Top court orders India’s government to present oxygen plan

The Supreme Court decided against immediately punishing Indian officials for failing to end a erratic supply of oxygen to hospitals.

Lilaben Gautambhai Modi, 80, wearing an oxygen mask, sits inside an ambulance as she waits to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad, India [Amit Dave/Reuters]
Lilaben Gautambhai Modi, 80, wearing an oxygen mask, sits inside an ambulance as she waits to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad, India [Amit Dave/Reuters]

A second wave of the COVID pandemic is continuing to have a devastating effect on India, which has seen oxygen supplies run perilously low and crematoriums operating non-stop.

India’s government is facing growing pressure to impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the devastating coronavirus surge.

In a bid to counter the criticism, India pledged billions of dollars to boost its flagging vaccine programme on Wednesday.

Here are the latest updates:

Guatemala receives first batch of Sputnik V vaccines

Guatemala took delivery of its first consignment of Russian Sputnik V vaccines, with 50,000 doses arriving despite Guatemalan concerns Russia could cancel the deal after the confidential vaccine contract was leaked.

Guatemala’s government at the end of March acquired 16 million doses from Russia for $79.6 million. A week later, half the amount was paid and Russia offered to ship 100,000 doses in the last week of April, but the vaccines were delayed.

Over the weekend Guatemalan newspaper El Periodico published the contract online, prompting President Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday to suggest in an interview that deal could be canceled due to a breach of confidentiality.

The production of Gam-COVID-Vac, also known as Sputnik-V [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Moderna booster increases antibodies against COVID variants

Moderna Inc said early human trial data shows that a third dose of either its current COVID-19 shot or an experimental new vaccine candidate increases immunity against variants of COVID-19 first found in Brazil and South Africa.

The booster shots, given to volunteers previously inoculated with Moderna’s two-dose vaccine regimen, also boosted antibodies against the original version of COVID-19, Moderna said.

The early data comes from a 40-person trial testing both Moderna’s existing shot and a version developed to protect against the South African variant of COVID-19 called mRNA-1273.351. Moderna is also studying a shot that combines both the new and existing vaccine.

US supports intellectual property waiver for COVID vaccines

The Biden administration is throwing its support behind efforts to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to speed the end of the pandemic.

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the government’s position in a statement, amid World Trade Organization talks over easing global trade rules to enable more countries to produce more of the life-saving vaccines.

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” Tai said in the statement.

But she cautioned that it would take time to reach the required global “consensus” to waive the protections under WTO rules, and US officials said it would not have an immediate effect on the global supply of COVID-19 shots.

New York baseball teams to give away tickets to vaccinated fans

New York’s Major League Baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, will give free tickets to fans who get vaccinated for the coronavirus at their ballparks before the games, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“If you get a vaccination, they will give you a free ticket to the game,” Cuomo said at a press briefing.

In a further move toward returning the country’s largest city to pre-pandemic normality, Cuomo also announced that tickets to Broadway shows would go on sale on Thursday for performances beginning on September 14.

Seattle Mariners fan Hunter Moreira gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot during a clinic held at T-Mobile Park before a baseball game in Seattle [Ted S Warren/AP]

Rise in new cases in France slows sharply, hospitalisations decline

The number of new COVID-19 infections in France is rising much more slowly and hospitalisation declined, in the first week after the French government eased its third nationwide lockdown.

The number of new positive cases rose by 26,000 for a total of 5.71 million, an increase of 2.52 percent compared to a week ago and the lowest week-on-week increase since late July 2020, health ministry data showed. Late March to mid-April, week-on-week increases were as high as 5 percent to 6 percent.

The number of patients with COVID-19 in French hospitals dropped by 741 to 27,686 in the sharpest one-day drop since the end of November, in the last days of France’s second nationwide lockdown.

Germany’s top court upholds night curfews

Germany’s constitutional court said it rejected emergency appeals against the government’s decision to impose night curfews in areas with high COVID-19 infections.

“This does not mean that the curfew is compatible with the Basic Law,” the court said in its ruling, adding that the judges would take a closer look into the issue during the main hearing.

