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Tuesday, May 04, 2021, 10:54
BioNTech: Prospective 2021 shot output approaching 3b doses
By Agencies
Tuesday, May 04, 2021, 10:54 By Agencies

A pharmacist reconstitutes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as she fills syringes with the vaccine for the incoming public at the UMass Memorial Health Care COVID-19 Vaccination Center in the Mercantile Center in Worcester, Massachusetts on April 22, 2021. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP)

GENEVA / COPENHAGEN /  LONDON / ROME / MONTEVIDEO / QUITO / BRUSSELS / DUBLIN / HAVANA / BERLIN / RABAT / ALGIERS / DAR ES SALAAM / JUBA / ZAGREB / RIO DE JANEIRO / BUENOS AIRES / SANTIAGO / MOSCOW - German COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech has continued to ramp up production allowing it to manufacture close to 3 billion doses in 2021, up from a previous target of 2.5 billion.

“Our teams did a great job to further increase the manufacturing scale to come up now with numbers reaching 3 billion doses,” BioNTech’s Chief Executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin said at a webcast event organised by the Financial Times.

“We are happy that we are not facing too many technical problems and keep our delivery schedules,” he added.

The Mainz-based biotech company said in March that it and its US partner Pfizer upgraded their supply chain to produce 2.5 billion vaccine doses this year, of which 1.4 billion were already sold.

Vaccine passport

The world’s 20 major economies threw their weight behind efforts to introduce so-called vaccine passports to boost travel and tourism, stressing that a resumption is crucial for a global economic recovery, according to a draft statement seen by Bloomberg.

Tourism ministers from the Group of 20 nations, who met on Tuesday, said the outlook for a sector devastated by pandemic lockdowns remains “highly uncertain,” according to the draft, which is subject to change.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the most hard hit economically by restrictions on activity to contain the coronavirus. It saw its contribution to global output collapse by 49 percent to 4.7 trillion dollars in 2020, causing the loss of 62 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. International visitor spending plunged by an unprecedented 69 percent.

Denmark

Denmark will allow elementary schools to fully reopen and a range of indoor activities to resume this week, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Entrance to the reopened facilities is dependent on showing a “corona passport”, that shows that holders have either been vaccinated, previously infected or have had a negative test in the past 72 hours.

The changes will take effect on May 6.

Meanwhile, the Danish Health Authority has decided to drop the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from its mass coronavirus vaccination program.

"Taking the present situation in Denmark into account, what we are currently losing in our effort to prevent severe illness from COVID-19 cannot outweigh the risk of causing possible side effects in the form of severe blood clots in those we vaccinate," the Danish Health Authority's Deputy Director General Helene Probst said in a press release.

The authority's decision that "the benefits do not outweigh the risks" comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that a possible link existed between rare but severe cases of blood clots (vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia or VITT) and the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

However, the Health Authority noted that the decision does not rule out that Johnson & Johnson vaccines may be used later.

United States

The US Food and Drug Administration is preparing to authorize Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents aged between 12 and 15 years by early next week, the New York Times (NYT) reported on Monday, citing federal officials familiar with the agency's plans.

An approval is highly anticipated after the drugmakers said in March that the vaccine was found to be safe, effective and produced robust antibody responses in 12- to 15-year-olds in a clinical trial.

The vaccine has already been cleared in the United States for people aged 16 and above.

If an approval for the 12-15 year olds is granted, the US Centers for Disease Control's vaccine advisory panel will likely meet the following day to review the clinical trial data and make recommendations for the vaccine's use in adolescents, the report added.

Meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 in the United States fell for a third week in a row, dropping 15 percent last week to 347,000, the lowest weekly total since October, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Health officials have warned that more contagious variants of the coronavirus are still circulating, such as the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

Nationally, deaths from COVID-19 fell 3 percent to 4,819 in the week ended May 2, the fewest deaths in a week since July.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 153.57 million while the global death toll topped 3.21 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Canada

As Canada’s vaccination campaign ramps up, people at higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 often lack the resources to navigate labyrinthine booking systems or the documentation that would ease their path to inoculation.

Those without provincial health insurance, such as refugee claimants or undocumented workers, often perform front-line jobs or live in neighbourhoods that put them at high risk of infection. Immunizing this population is critical to tackling Canada’s crushing third-wave of the pandemic, epidemiologists said.

But a recent study from Toronto's ICES - previously known as the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences - found vaccination rates are lower among Ontario's immigrants, refugees, and those new to the provincial health system.

Twenty-two percent of refugees had at least one dose of vaccine, as did 12 percent of recent provincial health plan registrants, well below the 38 percent for Canadian-born and long-term residents, the study found.

Ontario, Canada's most populous province, does not require people to have provincial health insurance to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. But it can be extremely difficult for people without a health card to sign up for a shot.

