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International update: Global Covid infections pass 115 million – concern over fake vaccines

By Paul Dennis

4 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2.56 million with a figure of 2,560,965 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 115 million world wide.

Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of fake doses of Covid-19 jabs, adding that Interpol has warned this represented only the “tip of the iceberg” in vaccine-related crime.

US: US Covid-19 infections have passed 28,760,000. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 518,453 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

New infections are dropping in the United States, Canada and Mexico but vaccinations have hardly begun in Latin America, raising the risk of dangerous new variants emerging, the Pan American Health Organization has said.

Serbia: Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country’s massive vaccine rollout.

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Brazil: Brazil’s senate backed a $7.8 billion round of Covid aid for the poor in a first-round vote as a new wave of the pandemic batters the economy and pushes the health system to the brink of collapse. The vote came after a day of 1,910 fatalities, the second day of record deaths. The country said it reached an agreement to buy Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine.

Vaccine news

EU: The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have come under severe strain in recent weeks, will be given an extra 100,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses each by the EU.

UK: A further 208,968 Covid-19 vaccinations have been carried out in England, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses.

A single shot from AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines protected people aged 80 and over from being hospitalized based on data collected in the UK supporting the rationale for spacing out injections to protect more people.

India: Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech has said its Covid-19 vaccine is almost 81% effective at preventing infection following interim phase 3 trials.

US: The US is administering an average of 2.01 million doses a day, the first time it has crossed that threshold, according to the latest analysis from the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Michigan lowered its vaccine eligibility age to 50 from 65, becoming one of the first US states to take that step, and Texas opened its inoculation drive to teachers, school staff and licensed childcare providers. Meanwhile, Texas teachers are elgibile immediately, according to the state health department.

Rwanda: Rwanda received 102,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses on Wednesday, according to Unicef. It’s the first African nation to receive mRNA vaccines through Covax, the global alliance working to ensure equitable access to vaccines. Rwanda also received 240,000 AstraZeneca/Oxford doses.

Lockdown updates

Brazil: Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, on Wednesday announced tough new measures to slow a snowballing coronavirus pandemic in the country with the world’s second highest death toll.

Greece: Greece has extended its coronavirus lockdown to 16 March as it reported the highest number of new cases recorded so far in 2021.

Estonia: Estonia has imposed new restrictions on restaurants and non-essential shops as part of efforts to curb rising infections.

Lithuania: Lithuania eased some of its lockdown restrictions to allow contacts between two households outdoors, as well as sports or cultural sessions of up to five people outdoors. The government is also introducing a requirement to hold a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous three days to be eligible for entry to the country.

Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel set out a plan to gradually unwind restrictions on Europe’s largest economy, bowing to pressure from the pandemic-weary public. After hairdressers resumed operations on Monday, the next step will start on 8 March, the German leader said late Wednesday after more than nine hours of tense talks with regional officials. Remaining restrictions – including the closure of hotels, restaurants and other non-essential retail outlets – will continue with further easing steps tied to local contagion rates. An “emergency brake” was set up to react to hot spots.

US: New York state said starting 22 March the outdoor limit on residential gatherings will increase to 25 from 10. Limits for social events will rise from 50 to 100 people indoors and to 200 outdoors. Venues that hold fewer than 10,000 people can open at 33% capacity from April 2, with up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Social distancing and face coverings are still required for attendance. Governor Andrew Cuomo also said domestic travelers would no longer be required to quarantine or test-out within 90 days of full vaccination.

Federal health officials called on Texas and Mississippi residents to keep wearing masks as governors there lift Covid-19 restrictions, saying it’s premature to abandon mitigation efforts and that the virus can still erupt again. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that though cases have halted their decline from January highs, it’s not yet time to lift restrictions. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Tuesday that the state would lift its mask mandate and reopen businesses next week. He also banned counties from fining or jailing people who disregard local measures, in defiance of previous warnings from Walensky and others.

Montenegro: Montenegro, with one of the highest infection rates in Europe, is relying on police and the army to enforce virus restrictions, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, according to a government statement Wednesday. The Adriatic state of 650,000 is also curbing intercity travel and suspending non-essential services as a last-ditch attempt to avoid a complete lockdown, Finance Minister Milojko Spajic said in a briefing in the capital city of Podgorica. “The pandemic is also a financial problem, but we cannot chose between health and the economy,” Spajic said.

Economy updates

UK: UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak extended emergency tax cuts to help the country mired in a third national lockdown, making clear that safeguarding jobs is his priority in the short term. He said he’s adding another £65 billion ($90.7 billion) of pandemic support to help the country recover this year and next. However, Sunak sketched out a plan to start plugging the deficit, with an increase in corporation tax to 25% from the current 19%, taking effect in 2023.

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