WHO origin report draws fire; South Africa registers 78 deaths

WHO origin report draws fire; South Africa registers 78 deaths
The Biovac manufacturing facility in Cape Town on 18 March 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

South Africa registered 756 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,546,735. A further 78 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 52,788 deaths.

The World Health Organization’s chief said a mission to study the origins of the coronavirus in China didn’t adequately analyse the possibility of a laboratory leak. The White House also criticised the report, calling it incomplete and faulting data and access provided by China.

Covid-19 deaths in the US are expected to bottom out in the next two weeks and then may inch higher as the nation races to blunt an incipient new wave of cases with its vaccination campaign.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will halt the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine for people younger than 60 starting on Wednesday after new cases of rare blood clots emerged. Spain has made masks compulsory even on beaches, and Italy will impose new quarantine rules for travellers. BioNTech and Pfizer raised their 2021 vaccine production target.

Key developments:

Chile signs vaccine deal with CanSino

Chile signed an agreement with CanSino Biologics for 1.8 million Covid vaccine doses that will begin to arrive in May, the government’s Vice Minister of Trade Rodrigo Yanez said in an interview.

The country has already received close to 13 million total shots against Covid-19 and it’s expecting the arrival of an extra 15 million doses by June to reach herd immunity in the first half of the year, Yanez said. CanSino, which is a one-shot vaccine, will provide 1.8 million doses, while the remaining supply will come from Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

Kenyans pay $70 a shot for Russia’s Sputnik

Kenyans have begun getting inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines for a fee after the nation’s authorities approved the shots for emergency purposes.

A single shot costs 7,700 shillings ($70.30), according to Nairobi-based lawyer Donald Kipkorir, who had an injection Tuesday.

US Covid deaths expected to rise soon

Covid-19 deaths in the US are expected to bottom out in the next two weeks and then may inch higher as the nation races to blunt an incipient new wave of cases with its vaccination campaign.

A plateau or small increase — instead of the hoped-for decline — could mean tens of thousands of additional fatalities.

The deaths are likely to dip to 6,028 in the week ending 10 April before slightly increasing, according to the Covid-19 Forecast Hub, a project from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Reich Lab. Its so-called ensemble forecast, which was updated Tuesday, is based on dozens of independent models and projects fatalities four weeks into the future.

Ireland easing limits after 3-month lockdown

Ireland will begin easing some restrictions from April 12 after more than three months in lockdown. Travel restrictions will be loosened while some sports and construction will resume, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a national address. Limits on household mixing will also be reduced. The government may open so-called non-essential retail in May and hotels in June, depending on the state of the virus, Martin said. Vaccines are to ramp up sharply in the second quarter, he added. “We are on the final stretch of this terrible journey,” he said.

WHO chief faults Covid report

The World Health Organization’s chief said a mission to study the origins of the coronavirus in China didn’t adequately analyse the possibility of a lab leak before it concluded that the pathogen probably spread from bats to humans via another animal.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even though the international team of scientists determined that a leak is the least likely hypothesis for the origin of the pandemic, it requires further investigation. He said he’s ready to deploy additional missions involving specialist experts as he doesn’t believe the assessment was extensive enough. He made the comments in a briefing to WHO member countries on Tuesday.

Greece cases surge as reopening looms

Greece reported 4,340 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. The last record was 3,586 new cases on 23 March. Despite the rise, the government is coming under increasing pressure to begin a faster easing of lockdown measures to help the retail and restaurant sectors. Medical advisers to the government will meet on Wednesday to formulate recommendations, with non-essential shops seen reopening in some form from 5 April and citizens allowed to move again outside the municipality where they live from 3 April. A ban on movement between regions will likely continue.

Google gives $1m for NYC vaccinations

Google will donate $1-million to help New York City reach its goal of five million vaccinations by the end of June, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The donation includes grants to run ads on where, when and how to get a vaccine, as well as a grant from the tech giant’s philanthropic arm to set up an inoculation centre at the Fulton Houses public-housing complex in Chelsea, near Google’s main New York office. De Blasio said on Tuesday that the city is approaching four million vaccine doses.

