Covid 19 coronavirus: Around the world – situation update

France has opened up virus vaccinations to adults of all ages earlier than originally scheduled, as vaccine deliveries have picked up speed.

More than 48 per cent of France’s adult population has had at least one dose, and more than 20 per cent have had two, according to public health authorities. After a slow start blamed on bureaucracy and delayed deliveries, France has now administered more than 36 million vaccine doses.

As of Monday, anyone 18 and over can sign up for an injection. And 12 to 15-year-olds should have access soon too, after the European Medicines Agency authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group last week. Prime Minister Jean Castex said Monday “the horizon is clearing” but warned be people to stay vigilant.

France has registered more virus infections than any European country, and more than 109,000 deaths linked to Covid-19.

Virus patients still occupy more than half of the intensive care beds France had before the pandemic but their numbers have been falling for weeks and the country is gradually reopening its restaurants, businesses and tourist sites.

In other countres:

• UK carries out surge vaccinations at a rugby stadium in London to fight off the variant first found in India

•American veterans return to Memorial Day traditions as pandemic eases

• China re-imposes travel curbs on southern province after fresh virus cases

• Vietnam to test all 9 million residents of Ho Chi Minh city amid outbreak.

Britain

UK health authorities are aiming to vaccinate 15,000 people in one day at London’s Twickenham rugby stadium as part of a race to contain a fast-spreading coronavirus variant.

The strain, first identified in India, accounts for a majority of new cases in the U.K., which is seeing a rise in infections after weeks of decline. Scientists say the variant is more transmissible than even the previously dominant strain first found in the U.K. but current vaccines are effective against it.

Many scientists are urging the Conservative government to delay plans to lift social distancing and other restrictions on June 21, arguing that more people need to be vaccinated before measures can be eased safely. The government will announce its decision on June 14.

Three-quarters of UK adults have had one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and almost half have had both doses.

The Twickenham walk-in vaccination centre is offering jabs without an appointment on Monday to people from northwest London, a hotspot for the Indian-identified variant.

Health officials in the northwest England town of Bolton, which had the highest rates of the new variant, say infections are starting to fall after a mass testing and “surge vaccination” campaign.

Australia

Authorities say a Covid-19 cluster in Australia’s second-largest city has spread into to nursing homes.

Victoria state began a seven-day lockdown on Friday due to a cluster in its capital Melbourne.

State health authorities on Monday announced 11 new cases.

A second staff member and a 90-year-old resident of the Arcare Maidstone Aged Care facility in Melbourne were among the new infections. The first infected staff member was reported on Sunday.

The second staff member had also worked at the BlueCross Western Gardens nursing home in Melbourne last week and had not been vaccinated.

The BlueCross facility has gone into lockdown after the news.

Health Minister Martin Foley described the cluster spreading into aged care homes as a “very great concern to the Victorian government.”

The vast majority of Victoria’s 820 coronavirus deaths have been in nursing homes.

Japan

Japan extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days on Friday, with infections still not slowing as it prepares to host the Olympics in just over 50 days.

Cases remain high and medical systems in Osaka, the hardest-hit area in western Japan, are still overburdened, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in announcing the decision.

“I am aware that many people are voicing concern about holding the Olympics and Paralympics,” he said. “I take them seriously, and I will proceed with preparations for a safe and secure games.”

He said the next three weeks are “an extremely important time for us to achieve results” in a two-pronged battle to control infections while expanding vaccinations.

United States

Bars and restaurants no longer have to close at midnight across New York state, as its coronavirus curfew for indoor dining ended Monday.

With that, establishments can return to the closing times that their liquor licenses or other regulations allow.

A similar pandemic curfew for outdoor dining ended May 17, although some local governments have their own closing-time rules for outdoor tables.

Restaurateurs have been looking forward to the later hours as they try to recover from the shutdowns and other limitations on their business during the virus crisis.

“The lifting of the curfew is critically important,” the NYC Hospitality Alliance’s executive director, Andrew Rigie. “We’re a 24/7 city, so there’s tons of people that would still be out eating and drinking after midnight.”

Europe

Coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths are plummeting across the continent, after Europe led the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.

Now, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations on Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. There are hopes for a rebirth of a tourism industry that in Spain and Italy alone accounts for 13 per cent of gross domestic product but was wiped out by the pandemic.

Children in Romania between 12 and 15 can start receiving Covid-19 vaccinations on Tuesday, the prime minister says.

The move follows the European Medicines Agency’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine last week for that age group.

“During this pandemic the children have suffered a lot, were isolated, and it was very difficult to explain to them every time why. This is where the idea for this program came from,” Prime Minister Florin Citu said in a government meeting Monday.

Romania has so far administered 7.8 million vaccine doses to its population of more than 19 million, but just 3.6 million have received the necessary two doses. In recent weeks the number of daily vaccine doses has dropped, raising concerns about vaccine hesitancy.

Romania has had 30,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths.

Malaysia

Malaysia opened its first mass vaccination centre on Monday as the government sought to accelerate inoculations amid a worsening outbreak.

Located in an exhibition centre in Kuala Lumpur, the centre can vaccinate up to 8000 people a day. Officials say more such mass centers will be opened nationwide but some critics urged the government to instead set up smaller centers at district levels to improve its outreach.

Malaysia begins a near total lockdown starting Tuesday, the second time in over a year. Most social and economic activities, except for 17 essential sectors, will be shut down for at least two weeks as the government struggles to contain a worsening pandemic.

Daily virus cases hit a record high of 9020 on Saturday before easing to 6824 Monday. Malaysia’s total infections have surged to 572,357 while deaths are more than 2600, both rising five-fold compared to the whole of last year.

Less than 10 per cent of the country’s 33 million people have been vaccinated so far.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities on Monday appealed to the private sector to offer incentives to help ease Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy, and warned that those who do not get vaccinated may face more stringent restrictions should the city face a new outbreak.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at a news conference Monday that she has written letters to over 100 real estate developers and retail outlets, urging them to offer incentives to boost the city’s vaccination campaign.

The move comes as Hong Kong faces vaccine hesitancy in its population, with just 20 per cent of its population vaccinated despite widespread access.

Vaccine registrations surged over the weekend, after a real estate developer put a $1.4 million apartment up as a grand prize in a lucky draw, together with other prizes, open to all Hong Kong permanent residents who have been vaccinated.

Authorities also said while social distancing restrictions would be relaxed for vaccinated residents, those who do not receive the vaccine and are not exempt medically could face longer quarantine periods and more frequent testing.

Thailand

Thailand was redoubling efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus in labour camps, factories and markets as the number of new reported cases surged to the highest level so far.

A government spokesman said public health officials were meeting with labor and industry officials to discuss better ways to curb infections that are clustered in crowded, high-risk places.

The government reported a record 5485 new cases on Monday, with nearly 2000 in prisons. Confirmed deaths increased by 19, bringing the total to 1031.

Still, Bangkok’s governor said the city would ease some pandemic restrictions, reopening parks, massage parlors and beauty salons, though with precautions such as mandatory masks. Other limits remain, such as closures of bars and entertainment venues and a ban on serving alcohol in restaurants.

China

China on Monday re-imposed anti-coronavirus travel controls on its southern province of Guangdong, announcing anyone leaving the populous region must be tested for the virus following a spike in infections that has alarmed authorities.

Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, recorded 20 new confirmed cases, all contracted locally, in the 24 hours through midnight Sunday. Guangdong’s numbers are low compared with many places in the world, but the rise has rattled Chinese leaders who thought they had the disease under control.

People leaving Guangdong by plane, train, bus or private car after 10 p.m. on Monday must present results of a nucleic acid test within the past 72 hours, the provincial government announced. It said testing stations for truck drivers would be set up on major roads.

The government of the provincial capital, Guangzhou, a business center of 15 million people, ordered mass testing after locally acquired infections were found beginning May 21. The government said 700,000 people had been tested through last Wednesday.

Vietnam

Vietnam plans to test all 9 million people in its largest city for the coronavirus and imposed more restrictions to deal with a growing Covid-19 outbreak.

People in Ho Chi Minh city are only allowed to leave home for necessary activities and public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned, the government announced. Prior to the order, the city, also Vietnam’s economic hub, shut down non-essential business last Thursday when cases started to increase.

State newspaper Vietnam News said the city authority is planning to test its entire population with a testing capacity of 100,000 samples a day.

The newspaper also said police had filed a case Sunday against the head of a Protestant church mission for “spreading dangerous infectious diseases” citing poor health protocols applied at the premises.

Taiwan

Facing Taiwan’s largest outbreak of the pandemic and looking for rapid virus test kits, the mayor of the island’s capital did what anyone might do: He Googled it.

“If you don’t know, and you try to know something, please check Google,” Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je quipped.

Praised for its success at keeping the virus away for more than a year, Taiwan had until May recorded just 1128 cases and 12 deaths. But the number of locally transmitted cases started growing this month and it soon became clear that the central government was ill prepared not only to contain the virus, but to even detect it on a large scale due to a lack of investment in rapid testing.

That left officials like Ko scrambling to catch up as the number of new infections climbed to some 300 a day. Ko’s search put him in contact with six local companies who make rapid tests and his government was soon able to set up four rapid testing sites in a district that had emerged as a virus hotspot.

Rapid tests, experts say, are a critical tool in catching the virus in its early days. The alternative that Taiwan has been relying on — tests that have to be sent out to a lab for processing — has led to backlogs that may be obscuring the true extent of the outbreak.

South Africa

South Africa is in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible amid signs the virus may be surging again with the approach of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, when people spend more time indoors, typically allowing for more spread of disease. It is also a critical front in the fight against the virus in Africa, with South Africa recording 40 per cent of the continent’s Covid-19 deaths.

Since January, South Africa has vaccinated nearly 500,000 of its 1.2 million health care workers and now is adding its older citizens to the campaign. In the past two weeks nearly 200,000 have received the Pfizer jabs with instructions to come back in six weeks to get their second dose.

Switzerland

The head of the World Health Organisation has hailed passage of a “historic resolution” by WHO member states that aims to improve preparedness for massive viral outbreaks like Covid-19 and stepped up calls for the passage of an international pandemic treaty.

In the wake of a patchy international response to the coronavirus with WHO at its centre, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the comments as the UN health agency closed its annual assembly.

Among other things, the assembly — which brings together all WHO member states — passed a $6.1 billion budget for the agency over the next two years. That was a 16 per cent increase from the previous biennial budget.

The assembly also selected the government of Syria – where health care workers and other civilians have been killed, injured and driven from their homes in a decade-long civil war – as a member of the WHO’s executive board.

A resolution offered few concrete steps to tackle pandemics aside from creating a six-person working group to pull together various proposed reforms and report backnext year.

“This morning you approved a historic resolution on strengthening WGL preparedness and response for emergencies,” Tedros said.

Supporters of the resolution acknowledged it broke little new ground and aimed mostly to garner commonality of purpose amid the economic and human devastation of the pandemic. – Staff reporters, Associated Press

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