Switzerland has approved the Moderna vaccine, making it the second shot to be authorised in the country and clearing the way to get up to 1.5m doses from the firms through February.
The Swiss drug regulator Swissmedic’s decision comes days after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to Moderna’s vaccine. The messenger RNA vaccine, relying on similar technology as that used by Pfizer/BioNTech is a two-dose shot that in trials showed 95% efficacy.
The country has been a second-wave hotspot, with infections totalling some 500,000 and deaths rising by dozens daily to more than 7,500.
The country, which has been vaccinating with the Pfizer/BioNTech’s shots since before Christmas, this week canceled the famed Lauberhorn World Cup ski race.
Swiss health ministry officials have predicted the country will get a total of 500,000 doses in January, and another one million doses in February, with Moderna’s shot adding to totals. The regulator said:
Following a thorough review of all the submitted data on safety, efficacy and quality, Swissmedic has today temporarily authorised the Moderna vaccine.
The Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for the creation of an EU-wide vaccination certificate to help restore cross-border travel that has been devastated by the pandemic.
Greece, which relies on tourism for a fifth of its economic output and is keen to revive travel before the summer season, has already created its own standardised certificate to prove an individual has been vaccinated.
In a letter to European commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen, Mitsotakis proposed extending the scheme to the whole 27-nation EU. The certificate could be used when embarking on all forms of transport.
While we are not going to make vaccination compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel. (It is) urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states.
The difficulty in agreeing a common EU digital Passenger Locator Form (PLF), established last year to try to track travel movements, has shown that there is a strong need for a high-level EU effort to move things forward, he said.
If EU states can agree a common formula “we can then push the issue forward in the relevant international fora, thus contributing to the re-establishment of mobility on a global scale”, the letter said.
For countries such as Greece, which are dependent on tourism, it’s imperative that this issue is resolved before the summer season.
Greece weathered the first wave of the pandemic relatively well but a surge in cases since October has badly strained its health system, weakened by a decade-long financial crisis, prompting authorities to order a second lockdown in November. It has so far confirmed 145,179 cases and 5,302 related deaths.
Here is a summary of the latest developments:
- Angela Merkel suggested Germany’s hard lockdown may last a further eight to 10 weeks. Health officials are particularly concerned about the spread of the new, far more contagious variant from the UK, which is thought to have been in the country for several weeks.
- Israel may include children over the age of 12 in groups being vaccinated. A health official said the step could be taken within the next two months if research shows it is safe. Israel says it aims to have administered one or both shots to 5 million of its 9 million citizens and reopen the economy, by mid-March.
- A quarter of coronavirus admissions to hospital are people under the age of 55, the head of NHS England has said. Sir Simon Stevens told MPs on Monday the virus was spreading out of control across much of the country, with worrying consequences for hospitals. “In London perhaps one in 30 people has the coronavirus, in parts of London it may be twice that number. In Merseyside in just the last week there has been a further 50% increase in the number of Covid hospitalisations,” he said.
- China locked down Langfang city. Authorities in China introduced new Covid-19 curbs in areas surrounding Beijing on Tuesday, putting 4.9 million residents under lockdown as new infections raised worries about a second wave in a nation that has mostly contained the diseases. The city of Langfang in Hebei on Tuesday said residents will be put under home quarantine for seven days and be subject to mass Covid-10 testing in the latest attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
- Malaysia’s king has declared a months-long national state of emergency one day before a strict lockdown is imposed on millions of people, a decision that critics say will allow its unstable government to evade scrutiny and cling to power.
- Despite vaccines, no Covid herd immunity in 2021: WHO. The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned that it will take time to produce and administer enough doses to halt the spread of the virus and that herd immunity is not achievable in 2021.
- US CDC says nearly 9 million Americans vaccinated. The 8,987,322 people who have been given the first of two shots, according to the CDC, represent less than one-third of the total doses distributed to states by the US government.
- Immunity from Moderna Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine should last at least a year, the company said on Monday at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference. The drugmaker said it was confident that the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology it used was well suited to deploy a vaccine based on the new variant of the coronavirus which has emerged in a handful of countries.