Bulgaria eases some limits before election

Bulgaria will reopen restaurants and pubs with open-air space, as well as gyms, theatres and museums with limited capacity from 1 April, the health ministry said in a statement. Kindergartens will reopen on 5 April. The Balkan country reported 203 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the highest since 5 January, amid a new wave of infections caused by the UK strain, as it is preparing to hold a general election on Sunday.

Iceland tightens border surveillance 

Iceland said travellers from so-called danger zones, which is most of Europe, will need to stay in a special hotel for their obligatory five-day quarantine upon arrival. The reason is that infections have been spread by visitors who have broken quarantine to view a new volcanic eruption.

Germany to recommend Astra just for over-60s

Germany is planning to recommend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine only for people older than 60, after new data emerged on potential side-effects from the shots.

The country’s vaccination commission has drafted a decision paper that leaves open the possible use for younger people at a doctor’s discretion, according to a person familiar with the draft document. A final decision still needs to be made and could be announced as early as Thursday.

Spain makes masks compulsory everywhere

A new law in Spain mandates that all citizens older than six wear masks inside and outside, even when social distancing rules are followed. The measure includes forcing beachgoers to wear a mask while they sunbathe, a measure that could affect the country’s struggling tourism industry. People with breathing difficulties or those who practice individual sports outside will be exempt.

Scotland to ease restrictions

Scotland will go ahead with a tentative easing of restrictions during the next few days as the vaccine programme succeeds in reducing the number of new cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

More than 2.4 million of the country’s population of 5.5 million have received a first dose, she told reporters in Edinburgh. That means the semi-autonomous government is now confident enough in the progress to relax the “stay at home” rule on 2 April, while further changes will go ahead on 5 April.

A more significant relaxation, including a lifting of the travel ban within Scotland, is still expected to go ahead from 26 April, Sturgeon said. That’s just over a week before Scotland holds a parliamentary election.

Austria ‘in talks about Sputnik doses’

Austria is in talks about purchasing as many as a million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with first deliveries as early as next month, the APA newswire reported.

BioNTech raises target to 2.5 billion doses

BioNTech and Pfizer raised this year’s production target for their vaccine to as many as 2.5 billion doses, with the German biotech’s chief executive officer predicting a version of the shot that can be stored in refrigerators will be ready within months.

The new target represents an increase of about one quarter from an earlier estimate. BioNTech said it expects €9.8-billion ($11.5-billion) in revenue from the supply contracts signed already, which amount to 1.4 billion doses. Revenue expectations include milestone payments from BioNTech’s partners and will rise as more orders are signed, the company said.

Indian state orders oxygen supply reserves

The government of Maharashtra, the Indian state that houses Mumbai, ordered oxygen suppliers on Tuesday to reserve 80% for medical use. The new rule will stay in force until 30 June. India has seen a recent resurgence in infections that threatens the nation’s economic recovery.

Israel plans to buy millions of doses for future

Israel plans to buy millions of additional doses of coronavirus vaccine that may be used once its initial inoculation drive is complete, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

While the country has enough to finish vaccinating residents over the age of 16 under its current plan, it is seeking to buy enough to inoculate children ages 12 to 16 pending successful completion of clinical trials and approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the ministry said.

France finds new variant at Creteil hospital

France discovered a new Covid-19 variant at a hospital in Creteil in February that may be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines, France Inter reported. The variant, temporarily named after the Henri Mondor hospital where it was identified, carries 18 mutations, including seven on the spike protein, according to the report. The variant accounted for about 2% of French cases at the beginning of March. DM

— With assistance by Joe Schneider, Mark Gurman, Henry Goldman, Keshia Clukey, Karen Leigh, Iain Marlow, Alessandro Speciale, Thomas Mulier, Marthe Fourcade, Dhwani Pandya, Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir, Slav Okov, Shelly Banjo, Paul Tugwell, and Peter Flanagan.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.