Germany last month passed a law giving Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government more powers to fight a third wave of the coronavirus, including curfews between 10pm and 5am in regions with high infection rates.

A no entry sign is seen in front of an entrance of an empty beer garden place near the lake Ammersee in Stegen, southern Germany [Christof Stache/AFP]

Peru inks deal to buy 12 million extra doses of Pfizer jab

Peru’s president Francisco Sagasti announced a fresh deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to purchase an additional 12 million doses of its vaccine against COVID-19.

Peru had already signed a contract with Pfizer to purchase 20 million doses, some of which have already begun to arrive in the Andean nation.

World Bank urges rich countries to ease grip on vaccine stockpiles

World Bank President David Malpass urged wealthy countries to quickly free up excess vaccines for developing economies that are now facing greater needs, by exporting stockpiled doses and giving up options for future deliveries.

Malpass told a Financial Times online event that the World Bank now has “robust” vaccine financing operations in about 18 countries, a figure that will expand to 50 countries and about $4bn by mid-year.

He said advanced countries “need to give up the options and the control mechanism that they have for the vaccines and let the countries that have deployment systems begin to make those deployments”.

Syringes are seen prepped at a COVID vaccine clinic held by Variety [Hannah Beier/Reuters]

Alberta tightens rules, drops vaccine age to 12

Alberta will become the first Canadian province to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from May 10, Premier Jason Kenney said, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a raging third wave of the pandemic.

United Conservative Party premier Kenney has come under fire for mixed public health messaging as the crest of Canada’s third wave of the pandemic shifts from Ontario to Alberta.

Alberta, home to Canada’s oil patch, has the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 24,000 active cases and 150 people in intensive care.

Serbia to offer cash to those who get COVID vaccine

Serbia’s president said his country would pay each citizen who gets a COVID jab before the end of May, in what could be the world’s first cash-for-jabs scheme.

“All those … who received the vaccine by May 31 will get 3,000 dinars (25 euros, $30),” President Aleksandar Vucic told local media, adding that he expected three million to be vaccinated by the end of the month.

Vucic said the country wanted to “reward people who showed responsibility”. But he added that public employees who did not receive a vaccine would not get paid leave if they contracted the virus.

G7 will work to expand COVID vaccine production

The Group of Seven foreign ministers pledged to work with industry to expand the production of affordable COVID-19 vaccines, but stopped short of calling for a waiver of intellectual property rights of the pharma firms.

“We commit to working with  industry  to facilitate expanded manufacturing at scale of affordable COVID-19  vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics and their component parts,” the G7 foreign ministers said in a joint statement after a meeting in London.

The ministers said the work would include “promoting partnerships between companies, and  encouraging voluntary licensing and tech transfer agreements on mutually agreed terms”.

G7 foreign ministers meet in London for their first face-to-face talks in more than two years [Adrian Dennis/various sources/AFP]

COVID’s US toll projected to drop sharply by the end of July

Teams of experts are projecting COVID-19’s toll on the US will fall sharply by the end of July, according to research released by the government.

But they also warn that a “substantial increase” in hospitalisations and deaths is possible if unvaccinated people do not follow basic precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping their distance from others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper included projections from six research groups.

Younger people filling up intensive care wards in Americas: PAHO

COVID-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.

In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, Carissa Etienne said.

Hospitalisation rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70 percent in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20s are now being hospitalised for COVID-19 than people in their 70s.

“Despite all we learned about this virus in a year, our control efforts are not as strict, and prevention is not as efficient,” Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington.

“We are seeing what happens when these measures are relaxed: COVID spreads, cases mount, our health systems become overwhelmed and people die,” she said.

Switzerland’s COVID death toll passes 10,000

Switzerland’s COVID-19 death toll topped 10,000 as health officials gave cautious signs of optimism that the pandemic was coming under control in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The landlocked European country, population 8.6 million, said 10,012 people had now died from the virus, while more than 664,000 cases have been registered.

But the government’s COVID-19 expert group said the situation was currently stable and even slightly improving.

“We have good reason to be optimistic,” the health ministry’s crisis management chief Patrick Mathys told a press conference in Bern.

