BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on citizens to help ease the strain on nurses and doctors caring for the rising number of COVID-19 patients by respecting pandemic rules over Easter.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 24,300 newly confirmed cases in the past day, and 201 deaths. The head of the Robert Koch Institute has warned the country is seeing a third surge in infections fueled by more contagious virus variants that have come to dominate the outbreak in Germany.
Speaking in a video address, Merkel said this “needs to be a quiet Easter.”
Germany has recorded more than 2.8 million COVID-19 cases and 76,543 deaths since the start of the outbreak, fewer than most other large European countries.
But there’s been frustration about the slow pace of its vaccination program, with only about 11.6% of the population having received at least one shot.
LONDON — The director of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says immunization campaigns against COVID-19 across the continent are “unacceptably slow” and jeopardizing efforts to stop the pandemic.
In a statement on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge says vaccines “present our best way out of this pandemic” but noted that to date, only 10% of Europe’s population has received one dose and that only 4% have been fully protected with two doses.
“As long as coverage remains low, we need to apply the same public health and social measures as we have in the past, to compensate for delayed schedules,” Kluge says. He warned European government against having “a false sense of security” for having started their immunization campaigns and noted Europe remains the second-most affected region in terms of new cases and deaths.
“The region’s situation is more worrying than we have seen in several months,” said WHO’s Dr. Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s emergency manager. She warned people not to gather in large groups over the coming Easter weekend.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland reached a record 35,251 coronavirus cases on Thursday.
The Health Ministry says 621 more deaths were registered. The previous case record was 35,143 on Friday.
Hospitals in the southern Silesia region have run out of COVID-19 beds and patients are being directed to other regions. The situation is also difficult in the central region, including Warsaw.
The government has sped up the inoculation in the nation of 38 million and opened the registration of persons between age 40 to 60 on Thursday.
So far, almost 6.3 million vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — have been administered. More than 2 million are fully vaccinated.
In Poland, there’s been 2.4 million cases and nearly 54,000 confirmed deaths.
DAKAR, Senegal — Africa is unlikely to meet its targets for vaccinating the continent against COVID-19 if supply delays from a key Indian manufacturer continue, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Dr. John Nkengasong says officials hope the problems at the Serum Institute of India will be temporary otherwise “it would definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people.”
More than half of the 29.1 million vaccine doses received by African nations have come through the global COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines. COVAX has largely used the AstraZeneca vaccine, because it is cheaper and requires ordinary refrigeration.
But the Serum Institute of India recently announced as many as 90 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine destined for COVAX worldwide will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections among the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Nkengasong says it isn’t yet known what impact the uncertainty might have for scheduling second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in African countries.
NEW YORK — Pfizer says its vaccine continues to be effective against COVID-19 up to six months later.
Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, announced updated results Thursday from their ongoing late-stage study of more than 44,000 volunteers.
The companies said the vaccine was 91% effective against symptomatic disease and was even more protective in preventing severe disease. Of 927 confirmed COVID-19 cases detected through March 13, 77 were among people who received the vaccine and 850 were among people who got dummy shots.
There were no serious safety concerns and the vaccine also appeared to work against a variant first detected in South Africa, the companies said.
The U.K. and U.S. gave the emergency green light to roll out Pfizer’s vaccine late last year followed by many other countries. The vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and up.
This week, the companies said the vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, based on a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers.
TOKYO — Japan has designated Osaka and two other areas for coronavirus control steps as infections in those areas rise ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Osaka, neighboring Hyogo and Miyagi in the north have had sharp increases in daily cases since early March. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga designated the three prefectures for pre-emergency status under a new intensive prevention law beginning Monday. The measure lasts until May 5.
Health experts have raised concerns about the burden on health care and Osaka’s rapid spike, with many cases linked to new variants of the virus from Britain.
Japan had scaled down its partial and non-binding state of emergency that began in January. It lifted the state of emergency in the Tokyo area on March 21, fully ending the measures aimed at slowing the coronavirus and relieving pressure on medical systems treating COVID-19 patients.
GENEVA — The head of the World Trade Organization is calling for efforts to expand the ability for developing countries to manufacture vaccines.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for a framework that would allow developing countries “some automaticity and access to manufacture vaccines with technology transfer” in future pandemics and decried the current coronavirus “vaccine inequity.”
“The idea that 70 percent of vaccines today have been administered only by ten countries is really not acceptable,” she said after hosting French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
The call came as scores of WTO member states have backed efforts led by South Africa and India to have the trade body grant a temporary waiver of its intellectual property pact to help boost production of coronavirus vaccines.
Some wealthier countries and those with strong pharmaceutical industries oppose the idea, saying it would crimp future innovation.
MOSCOW — Vaccination against COVID-19 kicked off in Uzbekistan, one of the last in the region to begin inoculating its population.
Authorities hope to immunize 4 million people, or nearly 12% of the 34.6-million population, between April and June, Uzbekistan’s Health Minister Abdukhakim Khadzhibayev told local media.
Uzbekistan has received 660,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot through the COVAX global vaccine sharing program and 1 million doses of a vaccine developed by the Chinese drug maker Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical. The Chinese jab is still undergoing large studies to prove it is safe and effective. Uzbekistan’s authorities in talks with Russia over importing 1 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Uzbekistan has reported more than 83,000 coronavirus cases and 643 confirmed deaths during the pandemic.
CAIRO — Egypt received a shipment of more than 850,000 COVID-19 vaccine via the global COVAX initiative, the U.N. and Egyptian health officials said.
