Coronavirus live news: India extends record daily run of new infections; Japan to expand quasi-emergency measures | World news


9.17am EDT

By the end of May, one in three Germans should have been offered the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the health minister, Jens Spahn, has said.

Germany should be able to abandon its strict prioritisation list for coronavirus vaccinations towards the summer, Spahn told a news conference.

at 9.27am EDT

9.08am EDT

Covid-19 infections across all parts of the UK have fallen to the lowest level since the autumn, new figures suggest.

According to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one in 480 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to 10 April – down from one in 340 the previous week.

This is the lowest figure since the week to 19 September 2020, when the estimate stood at one in 500.

Meanwhile in Wales, about one in 920 people was estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to 10 April – down from one in 800 in the week before and the lowest level since the week to 10 September.

In Northern Ireland, the estimate was around one in 710 people, a drop from one in 300 in the previous week and the lowest since estimates there began in October.

The estimate for Scotland was about one in 500, falling from one in 410 and again the lowest since estimates began in October.

The drop in infection levels across the UK marks a contrast to rising case rates in other parts of the world.

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said coronavirus cases globally were rising at “worrying” rates and highlighted that the number of new cases confirmed per week had nearly doubled during the past two months.

Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland on Friday, he said the number of new cases “is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far in the pandemic”.

It comes as Downing Street insisted that the government’s red list of travel ban countries was “under constant review” when asked why India did not feature on it.

India has seen soaring Covid-19 rates, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deaths recorded.

at 9.15am EDT

8.31am EDT

Germany on Friday removed the UK from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travellers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival with effect from Sunday.

The Robert Koch Institute for infections diseases said on its website:

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland including Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the British Overseas Territories … is no longer considered as [a] risk area.

It also struck Barbados, the Pirkanmaa region of Finland and the mid-west and south-east regions of Ireland from the risk list, Reuters reports.

With the exception of a handful of countries including Japan, Israel and Vietnam, most countries are on a virus risk list.

Germany had in December included the UK on a no-arrivals list after a new more infectious coronavirus variant appeared in the country but the pandemic situation has dramatically improved since then.

at 8.51am EDT

8.20am EDT

People in their 30s showed up in their hundreds on Friday morning as Latvia offered the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone who wanted it in order to clear a growing backlog of the shot often refused by the old.

Latvia is now vaccinating people over 65 and those with chronic illnesses, but many do not show up when told they will be given AstraZeneca, Reuters reports.

Hundreds of people queue up outside a mass vaccination centre as Latvia opens walk-in vaccination scheme in Riga, Latvia. Photograph: Janis Laizans/Reuters

“We queued two and half hours before opening, around 6:30 in the morning, because this is the only way out of this for us,” Riga resident Vladlens Kovalevs told Reuters at a converted convention centre in the city.

Partly due to hesitancy over AstraZeneca, Latvia has been lagging in vaccination, with only 7.8% of adults getting at least a single dose by Sunday, the worst result in the European Union, according to European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of about 8,000 doses were distributed to seven vaccination centres around the country, to be used over the weekend, in one of the first open-to-all Covid-19 vaccination schemes in the EU.

Eva Juhnevica, the chief of Latvia’s vaccination programme, said:

We had an AstraZeneca surplus and to avoid keeping vaccines in the warehouse we decided to make this walk-in line open to anyone.

Latvia and neighbouring Lithuania asked Denmark to sell them its leftover vaccines to speed up their own efforts.

In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a similar backlog of vaccines was cleared after being offered to the young, who were not expecting to get a shot so early.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius told Reuters:

People over 65 in Vilnius are extremely reluctant to take AstraZeneca vaccine – so we began giving them Pfizer vaccine, and opened up AstraZeneca vaccination to priority groups containing younger people.

And the vaccination is now going smoothly.

at 8.27am EDT

8.15am EDT

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered 7,658 new coronavirus cases on Friday, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 27 new deaths, taking the total to 13,788. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

at 8.22am EDT

7.36am EDT

Vaccine giant tweets Biden to end US raw materials ’embargo’

The head of the world’s largest vaccine maker directly tweeted the US president Joe Biden on Friday urging him to lift an export ban on raw materials desperately needed to make more coronavirus shots.

The unusual step by Serum Institute (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla underlined the crisis in providing vaccines to developing nations, many of which rely heavily on the firm for supplies, AFP reports.

