Covid-19 has infected more than 165 million people and killed at least 3.4 million. Here are all virus-related developments for May 20:

Passengers wearing protective face masks walk at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, June 30, 2020.
Passengers wearing protective face masks walk at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, June 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Thursday, May 20: 

EU lawmakers and nations reach compromise on Covid-19 passes

European Union legislators and member countries found a compromise for launching Covid-19 certificates before the summer holiday season, a move aimed at boosting travel and tourism following the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

The various players managed to reconcile their differences during another round of discussions, paving the way for the trans-border travel passes to be introduced before the summer season kicks off.

Since border controls are a national responsibility, EU member nations were not ready to relinquish their prerogatives. Another roadblock was the price of tests, as lawmakers insisted the tests should be free of charge,

Under the compromise sealed on Thursday, the European Commission said it would allocate $122 million in EU funds for the purchase of virus tests compatible with the certificates.

France reports 3,769 people in intensive care units

The number of people in intensive care with Covid-19 in France fell further by 93 to 3,769 people while the overall number of Covid patients eased by nearly 600 to 20,750.

The number of new deaths from Covid in hospitals fell to 133, virtually steady compared to a week ago.

Italy reports 5,741 new cases and 164 deaths

Italy reported 164 coronavirus-related deaths against 149 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 5,741 from 5,506.

Italy has registered 124,810 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 reported 4.18 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 10,383 on Thursday, down from 11,018 a day earlier.

There were 69 new admissions to intensive care units, edging down from 70 on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients decreased to 1,544 from a previous 1,643.

Turkey numbers drop under 10,000 for first time since March 1

Turkey reported 9,355 new cases of Covid-19, the first time fewer than 10,000 daily cases since March 1, said the country's health minister, marking a key milestone in the country’s fight against coronavirus.

After a meeting of the country's Scientific Committee, Fahrettin Koca told a press conference that the number of daily cases fell below 10,000 after a 17-day lockdown which ended early this week.

He stressed that Turkey has the potential to vaccinate more than 1.5 million people per day.

Koca added that Turkey could start Phase 3 studies of its national Covid-19 vaccine at the beginning of June.

Japan health panel approves Moderna, AstraZeneca vaccines

Japanese regulators recommended the approval of Covid-19 vaccines developed by Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca PLC's, paving the way for the country to speed up its slow-moving vaccination campaign.

The recommendations by a Health Ministry panel precede official approval by the government on Friday, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Supplies of the Moderna doses have already been imported and are planned for use at mass vaccination centres in Tokyo and Osaka from next week.

Hungary has opted out of new vaccine deal with Pfizer

Hungary is the only European Union country that has decided to opt out of a new vaccine deal the bloc has signed with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of up to 1.8 billion doses of their Covid-19 jab, an EU spokesperson said.

The Commission confirmed the new deal, the third it has signed with the two companies, for the possible purchase of up to 1.8 billion doses until 2023, following 600 million doses ordered via the two previous contracts.

"Hungary opted out of the Pfizer deal," the EU spokesperson said.

India battles rash of 'black fungus' cases hitting Covid-19 patients

India has ordered tighter surveillance of a rare fungal disease hitting Covid-19 patients, officials said, piling pressure on hospitals struggling with the world's highest number of daily infections of the novel coronavirus.

Mucormycosis or "black fungus" usually infects people whose immune system has been compromised, causing blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood.

Doctors believe that the use of steroids to treat severe Covid-19 could be causing the rash of cases because those drugs reduce immunity and push up sugar levels.

Current vaccines appear protective against variants – WHO Europe

Covid-19 vaccines currently being deployed in the fight against the pandemic in Europe appear able to protect against all variants that are circulating and causing concern, the World Health Organization's regional director said.

Hans Kluge said health authorities should remain vigilant on the rising number of cases in the region caused by a variant that emerged in India but stressed that vaccination and infection control measures would help prevent its spread.

"All Covid-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available, approved vaccines," Kluge told a media briefing.

