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Here’s the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from around the world overnight.
More than half a million people in the United Kingdom received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in a day, official data showed on Thursday, raising the total who have had two doses past 6 million.
The UK is set to reach herd immunity ‘milestone’ within days, scientists have said. Next week about three-quarters of Brits will either have been vaccinated with at least one dose or infected, raising hopes the country’s outbreak will be forced into retreat.
Portugal on Thursday temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for those aged under 60 amid concerns over possible links between the shot and very rare cases of blood clots.
France recorded another 343 deaths. More than 10 million people in France have now received a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
Russia called on Slovakia on Thursday to return hundreds of thousands of doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, citing contract violations, in an escalating row between the two countries after a Slovak watchdog raised doubts about the shot.
Earlier on Thursday, Slovakia’s SUKL drug agency said the batches of Sputnik V vaccines it had received differed from those reviewed by international scientists and by the European Union regulator.
The agency said it found that the dosage form of the vaccine – the way the medicine is presented, such as in a solution – differed from the product currently being scrutinised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as part of a rolling review, required for EU approval.
SUKL said the batches sent to Slovakia also showed different characteristics from those used in studies published in The Lancet peer-reviewed medical journal. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, vigorously denied these claims, describing them as “fake news”.
Italy reported 487 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday against 627 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 17,221 from 13,708 the day before.
Sweden registered 7822 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, health agency statistics showed.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 17 new deaths, taking the total to 13,595. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
India, South Korea and Thailand faced mounting coronavirus infections on Thursday, undermining cautious hopes that Asia might be emerging from the worst of the pandemic as worries about safety threatened to delay vaccination drives.
India has reported a record 126,789 new COVID cases as several states struggled to contain a second surge in infections.
More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in India’s surge, some epidemiologists say, with hundreds of cases found of variants first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. The alarming numbers have led to New Zealand putting a temporary ban on anyone arriving from India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday rejected calls from states to offer coronavirus vaccinations to younger people to help contain a record surge in cases.
“It’s not that you can set up these big vaccine factories overnight,” Modi said addressing chief ministers of states via video conference. “Whatever production we have got, we will have to prioritise.”
India batting great Sachin Tendulkar said on Thursday that he has been released from hospital a week after he was admitted when he contracted COVID-19, but he will remain in isolation at home.
Hospitals in Maharashtra are running short of beds, piped oxygen and a key anti-viral drug as a second wave of coronavirus infections swamps India’s richest state, doctors and patients’ families said.
Home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, Maharashtra accounts for nearly a quarter of India’s 12.7 million coronavirus infections. If the state were a country, its caseload of more than 3 million would be tenth largest in the world.
Australia says it now recommends people under 50 should get Pfizer’s vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s shot, in response to concerns over blood clots.
Australia’s programme to vaccinate its near 26 million people is more than 80 percent behind its original schedule. Authorities there had pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March but could only deliver 670,000. The government blamed supply issues from Europe.
The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZeneca shots for people below 60 after Europe’s regulator said on Wednesday it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients although the vaccine’s advantages still outweighed its risks.
South Korea reported 700 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily figure since early January, and the Prime Minister warned that new social distancing rules would likely be needed.
Thailand, which has been planning a cautious re-opening of its tourist industry, reported a rise in new daily infections to 405 on Thursday, taking its total number of infections to 30,310, with 95 deaths.
Adding to Thai worries, it has detected 24 cases of a highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, its first reported domestic transmission of the variant.
The outbreak could take two months to contain, officials say.
China, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019, is driving ahead with its vaccination campaign, administering about 3.68 million doses on Wednesday, taking its total number of doses given to 149.07 million, authorities said.
Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that he will be vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, a day after Italy and the United Kingdom recommended its use be restricted to some adults.
Lopez Obrador, 67, said the benefits outweighed the risks of the low-cost shot, which is a core pillar of Mexico’s vaccination strategy.
Africa and the Middle East
The African Union’s disease control body said on Thursday it has dropped plans to secure AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for its members from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine supplier, amid global shortfalls of the shot.
The announcement is another blow to AstraZeneca, which has touted its shot as the vaccine for the world because it is the cheapest and easiest to store and transport, making it well suited to the needs of developing countries.
Fake coronavirus vaccine passports are being sold online for “peanuts” in a fast-growing scam that has alarmed authorities as countries bet on the documents to revive travel and their economies, cyber security experts said.
Reuters / Newshub.
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