PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is further easing coronavirus restrictions, opening bars and restaurants for outdoor dining amid falling numbers of coronavirus infections.
Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek says the establishments will reopen on May 17 for people who have a negative coronavirus test, have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Only up to four people who are not relatives will be allowed to sit at one table.
Also next week on Monday, the elementary schools in the seven of the country’s 14 regions, including Prague will be able to abandon a rotating principle, with in-school attendance one week and distance learning the next.
At the same time, up to 700 people will be allowed to attend outdoor concerts and other outdoor cultural events. People will have to present a negative coronavirus test, be vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. All will have to wear a respirator.
Monday’s announcement comes on the day when all stores and shopping malls are reopening and most services return to business.
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:
MILAN — The head of San Marino’s health authority says that new coronavirus cases in the tiny republic have nearly hit zero since the vaccine campaign was launched last month with the Russian-developed Sputnik V.
Alessandra Bruschi said on Monday that officials are “very satisfied with the preliminary data that show a high level of effectiveness.” She said the state hospital has just one COVID-19 patient, who is in a regular ward and not intensive care.
National statistics show just 25 active cases among the 34,500 citizens. San Marino has vaccinated 75% of its citizens with at least one dose, and is planning soon to begin offering jabs to tourists. It is also negotiating with Italy to vaccinate Italians who work in the republic, which is located along the border between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche, near the Adriatic Coast.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said the agency is seeing “a plateau” in the number of global coronavirus cases with recent declines in the Americas and Europe, the two worst affected regions.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “any decline is welcome” but warned “we have been here before,” advising countries not to loosen their public health restrictions too quickly. He noted that developing countries have still only received about 7% of the hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date.
My message to leaders is to use every tool at your disposal to drive transmission down,” Tedros said, adding that even countries with downward epidemic trends should prepare for the possibility that new variants could undo the progress made in vaccination.
“My message to individuals is that every contact you have with someone outside your household is a risk,” he said. Tedros said how quickly the pandemic ends depends on how quickly the global population gets immunized and how consistently everyone follows public health guidance.
BERLIN — Germany’s top security official has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to his office.
Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter told the dpa news agency Monday that Minister Horst Seehofer had tested positive for COVID-19 and is in quarantine at home.
Alter says the 71-year-old minister is exhibiting no symptoms.
The Interior Ministry could not be immediately reached for further comment.
Seehofer had previously told reporters he received his first shot of the coronavirus vaccine on April 14. He received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
TOKYO — Japan’s government said Monday that it has agreed to purchase an antibody cocktail to be produced and marketed for COVID-19 treatment by a Japanese drug maker Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. which has a licensing deal with Roche.
Chugai Pharmaceutical concluded the agreement with Roche in December for the production and marketing in Japan of the antibody cocktail for the virus treatment.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Monday that the government concluded the agreement with Chugai over the purchase of enough doses through March 2022 once the drug, now at final stages of clinical testing in Japan, is approved by the health ministry.
The antibody cocktail developed by Roche and a U.S. drug maker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. was approved for emergency use in the United States for the treatment of high-risk, non-hospitalized patients with mild cases. Clinical testing started in Japan in March and if approved, it will be a new effective addition to Japan’s COVID-19 treatment, Kato said.
A cocktail of two virus neutralizing antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab are synthetically manufactured copies of antibodies that the body produces after an infection. It was given to U.S. President Donald Trump when he contracted the disease in October.
ANCHORAGE — Officials in Anchorage have reported that the city sewer system is clogging up because people are flushing wipes and other items.
It’s problem that’s been made worse by the pandemic because people spend more time at home. Alaska’s News Source reported that Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility spokesperson Sandy Baker said up to 6,000 pounds of wipes have entered the sewer system in Anchorage daily since the pandemic started.
The wipes can block pipes and cause sewage to back up into residents’ homes. Baker said part of the problem is that many brands of wipes claim to be flushable, but are not because they don’t break down.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has dedicated his weekly letter to the nation to the issue of waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, saying it’s “necessary at this time” and “in direct response to an emergency.”
Ramaphosa’s message reflects his country’s hope that the waiver, first proposed by South Africa and India, may still happen despite opposition from nations like Germany.
Ramaphosa writes that the Biden Administration’s support for a waiver has given negotiations at the World Trade Organization “added momentum.” He compares the vaccine IP waiver issue to South Africa’s eventually successful fight two decades ago to ease IPs on life-saving antiretroviral drugs during the HIV/Aids crisis.
“And once again, South Africa is waging a struggle that puts global solidarity to the test,” Ramaphosa wrote.
European Union leaders have doubted the immediate benefit of a waiver of IPs on COVID-19 vaccines, saying many less developed countries, particularly in Africa, don’t have the capacity to manufacture vaccines even if the waiver is achieved.
Ramaphosa writes that South Africa is one of five countries in Africa with vaccine production capacity and a waiver would enable them to “bolster global vaccine manufacturing for COVID-19 and other major diseases.”
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s leader says the whole country will be placed under a near lockdown for a month from Wednesday, but all economic sectors will be allowed to operate.
The announcement came as a surprise as movement restrictions are already in place in parts of Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur and the richest state of Selangor. It also comes amid public criticism against the government’s haphazard and inconsistent measures to deal with the pandemic.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Monday tougher action was needed to battle a new aggressive wave of outbreaks before it turns into a national crisis. Daily coronavirus cases have been rising in recent weeks, pushing Malaysia’s tally up three-fold since January to over 444,000.
All education institutions will be shut, except kindergartens. No dine-in is allowed in restaurants, and only three people are allowed in a private vehicle. Muhyiddin said all economic sectors can operate during the lockdown until June 7 but at reduced capacity. Malaysia last imposed a national lockdown last year that halted all economic activities and dealt a blow to its economy.
BUCHAREST — At Dracula’s castle in picturesque Transylvania, Romanian doctors are offering a jab in the arm rather than a stake through the heart.
A COVID-19 vaccination center has been set up on the periphery of Romania’s Bran Castle, which is purported to be the inspiration behind Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s 19th-century gothic novel “Dracula.”
Every weekend through May “vaccination marathons” will be held just outside the storied 14th-century hilltop castle, where no appointment is needed, in an attempt to encourage people to protect themselves against COVID-19.
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.
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.