Brazil’s easing of COVID-19 controls will cause new surge, experts warn

By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The corner bars are jammed once again with rambunctious crowds in Brazil’s largest cities, but health experts warn that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions is premature and will deepen the world’s second deadliest pandemic.

“People think the pandemic is over … but we are racing towards the edge of a precipice,” said epidemiologist Wanderson Oliveira, the country’s former health surveillance secretary.

With no national policy coordination by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, and under pressure to get their economies running again, Brazilian governors and mayors have eased restrictions on non-essential activities.

In Rio de Janeiro, authorities have even allowed live music performances to resume in bars.

“In two or three months we will have an increase in deaths as a result of these measures. Hospitals are filling up and most patients die, unfortunately,” said Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist at the Fiocruz biomedical center.

Brazil has lagged other nations in vaccinating its people, and the government of Bolsonaro, who has opposed lockdowns and played down the gravity of the virus, is under investigation in Congress for failing to secure timely vaccine supplies.

After reaching a peak of 4,249 COVID-19 deaths in a single day on April 8, Brazil has seen a stabilization at a still high plateau of about 2,000 fatalities a day, just below India.

Health experts are warning that Brazil has not learned from its mistake in easing restrictions last year that lead to this year’s lethal surge.

COVID-19 has killed 430,000 people in Brazil, second only to the United States, and the South American nation has the third highest number of overall confirmed cases of coronavirus after the United States and India.

According to Google’s mobility report based on the location of cell phones, the presence of people in workplaces last week reached its highest level since the beginning of monitoring.

The approaching southern hemisphere winter, when respiratory diseases multiply, is expected to make matters worse.

“It’s the worst possible time to become more flexible with social distancing restrictions in Brazil, especially in the south of the country,” said Orellana, from Fiocruz.

“The problem is not so much the return to normal activities, but the speed and irresponsibility of this return,” he added.

Fiocruz warned this week that social interaction, especially indoors with large numbers of people and little fresh air, must be avoided or else a new explosion of cases could be “catastrophic” in Brazil.

Orellana said only mass inoculation can avert such a scenario, but Brazil’s pace of vaccination is far too slow.

Only 16.3% of the population, or 34.4 million people, have received their first dose, and just 7.8%, or 16.4 million people, are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry.

Due to supply constraints, daily vaccine doses administered have slumped to roughly half of their peak of over a million shots a day in mid April, according to “Our World in Data.”

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Mainland China reports first local COVID-19 cases in more than 3 weeks

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Mainland China reported 12 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including its first local transmissions in more than three weeks, national and regional authorities said.

Four of the cases were local infections in the eastern province of Anhui, all linked to the same case, surnamed Li. State media reported mass testing being carried out in two cities in the province, Luan and Hefei.

Two of the Anhui cases were reported by the National Health Commission on Friday, having been logged on Thursday.

They were the first local transmissions since April 20, when China recorded two in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where a city on the border with Myanmar reported a new cluster in late March.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said Li had travelled to Anhui on May 1 from Dalian, a port city in China’s northeastern Liaoning province.

The other National Health Commission case, surnamed Zhang, was in close contact with Li during a training class Li led in the city of Luan, Xinhua reported.

Anhui authorities later reported two further locally transmitted cases, both with links to Li. None of the confirmed Anhui cases had been vaccinated, Xinhua cited a local health official as saying.

Two areas in Luan and one part of Feixi county were declared “medium-risk” in response to the cases.

Meanwhile, Liaoning’s provincial health authority reported three new infections, including two local ones, both in another port city, Yingkou.

The other five cases in mainland China, logged on Thursday and reported on Friday, were imported infections originating overseas. The health commission had reported nine cases on Thursday, all imported.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 22 from 14 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China stood at 90,815 as of Thursday, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

(Reporting by Wang Jing, Andrew Galbraith, Roxanne Liu and Lusha Zhang; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Gerry Doyle and John Stonestreet)

WHO urges rich countries to donate shots instead of vaccinating children

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization urged rich countries on Friday to reconsider plans to vaccinate children and instead donate COVID-19 shots to the COVAX scheme for poorer countries.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said the second year of the pandemic was set to be more deadly than the first, with India a huge concern.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to #COVAX,” he told a virtual meeting in Geneva.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the coronavirus through India’s vast countryside on Friday, as the country’s official tally of infections crossed 24 million and over 4,000 people died for the third straight day.