Brazil

Brazil is close to signing a second contract with Pfizer Inc for another 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, of which 35 million shots are due to be delivered in October, Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Monday.

That raises to 200 million doses of the Pfizer shot for Brazil this year, he said, aimed at relieving the shortage of vaccines contributing to the world's second-deadliest outbreak outside the United States.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, announced over the weekend that it was delaying second doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine made by China's Sinovac Biotech, because it was running out of shots. The second dose will only be applied every other day until more supplies arrive from the finishing facility at the Butantan biomedical center in Sao Paulo.

So far, Butantan has delivered 42 million doses of CoronaVac to the national immunization program, compared to 26.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine filled and finished by Fiocruz biomedical center in Rio de Janeiro.

Queiroga blamed what he saw as failures in intensive care wards for the large toll caused by COVID-19 in Brazil, which has passed 407,000 confirmed deaths.

"We cannot accept that out of every 10 patients who are intubated, eight die. That is why we have so many deaths, because health care does not give the answer we expect from it," said Queiroga, who took office in March as Brazil's fourth health minister tackling its worsening pandemic.

Meanwhile, Brazil's COVID-19 death toll reached 408,622 after 983 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said on Monday.

Virus tests detected 24,619 new infections in the same period, taking its nationwide tally to 14,779,529.

ALSO READ: US, Canada boats at Niagara Falls show contrast in virus approach

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago said on Monday it was tightening lockdown restrictions for three weeks starting at midnight as the number of new COVID-19 cases hits record highs and the Caribbean twin-island nation faces a potential shortage of hospital beds.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that under the new restrictions, only businesses deemed essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies and financial services would remain open, for reduced hours, in addition to the key energy and manufacturing sectors.

The government shut down shopping malls, cinemas, theaters, restaurants, bars, places of worship, beauty salons and fitness centers last week in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus. Other non-essential retail and food businesses such as street-food vendors will close from midnight.

The country of more than 1.3 million people managed to curb COVID-19 infections during much of last year. Its total tally of 11,313 cases and 174 deaths since the start of the pandemic is still less than half the global average per capita.

Yet contagion has surged lately, with Trinidad and Tobago currently registering 2,506 active COVID-19 cases. Health officials warn the healthcare system could be overwhelmed in 10 days if the trend continues

European Union

The European Commission on Monday called on the member states of the European Union (EU) to grant entry to travellers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation.

"The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine," the EU's executive arm said in a press release, adding that a vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation should also be accepted.

Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from seven countries with a good epidemiological situation.

The proposal is to be discussed this week at the Council of the EU.

This handout picture taken and released on Feb 12, 2021 by World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivering remarks during a press conference on Feb 12, 2021 in Geneva. (CHRISTOPHER BLACK/WHO/AFP)

WHO

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday called for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19 vaccines, as infection rates are on the rise and many countries face the "acute problem" of vaccine shortage.

"If we're going to vaccinate majority of the adults to bring herd immunity, then the amount of vaccine we need will be significantly more than what we have now," said Tedros during a WHO press conference on Monday.

"The production capacity should increase. And that's why the Intellectual Property waiver will be very important," he noted, adding that it wasn't "a charity issue."

A temporary suspension of IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines could be instrumental in vaccine manufacturing "in Africa and in other parts of the world where manufacturing is not happening," said former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Many countries, including South Africa and India, have called for temporarily suspending IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines to allow production globally.

The World Trade Organization was discussing the IP waiver last week but no definite conclusions have been reached yet in Geneva.

Italy

The main coronavirus indicators continued to show improvement in Italy a week into the country's gradual loosening of pandemic restrictions, though health experts keep urging caution.

Ministry of Health data showed 5,948 new coronavirus infections and 256 deaths over the 24-hour period ending Monday.

For the second consecutive day, the total for new infections was under 10,000 -- a level that had been seen just four times before then since Feb. 23. On Sunday, the one-day death toll was 144, a figure unseen since October 2020. Though Monday's daily toll was higher than the previous day, it was still below 300 for the fifth consecutive day, and all told, the mortality figure has remained below 500 all but four days since Jan. 27.

Other indicators showed similar trends.

There were 2,490 patients in intensive care units as of Monday. That is 34 more than on Sunday but down from more than 3,000 ten days ago and from nearly 3,600 three weeks ago. More than 13,000 people were declared cured over the past 24 hours, bringing the tally of those recovered to more than 3.5 million since the start of the pandemic, lowering the total number of active cases in Italy to 423,558.

Recoveries have now outnumbered new cases for the 40th time in 43 days since their recent peak of more than 582,000 in late March, and they remain well below the all-time high of nearly 813,000 from late last November.

Uruguay

Uruguay on Monday began the process of gradually resuming in-person classes, which have been suspended due to the novel coronavirus disease, the president of the National Public Education Administration (ANEP), Robert Silva, said.

Rural schools that operate with a single teacher began face-to-face teaching, with 726 such facilities welcoming back some 6,000 preschool and elementary school students.

"Today they open for the five hours, every day of the week, and with dining hall services enabled," Silva told reporters on a tour of rural schools.

Uruguay is going through the worst stage of its COVID-19 outbreak, with a total of 202,492 confirmed cases and 2,724 related deaths as of Sunday.

Ecuador

Ecuador's Ministry of Health reported on Monday 747 new COVID-19 infections and 20 more deaths in the last 24 hours, for a total of 388,046 cases and 13,599 deaths.

The province of Pichincha registered 331 infections in the one day, with 313 recorded in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the South American country.

Meanwhile, variants of the novel coronavirus first seen in other countries have been detected in eight provinces in Ecuador, according to the Emergency Operations Committee.

Ireland

Another 453 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Ireland on Monday, bringing the total number of such cases in the country to over 250,000.

A total of 250,290 people in Ireland have been infected with COVID-19 since the country reported its first confirmed case in late February 2020, said the Irish Department of Heath in a statement on Monday, adding that 4,906 people in the country have died from the virus.

The statement also said that over 1.59 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Ireland as of May 1, of which more than 1.14 million people had received their first shot while nearly 450,000 people had received their second shot.

This means nearly 32 percent of the country's population have been partially vaccinated while close to nine percent have been fully vaccinated.

Cuba

Cuba's Public Health Ministry reported on Monday 932 new COVID-19 infections and 11 more deaths in the last day, bringing the totals to 109,625 cases and 675 deaths.

Today's figures show a high transmission, the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran said during his daily report, adding that of the new cases, 884 were from community transmission.

Havana had 539 of the new daily cases, and continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic on the island, with an incidence rate of 444.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the country.

Russia

Russia confirmed 7,770 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest daily count since Sept. 26 last year, the country's COVID-19 response center said Tuesday.

The country's caseload reached 4,839,514, while COVID-19 death toll rose by 337 to 111,535 in the past day. And the number of recoveries grew by 6,755 to 4,457,044.

Moscow, Russia's worst-hit region, reported 2,050 new cases, taking its total to 1,103,403.

So far, more than 130.2 million coronavirus tests have been conducted across the country.

Germany

Germany’s cabinet agreed on Tuesday to ease restrictions on people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said, in the first step towards restoring the rights of citizens.

Lambrecht said the curbs, introduced to contain infections and prevent the health system from becoming overburdened, must be relaxed once they can no longer be justified.

“If the risk of virus transmission is greatly reduced in fully vaccinated and recovered people, this must be taken into account in the measures. We have now implemented this,” she said.

Germany's Oktoberfest, the world's largest beer festival hosted annually by Munich, will be canceled for the second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bavaria's Minister President Markus Soeder and Mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter announced at a press conference on Monday.

At their meeting, the two politicians agreed to recommend that large festivals should be canceled or not held in Bavaria this season. They explained the decision with the precariousness of the COVID-19 situation.

ALSO READ: Germany rejects EU executive call to ease virus border curbs

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 511,912 on Monday as 56 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Health, the death toll rose to 9,032 with four new fatalities during the last 24 hours, while 302 people are in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, 5,107,128 people have received so far the first vaccine shots against COVID-19 in the country, and 4,282,269 people have received the second doses.

Algeria

Algeria on Monday reported 211 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the North African country to 122,717.

The death toll from the virus rose to 3,280 after ten new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.

Djamel Fourar, a member of the Algerian Scientific Committee monitoring the spread of COVID-19, said the beds in many hospitals are full and there may be more pressure in the coming weeks, the official APS news agency reported on Monday.

Tanzania

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) pledged more support to Tanzania in areas mostly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, said the presidency on Monday.

A statement by the Directorate of Presidential Communications in the capital Dodoma said IMF's support was made by the IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in a video conference with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

The IMF is currently working on approving a soft loan for Tanzania to enable the country to cope with the effects of COVID-19, said the IMF chief.

President Hassan thanked the IMF for supporting Tanzania's economic transformation and pledged to make the country more conducive for investment.

Hassan said COVID-19 saw the country's economic growth declining from 6.9 percent in 2020 to 4.7 percent in the first four months of 2021.

South Sudan

School reopened Monday in South Sudan after closure for more than one year due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Hussein Abdelbagi Akol, vice president in charge of service cluster, said the decision came in the wake of the recent drop in COVID-19 infections since March.

Awut Deng Acuil, minister of general education and instruction, urged parents and guardians to enroll their children, including pregnant and breast feeding girls, adding that the government is doing everything in its power to ensure that schools reopen safely.

