavirus pandemic, noting that roughly 10% of people in Europe have received the first vaccine shot, with approximately 4% fully vaccinated. “We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now”, Kluge urged. The EU was slower than the UK and the US when it came to ordering vaccines last year as well as when it came to approving their use. Kluge pointed out that infections are rising in Europe in all age groups except among those over 80, a sign that the vaccines administered to the elderly are working. It was a matter of concern that Europe’s slow vaccination campaign was leaving younger people vulnerable, making it all the more important to speed up the rollout.
Brussels, 31 March: Italy makes vaccination mandatory for health workers
Italy’s government announced on Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory for all health workers, Reuters reports. “The aim of the measure is to protect as much as possible both medical and paramedical staff and those who are in environments that may be more exposed to the risk of infection”, a government statement stressed. Critics have pointed out that forcing some groups of workers to get vaccinated could infringe personal freedoms. According to Wednesday’s decree, health workers who refuse the vaccine can be suspended for up to one year without pay. The move comes against a backdrop of rising infection numbers in the last month or so and tightened restrictions imposed to cope with the surge. Italy has administered roughly 10 million shots thus far. Approximately 3.1 million people have received two shots.
Brussels, 31 March: France, Germany, Russia discuss global security, Sputnik V
French President Emmanuel Macron, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed global security and the Russian-developed Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in a conference call on Tuesday, DW reports. After the call, the Kremlin noted that the three discussed joint production of Sputnik V, which the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is in the process of approving for use in the EU. EMA experts are to visit Russia in April to examine the production process and results of clinical trials. Merkel has previously noted she favours using Sputnik V in Germany if the EMA approves it. Production of the vaccine in the EU is to start in Italy in July and in Germany in the summer. On issues of global security, the three expressed their support for the Iranian nuclear deal.
Brussels, 30 March: Spain makes face masks mandatory
Spain has made face masks mandatory in all public places and outdoors from Wednesday on, according to RFI. Masks have been mandatory in Spain since May last year, but only where it is not possible to maintain a social distance of at least two metres. Spain’s Finance Minister and government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said it was important that citizens understand “that we have not reached a relaxation phase, and we cannot in any way afford to be reckless”. People with medical conditions and respiratory problems as well as those exercising will be exempt from the mandatory mask rule. While the government plans to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of the summer, to date, only some 2.6 million in a populaton of roughly 47 million have been vaccinated. The government announced on Tuesday that it would challenge the Galicia region’s law that makes vaccination against COVID-19 and other diseases mandatory. According to the local law passed in February, people who refuse to get vaccinated can be fined up to 3,000 euro. Montero pointed out the law infringes on fundamental rights and that the issue is a national, not a local, matter.
Brussels, 30 March: UK to vaccinate all adults before sharing surplus vaccines
The UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng has announced Britain will vaccinate all adults before sharing surplus COVID-19 shots with other countries, Reuters reports. So far, the UK has administered the first vaccine shot to more than 30 million adults, making its vaccination campaign the most successful in Europe. The UK’s plan to vaccinate all adults by the end of July could be foiled by the supply spat with the EU, which has experienced all kinds of setbacks to its vaccination campaign. “I think our focus has to be to try and keep Britain safe. We want to work cooperatively as well with other countries but the main priority is to get the vaccine rollout”, Kwarteng said. While the UK is prepared to share any surplus shots, he stressed that with many citizens yet to be vaccinated, Britain does not have any surplus jabs at the moment.
Brussels, 29 March: WHO investigation into origin of COVID-19 inconclusive
The investigation conducted jointly by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China into the origin of COVID-19 as proved to be inconclusive, Reuters reported on Monday. While the summary of the report which is to be released this week notes that the lab leak hypothesis was “extremely unlikely”, WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies”. According to the report summary, the three laboratories in Wuhan that work with coronaviruses are “well-managed” and there were no eports of infections among staff. Furthermore, according to the summary, subsequent screenings for antibodies found no traces of infections among lab staff. A senior US official has called for further science-based studies of the situation. The WHO-China investigation came under fire by international scientists for its lack of independence and constricted access to critical information, among other critical issues.
Brussels, 29 March: France braces for third wave of infections
Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery, declared “all options are on the table”, when commenting on the country’s worsening negative epidemiological trends on Monday, Reuters reports. In his view, while France should refrain from imposing new pandemic restrictions for as long as possible, it was not in the country’s interests right now to “signal that we would reopen some businesses while the situation deteriorates”. Beauty salons, clothes shops and furniture stores remain closed, having been deemed non-essential by the authorities, a decision that has been severely criticised by their proprietors. Last week, President Emmanuel Macron defended the decision to keep schools open and not to impose a new lockdown, but pointed out that the authorities will likely have to impose more restrictions in order to bring the pandemic under control.
Brussels, 28 March: Merkel wants tighter restrictions in place
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called on German states on Sunday to impose tighter restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported. She pointed out that curfews could be imposed and regretted that some states were not halting gradual reopening plans. “We have our emergency brake… unfortunately, it is not respected everywhere”, she complained, adding that she hoped “there might be some reflection on this”. Merkel declared that nationwide restrictions would be imposed should local authorities fail to impose more restrictions in the “very foreseeable future”. Germany’s botched vaccination campaign is being hampered by supply constraints, with just over 10% of the population having received a first vaccine shot by Sunday. “We need to do more”, Merkel stressed, warning of additional measures in the offing. “We have the possibilities of restrictions on going out, further contact restrictions, further mask wearing…” She went on to caution that in her view the restrictions already in place were insufficient to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Brussels, 25 March: Pfizer criticises EU plan to restrict exports
Sabine Bruckner, US Pfizer pharmaceuticals’ country manager for Switzerland, warned that the EU plan to restrict the export of COVID-19 vaccines would have negative consequences, Reuters reported on Thursday. The EC’s consideration of a plan to block shipments to countries with more successful vaccination campaigns is a cause for controversy, given the global nature of vaccine production. Bruckner pointed out that imposing restrictions on exports of doses or materials for their manufacture would disrupt global supply chains and could end up hampering vaccination campaigns around the world. “Our executive leadership has been in direct contact” with the EU, she said maintaining that “our position has been laid out, we are very critical, we can’t support it at all”. Proposed EC rules would grant it the power to block planned exports of vaccines by pharmaceutical companies manufacturing within the bloc as a way of ensuring that an increased supply is available to the EU as a whole.
Brussels, 25 March: Portugal extends state of emergency, eases restrictions
Portugal decided on Thursday to extend the state of emergency until mid-April, as the country continues to gradually lift restrictions imposed in January to curb the spread of coronavirus, Reuters reports. Portugal began easing the measures on 15 March, allowing kindergartens, pre-schools, primary schools, bookshops and hair salons to re-open. Parliament is limited to declaring 15-day states of emergency, which it can only extend, albeit indefinitely, in 15-day increments. If epidemiological trends continue to improve, parliament has announced it will allow the reopening of museums, markets and restaurants before expiration of the current 15-day period. According to a restriction adopted earlier this month, a ban on travel between municipalities is in effect in the period between 26 March and 4 April. The number of new daily cases has dropped sharply since January, when Portugal’s healthcare system was overstretched due to the pandemic. The coronavirus crisis has crippled Portugal’s economy, GDP having dropped 7.6% last year, the steepest decline since 1936.
Brussels, 24 March: Germany considers temporary ban on travel abroad
The German government is considering a temporary ban on travel abroad in the wake of criticism of its restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, Reuters reports. The move would reverse Monday’s decision when federal and state leaders decided to allow travel to and from Mallorca without mandatory quarantine or testing. The decision to allow foreign travel while many Germans were not allowed to travel within their own country drew immediate fire. Minister President of Brandenburg Dietmar Woidke stressed “many mistakes were made but this one — especially as regards peoples’ understanding of government’s coronavirus measures — hit like a bomb”. Deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer confirmed the government was thinking about the temporary ban, but pointed out “major constitutional hurdles” would have to be overcome in order to reverse the measure.
Brussels, 25 March: Hungary could delay planned reopening of schools
Hungary’s State Secretary of Public Education, Zoltán Maruzsa, has indicated that the government could delay the planned reopening of schools, Reuters reports. Maruzsa pointed out that the plan to reopen schools on 7 April seems “optimistic” as the healthcare system remains under severe pressure as infection numbers continue to rise. “For now it looks more likely that a return to classroom teaching can take a while longer, but we also need to see the developments of the next few days to assess that”, he said. According to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data, Hungary tops the list of EU member states with regard to vaccinations. The country of some 9.7 million has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to approximately 1.7 million people or roughly 17.5% of the population. “We can rule out that the entire school year will be spent in remote learning”, Maruzsa noted, before reiterating that “it takes some degree of optimism to take the 7 April reopening for granted.”
Brussels, 23 March: Norway introduces new restrictions, delays reopening
Norway’s Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie, announced the introduction of new nationwide restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Serving alcoholic beverages in public is to be banned and plans to gradually lift restrictions are being put on hold. The authorities had intended to announce a move to ease restrictions by the end of the month, but Høie stressed “the situation in Norway is unstable, with rising infection rates in recent weeks”. The number of hospitalisations is also rising. Norway had had one of the lowest infection rates from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. New measures now include extending the mandatory isolation period from three to ten days for those returning from abroad with a negative test. In addition, people are to keep at least two metres away from those who do not live in their household, up from the previous one metre distancing. “We hope these measures will lead to lower rates of infection,” Line Vold, a senior adviser at
Brussels, 23 March: Poland to announce new restrictions this week
Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced on Tuesday that authorities will present new restrictions by the end of the week, Reuters reported. Last week, Polish authorities announced the closing of cinemas, theatres, shopping malls and hotels last week as the daily number of new infections began to rise. “The Health Minister and I are in constant contact with our experts from the medical council, we also analyse the environment around us and we will communicate this set of additional restrictions the day after tomorrow at the latest”, Morawiecki declared. He did not offer details about the new restrictions. With the Easter holidays approaching in the devoutly Catholic country, churches remain open but the numbers attending religious services are limited, a restriction that applies to other gatherings as well. Poland, with some 38 million citizens, has reported close to 2.1 million infections to date.
Brussels, 22 March: Dutch economy to rebound slower than first expected
The Dutch Central Bank (DNB) noted on Monday that the economy is set to recover from the coronavirus crisis later than originally expected, Reuters reported. The DNB predicted that because of the continuing lockdown restrictions, GDP growth would be 2.2% this year, following last year’s drop of 3.8%. Previous projections had been based on the assumption that restrictions would be phased out this year. However, bars and restaurants remain closed after five months of lockdown and many stores must operate under restrictions, all of which limits economic activity. As epidemiological trends are negative, the Dutch government is expected to announce further extension of the lockdown into April. The DNB pointed out that the Dutch economy is still in recession due to restrictions imposed with the aim of controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
Brussels, 23 March: Regeneron and Roche’s preparation could be effective against COVID-19
Regeneron and Roche’s preparation of antibodies could be effective against COVID-19 according to late-stage trial results, Reuters reports. According to trial data, the antibody cocktail lowers hospitalisations and deaths some 70% compared to a placebo. The antibodies were developed by Regeneron with US government support and the data shows the cocktail reduces duration of symptoms from 14 days to 10. “New infections continue to rise globally with over three million reported cases last week, so this investigational antibody cocktail may offer hope as a potential new therapy to high-risk patients – particularly in light of recent evidence showing that casirivimab and imdevimab together retain activity against key emerging variants”, Roche’s Chief Medical Officer Levi Garraway noted. Roche expects sales of 260 million dollars to the US government alone in the first quarter of the year.
