Coronavirus digest: Australian MP steps down over conspiracy theory peddling | News | DW | 23.02.2021
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Coronavirus digest: Australian MP steps down over conspiracy theory peddling

The lawmaker quit the governing conservative party after promoting false information about treatments and the vaccine. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has kicked off its vaccination drive. Follow DW for the latest.

A closeup of a needle and the vaccine

Pfizer has said it expects to deliver more than 13 million doses per week to the US by the middle of March

An Australian lawmaker who frequently promoted pandemic conspiracy theories has quit the conservative governing party. Craig Kelly, a member of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Liberal Party, repeatedly used social media and the floor of parliament to question the safety of coronavirus vaccines, oppose lockdowns and promote unproven treatments for the virus.

"I felt that for the rest of this parliamentary term, if I'm going to act and speak according to my conscience and my beliefs, that I can do so more effectively as an independent," Kelly told public broadcaster ABC. 

Kelly's Facebook account, in which he has also often played down climate change, drew around 6 million video views and 5 million interactions in 2020, according to data tool CrowdTangle.

In a statement to parliament Tuesday, Kelly was unrepentant about promoting debunked COVID-19 treatments, saying he felt obliged to ensure his "constituents and all Australians were not being denied access to medical treatments, if their doctors believe those treatments could save their life."

Kelly quit Morrison's Liberal Party but will retain his seat in parliament. The switch leaves Morrison's coalition government with the smallest possible majority, 76 seats out of 151 in the lower house. One of those members is the house speaker, who traditionally abstains from votes unless there is a tie.

Europe

EasyJet said flight bookings surged by over 300% and holiday bookings jumped by over 600% week on week, after the UK laid out plans for international travel to restart, hinting that borders could reopen from mid-May. The UK has said that a lockdown ban on most international travel will stay until at least May 17, and that the government will publish a travel review on April 12.

French Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne has called on companies to boost remote working as much as possible in order to avoid having to implement a new lockdown.

"In recent days (COVID) data are not good. We all want to avoid a new lockdown and working from home is a good answer," Borne told Europe 1 radio. France has reported over 3.6 million cases and 84,600 deaths.

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Asia

Afghanistan has began administering the COVID-19 vaccine with a ceremony at its presidential palace. The country received 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Indian government earlier this month. Afghanistan has recorded 55,646 cases and 2,435 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) warned that strict restrictions in North Korea could force the agency to suspend operations in the country, where chronic hunger is rampant.

North Korea closed its borders in January last year, and "food imports, international staff deployments and physical monitoring access remain curtailed for a prolonged period," the WFP said in a report outlining its plans.

"There is a significant residual risk that, should food imports not be possible, operations will cease in 2021."

Africa

Egypt has received a 300,000-dose shipment of the Sinopharm vaccine, donated by China. It was the third vaccine shipment received by Egypt, which has reported more than 178,774 cases and over 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Americas

Brazil has fully approved the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, although a dispute over a supply deal means it has not yet secured doses to start its immunization campaign.

Health regulator Anvisa said it was the first coronavirus shot to get cleared for widespread use in the country — vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and China's Biotech Ltd have only been approved for emergency use so far.

Mexico has received its first shipment of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, with 200,000 doses arriving in Mexico City on Monday night. Officials plan to use the doses to begin vaccinating seniors in the capital on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged the UN to do more to ensure equitable access to vaccines, telling a news conference it was "totally unfair" that distribution was far more widespread in richer countries.

Mexico has reported more than 2 million cases and 181,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Pfizer expects to deliver more than 13 million doses of its vaccine per week to the United States by the middle of March, more than doubling its shipments from early February, said John Young, Pfizer's chief business officer.

In total, that would make around 120 million doses of its two-dose regimen available by the end of March. Pfizer is also prepared to provide a total of 300 million shots to the United States by the end of July, said Young.

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lc/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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