More than 160.71 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 3,477,379​ have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Michael Shields and John Miller in Zurich; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Catherine Evans)

‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India

By Danish Siddiqui and Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India’s coronavirus death toll crossed 250,000 on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began, as the disease rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick.

Boosted by highly infectious variants, the second wave erupted in February to inundate hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and mortuaries. Experts still cannot say for sure when the figures will peak.

Indian state leaders clamored for vaccines to stop the second wave and the devastation that it has wrought, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop exporting vaccines, ramp up production and help them procure urgent supplies from overseas.

“People will die in the same way in the third and fourth waves as they have this time” without more vaccines, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.

Deaths grew by a record 4,205 while infections rose 348,421 in the 24 hours to Wednesday, taking the tally past 23 million, health ministry data showed. Experts believe the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.

Funeral pyres have blazed in city parking lots, and bodies have washed up on the banks of the holy river Ganges, immersed by relatives whose villages were stripped bare of the wood needed for cremations.

Lacking beds, drugs and oxygen, many hospitals in the world’s second-most populous nation have been forced to turn away droves of sufferers.

“We seem to be plateauing around 400,000 cases a day,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted virologist Shahid Jameel as saying. “It is still too early to say whether we have reached the peak.”

‘HERE AND NOW’

India is using the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute in the western city of Pune and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech but has fully vaccinated barely 2.5% of the population.

Indians need vaccines “here and now”, the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, said in a letter to Modi.

The country accounts for half of COVID-19 cases and 30% of deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly report.

The full impact of the B.1.617 variant found in India, which the WHO has designated as being of global concern, is not yet clear, it added.

The variant has been detected in six countries in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization said, adding that it was worried that it was highly transmissible.

Britain, which has also detected the variant, is looking at all possible solutions to tackle a surge of related cases, including in the northern English town of Bolton, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament.

RURAL SPREAD

Daily infections are shooting up in the Indian countryside in comparison to big towns, where they have slowed after last month’s surge, experts say.

More than half the cases this week in the western state of Maharashtra were in rural areas, up from a third a month ago. That share is nearly two-thirds in the most populous, and mainly rural, state of Uttar Pradesh, government data showed.

Television showed images of people weeping over the bodies of loved ones in ramshackle rural hospitals while others camped in wards tending to the sick.

A pregnant woman was taking care of her husband who had breathing difficulties in a hospital in Bhagalpur in the eastern state of Bihar, which is seeing a case surge its health system could barely have handled at the best of times.

“There is no doctor here, she sleeps the whole night here, taking care of her husband,” the woman’s brother told India Today television.

In a corridor outside, two sons were wailing over the body of their father, saying repeatedly that he could have been saved if only he had been given a bed in an intensive care unit.

At the general hospital in Bijnor, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh, a woman lay in a cot next to a garbage can and medical waste.

“How can someone get treated if the situation is like this?” asked her son, Sudesh Tyagi. “It is a hell out here.”

(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Aishwarya Nair in Mumbai, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi, Subrata Nagchoudhary in Kolkata and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Clarence Fernandez, Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

‘Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa?’ Latinos travel north for the shot

By Anthony Esposito, Cassandra Garrison and Marco Aquino

MEXICO CITY/LIMA (Reuters) – “Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency advertisement, offering deals to Mexicans to fly to the United States to get inoculated.

From Mexico to far-flung Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the United States to take advantage of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter.

Latin America is one of the regions worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll set to pass 1 million this month, and many do not want to wait any longer for their turn to get vaccinated.

Some people are going it alone, while others have tapped travel agencies, which have responded by offering packages that arrange the vaccine appointment, flights, hotel stay and even offer extras such as city and shopping tours.

Gloria Sanchez, 66, and her husband, Angel Menendez 69, traveled in late April to Las Vegas to get Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine.

“We don’t trust the public health services in this country,” said Sanchez, now back in Mexico. “If we hadn’t traveled to the United States where I felt a little more comfortable I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated here.”

A travel agent in Mexico City organized the trip for them and an associate in Las Vegas handled things on the U.S. side, Sanchez said.

