These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.
Brazil is facing a worsening COVID-19 situation with 18 states having ICU occupancy rates above 90% on Tuesday, and 100% in Amapá and Mato Grosso do Sul. The country recorded a new record for daily deaths at 3668. Supplies of intubation medicines are at critical levels, and oxygen stocks are also at risk. The Government and many governors are against a lockdown. In São Paulo, more stringent measures introduced just over 15 days ago may be having an effect, with a 1.5% reduction in hospital admissions at the weekend. Cemeteries have been carrying out burials at night.
Approval for clinical trials of the new ButanVac vaccine is expected to be given soon. So far, 8% of the population has had a first vaccine dose, and 2.34% a second dose.
Mexico reported a nearly 60% discrepancy in reported COVID-19 deaths on Saturday. This would move Mexico into second place in the world for total COVID-19 deaths, at more than 320,000.
In Portugal, updated data from the Directorate-General for Health (DGS) showed a slight rise in transmissions with 618 COVID-19 cases recorded in 24 hours, the highest since March 17. Most of the new cases are in the Lisbon region and the north of the country. Mass testing began in parts of Lisbon. Meanwhile, vaccination of all priority groups is expected to be completed by April 11, and rapid vaccination centres open early in May. So far, more than a million people have received a first vaccine dose and, more than 500,000 a second dose.
Spain could be facing the start of a fourth wave, with an increase of COVID-19 cases. The incidence at 14 days has exceeded 150 cases per 100,000, indicating a ‘high risk’ period. The Minister of Health has announced a review of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for people 65 years and older. Spain’s vaccination campaign has accelerated this week with the arrival of new supplies, and 10% of the population has received at least one dose.
The United States faces “impending doom” as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and more states loosen restrictions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said during a news briefing this week. Dr Walensky’s voice wavered with emotion as she set aside her prepared statement and pleaded with the public to continue practicing safety measures to prevent another surge. The recent increase in cases may be in part due to variants of concern but premature lifting of public health restrictions, including mask mandates, in many states is likely to be contributing, public health officials said.
Meanwhile, Phase 3 clinical trials show that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 100% effective in protecting children 12 to15-years-old from infection, the company said in a news release. The study enrolled 2260 adolescents ages 12-15. No infections were reported in the vaccine group compared with 18 cases in the placebo group. The vaccinated children showed a strong antibody response with no serious side effects. The company said it expects to seek emergency use authorisation from the US FDA and the European Medicines Agency.
A large batch of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine containing around 15 million doses has been ruined as a result of a “human error” involving a mix up of vaccine ingredients at a Baltimore plant of Emergent BioSolutions, J&J’s manufacturing partner. The FDA is investigating the issue, and there is likely to be a temporary halt of vaccine deliveries from the site.
England eased lockdown measures on Monday to allow outdoor socialising and outdoor sport to resume. At-home “shielding” ended on Thursday for clinically extremely vulnerable people. Despite expected supply issues this month, UK officials said the NHS is on track to meet the April 15 goal of offering COVID-19 vaccination to all over-50s and other high-risk groups. As of Tuesday, 30.9 million first doses, and 4.1 million second doses had been administered. The death rate continues to fall but there are still as many people in hospital now as there were at the start of the second wave. The 7-day average for new cases remains above 5000.
Meanwhile in France, 59,038 cases of COVID-19 were reported in 24 hours and more than 5000 patients are now in intensive care, another 472 in 24 hours. On Wednesday evening, President Macron announced a new national lockdown. In addition to the closure of non-essential businesses, travel restrictions, and a 19-hour curfew, schools will be closed for 3 weeks to a month. The Minister of Health, Olivier Véran predicts a peak of the epidemic within 7 to 10 days mostly due to the UK variant. On a more positive note, Mr Macron announced that all those over 60 will be eligible for vaccination from April 16, over-50s from May 16, and all over-18s from mid-June.
Germany’s regulator STIKO announced a change in recommendations for the AstraZeneca jab after re-evaluating reports on thromboembolic events. Only over-60s will now receive the vaccine. Younger people are advised to assess their risk with their GP before vaccination. Many German hospitals and regional facilities have stopped administering the vaccine altogether. On a positive note, Johnson & Johnson will start to deliver its single dose vaccine to Germany in 2 weeks. By the end of June, Germany is expecting around 10 million doses.
Australia has largely missed its target of vaccinating 4 million people against COVID-19 by the end of March, with only around 670,000 people having received the vaccine. The slowdown has been attributed to vaccine supply issues from Europe and recent floods across the country’s east coast. The city of Brisbane was due to end its brief lockdown on Thursday, which was put in place on Tuesday after two fresh clusters of COVID-19 infections were identified.
The Philippines has enforced a strict lockdown in and around Manila, as hospitals in the capital struggle to battle a surge in COVID-19 infections. The country saw more than 10,000 new daily cases for the first time on Monday.
India continues to experience a surge of COVID-19 infections, with 72,330 daily cases and 459 deaths reported on Thursday, the highest since October 11. India has also widened its COVID-19 vaccination drive from April 1 to include all individuals aged 45- years and over.
See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.
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