The Covid-19 pandemic has killed over 2.9M people and infected more than 134M globally. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for April 8:

A woman leans on a fence as she waits in line to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Rome, March 19, 2021
A woman leans on a fence as she waits in line to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Rome, March 19, 2021 (AP)

Thursday, April 8

Portugal, Phillipines, Dutch and African Union limit AstraZeneca shot

The Dutch government will limit use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to people above age 60 following rare cases of blood clots, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.

Portugal has temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged under 60 amid concerns over possible links between the shot and very rare cases of blood clots.

"I want to highlight the goal of the vaccination campaign in Portugal is to save lives and prevent serious illness," health authority head Graca Freitas told a news conference. "This can be achieved with any vaccine approved in Portugal."

The coordinator of the vaccination taskforce, Henrique Melo, said the decision to only administer AstraZeneca shots to those under 60 would only have a "small" impact on the vaccination rollout. 

The Philippines also suspended the use of AstraZeneca shots for people under age 60.

The African Union's disease control body said it had dropped plans to secure AstraZeneca vaccines for its members from the Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine supplier.

Spain to vaccinate 60-69 year olds with AstraZeneca shot

Spain will continue vaccinating 60 to 65 year olds with AstraZeneca's coronavirus shot before proceeding to the next priority group of 66 to 69 year olds, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry announced on Wednesday it would limit the vaccine to people over 60 after regulators linked it to a rare form of brain blood clots.

Prior to that, Spain had been administering the drug to key workers from 18 to above 65 years old.

The ministry said it would soon decide whether to give a second dose of the shot to people who had already received a first.

Turkey reports nearly 56,000 new cases

Turkey's daily count of coronavirus cases have reached a new high with infections topping 55,000, the Health Ministry said.

A total of 55,941 cases, including 2,316 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is over 3.68 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 33,201, with 258 fatalities over the past day.

Germany turns to Sputnik V shots

Russia has started discussions with representatives of the German government over Berlin's bid to buy Moscow's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the manufacturers said.

In a tweet, the makers said Russia's sovereign fund, which financed the development of the vaccine, had started negotiations with Berlin for an advance purchase contract for Sputnik V doses.

Scientists call for new probe into virus origins

A joint China-World Health Organization (WHO) study into the virus has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began, and more rigorous investigations are required – with or without Beijing's involvement, a group of international scientists and researchers have said.

The joint study, released last week, said the likeliest transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, involved bats and other wildlife. It all but ruled out the possibility it had leaked from a laboratory.

In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the study was tainted by politics.

The study's conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples "remain inaccessible," the letter said.

Mexico president will get AstraZeneca shot, says risks minimal

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said that he will be vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, a day after Italy and the United Kingdom recommended its use be restricted to some adults.

Lopez Obrador, 67, said the benefits outweighed the risks of the low-cost shot, which is a core pillar of Mexico's vaccination strategy. 

Covax vaccines reach more than 100 countries

The Covax vaccine facility has delivered nearly 38.4 million doses of vaccines to 102 countries and economies across six continents, six weeks after it began to roll out supplies, according to a statement.

The programme offers a lifeline to low-income countries in particular, allowing them in the first instance to inoculate health workers and others at high risk, even if their governments have not managed to secure vaccines from the manufacturers.

But there have been some delays, the GAVI vaccine alliance and WHO said in a statement.

France meets its target for 10 million first shots of vaccine

More than 10 million people in France have now received a first shot of a vaccine, with the government's target for that number reached a week ahead of schedule, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

France is hoping a ramp-up of its vaccination campaign along with a month-long nationwide lockdown in place since last weekend will help it regain control over the latest outbreak.

Castex spoke to reporters about the 10-million mark after a visit to a vaccination centre.

India says it has millions of vaccines in hand, denies shortage

India's Health Minister has said the country had more than 43 million vaccine doses in stock or in the pipeline, after many states complained of having to close inoculation centres due to a lack of supplies.

"Let’s put an end to fear mongering now!" Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter. "Where does question of shortages arise? We're continuously monitoring & enhancing supply."

India has so far administered more than 90 million doses. 

Vaccinations helped push down England's infection rates in March - study

The swift rollout of vaccines in England is starting to have a positive impact, with infection rates dropping steeply in March, according to the findings of a closely watched survey.

The REACT study, run by scientists at Imperial College London, found that infections fell by approximately 60 percent from the last study in February, with an average of only one in 500 people infected.

Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme, said the "gratifying fall in infections" was "really good news" and "shows we’re headed in the right direction."

As well as reflecting the impact of a three-month long lockdown, he said it was also a sign that the vaccination campaign was having an effect.

"The rates (of infection) are definitely lower in the group that have been most vaccinated, which in our data is the age 65-74 and the age 75 plus," he told reporters. "So I think we are beginning to see ... the effect of the vaccinations."

Overall, national prevalence in England dropped from 0.49 percent in February to 0.20 percent in March.

Indonesia announces internal travel ban during Eid al Fitr

Indonesia has announced an internal travel ban during next month's Eid al Fitr celebrations, in an effort to prevent large-scale transmission, a transport official said.

The world's most populous Muslim-majority nation is gearing up for the start of the holy month of Ramadan next week as it continues to battle one of Asia's highest rates of transmission.

The halt on sea, land, air and rail travel for the May 6 to 17 holiday adds to a ban announced last month by Indonesia on the mass exodus tradition, locally known as "mudik," where vast numbers of people head en masse to their home provinces.

Virus patient receives lung transplant from living donors

Doctors in Japan say they have successfully performed the world’s first transplant of lung tissue from living donors to a patient with severe lung damage from the virus.

The recipient, identified only as a woman from Japan's western region of Kansai, is recovering after the nearly 11-hour operation on Wednesday, Kyoto University Hospital said in a statement. It said her husband and son, who donated parts of their lungs, are also in stable condition.

The university said it was the world's first transplant of lung tissue from living donors to a person with lung damage from the virus.

Indonesia warns over delays in 100 million AstraZeneca jabs

Indonesia has warned it faced delays receiving over 100 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, as export restrictions in India and company supply holdups threaten one of the world's biggest jab rollouts.

The Southeast Asian nation's health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin slammed the slowdown and said the government was trying to find a solution.

"We have about 100 million vaccine doses with an uncertain arrival schedule," he told parliament.

Virus hammers Iran as new daily infections surge

The number of confirmed cases in Iran has passed the 2 million mark, the Health Ministry announced, as the daily caseload reached a new record high.

The virus has infected 2,006,934 people in Iran and killed 63,884, ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari said.

She added that 22,586 new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, an increase of more than 1,600 over the previous record high registered just Wednesday.

The country has been battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak.

Officials have blamed the recent surge in cases on family visits and leisure trips made during the Nowruz holidays that started on March 21.

Poland sees record Covid deaths in one day

Poland has registered a record 954 deaths over the past 24-hour period, the health ministry said Thursday, calling the climbing fatalities in the EU nation "tragic".

More than three quarters of hospital beds, including those with oxygen support, are now full as the country battles a third wave of infections.

New cases also jumped with 27,887 new infections over the last 24 hours, but the health ministry said the increase was in part due to delayed data from the Easter holiday weekend.

The EU member state of 38 million people has recorded more than 56,000 deaths while total infections are at nearly 2.5 million.

French Open delayed by a week

The French Open has been delayed by a week and will now run from May 30 to June 13 in the hope that heightened restrictions in France will have eased by then to allow the maximum number of fans to attend the event.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the decision had been made in the wake of French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement last month that the government wanted some cultural venues to be back up and running from mid-May onwards, "subject to the improvement of the health situation".

FFT president Gilles Moretton said the week's delay "will give the health situation more time to improve and should optimise our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland-Garros".

Spain drops sunbathing mask rule

Holiday goers can breathe a sigh of relief. Shortly after making masks obligatory on the beach, Spain now says they won't be necessary while sunbathing or swimming if social distancing is respected.

The law, which came into force last week, sparked a huge backlash in Spain which is heavily dependent on tourism, particularly in coastal areas which are gearing up for summer and lobbying hard for the introduction of vaccination passports.

But following talks, government health officials and those from Spain's 17 regions agreed to modify the law, meaning people can now remove masks on the beach if they remain in one place, "respecting the minimum 1.5m security distance from people they don't live with," a health ministry statement said.

But if they walk along the beach, they must put them back on, it said.

It also clarified other activities when masks can be removed, including while swimming in the sea, in lakes, reservoirs or rivers as well as both indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

Masks can also be removed for "strictly necessary" moments of eating or drinking in public.

UK offers reassurance on AstraZeneca vaccine safety

Britain moved to reassure the public over the safety of its vaccine campaign, after deciding to offer alternatives to an AstraZeneca jab amid blood clot concerns.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to keep getting inoculated, a day after Britain's medicines regulator said the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish firm was linked to 79 cases of rare clotting and 19 deaths.

But those under 30 are to be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine, more than 20 million doses of which have been administered since early December.

Hancock emphasised the serious side effects were "extremely rare", adding that all three of the vaccines so far approved for use in Britain were "safe for all ages".

Addressing those under 30, an age group in which vaccine hesitancy tends to be higher and is largely yet to be offered the jab, he urged young people to keep faith with the UK's vaccine drive.

Africa CDC: Vaccine passports inappropriate for now

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described vaccine passports as “inappropriate" while poor countries lag behind others in acquiring the shots.

Vaccine passports are documents that show that travellers have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the virus.

Technology companies and travel-related trade groups in some wealthy countries are developing and testing out passports to encourage travel.

The matter of vaccine passports has been a hotly debated topic around the world, including in the US and Israel. 

One question relates to whether governments, employers, and organisers of large gatherings have a right to know about a person’s virus status.

Many disagree over what the right balance is between a person’s right to medical privacy and the collective right of groups of people not to be infected with a dangerous disease.

Critics also point out that such vaccine passports will enable discrimination against poor nations that do not have ready access to vaccines.

Swiss offers privileges to those conforming to measures

Switzerland is joining nations offering privileges to those conforming with measures, as one region allows fifth and sixth grade students to shed masks if their schools have participated in mass testing.

This small move from April 12 by the mountain canton of Grisons on the Italian border is emblematic of a broader global debate over whether people who test negative or are vaccinated should enjoy more freedoms.

To fly, people must already produce a negative test, while airlines want vaccinated people to travel without restrictions.

The canton has since been pushing mass testing, including in schools, and said students in the 95 percent of participating institutions that have participated should now b e allowed to shed masks.

Other regions in Switzerland including in Zurich, where schools are generally not mass testing, are still requiring masks for fourth grade and up.

Grisons will continue to require masks for teachers as well as students from the seventh grade upwards.

Australia halts AstraZeneca shots for under 50s over clot concerns

Australia has joined a growing number of countries halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for younger people over fears it can cause serious blood clots.

In a further setback for Australia's already halting vaccine rollout, officials said the AstraZeneca shot should no longer be given to people under the age of 50, unless they had already received a first dose without any ill effects.

Australia has been one of the world's most successful countries in containing the spread of the virus, with fewer than 30,000 cases and 1,000 deaths for a population of 25 million and virtually no ongoing community transmission.

But it has fallen far behind the government's own schedule for vaccinating people against the disease, with just a million doses administered by Thursday when it had pledged to give four million doses by last week.

Australia had counted on using AstraZeneca to inoculate most of its population, first using doses imported from Europe and then locally manufactured vaccines.

But vaccine shortages in Europe led to delays in AstraZeneca shipments, while planned deliveries of alternative vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax have not yet ramped up.

Several European countries have already suspended the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine for younger populations after it was earlier banned outright in several places over blood clot scares.

India reports new daily record of 126,000 cases 

India has recorded a new all-time high of 126,789 cases over the past 24 hours, with Maharashtra continuing to be the nation's worst-hit state, according to official figures. 

The total number infections has risen to 12.9 million and the death toll reached 166,862, with 685 new fatalities.

India is currently the third most affected country in the world in terms of infections after the US and Brazil. 

NZ suspends entry for travellers from India due to high cases

New Zealand has temporarily suspended entry for all travellers from India, including its own citizens, for about two weeks following a high number of positive coronavirus cases arriving from the South Asian country.

The move comes after New Zealand recorded 23 new positive coronavirus cases at its border on Thursday, of which 17 were from India.

"We are temporarily suspending entry into New Zealand for travellers from India," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news conference in Auckland.

The suspension will start from 0400 GMT on April 11 and will be in place until April 28.

During this time the government will look at risk management measures to resume travel.

The suspension applies to anyone who has been in India during the past 14 days. 

It is the first time that New Zealand has extended any bar on entry to its own citizens and residents.

Cambodia closes Angkor temple complex

Cambodia is closing the Angkor temple complex to visitors because of a growing virus outbreak. 

Cambodia has confirmed 3,028 cases since the pandemic began, but hundreds have been infected in the outbreak that began in February.

The Health Ministry said 113 cases were reported from local transmission, with two deaths. 

The ministry traced the outbreak to a foreign resident who broke hotel quarantine to visit a nightclub. 

The government closed schools and entertainment venues in response, but as the outbreak grows, a defunct hotel has been converted into a hospital and criminal punishments are being imposed for violating health rules. 

The temples at Angkor, built between the 9th and 15th centuries, are Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction, though the pandemic has reduced the number of visitors dramatically.

The Apsara Authority that oversees the site says the ban on visitors will last until April 20.

Indonesia to receive 50M AstraZeneca vaccines over two years

Indonesia's health minister has said his country will receive 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via a bilateral deal in 2021, instead of the 50 million doses that had been initially agreed.