She revealed that the reopening of schools came after the Girls' Education South Sudan (GESS), an education program, and the Global Partnership for Education, a partnership and funding platform that aims to strengthen education systems in developing countries, provided funds to enable distribution of water sanitation and hygiene supplies, thermometers, reusable masks and menstrual hygiene management kits.

Croatia

Croatia's chief epidemiologist Krunoslav Capak said on Monday that the country is flattening the coronavirus curve and that he expects to see a drop in new hospitalizations and COVID-19-related deaths soon.

"This doesn't mean that the pandemic is over, but the third wave has ended," Capak told reporters in Koprivnica, a city in northern Croatia, which pioneered drive-through vaccination in the country. It is still possible that the new variants would result in a number of new COVID-19 cases, "but it seems to us that this is going in the right direction and that we have a decline."

According to Capak, Croatia plans to administer two million vaccine doses and to vaccinate 55 percent of the country's four million population by the end of June. Croatia is now receiving larger weekly vaccine deliveries and has accelerated its vaccination campaign. Furthermore, Capak said that the country has also stepped up its campaign aimed at educating the public.

In the past 24 hours, Croatia has registered 349 new cases of coronavirus infection and 36 related deaths. As of May 2, more than 900,000 vaccine doses had been administered in the country, and 708,137 people, or 21 percent of the adult population, had been vaccinated.

Argentina

Argentina on Monday reported 540 new COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, raising the pandemic death toll to 64,792.

Meanwhile, tests detected 15,920 more cases of infection, bringing the country's total caseload to 3,021,179.

The province of Buenos Aires continues to be the hardest-hit region, with a total of 1,319,543 infections, or 43.67 percent of all cases registered in Argentina.

Chile

New cases of COVID-19 in Chile decreased by 14 percent in the past 14 days and 9 percent in the last seven days, Chile's Health Minister Enrique Paris said on Monday.

April 5-11 was "a critical week," with an average of 8,000 new cases a day, forcing the government to postpone landmark elections for a constituent assembly, Paris said.

The elections were rescheduled for May 15-16, when "between 3,500 and 4,500 daily cases" of COVID-19 are expected, Paris said at a press conference.

The country reported 4,874 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the accumulated caseload to 1,215,815.

In the same period, 98 more people died of the disease, bringing the pandemic death toll to 26,659.

Greece

Greece allowed restaurants and bars to open from Monday as it took a further step towards easing coronavirus restrictions ahead of the planned start of the tourist season on May 15.

Six months after the government reimposed lockdown measures in the face of a second wave of the pandemic, the chance to return to bars and tavernas was like a small step towards normality for many enjoying warm Easter weather.

Greece got through the first wave of the pandemic in better shape than many other European countries but its health services were put under severe strain in recent months by a surge in infections in areas, including the capital Athens and the second-largest city Thessaloniki. It has recorded a total of 348,568 cases and 10,587 deaths.

As cheap self-testing and vaccinations gathered pace, the government has started easing restrictions and hopes to avoid another lost summer for the tourist sector, which accounts for a fifth of the country's economic output and one in five jobs.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said vaccines and lockdown measures have helped stabilize case rates but he wants the re-opening to move cautiously to avoid a resurgence of infections.

Mexico

Mexico hopes to finish vaccinating its entire population against COVID-19 by the end of next year's first quarter, Mexico's deputy health minister, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said Monday evening.

The projection takes into consideration global delays in vaccination production and vaccine delivery to Mexico, said Lopez-Gatell, who has spearheaded the country's response to the coronavirus.

So far Mexico has administered one vaccine dose to some 10 percent of its 126 million inhabitants. Lopez-Gatell said that by mid-July, 20 percent of the population will have received at least one dose.

The Health Ministry earlier in the day reported 1,027 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 112 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 2,349,900 and fatalities to 217,345.

Britain's Trade Minister Liz Truss walks through Downing Street in central London on Sept 22, 2020 to attend the weekly meeting of the cabinet. (PHOTO / AFP)

UK

Britain is set to announce the green list for countries that people can travel to on holiday shortly, and will have the right procedures in place to ensure travel can happen safely, said Trade Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday.

Hopes that Britons will be able to travel to Europe rose on Monday after the European Union recommended easing restrictions to allow in people who were fully vaccinated or from countries with a "good epidemiological situation", boosting travel stocks.

The British government said in mid-April it would announce which countries would be open for quarantine-free travel from England in early May, ahead of a plan to allow holidays again from May 17 at the earliest.

"I don't think it will be much longer before we make those announcements," Truss told Sky News.

Sources have suggested the list could be published on Friday, after local elections are held on Thursday.

"People are looking to book a holiday but I would encourage people to wait until we make that announcement," Truss added.

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