Brussels, 21 March: EU determined to sanction UK for own procurement failures
The EU is determined to sanction the UK over its own failures to procure COVID-19 vaccines. An unnamed EU official has confirmed plans to ban relevant exports, Reuters reported on Sunday. The official acknowledged that the UK has been significantly more successful at procuring vaccines compared to the bloc but stressed that “what is produced in Halix has to go to the EU”. The Halix plant in the Netherlands is a supplier in British-Swedish AstraZeneca’s deals with the UK and the EU, with Britain stressing the importance of honouring contracts. “The European Commission will know that the rest of the world is looking at the Commission, about how it conducts itself on this, and if contracts get broken, and undertakings, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc that prides itself on the rules of law”, UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace stated. The EU official asserted that the bloc’s move would not violate any contracts. Helen Whatley, UK Minister of State for Social Care, stressed that the UK would continue talks with the EU “about the importance of no such blockings happening”.
Brussels, 21 March: Commissioner claims EU does not need Sputnik V
European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, asserted on Sunday that the EU does not need the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and can use own production to achieve immunity, Reuters reported on Sunday. The EC has been under fire for its botched vaccine rollout. Breton, head of the EC’s vaccine task force, insists the Commission will be able to deliver at least 300 million doses by end June, predicting that “we have the possibility of reaching continent-wide immunity” by 14 July.”Doses are there, now people must accept vaccination and that we have the logistics”, Breton declared. The Russian vaccine maker berated Breton on Sunday, stressing that “Europeans want a choice of safe and efficient vaccines, which you so far failed to provide”. It called on Breton to say whether his take is the official position of the EU, which would make pursuing the approval of the European Medicines Agency pointless. “We will continue to save lives in other countries”, the manufacturer concluded.
Brussels, 19 March: Greece considering easing some restrictions
Greece is thinking about easing some coronavirus pandemic restrictions as part of the country’s plan to gradually reopen, Reuters reports. Deputy Interior Minister, Stelios Petsas, pointed out that higher temperatures coupled with the country’s vaccination campaign should allow authorities to gradually lift restrictions. “We’re heading towards conditions that will be a little bit looser”, he indicated. The Greek government is to decide on the details of the plan this week. While Greece fared better than most EU member states, the recent surge in infections prompted authorities to reimpose some restrictions. The country reported just over 3,000 new confirmed infections on Thursday and hospitals, suffering from years of under-spending, are treating roughly 4,000 COVID-19 patients.
Brussels, 19 March: Germany to extend lockdown
Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn, warned on Friday that authorities might have to re-impose some restrictions in order to curb the resurgence of coronavirus, Reuters report. “The rising case numbers may mean that we cannot take further opening steps in the weeks to come”, he noted, adding, “we may even have to take steps backwards”. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet on Monday with leaders of federal states to discuss plans to extend the lockdown imposed in December. Infection rates have been on the rise in recent weeks, with the number of confirmed cases increasing to 17,482 on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Lars Schaade, RKI Vice President, called on citizens on Friday to avoid travel over the Easter holidays, warning that the number of infections is increasing at an exponential rate. The seven-day incidence reached 96 per 100,000 citizens, in contrast with 72 from the week before and the record-high of some 200 recorded at the end of December last year.
Brussels, 17 March: EU threatens to sanction UK over own shortcomings
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is threatening to sanction the UK over the EU’s failure to provide COVID-19 vaccines to its population, Reuters reported on Wednesday. She stressed the EU could ban the export of vaccines to the UK in an effort to make up for its shortcomings. Von der Leyen pointed out that the situation in the EU is worsening, with less than 10% of the bloc’s adult population vaccinated. “We see the crest of a third wave forming in member states, and we know that we need to accelerate the vaccination rates”, she noted, since “we are in the crisis of the century”. Commenting on countries that have implemented their vaccination campaigns more successfully, von der Leyen said “we will reflect on whether exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate”. Dominic Raab, UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, warned von der Leyen that “the world is watching”, reminding her that the EU assured the UK it would not curb exports that are under contract. “Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation”, he concluded.
Brussels, 17 March: WHO says J&J vaccine is apparently effective against SARS-CoV-2 variants
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is apparently effective against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, DW reported on Wednesday. WHO’s advisers pointed out that the J&J vaccine is effective in countries where new coronavirus variants are spreading. Alejandro Cravioto, head of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, pointed out “we have a vaccine that shows it to be safe and to have the necessary efficacy to be recommended for use by us in people over the age of 18, without an upper age limit”. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the first J&J shots would arrive in April. The bloc approved the vaccine for use on Thursday, following in the footsteps of Canada, South Africa and the US.
Brussels, 16 March: Austrian Chancellor calls for vaccine redistribution in EU
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stated on Tuesday that he and his allies from Eastern Europe are calling on the EU to rethink its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which he claims has been uneven, Reuters reported. Austria and five Eastern European EU member states criticised the bloc’s distribution of vaccines last week, highlighting the need for proportionality and adherence to agreements. Kurz insisted the EU should be able to “develop a correction mechanism”. He noted that EC President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel are working on a solution. The Commission has pointed out that the distribution arrangement allows redistribution of unused doses should member states not take up their full allocation. He also noted that it is for member states to decide whether they want to return to a population-based distribution.
Brussels, 17 March: Iceland to reopen borders to vaccinated visitors
Iceland has announced the reopening of its borders this week to visitors who have been vaccinated, saying they will not be subject to quarantine or testing, Reuters reports. The move is aimed at attracting more tourists, making Iceland one of the first countries to reopen its borders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Tourism in Iceland contracted some 75% in 2020, with GDP dropping about 6.6%. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir commented that “the world has been through a lot in the past twelve months, and we are all hoping for a slow and safe return to normalcy”. A return to normalcy, she declared, includes the restoration of freedom of movement, which is “valuable to culture, trade and enterprise”. Until now, Iceland has allowed EU visitors who have been vaccinated to enter the country without restrictions. This is being expanded to non-EU citizens on Thursday. According to the plan, visitors vaccinated with shots approved by the European Medicines Agency will be allowed in without restrictions.
Brussels, 16 March: Coronavirus cases grow exponentially in Germany
The number of confirmed coronavirus infection in Germany is growing at an exponential rate, according to Robert Koch Institute epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann, Reuters reports. He pointed to the easing of restrictions as the cause, noting that the number of new confirmed cases per 100,000 people stood at 83.7 on Tuesday in contrast with 68 from the week before. Germany decided to ease restrictions earlier in March, authorising local authorities to reimpose measures should the number of new infections per 100,000 people exceed 100 for three consecutive days. According to RKI’s predictions, the figure could reach 200 by mid-April. On Monday, Germany suspended the use of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of side effects including blood clots. A government spokesman pointed out that authorities will decide on further steps once the European Medicines Agency has reviewed the vaccine again.
Brussels, 15 March: WHO urges against panic around AstraZeneca
World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan stated that the panic surrounding the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is unjustified on Monday, Reuters reports. She urged people to follow the science, noting that no deaths have been linked to the vaccines. Several EU member states have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of reports of possible side effects. “We do not want people to panic”, the WHO official stressed, reiterating that to date there was no evidence suggesting the vaccine caused blood clots . On Tuesday, Sweden joined the list of EU member states that have suspended the use of the vaccine, stating it was a precautionary move. Sweden’s Public Health Agency declared it had decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine “until the European Medicines Agency’s investigation into suspected side effects is done”.
Brussels, 14 March: Netherlands suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine
The Netherlands suspended the use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals on Sunday following reports of recipients developing unexpected blood clots, Reuters reported. The Dutch government stressed that the suspension will remain in effect at least until 29 March, a setback for the country’s vaccination campaign since the authorities had ordered 12 million doses of the vaccine. The plan had been to administer 290,000 AstraZeneca shots in the coming two weeks. Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports, Hugo de Jonge, insisting “we can’t allow any doubts about the vaccine”, stated that “it is wise to pause for now”. AstraZeneca pointed out that a review of the data showed no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. Last week, the Dutch government noted that there was no reason to suspend the use of the vaccine, pointing out that the European Medicines Agency had stated there was no indication that it caused blood clots.
Brussels, 15 March: Most of Italy under new lockdown as of Monday
Italian authorities have imposed a new lockdown on roughly three quarters of Italy as of Monday, Reuters reporte. Italy’s Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, on Sunday, said he hoped that the new restrictions, coupled with the vaccination campaign, would allow authorities to ease restrictions later. “Each dose of vaccine injected is a step in the direction of the way out of the crisis”, he observed. The new lockdown includes a ban on the operation of schools, museums, restaurants and shops until 6 April. According to Our World in Data, the number of new confirmed cases exceeded 22,000 in Italy on Saturday, representing a weekly increase of roughly 15%. Prime Minister Mario Draghi stated: “I am aware that today’s measures will have an impact on children’s education, on the economy but also on the psychological state of us all”. It was vital to impose restrictions now to avoid more severe restrictions later, he said.
Brussels, 12 March: Italy to start commercial production of Sputnik V in late 2021
Swiss Adienne Pharma & Biotech should start commercial production of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in Italy in late 2021, according to TASS, as reported by Reuters . The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) signed an agreement with Adienne this week, with production to start after regulatory approval. Adienne head Antonio Francesco Di Naro pointed out that, in addition to acquiring regulatory approval, the company needs to complete the technology exchange process, test its production and present data to national regulators before it can launch commercial sales. Besides the deal with Adienne, the RDIF has reached agreements with drug makers in France, Germany and Spain, arrangements which suggest that some companies might not wait for the European Medicines Agency to approve the vaccine.
Brussels, 11 March: J&J COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in EU
The EU has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved it for use on Thursday and the EC granted final approval later in the day, according to CNBC reporting. The vaccine is administered in one dose and can be stored in standard refrigerators, which alleviates some of the logistical challenges other vaccines presented. This is the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by the EMA, following those developed by US Pfizer and German BioNTech, British-Swedish AstraZeneca and US Moderna. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective against moderate and severe COVID-19, the one developed by J&J is approximately 66% effective. According to an unnamed EU official, J&J has informed the bloc of its supply issues, which could derail plans to deliver 55 million shots to the EU by July. The delay could further hamper the EU’s vaccination campaign, which, because of bureaucratic obstacles, is falling behind the pace set by campaigns in the UK and the US.
Brussels, 11 March: China to continue working with WHO on SARS-CoV-2 origin
China’s PM Li Keqiang announced on Thursday that the country will continue working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on finding the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, Reuters reports. Commenting on US criticism over lack of transparency and data sharing with the WHO team of investigators, Li asserted that Beijing had “acted in a fact-based manner and with an open, transparent and cooperative approach”. The investigation team is planning to scrap the interim report on its visit to China as an international group of scientists calls for a new investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Team member Dominic Dwyer noted that China refused to share raw data on early cases, which could hamper efforts to get to the bottom of how the pandemic started. The team was not allowed contact with community members during its visit to China and was restricted to visits arranged by their hosts.
Brussels, 11 March: Denmark temporarily stops administering AstraZeneca shots
Denmark’s Health Authority suspended the use of COVID-19 vaccines developed by British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals on Thursday, after reports of “serious cases of blood clots among vaccinated people”, according to DW reporting. Danish authorities did not say there was a causal link between the vaccine and blood clots, but did point out that six EU member states had temporarily stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines. The Danish Medicines Agency announced launching a probe into the vaccine, as did its counterparts from other EU member states and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Commenting on the blood clot cases in Austria, the EMA stressed it had not found any evidence linking them to AstraZeneca. The EMA went on to point out that the rate of blood clot incidents in the general population is comparable to that in the people who received the vaccine shot.
