BERLIN — A large German health insurance provider says the number of days working-age people called in sick during the first three months of 2021 hit a 13-year low as hygiene and distancing rules prevented the spread of other illnesses.
The Techniker Krankenkasse said Monday that the rate of absence among its clients during the first quarter was 3.8%, compared with 5.1% in the same period of 2020 and 4.8% the previous year.
Jens Baas, the company’s chairman, said the biggest drop in reported illnesses was for colds, but the wave of flu cases seen every February also didn’t happen.
“It shows that distancing and hygiene rules as well as limited possibilities for contact also prevented the spread of other causes of infection,” Baas said.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— In coastal Senegal, beginning of the fishing season renews hope for industry ravaged by COVID-19
— While wealthier nations stockpile vaccines, some of the poorest countries have yet to receive any, even for medical staff
— Joyful reunions among vaccinated parents and children marked this year’s Mother’s Day
— Concert advocating vaccine equity pulls in $302 million, exceeding its goal
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities say the country’s largest vaccination center has been opened in the southern port city of Karachi to speed up the inoculation campaign against COVID-19.
The vaccination center, which was inaugurated Sunday, has the capacity to inoculate between 25,000 and 30,000 people daily.
Pakistan has vaccinated about 4 million people against coronavirus since March when China donated vaccines to this impoverished nation.
Pakistan is currently in the middle of a third wave of the pandemic.
Over the weekend it imposed a lockdown to force people to stay home during the Eid al-Fitr festival, which is celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Pakistan on Monday reported 78 deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a decrease.
Since last year, Pakistan has reported 18,993 deaths from COVID-19 among 861,473 cases.
SYDNEY — An Australian judge has rejected a challenge to a temporary COVID-19 ban on citizens returning from India.
The government imposed the Indian travel ban on April 30 to relieve pressure on quarantine facilities for returned international travelers. The ban will be lifted on Friday.
Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley on Monday dismissed the first two parts of a four-pronged challenge to the ban initiated by 73-year-old Australian Gary Newman, who has been stranded since March last year in the Indian city of Bangalore.
The second two parts are based on constitutional grounds so require more notice for a court hearing than Newman’s application last week for an urgent hearing allowed.
BERLIN — Germany is making the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine available to all adults as it did with the AstraZeneca vaccine, though the bulk of the expected deliveries is still some way off.
Germany has recommended the AstraZeneca shot mainly for over-60s because of a rare type of blood clot seen in an extremely small number of recipients. But amid a push to get as many people inoculated as possible, the government decided to allow doctors’ offices to vaccinate any adults with it -- putting aside a priority system under which the oldest and most vulnerable have been vaccinated first.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said authorities decided Monday to take the same approach with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, about which there are similar concerns. He estimated that 5 to 6 million over-60s in Germany still need to be vaccinated and that should be concluded by early June.
Spahn said the largest deliveries from Johnson & Johnson, more than 10 million doses, are expected in June or July.
Germany has now given nearly one-third of the population at least one vaccine shot.
TOKYO — Japan's leader insisted Monday that the country can host the Summer Olympics safely despite repeated questions from opposition lawmakers asking him to explain how that’s possible and consider canceling the event.
Concerns are rising about the ability of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government to infections under control ahead of the Olympics, which start in just over two months. Suga decided Friday to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo until May 31 and expand the measure to six prefectures from the current four.
Japan logged about 7,000 new cases Saturday, a highest since mid-January.
Opposition lawmakers on Monday asked if Suga is determined to hold the Olympics even if coronavirus infections soar. The prime minister repeated that his role is to do his utmost to ensure the health and safety of all during the July 23-Aug. 8 games.
“I have never put the Olympics first,” Suga said. “We will do everything we can to provide safety for athletes and other participants, while protecting the lives and health of the Japanese people."
Suga added he arranged for Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes via the IOC, which would contribute to holding the games safely.
Public calls for a cancellation have been on the rise. An online petition calling for the Olympics to be canceled has gained more than 300,000 signatures in a week. A weekend survey by Japan’s largest newspaper showed about 60% of the respondents calling for a cancellation.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has announced it will bar airline passengers arriving from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka starting May 12 until further notice, as concern mounts over a virus variant spreading in India.
The statement on the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said anyone who has been in those Southeast Asian nations over the past two weeks are also forbidden from entering the country. They must first spend 14 days in another country before being allowed to enter the UAE.
Emirati citizens, diplomats and a few others are exempt from the restrictions as long as they get tested on arrival and quarantine for 10 days in the UAE.
Already, the UAE has halted all flights to and from India over the dramatic virus outbreak there. The decisions have a major impact on residents of seven sheikhdoms, home to millions of foreign workers from India, Pakistan and the other nations.
BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it plans to create a state-of-the-art manufacturing site for its mRNA-based vaccines and other drugs in Singapore.
The company, which developed the first widely used coronavirus vaccine together with U.S. partner Pfizer, said Monday that it is also establishing a regional headquarters for Southeast Asia in the city-state.
BioNTech said the new manufacturing facility will boost the regional and global supply capacity of its products and ensure a rapid response to potential pandemic threats in the region.
The site, which could be operational by 2023, will have the capacity to produce “several hundred of million doses of mRNA-based vaccines depending on the specific vaccine,” the company said.
BRUSSELS — There were 16,000 excess deaths recorded in Belgium last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s Federal Planning Bureau.
In a statement Monday, the office said the 2020 excess mortality —a term which refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis — was largely a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.
“These 16,000 people lost a combined 124,000 years of life, given their life expectancy, or an average of 7.7 years per person,” the bureau said.
More than 24,500 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country with 11.5-million inhabitants that has been among the most battered by the deadly virus in Europe.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian Institute of Public Health — whose advice is normally followed by the government in Oslo — recommended Monday that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab be taken out of the country’s vaccine program to investigate reports of extremely rare but potentially dangerous blood clots.
Norway, which like neighboring Denmark has been very cautious with all vaccines, suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 11. Both the J&J and AstraZeneca shots are made with similar technology.
“We believe that this is the right decision,” infection control director at the agency Geir Bukholm said, adding that the virus is under control in Norway.
The agency noted that the Johnson & Johnson jab has “several benefits,” namely offering “good protection against COVID-19 disease, is a single-dose vaccine and can be stored at refrigerator temperature.”
Bukholm said should the government decide to pull the J&J vaccine out of the vaccination program, it will cause a delay of up to two weeks in the vaccination program.
BEIJING — A Chinese pharmaceutical company and BioNTech SE, the co-developer of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, are setting up a joint venture in China with the capacity to manufacture up to 1 billion doses of the shot to protect against COVID-19.
Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. said in a stock filing on Sunday night that the companies will invest up to $100 million each to set up the venture.
The vaccine has yet to be approved in mainland China, where regulations require an in-country clinical trial. BioNTech’s CEO has said the company expects the shot to be approved in July.
The joint venture aims to supply shots for the Chinese population, but no timing was given on when the shots would be distributed.
China has based its vaccination campaign on domestically produced vaccines with a goal of vaccinating 560 million of the country’s 1.4 billion people by mid-June. Most of its vaccines require two doses, but China hasn’t broken down its vaccination figures by how many have received one or both doses.
ISTANBUL— Turkey’s daily COVID-19 infections have dropped to levels last seen in mid-March as the country nears two weeks in its strictest restrictions.
Heath Ministry statistics showed 15,191 new infections Sunday and 283 deaths. Confirmed cases averaged around 60,000 per day during the peak week mid-April. More than 43,000 people have died in the pandemic.
The Turkish government introduced a full lockdown from April 29 until May 17, ordering people to stay home and closing down businesses and schools. Millions of people who work in jobs deemed essential — like factories, hospitals and the tourism sector — are exempt. Foreign tourists are also exempt.
Turkey’s president said the lockdown aims to bring daily infections below 5,000 and for tourists to come.
France and the United Kingdom recently introduced mandatory quarantines for travelers returning from Turkey. The British government told fans not to travel to Istanbul for the Chelsea- Manchester United Champions League final on May 29 and has offered to have Wembley Stadium in London host the game.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka authorities are converting garment factories and other buildings for facilities to treat COVID-19 patients amid fears existing hospitals may run out of capacity.
Military troops are completing the transformation of a garment factory in Seeduwa, on the outskirt of the capital Colombo, to create the island’s biggest COVID-19 hospital, with a capacity of 1,200 beds.
Another garment factory in Yakkala, about 40 kilometers from Colombo, is being converted to a treatment center with a 2,000-bed capacity.
Armed forces are acquiring buildings in all parts of the country and converting them to hospitals to increase capacity, said army commander Gen. Shavendra Silva, head of the country's COVID-19 operations center.
Sri Lanka is experiencing a sharp surge in infections, reporting 2,000 new cases for the first time on Monday. It has seen over 800 deaths in the pandemic.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the decision from the European Union not to renew its order for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Macron said the EU policy is aiming at “responding in particular to the variants... We see that some other vaccines are more efficient.”
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said Sunday the EU Commission has not ordered AstraZeneca shots for after June. Two weeks ago, the EU launched legal proceedings against the pharmaceutical group for allegedly failing to respect the terms of its contract.
In France, the variant first identified in Britain has become largely dominant and the South African variant represents only a small percentage of cases.
Across the Channel, the British government has made the AstraZeneca vaccine the centerpiece of its successful vaccination campaign.