A garment worker is injected with a dose of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Phnom Penh [Mak Remissa/EPA]

Sinovac vaccine effective but some data lacking: WHO experts

The COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech is efficacious in preventing COVID-19 in adults under 60, but some quality data on the risk of serious adverse effects is lacking, World Health Organization experts have found.

The independent experts on the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) reviewed Sinovac’s CoronaVac jab from phase 3 clinical trials in China, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and Chile.

The assessment came shortly after WHO SAGE experts had voiced “very low confidence” in data provided by Chinese state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm on its COVID-19 vaccine regarding the risk of serious side-effects in some patients, but overall confidence in its ability to prevent the disease, a document seen by Reuters showed.

Italy travel pass will also be valid for tourists from outside EU

Italy’s tourism minister said the pass that the country will introduce from the middle of May for travellers clear of COVID-19 will be valid also for arrivals from outside the European Union.

“This will be for everybody, especially for tourists from outside the EU,” Massimo Garavaglia told SkyTg24.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said an EU travel pass will be introduced in the middle of June, allowing easy travel across the continent for those who have been vaccinated or just tested negative, or could prove they had recently recovered from the virus.

Canada authorises Pfizer vaccine for age 12 and older

Canada’s health regulator has authorised Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 and older.

Dr Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, confirmed the decision for the ages to 12 to 15 and said it will help children return to a normal life.

The vaccine was previously authorised for anyone 16 or older.

Healthcare workers from Switch Health administer the Pfizer vaccine at the Ontario Khalsa Darbar pop-up vaccination clinic [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Egypt to close stores, restaurants early for 2 weeks: PM

The closing hours of Egyptian stores, malls and restaurants will be brought forward to 9pm (19:00 GMT) to help contain the coronavirus for two weeks from Thursday, straddling the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Eid celebrations, the prime minister said.

Large gatherings and concerts will be banned over the same period and beaches and parks will be shut between May 12-16, Mostafa Madbouly said.

Top court orders India’s government to present oxygen plan

India’s government was ordered by the Supreme Court to submit a plan to meet New Delhi hospitals’ oxygen needs within a day.

The court decided against immediately punishing officials for failing to end a two-week-old erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals.

“Ultimately putting officers in jail or hauling officers for contempt will not bring oxygen. Please tell us steps to solve this,” Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud said.

The court stayed a contempt notice earlier issued to the government by the New Delhi High Court for defying its order to supply adequate oxygen to more than 40 New Delhi hospitals. The government officials found guilty could have faced six months in prison and a fine.

Indonesia arrests five for reusing COVID nasal swabs

Police in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province have arrested five people on suspicion of reusing COVID-19 test kits on passengers at the international airport there, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The five, who worked for state-owned company Kimia Farma, washed and repackaged antigen nasal swabs for antigen-based rapid testing and used them on travellers at Kualanamu airport in Medan, said provincial police spokesman Hadi Wahyudi.

“We will question top officials at the company to get to the bottom of the case,” Hadi said, adding that the five suspects had been doing this since December.

Kenya reports COVID-19 variant detected in India

A variant of COVID-19 first diagnosed in India has been detected in Kenya, the health ministry said, days after the same variant was detected in neighbouring Uganda.

The health ministry last week said Kenya will suspend passenger flights to and from India starting on May 1.

A health worker talks to her colleagues as they prepare to receive the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi [File: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Malaysia tightens curbs in capital as virus cases climb

Malaysia will tighten coronavirus curbs in the capital to combat a fresh spike in cases, with only essential businesses allowed to operate and restaurant dining-in banned, authorities said Wednesday.

The partial lockdown in Kuala Lumpur, initially set to last from May 7 to 20, comes a day after officials announced tougher restrictions in several districts surrounding the city.

Announcing the new curbs in Kuala Lumpur, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said at least 17 new infection clusters were detected in the city last month.


Norway to introduce vaccine certificates in June

Norway will introduce verifiable vaccine certificates in early June, allowing holders to use them for admittance to events held in Norway, with an updated, EU-compliant version to be rolled out in late June.

Around a quarter of Norway’s population has so far received a first dose of a vaccine against COVID-19, while 6.8 percent has received two doses.

“With such a certificate we can use to open our society more, and quicker,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference.

People relax outside the Oslo Opera House during the novel coronavirus pandemic on July 27, 2020 in Oslo, Norway. [File: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Philippines widens travel ban to keep out Indian coronavirus variant

The Philippines will ban the entry of travellers from Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from May 7 to May 14 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in India, the president’s office said on Wednesday.

Travellers coming directly from those countries, or with a history of travel to any of them within the last 14 days, would be barred from entering, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a memorandum.


Thai travel agencies offer COVID-19 ‘vaccine tours’ to US

Travel agencies in Thailand are selling coronavirus “vaccine tours” to the United States, as some wealthy Thais grow impatient awaiting mass inoculations that are still a month away amid the country’s biggest outbreak so far.

Bangkok tour operator, Unithai Trip, has packages from 75,000 baht to 200,000 baht ($2,400 to $6,400) for trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, with prices dependent on the time gap between doses.

“Johnson & Johnson is one jab, but 90 percent of inquires want Pfizer,” which needs about 20 days between the first and second doses, the agency’s owner, Rachphol Yamsaeng, told Reuters.

My Journey Travel is offering a 10-day trip to San Francisco for a Johnson & Johnson shot and said it has received hundreds of calls in three days.


India’s Goa, sun and sand tourist destination, has country’s highest COVID rate

India’s Goa state, a hugely popular tourist destination on the western coast, has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the country, with up to one in every two people testing positive in recent weeks.

Two government-appointed medical officials working at the state’s COVID-19 data collection centre in the capital Panjim said the positivity rates in tests since April were between 40 – 51 percent the highest in the country.

“The rate at which positive cases have increased represents the true picture of how fast the virus has spread,” said one state official, adding that a complete lockdown and strict ban on entry of all tourists was the only way to slow down the surge.

Dona Paula Goa coastal front [Charlene Rodrigues/Al Jazeera]

Tanzania stops flights to and from India amid coronavirus surge

Tanzania has suspended flights to and from India, the country’s health ministry said, the latest sign of its increasingly active approach to tackling the pandemic under its new president.

It joins a growing list of East African countries that have halted flights to and from India, including Uganda and Kenya.

The suspension is effective immediately and will apply until further notice, the statement from the ministry’s permanent secretary Abel Makubi dated Tuesday said. Exceptions would be made for cargo planes and pre-approved flights on humanitarian, diplomatic, and medical missions.


UK still looking at COVID booster shot options

British officials are currently looking at which COVID-19 vaccines would offer the best booster shot for vulnerable people later this year but no decisions have been taken yet.

Britain is quickly rolling out vaccines and has been the second quickest country in the world to give a first COVID-19 shot to at least half its adult population.

The government is already assessing the possible need for a third COVID-19 vaccine dose for the elderly and vulnerable, to be given in the autumn, after all adults are given their initial two-shot regime.

“The clinicians haven’t yet made their decision when they will need to boost, whether to give more immunity to the most vulnerable, to increase the durability of the protection, or to deal with a variant,” vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News.


India’s G7 delegation in self-isolation after COVID infections

The entire delegation of India to the Group of Seven summit in London is in self-isolation after two members tested positive for COVID-19, the UK government has said.

“We deeply regret that foreign minister Jaishankar will be unable to attend the meeting today in person but will now attend virtually, but this is exactly why we have put in place strict COVID protocols and daily testing,” Reuters reported a senior diplomat as saying.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar did not test positive for the virus, Sky News reporter Joe Pike said on Twitter. Jaishankar was pictured meeting British interior minister Priti Patel on Tuesday.


WTO mulling intellectual property waivers for vaccines

Ambassadors from World Trade Organization countries plan to discuss trade rules protecting the technological know-how behind COVID-19 vaccines amid growing pressure on rich nations to relax them as a way to help developing countries fight the pandemic, The Associated Press reported.

The WTO’s General Council was taking up a temporary waiver for intellectual property protections that South Africa and India first proposed in October. The idea has gained support in the developing world and among some progressive lawmakers in the West.

