India’s coronavirus cases top global record for two days

People scramble for life-saving oxygen supplies across India as Japan announces third state of emergency for Tokyo.

People lower the body of a man who died from COVID-19 into a grave in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India has recorded the world’s highest infection tally for a second day, leaving hospitals across the country scrambling for oxygen supplies.

Meanwhile, France on Friday became the first high-income country to donate COVID-19 vaccines to a developing nation through the United Nations-backed COVAX rollout programme, shipping more than 100,000 doses to Mauritania.

Also on Friday, Japan declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world:

Lawmakers urge Biden to back vaccine patent waiver

US lawmakers and nonprofit groups heaped pressure on the Biden administration to back a temporary patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines to help poor countries contain the pandemic.

The groups delivered a petition signed by two million people, adding to separate letters already sent to US President Joe Biden by a group of senators, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, nearly 100 members of the House and 60 former heads of state and 100 Nobel Prize winners.

Senator Bernie Sanders said it was also in the United States’ own interest to ensure as many people were vaccinated as quickly as possible, to limit the chance of virus mutations that could prompt further US lockdowns. But he also appealed to Biden’s desire to rebuild US credibility in the world.

“On this enormously important health issue, this moral issue, the United States has got to do the right thing,” he told a news conference.

COVID vaccines recommended for pregnant women: US CDC

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that pregnant people receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Agency Director Rochelle Walensky announced the recommendation during an update on the pandemic at a White House briefing.

She noted that a CDC study published this week found no safety concerns with Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations given during the third trimester of pregnancy.

“We know that this is a deeply personal decision, and I encourage people to talk to their doctors or primary care providers to determine what is best for them and for their baby,” Walensky said.

No blood clots among 2,200 Chileans in AstraZeneca vaccine trial

Chilean investigators testing the AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccination in 2,200 people found no instances of blood clots among participants, they said.

Dr Maria Elena Santolaya, from the University of Chile that led the trial, said the vaccine was safe, and also 76 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 15 days after the second dose was administered, 100 percent effective against serious or critical COVID-19 and 85 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 among people over 65 years old.

Pfizer CEO says vaccine to become easier to ship and store

US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer is planning a new version of its coronavirus vaccine that can be stored in a standard freezer and comes diluted and ready for use, its CEO told the AFP news agency.

The current version must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), limiting its distribution to specially equipped vaccination centres.

But Pfizer’s chief executive Albert Bourla told AFP in an interview that a new version is in the pipeline and that he was optimistic the vaccine will also prove effective against new virus variants.

New Zealand pauses travel bubble after Australian outbreak

New Zealand paused its newly-opened travel bubble with Australia, the government in Wellington said, after a COVID-19 outbreak in its larger neighbour.

“As set out in our Trans-Tasman bubble protocols, travel between New Zealand and Western Australia has been paused, pending further advice from the state government,” a statement on the New Zealand government website said.

The decision came after Western Australia announced that the regions of Perth and Peel were entering a three-day lockdown, starting midnight on Friday to Saturday, due to a traveler testing positive for the coronavirus.

The decision to lock down followed “a positive COVID-19 case from hotel quarantine who was active in the community,” a statement on the Western Australia government website said.

Belgium pushes on with bar reopening as hospitals near saturation

Belgium pressed ahead with plans to allow restaurant and cafe terraces to reopen on May 8 despite warnings from health officials that hospital saturation was starting to resemble that of Italy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stressed an accelerated pace of vaccinations against the coronavirus, with about 28 percent of adults having received a first dose.

“If things evolve as they are evolving now, we can continue with our plan to open up outdoors on May 8,” he told a news conference.  “The reopening of our economy, our social life, will follow the vaccinations.”

Canadian PM receives first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at an Ottawa pharmacy, telling reporters “I’m very excited” as the needle entered his arm.

Afterwards he posed for television cameras and photographers with his thumbs up and then watched as his wife Sophie received her first shot. Sophie came down with a mild case of the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic last year.

