LONDON — Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program is beginning to break the link between infection and serious illness or death, according to the latest results from an ongoing study of the pandemic in England.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that COVID-19 infections dropped about 60% in March as national lockdown measures slowed the spread of the virus. People 65 and older were least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination program, which initially focused on older people.
The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, “suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.”
But researchers also urged caution, saying that infection rates leveled off at the end of the study period as the government began to ease the national lockdown and children returned to school.
The next step in lifting England’s third national lockdown is scheduled for April 12, when nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.
The Imperial College study conducts swab tests on a random sample of people across England each month. The latest round tested more than 140,000 people from March 11 to March 30.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— UK advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry
— Summoning seniors: Big new push to vaccinate older Americans
— Brazil’s Bolsonaro ignores calls for lockdown to slow virus
— French children, parents and teachers battle with internet connection problems after an abrupt nationwide switch back to online learning
— Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says the state is shifting to personal responsibility in the fight against COVID-19.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the European Union won’t order Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and his country will hold bilateral talks with Russia on whether an order makes sense.
Health Minister Jens Spahn told WDR public radio that the EU’s executive Commission said Wednesday it won’t place orders for Sputnik V on member countries’ behalf, as it did with other manufacturers.
Spahn said Thursday he told his fellow EU health ministers that Germany “will talk bilaterally to Russia, first of all about when what quantities could come.” He said “to really make a difference in our current situation, the deliveries would have to come in the next two to four or five months already.”
Otherwise, he said, Germany would have “more than enough vaccine” already.
Spahn reiterated that, as far as Germany is concerned, Sputnik V must be cleared for use by the European Medicines Agency, and “for that, Russia must deliver data.”
On Wednesday, Bavaria’s governor said his administration was signing a preliminary contract to get 2.5 million doses of Sputnik V, probably in July, if the shot is cleared by the EMA.
KAMPALA, Uganda — The head of the Africa CDC says his group is opposed to the issuance of COVID-19 vaccine passports until there is equitable access to shots across the world.
John Nkengasong told a briefing Thursday that the idea is “inappropriate” while Africa lags behind in vaccine acquisition.
“Our position is very simple. That any imposition of a vaccination passport will create huge inequities and will further exacerbate them,” he said. “We are already in a situation where we don’t have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines.”
Vaccine passports are documentation showing travelers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups in some wealthy countries are developing and testing out such passports to encourage travel.
But only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
The Africa CDC warned last week that the continent of 1.3 billion people is unlikely to meet its vaccination targets amid supply delays from a key manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates —The Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain has announced that starting next month, residents who can prove that they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be able to attend gyms, indoor restaurants, mass sporting events, conferences, spas and cinemas.
Bahrain’s national COVID-19 medical team says those holding digital proof that two weeks have passed since their second vaccine dose or that they’ve recovered from the coronavirus will enjoy unfettered access to newly reopened indoor venues. Those under 18 are also allowed if accompanied by a vaccinated parent or guardian.
The new rules take effect at the start of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins this year on May 12. The COVID vaccinated and recovered present their status on a government health app.
The non-vaccinated will be banned from indoor spots but may go to outdoor, socially-distanced dining and recreational places.
Bahrain has seen a major surge in coronavirus infections in recent weeks despite its successful mass vaccination campaign.
ISLAMABAD-- Thousands of young Pakistanis who are not eligible for free vaccinations are trying to get inoculated at private medical facilities, days after the first round of commercial sales of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine began in this impoverished Islamic nation.
The development comes after a Pakistani pharmaceutical firm imported more than 50,000 doses of the Russian vaccine.
Since February, Pakistan has been using Chinese vaccines to protect health workers and people over 50.
The latest development comes a day after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will buy 5 million doses of Russia's COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan.
Pakistan has reported 15,124 deaths due to the pandemic and is in the middle of a third surge of infections, which has forced authorities to impose a partial lockdown.
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine health officials have decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people below 60 following reports of rare blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday reported a possible link but did not recommend any age restrictions on using the drug in adults.
The Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration said experts were reviewing information related to AstraZeneca’s side effects to come up with a recommendation on the vaccine’s use. AstraZeneca and the vaccine developed by China-based Sinovac Biotech have been the only COVID-19 vaccines received so far by the Philippines.
“We continue to underscore that the benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh the risks and we urge everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said.
More than 460,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in the country so far and millions of doses more have been ordered by the government and private companies, Philippine officials said.
The country's vaccination campaign has faced supply problems, delivery delays and public hesitancy amid an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
NEW DELHI — New coronavirus cases in India hit a record Thursday at 126,789, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi got his second shot and urged others to follow suit, saying “vaccination is among the few ways we have to defeat the virus.”
India started its vaccination drive in January. So far, more than 90 million health workers and those over 45 have received at least one shot. Only 11 million have received both doses as India tries to build immunity to protect its nearly 1.4 billion people.