Adar Poonawalla

Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details. 🙏🙏

April 16, 2021

There was no immediate response from the president on Twitter.

The world’s biggest vaccine producer by volume, SII has struggled to meet demand for the AstraZeneca jab, which it manufactures, after India put the brakes on allowing exports of the shots as it battles a ferocious second wave.

Poonawalla said last week that production was “very stressed” and called on the Indian government to provide it with financial assistance.

at 7.43am EDT

7.18am EDT

Johnson & Johnson reached out to rival Covid-19 vaccine makers to join in an effort to study the risks of blood clots, but Pfizer and Moderna declined, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Only AstraZeneca, which had been buffeted by similar blood-clotting concerns for weeks, agreed, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.

You can read that story here (£).

at 7.21am EDT

7.10am EDT

Workers on zero-hours contracts and other insecure jobs are twice as likely to have died of Covid-19 as those in other professions, a report has found.

The research from the Trades Union Congress in England and Wales showed those on the frontline of the pandemic, such as care workers, nurses and delivery drivers, were at a higher risk of death.

It said many of these key workers were in insecure work, such as zero-hours contracts and agency employment, landing them with a “triple whammy” of no sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay, while having to shoulder more risk of infection.

Read the full story here:

6.48am EDT

Australia’s medicine regulator has determined the death of a 48-year-old woman with diabetes who developed blood clots after receiving AstraZeneca was “likely” linked to the vaccine.

On Friday night, the Therapeutic Goods Administration said experts had concluded the New South Wales woman’s death four days after receiving the vaccination was likely linked to the jab.

“In the absence of an alternative cause for the clinical syndrome, VSIG believed that a causative link to vaccination should be assumed at this time,” the TGA said in a statement.

Read the full story here:

at 6.59am EDT

6.36am EDT

The discovery of 77 UK cases of a coronavirus variant first detected in India could be a cause for concern, an expert has said.

Public Health England (PHE) reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant have been confirmed in England as well as four cases in Scotland.

The figures come from the latest update of PHE’s surveillance of the distribution of variants across the UK, based on data up to 7 April.

Officials have designated it a “variant under investigation” (VUI) rather than a “variant of concern” (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

In India, Covid-19 rates are soaring, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deaths.

The country is not on the government’s “red list” of travel ban nations, which refuses entry to the UK of people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days.

British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.

Boris Johnson has scaled down a planned trip to India due to its worsening Covid situation.

The prime minister was due to spend four days there at the end of the month but, following talks with Narendra Modi’s administration, the “bulk” of the meetings could be fitted into one day.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told PA it is “not surprising” that the variant has come from India.

If you think about where the main variants have arisen – South Africa, the UK, California, Brazil, and now India – all of these are countries that have really struggled to keep case numbers down.

So it’s not surprising. India has got a huge pandemic, and therefore that’s where you’re going to be getting the variant.

The big, big anxiety with this one is that it seems – and again this is still a little bit speculative because it hasn’t been confirmed – but … there are two mutations here that are causing people to be concerned.

at 6.53am EDT

6.21am EDT

Today so far …

  • The number of new Covid-19 cases per week has nearly doubled globally over the past two months, approaching the highest rate seen so far during the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said this morning.
  • India’s daily Covid-19 vaccinations have slowed from their record high early this month while new infections have set a record in eight of the past nine days.
  • The CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has urged US president Joe Biden to lift an embargo on exports of raw materials that it says is hurting its production of Covid -19 shots.
  • Vietnam’s health ministry called for the acceleration of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout on Friday as the expiry date of the south-east Asian country’s first batch of jabs supplied through the Covax scheme approaches.
  • More than 16,000 expired AstraZeneca Covid-19 doses are to be destroyed in Malawi as concerns over vaccine hesitancy increase. The vaccines are among 102,000 doses donated by the African Union (AU) to the Malawian government last month.
  • Thailand will close close schools, bars and massage parlours, as well as ban alcohol sales in restaurants, for at least two weeks starting from Sunday, after a jump in Covid-19 cases.
  • Sweden will ease restrictions on citizens who have had at least one vaccination shot against Covid-19.
  • In Scotland, changes in the rules mean people will be allowed to meet in groups of up to six adults from six households in outdoor settings from today for socialising, recreation and exercise. They will also be permitted to travel across Scotland for the first time since December – provided they do not stay overnight.
  • Denmark advanced its reopening plan on the back of stable infection rates, allowing indoor serving at restaurants and bars and some football fans to cheer from the stands from 21 April, weeks earlier than originally planned.
  • French president Emmanuel Macron told local mayors that the epidemic was likely to progress over the next eight to 10 days, with a peak of infections in France between the 25 April and 30 April, and a peak in hospital admissions between now and the end of the month.
  • Monaco has announced it is easing health restrictions, without resolving fully whether fans would be allowed at its Formula One grand prix next month.

