A random look at how countries in various parts of the globe are handling the pandemic, the administration of vaccines, and frustrated populations. Note, this information can change daily!
The health minister of Canada’s most populous province says Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older. Elliott says for anyone over that age, it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine. There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to “suggested superior efficacy”.
In British Columbia, immunization efforts ramp up with a new vaccine rollout plan and B.C.’s top doctor says the province may be easing COVID-19 restrictions in the weeks ahead.
President Joe Biden called out Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi for “Neanderthal thinking” in deciding to relax their mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. The governors of both states announced recently that they would lift their states’ mask mandates and other restrictions on businesses and gatherings aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. Biden called it a “big mistake” while speaking in the Oval Office during a meeting with lawmakers, who each wore a mask. He said, “I hope everyone has realized by now, these masks make a difference.”
Biden added: “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease” and said, “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it.”
The US administration is warning against virus fatigue and encouraging Americans to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing despite many states easing restrictions.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation is “at a critical nexus in the pandemic,” and the next two months are “pivotal” in determining the remaining course of the pandemic.
The interim analysis of results from an Indian vaccine maker’s late-stage trials shows its COVID-19 vaccine to be about 81% effective in preventing illness from the coronavirus.
The Bharat Biotech vaccine was controversially approved by India in January without waiting for trials to confirm that the vaccine was effective. Since then 1.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India.
Germany is extending strict checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province until March 17. The checks were introduced on Feb. 14, initially for a 10-day period, in a bid to reduce the spread of possibly more contagious coronavirus variants that have taken hold in those areas.
Germany is limiting entry to its own citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All must show a negative coronavirus test.
Poland’s biotechnology company Mabion S.A. says it signed a framework agreement with the US vaccine development company Novavax. It would produce an active component, an antigen, of the US firm’s anti-COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement provides for a transfer of technology to Mabion, which is to make a technical series of the antigen. If the tests prove successful and Novavax vaccine gets approval from European, the companies will discuss co-operation on large-scale production, also for Europe’s needs.
Poland’s state Development Fund is to support the trial stage with up to 40 million zlotys ($10.6 million.) Amid a sharp rise in new infections, Poland is seeking to increase its purchases of COVID-19 vaccines. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda spoke this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the possibility of buying the Chinese vaccine.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is considering extending an ongoing state of emergency for the Tokyo region for about two weeks, amid concerns that infections have not slowed enough and are continuing to strain health systems in the region.
Suga had declared a month-long state of emergency on Jan. 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, then extended the measure through to March 7. The measure issued for up to 10 other urban prefectures later in January was lifted last week, underscoring the government’s eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.
Daily new cases in Tokyo have significantly decreased after they peaked at around 2,000 in early January, but the slide has slowed recently. Suga said medical systems in the region are still burdened with COVID-19 patients and that more hospital beds need to be freed up.
Sweden and Norway
A top health official in the Swedish capital says a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit Stockholm after a drop in cases after the New Year. Cases in the capital have been rising sharply for the past three weeks. Officials in neighbouring Norway said restaurants and gyms in some areas would be closed after pockets of virus outbreaks in the capital Oslo and elsewhere. The move comes after more cases of the virus mutations have been reported in Norway.
Spain has imposed a 10-day quarantine on travellers arriving from Colombia, Peru, and eight African countries, in addition to maintaining the quarantine on arrivals from Brazil and South Africa due to concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Visitors can reduce the quarantine to seven days if they provide a negative result for a COVID-19 test.
Estonia has issued additional coronavirus restrictions and will close restaurants and all non-essential shops for weekends to curb the worsening pandemic situation in the small Baltic country.
Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, has seen a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past weeks as the pandemic has spread across the nation.
Slovakia is tightening restrictive measures in a bid to halt the spread of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first found in Britain. Starting Wednesday, Slovakia, one of the hardest-hit European Union countries, is imposing a nationwide curfew between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Authorities are also tightening rules for international travellers Wednesday to try to prevent virus variants from spreading or entering the country. Police and military officers are set to enforce the new measures by re-imposing border checks for 24 hours a day on all major border crossings with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
In Slovakia’s already tight lockdown, people in counties where the virus situation is considered serious need to take a test every seven days to be able to go to work.
Dutch police say a blast smashed windows at a coronavirus testing centre in a small town north of Amsterdam in the early morning. Nobody was hurt. Police have taped off the area about 60 kilometres north of Amsterdam and are investigating the cause of the blast.
In January, rioters torched a coronavirus test facility in the fishing village of Urk on the first night of a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. nationwide curfew imposed as part of the government’s lockdown.
Taiwan has signed contracts securing 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX.
Health care workers, especially those who have direct contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be the first to get the shots, Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a news briefing. The island has yet to announce a mass vaccination campaign for the general public.
The island is planning to give the first dose to 117,000 individuals, the minister said, with the first dose providing an efficacy rate of 71%. The second dose is meant to be given eight weeks later, boosting effectiveness to 81%.
New Zealand reported no new community cases of the coronavirus for a third consecutive day as the latest outbreak in Auckland appears to have been brought under control. The government placed the nation’s largest city into a weeklong lockdown Sunday after several new community cases were found.
Top lawmakers in the Cabinet are meeting Friday to review the lockdown. Also, health officials announced they had given the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 9,000 people, including more than half of the 12,000 people who work at the border.
New Zealand currently has a supply of about 200,000 doses. The country has been slower than many to begin its vaccination campaign but is seen as lower risk after eliminating community spread of the virus.