The European Union drug regulator said it found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare blood-clotting disorder, but determined the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks. The UK’s regulator echoed that view, though it recommended not using the shot on those under age 30.
The variant of the coronavirus first found in the UK has overtaken the initial form of the virus in the US and is now the country’s most common strain. President Joe Biden will offer vaccine shipments to all of the nation’s community health centers. Alabama is dropping its mask mandate, following similar moves by Texas and Indiana.
Virus-related deaths hit a record in Hungary on the same day the country started easing curbs, fuelling worries the relaxation of constraints came too early. In Turkey, where the government eased social distancing rules on March 1, new cases reached a record.
Qatar reimposes strict limits
Qatar reimposed strict restrictions on group activities and businesses after recording three consecutive days of more than 900 new cases – the highest official counts since June. According to state-run QNA, restaurants will close to in-person dining starting on Friday, while cinemas and salons will close completely. Offices will be limited to 50% capacity, and gatherings in open spaces will be limited to five vaccinated people. The steeper restrictions come just days before the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan; in normal times, families and friends typically mark the holiday with large evening gatherings.
Alabama to drop mask mandate
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey lifted the state’s mask mandate, saying the order would go into effect on Friday. Individuals are still “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings when in public or in close contact with others, the governor said in a statement. Texas and Indiana also dropped their mask mandates.
New York City beaches to open for Memorial Day Weekend
New York City’s beaches will open for the Memorial Day weekend, and public outdoor pools will open in late June, a signal that the pandemic’s worst days may be over, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Last year, beaches were closed to swimmers and only a handful of outdoor pools opened late in the summer.
Some 23km of beaches, including Orchard Beach in the Bronx; Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn; Rockaway Beach in Queens; and Staten Island’s Midland Beach, South Beach, Cedar Grove Beach and Wolfe’s Pond Park will open on Saturday, May 29. Lifeguards will be on duty daily from 10am to 6pm, with swimming prohibited at all other times.
The city will open 48 of its 53 outdoor pools starting on June 26 in all five boroughs from 11am to 3pm and 4pm to 7pm. Five pools will be closed for reconstruction. Mask-wearing will be required and social distancing rules will be in effect when outside the pools, the mayor said.
UK variant most common strain in US
The B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus, first found in the UK, has overtaken the initial form of the virus in the US and is now the country’s most common strain, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing that the version had overtaken other mutations that have emerged, as well as the initial version of the virus in the US.
Carnival sees bookings surging
Carniva’s bookings are accelerating, reflecting pent-up demand for cruising even as the industry remains essentially on hold.
In a quarterly update on Wednesday, the company said booking volumes in the first quarter of 2021 were about 90% higher than in the fourth quarter of 2020. Cumulative advanced bookings for next year are ahead of 2019 levels.
Biden expands vaccination programme at health centres
US President Joe Biden will offer Covid-19 vaccine shipments to all of the nation’s community health centres, adding 2,500 delivery sites in a program aimed at closing the racial gap in inoculations.
The White House announced on Wednesday that 520 more such centres will be eligible to receive vaccine shipments, increasing the total to about 1,470 across the US.
EMA sees possible Astra clot link
The European Union’s drug regulators said there’s a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare type of blood clot in the brain. Still, the regulator said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. An update of the UK drug regulator’s safety review is expected soon.
South Korea, meantime, became the latest country to restrict use of the vaccine. It will temporarily suspend shots for people younger than 60, according to a statement issued by the country’s Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Merkel backs short, strict lockdown
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman reiterated the government’s support for the short, sharp shutdown proposed by Armin Laschet, the chairman of her CDU party.
Due to the stubbornly high infection rate, “any plea for a brief, uniform shutdown is correct,” spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said at a news conference. “A joint national response would also be important here,” she said, in a reference to Germany’s federal system under which the 16 regions are mainly in charge of health policy.
Merkel is due on Monday to hold the next round of talks with the 16 state leaders on the steps required to get the pandemic back under control. DM
— With assistance by Adam Majendie, Jennifer Jacobs, Luke McGrath, Emily Ashton, Jonathan Levin, Caroline Aragaki, John Lauerman, Zoltan Simon, Ilya Banares, Christopher Palmeri, Seyoon Kim, Jose Orozco, Claire Che, Suttinee Yuvejwattana, Rieka Rahadiana, Bhuma Shrivastava, Thomas Mulier, Henry Goldman, Nic Querolo, and Simone Foxman.
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