Coronavirus has killed more than 2.6M people and infected almost 119M worldwide. Here are the latest developments for March 12:

A picture taken on March 12, 2021, shows empty phials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre at the UBO (Universite Bretagne Occidentale) in Brest, western France.
A picture taken on March 12, 2021, shows empty phials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre at the UBO (Universite Bretagne Occidentale) in Brest, western France. (AFP)

Friday, March 12, 2021:

AstraZeneca says 'no evidence' of higher blood clots risk

UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has insisted its coronavirus vaccine was safe, after some countries suspended its use in response to concerns about a potential link to blood clots.

"An analysis of our safety data of more than 10 million records has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country" from the jab, a company spokesperson said.

"In fact, the observed number of these types of events are significantly lower in those vaccinated than would be expected among the general population."

Turkey reports over 14,900 new infections

Turkey has reported 14,941 more coronavirus cases, including 834 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case tally stands at 2.85 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 29,356, with 66 fatalities over the past day.

US, Indo-Pacific allies to expand India's vaccine production

President Joe Biden and fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific group known as the Quad have announced a plan to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing capacity in India.

The effort to expand production and promote access to the vaccine in the region was unveiled on Friday following a virtual meeting of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States. It comes as the Biden administration is putting greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing economic competition from China.

Biden described the effort as “an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing ... to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific” region.

“We will combine our nations’ medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities and establish a vaccine expert working group to implement our path-breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution," the Quad leaders said in a joint statement.

The effort by the Quad is projected to allow India to increase manufacturing capacity by 1 billion doses by 2022, according to a White House statement.

Rome and Milan become 'red zones' 

Italy's capital Rome and its financial centre Milan will have curbs on business and movement intensified from Monday as the government ramps up its efforts to stem a steady rise in coronavirus cases.

In recent months Italy has calibrated restrictions in its 20 regions according to a four-tier, colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) based on local infection levels which are revised every week.

Under an order approved on Friday by Health Minister Roberto Speranza numerous regions have been shifted into the toughest red zones, including Lombardy around Milan, and Lazio around Rome.

Two other regions were already red, meaning that almost half the country's regions and most of its population will be under the most severe restrictions from Monday.

WHO approves J&J Covid vaccine

The World Health Organization has approved Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine, paving the way for an additional 500 million doses to enter the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme.

"Every new, safe and effective tool against Covid-19 is another step closer to controlling the pandemic," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

The news comes after the single-dose jab won approval from the European Union on Thursday.

Greece extends Covid-19 curbs to contain rising cases

Greece will further extend Covid-19 restrictions in Athens and other areas to rein in fast-spreading infections and ease pressure on its stretched health system, Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias has said.

A lockdown in the metropolitan area of Athens - where half of the country's 11 million population lives - will be extended to March 22, rather than end on March 16 as previously planned.

Brazil Covid-19 testing shrinks as cases and deaths rise

Brazil has scaled back coronavirus testing in recent months even as infections soar and it recorded the most Covid-19 deaths in the world over the past week, according to Health Ministry data.

The result is a nation navigating in the dark, experts said, without the ability to trace and contain transmission, let alone track the spread of dangerous new virus variants in real time.

Brazil's public health system and major private laboratories conducted about 44,000 daily PCR tests - the gold standard for identifying the novel coronavirus - in the last week of February, the latest public Health Ministry data show.

That was down by nearly a third from Brazil's peak for testing: more than 65,000 per day in the third week of December.

Congo delays AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

The Democratic Republic of Congo has delayed the rollout of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines, citing the suspension of the use of the shots by several European countries, two health ministry spokesmen said on Friday.

Congo received 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses via the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme on March 2, but is yet to start its inoculation programme.

Italy reports 380 deaths, 26,824 new cases

Italy reported 380 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday against 373 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 26,824 from 25,673 the day before.

Some 369,636 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 372,217, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 101,564 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has report ed around 3.18 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 23,656 on Friday, rising from 23,247 a day earlier.

There were 226 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 266 on Thursday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 2,914 from a previous 2,859.

EU investigates vaccines for link to bleeding disorder

The European Union's drugs regulator is investigating whether any of the three Covid-19 vaccines approved in the bloc might be linked to a blood clotting deficiency that can cause internal bleeding.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday that several cases of immune thrombocytopenia, a lack of platelets in the blood that can lead to bleeding and bruising, had been reported under its vaccine safety monitoring process.

"It is not yet clear whether there is a causal association between vaccination and the reports of immune thrombocytopenia," EMA said.

The agency said it would assess reports of the condition in people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech , AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines.