Brussels, 9 March: Health restrictions weakening democracies – Civil Liberties Union
The Civil Liberties Union for Europe warned on Tuesday that restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic have weakened democracy in Europe, The New York Times reports. Governments have seized extraordinary powers in the name of pandemic control, the Union asserted, citing how authorities in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia have abused these new powers to silence criticism and strengthen their hold on power. The Union noted that even in established democracies like France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, “people’s freedoms, including the right to protest, have been curtailed in a bid to stop the spread of the virus and lawmaking has often gone through fast-track procedures”. Besides limiting the possibility for civil society to engage in the political process, the new restrictions and powers “limited oversight of the executive”, the Union concluded.
Brussels, 10 March: EU to receive additional 4 million COVID-19 doses this month
The European Commission announced Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with US Pfizer pharmaceuticals and the German BioNTech biotech company for an additional four million COVID-19 vaccine shots, Reuters reports. The additional four million doses are to be delivered this month and will come on top of previously planned deliveries. EC President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that “through their targeted use where they are most needed, in particular in border regions, these doses will also help ensure or restore free movement of goods and people”. According to previous agreements with the bloc, Pfizer is to supply 500 million COVID-19 vaccine shots to the EU by the end of the year. The EC pointed out that “despite the current reduction in the number of deaths across the EU, due to vaccination of the elderly and most vulnerable people, the Commission is concerned by the development of a series of COVID-19 hotspots across the EU”.
Brussels, 9 March: French authorities oppose Paris Region lockdown
France’s public health director Jérôme Salomon has announced that the government is opposed to a lockdown of the Paris Region even though the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation has reached the highest level since November last year, Reuters reports. “Lockdown is a last resort measure that would be submitted to the government and the president if we were under the impression the hospital system could not cope”, he explained. On Monday, regional authorities ordered hospitals to make room for critical COVID-19 patients by cancelling 40% of their regular activities. According to Dr. Mehran Monchi, head of the intensive care unit head at Melun Hospital, the number of cases has meant that “with intensive care beds, in our region, and in certain other regions, we’re starting to be close to capacity”.
Brussels, 8 March: Number of new UK COVID-19 cases lowest in five months
The latest UK government data shows the number of new COVID-19 cases dropped on Monday to the lowest level since late September last year, Reuters reports. According to the data, 4,712 new cases were confirmed on Monday, compared to 5,177 the day before. The statistics show 65 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the lowest since mid-October. More than 22.37 million shots had been administered by Monday, up some 164,000 compared to the day before. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the positive epidemiological trends on Monday as encouraging. He urged the need for continued vigilance, reminding that last summer “we had the disease down to levels much below where it is today and then we saw what happened with the spike”. With this in mind, he cautioned that people should do their best to avoid another spike.
Brussels, 8 March: EU medicines regulator against national approval of Sputnik V
European Medicines Agency (EMA) managing board head Christa Wirthumer-Hoche urged EMA’s national counterparts on Sunday not to approve the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V until the EMA has reviewed it, Reuters reports. “We can have Sputnik V on the market here in future when the appropriate data have been reviewed”, she said, pointing out that the EMA has started its rolling review of the vaccine. At present, Sputnik V has been approved or is under review by national regulators in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Brussels has indicated that the bloc could start talks with manufacturers should four or more EU member states request the move. Wirthumer-Hoche noted that “data packages are coming from Russian manufacturers and of course they will be reviewed according to European standards for quality, safety and efficacy”.
Brussels, 8 March: Germany eases some restrictions
Some German states have begun to lift pandemic control restrictions imposed since December last year, DW reports. In some instances, German authorities have decided to allow citizens to meet with citizens from another household, while limited the number of adults at such meetings to five. In addition, citizens in some states are allowed to set up shopping appointments in their stores if the number of new infections per 100,000 citizens remains below 100 on weekly basis. Also, if conditions permit, non-contact outdoor sports will be allowed for up to 10 participants, while children below the age of 14 are allowed to engage in outdoor sports in groups of up to 20. The seven-day incidence currently stands at 68. The easing of restrictions is part of Germany’s five-step plan, with further steps to be taken biweekly should epidemiological trends prove positive.
Brussels, 4 March: WHO to scrap initial COVID-19 origin report as flawed
The World Health Organisation (WHO) team investigating the origin of COVID-19 plans to scrap the interim report on its recent probe in China as flawed, according to the Wall Street Journal, so Reuters reports. A group of international scientists has called for a new investigation. WHO has announced the full report should be released in the coming weeks but has not explained why it has been delayed. Chinese authorities refused to provide raw data on early cases to the WHO probe team, Dominic Dwyer, one of the team, said last month. This had hampered efforts to investigate the origin of the virus. The team was not allowed to conduct the first phase of research and was prevented from contact with community members, with its visits limited to those organised by Chinese authorities. The US has criticised the terms of the visit and accused China of covering up the extent of the initial coronavirus outbreak.
Brussels, 5 March: France pushes for EU solidarity over vaccination
France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, has warned that EU solidarity would be jeopardized if member states used COVID-19 vaccines developed by China or Russia, Reuters reports. Beaune pointed out that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) still has not approved the vaccines.”If they went to choose the Chinese and/or Russian vaccine, I think it would be quite serious”, he declared. Not only would it undermine EU solidarity, Beaune said, he believed use of the vaccines could present a health risk, since neither the Russian nor the Chinese vaccine had been approved for use in the bloc. In the wake of Brussels’ fumbled vaccination plan, EU member states are scrambling to acquire vaccines outside the bloc-approved scheme. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine has been approved or is in the process of being approved in three EU member states – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The EMA recently started a rolling review of the vaccine while the European Commission noted on Thursday that it is not negotiating a purchase of Sputnik V.
Brussels, 4 March: EU may extend export restrictions for COVID-19 vaccines
The EU is looking to extend restrictions on the export of COVID-19 vaccines which had been due to expire at the end of the month, according to two unnamed EU sources, Reuters reports. The sources noted that the bloc could extend the restrictions until the end of June, a move that could spark tensions with countries that are reliant on EU-made vaccines. “The Commission will propose its extension into June,” a senior EU diplomat observed, adding that this “was greeted by the member states with approval, not necessarily enthusiasm, but there is a feeling that we still need that mechanism”. A second diplomat asserted that many EU member states, including France and Germany, had shown their support for the measure at a meeting on Wednesday. The measure was implemented at the end of January in response to announcements by some pharmaceutical companies that their promised vaccine deliveries to the EU would be delayed.
Brussels, 4 March: EU’s medicines regulator launches Sputnik V rolling review
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) noted on Thursday that it had begun a rolling review of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, Reuters reports. Hungary was the first EU member state to approve the Russian COVID-19 vaccine on a national level. Slovakia has ordered the shots and the Czech Republic has announced plans to use the vaccine. The EMA stressed that it will review data from ongoing trials until it has enough evidence for a formal application. Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which promotes Sputnik V internationally, stressed the importance of not letting politics get in the way of the rollout. He predicted that several EU member states would approve the vaccine at national levels this month and concluded that Russia could start supplying the EU with vaccines in June should the EMA approve the shot by then.
Brussels, 3 March: Poland to manufacture US Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine
Polish biotech company Mabion is to start producing the US Novavax vaccine developer’s COVID-19 vaccines, the two companies having signed a preliminary agreement to collaborate, Reuters reports. The move is part of the Polish government’s efforts to step up its vaccination campaign, with the Polish Development Fund (PFR) providing financial support to Mabion. According to the agreement, Novavax will transfer its production technology to Mabion and the state fund will provide some US$ 11 million to help the company double its production capacity. Mabion expects the technology transfer will be wrapped up by the middle of the year. PFR CEO Paweł Borys pointed out that production capacity is the cause of delays in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries, stressing that the investment “is a direct response to these problems”. While the Novavax vaccine has yet to be approved by EU regulators, Poland has secured eight million doses as part of the bloc’s joint purchases.
Brussels, 3 March: World Bank grants and loans for vaccination campaigns in Africa
The World Bank is preparing grants and loans to support COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa, according to Reuters. The Bank notes that talks on financing projects are underway in Eswatini, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but did not provide any details. An unnamed spokesperson for the Bank said “the funds are available now, and for most African countries”, noting that “the financing would be on grant or highly concessional terms”. The spokesperson pointed out that the programme is the Bank’s first in support of national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa. Pointing to a second wave of coronavirus infections in Africa, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention last week called on pharmaceutical companies to waive some intellectual property rights in order to make more vaccines available in poorer countries more quickly.
Brussels, 1 March: EU anti-fraud agency warns against fraudulent vaccine resellers
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) warns that suspicious resellers have offered EU governments roughly one billion non-existent COVID-19 vaccine doses. OLAF noted that it is not aware of any EU government having been defrauded in this way thus far. Meanwhile, it is cooperating with pharmaceutical companies and government authorities to prevent such scams. OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said it was predictable that counterfeit vaccines would be pushed on the EU market and that it was important, therefore, to take preventive measures. He noted that pharmaceutical companies insist on selling vaccines directly to governments. Italian authorities are investigating an offer for vaccines from unnamed resellers to regional authorities in Veneto. Fraud attempts place added pressure on the EU’s vaccination campaign as the bloc aims to vaccinate 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer. So far, it has vaccinated approximately 5%, leaving it significantly behind Israel, the UK and the US.
Brussels, 1 March: Twitter to censor coronavirus information it deems to be false
Twitter social network has announced plans to step up its censorship of COVID-19 information it deems to be false, Reuters reports. The company noted that questionable information would come with a warning, adding that users who repeatedly violate the new rule would be banned on a permanent basis. Twitter reports having challenged more than 11.5 million accounts since it introduced rules against false information, and notes that it is stepping up its verification efforts. Katy Minshall, head of UK public policy at Twitter, pointed out “today we will begin applying labels to tweets that may contain misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to our continued efforts to remove the most harmful COVID-19 misleading information from the service”. The focus, she said, will be on claims about safety and effectiveness of vaccines since concerns have been expressed that distrust could jeopardise the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.
Brussels, 25 February: EU regulator issues guidance for COVID-19 vaccine modification
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) noted on Thursday that it has issued guidance for modification of COVID-19 vaccines to make them effective against different variants, Reuters reported on Friday. The announcement comes as the coronavirus continues to mutate and mutations continue to spread. The EMA pointed out that it assumes vaccines against new variants will be based on the same technology as their parent vaccines, in which case regulatory focus should be on the immune response. Noting that at least one trial would be needed for vaccines against new variants, the EMA stressed that “large-scale safety and efficacy studies are not needed”. It added that additional laboratory studies are not needed to support the development of vaccines against new variants, since the new vaccines should be made by the same manufacturer responsible for the parent vaccines.
Brussels, 25 February: AstraZeneca to deliver 40 million doses to EU this quarter
Pascal Soriot, CEO of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals conglomerate, has confirmed that the company is determined to deliver 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the EU by the end of the quarter, Reuters reports. This is less than half of what the company promised to deliver in the contract for the first quarter of 2021. The announcement is in line with AstraZeneca’s earlier warnings that it would not be able to provide 90 million shots by the end of the first quarter. “I am disappointed that lower-than-expected output in our dedicated European supply chain has affected our ability to deliver”, Soriot said. He noted that the company is doing everything it can to deliver the doses this quarter. He did not comment on AstraZeneca’s contractual obligation to deliver 180 million shots in the second quarter. The EU has fallen significantly behind the US and the UK with regard to vaccination of its citizens and has called on AstraZeneca to deliver more doses on several occasions.
Brussels, 25 February: Czech government tightens restrictions to stem surge
The Czech government is planning to tighten restrictions aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš warned on Wednesday that hospitals could be overwhelmed if the government fails to take action, as he announced talks with the opposition to discuss plans this evening. Yesterday, Interior Minister Jan Hamáček noted that tightening the restrictions would require an extension of the government’s state of emergency powers, something the parliament has previously rejected. He acknowledged the need to consult with the opposition, given its criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlíček insisted that proposed restrictions would not affect factories, which have remained open throughout the pandemic. According to Our World in Data, in the past week, the Czech Republic has suffered the highest per capita infection rate globally.
