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Coronavirus digest: Taiwan raises COVID alert level amid spike

Authorities have raised the coronavirus alert level for Taipei to Level 3 for the first time, amid a spike in domestic COVID infections. All the latest with DW.

People buy masks in Taiwan

Authorities have raised the COVID-19 alert level in Taipei after a recent spike in domestic infections

Taiwan raised the coronavirus alert level for the capital, Taipei, and New Taipei to Level 3, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on Saturday. The new steps come as infections spiked in the cities. 

"Only by doing this can infections be dealt with and controlled," Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters.

With 180 new domestic cases recorded late Friday, authorities have issued the new alert, which will run through May 28. 

Taiwan has a four-tier alert system, and this is the first time that a Level 3 alert has been imposed.

Under the new alert, residents have to wear masks at all times when they leave their homes. While outdoor gatherings have been limited to 10 people, more than five people are not allowed to assemble indoors. It stops short of a full lockdown.

The recent spike in cases has spooked residents in Taiwan, months after authorities were hailed for their swift handling of the coronavirus crisis last year. 

Watch video 03:36

How did Taiwan get ahead of the coronavirus pandemic?

Europe

Germany recorded 7,894 new cases of the virus, taking the country’s total COVID tally to 3,584,934, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases. With 177 virus-related deaths, the country’s reported death toll rose to 86,025.

A poll has found that a small majoritiy of Germans is against lifting coronavirus-related restrictions for people who have been fully vaccinated. The poll by YouGov indicated that 32% of people said no group should receive benefits until everyone had the opportunity to be vaccinated, and 21% said fully vaccinated and recovered people should not be treated differently.

The German Teachers' Association says that the coronavirus has robbed the country's roughly 11 million students of nearly half a school-year's worth of in-person learning. Association President Heinz-Peter Meidinger told the German daily newspaper Bild that each student had missed between 300 and 800 hours of in-class learning since March 2020 as a result of the virus. At the same time, Meidinger warned that efforts to make up for lost class time could face serious challenges due to teacher shortages, saying, "It won't be possible without help from student teachers or those teachers who have already retired." 

A student's raised hand, with a mask, in an elementary school classroom in Germany

The German Teachers' Association says students have missed half their in-class school year as a result of the coronavirus

German health officials have also put Britain back on the list of coronavirus "risk areas" amid fears over the spread of the Indian COVID-19 variant there. The move comes despite the UK's vaccination drive that has seen its citizens taken off travel red lists across the world.

Meanwhile the UK has sent health workers to distribute coronavirus tests door-to-door in two towns in northern England in an effort to contain cases of the so-called Indian variant, which have more than doubled over the past seven days. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the variant "could be a serious disruption to our progress" in easing restrictions across the country. Labour Party MP Yvette Cooper criticized the government for not stopping travel from India until April 23, hence letting "many hundreds of new variant cases" into the country.

A study in Italy found that COVID-19 infections fell by 80% among adults five weeks after they had received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine. The real-world study, conducted by Italy's National Institute of Health (ISS), tracked 13.7 million individuals beginning when the country started its vaccination campaign on December 27, 2020 up to May 3.

The study showed decreasing risk of infection, hospitalization and death two weeks after initial vaccination. "As of 35 days after the first dose, there is an 80% reduction in infections, 90% reduction in hospitalizations and 95% reduction in deaths," according to the ISS. That pattern, it said, was the same for both men and women. Roughly 8.3 million, or 14% of Italians are fully vaccinated, some 10 million have received their first dose. 

People march through Tokyo with a banner reading 'No Olympics'

Japan's government insists it will stage the Olympics but opposition is growing as the country sees a fourth wave of infections

Asia

Japan has expanded and extended its state of emergency to include a total of nine areas until the end of May, quasi-emergency measures will also be expanded to include a further 10 areas as the country experiences a fourth wave of coronavirus infections just 10 weeks prior to the scheduled beginning of the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — which is also one of the city under the current state of emergency. Kamon Iizumi, the head of the National Governors' Association, has suggested a national state of emergency may be necessary. The Japanese government has insisted the games will go on as scheduled even as public opinion against them grows. On Friday, Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of e-commerce giant Rakuten, told broadcaster CNN that staging the Olympics in Tokyo this summer had become a "suicide mission," saying the "risk is too high" to hold them.  

Vietnam on Saturday reported 165 new cases of coronavirus infection and one death. The country's Ministry of Health released a statement noting that half of the cases were recorded at the Quang Chau Industrial Park in northern Bac Giang Province. Vietnam, which has garnered international praise for its containment of the virus — recording only 3,985 infections and 36 deaths so far — says that the latest outbreak has spread to 26 of the country's 63 provinces.   

Officials in the state of West Bengal in India have instated a two-week lockdown after a dramatic rise in coronavirus infections in the wake of massive, regional election campaign events. Authorities on Saturday announced that all offices, business and public transport in the state would be closed after health officials recorded more that 21.000 new infections. India has been hammered by the virus for weeks, registering almost 25 million infections and 265,000 deaths. Among the factors contributing to the devastating situation is a highly communicable Indian variant of the original virus. That variant has spread to a number of other countries across the globe. 

Overall,India has seen a slight nationwide dip in cases with 326,098 new infections reported on Saturday, taking the country’s caseload to 24.37 million. Data showed 3,890 deaths recorded over a 24-hour period. The country has recorded 1.7 million infections and more than 20,000 deaths over the past week.

China has canceled all attempts to climb Mount Everest from its side over fears of importing virus cases from Nepal, which is currently reeling under a massive COVID-19 outbreak.

China had issued permits to 38 Chinese citizens to scale the world’s highest peak, while Nepal has allowed 408 people after climbing was not allowed last year because of the coronavirus. However, several climbers in Nepal tested positive for the virus after they were brought down from the base camp.

The Philippines has extended a ban on travelers from places that have recorded cases linked to the coronavirus variant first detected in India. Travelers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will not be allowed to enter the Philippines till May 31.

Authorities also placed an entry ban on travelers from Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Watch video 02:13

Everest COVID infections on the rise

Americas

Ecuador has approved emergency use of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the jab abroad. RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev on Saturday said, "Ecuador joins a number of other nations of South America which have included Sputnik V in their coronavirus vaccine portfolios." The RDIF on Saturday also announced that Venezuela had approved the use of its single-shot jab Sputnik Light.  

New US federal guidelines that allow fully vaccinated Americans to move without masks in most cases have led to some confusion among states and businesses, as they attempt to decipher whether the new approach can be implemented.

Many business owners have raised concerns over determining who has been vaccinated and who has not, even as the new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leave it up to people to do the right thing.

js,see/mm (Reuters, AFP, AP)