- Gorillas at San Diego Zoo test positive for Covid in apparent first. Several gorillas at the San Diego zoo safari park have tested positive for coronavirus, with some experiencing symptoms, in what is believed to be the first outbreak among such primates in captivity.
- New Zealand will ask international travellers from most countries to show negative Covid-19 test results before boarding flights to the country as new contagious variants of Covid-19 spread across globally.
- Australian Open qualifiers halted mid-match to tell player he had Covid. Denis Kudla has been rushed into quarantine at the Australian Openqualifying event in Doha after testing positive for Covid-19.
Businesses in Portugal’s tourism-dependent Algarve region made €800m (£704m, $957m) less in 2020 than the year before – a 65% drop – as the pandemic kept visitors away from its beaches and golf courses and wiped out thousands of jobs. The hotel association AHETA said:
In 2020, the Algarve had the worst tourism year on record, both in terms of occupancy rates and in terms of economic and business results.
Hotel stays fell 75% and the occupancy was 28%, the lowest ever recorded, compared to 63% in 2019.
British visitors are Algarve’s main source of foreign tourists and, in 2019, pumped around €3.2bn into Portugal’s economy. In 2020, only 433,000 visited; 1.1 million fewer than the year before.
AHETA said the region’s tourism industry would not survive unless the government helped businesses urgently, to allow them to “maintain competitive levels in the recovery phase”.
In November, the number of registered jobless in the Algarve was up 67% from a year earlier.
The European Union has concluded exploratory talks with the French drugmaker Valneva for the supply of up to 60m doses of its vaccine candidate.
Valneva is the eighth pharmaceutical firm with which the EU has said it is in talks to buy vaccines. It has already signed contracts with six companies, securing nearly 2.3bn doses. The EU commission said:
The envisaged contract with Valneva would provide for the possibility for all EU member states to purchase together 30m doses and they could further purchase up to 30m more doses.
Valneva has not yet begun large-scale phase 3 clinical trials for its candidate, which is based on an inactivated virus and is, like other leading candidates, expected to need a two-dose regimen.
Under the deal, the EU committed to giving the company an undisclosed, non-refundable down payment to secure doses. The remainder would be paid by EU governments willing to buy the shot if the vaccine is approved in Europe.
Valneva confirmed that it was “in advanced discussions with the European commission (EC) for the supply of up to 60m doses”.
It expects to report initial safety and immunogenicity data in April 2021, and added:
If clinical development is successful, an initial approval may be granted in the second half of 2021.
Valneva is the second French company to receive EU funds to develop a vaccine, after Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, whose vaccine is still in trials.
Two senior Malawian cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures died on Tuesday from Covid-19, the government has said.
The deaths followed a cabinet meeting and other gatherings attended by politicians over the Christmas period but officials did not say where the victims were infected.
The local government minister Lingson Berekanyama and the transport minister Sidik Mia both succumbed to the disease in the early hours of Tuesday, the government spokesman said.
They were senior members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the main partner in an alliance that unseated ex-leader Peter Mutharika in a second round election in June last year, delivering victory to the president Lazarus Chakwera. Mia had been tipped as a possible successor to Chakwera.
All 31 of Malawi’s cabinet attended the meeting in the president’s oval office on 21 December and, the following day, the labour minister Ken Kandodo reported having contracted the coronavirus. He has since recovered. Another minister, Rashid Gaffar, is self-isolating at home.
AstraZeneca has finally filed for approval of its Covid vaccine with the European Medicines Agency two weeks after it was given the go-ahead by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority in the UK.
The EMA says it could come to a decision on 29 January if all the data it needs is supplied and all its questions are answered by the company.
The UK gave the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine emergency approval on 30 December. India has approved a version of the vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco have also given emergency authorisation. But the world’s biggest regulatory bodies – the Food and Drug Administration in the USA and the EMA – are moving a lot more slowly.
The FDA is thought to want data from a big trial of about 30,000 people ongoing in the US before it considers approval. The existing data from trials in the UK, South Africa and Brazil left questions over the full extent of protection for older people and those from ethnic minority groups.
