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Coronavirus digest: India's southern states order stricter lockdowns

For the first time, India has recorded over 4,000 coronavirus-related deaths in a day. Three southern states have declared fresh lockdowns due to a surge in cases. Follow DW for the latest.

Volunteers prepare to cremate the body of a person who died due to COVID, at a crematorium in Bengaluru

The second virus wave in India has brought the country's healthcare system to the brink of collapse

India registered 4,187 deaths linked to COVID and 401,078 new cases in the past 24 hours, the government said on Saturday.   

This is the fourth time the country recorded over 400,000 daily new infections in a week, taking its caseload to nearly 21.9 million.

India currently has over 3.7 million active cases. 

While the situation in major cities New Delhi and Mumbai appears to be stabilizing, with extra supplies of oxygen being sent and new hospital beds opened up, the virus is now also spreading fast in southern states and rural areas.

The states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka have ordered total lockdowns in a bid to break the chain of transmission and halt the spread of the virus. 

The second virus wave in India has brought the country's healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with a scarcity of hospital beds, medical oxygen and essential medicines.

Morgues and crematoriums have struggled to handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.

Experts say India may not hit a peak in its current surge until the end of May.

Here's a roundup of some of the other major COVID-related stories around the world on Saturday.

Asia

Sri Lanka approved BioNTech-Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, as the island nation battles a third wave of the virus, while suffering a restricted supply of vaccines from neighboring India.

Sri Lanka is the first country in South Asia to approve the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. It has also approved Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm vaccines for emergency use.

The country reported 1,914 new cases and 19 deaths in the past 24 hours, and its total number of active cases is higher than any point since the pandemic began.

Pakistan began a nine-day shutdown affecting travel and tourist hotspots in a bid to prevent a surge in COVID cases during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Businesses, hotels and restaurants, as well as markets and parks, will be closed, while public transport between provinces and within cities has been halted.

The military has been mobilized to monitor the restrictions.

Mosques, however, which have been packed each night throughout Ramadan — with few people wearing masks — will remain open. Authorities fear curbs on places of worship could ignite confrontation in the deeply conservative Islamic republic.

Watch video 02:38

Pakistan: Ramadan poses severe challenge to combating COVID

Pakistan on Saturday also received its first supply of COVID-19 vaccines under the UN's COVAX initiative, with over 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arriving in the country.

Those over age 40 have been asked to register for vaccinations. 

According to the National Command and Operations Center, 1,238,400 vaccine doses arrived in the first COVAX allocation while another batch of 1,236,000 was expected to arrive in a few days.

After over a month with no local infections, Vietnam has recorded 176 confirmed coronavirus cases from several outbreaks that have spread to 19 provinces during the past 10 days, the Health Ministry said.

In the capital Hanoi, authorities urged people to refrain from gathering while city parks and food stalls were closed.

In southern Ho Chi Minh City, gatherings of more than 30 people were banned starting this weekend. The city has also closed bars, clubs, gyms and buffet restaurants.

Since the start of the pandemic, Vietnam has recorded 3,137 confirmed cases with 35 deaths.

Watch video 01:43

Vietnamese economy bucks global trend

Thailand expects to offer the Moderna vaccine to most of its population soon as it steps up the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, a health official said on Saturday.

Moderna last month applied for vaccine registration in Thailand, which should be approved soon, said Withoon Danwiboon, head of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization.

Meanwhile, the nation's capital Bangkok has announced that it will extend COVID-related restrictions that were due to end this weekend until May 17, due to the surge in new infections in recent days.

The measures include limiting restaurants to takeaway meals, closing 35 types of venues including bars, gyms, stadiums and boxing rings, and limiting the operating hours of other businesses.

Bangkok has recorded more than 500 new cases every day since the beginning of this month, with no sign of decline, said a spokesperson for the government's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration.

On Saturday, Thailand reported 2,419 cases and 27 deaths.

Europe

Europeans will likely be able to spend their summer vacations abroad, even those who haven't had their shots against the coronavirus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.  

"If you look at the low incidence [of COVID-19] that some of our European partner countries already have ... then I'm very hopeful that we can also generally afford to do what was possible last summer, too," Merkel said.

The EU has also agreed to a massive contract extension of the BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for a potential 1.8 billion doses through 2023.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said her office has approved a contract for a guaranteed 900 million doses with the same amount of doses as a future option.

BioNTech-Pfizer had an initial contract of 600 million doses with the EU.

Greece has reopened beach bars and managed beaches as part of its gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions. 

Organized beaches are expected to follow hygiene and safety measures, such as distanced umbrella sun loungers and regular disinfections.  

Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Greece's economy and jobs. 

In Denmark, at least 50 people have been infected with a coronavirus variant first detected in Mexico. Those who tested positive for the variant were mostly staff and guests at a restaurant in the Nordsjaelland area north of the capital Copenhagen.

Danish health authorities said the variant does not differ from the original virus, adding that it has not yet been classified as particularly dangerous. 

Germany has recorded 15,685 more cases, taking the overall number of infections to 3,507,673, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for Infectious Diseases showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 238 to 84,648, the tally showed.

The seven-day incidence rate continued dropping, now at 121.5 cases per 100,000 people per week.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he is confident that travel within the European Union would be possible by summer.

Watch video 02:00

Germany to loosen COVID restrictions for vaccinated people

The president of the EU's European Council, Charles Michel, said the bloc is ready to discuss a US proposal for lifting patents on COVID vaccines once a concrete offer has been made.

"We are ready to engage on this topic, as soon as a concrete proposal would be put on the table," Michel said, as EU leaders discussed the issue in Porto.

But Michel, who represents the EU's 27 national leaders, cautioned that the bloc has doubts that the idea "in the short term, that it's the magic bullet."

The UK will be free of coronavirus by August, the government's departing vaccine taskforce chief Clive Dix said.

"Sometime in August, we will have no circulating virus in the UK," Dix told the Daily Telegraph newspaper, adding that he believed the vaccine booster program could be pushed back to early 2022.

The government is looking at which COVID-19 vaccines would offer the best booster shot for vulnerable people later this year.

The UK has administered over 51 million vaccines and has been the second quickest country to give a first dose to at least half its adult population.

Watch video 03:04

Finding ways to combat vaccine skepticism in the UK

Americas

Brazil expects to sign a new deal next week with Pfizer Inc for 100 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses, a Health Ministry official said. It would double the US drugmaker's delivery to the Latin American country this year.

Meanwhile, authorities recorded 78,886 new cases in the past 24 hours and 2,165 fatalities, the Health Ministry said.

That raised the total number of confirmed cases in Latin America's largest country to almost 15.1 million, and the official death toll to 419,114.

Watch video 02:56

Hunger and the COVID-19 pandemic: Millions in Brazil suffer deeply

Residents of Mexico City will be able to attend open-air concerts and sporting events at limited capacities beginning next week after a sustained drop in coronavirus infections, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said.

The new measures, set to take effect on May 10, will include expanded access to movie theaters, banks and hotel-based conventions.

The relaxation of restrictions follows a months-long decline in the number of infections in the city and its sprawling metropolitan areas that house about 22 million people.

mvb, sri/mm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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