Authors of the proposal, which has faced resistance from many countries with influential pharmaceutical industries, have been revising it in hopes of making it more palatable.


IPL’s foreign cricket stars scramble to escape India

Cricket authorities in Australia and New Zealand rushed to evacuate star players from COVID-hit India, AFP reported, after the lucrative Indian Premier League was abandoned.

Cricket Australia said plans were under way to fly 38 players and staff – including superstars Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins – to the relative safety of the Maldives or Sri Lanka in the next “two to three days.”

The Indian Premier League, the world’s richest Twenty20 cricket tournament, was suspended on Tuesday and players were sent home, as India battles a massive surge in coronavirus cases.


India reported one in four COVID deaths globally last week: WHO

India accounted for nearly half of the COVID-19 cases reported worldwide last week and one in four of deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

“India accounts for over 90 percent of both cases and deaths in the region, as well as 46 percent of global cases and 25 percent of global deaths reported in the past week,” the Geneva-based agency said in its weekly epidemiological report.

Pranav Mishra, 19, reacts next to the body of his mother Mamta Mishra, 45, who died from COVID-19 before her cremation at a crematorium ground in New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

Indian government officials face contempt charges

The Delhi High Court will decide on Wednesday whether to punish government officials for failing to end a two-week-old erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals.

The court will decide whether to press contempt charges against home ministry officials for defying its order to meet oxygen requirements of more than 40 hospitals in the capital. Those found guilty face six months in prison or a fine.

“You can put your head in the sand like an ostrich, we will not. We are not going to take no for an answer,” Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said.


Australian court to examine contentious India travel ban

Australia’s Federal Court says it would urgently hear a challenge – brought by a 73-year-old man living in Bengaluru – to the country’s controversial ban on citizens returning home from coronavirus-hit India.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week banned arrivals from India, which is recording hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus infections each day. Under the measures, Australian citizens who return home face jail time and heavy fines.

The move has caused widespread outrage, with Morrison’s own allies describing it as “racist” and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.


India announces $6.7bn in cheap loans for vaccine, health firms

India’s central bank has released $6.7bn in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms to counter the devastating coronavirus surge gripping the country.

Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das said cheap loans would be available until March 31 next year, and vowed to deploy “unconventional” measures if the crisis worsens.

“The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions,” he said.


Australia sends coronavirus aid to India

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia has begun delivering humanitarian aid to India promised last week that included personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrations and ventilators.

A chartered Qantas flight has left Sydney carrying medical supplies to India including 1,056 ventilators and 43 oxygen concentrators, the Australian government said in a statement.

These donated supplies will be distributed by the Indian Red Cross and local authorities to ensure support reaches those in greatest need, the government said.


India posts record daily rise in coronavirus deaths

India’s coronavirus deaths rose by a record 3,780 during the last 24 hours, a day after the country became the world’s second after the United States to cross the grim milestone of 20 million infections.

Daily infections rose by 382,315 on Wednesday, health ministry data showed.


Australia PM stands firm on India flight halt

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is resisting mounting pressure to lift a temporary ban on flights from India, saying any early resumption of arrivals from that pandemic hot spot would erode Australia’s quarantine capability.

Morrison said the pause of flights that began last week will continue until May 15 as lawyers plan a legal challenge to the government’s ability to prevent around 9,000 citizens and permanent residents from returning home from India.

Critics of the travel pause include former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, several Australian lawmakers and leaders of the country’s Indian community.


Deaths due to oxygen shortages ‘no less than genocide’

The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh state has said that “death of COVID patients just for non-supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide by those responsible for ensuring the continuous procurement and supply of medical oxygen”.

The court directed the district magistrates of Lucknow and Meerut to verify reports of patients dying due to oxygen shortages within 48 hours.

“We find these news items showing a quite contrary picture to one claimed by the government that there was sufficient supply of oxygen,” the court order said.


Indians in UK respond to COVID-19 crisis back home

Indian nationals living in the United Kingdom have reacted to the worsening COVID-19 crisis in the subcontinent.

Overseas students in London say they are worried about their relatives in India, as British-Asian organisations rally round to raise funds for oxygen concentrators for areas where there is greatest need.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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