Greece reopens malls, steps up checks at toll stations

Greece will reopen shopping malls on Saturday, authorities said,  in a cautious easing of coronavirus restrictions as police stepped up checks on drivers at toll stations to curb movements ahead of the start of the Eastern Orthodox Easter week.

In a further attempt to return towards some kind of normality, the government has said that restaurants will reopen early next month before the opening of the tourist sector on May 15.

Authorities have allowed church services during Holy Week starting on Monday with masks and distancing.

EU to have enough jabs for 70 percent of adults ‘in July’

The EU coronavirus vaccine programme will secure enough doses to immunise 70 percent of adults by the end of July, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

The EU chief had previously set a goal of late September, but announced the new target during a visit to a Belgian vaccine plant that is ramping up production.

“I’m confident we will have enough doses to vaccinate 70 percent of all EU adults already in July,” von der Leyen said, at a factory producing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Von der Leyen said the European Union would “in the next days” conclude a new contract with the firm – already a mainstay of the European effort – for an additional 1.8 billion doses of second-generation jabs in 2022 and 2023.

A jab made at home? Scientists are trying it

For the millions of people around the world who do not have access to hard-to-get COVID-19 vaccines, a group of Boston-area scientists has a potential solution. And it is literally a solution, one that you snort in hopes of warding off the deadly virus.

The group is called the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, or RaDVaC, and their vaccine is so easy to make that its chief scientist, Preston Estep, said we could whip it up in my kitchen. So we did.

Read more here.

French oxygen giant diverts supply to India

Air Liquide SA is diverting oxygen supplies for industrial clients in India to hospitals as the country is overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 patients.

The company is sending most of its liquid oxygen output to the healthcare sector and is looking to import additional supplies from the Middle East, Executive Vice President Francois Jackow said on Friday. Demand for medical oxygen in India has soared roughly 10-fold, or by more than 50 percent of the country’s total production capacity, he added.

Read more here.

India’s COVID-19 infections top global record for second day

People scrambled for life-saving oxygen supplies across India and patients lay dying outside hospitals as the capital, New Delhi, recorded the equivalent of one death from COVID-19 every five minutes.

For the second day running, the country’s overnight infection total was higher than ever recorded anywhere in the world since the pandemic began last year, at 332,730.

The outbreak’s resurgence has hit with such ferocity that hospitals are running out of oxygen, beds and anti-viral drugs.

Many patients have been turned away because there was no space for them, doctors in Delhi said.

Patients suffering from COVID-19 share a hospital bed in New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

France donates COVID vaccines through UN programme

France became the first wealthy country to donate COVID-19 vaccines to a developing nation through a jab mechanism  for low and middle-income countries, shipping more than 100,000 doses to Mauritania.

Leaders of the COVAX programme hailed the French donation, which was announced by President Emmanuel Macron, and called on other rich countries to follow suit at a time of intense competition for short supplies of vaccines – as coronavirus infection counts are on the rise.

“We generally have the means to accelerate our solidarity by donating vaccines,” Macron told a World Health Organization event, announcing the donation to COVAX. “These AstraZeneca vaccines, as I am speaking to you, on their way to West Africa.”

Japan issues third virus emergency in Tokyo, Osaka area

Japan declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures amid scepticism it will be enough to curb a rapid coronavirus resurgence just three months ahead of the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 through May 11.

People wearing protective masks walk on the street in Tokyo [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The step is largely intended to be “short and intensive” to stop people from travelling and spreading the virus during Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays from late April through the first week of May, Suga said.

“I sincerely apologise for causing trouble for many people again,” said Suga, who earlier had pledged to do his utmost to prevent a third emergency. But he said he is alarmed by the fast-spreading new variant of the virus in the four prefectures and tougher steps are needed.

Austria to permit reopenings in almost all sectors from May 19

Almost all Austrian businesses hit by coronavirus restrictions will be allowed to reopen from May 19, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced in Vienna.

“These steps toward reopening are taken under strict hygiene rules, but they will be taken,” Kurz said.

Restaurants, hotels, sports facilities and cultural venues, for example, will be allowed to receive customers again if they can present a negative coronavirus test result.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies