Coronavirus digest: EU expedites Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approval | News | DW | 12.01.2021
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Coronavirus digest: EU expedites Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approval

The European regulator has already allowed vaccines by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna for the EU-wide use. The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab could be approved by January 29. Follow DW for the latest.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University have applied for authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine in the EU

AstraZeneca and Oxford University have applied for authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine in the EU

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Tuesday the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be approved by January 29 "provided that the data submitted on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are sufficiently robust and complete."

The EMA response came after AstraZeneca and Oxford University applied for authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine in the EU. Tests suggest it's less effective than some other vaccines, but it is cheaper to make and easier to store.

The Amsterdam-based regulator has already approved the German-American BioNTech-Pfizer and American Moderna COVID vaccines for use across the 27-nation European Union bloc.

Britain, which is no longer part of the EU, approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine last month and has been using it.

As part of its strategy to obtain as many different COVID-19 vaccines as possible, the EU said it had concluded early talks with French biotech company Valneva to secure up to 60 million doses of vaccine.

The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts for up to 2 billion doses, many more than are necessary to cover its population of approximately 450 million.

Europe

The Dutch government has announced it is extending coronavirus restrictions until February 9 as COVID-19 case remain high in the country.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday he is concerned about the new COVID-19 variant, which was first discovered in the UK. 

"I don't think I am going to surprise you this evening, the lockdown is extended by three weeks," Rutte told a televised news conference about the curbs, which were due to end on January 19.

Authorities in the southern German state of Bavaria is making a more effective FFP2 mask mandatory for people using public transport and retail stores from Monday amid increasing coronavirus cases.

State Premier Markus Söder said Tuesday that while simpler masks protect others, FFP2 masks also protect those who wear them. Söder said the masks will be made available in all stores.

Other states say they will not follow suit. Officials in Lower Saxony said they would only consider an obligatory FFP2 mask if all people have free access to it.

Spanish authorities said Tuesday they aim to give a first COVID vaccine dose to all its nursing home residents by the end of the week.

Spain's vaccination drive kicked off late December. With new infections on the rise, the authorities have focused their efforts on inoculating elderly nursing-home residents, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

From January 18, health authorities will begin administering the second round of the BioNTech-Pfizer jab to the earliest recipients of the first shot.

Spain has also approved Moderna's vaccine and expects to receive its 600,000 doses by the third week of February.

The country reported 25,438 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total up to 2,137,220, while the death toll climbed by 408 to 52,683.

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A Dutch municipality is planning to test all 62,000 residents aged two or over after a cluster of cases was discovered in a local elementary school — some of the cases were of the more transmissible variant first discovered in the UK.

The Robert Koch Institute in Germany registered 12,802 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday as well as 891 coronavirus-related deaths.

Speaking on Tuesday, French Europe Minister Clement Beaune moved to downplay hopes of a quick return to normal life from the current coronavirus restrictions in place across the continent.

"The only honest answer that I can give to the question as to when we return to normailty is that we don't know," Beaune told journalists in Brussels. "Nobody does."

"We understand that there is this sense of bordedom, of having had enough, of impatience. Of course, we do.

"But it would be unreasonable to say by mid-February, mid-March or mid-April, that we will be able to go back to the lives that we knew before

But Beaune said there would be "a winding down" of measures such as social distancing if the health situation allowed for it.

He added that Europe's vaccination program would be “the main instrument” to allow people to live their lives normally again.

Americas

Mexico is planning to buy millions of Russian Sputnik V doses if it gets an approval from the country's health regulators, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday.

The Latin American country, which has the world's fourth highest official COVID-19 death toll, could receive 24 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 12 million people, he told reporters.

Russia said Monday that 1.5 million people around the world have received Sputnik V, which has come under heavy criticism for getting an official approval without going through large-scale clinical trials.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico's deputy health minister, acknowledged there were "concerns" about the Russian vaccine's safety and efficacy. He travelled to Argentina last week to learn about its experience with Sputnik V.

The country began a mass immunization program on December 24 using the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. It has also authorized the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

Almost nine million people had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the US by Monday the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Some 8,987,322 people had received their first of two shots. The number fell far short of the 25 million doses which had been distributed by the government.

Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio — who wants to vaccinate one million New Yorkers by the end of January — said that the city could run out of vaccines if the federal government failed to send more.

US President-elect Joe Biden has said that he's considering releasing further vaccines which had been stockpiled by the federal government to ensure a supply of second doses.

The millions of completed jabs have not yet made a dent in the number of infections in the country.

US President-elect received his second vaccine shot in Delaware on Tuesday.

Watch video 03:23

France's vaccination campaign off to a slow start

Oceania

The small Pacific nation of Micronesia, home to 100,000 residents, reported its first coronavirus infection, after a crewmember on an arriving ship tested positive for the disease. President David Panuelo said the infected crewmember aboard the government ship Chief Mailo had returned from the Philippines, following more than a year of drydock repairs 

Micronesia had largely avoided the virus last year. Panuelo addressed the "alarming news'' but reassured residents that the case has been contained at the border. 

The opening round of the 2021 Formula 1 season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, has been postponed by 9 months to November of this year. The race was originally scheduled to take place on the weekend of March 18-21 but organizers announced the delay on Tuesday. The Chinese Grand Prix, set to be the third race of the season, has also been postponed, with no replacement appointment set as yet.

Domestic travel restrictions make Australia and China two of the hardest countries for F1 teams to reach. Provisionally, the 2021 F1 season will now start in Bahrain, with the race on Sunday, March 28.

Asia

China announced a seven-day quarantine in Guan country in Hebei province where measures have been taken to curb a recent outbreak.

Authorities reported 55 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, down from the 103 recorded a day earlier.

The king of Malaysia declared a national state of emergency, which may last until the beginning of August, in order to curb infections of COVID-19.

It is the first time Malaysia has declared a national state of emergency in more than half a century. Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah agreed to declare an emergency until August 1 following a request from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the national palace said in a statement.

In a televised address, Muhyiddin confirmed parliament would be suspended and elections would not take place for the time being. Critics have claimed that the suspension and delay to the poll were part of a bid by the unstable government to cling to power.

Taiwan reported its first locally transmitted COVID-19 infections since December 22. A doctor who was treating an infected patient caught the virus and his girlfriend, a nurse, became infected as well. The doctor's girlfriend had not been in contact with the sick patient. 

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods and widespread mask wearing. In total, the country has reported 839 cases, including seven deaths, with 101 in hospital being treated. 

"Of course, we really regret the hospital infection," Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters. "Our hospital control measures are extremely strict, but inevitably something may have been overlooked." 

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Africa

South Africa brought in restrictions on land travel into the country and extended previous measures as the country grappled with increasing numbers of infections.

The president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that hospital admissions were at their highest point since the pandemic began with 15,000 coronavirus patients currently hospitalized.

Other news

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that it was unlikely that herd immunity will be achieved though immunization programs this year.

The German vaccine produce BioNTech announced a new target of delivering two billion doses of its vaccine in 2021, up from its previous target of 1.3 billion.

shs,ab/aw (Reuters, AP, AFP)