31 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has now passed 2.8 million with a figure of 2,804,036 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 128 million world wide.

The World Health Organization’s chief said a mission to study the origins of the coronavirus in China didn’t adequately analyze the possibility of a lab leak before it concluded that the pathogen probably spread from bats to humans via another animal. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even though the international team of scientists determined that a leak is the least likely hypothesis for the origin of the pandemic, it requires further investigation. He said he’s ready to deploy additional missions involving specialist experts as he doesn’t believe the assessment was extensive enough. He made the comments in a briefing to WHO member countries Tuesday.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 30.39 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 550,996 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Covid-19 deaths in the US are expected to bottom out in the next two weeks and then may inch higher as the nation races to blunt an incipient new wave of cases with its vaccination campaign. A plateau or small increase – instead of the hoped-for decline – could mean tens of thousands of additional fatalities.

Brazil: Brazil hit a record of 3,780 on Covid-19 deaths as the pandemic spirals out of control in Latin America’s largest country. Total coronavirus fatalities reached 317,646 and 84,494 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours, totaling almost 12.7 million, while the country works to speed up vaccination under new Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga. The country’s health regulator issued a good practices certificate for Janssen’s facilities, but denied the same certification for Bharat Biotech. Brazilian foundation Fiocruz expects to file a request to start testing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in children, the head of the organization Nisia Trindade, said in an online event promoted by the World Health Organization.

India: The government of Maharashtra, the Indian state that houses Mumbai, on Tuesday ordered oxygen suppliers to reserve 80% for medical use. The new rule will stay in force through 30 June. India has seen a recent resurgence in infections that threatens the nation’s economic recovery.

Greece: Greece reported 4,340 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, its highest daily tally.

Netherlands: In the Netherlands, despite the lockdown, new Covid cases increased for a seventh consecutive week, health authorities said earlier.

Sweden: The number of people in Sweden needing intensive care as a result of Covid-19 infection increased 9% compared to last week, health officials said.

Australia: Demand for public transportation fell in Australia in the past week while consumption, spending and other alternative indicators mainly increased amid little change in coronavirus-related restrictions. In Sydney, in the week ended 24 March, demand for public transport was down 12.4% from the week earlier, while the number of seated diners in Australian restaurants was 79% higher on 29 March compared with the same day a year earlier, an improvement from the 53% increase recorded on 22 March, according to OpenTable Inc. Australia had 29,296 confirmed Covid-19 cases as of March 30, a 0.2% increase in the week to date.

Vaccine news

Global: BioNTech and Pfizer raised this year’s production target for their vaccine to as many as 2.5 billion doses, with the German biotech’s chief executive officer predicting a version of the shot that can be stored in refrigerators will be ready within months. The new target represents an increase of about one quarter from an earlier estimate. BioNTech said it expects 9.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in revenue from the supply contracts signed already, which amount to 1.4 billion doses. Revenue expectations include milestone payments from BioNTech’s partners and will rise as more orders are signed, the company said.

US: Google will donate $1 million to help New York City reach its goal of 5 million vaccinations by the end of June, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The donation includes advertising grants to run ads on where, when and how to get a vaccine, as well as a grant from the tech giant’s philanthropic arm to set up an inoculation center at the Fulton Houses public-housing complex in Chelsea, near Google’s main New York office. De Blasio said Tuesday that the city is approaching 4 million vaccine doses.

Germany: Germany’s standing vaccination commission (Stiko) has recommended that no-one aged under 60 should be given Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, according to a report in Augsburger Allgemeine. Meanwhile, Berlin’s state hospital groups Charite and Vivantes stopped giving female staff under the age of 55 shots of AstraZeneca vaccine following further reports of a rare brain blood disorder. They also stopped giving women under 55 shots of the vaccine.

Chile: Chile signed an agreement with CanSino Biologics Inc. for 1.8 million Covid vaccine doses that will start to arrive in May, the government’s Vice Minister of Trade Rodrigo Yanez said in an interview. The country has already received close to 13 million total shots against Covid-19 and it’s expecting the arrival of an extra 15 million doses by June to reach herd immunity in the first half of the year, Yanez said. CanSino, which is a one-shot vaccine, will provide 1.8 million doses, while the remaining supply will come from Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

Kenya: Kenyans have begun getting inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines for a fee after the nation’s authorities approved the shots for emergency purposes. A single shot costs 7,700 shillings ($70.30), according to Nairobi-based lawyer Donald Kipkorir, who got an injection Tuesday.

Lockdown updates

US: Wells Fargo, the US bank with the largest workforce has about 200,000 employees working from home and is extending that arrangement through 6 September. It aims to return to a “more normal operating model” that month, according to a memo from Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf and Chief Operating Officer Scott Powell. “The significant increase in vaccination availability” has encouraged the bank and allowed it to begin planning for the employees’ return, the executives said in the memo.

Ireland: Ireland will begin easing some restrictions from April 12, after more than three months in lockdown. Travel restrictions will be loosened while some sports and construction will resume, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a national address. Limits on household mixing will also be reduced. The government may open so-called non-essential retail in May and hotels in June, depending on the state of the virus, Martin said. Vaccines are to ramp up sharply in the second quarter he added. “We are on the final stretch of this terrible journey,” he said.

Bulgaria: Bulgaria will reopen restaurants and pubs with open-air space, as well as gyms, theaters and museums with limited capacity from 1 April, the health ministry said in a statement. Kindergartens will reopen 5 April. The Balkan country reported Tuesday 203 new coronavirus death cases, the highest since 5 January, amid a new wave of infections caused by the UK strain, as it is preparing to hold a general election on Sunday.

Iceland: Iceland said travellers from so-called danger zones, which is most of Europe, will need to stay in a special hotel for their obligatory five-day quarantine upon arrival. The reason is that infections have been spread by visitors who have broken quarantine to view a new volcanic eruption.