Coronavirus live news: Europe to receive 4m more Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines this month, says commission

The UK government said a further 190 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK’s death toll by that measure to 124,987.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 147,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 5,926 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,234,924.

Data up to 9 March shows that of the 24,064,182 vaccine doses given in the UK so far, 22,809,829 were first doses – a rise of 217,301 on the previous day. Some 1,254,353 were second doses, an increase of 72,922.

Sweden’s reluctance to impose lockdowns is being tested by growing pandemic fatigue in the population and the rapid spread of a more contagious variant first identified in the UK as the country battles a third wave, Reuters reports.

The country has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, relying on social distancing and hygiene recommendations. Schools and businesses for the most part have stayed open.

The Swedish Health Agency has argued that voluntary measures can achieve as much as lockdowns without harming the economy, child welfare and the general health of the population to the same extent.

Another key argument for Sweden’s less intrusive strategy has also been that it is more sustainable over time. But authorities have found that adherence to pandemic protocols may be flagging.

“There’s quite a bit of what is called ‘pandemic fatigue’ to keep in mind,” chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said this month. “We saw a good effect after the measures put in place in November and December, but now we have to increase [measures] again.”

A new law comes into effect on Thursday that would allow the government to shut businesses in what would be the most drastic measures yet. The health minister Lena Hallengren said on Wednesday there were no immediate plans for a lockdown.

Sweden has seen infections rise again after falling in January and February. Combined with the rise of the UK variant and a beleaguered healthcare system, the situation has led to calls for a lockdown.

“We are in the midst of a third wave and for it not to turn into an uncontrollable tsunami, we need to take tough action early,” said opposition Centre party leader Annie Loof this week. She wants to close shopping malls for three weeks.

Sweden has gradually added more binding restrictions and tougher recommendations since November. Restaurants and cafes have to close by 8.30pm, while shops face crowd limits.

Not everyone is so sure about the benefits of a lockdown. “What’s the point of locking down a year after the pandemic started?,” said Thomas Yavuz, 35, owner of a pizzeria in central Stockholm. “The one thing I liked about the Swedish model was that it gave us personal responsibility, but stricter rules would take that out of our hands.”

While infections have risen, deaths have declined over the past two months, a trend authorities believe is underpinned by the rollout of vaccines.

Update from earlier post detailing Mauritius going into lockdown:

Nilen Vencadasmy, chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, said:

All residents and visitors have been asked to stay at home or in their hotels until 25 March.

The Indian Ocean island of 1.4 million people has had 641 confirmed Covid cases with 10 deaths, according to the latest World Health Organization data.

Reuters reports:

In England, a passenger train has been converted into a rapid lateral flow Covid testing station for railway staff, PA Media reports.

The Southern Class 313 Coastway train stationed at platform 8 of Brighton station will be used with two other bases to test up to 1,250 workers for Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express.

Hospitals in England are dealing with huge buildups of used personal protective equipment after a US-based waste removal company struggled to deal with extra demand from the pandemic.

Read the full story here:

Reuters reports:

Hundreds of children between the ages of 12 and 16 who have been given the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccination in Israel experienced no serious side-effects, a senior official has told the Guardian, one of the first signs that Covid-19 inoculations could be safe for minors ahead of clinical trial results.

Israel’s health ministry has recommended vaccinating some teenagers if they suffer from underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, Oliver Holmes, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, reports:

US president Joe Biden will announce on Wednesday that he has directed his health team to procure an extra 100m doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, a White House official said.

Biden is to meet with the chief executives of J&J and Merck on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Honduras will on Saturday receive its first 48,000 Covid vaccine doses via the Covax mechanism, the Pan American Health Organization (the Americas regional office of the World Health Organization) has confirmed.

Honduras is eligible to receive vaccine donations from Covax to cover 20% of its population.

Boris Johnson has “corrected” European council president Charles Michel over his claim that the UK had imposed a “outright ban” on the export of Covid vaccines, the BBC reports.

Speaking at prime minister’s questions, Johnson said the country had “not blocked” the sale abroad of “a single vaccine or its components”.

Michel had said his claim about the UK’s position was based on “facts” (see earlier post).

An EU official was summoned to the Foreign Office to explain his remarks.

France is on track to reach its Covid vaccination targets, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting.

Attal also told reporters that curbs were working, but the situation in hospitals – including in Paris and its surrounding region – remained a concern.

Portugal’s health authority said on Wednesday it had approved the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine for people aged over 65, as new studies revealed its effectiveness in preventing infection and lowering hospitalisations among elderly people.

The decision means that all people over 18 can now receive the shot, the DGS authority said, after it was approved for those under 65 in late January, according to Reuters.

It reported 847 new infections and 30 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total to 811,306 and 16,595 respectively.

About 748,000 people have so far received one dose of a Covid vaccine, of whom 295,515 have had a second dose.

Eli Lilly and Co has said that its combination antibody therapy to fight Covid-19 reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 87%, in a study of more than 750 high-risk coronavirus patients.

It is the second large, late-stage study to show that combination therapy of two antibodies, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, is effective at treating mild to moderate Covid cases, Reuters reports.

Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly, said:

The European commission said on Wednesday it has reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of an additional 4m Covid vaccine doses to be delivered this month, according to Reuters.

The doses to vaccinate 2 million people will be supplied in addition to the planned deliveries, to ease border movement and to tackle virus hotspots, the commission added (see earlier post).

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the commission, said:

A BioNTech spokeswoman said the additional doses were a result of an “improvement in efficiency”, adding that volumes to be delivered in the second quarter remained unchanged.

Here are some figures on the share of people who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine (9 March) compiled by Our World in Data:

In the UK, Covid case rates have fallen below the symbolic level of 50 cases per 100,000 people in half of all local areas, analysis shows.

It is a major turnaround from one month ago, when only six of the 380 local areas were reporting rates under 50 per 100,000.

The steep fall suggests the various lockdowns in place across the country are continuing to play a key role in reducing the number of new reported cases of coronavirus.

The analysis, which has been compiled by the PA Media news agency, shows that for the seven days to 5 March 190 out of 380 local authority areas in the UK recorded Covid-19 case rates below 50 per 100,000 people.

In England, these ranged from 49.7 in Dartford in Kent to 5.7 in South Hams in Devon.

A majority of local areas in Wales are now below 50 cases per 100,000 people, with Ceredigion recording a rate of just 9.6.

More than half of areas in Scotland are also below 50, including the Shetland Islands (4.4) and the Orkney Islands (no recent cases).

In Northern Ireland, two of the 11 local authority areas are now below 50: Newry, Mourne & Down (40.8) and Fermanagh & Omagh (33.2).