A plane carrying 854,400 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine landed in Cairo early Thursday as Egypt moves forward with its vaccination campaign. The new doses will be used to inoculate health workers, elders and people with chronic diseases, said a U.N. statement.
This is the first shipment that Egypt receives via COVAX, an international alliance initiative to distribute vaccines to middle-and low-income countries.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, has reported 202,131 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 12,000 confirmed deaths.
Undersecretary of Egypt’s Health Ministry Mohamed Hassany says Egypt has received 600,000 doses of the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm’s vaccine as a gift from the Chinese government. The United Arab Emirates government has given Egypt 80,000 doses of the same vaccine.
Health Minister Hala Zayed saysthe Egyptian government has reserved 100 million vaccine doses, including 40 million doses from COVAX.
BERLIN — Germany’s president has been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot, a signal of confidence in the vaccine after the country restricted its use in people under 60.
The presidential office said in a statement that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is 65, received his first shot at a hospital in Berlin on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel said the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn’t routinely be given to under-60s because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.
The German government followed the recommendation and said the vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older. Some regions, including Berlin, then opened up vaccinations for people aged 60-70, who had previously faced a longer wait.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is 66, said this week that she would be prepared to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it isn’t yet clear whether and when that might happen.
ROME — Doctors and nurses in Italy who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus could be reassigned or have their salaries suspended under a new decree approved by the government.
The Italian Cabinet passed the measure late Wednesday as part of its latest COVID-19 containment provisions. The obligation for health care workers to get vaccinated was included after several recent hospital outbreaks were blamed on personnel who hadn’t gotten the shot.
Italy has prioritized vaccinating medical personnel, and to date 3 million of the 10 million shots administered have gone to health care workers. Health Minister Roberto Speranza has said the vast majority of health care workers have agreed to get the free vaccine but there were some holdouts.
Another measure included in the decree rules out criminal liability for medical personnel who administer shots if the vaccinations were done correctly. Some general practitioners in Italy have shied away from giving vaccines, fearing legal exposure if their patients experience adverse reactions.
PARIS — France’s prime minister defended the government’s plans to close schools for at least three weeks and to ban domestic travel for a month to slow a resurgence of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Jean Castex led a parliamentary debate on the new nationwide measures as the National Assembly, France’s lower house, prepared to vote on them Thursday.
Castex told lawmakers that the government has acted “consistently and pragmatically.”
Opposition parties were expected to boycott the vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise party denounced it as a “bad April Fools’” prank.
While French schools are temporarily closed, Castex confirmed aid for families with children who rely on free school meals.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country will begin administering coronavirus vaccinations in doctors’ offices starting next week.
Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that some 940,000 doses of vaccine will be delivered to some 35,000 practices next week.
The number of weekly doses supplied to doctors will rise to about 3 million at the end of April, he said. Germany is hoping to significantly ramp up its vaccine campaign in the coming week.
According to government figures, 11.6% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 5% of the population has received both doses.
Earlier this week, German health officials decided to halt the routine use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60 due to concerns over the possibility of a small risk of rare blood clots in younger patients.
The 40-year-old Spahn said “without hesitation” he’d get the AstraZeneca vaccine, but it isn’t his turn yet.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong will resume administering the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday following a 12-day suspension over packaging defects detected in one batch, officials said.
An additional 300,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive on Friday, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip said Thursday.
Health officials said an investigation by BioNTech found no safety issues in the batch with packaging defects for some vials, as well as in a separate, unused batch of the vaccine.
“BioNTech believes that the efficacy of the vaccine has not been affected, so members of the public who have taken the BioNTech vaccine need not be worried,” said Constance Chan, Hong Kong’s director of health.
Random checks will also be stepped up to ensure that vaccine packaging is safe, she said. The packaging defects included loose caps and leakage from some bottles. Prior to the suspension, about 151,000 people had received the Pfizer vaccine in the city.
Apart from the Pfizer vaccine, Hong Kong residents have the option to receive Chinese-made Sinovac shots, although acceptance of that vaccine has fallen after reports that several people with chronic illnesses died after getting it. Hong Kong officials say the deaths were not directly linked to the vaccine.
LONDON — Britain’s statistics agency says around 1.1 million people in the U.K. reported having symptoms commonly associated with long COVID-19, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, at the beginning of March.
In a study of 362,000 people living in private households, the Office for National Statistics found that the greatest prevalence was found in people aged 35 to 69, among women, those living in the most deprived areas or working in health or social care, and individuals with a preexisting, activity-limiting health condition.
Not everyone surveyed had necessarily tested positive for the virus.
In a sub-sample assessment involving 20,000 people who tested positive for the virus between April 26, 2020 and March 6, 2021, the agency found 13.7% continued to experience symptoms commonly associated with long COVID-19 for at least 12 weeks.
In a separate study between Feb. 17 and March 14, the agency found that around 22% of Black or Black British adults were hesitant about taking a coronavirus vaccine,. That’s around half the level of hesitancy that the agency found for the period between Jan. 13 and Feb. 7.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development says his country is importing 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, the first purchase that comes after initial donations.
Half a million doses arrived Wednesday and the rest later Thursday.
The announcement by Asad Omar comes as Pakistan reported 4,974 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day jump since June last year.
China began donating vaccines to Pakistan in February, and since then only health workers and older people have received the shots.
In an effort to contain the spread of the disease, Pakistan has expanded the partial lockdown in cities with a high positive rate.
Pakistan has reported 672,931 cases and 14,530 confirmed deaths.