Brussels, 25 February: French-German border under tougher control
France has announced new restrictions at its border with Germany in response to the growing number of coronavirus infections in the Moselle region, Reuters reports. To date, cross-border workers had been allowed to travel freely between the German and French parts of the region. Now, they will have to present negative PCR tests for non-work related travel. The two countries announced earlier this week that they would try to prevent the closure of the border, but noted that joint police patrols could be stepped up. While France is avoiding a new nation-wide lockdown, it has imposed tougher restrictions locally. President Emmanuel Macron has been advocating against the closure of the bloc’s internal borders and criticised Germany for closing the border amid the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The Moselle region recently saw a growing number of infections of the South African variant, leading egional authorities to recommend a local lockdown.
Brussels, 24 February: Denmark to ease restrictions in March
The Danish government has announced plans to ease restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus next month, Reuters reports. Shops and some schools are to reopen, with authorities to allow outdoor activities of up to 25 people. Denmark’s Minister of Health and Elderly Affairs, Magnus Heunicke, cautioned that fewer restrictions could lead to more hospitalisations, and that hospital admissions could briefly peak in mid-April at approximately 880, in contrast to the current 247. Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen made the point that the planned reopening of stores should inject more than US$ 300,000 per month to the economy. On the other hand, he warned that “we have seen other countries that have gone too fast and lost control of the infection”, a fate Denmark must avoid at all costs.
Brussels, 24 February: Sweden to loosen rules for vaccinated elderly
Sweden will loosen rules for vaccinated care home residents, Anders Tegnell, State Epidemiologist of the Public Health Agency of Sweden (FoHM), has announced, Reuters reports. The move comes against a backdrop of rising infection rates over the last few weeks. The FoHM warned that rules could be tightened to curb the spread of coronavirus. While more than 80% of elderly care home residents have been vaccinated and 64% have received their second shot, according to the daily Dagens Nyheter, stricter measures for the rest of the country are to be announced tomorrow. “We have discussed how those who have been fully vaccinated can live, and we think it can be a little different from the very restrictive way they have been doing up to now,” Tegnell observed. Citing the restrictions in the UK as too strict, he indicated that once “we see that the spread of the infection is a little more stable, we can slowly start to ease a number of restrictions”.
Brussels, 22 February: Italy extends travel bans
The Italian government decided on Monday to extend bans on non-essential travel between regions until 27 March in an effort to control the spread of new coronavirus variants, Reuters reports. The ban, imposed before Christmas, was due to end on Thursday, but officials expressed concern over the possibility of a surge in cases of the new variants and extended the ban. The number of new daily confirmed cases has dropped from roughly 40,000 in November to below 15,000. Italy has received 4.69 million vaccine shots and through its vaccination campaign, launched at the end of 2020, it has administered about 3.5 million shots. Officials are considering whether to keep reserves for administering second shots or use all doses immediately, like the UK. According to La Stampa, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi is in favour of administering all available shots.
Brussels, 23 February: UK might lift restrictions in June
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed hope on Tuesday that authorities will lift corona pandemic restrictions on 21 June, according to Reuters. Johnson said that while it is difficult to make accurate predictions since the situation is volatile, he was “very optimistic that we’ll be able to get there”. Announcing the plan to lift the restrictions on Monday, he noted that some businesses would have to stay closed until the summer. According to the plan, restrictions on large events and night clubs will be the last to be removed. The government is insisting that the gradual easing of restrictions will be determined by data, not dates. The UK has administered COVID-19 vaccines to more than 25% of its population, making it the fastest rollout among large countries.
Brussels, 21 February: Belgians protest ‘absurd’ restrictions
Clergy and worshippers of different religions protested in Brussels on Sunday against restrictions that limit the number of people allowed to attend mass to 15, Reuters reported. Father Marc Leroy of the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart pointed out that the restriction “is an incredible absurdity”, noting that any restrictions should be proportionate to the size of buildings. The National Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world, but the restrictions take no account of its size and treat it just the same as significantly smaller places of worship in Belgium. The government imposed the blanket restriction in December last year. An unnamed Interior Ministry spokeswoman pointed out that the restrictions reflect the authorities’ concern and efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus. The government, she added, would address the issue of restrictions at a meeting slated for Friday.
Brussels, 22 February: GSK and Sanofi start COVID-19 vaccine trial
The UK’s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the French Sanofi pharmaceutical companies have announced started a trial of their COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters reports. The two companies predicted that the trial should reach the final stage in the second quarter of the year, allowing, they hoped, the vaccine to be approved by the end of the third quarter. In December last year, the pharmaceutical companies noted that the vaccine would be delayed because trials had shown poor immune response in older people. The trial to be carried out will be on 720 healthy people in the US, Honduras and Panama. The vaccine is based on the same technology as some of Sanofi’s influenza vaccines and will be coupled with GSK’s adjuvant, which acts as a booster.
Brussels, 19 February: Poland warns of third wave of infections
The Poland’s Ministry of Health warned on Friday that the country has been hit by a third wave of coronavirus infections, with the number of new confirmed cases showing a significant increase over last week, Reuters reports. Having recently reopened ski resorts, theatres, hotels and cinemas, authorities warn the measures may have to be rolled back, depending on epidemiological trends. Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz declared that the country is “at the beginning of the third wave,” albeit “not as dynamic as in Slovakia or the Czech Republic”. He pointed out that the British variant accounts for approximately 10% of coronavirus cases. He said the number of confirmed new cases stood at 8,777 on Friday and indicated that the weekly growth of infections had reached about 20%.
Brussels, 19 February: France starts testing dogs trained to find coronavirusFrance started testing dogs trained to find coronavirus this week in the greater Paris region in an effort to see how effective they can be, RFI reports. The dogs were trained at the Alfort veterinary school. Professor Dominique Grandjean asserted that dogs can be more accurate than swab tests, citing how trained dogs had identified coronavirus in patients who, while testing negative at the time, soon developed symptoms and tested positive. Three of the eight dogs in the being used in the trial have been provided by the United Arab Emirates and two others were borrowed from French fire brigade units. Grandjean noted that training the dogs to find coronavirus in no way interfered with their ability to continue helping firemen or to help in detecting illicit substances at airports. The use of dogs in the bid to identify cases of coronavirus infection can not only complement existing testing methods but provide a non-intrusive alternate to the standard form of testing.
Brussels, 18 February: Researchers call for efficient rationing of vaccines
Two researchers in Canada are calling for more efficient rationing of COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reports. Researchers Danuta Skowronski and Gaston De Serres write that Pfizer’s vaccine is 92.6% effective after the first dose, compared to the vaccine developed by Moderna with 92.1%. They note that providing the second dose provides “little added benefit in the short term” and stress the second shot could be used to vaccinate more people. At the same time, the researchers warn that administering only one dose could shorten the duration of protection. Responding to the claims by the two researcher, Pfizer noted that “it is critical for health authorities to conduct surveillance on implemented alternative dosing schedules to ensure that vaccines provide the maximum possible protection.” EU and US authorities are sticking by the intervals tested in their respective trials.
Brussels, 17 February: Pandemic response pushes global debt to GDP ratio beyond 355%
The response of authorities to the coronavirus pandemic has pushed global debt to GDP ratio over 355% in the last year, up 35 percentage points on the annual level, Reuters reports. Global debt stands at a record US$ 281 trillion, up approximately 24 trillion compared to one year ago. The Institute of International Finance (IIF) industry group estimates that government programmes account for approximately 50% of the increase, followed by companies, banks and households. “We expect global government debt to increase by another US$ 10 trillion this year and surpass 92 trillion”, the IIF report notes. It warns that political and social pressure on governments could limit economic recovery and jeopardise their ability to handle any future crises. Debt spikes were pronounced in the EU, with debt to GDP ratios of the non-financial sector increasing approximately 50 percentage points in Greece, France and Spain.
Brussels, 17 February: Croatia could buy Sputnik V before EU approval
According to Croatia’s Health Minister Vili Beroš, the country may buy Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine before it has been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Reuters reports. Beroš noted that the government has asked the national regulator to assess the vaccine. EU’s slow vaccine rollout is putting pressure on governments to take action. Thus far, neighbouring Hungary is the only EU member state to start using the Chinese and Russian vaccines without EMA approval. “Each government must take care about the health of its citizens,” Beroš said, pointing out that “it is not illegitimate to seek solutions also outside the European Union, especially if there is a delay in deliveries within the EU framework.” He noted that Russia is planning to seek EMA approval for Sputnik V but concluded that Croatia would not necessarily wait.
Brussels, 16 February: EU regulator to decide on J&J vaccine next month
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on Tuesday it could decide whether to approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US Johnson & Johnson (J&J) pharmaceuticals by mid-March, Reuters reports. J&J noted that it had submitted applications for approval of its vaccine to the EMA as well as to the US authorities. According to the results of a study released in January, the vaccine was 66% effective against multiple variants of the virus. While not as effective as its rivals, the vaccine developed by J&J requires one shot and does not need to be shipped frozen. The EMA says it can fast-track the review since it had been assessing some of the data in real time. J&J indicated it could start distributing the vaccine in the EU in the second quarter of the year.
Brussels, 15 February: European Anti-Fraud Office warns of fake vaccines
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has warned EU member states against fake COVID-19 vaccines, according to Reuters. The OLAF pointed out that hoaxers want “to defraud national authorities looking to step up the pace of vaccination to keep their citizens safe”, as vaccination campaigns across the bloc are struggle to cope with supply disruptions. The Office noted that it helped seize more than 14 million items since the start of its investigation in March last year, including fake test kits. The EU is looking to vaccinate at least 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer, but is facing vaccine delivery delays as well as hoaxes.
Brussels, 15 February: WHO approves vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and OxfordThe World Health Organisation (WHO) announced Monday that it has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for emergency use, Reuters reports. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared “we now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines.” He also stressed the need to scale up production. He called on vaccine developers to submit applications for approval to the WHO “at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries.” The vaccine accounts for the lion’s share of doses in the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by the WHO , since more than 330 million doses are to be rolled out from the end of the month to poorer countries. The AstraZeneca vaccine is less expensive and more easily distributed compared to some rivals.
Brussels, 14 February: Germany tightens border control to curb infections
Germany imposed tighter restrictions on its borders with fellow EU member states Austria and the Czech Republic in a further move to curb the spread of coronavirus, AP reported on Sunday. While infection rates in Germany have been declining over the last weeks, officials worry about possible impacts of the variants from South Africa and the UK. Both mutations have been confirmed in Germany, but apparently account for a small proportion of cases. Markus Söder, Minister President of Bavaria, warned that failing to take the variants seriously “would mean significant consequences.” Horst Seehofer, Federal Minister of the Interior, Building and Community, noted that cross-border commuters who work in “systemically relevant sectors” will be allowed to cross and concluded that authorities will be “pragmatic wherever it is possible.”
Brussels, 12 February: AstraZeneca signing new manufacturing agreements in EU
The British-Swedish AstraZeneca biotech company is signing new manufacturing deals in the EU in an effort to produce coronavirus vaccines in the bloc, Politico reported on Friday. The company had only one plant authorised to manufacture the vaccine in the EU at the end of January and is now signing manufacturing deals to increase production in the bloc, including one with the German IDT Biologika biotech company. AstraZeneca announced in January a 60% cut in coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU, which the European Commission criticised heavily. After negotiations with the EC, the company announced that it would supply the bloc with 40 million vaccine doses in the first quarter of the year, with some to be imported from the production site in the US. According to unnamed sources, AstraZeneca is also engaged in talks with manufacturers in China and Russia.