The remaining 30 million doses will be shipped in 2022, minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a parliamentary hearing.

Indonesia is also slated to receive 54 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in phases via the Covax global-vaccine alliance scheme, though Budi said Indian export restrictions would delay shipments in April.

Infections in Germany increase by over 20,000

The number of confirmed cases in Germany has increased by 20,407 to 2,930,852, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 306 to 77,707, the tally showed.

Thailand reports 405 new cases

Thailand has reported 405 new cases and no new deaths, as the country deals with a climb in daily infections after tackling earlier outbreaks.

The new cases took the total number of infections to 30,310, with 95 deaths.

Japan may prioritise Olympic athletes for vaccine

Japan is considering prioritising its Olympic athletes for vaccines, aiming to get them innoculated before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Games open on July 23, local media reported.

Japan's government denied any such plan was being considered, but said it would be "closely watching discussions" about protecting athletes' health.

Japan's vaccine rollout is moving slowly, with just one million first doses given so far to medical workers since jabs began in February.

Older people will start receiving doses only from next week, and so far Japan has approved only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

A date has not yet been set for vaccinating the broader population, but the government is now considering giving Japanese athletes both shots by late June, Kyodo News agency reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Argentina announces new curfew

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez has announced a new three-week nighttime curfew after a second consecutive day of record infections.

The curfew will enter into force on Friday and apply from midnight to 06:00am every day until April 30, he said in a message recorded at his official residence, where he is self-isolating after being infected with the virus himself.

It will be in force in the country's highest risk areas, mainly the urban centers, the president said.

Bars and restaurants will close at 11:00 pm (local time).

The Pan American Health Organization said last week that Argentina is one of the 10 countries with the most new infections worldwide.

Its borders have been closed since December, and group meetings in private homes are forbidden in the big cities.

Dance halls and gyms are also closed.

Germany wants to buy Sputnik vaccine 

Germany is about to start bilateral negotiations with Russia to obtain its Sputnik V vaccine, a source told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that any final agreement depended on Russia providing key data to the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The European Commission told health ministers of EU member states on Wednesday that Brussels was not planning to start talks with Russia on a preliminary contract for Sputnik V as it did with other vaccine providers, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

That is why German Health Minister Jens Spahn announced during the virtual meeting that Germany would start preliminary negotiations with Russia on a bilateral agreement to secure the vaccine, the source added.

In the preliminary talks, Germany first wants to determine which quantities Russia can deliver and when, the source said.

In any case, Germany will only buy the Russian vaccine once it has been approved.

South Korea reports 700 new cases 

South Korea has reported 700 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, the highest daily figure since early January, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Thursday.

Spain to only give AstraZeneca's vaccine to people over 60

Spain's health ministry has decided to only give AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine to people aged between 60 to 65 after European and British regulators found a potential link between the shot and rare brain blood clots.

"The AstraZeneca vaccine will only be administered to person older than 60, although there is diversity of opinions in the European Union," said Health Minister Carolina Darias at a news conference following a meeting of regional health chiefs.

Brazil reports 3,829 more fatalities 

Brazil has recorded 92,625 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 3,829 deaths from Covid-19, the country's Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil has registered more than 13 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 340,776, according to ministry data.

Italy reserves AstraZeneca vaccine for over 60s

Italy will reserve AstraZeneca's vaccine for those over the age of 60 following concerns of a link to blood clots in younger people, the government's top adviser on the coronavirus crisis announced on Wednesday.

The decision has been taken to "recommend the preferential use on individuals aged above 60," Franco Locatelli told reporters.

His announcement came hours after the EU's medicines regulator said that blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of the jab – but insisted the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

Tunisia extends curfew to curb the spread of coronavirus

Tunisia will extend its nighttime curfew hours and will prevent all gatherings and weekly markets to curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, as intensive care units near maximum capacity in most hospitals, the government has said.

The curfew will run from 7:00pm to 5:00am starting on Friday.

Tunisia also will impose quarantine for all visitors who need to show Covid-19 tests upon arrival, the government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.

Beds in intensive care units in Tunisian public hospitals are about 80 percent full as Covid-19 cases surge, the Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said. Tunisia has recorded 263,000 coronavirus cases and 9,039 deaths.

New lockdown for Canada's Ontario province

Canada's economic engine and most populous province of Ontario on Wednesday was ordered into a four-week lockdown to slow the spread of a new wave of Covid-19 infections.

The forcing of residents to stay home and the closing of retail stores except for curbside pickup comes just days after already-hardened public health restrictions went into effect, but have now been deemed insufficient to contain the outbreak.

"The Covid-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants," Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a news conference. 

"This will be, in fact, for four weeks."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies