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Coronavirus digest: EU commissioner says herd immunity by summer is possible

An EU commissioner has said Europe could reach COVID-19 herd immunity by July. The optimistic note comes as several European countries are experiencing surges in infections and new lockdowns. Follow DW for the latest.

Groups of people socially distanced, sitting in Monbijou-Park in Berlin-Mitte during the summer.

Europeans are looking forward to a summer where heard immunity could be achieved

COVID-19 herd immunity could be achieved in Europe by July, an EU commissioner has said. The bloc's vaccination drive is expected to speed up after a sluggish rollout that has been besieged by setbacks. 

"Let's take a symbolic date: by July 14 [Bastille Day], we have the possibility of achieving immunity across the continent," Thierry Breton, the EU's commissioner for the internal market, told French broadcaster TF1. 

Infografik Herdenimmunität EN

Breton's comments were paralleled by French vaccination chief Alain Fischer, who expects France to return to some kind of "normal" living conditions by summer or autumn thanks to an acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign

The optimistic note comes as several European countries are experiencing surges in coronavirus infections and have reimposed lockdowns, and after mixed messaging on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Over a third of France's population is now under renewed lockdown, while Germany, Amsterdam, Bulgaria and Switzerland are dealing with protests over extended rounds of virus curbs. 

A patchy vaccine drive has complicated Europe's efforts in its battle against a resurging third wave of infections that included several nations temporarily halting AstraZeneca's jabs in response to isolated cases of blood clots.

Most countries have reimplemented AstraZeneca after the European Medicines Agency found it "safe and effective." However, the company has only delivered 30% of its 90 million promised doses for the first quarter. 

Watch video 02:07

Infection rates rise in France amid slow vaccine rollout

Breton said that 55 factories would now be producing vaccines in Europe, and he was confident that more vaccines will arrive soon, with 300-500 million doses expected between March and June.

Here is an overview of the latest coronavirus news from around the world.

Latest on medicine and research

A new nasal spray that could help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 has been approved for sale in New Zealand and Israel. The spray, developed by Canada-based biotech firm SaNOtize, is expected to be available for purchase in New Zealand shortly, while sales in Israel are expected this summer.

The nitric oxide spray, dubbed NONS, protects from viruses that enter the body through the upper nasal pathways.

Recent clinical trials in the UK showed the spray could prevent the transmission of COVID-19, but also can shorten the duration of the virus and severity of symptoms for those who have already been infected.

Around 1 in 3 people hospitalized with COVID-19 suffer long-term heath issues, according to a new review published Monday.

The review, published in the journal Nature Medicine, compiled the results of several studies looking at the lasting impact of COVID-19.

Data from the studies showed that the virus also attacks organs other than the lungs, leading some COVID "long-haulers" to experience chronic inflammation and cardiovascular illness. The most common physical symptoms to remain after infection were fatigue and shortness of breath.

The data also showed the virus' toll on the mental health of those infected, with patients reporting anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers said 30% of patients reported at least one symptom months after being discharged form hospital.

Watch video 12:06

COVID-19 Special: What is long COVID?

Europe

The EU is to be reminded of its commitment to allow vaccine manufacturers to fulfill orders, British social care minister Helen Whatley said. 

There will be "robust" talks with the bloc to ensure exports are not blocked, the minister added. She emphasized the importance "that companies are able to fulfill their contractual obligations."

A second Chinese vaccine has been authorized for emergency use in Hungary, China's CanSino Biologics Inc said on Monday. 

The CanSinoBIO's vaccine is a single-dose shot that is currently also approved in China, Pakistan and Mexico. 

Hungarywas the first EU nation to buy and use Chinese or Russian shots and initially faced criticism for its go-it-alone approval process and negotiations for the vaccines. 

Other European countries have expressed interest in buying those vaccines as shipments from Western suppliers lagged. 

Asia

India has been gripped by a second virus surge on it's on one year lockdown anniversary.

Maharashtra, India's richest state, reported 30,535 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, which could send the country's overall cases to a multi-month high when national data is released later on Monday.  

The state accounts for 60% of new cases in India after a full-scale reopening of its economy unleashed a second wave of infections late last month. 

With 11.6 million cases, India is now the worst affected country after the US and Brazil. 

India's Virchow Biontech to produce up to 200 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine this year. India is the world's largest vaccine maker and has become one of the biggest producers of Sputnik V outside of Russia. 

Japan ended the emergency state that was in place in Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures despite growing concerns of new variants and infections of the coronavirus. The state of emergency had been in place since early January. 

The trend of cases has gone down as Japan had a record 7,851 cases on January 8, compared to the present count of 1,119 new cases. The country has reported 457,577 infections and 8,849 coronavirus deaths, according to broadcaster NHK. 

Rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, which started in mid-February, has been sluggish and much of the public is unlikely to receive it before the opening of the postponed Tokyo Olympics on July 23. 

Taiwanese premier Su Tseng-chang launched Taiwan's vaccination drive for health care workers on Monday. The campaign will not use supplies from China amid uneven distribution of the vaccines globally. 

Tawainese premier Su Tseng-chang recieves an AstraZeneca shot.

Tawainese premier Su Tseng-chang recieves an AstraZeneca shot launching the island's immunization drive for health care workers.

Some 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX have been secured by Taiwan. 

The island is planning to administer its full initial supply to 117,000 individuals to ensure the broadest protection. 

Taiwan has denied offers of hundreds of millions of doses from China to help fill the vaccine void as a law bans import of Chinese vaccines made for human use. There were no considerations to amending the law the island's health minister said in February.

Taiwan has yet to announce a vaccination campaign for the public. 

Americas

Results in phase three trials conducted in the US, Chile and Peru involving 32,000 volunteers across all age groups, show that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and highly effective. 

"These results are great news as they show the remarkable efficacy of the vaccine in a new population and are consistent with the results from Oxford-led trials," Andrew Pollard, who runs the Oxford Vaccine Group, said.

Watch video 02:52

EMA: AstraZeneca vaccine safe and effective

The data show that the vaccine is 79% effective against symptomatic COVID-19, and 100% effective against severe, or critical symptoms. 

The positive results add to the extensive data collected in previous trials and through real-world vaccine roll out schemes. 

AstraZeneca's trial data will be submitted for analysis by the scientific community in pier-review literature, and to regulators in the US

Brazil has lifted its requirements for local authorities to reserve half their coronavirus vaccine stockpiles for a second dose in an attempt to accelerate its lagging vaccination campaign, said health minister Eduardo Pazuello. 

"By freeing the full stockpile of vaccines for immediate use, we will be able to double the number of doses applied this week, saving and protecting more lives," Pazuello said in a statement.

With enough vaccines arriving soon, recipients have been ensured that they will receive their second dose on schedule according to the health ministry. 

Brazil has a lot of ground to make up if it wants to achieve its goal of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of the year with only 5.5% of the population issued one dose thus far. 

Brazil received its first shipment of vaccines Sunday secured through the UN Covax program for low and middle-income countries assisting the country's immunization campaign, while delays in AstraZeneca's expected delivery present more setbacks.

As the death toll nears the 300,000 mark, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faces mounting pressure to accelerate the vaccination drive and get a grip on the pandemic. 

The city of Miami Beach in the US has extended curfews and emergency powers for up to three weeks as an onslaught of spring breakers have descended on the city. City officials voted on Sunday to extend the measures to help control an unruly and mostly maskless crowd. 

"It looked like a rock concert. All you could see was wall to wall people," Interim City Manager Raul Aguila told the city commission during an emergency meeting. 

Florida | Spring Break Feier

Florida, United States, has seen an influx of unmasked crowds eager to take advantage of little to no pandemic restrictions during spring break.

Thousands of spring breakers are seen on video and social media posts eagerly letting off steam after a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, packed together and dancing in the streets. Police struggled to enforce the curfew and fired pepper balls at the crowd. 

The out-of-state tourists were not just college students, Mayor Dan Gelber told the commission. Many appear to have been lured to the vacation hot spot after Florida was declared an "oasis of freedom," free of pandemic restrictions by Governor Ron Desantis on February 26.

The influx of gathered crowds comes at a time when the surrounding county is experiencing 1,000 new infections of COVID-19 and 50 to 100 people being hospitalized each day.

jm,rs/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)