Because of the soaring numbers of infections in the US, it is possible that trial may soon come to conclusions.
AstraZeneca’s decision to officially seek approval from the EMA is likely to indicate that it hopes to be able to submit new data. At the beginning of January, the EMA’s deputy executive director Noel Wathion said that approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine this month looked highly improbable because the company had yet to submit sufficient information.
Europe is also in need of many more vaccines. It has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines but supplies are going to fall far short of the needs of the bloc.
The impact of Germany’s lockdown on the economy is not too severe and Berlin will use its fiscal firepower, which is adequate, where support is needed, the finance minister Olaf Scholz has said.
Berlin is forecasting economic growth to rebound by 4.4% this year after an estimated 5.5% contraction in 2020, though some private forecasters regard the official outlook as optimistic given the country is once again in grip of lockdowns.
Last month, Germany’s Ifo institute cut its 2021 growth forecast to 4.2% from 5.1%.
Germany unveiled a €130bn (£114bn, $155bn) stimulus package last June, the centrepiece of a fiscal response that is among the largest of any Western nation.
Germany’s additional government spending alone accounts for 8.3% of economic output, according to the European think tank Bruegel. That forced Berlin to suspend its constitutional limit on budget deficits, sending government borrowings soaring to a post-war record. The government is expected to rack up a total of more than €300bn in new debt in 2020 and 2021.
Nigeria expects to receive vaccine donations that will cover 20% of its population and then procure an additional 50% of its vaccine requirement to achieve herd immunity, the country’s budget chief has said.
The donations will include all types of vaccines, Ben Akabueze, the director general of the Budget office told a virtual conference during the 2021 budget presentation.
Belgium could see an increase in cases in coming weeks as more Belgians undergo tests on return from holidays, the government has said.
The health ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem said a rise in cases in recent days could be explained by more tests being done than during the winter holidays.
The situation remains fragile, hesitant. There could be an upsurge in the coming weeks, although a reverse evolution cannot be ruled out either.
Van Laethem said Belgium recorded its highest annual mortality rate last year since the Spanish flu and the end of the first world war in 1918.
Data from the Sciensano health institute showed that the total number of positive tests reached 665,220 on Monday, with 2,000 new daily cases detected on average in the last seven days.
This increase affects all age groups globally but is more pronounced in 10-year-olds, young adults and, a more worryingly because they probably did not go on vacation, in people over the age of 90.
The country of 11 million, home to the headquarters of the European Union and Nato, has one of the world’s highest Covid mortality rates per capita, with 20,122 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The federal government will meet on 22 January to review the lockdown measures. Belgium’s southern Wallonia region decided on Tuesday to extend its nightly curfew until 15 February.
Malaysia’s king declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday; a move the opposition decried as an attempt by the prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin to retain control amid a power struggle.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Muhyiddin said the parliament would be suspended for a stipulated period of time and that elections would not be held in the south-east Asian nation during the emergency, which could last until 1 August.
Let me assure you, the civilian government will continue to function. The emergency proclaimed by the king is not a military coup and curfew will not be enforced.
Muhyiddin also gave his commitment that elections would be held as soon as it was safe to do so.
The move should reduce, at least for now, some of the political uncertainty hovering over Muhyiddin since his unelected alliance came to power with a razor thin majority in March following the collapse of the previous coalition led by Malaysia’s veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Some lawmakers in the ruling coalition have pulled support for the premier and have called for early elections, while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said last year he had a majority to form a new government.
Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is considering “next steps” to limit the spread of the virus, its premier Doug Ford has said, amid calls to introduce more stringent lockdown as the pandemic overwhelms its hospitals.
Ford is widely expected to announce further restrictions after Ontario health authorities release new case modelling on Tuesday, which the premier has previously described as “a wake-up call to anyone who’s seen it”.
Canada’s economic engine has been under lockdown since 26 December, shuttering non-essential businesses and extending closure of elementary schools in some parts last week.
Yet the daily number of cases has risen to more than 3,500 on average over the past seven days, government data showed. That is straining Ontario’s hospitals, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported on Monday the modelling would show Ontario’s intensive care units would be filled beyond capacity by mid-February.
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