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Coronavirus digest: US to send first vaccine exports to Mexico, Canada

The United States plans to send several million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the White House said. Follow DW for the latest.

US President Joe Biden wears a mask and waves at reporters

US President Joe Biden also said the country is on track to reach its goal of hitting 100 million COVID vaccinations by the end of the week

The White House said it was finalizing plans to send a total of 4 million vaccines to neighbors Canada and Mexico on Thursday, in the country's first exports of shots.

Of those doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, about 2.5 million will go to Mexico while 1.5 are flagged for Canada as a "loan."

"Our first priority remains vaccinating the US population," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. But she said, "ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is a mission critical step, is mission critical to ending the pandemic."

Also on Thursday, US President Joe Biden praised the progress with his country's vaccine rollout, saying the US is on track to administer 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.

"I'm proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met our goal," said Biden, nothing that the milestone dose will likely be administered on Friday.

He added that 65% of Americans who are 65-years-old or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Europe

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Union agency that evaluates medicine, said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was safe.

The head of the EMA, Emer Cooke, said, "if it were me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow."  However, she said she "still cannot rule out definitively a link" between rare types of blood clots and the vaccine. For more on the story, check out our reporting here.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would not hesitate to restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines in order to receive the doses that it was promised.

Von der Leyen had previously said that the EU approved the export of some 41 million doses to 33 countries in the last six weeks and said that the EU was at the forefront of international vaccine-sharing efforts.

"Open roads run in both directions," said von der Leyen. "We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that."

While she did not mention any countries directly, the comments appeared at least partly aimed at the UK, which recently left the EU and where the AstraZeneca development process was spearheaded.

Bulgaria has announced nationwide restrictions as the number of infections rise. Schools, restaurants and shopping malls will remain closed for 10 days from March 22.

The Czech government announced that it was extending the tight lockdown on the country until after Easter.

"We're not in a situation to afford any major changes," said Health Minister Jan Blatny.

People have been banned from traveling to other counties unless they have work or if they are taking care of relatives.

Denmark allowed the limit on public gatherings to increase to 10 people, the prime minister's office said in a statement. The statement added that more schools and secondary educations would be allowed to resume beginning March 22.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new, month-long lockdown measures in Paris and several other regions. Non-essential businesses will close and movement outside of the home will be restricted, such as outdoor exercise will be allowed up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from home. The lockdown will take effect starting at midnight on Friday.

"We are adopting a third way, a way that should allow braking [of the pandemic] without locking [people] up," said Castex.

Poland will enter a three-week partial lockdown beginning on Saturday, in order to try to contain the spread of the illness. Shopping malls, hotels, swimming pools, gyms and schools will be closed until at least April 9.

The UK will see a significant reduction in the amount of COVID-19 vaccines available after March 29 due to a cut in manufacturing supplies.

It will slow what has been one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world. The country is on track to reach the milestone of having given a first vaccine shot to half of all adults in the country in the next few days.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said supply often fluctuated but the country was still on track to give vaccines to priority groups by April 15 and all adults by the end of July.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney discusses EU vaccine policy

Africa

Uganda launched a rapid COVID-19 antibody test that developers hope to market in sub-Saharan Africa. The test involves a finger prick to obtain a small sample of blood, and can be used in remote settings with no laboratory, electricity or medical team.

The test was developed by Makerere, Uganda's oldest public university, with partial funding by the French embassy.

Americas

Mexican authorities have seized a batch of fake doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for the vaccine exports.

The fund said in a statement that there was a "fake substance which has nothing to do with the original vaccine" following the seizure of 5,775 fake doses at the Campeche International Airport.

The fake doses were on their way to Honduras via private plane. The bottles had labels with spelling errors in Russian, and were hidden among soft drink cans in an ice box.

Mexico announced restrictions on non-essential travel across its southern border with Guatemala and Belize. The Foreign Ministry said tourists and recreational travelers would not be allowed to cross into Mexico through the southern border.

But people who were crossing the border on business, or for educational or health care purposes would be allowed to do so. The measure will go into effect on Friday. The foreign ministry said it would "implement health control measures in the north and south of the country" in a tweet.

Paraguayan opposition lawmakers have failed to impeach President Mario Abdo over the government's handling of the pandemic after the motion fell well below the threshold of votes needed to formally begin the process.

The country has seen fierce protests in recent weeks as new cases have spiked in the country, which has put hospitals on the brink of collapse.

Middle East

Syria will take its first delivery of vaccines from the COVAX program within the next few weeks, the World Health Organization's top official for Syria told Reuters on Wednesday. 

The first shipment will be from a consignment of one million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute India. The COVAX program aims to inoculate nearly 20% of Syria's population by the end of the year.

Intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients in Damascus, Syria were completely full, a health ministry official said. It is the first such announcement from the ministry since the pandemic began.

Ministry official Tawfiq Hassab said that some patients have been transferred to other provinces, according to remarks carried by state news agency SANA.

Asia

The Japanese government's advisory panel has approved a plan to let the state of emergency expire in the Tokyo area, as scheduled on March 21. Despite this, the capital's governor has warned citizens not to let down their guard in order to fend off any potential resurgence in infections.

India has reported its highest caseload in more than three months, with the state of Maharashtra contributing two-thirds of Thursday's 35,871 new infections. Coronavirus-related deaths rose by 172.

Oceania

Australia's population has declined for the first time in more than a century as pandemic-induced border closures stemmed the flow of overseas migrants. The drop in population was because of this, rather than COVID-related deaths, in a country where strict measures have resulted in the virus largely being stamped out.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics demography director, Phil Browning, said: "The last time we saw population decline was the year to December 1916, during World War I."

kbd, jsi/rs (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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