Brussels, 11 February: Croatia to ease restrictions next week
The Croatian government announced plans to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions next week, Reuters reported on Thursday. Epidemiological trends have been positive for the last several weeks, with the number of confirmed new cases standing at 376 on Thursday, significantly lower compared to the peak of about 4,500 in December last. The Government decided to allow restaurants and coffee shops to sell beverages to go, having been closed since November. The neighbouring EU member state Slovenia decided to ease restrictions as well, scrapping mandatory negative coronavirus tests for those entering the country. Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs stressed that travel restrictions within the country will remain in force during the night only, starting from next week.
Brussels, 12 February: EU regulator to speed up approval of CureVac vaccine
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced today that it had begun a real-time review of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by German CureVac bio-pharmaceutical company in a bid to speed up its potential approval, Reuters reports. CureVac started mass testing in December last year and initial study results are expected next month or in April. The EMA pointed out it decided to start the review based on preliminary results of early clinical and laboratory studies. “Rolling review” processes speed up approval of effective vaccines since it allows researchers to submit findings in real time, before final data is ready. All coronavirus vaccines approved in the EU went through rolling review processes. CureVac is cooperating with UK’s GSK on the development of a different coronavirus vaccine that should be effective against several variants of the virus.
Brussels, 10 February: Germany extends nationwide lockdown at least until March
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders have agreed to extend the nationwide lockdown at least until 7 March, DW reported yesterday. The previous deadline was 14 February and the extension was agreed as infection numbers decline. The latest lockdown, imposed in November last year, was tightened before Christmas. Merkel will next meet with state leaders on 3 March to reassess the situation. While some experts maintain that schools are hotspots, researchers at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, concerned that some children are suffering from mental health problems amid the lockdowns, have been urging schools to reach out to students. At Wednesday’s meeting, Merkel and state leaders agreed to allow hair salons to reopen on 1 March and noted that day-care centres and schools should reopen gradually, leaving it to the states to decide when and how.
Brussels, 10 February: EU regulator has not received Sputnik V application
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reported Wednesday that it has not received an application for the approval of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Reuters reports. “The developers have received scientific advice from EMA providing them with the latest regulatory and scientific guidance for the development of their vaccine,” EMA noted. The EU regulator added that it is in contact with the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed the vaccine, to decide how to proceed. According to peer-reviewed trial results released in The Lancet medical journal earlier this month, Sputnik V is 91.6% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The EMA has approved three coronavirus vaccines thus far — those developed by Moderna, Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech.
Brussels, 10 February: Israeli scientists claim a drug speeds up recovery from COVID-19
According to preliminary results of a trial conduced on 30 patients in Tel Aviv, Israeli scientists have developed a drug that speeds up recovery from COVID-19, according to a Times of India report on Wednesday. The drug, EXO-CD24, was originally developed in 2020 to treat cancer. Trial results show that 29 of the 30 patients recovered from COVID-19 in four days, compared to an average recovery time of three to four weeks. The scientists stress the need for further studies and trials, but note that preliminary results show an efficacy rate of 96% when used on patients with moderate to severe symptoms. Nadir Arber, one of the scientists involved in the research, pointed out that “even if the vaccines do their job, and even if there aren’t any new mutations, one way or another, the coronavirus will be staying with us.” He concluded that EXO-CD24 should lower the pressure on the medical community.
Brussels, 10 February: WHO team proposes four scenarios for pandemic origin
After wrapping up their visit to Wuhan in China, the World Health Organisation (WHO) investigating team proposed four scenarios for the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. In the first scenario, one person came into direct contact with an infected horseshoe bat. In the second scenario the transmission to humans was via an unidentified intermediary species. According to the third scenario, promoted by China, the virus was imported via frozen foods. According to the fourth scenario, the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology which studied coronaviruses. Ben Embarek, head of the WHO team, ruled out this latter possibility as “very unlikely” and said the team would not investigate it further. Bat populations around Wuhan have been ruled out as a source of the pandemic. Liang Wannian of the Chinese National Health Commission pointed out the origin of the virus remains unclear. China criticised the idea of investigating the origin of the virus, noting it would cooperate only if it is not expected to take the blame for the pandemic.
Brussels, 8 February: Facebook announces more COVID-19 censorship
Facebook has announced plans to ramp up censorship of COVID-19 claims it deems false, Reuters reported on Monday. The US tech giant insists that claims the new coronavirus was man-made are false, making clear that such claims will be censored. In contrast, the World Health Organisation team continues its investigation into the origins of the virus. Facebook noted that it will censor accounts and groups that repeatedly share health claims it sees as false and believes could cause “imminent harm.” At the end of last year, Facebook announced plans to censor any such health claims while adding that it would help users reach coronavirus vaccines. The tech giant stated its intention is to target select racial groups and people aged over 50 with educational content tailored for them in order to address their concerns about new vaccines.
Brussels, 9 February: French Health Minister defends pushback against lockdown callsFrance’s Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, has defended the government’s decision to push back against demands by some medics for a new nationwide lockdown, Reuters reported on Tuesday. He pointed out that “it is possible and indeed preferable” to avoid a new lockdown, stressing that epidemiological trends are stable and adding that the current situation does not warrant a new nationwide lockdown. Some health officials had expressed concern that the situation would take a turn for the worse and demanded a new lockdown, warning that new coronavirus variants are more contagious. “We are monitoring the progression of the South African variant,” Véran stated, noting that “we are considering increasing the protection of health workers in overseas territories.” While the number of new confirmed infections stood at 4,317 on Monday, in contrast with 19,715 on Sunday, the number of cases requiring hospitalisation increased by 343 and stood at 28,037.
Brussels, 8 February: Minister President of Bavaria wants to extend German lockdown
Minister President of Bavaria Markus Söder insists it is too early to lift the lockdown in Germany, stressing the move would risk a new wave of coronavirus infections, Reuters reports. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and heads of German states are to hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of easing current restrictions.. Söder stressed that if Germany opens “everything in one fell swoop, then within two, three weeks we will be in a situation maybe even worse than before.” He reiterated that making a mistake could cause a new wave of infections and concluded that the lockdown imposed at the end of 2020 will have to be extended.
Brussels, 7 February: Positive epidemiological trends in France continue
The number of confirmed new infections in France dropped on Sunday, making it the fourth consecutive day of decline, according to Reuters. The figure stood at 19,175 on Sunday, down from 20,586 on Saturday, according to Health Ministry records. At the same time, the number of patients treated for COVID-19 in hospitals increased from 27,369 on Saturday to 27,694 on Sunday, while the number of patients in intensive care rose from 3,225 to 3,272. Despite several medics insisting on a new nationwide lockdown, French authorities are opposing the idea, They maintain that the spread of coronavirus can be curbed through stricter rules on foreign travel and the evening curfew. Some health experts are concerned about the growing number of infections with the variant first detected in the UK. Epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet predicted the new variant could account for the majority of new cases starting with March.
Brussels 8 February: Belgian restrictions continue until spring
Until the end of February, Belgian citizens and residents will not be allowed leave the country without presenting documentation showing a valid reason to travel. With an eye to the upcoming school holidays, the government has indicated that people face the risk of fines and being turned back at the border, should they attempt to travel solely for leisure purposes n the coming weeks. Next weekend, hairdressers will re-open after 16 weeks of closure. Zoos and recreational parks will also be permitted to re-open.
Despite pleas from restaurant and bar owners, food will be served as take-away only and bars will remain closed. The country’s health minister has ruled out fully opening the hospitality sector even in March. Meanwhile, the number of patients in intensive care due to corona has dropped drastically, as has the number of deaths attributed to the disease. Belgium’s residents still grapple with a 10pm curfew, which has been in effect since November, with no end in sight.
Brussels, 5 February: EC President laments bloc’s inertia and excessive optimism
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lamented the bloc’s excessive optimism about the vaccination campaign and its inertia, DW reported Friday. “Of course, a country on its own can be a speed boat, the EU is more like a tanker,” she noted. The whole point of a joint coronavirus vaccine procurement scheme was to avoid competition between EU member states, which she acknowledged made the process slower. Von der Leyen insisted the bloc still aims to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of the summer, while cautioning that further complications can be expected. MEP Manon Aubry, representing the left wing and far left group GUE/NGL, commended von der Leyen for appearing before MEPs, but stressed that “the Commission will have to do much more to rebuild its tarnished image and win back the confidence of EU citizens.” Her colleague Martin Schirdewan added “we need to see from the Commission a complete rethink about how it has approached the pandemic and greater sensitivity to the immense hardship ordinary Europeans are facing.”
Brussels, 5 February: France against new lockdown, several medics disagree
The French government is against imposing new lockdowns, while several medics disagree and are calling for additional restrictions to be imposed, Reuters reports. France is currently under curfew, with Prime Minister Jean Castex noting that that the situation is fragile, yet not so severe as to warrant a third lockdown. Frédéric Valletoux, head of the Hospital Federation of France, pointed out that he has been calling for a new lockdown and noted that the situation in hospitals in France remains under control. Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at the Saint Antoine Hospital, noted that France is “still at a high plateau” and warned that “at one point it will be too high and, to bring it down, new restrictive measures will be inevitable.”
Brussels, 4 February: Britain says there are around 4,000 COVID variants around the world
Britain estimated on Thursday that there are around 4,000 variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 as the virus continues to spread and mutate, Reuters reports. Nadhim Zahawi, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment, asserts it is highly unlikely that developed vaccines will fail to be effective against new mutations. At the same time, he points out that “all manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and others, are looking at how they can improve their vaccine to make sure that we are ready for any variant.” The UK started trials on Thursday to assess the effectiveness of combining vaccines from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the British-Swedish AstraZeneca. Initial data is expected around June this year.
Brussels, 3 February: German study shows trained dogs can detect coronavirusHanover University of Veterinary Medicine has trained dogs to detect COVID-19 with a 94% accuracy rate, DW reported on Wednesday. Holger Volk, head of the Small Animal Clinic at the University, pointed out that “dogs can really sniff out people with infections and without infections, as well as asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID patients.” Volk stressed that the University’s study shows trained dogs accurately detected the presence of coronavirus in 94% of the cases. Minister-President of Lower Saxony Stephan Weil welcomed the study but noted the need for additional testing before deploying dogs to sniff out coronavirus. Trained dogs could be used to prevent the spread of the virus in large crowds at airports and sports arenas as well as mass gatherings. Finland started using dogs to detect the virus in September last year at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
Brussels, 3 February: WHO investigation team visits virus lab in Wuhan
The investigation team led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) completed its visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology on Wednesday as part of the search for the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. While some scientists call on China to release data on coronavirus samples studied in the Institute in order to see if any compare with the one that caused the pandemic, the wire service report disclaims the laboratory origin hypothesis as a conspiracy theory. Meanwhile, China is pushing the hypothesis that the pandemic did not originate in the country, asserting it was imported on frozen food. The WHO points out that probe team members are confined to investigating what their Chinese hosts permit and that they are not allowed to have contact with community members due to health restrictions. The team has two weeks to conduct its inquiries, having had to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival in Wuhan.
Brussels, 2 February: Russian Sputnik V more than 91% effective
The Sputnik V vaccine developed in Russia is 91.6% effective against COVID-19 according to peer-reviewed, phase III trial results published in The Lancet general medical journal, Reuters reported on Tuesday. The vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, with the late-stage trial results in line with data from earlier stages. Results are based on data from close to 20,000 volunteers. The trials in Moscow started in September last year. The Sputnik V is the fourth coronavirus vaccine to have late-stage results published in top peer-reviewed medical journals and the third with average efficacy of more than 90%. According to The Lancet summary, the vaccine is 91.8% effective in those aged 60 and over. Gamaleya noted on Tuesday that the vaccine is approved for storage in refrigerators, rather than freezers, which alleviates many logistical problems.