The U.S.-based associate signed them up for a vaccine appointment, then drove them to a Las Vegas convention center where they presented their Mexican passports and received their shots.

“We decided to make it a vacation and we went for a whole week, walked like crazy, ate really expensive but good food, and did some shopping,” said Sanchez.

As demand has boomed, flight prices from Mexico to the United States have risen an average of 30%-40% since mid-March, said Rey Sanchez, who runs travel agency RSC Travel World.

“There are thousands of Mexicans and thousands of Latin Americans who have gone to the United States to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that the top destinations have been Houston, Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas.

Reuters was unable to find official data on how many Latin Americans are traveling to the United States to get vaccinated. Travelers do not generally state vaccination as a reason to travel.

But U.S. cities have caught on to the trend, which is ushering much needed business into cash-strapped hotels, restaurants and other service activities.

“Welcome to New York, your vaccine is waiting for you! We’ll administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites across our city,” New York City’s government announced on Twitter on May 6.

The U.S. embassy in Peru recently advised residents on Twitter that travelers could visit the United States for medical treatment, including vaccinations.

Latin Americans who had traveled on a U.S. tourist visa that Reuters spoke to said they were able to obtain shots with IDs from their home countries.

As far south as Argentina, travel agencies are selling vaccination tourism trips.

An advertisement in Buenos Aires details the estimated cost of getting vaccinated in Miami: air ticket $2,000, hotel for a week $550, food $350, car rental $500, vaccine $0. For a total of $3,400.

NO HOPE OF A VACCINE SOON

While initially it was mostly wealthy Latin Americans looking to travel, increasingly people with more modest means are making bookings. For many, the cost of lengthy flights makes it a major undertaking.

“I’m getting money together to travel to California in June,” said a worker at a car parts store in Lima, who asked not to be named for fear it could jeopardize his travel plans. “Considering how things are going here, there’s no hope of a vaccine shot soon.”

The slow rollout of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason cited for traveling to the United States, said Sanchez.

With little to no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. The United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, some 2.3 times the number of shots given in all of Latin America, which has roughly twice the population, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Our World in Data.

Distrust in vaccination campaigns in Latin America is also a factor, said Sanchez.

Reports of batches of fake doses being seized by authorities or the required second dose not being available when it was time are some of the reasons Latin Americans gave for their distrust.

Vaccine tourism has fueled a jump in air travel to the United States, with fares for some last-minute flights doubling or even tripling since January, even as airlines increase capacity, according to Rene Armas Maes, commercial vice president at MIDAS Aviation, a London-based consultancy.

LATAM Airlines Group, the region’s largest carrier, said on Thursday it was seeing increased demand from South Americans seeking to travel to the United States to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Aeromexico said passenger traffic between Mexico and the United States increased 35% from March to April.

And American Airlines also said it had seen demand growing rapidly from parts of Latin America in recent months and it had increased capacity, particularly to Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

“We’re matching the increased demand in many of these markets, with additional frequencies, new routes or with the use of widebody aircraft, resulting in more capacity,” said American Airlines.

For 29-year-old Giuliana Colameo, the chance to get vaccinated was a relief after she and her boyfriend in Mexico City were both infected by the coronavirus in 2020.

They traveled to New York City where they got vaccinated at a pharmacy last month. She said they were the only two people getting the shots.

“When they give you the vaccine it’s like you almost cry. It’s a relief: it gives you hope,” said Colameo. “I feel very happy I did it and hopefully more people can do it.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City and Marco Aquino in Lima; Additional reporting by Carolina Mandl in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Latin America’s pandemic tragedy as death toll nears one million

By Anthony Marina

PISCO, Peru (Reuters) -Hellen Ñañez has suffered enough tragedy for a lifetime. The Peruvian 28-year-old mother has mourned the death of 13 close relatives since the pandemic struck last year: uncles, cousins, a grandfather. Now her dad is fighting for his life.

On a recent day in a dusty cemetery in the Pacific port town of Pisco, Ñañez visited the graves of relatives lost to COVID-19.

“The truth is, I don’t have any more tears,” said Ñañez, who dropped out of studying psychology to work and help pay her father’s medical bills. “This is taking away our family. It’s taking away our dreams, our tranquility and stability.”