That’s your lot today from me, Martin Belam. My colleague Nicola Slawson will be along to take you through the rest of the day shortly. I’ll see you here again on Monday. Take care and have a great weekend.

6.07am EDT

With infections again on the rise and Europe’s vaccine rollout delayed over clotting concerns, the Spanish government is under pressure to extend a state of emergency to fight the pandemic.

Activated in October, the measure allows the central and regional governments to adopt measures that curb individual freedoms, such as imposing curfews and closing regional borders to anyone moving without just cause. It is due to expire on 9 May.

Agence France-Presse reports that the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has said his government does not intend to prolong it, arguing the regional authorities had “sufficient tools” to tackle the crisis and that a vaccine was now available.

“The circumstances are different,” he said during a debate in parliament earlier this week. “The alternative to a state of emergency is a vaccination programme, which is intensifying.”

But many regional governments – which are responsible for healthcare – fear that lifting it will throw them into a legal limbo that will hurt efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 and are pushing for an extension.

Iñigo Urkullu, head of the northern Basque Country region, has warned it would remove the “legal guarantees” for imposing measures such as restrictions on mobility.

Regions popular with domestic tourists are especially worried about losing the ability to ban travel in and out of their territory, fearing an influx of visitors from areas with higher infection rates once the emergency ends.

The government has continued to insist it will meet its target of vaccinating 70% of Spain’s population by the end of August.

at 6.22am EDT

5.44am EDT

Thailand to impose additional Covid restrictions for at least two weeks

Just a bit more from Thailand here. As expected, the country will close schools, bars and massage parlours, as well as ban alcohol sales in restaurants, for at least two weeks starting from Sunday, after a jump in Covid-19 cases, Reuters reports.

Activities involving more than 50 people will also be prohibited, Thailand’s coronavirus taskforce spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, said, adding that 18 provinces including Bangkok had been labelled as red zones with the rest of the country categorised as orange zones.

at 5.56am EDT

5.30am EDT

The French president Emmanuel Macron told local mayors in a video-link up last night that the epidemic was likely to progress in France over the next eight to 10 days, with a peak of infections between the 25 April and 30 April, and a peak in hospital admissions between now and the end of the month.

The government spokesman said this morning that creches, nursery schools and primary schools would definitely reopen as planned on 26 April, with secondary schools following on 3 May. The government has not yet set a date for gradually reopening outdoor dining or museums, which could progressively begin from mid-May, and might be organised by region.

France was placed in a third, partial lockdown at the beginning of April, as new infections were rising and hospitals struggling to find beds for patients. The total number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,900 this week. Schools have been closed with a ban on most domestic travel and the shutting of most non-essential shops. An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since mid-December, and all France’s restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.

at 5.37am EDT

5.25am EDT

Monaco has announced it is easing health restrictions, without resolving fully whether fans would be allowed at its Formula One grand prix next month.

“Monaco is taking its decisions in the light of its own situation, in full sovereignty but also in mutual agreement with France,” the principality’s minister of state Pierre Dartout told a press briefing.

He said that from Monday, the curfew would move to 9pm local time and there would be a controlled reopening of restaurants in the evening.

Reuters reports that restaurants, which have been able to open only at lunchtime, may serve customers in the evening until 9.30pm but they are not allowed to play music and customers must return home by 10pm with a certificate from the restaurant owner. The provisions extend to 2 May, three weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix , which is scheduled for May 23.

“It is not a question of complacency, but a certain number of favourable developments have taken place,” Dartout said, saying an infection rate of the virus had fallen to 80 per 100,000 on Wednesday.

For the grand prix, a centrepiece of Monaco’s calendar, there will be a closed practice session on Friday but a crowd, limited to local residents and employees, will be allowed for qualifying on Saturday and for the race on Sunday, the government announced.

Monaco has not yet given any public indication of whether fans would allowed to watch from the stands, terraces and balconies, or whether the traditional influx of visiting fans would be permitted.

at 5.34am EDT



Robert Dunfee