Brussels, 1 February: French restaurant owners favour civil disobedience despite government threats
Some French restaurant owners decided against dropping civil disobedience despite government threats to deprive them of aid, RFI reported on Monday. Proprietors had announced plans to re-open their establishments last week, when the government responded by threatening to cut off aid. Yesterday, the French Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery, Bruno Le Maire, observed that while “it’s extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,” this does not justify civil disobedience. Clearly disagreeing, restaurant owner Gérard Viau pointed out that “despite the threats from the government and the fact we know the gendarmes will come, at some point they have to stop treating us like idiots.” He cited the fact that big shops are allowed to stay open and are crowded as the reason why he has opted for civil disobedience.
Brussels, 1 February: UN pushes for discrimination based on sex
UN Under-Secretary-General, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive-Director of UN Women, asserted on Monday that countries should make appointments to top positions based on sex, Reuters reports. More women in leadership roles will lead to a stronger world after the coronavirus crisis, she maintained in an interview with the news agency, noting that equality of outcomes between the two sexes has not been achieved. Mlambo-Ngcuka observed that sex-based appointments are not picking up pace as quickly as she would like. She also asserted that non-white women want to see more people who look like them in top posts. Establishing quotas based on sex quotas would help push more women into politics, she claimed, noting that women tend not to focus on politics. She described sexual innuendo and body-shaming as forms of violence and said they should be criminalised. Mlambo-Ngcuka insists women should hold leading roles for the sake of inclusion. UN Women estimates that equality of outcomes between the sexes will not be achieved for 130 years at the current pace.
Brussels 1 February The EU’s Centre for Disease Control added a dark red zone to its existing categories of green, orange, red and grey in the weekly map published to show the incidence of COVID-19 cases. The latest colour code will apply to areas where the virus is present at high levels, as well as indicating the more infectious variants of concern. These are defined as areas where the 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate is 500 per 100 000 people or more.
EU countries should discourage all non-essential travel to red and dark red areas, while seeking to avoid disruptions to essential travel. Perrsons leaving an area classified as dark red should undergo a test for COVID-19 infection prior to arrival elsewhere and then enter quarantine or self-isolation. Similar measures could apply to areas with a high prevalence of variants of concern.
Given the increase in COVID-19 testing capacity, EU countries have the option to require travellers coming from orange, red and grey areas to do a test before departure. Transport workers and transport service providers should, in principle, not be required to undergo a test. Where a member states requires them to undergo a test, rapid antigen tests should be used.
According to the current state of EU rules, people who live in border regions and cross the border daily or frequently for work, study or family reasons should not be required to undergo testing or quarantine. If a testing requirement is introduced, the frequency of tests on such persons should be proportionate. EU countries follow the recommendation by the European Centre for Disease Control to avoid non-essential travel, given the fear of the new variants of corona spreading. In this way, EU countries aim to prevent the reintroduction of internal border controls.
Brussels, 31 January: EC President says AstraZeneca will deliver 40 million doses by April
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted on Sunday that the British-Swedish AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals company will deliver some 40 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the EU in the first quarter of this year, according to Reuters reporting. She pointed out that deliveries should start one week ahead of schedule, adding that the company is to expand its production capacities in the EU. AstraZeneca had originally committed to deliver at least 80 million vaccine doses to the bloc in the first quarter of the year, but earlier last month announced that it would be unable to make good on the deal because of production problems in its EU plants. This triggered a simmering dispute with EU authorities and the bloc, which flared up ever further when the company adjusted its delivery offer to 31 million doses last week.
Brussels, 1 February: German BioNTech and US Pfizer have promised to deliver up to 75 million more vaccine
German BioNTech and US Pfizer have promised to deliver up to 75 million more vaccine doses to the bloc in the second quarter of the year, according to BioNTech CFO Sierk Poetting, DW reported Monday. The two companies stated their plan to overcome production shortfalls by opening a new production facility in Marburg, Germany, this month. The facility should have an output of 750 million doses annually. The two companies are planning to make approximately 2 billion doses for the bloc by the end of the year, up from the originally planned 1.3 billion doses. The announcement comes before the meeting scheduled between Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of German states to discuss ways to improve Germany’s vaccination campaign. The EU has been struggling with vaccine rollouts because of shortages arising from production problems faced by the bloc’s designated suppliers, BioNTech and Pfizer as well as UK-Swedish AstraZeneca.
Brussels, 29 January: WHO team visits Wuhan hospital that treated early patients
The investigative team led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has visited the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine in Wuhan, which treated some of the first coronavirus cases in late 2019, Reuters reports. “We are in the hospital that treated some of the first known cases of COVID-19, meeting with the actual clinicians and staff who did this work, having open discussions about the details of their work,” team member Peter Daszak noted. Chinese Communist Party-controlled media have been claiming the virus was imported from Europe on frozen foods and that the Fort Detrick US Army Medical Command installation was connected with the pandemic.
Brussels, 29 January: Still no agreement between EU and AstraZeneca on contract breachAstraZeneca offered earlier this week to deliver up to 39 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to the EU in the first quarter this year, according to an unnamed EU official involved in talks with the pharmaceutical company, according to a Reuters report. The official said the offer was deemed unacceptable, and that the company had been reminded that it is contractually obliged to supply the bloc with at least 80 million doses by the start of the second quarter. AstraZeneca announced it would cut vaccine deliveries to the EU last week, citing production issues in Belgium. EU officials noted the company is planning to deliver 31 million doses to the bloc by the end of March. On Tuesday, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot insisted that the company is under no legal obligation to deliver vaccines to the EU on a precise timetable. EC President Ursula von der Leyen stated on Friday that AstraZeneca has binding obligations and cannot make commitments with other clients at the expense of the bloc.
Brussels, 27 January: Norway to close borders to non-residents
The Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg announced Wednesday that the country would close its borders to all non-residents other than essential visitors, Reuters reports. “What we see is that the mutated virus has spread significantly in many countries that do not monitor the extent of mutations in the same way as Norway, Denmark and Britain do,” she stressed. Norway announced a lockdown of the capital region on Saturday after an outbreak of the coronavirus strain first observed in the UK was confirmed. Solberg noted that the number of coronavirus infections in Norway is in decline, with the new infection rate among the lowest in Europe according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Brussels, 28 January: WHO investigators leave quarantine in WuhanThe investigation team lead by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that is to probe the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has left quarantine in Wuhan after two weeks in a local hotel, Reuters reports. While the WHO did not release details of the team’s itinerary, team leader Peter Ben Embarek noted back in November that the team would likely visit the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the apparent origin of the virus. After leaving their hotel, team members boarded a bus, declining to speak to the press. The US has accused Chinese authorities of manipulating information relating to the pandemic’s origins. It has also been critical of the terms under which the WHO-led team’s visit is being conducted.
Brussels, 27 January: England to introduce mandatory quarantine
UK residents arriving back from coronavirus hotspots to England will have to quarantine in hotels according to the latest plans, BBC reports. The hotspots in question include southern Africa and Portugal, where a new variant of the coronavirus has been spreading. The Labour Party insists all arrivals should have to quarantine, with party leader Kier Starmer stressing the importance of stricter border controls. Senior ministers have agreed to expand the list of hotspots in the future as needed. Home Secretary Priti Patel pointed out that measures are always under review, indicating that the government would not shy away from taking further action with the aim of protecting the UK from the pandemic.
Brussels, 27 January: Economists expect COVID-19 response to suppress economic growth this year
A majority of economists who took part in a Reuters poll have predicted that the response to the coronavirus pandemic will suppress economic growth this year, the news agency reported today. The economists expect global GDP to return to pre-coronavirus crisis levels in two years. Approximately 500 economists from Asia, Europe and the Americas who took part in the poll neither changed nor downgraded growth outlooks compared to previous surveys. Aditya Bhave, global economist at the Bank of America, noted that “as vaccine rollouts begin the world over, we are racing against time to head off the impact of potentially more contagious strains of the coronavirus.” He warned “the biggest downside risk to the global economy is that vaccines prove to be ineffective against the new mutations.” He cautioned that the emergence of a strain that is vaccine-resistant could cost the global economy one quarter.
Brussels, 26 January: Germany opens first jail for quarantine violators
Germany has opened its first facility for detaining quarantine violators in Neumünster in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, DW reports. The facility is a repurposed part of a juvenile detention centre and comprises six rooms. Neumünster Council representative Sönke Schulz stressed that people who do not comply with quarantine orders put others at risk and pointed out the “infection protection act therefore rightly allows isolation in locked facilities as the last resort.” Schulz asserted that detention in the facility “should not really be any different from quarantining at home,” but violators will have to follow the orders of the guards and will be locked up. Most other German states have decided against setting up facilities for detaining quarantine violators.
Brussels, 26 January: South Africa rebukes wealthy countries for hoarding vaccines
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa rebuked wealthy countries for hoarding coronavirus vaccines at a virtual World Economic Forum meeting on Tuesday. He stressed the need for global coordination and cooperation amidst the pandemic, Reuters reports. Ramaphosa warned that some countries had acquired four times more vaccines than their populations actually required. “We are all not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people and other countries are not vaccinating”, he declared. Meanwhile, US Pfizer pharmaceuticals announced a temporary cut in vaccine deliveries to the EU this month and UK-Swedish AstraZeneca noted on Monday that there would be delays in deliveries to the EU. Germany’s Minister of Health Jens Spahn proposed a register of vaccine exports over delays in vaccine deliveries and other supply issues, in declaring that the bloc is not getting its fair share.
Brussels, 24 January: Curfew protests in the Netherlands turn violent
Protesters against the night-time curfew imposed in the Netherlands to control the coronavirus pandemic clashed with police in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and other cities, DW reported on Sunday. Police used dogs, batons and water cannon to disperse the protests as rioters set vehicles ablaze and looted shops near the main railway station in Eindhoven, according to Omroep Brabant reporting. Police noted more than 100 people were detained on Sunday. Authorities issued more than 3,600 fines on Saturday as the curfew came into force, with violators facing fines of 95 euro each. Protests come in the wake of the fall of the Dutch government earlier this month.
Brussels, 25 January: Ukraine lifts some coronavirus restrictions
Ukraine decided to reopen gyms, restaurants and schools on Monday, having closed them on 8 January to help curb the spread of coronavirus, Reuters reports. The number of daily new coronavirus cases in Ukraine has dropped significantly – from some 9,000 in early January to 2,516 on Monday. Minister of Healthcare, Maksym Stepanov, pointed out that “such statistics, which indicate the stabilisation of the situation, the improvement of which could be obtained only thanks to you, Ukrainians.” He pointed out that the Ministry will analyse the effects of the lockdown in the coming days, while underscoring his preference for a return to a localised approach to restrictions.
Brussels, 21 January: Netherlands to impose night-time curfew
The Dutch parliament has approved its first night-time curfew since WWII with the latest pandemic-control measure to go into effect from Saturday, Reuters reports. Due to stay in place until 9 February, curfew hours will be between 9 p.m. and 4.30 a.m. The only ones allowed to leave their homes during curfew will be people with medical emergencies, essential workers and those needing to walk their pets. Curfew violations will result in a fine of 95 euro. While infections in the Netherlands have been decreasing in the last three weeks or so, authorities have warned that without tighter restrictions, next month could see a new surge.