Ñañez’s story is a grim reflection of the tragedy unfolding in Latin America, a resource-rich but politically volatile region of some 650 million people stretching from Mexico to the near-Antarctic southern tips of Chile and Argentina.

The region has recorded 958,023 coronavirus-related fatalities, a Reuters tally shows, some 28% of the global death toll. It is set to hit the 1 million mark this month, which will make it the second region to do so after Europe.

But unlike wealthier Europe and North America, Latin American nations have lacked the financial firepower to keep people from sliding deep into poverty; underfunded healthcare systems have strained and inoculation programs have stalled.

Regional leaders from Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador have come under fire for their handling of the pandemic, while a string of health ministers have been fired.

“We Peruvians are dying, Mr. President. We are dying every day,” Miriam Mota, a relative of a coronavirus patient in Lima told Reuters, beseeching the country’s leader, Francisco Sagasti, to do more to help bring the crisis under control.

“There are no vaccines. There are no intensive care beds. There are no medicines. Please, for humanity’s sake, help us!”

Peru has officially confirmed 1.85 million COVID-19 cases and some 64,000 deaths, but that toll could be three times as high in reality, experts say. The country’s national death register has linked 171,000 deaths to the virus.

‘PEOPLE ARE FED UP’

Latin America’s crisis has been driven by regional juggernaut Brazil, which has recorded the most deaths globally after the United States and where right-wing President Bolsonaro has long railed against lockdown measures and backed unproven cures.

The emergence of virus mutations in the country, including the more transmissible P1 variant, has been linked to the severity of Brazil’s outbreak. It has also driven surges in infections in neighboring countries, including Uruguay and Bolivia.

Now there are signs that the pandemic, which has torn through regional economies and driven a spike in poverty, will have a longer-term ripple effect, stoking unrest, rattling industries and driving voters at the polls.

Colombia has been roiled by deadly protests over a now-shelved tax reform and poverty; Chile is moving towards a sharp tax hike on copper miners; Peru’s polarized presidential election race is being led by a socialist teacher who is a political outsider.

“People are fed up and obviously tired of everything that has happened lately,” Paula Velez said in front of a burned-out police station in Colombian capital Bogota, set on fire in the protests.

‘I DON’T WANT TO LOSE HIM’

Public health experts say Latin America has suffered an outsized hit from the pandemic, both in terms of health and growth, rattling fragile economies with high debt levels, steep inequality and where many work in less secure informal jobs.

Unlike North America, Europe or Asia, the region has also lacked the high-tech infrastructure to rapidly develop or manufacture vaccines.

A deal to produce the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Plc COVID-19 vaccine by firms in Argentina and Mexico has been stalled by manufacturing hold-ups, and many Latin American countries are reliant on insufficient supplies of Chinese and Russian vaccines.

A cottage industry has developed for wealthier Latin Americans to travel to Florida and Texas to get their shots. But for the less affluent, that is not an option.

“I have been looking for work for a year and a half and I can’t wait for my vaccine,” said Rio de Janeiro resident Marco Antonio Pinto, who like others in the city was disappointed last week when an immunization center quickly ran out of vaccines.

“They are playing with the people, thinking that we are animals. We aren’t animals: we are human beings. We pay taxes. We pay for everything,” he said.

Back in Peru, Ñañez is now fighting to save the life of her father, who has been in the intensive care unit of a hospital for more than two weeks, receiving medicine to reduce the ravages of the disease and on a mechanical respirator.

Ñañez, who has a two-year-old child, has turned to making soap at home and selling it on the street or in shops in Pisco, a coastal town set amid arid desert landscapes.

She said her bank loans had run dry and the family had incurred enormous debts of some 100,000 soles ($26,500) to buy medicines, medical oxygen – and funeral expenses. While hope was low, she was determined to battle for her dad.

“I’m not going to lose him. I don’t want to lose anyone else. My dad can’t leave me,” Ñañez said, sobbing, outside the hospital where she has come to check on the health of her father, who is in a coma.

“I have been standing here for 17 days in front of the hospital and I know that he is going to make it. I do not think that life can be so unfair if it has taken so much from me and now it also wants to take away my father.”

