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All but essential travel remains barred to countries with severe outbreaks, including India and South AfricaImage: Matthew Childs/REUTERS

Coronavirus digest: UK reopens travel to select countries

May 7, 2021

The UK has taken a "first step" to allow international leisure travel following its massive vaccination campaign. But a number of popular destinations are still not on the low-risk list. All the latest here.

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The UK will allow people in England to travel internationally starting May 17, but it will limit the number of destinations that soon-to-be tourists can go to without quarantine.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the "green list" will include Portugal, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore to start. The list will be reviewed every three weeks.

However, major vacation destinations such as France, Spain and Greece did not make the cut. Britons traveling to those countries will have to self-isolate for 10 days upon their return.

Trade bodies for pilots and airlines said the UK was excessively cautious and a small reopening would not be enough for the industry to recover from a dismal travel year.

People who will travel to countries on the green list will not have to quarantine upon return. But they must still take a COVID-19 test before returning to the UK, and one more two days later.

The UK has seen a dramatic drop in COVID-19 cases after more than half of the country received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose.

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

Europe

Germany has recorded 18,485 more cases of the virus as the country loosens restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults.  The country has recorded a total of 3,491,988 cases.

The seven-day incidence rate continued dropping, now at 125.7 cases per 100,000 people per week. Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday that there were signs of the third wave breaking.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed social issues to the top of the European Union's meeting agenda as member nations get ready to discuss the bloc's social affairs strategy for the next decade at a high-level conference in Portugal.

Greek museums will reopen to visitors next week, one day before the official start to tourism season on May 15. Museums including the Acropolis museum have been closed since mid-November due to a second lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Americas

Vaccinations need to be ramped up across the globe if the world wants beat mutations of the virus, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday. He added that the United States was looking at ways it could help.

"If the entire world doesn't do more, the world won't be vaccinated until 2024. We can speed this up and get that done, I think, in much shorter time," Blinken said in an interview during a visit to Ukraine. "None of us are going to be fully safe until ... we get as many people vaccinated as possible."

New York City wants to start vaccinating tourists by offering shots at vaccination vans across the city’s major tourist hotspots like Times Square, Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said.

De Blasio called it a "positive message to tourists: 'Come here. It's safe, it's a great place to be and we're going to take care of you.''" However, the city needs state approval to go through with the plan.

The Mexican health ministry said local production of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine will likely begin at the end of June.

The health safety agency Cofepris was invited to visit Russia's Gamaleya Institute to observe the "Sputnik V technology transfer" in packaging the vaccine. The agency did not say when the trip would take place.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said residents of the city will be able to attend open-air sporting events and concerts starting next week after a steady drop in infections.

Sporting events will allow up to 25% capacity starting May 12. Other entertainment venues, including some indoor events, can start on May 17 at 30% capacity.

Africa

Tanzania's new president Samia Suluhu Hassan reversed course from her predecessor and stressed the importance of wearing facemasks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Hassan told community elders in Dar es Salaam, "we have come with face masks because elders are in a group of people who are at higher risk of contracting the prevailing disease. We have found it is important to protect you."

Previous president John Magufuli rejected masks and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy. He died in March after weeks of speculation that he was ill with COVID-19.

Asia-Pacific

The World Health Organization (WHO) gave emergency approval to the COVID-19 vaccine from China's state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm. This allows the COVAX vaccine program to purchase doses for countries that need assistance in vaccination efforts.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said its separate Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) recommended adults over 18 get two doses. The vaccine has an estimated efficacy of 79%.

India reported another record daily rise in coronavirus cases with 414,188 new infections reported on Friday. As the country struggles to deal with a crippling surge of the pandemic, India recorded 3,915 deaths over a 24-hour period, according to government data. 

With 234,083 fatalities and over 21 million infections, the country accounts for the world’s worst outbreak after the United States. India has added 1.57 million cases and over 15,100 deaths from the virus this week alone.

Australia may keep its borders closed to visitors until late 2022, the country’s trade and tourism minister said Friday, putting a dampener on hopes of a quick reopening. The country has barred international travel since March 20, 2020.

It is "very hard to determine" when borders could reopen, Dan Tehan said in an interview, "the best guess would be in the middle to the second half of next year".

He added that the near blanket ban was essential to keep the country COVID-free.

Malaysia’s commercial capital Kuala Lumpur went into a two-week lockdown on Friday, as the number of daily cases increases considerably. The city will remain under lockdown until May 20.

Japan has extended the state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until May 31, weeks before the Tokyo Olympics. The three-week extension of restrictions has been attributed to the fourth wave of the virus as Tokyo and Osaka continue to record infections.

The extension — from May 11 to May 31 — leaves a margin of less than two months before the games start on July 23.

The WHO said it hopes the Tokyo Olympics can go ahead this summer, but there must be an assessment to determine how to manage risks from the pandemic.

"It is our hope that the Olympics can occur," said Mike Ryan, chief of the WHO's emergencies program.

World

The WHO urged governments to vaccinate at-risk groups against COVID-19, including the elderly and immunocompromised people, before moving on to children.

"The priority really needs to be getting vaccine to all countries in the world for the highest priority groups before we start advancing to groups that have much lower risk of disease," said Dr. Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO's vaccines and immunization department.

The announcement comes after Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children at least 12 years old earlier this week, the first nation to do so. The US is expected to follow suit next week.

see,kbd/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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