Brussels, 22 January: EU heads looking at stricter border rulesEuropean Council President Charles Michel noted after Thursday’s EU summit that additional restrictions should be imposed across the bloc in the coming days in order to discourage non-essential travel, RFI reports. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of avoiding unilateral border closures between EU member states if the bloc’s Common Market is to keep functioning. Closing the borders would not help in the fight against the pandemic, she observed, but it would cause severe damage to the EU economy. Von der Leyen also indicated that negative coronavirus test results could become mandatory for entering the EU from Sunday.
Brussels, 21 January: WB approves $34mn for vaccination campaign in Lebanon
The World Bank (WB) has approved a reallocation of US$ 34 million for the coronavirus vaccination campaign in Lebanon, Reuters reports. The decision to reallocate the funds from the existing Lebanon Health Resilience Project is the first WB-financed operation to finance procurement of coronavirus vaccines. The move should secure vaccinations for more than two million people and the first shots are to arrive early next month. The WB said that by protecting people, the vaccination campaign would help the economy to recover. Infection rates in Lebanon reached the highest levels in the region, with more than 6,000 new cases confirmed on Friday.
Brussels, 20 January: China criticises Western coronavirus vaccines
Chinese state-controlled media have been criticising Western coronavirus vaccines while promoting Chinese vaccines in the past week, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The reports from Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s outlets follow Western criticism of Chinese vaccines for a lack of data disclosure. One Chinese report claimed media in the US and the UK are propagandising on behalf of the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Reports warn that Pfizer is not a reliable supplier and add that Chinese vaccines are more affordable and accessible and that they are easier to transport. Approximately half of the reports pointed to instances where patients in Norway died after receiving vaccines developed by Pfizer and the German BioNTech biotech company. Norwegian authorities stressed earlier this week they have not found a causal link between vaccinations and deaths.
Brussels, 20 January: India starts exporting coronavirus vaccines
India exported the first batch of locally made coronavirus vaccines today, with the Maldives and Bhutan the first recipients, RFI reports. India’s move is seen partly as a push to increase its soft power and to challenge its rival China, which also supplies other countries with vaccines. Indian regulators approved two coronavirus vaccines this month — Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. After the Maldives and Bhutan, India will ship vaccines to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Seychelles. The country is planning to offer 20 million doses to countries in South Asia, according to Bloomberg reporting last week.
Brussels, 20 January: WHO notes the British strain of coronavirus has reached 60 countries
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns the strain of coronavirus first identified in the UK has spread to at least 60 countries, 10 more than a week ago, according to RFI reporting. WHO added that the variant first identified in South Africa has now been confirmed in 23 countries, noting that it too is believed to be more transmissible. The global coronavirus death toll has exceeded two million and the total number of reported cases is approaching 100 million, according to AFP.
Brussels, 18 January: Germany to hold quarantine breakers in detention centres
Some German states could detain people who refuse quarantine and keep them in detention centres, according to new regional regulations, the Telegraph reported on Monday. Saxony has confirmed the plan to detain quarantine breakers in a section of a refugee camp which is to be constructed next week. Local authorities say the new facility will only be used for detaining repeat quarantine breakers. According to Germany’s Welt daily, three other states have built or are building similar facilities. Baden-Württemberg plans to detain such offenders in police-guarded rooms at two hospitals, while Schleswig-Holstein will use a part of a juvenile detention centre. MP Joana Cotar of the Alternative for Germany party criticised authorities in Saxony for “reading too much Orwell.”
Brussels, 19 January: WHO head criticises rich countries for hoarding vaccines
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has criticised wealthy nations for buying up and hoarding coronavirus vaccines. He told the WHO Executive Board on Monday that this would prolong the pandemic and that the poorest countries would be left to pay the price, according to DW reporting. He criticised pharmaceutical companies for going after regulatory approvals rather than global approval through the WHO, adding that their prime motivation was profit. Ghebreyesus warned that plans to start delivering vaccines to some of the poorest countries in February are in jeopardy and that hopes of ending the pandemic quickly were fading.
Brussels, 17 January: Thousands protest against lockdown in Amsterdam
Several thousand people protested in Amsterdam against the nationwide lockdown in the Netherlands imposed with the aim of controlling the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported on Sunday. Riot police dispersed the protest with water cannon, which was unauthorised as the authorities rejected the application to hold the demonstration on the Museum Square. The Dutch government ordered schools and most shops to close in December as part of efforts aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, extending the lockdown last week by at least three more weeks.
Brussels, 17 January: Portugal’s Health Minister warns health system is strained
Portugal’s Minister of Health Marta Temido warned on Sunday the health system is under extreme pressure from the surge in coronavirus cases, according to Reuters reporting. According to Health Ministry data, Portugal’s health system can accommodate 672 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), with the Directorate-General of Health noting the number of people in ICUs reached 647 on Sunday. The Portuguese Association of Hospital Administrators warned the number of COVID-19 patients who need hospitalisation will likely increase significantly this week. Daniel Ferro, director of St. Mary’s Hospital in Lisbon, warned the hospital is “already treating patients beyond our installed capacity” and concluded that more hospitals are in the same situation.
Brussels, 14 January: Russia plans to submit Sputnik V vaccine for approval in EU
Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) CEO Kirill Dmitriev announced Russia will submit the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for approval in the EU next month, Reuters reported on Thursday. Dmitriev said regulators in nine countries are expected to approve the vaccine this month. He added that it has already been approved for use in Argentina, Belarus and Serbia. Peer-reviewed studies are to be released soon, he noted. These would demonstrate the high efficiency of the vaccine, which is to be produced in seven countries. Russia has the fourth highest number of coronavirus cases in the world and is planning to launch its mass vaccination campaigns next week.
Brussels, 15 January: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he hoped the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition would decide on the use of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, Reuters reports. Having criticising the EU’s centralised procurement scheme as too slow, Hungary yesterday announced it had reached an agreement with Sinopharm to buy its vaccine. According to a poll conducted by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, willingness to get a coronavirus vaccine has increased, with 27% of respondents determined to get a shot. Orbán insisted that Hungary’s capacity for administering vaccinations far exceeds the amount of doses available from the EU.
Brussels, 14 January: Denmark has vaccinated about 2% of its population
Denmark tops the list of EU member states with regard to vaccinations, having given coronavirus shots to some 2% of its population. Health workers and the elderly should be vaccinated by April, according to health authorities, with shots to be made available to the rest of the population after that. Søren Brostrøm, head of the Danish Health Authority, notes that other bodies are involved in the vaccination campaign and adds “we have a really good and well-functioning collaboration with the regions, the municipalities and the general practitioners on the practical planning of the vaccinations.” Danes strongly support the vaccination campaign, he noted, more so than citizens of other European countries.
Brussels, 13 January: Restrictions imposed in different EU member states
Authorities in the Netherlands decided on Monday to keep schools and stores closed for an additional three weeks, having tightened restrictions in December. German authorities have closed many shops, schools and kindergartens. They are to remain closed at least until the end of the month. Italy has closed schools, bars and stores in areas with the highest infection rates. It has vaccinated more than 800,000 people thus far. In Ireland, people are not allowed to visit the homes of others, non-essential businesses are closed and the number allowed to attend weddings has been limited to six. Sweden is struggling with infection rates greater than 500 per 100,000 people and authorities may use new powers secured with the passage of new regulations last week to close shopping malls and gyms.
Brussels, 13 January: Germany could extend lockdown beyond February
Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn, announced on Wendesday that coronavirus restrictions might need to be extended beyond February and that people need to adhere to the measures imposed if the pandemic is to be controlled, DW reports. “The numbers of infections and deaths are still too high and we need to reduce them,” Spahn declared, noting that the government should be able to offer vaccinations to everybody by summer. It would require several months for the vaccination campaign to yield results, he cautioned, so it might not be possible to ease all restrictions by the start of February.
Brussels, 12 January: EMA could approve Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this month
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on Tuesday that it could approve the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca by 29 January if “the data submitted on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are sufficiently robust and complete.” The EMA has approved the vaccines developed by US Pfizer and German BioNTech, as well as the vaccine developed by US Moderna, for use across the bloc. Thus far, the EU has closed six contracts for up to 2 billion vaccine doses for the bloc’s estimated population of 450 million.
Brussels, 12 January: EU concludes preliminary talks with Valneva on its vaccine
The EU notes that it has wrapped up preliminary talks with the French Valneva biotech company on the supply of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, Reuters reports. The bloc is planning to purchase up to 60 million doses of the vaccine, making Valneva the eighth company to negotiate the sale of vaccines with the EU. “The envisaged contract with Valneva would provide for the possibility for all EU member states to purchase together 30 million doses, and they could further purchase up to 30 million more doses,” an EU Commission statement notes. “If clinical development is successful, an initial approval may be granted in the second half of 2021,” Valneva announced.
Brussels, 12 January: Merkel expects lockdown to last until early AprilGermany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the lockdown in Germany to last until early April, according to participants of the meeting of lawmakers in Merkel’s party, Reuters reports. The German daily Bild reports Merkel was concerned that “if we don’t manage to stop this British virus, then we will have 10 times the number of cases by Easter.” However, three unnamed participants in the meeting note that Merkel made no explicit comment about extending the lockdown. Nor did she warn of a potential tenfold increase in the number of cases. Germany imposed tougher restrictions last week, extending the lockdown until the end of the month.
WHO on herd immunity
Brussels, 11 January: Dale Fisher, the World Health Organisation’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network chair, warns the vaccination campaigns will not provide herd immunity in many countries this year, Reuters reports. He points out poor countries have limited access to coronavirus vaccines and adds that mutations of the virus could exacerbate the problem. Noting that some countries will likely achieve herd immunity this year, Fisher stresses this will not help to normalise the situation, especially with regard to border controls. “We know we need to get to herd immunity and we need that in a majority of countries, so we are not going to see that in 2021,” he concluded.
Brussels, 11 January: Germany tightens restrictions
Stricter measures aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic are in force in all of Germany’s federal states as of today, Monday, DW reports. The restrictions put in place on 16 December failed to yield desired results, with German authorities extending some measures and imposing additional ones. Minister of Health Jens Spahn noted the tighter lockdown will cause difficulties for many in Germany, but stressed the importance of curbing the spread of coronavirus. Several German states imposed the new restrictions last week, with authorities in Saxony announcing the new measures would remain in force at least until 7 February.
Overview of the Commission’s response
Brussels 8 January: The Commission spent hours today Friday fending off criticisms about its COVID-19 vaccines procurement. Commission President von der Leyen, a medical doctor by training, triumphantly announced how the Commission has upped its bid on the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to 600 million doses, with additional purchase options running from the second quarter of this year. The Commission has come under heavy criticism after vaccination programmes were rolled out in both the UK and the US sooner than in the EU, where the negotiations on the buying of vaccines have been centralised to Brussels.
Earlier in the week, the Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer defended the EU executive by saying that a total of two billion vaccine doses have been secured (so far only the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines have been approved by the European Medicines Agency). From today, the total would amount to 2.3 billion doses with the EU having an option on an additional 300 million from future production. This way, about half of Pfizer/BioNTech’s global output would be going to the EU. The EU’s medicines’ regulator EMA also separately authorised the use of six doses from every vial of the vaccine, which requires exceptionally low temperatures for safe storage, a key factor complicating its distribution, as opposed to the five does previously foreseen. This would increase overall availability by 20%.
Belgium’s lockdown continues
Across the road from the Commission’s Brussels Berlaymont headquarters, the Belgian government and chief virologists convened in a highly anticipated meeting among those hoping for prevailing sanitary measures to be revoked.
The country’s restaurant and hospitality sector is largely at a halt, with bars closed since the beginning of November, and restaurants only partially opened and then solely for delivery. The country’s hairdressers have been protesting the measures affecting the sector since November, as salons have to remain closed while haircuts increasingly are offered to clients at home. The situation is equally dire for both the culture and events sector, but so far no roll-back of the measures is in sight, despite testing figures showing less infections and hospitals receiving fewer COVID patients, with 382 remaining in intensive care.
Sweden’s Parliament approves a new pandemic law
Stockholm 8 January Meanwhile in Sweden, parliament has adopted a new pandemic law, which would enable the closing of businesses and public transport. The Swedish government refrained from such measures for most of last year with Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén urging Swedes to think for themselves and act responsibly. Swedish legislation has not allowed the government to enact a general shutdown of society in peacetime and any coercive measures are viewed with scepticism among the public. However, with COVID-related deaths on the increase, the government has come under pressure to act, with 76 COVID-19 deaths yesterday, and a drastically higher death toll being registered than in other Scandinavian countries.
Coronavirus vaccine delivery “slower than expected”
Helsinki In 8 January Finland, the government is upset with the EU’s promised delivery of vaccine doses from within the Pfizer/BioNTech quota. For January, Finland’s share of the distribution would be as little as a shipment of 50,000 doses, against a population of 5.5 million. The Finnish minister for public health has written to Commissioner Stella Kyriakides to express her dismay. She notes that the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in cooperation with the University of Oxford, which is already in use from this week in the UK, has yet to be approved for the EU market. The Finnish government could have it approved by the country’s own medicines agency Fimea, but fearing that the vaccine has not been sufficiently tested on certain age groups, the government has resolved to wait for EMA’s approval. The number of new infections in the country remains low, espcially in the sparsely inhabited regions of the country’s north.
European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the coronavirus vaccine by Moderna
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, making it the second such vaccine approved in the EU, RFI reports. Following a quality assessment, the EMA notes it has approved the vaccine for use on people aged over 18. The bloc has ordered 160 million doses of the vaccine, which are to be used for the vaccination of 80 million people. Two doses of the vaccine need to be administered 28 days apart and the vaccine is based on mRNA technology, similar to that developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and approved last year.
European countries to be flexible about the administering doses of the vaccine
World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe head, Hans Kluge, is calling on European countries to be flexible about the period between administering the first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, Reuters reports. Kluge stresses the importance of finding a balance between protecting as many people as possible and making the most of limited vaccine supplies. “It is important that such a decision represents a safe compromise between the limited global production capacity at the moment, and the imperative for governments to protect as many people as possible while reducing the burden of any subsequent wave on the health systems.”
WHO investigators will not be allowed to look into the outbreak in China
Beijing is stepping up efforts to control the narrative around the emergence of the coronavirus as a World Health Organisation (WHO) team prepares to visit China, Reuters reported yesterday, Tuesday. While Hua Chunying, head of the Foreign Ministry Information Department, announced China would welcome the WHO team, experts suspect the investigators will not be allowed to look into the outbreak freely because Beijing is anxious to avoid any blame for the pandemic. However, China released a study last week that indicates infection rates in Wuhan were significantly higher than Chinese authorities originally acknowledged. Raina MacIntyre, head of the Kirby Institute’s Biosecurity Program, predicts some hypotheses will not be investigated for political issues, notably the contention that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “I think it is unlikely all viruses in the lab at the time will be made available to the team,” she said in suggesting that the investigation would not get to the bottom of the outbreak.
Belgium employers abide by the rules and favour teleworking
Belgium’s labour inspectorate deployed some 500 inspectors this week to make sure that employers abide by the rules and favour teleworking, when at all possible. The inspections will be carried out in companies and in public institutions to ensure that staff can work remotely and that all sanitary measures are followed in the workplace. The pandemic rules were tightened last month with a requirement for people to work from home. The Belgian police keep a close eye on the country’s borders, with enhanced inspection of in-coming train traffic mostly from France and the UK. Visitors are required to take a COVID test in advance, whereas residents should submit to two PCR tests upon return from a high-risk zone. All entrants have to fill out a form answering detailed questions as to their last whereabouts when returning from any stay abroad that lasted for more than two days. Cars are checked at the border with France, even though cross-border traffic is facilitated. Arriving passengers at airports and train stations have to prove they have filled out the requisite documents, unless they can prove that theirs was a short stay abroad only.
Scotland announces new lockdown
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announces a new lockdown that includes the legal requirement for people in Level 4 areas to stay at home in January, Sky reports today. “It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” she said. Sturgeon said it was vital to limit contacts between households if the pandemic is to be brought under control. She predicted the healthcare system could be overwhelmed in three or four weeks unless the government takes action. The number of new confirmed infections in Scotland dropped on Monday from the previous day’s figures, as did the daily test positivity rate.
Italy to relax restrictions on weekdays
Italy has decided to relax restrictions on weekdays, with lockdown rules due to expire on Thursday, Reuters reports today. Lawmakers are agreed to return to the three-tier system of restrictions which allows local application of measures. However, bars and restaurants are to close this weekend in all parts of Italy. The government has decided to delay the reopening of ski resorts, originally planned for 8 January, until 18 January, stressing this is in line with requests by local authorities based on advice of experts. The number of daily cases dropped from about 40,000 in November to significantly below 20,000. There have been close to 76,000 deaths since February last year.
Sweden fears a severe corona wave this week
Swedish head virologist Anders Tegnell, known for practising a different approach to curb the pandemic without lockdowns or mask-wearing, is concerned that yet another corona wave will hit this week when Swedes return to work after the holidays. Both the British variant of the mutated virus as well as the South African mutation have been detected in the country. Among the Nordic countries, Sweden is worst hit by COVID-19, registering over 9,000 deaths. Denmark, meanwhile, has entered its highest level of pandemic alert, banning assemblies of more than five people and further limiting travel. In Finland, the virus has hit mostly the southern part of the country, with restrictions on assembly extended until the end of January.
BioNTech founders warn of vaccine supply gaps
BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin warns of gaps in the supply of coronavirus vaccine due to lack of other approved vaccines, Reuters reports. The company is negotiating with the EU Commission about increasing production of the vaccine. Şahin notes the planned production facility in Marburg, Germany could turn out 250 million doses in the first six months of 2021. Germany’s Minister of Health Jens Spahn announced the authorities would do whatever they can to ensure a quick start to operations at the facility. He called on the European Medicines Agency to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as possible.
Italy delays reopening ski slopes to Jan. 18 as COVID cases stay high
Italy’s Ministry of Health delayed the reopening of ski resorts, originally planned for Thursday, 7 January, until 18 January, Reuters reports. Italy closed its resorts for the Christmas and New Year holidays, as did many other EU member states, in a bid to control the pandemic. The decision to push back the reopening date indicates Italian authorities are worried the skiing season could help infection rates to grow. The Health Ministry stressed the decision is in line with requests by local authorities and takes account of the advice of health experts. The number of daily cases in Italy has halved from about 40,000 in November to some 20,000 at the start of 2021.
EU to buy extra 100 million doses of Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the bloc will buy an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by US Pfizer and German BioNTech, Reuters reported today. This will bring the total number of doses the EU will buy from the two pharmaceutical companies to 300 million. The announcement follows unexpected delays in clinical trials of some vaccine candidates ordered by the bloc. The With a total population of about 450 million, the EU has booked close to 1.3 billion vaccines with options to buy an additional 660 million.
AstraZeneca vaccine not ready for quick European approval, watchdog official says
European Medicines Agency (EMA) Deputy Executive Director Noël Wathion warns the EMA is unlikely be able in January to approve the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, Reuters reports today. Interviewed byHet Nieuwsblad, Wathion points out “they have not even filed an application with us yet” and notes that the available data is “not even enough to warrant a conditional marketing licence.” UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock says AstraZeneca has submitted a full data package on the vaccine to the UK regulator.
Pfizer to complete supply of COVID-19 vaccines to EU by September
EU Commission notes the initial 200 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech are to be distributed across the EU by September 2021, Reuters reports. The vaccine is the only one approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) thus far. Most member states started their respective vaccination campaigns on Sunday. The EU, with a population of about 450 million, has signed advance purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies for close to two billion doses in total. The EMA is testing other vaccines. The Moderna vaccine could be approved on 6 January and the agency could start processing applications from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson in the first quarter of 2021.
Europe rolls out mass vaccination campaign, but many are not convinced
The French Public Health Agency notes that about 40% of the population plans to get vaccinated. EU leaders are promoting vaccination campaigns as the best chance of securing a return to normalcy next year. In doing so, they are attempting to face down high levels of scepticism towards the vaccine. Olivier Véran, French Minister of Solidarity and Health, points out that France might have to impose a third lockdown if negative epidemiological trends do not reverse after the holiday season, RFI reports. President Emmanuel Macron is to head a defence council meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, to assess France’s situation.
Mutated COVID variant reaches France, Spain and Sweden
Health authorities in France, Spain and Sweden have confirmed cases of the new coronavirus variant from the UK. French authorities say laboratories are processing tests from several people potentially infected with the new strain of coronavirus. In Besides the three, cases of the new variant have been confirmed in Australia, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands. As experts suspect the new variant is more contagious. By way of response, some 50 countries have limited travel from the UK.
Europe begins to launch COVID-19 vaccinations
Brussels, 27 December: Hungary and Slovakia launched vaccination campaigns on Saturday, one day before Germany, France, Spain and several other EU member states. The French government plans to vaccinate about 1 million people in January and February, followed by an additional 14 to 15 million between March and June. Spanish authorities confirmed plans to start vaccinations on Sunday, in coordination with other EU member states. Meanwhile, Germany announced plans to deliver more than 1.3 million doses to local authorities before the end of this year, and expects to deliver some 700,000 does per week in the coming year. Irish authorities announced the start of vaccinations for Tuesday, one day earlier than planned.
Pubs and restaurants to close on Christmas Eve
Ireland announces closing pubs, restaurants and some shops on Christmas Eve and keeping them closed until early March in order to curb the spread of coronavirus, according to a government announcement today, Tuesday. Prime Minister Micheál Martin notes it is safer to assume the new strain of the virus isolated in the UK has reached Ireland, while stressing that as yet there is no evidence that it has. The new restrictions are to be reviewed on 12 January, with Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar advising businesses to operate under the assumption that reopening will come at the end of February or early March.
EU urges countries to lift UK travel bans
The EU Commission called on member states to lift travel restrictions to the UK on Tuesday, after many countries had imposed travel bans due to concerns over a new strain of coronavirus. While the Commission recommends the lifting of travel bans, member states may set their own rules. It points out that travel should be allowed with testing or self-isolation measures in place, but stresses EU member states should discourage non-essential travel.
Rapid COVID tests rolled out across EU
With the approach of Christmas, the Commission has signed a contract with pharmaceutical companies Abbott and Roche for 20 million rapid antigen tests worth up to €100 million, financed by EU emergency funds. From early 2021, these tests will be made available to EU countries, as part of the EU’s strategy to enhance COVID-19 testing.
Rapid tests are cheaper and provide results quicker than the RT-PCR test, which is still the most reliable testing method. The Commission is instructing EU countries to use rapid antigen tests to further strengthen the overall testing capacity, especially since testing remains a key to controlling and mitigating the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, the rapid tests should only be taken by trained healthcare personnel. The quick tests can be used for population-wide screening in epidemiological situations or areas where the proportion of test positivity is high, but most positive results would be still be followed up by another test.
WHO in contact with UK over new coronavirus mutation
World Health Organisation (WHO) notes Sunday it is in contact with British officials and is keeping a close eye on the new strain of coronavirus, which apparently spreads more rapidly. No evidence suggests the new mutation reacts differently to vaccines. Nor is it believed to be more deadly. Besides the UK, the new variant has been detected in Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands. EU member states imposed temporary bans on travel from the UK and the bloc announced discussing a more coordinated response later today, Monday.