(Reporting by Anthony Marina in Pisco; Additional reporting by by Herbert Villarraga and Javier Andres Rojas in Bogota, Enrique Mandujano in Lima and Sergio Queiroz in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)

Hugs, with caution: UK PM Johnson eases England’s lockdown

By Kate Holton and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday gave the green light to cautious hugging and the serving of pints inside pubs after months of strict restrictions as he set out the next phase of coronavirus lockdown easing in England.

Johnson confirmed that England could continue to the next stage of his four-step plan to bring the country out of lockdown by the summer, as the COVID-19 situation improved thanks to the rollout of vaccines and social restriction measures.

“This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality and I am confident that we will be able to go further,” Johnson told a media conference.

“We are announcing the single biggest step on our road map, and it will allow us to do many of the things that we’ve yearned to do for a long time.”

Under Step 3, from May 17 people will be permitted to meet up indoors for the first time in months, in groups of up to six people or two full households together.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to host customers indoors, also for the first time in months and subject to certain rules. Other indoor entertainment like cinemas and sports venues will also be able to resume activity.

Johnson said the government would allow families and close friends to make their own choices on social contact, but urged people not to throw caution to the wind and said social distancing must continue in workplaces, shops and restaurants.

“Whoever I hug, I can assure you, it will be done with caution and restraint,” Johnson said, adding that the “1 meter plus” social-distancing rule in businesses might be dispensed with in the next stage of easing on June 21.

He appeared to rule out accelerating the end of restrictions, saying the success of Britain’s road map thus far had been helped by the ability to gather and monitor data.

“It’s by being prudent and being cautious that we’ve been able to make the progress that we have,” he said.

According to Johns Hopkins data, Britain has the fifth-highest death toll in the world from COVID-19 with 127,609 fatalities. Two-thirds of adults in the United Kingdom have had a first vaccine and one-third have had both doses.

The reopening will apply to England only, with the semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales setting out their own rules.

On Monday, the chief medical officers of those nations also lowered the COVID-19 alert level, meaning that an epidemic is in general circulation but transmission is no longer high or rising exponentially.

In a statement, the medical officers said social distancing and the rapid vaccine rollout had helped to bring coronavirus cases and daily deaths down sharply.

“However COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day, so we all need to continue to be vigilant,” they said. “This remains a major pandemic globally.”

(Reporting by Kate Holton and Guy Faulconbridge in London; Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Alistair Smout; Editing by Janet Lawrence/Mark Heinrich and Matthew Lewis)

‘Black fungus’ complication adds to India’s COVID woes

By Manas Mishra and Kannaki Deka

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The Indian government has told doctors to look out for signs of mucormycosis or “black fungus” in COVID-19 patients as hospitals report a rise in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.

The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said at the weekend that doctors treating COVID-19 patients, diabetics and those with compromised immune systems should watch for early symptoms including sinus pain or nasal blockage on one side of the face, one-sided headache, swelling or numbness, toothache and loosening of teeth.

The disease, which can lead to blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, is strongly linked to diabetes. And diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe COVID-19.

“There have been cases reported in several other countries – including the UK, U.S., France, Austria, Brazil and Mexico, but the volume is much bigger in India,” said David Denning, a professor at Britain’s Manchester University and an expert at the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI) charity.

“And one of the reasons is lots and lots of diabetes, and lots of poorly controlled diabetes.”

India has not published national data on mucormycosis but has said there is no major outbreak. Media reports have pointed to cases in Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, and Gujarat.

Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist at ICMR, said: “It’s not something to panic about, but you have to be aware of when to seek consultation.”

But it is a complication that India’s overwhelmed hospitals, desperately short of beds as well as the oxygen needed for severely ill COVID-19 patients, could do without.

Arunaloke Chakrabarti, head of the Center of Advanced Research in Medical Mycology in the Indian city of Chandigarh and an adviser to GAFFI, said that even before COVID-19, mucormycosis was more common in India than in most countries, “partly because of the millions who have diabetes”.

He said serious cases might require specific antifungal therapy and several operations.

P Suresh, head of ophthalmology at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Mumbai, said his hospital had treated at least 10 such patients in the past two weeks, roughly twice as many as in the entire year before the pandemic.

All had been infected with COVID-19 and most were diabetic or had received immunosuppressant drugs. Some had died, and some had lost their eyesight, he said. Other doctors spoke of a similar surge in cases.

“Previously if I saw one patient a year, I now see about one a week,” said Nishant Kumar, a consultant ophthalmologist at Hinduja hospital in Mumbai, noting the potential for contamination of oxygen pipes and humidifiers in hospitals.

Denning called it a “triple whammy”. “You’ve got a high rate of mucormycosis, you’ve got a lot of steroids – maybe too much – being used, and then you’ve got diabetes which is not being well controlled or managed.”

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Kannaki Deka in Bengaluru and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Europe dares to reopen as 200 millionth vaccine dose delivered

By Michael Gore and Estelle Shirbon

MADRID/LONDON (Reuters) – As its vaccination drive reaches a third of adults and COVID-19 infections ease, Europe is starting to reopen cities and beaches, raising hopes that this summer’s holiday season can be saved before it is too late.

Exhilarated Spaniards chanting “freedom” danced in the streets as a COVID-19 curfew ended in most of the country at the weekend, while Greece reopened public beaches – with deckchairs safely spaced.

With 200 million vaccine doses delivered, the European Union is on track to achieve its goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population by summer, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday.

And, in Germany, a first weekend of summer sun lifted spirits after Health Minister Jens Spahn declared the third wave of the pandemic finally broken.

Yet, Spahn warned: “The mood is better than the reality.”

The national seven-day incidence of COVID-19 cases remains high at 119 per 100,000 people, he said. “That makes it all the more important to keep up the speed of the vaccination campaign.”

Across the EU, the seven-day incidence of COVID-19 is 185, according to Our World in Data. That is far higher than in countries such as Israel with 6, Britain (31), or the United States (123), all of which made quicker early progress in their vaccination drives.

HEAD START

In Britain, early orders and approval of vaccines and a decision to give first doses to as many people as possible have driven down infections and fatalities far more quickly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to set out the next phase of lockdown easing in England, giving the green light to “cautious hugging” and allowing pubs to serve customers pints inside after months of strict measures.

“The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us,” Johnson said ahead of an official announcement later on Monday.

Vaccine deliveries were slower initially in the EU under its centralized procurement strategy.

Now, with shots from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna relatively plentiful, vaccinations as a share of the population in Europe are growing while countries that made early advances see slowdowns as they encounter hesitancy among the unvaccinated.

Some 31.6% of adults in 30 European countries have received a first dose and 12% a full two-shot regime, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker showed.

France expects to give 20 million first injections by mid-May, and hit 30 million by mid-June.

With infection rates falling and occupancy in hospital intensive care units declining, France plans to start relaxing its curfew and allow cafes, bars and restaurants to offer outdoor service from May 19.

PICKING AND CHOOSING

Improving supply has given countries greater freedom to adapt their strategies following reports of very rare, but sometimes fatal, blood clotting in people who received shots from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Germany has decided to make the two vaccines available to anyone who wants them, as long as they have been advised by a doctor – an offer aimed at younger adults who would have to wait their turn otherwise.

Norway’s vaccine commission made a similar call on Monday, saying the AstraZeneca and J&J shots should be made available to volunteers. Some Italian regions are also offering both shots to people under 60.

With some governments shortening the gaps between doses, and plans for an EU digital “green pass” scheme in June for travelers to provide proof of vaccination or immunity, people cooped up for months are finally daring to make holiday plans.

“We’re pinning our hopes on tourism,” said Nikos Venieris, who manages a beach in Alimos, an Athens suburb.

Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Greece’s economy and jobs, and the country can ill afford another lost summer. Greece is lifting restrictions on vaccinated foreigners from May 15.

(Writing by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Jordi Rubio, Terje Solsvik, Gwladys Fouche, Matthias Blamont, Emilio Parodi, John Miller, Alan Charlish and Phoebe Fronista; Editing by Giles Elgood)

One out of three Americans fully vaccinated for COVID-19, CDC says

(Reuters) – The United States has fully vaccinated 110,874,920 people for COVID-19 as of Friday morning, accounting for 33.4% of the population, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

The country has administered 254,779,333 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and distributed 327,124,625 doses.

Those figures are up from the 251,973,752 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by May 6 out of 324,610,185 doses delivered.

The agency said 150,416,559 people had received at least one dose as of Friday.

The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Friday.

A total of 7,808,441 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)