Dozens of cities and towns are imposing night curfews to try to contain the surge but the federal government has refused to impose a second nationwide lockdown for fear of hurting the economy.
Fatalities rose 685 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November. The western state of Maharashtra, the worst hit in the country, accounted for nearly 47% of new infections. Overall, India has recorded nearly 167,000 COVID-19 deaths.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A security guard at a New Zealand quarantine hotel has tested positive for the coronavirus, although there is no evidence the outbreak has spread any further.
New Zealand has managed to stamp out the spread of the virus, so whenever somebody who is not in quarantine tests positive it represents a significant concern. Health authorities said the person lives alone and carpools to work with a colleague, and that both workers are now in isolation.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the 24-year-old guard had not been vaccinated, and they’re doing an urgent repeat test on the worker to get a better understanding of the nature of the infection.
New Zealand has been prioritizing border workers for vaccinations. The nation of 5 million people has reported 2,500 cases and 26 deaths since the pandemic began.
ATLANTA — Starting Thursday, Georgia restaurant tables can be a little closer, more people can get together and vulnerable residents are no longer supposed to stay home as Gov. Brian Kemp loosens COVID-19 restrictions.
The Republican governor said Wednesday that it’s part of an effort to show that “Georgia is open for business.”
Kemp announced March 31 that he was loosening restrictions that he had in place for nearly a year. For example, restaurant tables will now be required to be only 3.5 feet (1.07 meters) apart instead of the previous 6 feet (1.83 meters). People in movie theaters can sit closer, and there’s no longer a 50-person limit on gatherings when people are closer than 6 feet, which could allow larger indoor concerts and conventions.
BEIJING — Chinese officials say 11 more people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in a southwestern city bordering Myanmar that is the scene of China’s current sole active outbreak.
Cases in the Yunnan province city of Ruili have topped 100, including those not showing symptoms.
However, large-scale transmission appears to have been curbed by a campaign to vaccinate all 300,000 residents of the city. People there have been told to stay home and 45 residential compounds are under complete lockdown.
China has virtually stamped out new local cases across the country through aggressive lockdowns, mask wearing, electronic monitoring and other measures. With most economic and social activity resuming, those measures are being gradually reduced, although mask wearing indoors and on public transport remains almost universal.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 700 more cases of the coronavirus as the speed of viral spread approaches levels seen during the worst of the country’s outbreak in winter.
The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday brought the national caseload to 107,598, including 1,758 deaths.
The daily jump was the highest since Jan. 5 when 714 cases were reported.
Around 500 of the new cases are in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has emerged as the center of the country’s epidemic.
Health authorities, who are also wrestling with a slow vaccine rollout, are expected to announce measures to strengthen social distancing following a meeting Friday.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor says officials will start vaccinating all those 16 years and older beginning Monday, prompting celebrations across a U.S. territory facing a spike in coronavirus cases.
Currently, only people 50 years and older as well as anyone 35 to 49 with chronic health conditions are authorized to receive a vaccine.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also announced Wednesday that he is implementing more stringent measures to fight a recent spike in coronavirus infections. A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will go into effect Friday, and businesses will be forced to close by 9 p.m. That is two hours earlier than has been allowed.
Puerto Rico has recorded more than 199,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
DETROIT — Michigan’s state health director says the government is focusing on getting more people vaccinated rather than imposing new restrictions on the economy amid a wave of new coronavirus cases and the crowding of hospitals with COVID-19 patients.
Elizabeth Hertel said Wednesday: “Our focus right now continues on making sure we’re getting as many people vaccinated as possible. We still do have a number of restrictions in place that limit gathering sizes.”
Her comments came as federal statistics showed Michigan leads the U.S. in new coronavirus cases. The state recorded more than 46,000 cases, or 469 per 100,000 people, in the last seven days. That is far ahead of No. 2 New Jersey, at 321.
The state health department reported 8,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little has issued an executive order banning the state government from requiring or issuing COVID-19 “vaccine passports.”
The governor's order issued Wednesday also prevents state agencies from providing information on anyone’s vaccine status to individuals, companies or government entities.
Little has gotten the vaccine and says he strongly encourages others to get vaccinated as well. But he says he has serious concerns that a vaccine passport requirement will violate medical privacy rights. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a similar order Wednesday and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did so Friday.
The White House has ruled out a national “vaccine passport,” saying it is leaving it to up the private sector if companies want to develop a system for people to show they have been vaccinated.
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province plans to vaccinate those 18 and over in hot spot areas in and around Toronto and plans to vaccinate some teachers amid a third surge of coronavirus infections fueled by more-contagious virus variants.
Ontario declared another state of emergency and will now allow all adults in certain postal codes to get priority access to vaccines. Ontario will also close nonessential stores to in-person shopping and limit big box stores to essential items such as groceries and pharmacy supplies.
The province is calling its latest measures a stay-at-home order though schools in most of the province will remain open and golf courses remain open. Ontario has seen seeing more than 3,000 new infections a day in recent days and record intensive care numbers.