Turkey seals deal for 60M more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Turkey has finalised a deal to buy 60 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with an option for an additional 30 million doses.

“This second supply agreement brings the total number of doses to be supplied to Turkey to up to 120 million, all of which will be delivered in 2021,” according to a statement issued by BioNTech on Thursday.

On December 25, 2020, the two companies announced an initial agreement to provide 30 million vaccine doses to Turkey, read the statement.

“We are grateful to be able to make an important contribution to Turkey’s vaccination efforts and for the trust placed in us,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.

Taiwan president tests negative 

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has tested negative after a worker at her residence tested positive, the presidential office said on Thursday.

"The president is healthy and safe," it added.

Taiwan is dealing with a spike in domestic infections. 

Russia reports 9,232 new cases, 396 deaths

Russia reported 9,232 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 3,312 in the capital Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,974,908.

The country also reported another 396 deaths, raising the official toll to 117,361.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths from April 2020 to March 2021.

Experts to probe health risks of human-animal interaction – WHO

The World Health Organization said it had tasked experts with assessing health risks at the interface between nature and humans in a bid to avoid future pandemics.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was sparked by a virus that likely originated in animals, the WHO this week created the One Health High-Level Expert Panel.

Set up with the backing of France and Germany, it will provide advice to the WHO and others striving to draft a plan for averting outbreaks of diseases like bird flu, Ebola and Covid-19.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a powerful demonstration that human health does not exist in a vacuum, and nor can our efforts to protect and promote it," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

European Commission signs third contract with Pfizer-BioNTech

The European Commission said that it signed a third contract with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech for an additional 1.8 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The contract reserves the doses on behalf of all European Union member states, between end 2021 to 2023, the statement added. 

The contract requires that the vaccine production is based in the EU and that essential components are sourced from the EU.

Current chinese vaccines can tackle India variants – China CDC experts

China's current vaccines can tackle new coronavirus variants spreading in India and can provide protection "to a certain extent", based on preliminary research results, a disease control expert said.

Speaking at a news briefing, Shao Yiming, a researcher at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, did not elaborate on the specific vaccines or variants he referred to. 

Malaysia reports 6,806 new cases, highest daily count

Malaysia recorded 6,806 new cases, the biggest daily jump in infections, the health ministry said on Twitter.

It was the second straight day of record infections amid a fresh surge in cases. 

US allows Pfizer vaccine in fridge for a month

The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for up to a month in the United States, the country's health regulator announced, in a change expected to help distribution of the shot.

The US Food and Drug Administration made the decision "based on a review of recent data submitted by Pfizer," and will allow vials of the vaccine to be stored at refrigerator temperatures of 2-8 degrees Celsius for up to one month.

The vials were previously only allowed to be kept at such temperatures for five days

The European Medicines Agency On Monday also approved the storage of the Pfizer vaccine in fridges for up to a month.

The FDA had already relaxed conditions for the vaccine's storage in February, allowing it to be kept "at conventional temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers for a period of up to two weeks" rather than ultra-low and very difficult to ensure freezer temperature of -80 to -60 degrees Celsius.

Covid-19 vaccines have spawned nine new billionaires – campaign group

Profits from Covid-19 jabs have helped at least nine people become billionaires, a campaign group said, calling for an end to pharmaceutical corporations' "monopoly control" on vaccine technology.

The alliance, a network of organisations and activists campaigning for an end to property rights and patents for inoculations, said its figures were based on the Forbes Rich List data.

In addition to the new mega-rich, eight existing billionaires have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion thanks to the vaccine rollout, the alliance said.

Vietnam aims for $1.1B vaccine fund

Vietnam plans to set up a $1.1 billion fund to acquire 150 million Covid-19 vaccine doses for its population, the Ministry of Finance said in a statement.

The ministry had submitted the plan to the government for approval, it said, adding that the fund will use money mainly from the state budget.

After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of last year, Vietnam is battling a new outbreak that is spreading more quickly, infecting 1,677 people since late April, including hundreds of factory workers in northern provinces.

Australian doctors warn vaccine hesitancy makes citizens "sitting ducks"

Australia's peak medical body warned the country's residents were "sitting ducks" for Covid-19, as business leaders call for the international border to be reopened faster despite a sluggish national vaccination drive.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said it was worried many Australians were delaying getting vaccinated because of the country's success in stamping out the virus and urged authorities to roll out a more effective advertising campaign.

Singapore uses misinformation law to swat online virus claim

Singapore used a misinformation law to order Facebook and Twitter to warn users about what it said were false claims about a dangerous coronavirus strain emerging in the city.

New Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed this week on social media that a strain of the virus had appeared in Singapore that could trigger a new wave of cases in India, and urged a flight ban.

But the city-state strongly rejected what it said were "unfounded assertions" insisting there was no such thing as a "Singapore variant". India's own government also strongly criticised Kejriwal.

Singapore said a strain recently detected there, and responsible for an uptick in cases, had originated in India.

But claims about a "Singapore variant" began circulating online, prompting leaders to order Facebook, Twitter and a local technology-focused portal to post the warnings.

Facebook and Twitter confirmed they had received the request and complied with it.

India reports 276,110 new infections

India reported 276,110 new virus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 3,874.

The South Asian nation's infection tally stands at 25.77 million, with a death toll of 287,122, health ministry data showed. 

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 12,298 - RKI

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 12,298 to 3,626,393, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 237 to 86,902, the tally showed.

Seychelles reimposes some restrictions amid spike

The Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles recently reimposed restrictions after a sharp spike in cases as it continues to juggle the pandemic with its reliance on tourism.

More than 60 percent of the island archipelago's 100,000 residents have now had two doses of a vaccine.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new infections in the Seychelles rose over the past two weeks from 148.03 new cases per 100,000 people on May 4 to 231.27 on May 18, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

UN expresses concerns over vaccine supplies for Africa

The UN Security Council has called for accelerated availability of vaccines for Africa, expressing concern the continent has received only about 2 percent of all vaccines administered globally.

A presidential statement approved by all 15 members at a council meeting Wednesday on promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa and addressing the root causes of conflict on the continent reiterated the need for “equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious, and affordable Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccinations to all.”

It calls for “increased and accelerated donation of safe and effective vaccine doses from developed economies” and others with supplies to African countries in need, especially through the World Health Organization’s ACT-Accelerator program, which includes the COVAX facility to buy and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries.

Brazil records over 2,600 new deaths

Brazil has recorded 79,219 additional confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, along with 2,641 new deaths, Health Ministry figures showed.

Brazil has now registered 15.8 million cases since the pandemic began, and the official death toll stands at 441,691, according to ministry data. 

UK plans to roll out vaccines to all over-18s in June

Britain's vaccine rollout could reach those in their early-20s in the first weeks of next month, with hopes that all those over age 18 could be offered jabs in June, the Telegraph has reported.

The programme will move to those aged 30 and over next week in the UK, while extra supplies are being sent to areas worst hit by the Indian variant, the report added.

Mexico to reopen classrooms in capital as pandemic eases

Schoolchildren will return to classrooms in the Mexican capital next month, authorities have said in the latest easing of pandemic restrictions following a steady decline in new cases.

Face-to-face classes have been suspended since March 2020 across most of Mexico, which has one of the highest death tolls in the world.

Mexico City's 1.5 million schoolchildren will return to classrooms from June 7 on a voluntary basis, said Luis Humberto Fernandez, an educational authority official in the capital.

Zimbabwe reports first cases of variant from India

Zimbabwe has detected the first cases of the new variant that emerged in India, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said on Wednesday, adding that all travellers from the Asian nation would be required to undergo mandatory quarantine.

Chiwenga, who also doubles as Zimbabwe's health minister, said in a statement the cases had been detected among a group of people in the central town of Kwekwe after a student returned from India on April 29.

"People travelling from or transiting from India will be subject to mandatory quarantine at a designated quarantine centre and at their own cost," Chiwenga said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies