Sun. Feb 21st, 2021
Coronavirus digest: J&J requests EU vaccine authorization

The European Medicines Agency announced on Tuesday that Janssen, a subsidiary of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) pharmaceutical company, has officially requested authorization for its one-shot coronavirus vaccine. 

J&J is the fourth company to seek authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union, after the agency approved the use of BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. 

“The Committee could issue an opinion by the middle of March 2021, provided the company’s data on the vaccine’s efficacy, safety and quality are sufficiently comprehensive and robust,” the agency announced in a statement. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the other most notable pandemic-related stories around the world at present.

Europe

The number of confirmed cases in Germany rose by 3,856, bringing the total number of infections to 2,342,843 since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the reported death toll rose by 528, bringing the total to 65,604, according to the Robert Koch Institut (RKI) for infectious diseases.

The country has seen a significant decrease in daily new infections since the start of the latest lockdown, which has seen all non-essential businesses closed and limitations placed on meetings between households.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn wants to extend the current restrictions on entries from coronavirus mutation areas until the beginning of March, according to a report in Der Spiegel. The strict entry rules caused traffic chaos in Germany’s neighboring regions of the Czech Republic and the Austrian state of Tyrol over the weekend.

Starting on March 1, German testing centers and pharmacies will offer rapid coronavirus tests for free. In an interview with German media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND), Spahn said the federal government plans to cover the costs for the tests now that there are enough of them on the market to do so. 

Hungary became the first EU country to receive the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine. On Tuesday morning, a jet carrying 550,000 doses of the jab arrived in the capital Budapest. The shipment contains enough doses to treat 275,000 people, health officials said. 

A Dutch court ordered the government to end the curfew it imposed last month, after the government last week extended its 9pm to 4:30am curfew into March. 

The Hague District Court called the measure a “far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy” that also indirectly curtails the rights of freedom of assembly and demonstration. “This requires a very careful decision-making process,” the court ruled. 

Asia-Pacific

Australia has approved AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, making it the second inoculation approved for use in the country.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced Tuesday that it has provisionally given the green light.

The vaccine has been approved for adults aged 18 and over, but the TGA said that those over 65 should be inoculated on a case-by-case basis.

Opinion polls indicate that around 20% of the population is skeptical of the vaccines. Australia, a nation of around 25 million people, has recorded around 28,700 cases and 909 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

New Zealand reported no new community cases of the virus for the second consecutive day. The news has raised hopes that a lockdown in Auckland would soon be lifted, as COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hopkins said the final decision will depend on any new information or cases that appear over the next 24 hours.

South Korea has made a deal to buy vaccines for 23 million more people, Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun said. The country had already secured supply agreements for enough doses for 56 million people, in preparation for an inoculation drive set to begin on February 26.

North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in search of information on the vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said.

The country has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year. North Korea is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have attacked firms, institutions and researchers in the South and elsewhere.

Fears are growing in Japan that millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine could be wasted due to a shortage of special syringes that maximize the number of shots used from each vial. Officials have made urgent requests to ramp up production, as the country’s inoculation drive is set to begin on Wednesday.

Malaysia will get its first batch of vaccines, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, on February 21 and will begin its vaccination drive on February 26, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said. Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 80% of its 32-million population within a year.

Americas

New Orleans’ Bourbon Street was tipped to be quiet on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), due to virus-related restrictions that have shuttered bars, and winter weather that has swept through the American South. Parades and parties for the holiday usually draw more than 1 million people to the city’s streets, and most notably to Bourbon Street.

“If people think they’re going to come to Louisiana, anywhere, or New Orleans and engage in the kind of activities they would have pre-pandemic then they are mistaken and quite frankly they are not welcome here to do that,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at a recent news conference.

Peru’s interim President Francisco Sagasti announced on Monday night that 487 officials, including the former ministers of foreign affairs and health, took advantage of their privileged positions to secretly receive early inoculations of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, which the government had purchased for doctors and other health workers battling the pandemic.

Sagasti said the officials’ names are being turned over to prosecutors. Following the scandal, Peru appointed its sixth foreign minister in less than a year, following the resignation of its last one, Elizabeth Astete.

Africa

South Africa’s Health Ministry said manufacturers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine had submitted documentation to the local medicines regulator for registration. The ministry added that it was “continuously engaging” with the manufacturers of the jab. The country has paused the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine due to preliminary data which showed that it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the country’s dominant variant, 501Y.V.2.

The country was also expecting its first batch of Johnson & Johnson doses on Tuesday night. Authorities plan to distribute them to vaccine centres nationwide overnight.

Catch up on DW content

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down, affecting everything from the way we work to family relationships and friendships, for better and for worse. Read the full report here

European hotels seeing fewer guests due to the pandemic have opened their doors to the homeless during a cold winter. Watch the full report below.

lc/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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