SAO PAULO — Brazilian health officials are urging nationwide lockdowns and curfews because hospitals are running short of intensive-care unit beds as COVID-19 claims more than 1,000 lives each day in the country.
“The return of the pandemic in several states is making their private and their public assistance networks collapse and has brought imminent risk of spreading it to all regions of Brazil,” Brazil’s National Council of Health Secretaries said Monday in an open letter, adding that the nation is experiencing its worst moment since the pandemic began.
Last week was Brazil’s deadliest of the pandemic, with 8,244 deaths from the virus.
The letter from the council, which represents the nation’s 27 health secretaries, suggested lockdowns in cities where no ICU beds are available and in the rest, curfews between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Less than 4% of Brazil’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. Almost 260,000 people have died from the disease in the South American country.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Calls grow for pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine know-how and technology more broadly to meet global shortfall
— Health experts are urging Pope Francis to reconsider his March trip to Iraq, which is experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases
— India is expanding its vaccination drive to older people and those with medical conditions that put them at risk
— In the U.S., fraud overwhelms some pandemic unemployment aid programs
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia on Monday became the first country in the Americas to receive a vaccine shipment from the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative. The program is meant to ensure inoculations against COVID-19 for the world’s most vulnerable but has been hampered by limited global supply and logistical problems.
The arrival of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to the capital city of Bogota came days after the one-year anniversary of the first coronavirus case discovered in the region.
The Pan American Health Organization said it expects to increase regional vaccine access through the COVAX effort. It plans to bring about 280 million doses to the Americas and the Caribbean by the end of the year.
Colombia — Latin America's third-largest country by population — had already began inoculations and received its first vaccine shipment in mid-February.
The government has said it aims to vaccinate 35 million people this year, including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who are currently living in the country.
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province has started vaccinating police officers ahead of people 80 years of age and older.
A Toronto police spokesperson said Monday police constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required have been moved to the current phase by Ontario’s provincial government.
A police spokesperson said 2,250 of Toronto’s 5,000 officers are eligible.
The provincial government has said those 80 and above will start getting vaccinated in the third week of March but some regions of the province have already started vaccinating those residents while the province sets up a website to make appointments.
Authorities haven’t said which essential workers will be vaccinated but police started to get doses Monday.
DENVER — Colorado health officials say they’re still figuring out how to deploy the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but acknowledge its one-shot flexibility allows the state to target underserved or hard to reach populations, including minorities and residents in isolated rural areas.
The state expects 45,000 doses of the vaccine this week, on top of 209,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both of which require two shots.
Scott Bookman, incident commander for the state health department, said Monday officials are studying how to deploy the Johnson and Johnson vaccine within the state’s vaccination timetable while targeting the most vulnerable and ensuring equity. He said details will be forthcoming.
The state plans to begin vaccinating people age 60 and over, frontline grocery and agricultural workers and younger residents with at least two underlying health conditions this week. It also has eased — but not eliminated — capacity restrictions on businesses and public venues in all but a handful of counties.
PARIS — France will start allowing some people over 65 to receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after initially restricting its use to younger populations because of limited data on the drug’s effectiveness.
While France first authorized the vaccine only for medical professionals under 65, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Monday that it will soon be available to people over age 50 with health problems that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Veran also said that people who have had the virus in recent months will only need one injection of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. France’s High Authority for Health has argued that recent infection acts as partial protection against the virus, so a second dose isn’t essential.
France has used less than a quarter of the 1.1 million AstraZeneca vaccines it received as of Friday, according to government data. However, its vaccine campaign is expected to pick up in the coming days as more doses are delivered to family doctors and pharmacies.
CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday she expected the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive in the city either later in the day or Tuesday.
“We will put it to work as soon as we get it,” she said at an unrelated news conference. Lightfoot said she did not know how many doses of the one-and-done vaccine Chicago will get.
Lightfoot kicked off the month with a push to get more of the city’s seniors vaccinated.
“We’ve got about a third of our seniors that have been vaccinated in Chicago and across Cook County,” she said.
But she warned there are some 250,000 additional seniors who need to get vaccinated.
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated for COVID-19 in private in January before they left the White House.
Trump, who in October was hospitalized with the coronavirus, declined a public injection meant to boost public confidence in the vaccines. His approach broke with other top government leaders including then-Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who received their shots in front of cameras.
Trump in his first public speech Sunday since leaving office, encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, “So everybody, go get your shot.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the White House welcomed those comments by Trump, saying, “We certainly welcome the encouragement from anyone to take a vaccine.”
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions in dozens of provinces categorized as low- or medium-level infection risks.
Erdogan said on Monday cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen at half-capacity between 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. apart from those located in 17 regions that have been categorized as “very high-risk.”
Nighttime curfews during weekdays will continue across Turkey as part of the government’s “controlled normalization” program, he said.
Schools will reopen for face-to-face education in low- and medium-risk regions, Erdogan said. In other regions, only students preparing for high-school or university entrance exams will attend schools full-time.
Turkey has recorded in recent days the highest infection levels since mid-January. Overall, the country has seen more than 2.7 million known COVID-19 cases and around 28,500 virus-related deaths.
ROME — Italy’s new premier Mario Draghi has ousted a career business executive who had spearheaded the government’s coronavirus strategy, replacing him with an army general with experience in Afghanistan and Kosovo and expertise in logistics.
The country’s vaccination program has progressed more slowly than first projected. As of Monday, nearly 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered, including to some 1.4 million people who have received a second dose. That amounts to some 69% of the vaccines delivered so far.
Vaccinations in Italy had gotten off to a rapid start after the first doses arrived in late December. But delays in manufacturers meeting delivery timetables dragged down the country’s progress.
Besides health care workers, many of the vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents, people 80 years or older and essential workers. Last week saw sharp increases in daily caseloads, especially in northern Italy. The country’s nearly 98,000 dead is Europe’s second-highest known toll, after Britain.
MADRID — Spain’s top coronavirus expert says the pandemic is evolving in a positive direction with 2-week infection levels dropping to levels not seen since the end of last summer.
But Fernando Simón, who heads the country’s health emergency coordination center, said the country’s hospitals must discharge more COVID-19 patients to avoid a serious strain on the health system if new outbreaks fuel a resurgence.
Occupation in intensive care wards stood at 28% of the total expanded capacity on Monday. The Health Ministry added 15,978 new known coronavirus cases to a total pandemic tally of 3.2 million. And 467 new recorded deaths brought that total to 69,600 fatalities.
The country has fully vaccinated 1.2 million people while 2.6 million have received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
GENEVA — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization said it was “premature” to think that the pandemic might be stopped by the end of the year, but the roll-out of vaccines could at least help dramatically reduce hospitalizations and death.
Dr. Michael Ryan said at a press briefing Monday that the world’s singular focus right now should be to keep transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible.
“If we’re smart,” he said, “we can finish with the hospitalizations and the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic” by the end of the year. He said WHO was reassured by emerging data that many of the licensed vaccines appear to be helping curb transmission.
But Ryan warned against complacency, saying that nothing was guaranteed in an evolving epidemic. “Right now the virus is very much in control.”
HARTFORD — About 600,000 Connecticut residents ages 55 to 64 became eligible on Monday for COVID-19 vaccinations, but Gov. Ned Lamont warned it could take more than 3 weeks for most of those people to get their first shot.
A week ago, Lamont announced the state would continue with a mostly age-based rollout to avoid confusion and delays. Originally, the state planned to allow younger people with preexisting conditions and essential workers to sign up, but there were questions about which conditions and jobs to include.
Lamont has faced some criticism for the decision, including from unions that represent janitors, supermarket workers, security officers and others. Disability rights advocates recently filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking for immediate investigation into the new age-based policy.
The Lamont administration has argued that around 96% of coronavirus deaths in Connecticut involved people ages 55 and older.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Hard-hit Slovakia has signed a deal to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic kept the purchase in secret and announced the deal Monday after a military cargo plane with 200,000 doses landed in eastern Kosice city.
He said the country will get one million shots in the next two months while another million will arrive in May and June.
Matovic’s coalition government originally rejected a plan to acquire Sputnik V vaccine doses in late February after one of his four coalition partners vetoed the move.
Health Minister Marek Krajci, whose decision made the deal possible, says authorities could begin administering the vaccine in about two weeks.
Slovakia is the second European Union nation after Hungary to use the Russian vaccine, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
BEIRUT — China’s ambassador to Lebanon says Beijing will give the tiny Mediterranean country a gift of 50,000 shots of Sinopharm vaccines to combat the coronavirus.
Wang Kejian said in a tweet Monday that the Chinese gift comes after a request by Lebanese authorities. He added that Beijing wants to help Lebanon fight the virus.
Local media reported that the Chinese vaccines will be used to inoculate members of the Lebanese army.
The Mediterranean nation has so far received about 90,000 vaccines of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has inoculated more than 50,000 of its residents over the past two weeks.
The Health Ministry says Lebanon will receive a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines later this month.
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 375,000 cases and nearly 4,700 deaths since the first coronavirus case was registered in February 2020.
LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday urged developing nations to wait for the “gold standard” vaccines delivered by a U.N.-backed program rather than opt for shots from China and Russia.
Speaking on the day the first shots of vaccine from the COVAX program were given to people in the Ivory Coast, Raab said countries should consider advice from the World Health Organization about which vaccines are safest.
He said he understood the “conundrum” faced by developing countries as they wait for vital supplies of coronavirus vaccine.
The COVAX initiative, formed to ensure fair access to vaccines by low- and middle-income countries, has been hampered by the severely limited global supply of doses and logistical problems.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says the government is taking “very seriously” a coronavirus mutation that is spreading in New York City.
New York was one of the hardest-hit cities in the first wave of the pandemic a year ago, and the wail of ambulance sirens on nearly deserted streets is a memory etched in the minds of many residents.
Fauci said Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing that the New York variant appears to have been first identified in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, on the upper end of the island. But the strain has now been documented in “multiple” New York City boroughs, the government’s top infectious disease expert added.
He said there’s heightened concern because it appears the New York mutation can evade antibody treatments given to infected patients. There is some evidence it may be able to escape antibodies generated by vaccines.
GENEVA — The chief of the World Health Organization said it is “regrettable” that younger and healthier adults in some rich countries are being vaccinated against the coronavirus ahead of at-risk health workers in developing countries.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing Monday said immunizations provided by the U.N.-backed effort COVAX have started in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, but lamented that this was happening three months after countries such as Britain, the U.S. and Canada began vaccinating their own populations.
Tedros also noted that for the first time in seven weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide increased last week, after six consecutive weeks of declining numbers, calling the trend disappointing but not surprising.
The WHO was working to better understand why cases increased but that part of that spike appeared to be due to the “relaxing of public health measures," he said.