French drug agency says AstraZeneca vaccine should continue to be used

The French drug regulator ANSM said it agreed with the European Medicines Agency's advice that AstraZeneca's coronavirus shot should continue to be used in vaccination campaigns.

Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria have suspended the use of the shot following reports of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.

EMA has said the number of clots is no higher than in the general population, and AstraZeneca said on Thursday it had found no evidence of increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis.

ANSM said only one case of blood clotting had been found in France after an AstraZeneca shot, and there was no indication that it was linked to the vaccine.

"The benefit/risk ratio of the vaccine remains positive", ANSM said on its website.

The agency said it was evaluating the safety of all Covid-19 vaccines available in France and actively monitoring their side-effects.

Italy to impose Easter Covid lockdown

Italy will be placed under a nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend for the second year running, the government said on Friday, underlining the struggle to stem a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.

Non-essential shops will be shuttered nationwide from April 3-5 and on those days, Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons.

However, a number of regions, including wealthy Lombardy centred on Italy's financial capital Milan, look certain to be placed under full lockdown from Monday because of the recent jump in infections and hospitalisations.

Sweden registers 5,335 new cases, 35 deaths 

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered 5,335 new coronavirus cases on Friday, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 35 new deaths, taking the total to 13,146. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns. 

Azerbaijan approves Sputnik V vaccine 

Azerbaijan has approved Sputnik V vaccine for use against the coronavirus, the Azeri health ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Sputnik V has now been cleared for use in more than 50 countries, it said. The vaccine would be delivered soon, it added. 

Spain approves 11 bn euros in aid to virus-hit firms

Spain's cabinet approved Friday an 11 billion euro aid programme to help struggling small- and medium-sized firms, and self-employed workers, cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The package, which seeks to prevent bankruptcies, will include $8.4 billion (7.0 billion euros) in direct aid, Economy Minister Nadia Calvino told a news conference.

"It is a question of taking the lead to prevent possible corporate solvency problems" which could "undermine" Spain's economic recovery, she said after the measure was approved during an extraordinary cabinet meeting.

This will be the first direct state aid to companies since the start of the health crisis last year. Up until now government support has taken the form of state-backed loans and a national furlough scheme.

The aid package also includes 3.0 billion euros to restructure companies' debt and one billion euros for capital injections.

No reason to stop using AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine – WHO

The World Health Organization said there was no reason to stop using AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine after several European countries suspended the roll-out over blood clot fears.

"Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine," WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters, adding: "There is no indication to not use it".

Bulgaria suspends rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine

Bulgaria has temporary halted inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until the European medicine regulator produces a written statement dispelling all doubts about the vaccine's safety.

"Until all doubts are dispelled and as long as the experts do not give guarantees that it does not pose a risk to the people, we are halting the inoculations with this vaccine," Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in a statement.

Bulgaria joined Denmark, Norway and Iceland, who had temporary suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports that blood clots had formed in some who had received the shot.

India logs its worst single-day jump in cases since late December 

India has registered its worst single-day jump in coronavirus cases since late December with 23,285.

The sharp spike is being attributed to the western state of Maharashtra.

India has so far reported more than 11.3 million cases, the world’s second-highest after the United States. Infections have been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity is leading to the latest surge.

The increase is being reported in six states, including Maharashtra where authorities have announced a weeklong lockdown in the densely populated Nagpur city next week. The vaccinations there will continue.

A school in Slovenia cancelled classes due to jab side effects

A school in Slovenia has cancelled classes after 26 teachers called in sick due to vaccine side effects.

Slovenian media say the staff at the school in the northwestern town of Velenje received AstraZeneca jabs on Wednesday and later reported side effects to the jabs including strong headaches, dizziness, high fever and nausea.

Italy braces for widespread closures

Italy's government is expected to announce the closure of schools, restaurants and shops across most of the country as a new wave of infections puts hospitals under strain.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi will hold a cabinet meeting mid-morning to decide new restrictions for the eurozone's third-largest economy, which on Thursday recorded almost 26,000 new virus cases and 373 deaths.

More than 100,000 people with virus have died in Italy since the pandemic swept over the country one year ago, sparking a months-long lockdown and triggering the worst recession since World War II.

UK economy sinks on virus curbs, as Brexit slams trade

Britain's economy hit reverse in January on renewed virus curbs while the nation's post-Brexit EU goods exports suffered a record collapse, official data showed.

Gross domestic product shrank 2.9 percent after 1.2-percent growth in December, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement, with heavy falls in services, production and manufacturing on virus restrictions.

"The economy took a notable hit in January with retail, restaurants, schools and hairdressers all affected by the latest lockdown," said ONS statistician Jonathan Athow.

Australia continues AstraZeneca roll-out, says no evidence of blood clots

Australia has said it will continue to roll-out AstraZeneca's vaccine as there was no evidence of a link to blood clots, despite some European countries suspending its use.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland had earlier on Thursday suspended the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine following reports of the formation of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.

Australia's government said that while its pharmaceutical regulator was monitoring those cases, there would be no pause in the roll-out of the vaccine.

Thailand delays AstraZeneca vaccination amid Europe safety reports

Thailand has delayed the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine scheduled to start with its prime minister and cabinet members taking the first shots, citing safety concerns after reports of blood clots in some vaccinated people in Europe.

The Asian nation is the first country outside of Europe suspending the use of the AstraZeneca shot, while several countries including Canada, Australia, the Philippines and South Korea said they would go ahead.

Sanofi to start human trials of its second vaccine candidate

French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi has announced the launch of human trials of its second vaccine, with its first still in the testing phase after having fallen behind in development.

Sanofi and US company Translate Bio are developing the vaccine based on messenger RNA technology.

The phase 1 and 2 trials aim to verify that the vaccine is not dangerous and to provide initial information on its effectiveness.

Germany reports 2,834 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 12,834 to 2,545,781, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 252 to 73,062, the tally showed. 

Biden sets May 1 target to have all adults vaccine-eligible

One year after the nation was brought to a near-standstill by the coronavirus, President Joe Biden used his first prime-time address to outline his plan to make all adults vaccine-eligible by May 1 and get the country “closer to normal” by the Fourth of July. He offered Americans fresh hope and appealed anew for their help.

Speaking in the White House East Room, Biden announced moves to speed vaccinations, including directing that states lift qualifications for vaccinations by May 1, and expand the number of places and categories of people who can give shots.

Biden announced that he is deploying an additional 4,000 active-duty troops to support vaccination efforts and will allow more people such as medical students, veterinarians and dentists to deliver shots.

He is also directing more doses toward some 950 community health centres and up to 20,000 retail pharmacies, to make it easier for people to get vaccinated closer to their homes.

Brazil has more than 2,000 Covid-19 dead in 24 hours for second day

Brazil has reported 2,233 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the second consecutive day that fatalities have exceeded 2,000, the health ministry said, and 75,412 new cases of the novel coronavirus infection.

The South American country has now registered 11,277,717 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 272,889, according to ministry data, in the world's third-biggest outbreak after the US and India, and the deadliest outside the United States.

Tokyo area Covid-19 numbers showing signs of rising

Coronavirus cases in the Greater Tokyo area are showing signs of creeping up, Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said, according to Kyodo News, raising questions over whether a state of emergency could be lifted on schedule on March 21.

Tamura said that decision would ultimately be made after hearing the views of experts, Tamura said at a news conference, Kyodo reported. 

Romania pauses use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch
Romanian authorities have temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine as an "extreme precaution" while deaths in Italy are investigated, but are continuing to use other doses from the company, a health agency said.

Romania said it has suspended using doses from the same batch in question in Italy, adding it received 81,600 doses in early February and has used 77,049 so far.

The suspension will last until the European Medicines Agency completes a probe.

China reports 9 new cases vs 11 a day earlier

Mainland China reported nine new virus cases, down from 11 cases a day earlier, said the country's national health authority.

All of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas, the National Health Commission said in a statement. 

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 10, matching the tally from a day earlier,

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 90,027, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

South Korea extends social distancing rules

South Korea will extend social distancing rules with a ban on private gatherings of more than four people in a bid to stamp out the possibility of a fourth wave of infections, said Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun.

The announcement at a government meeting comes as South Korea has been ramping up its immunisation drive, authorising the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine for people aged 65 years and older in a bid to inoculate 70 percent of its 52 million residents by September.

The country has administered 546,277 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of Thursday midnight, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said, including both AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech treatments.

UN chief blasts vaccine nationalism, hoarding, side deals

The United Nations chief criticised the “many examples of vaccine nationalism and vaccine hoarding” as well as side deals with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers that undermine access to all people in the world.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement marking one year since the UN World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic that “the global vaccination campaign represents the greatest moral test of our times.”

Ensuring that all people are vaccinated – and “many low-income countries have not yet received a single dose” – is essential to restart the global economy “and help the world move from locking down societies to locking down the virus,” he said.

Guterres reiterated his call for Covid-19 vaccines to be seen as “a global public good.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies