- General

Tokyo to Fight COVID With ‘Quasi-Emergency’

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga Friday announced Tokyo will be placed under a month-long state of “quasi-emergency” to combat surging COVID-19 infections.

Speaking to reporters during a COVID-19 task force meeting, Suga said the new measures are focused on shortening the business hours of bars and restaurants and imposing fines for violations. Many of Tokyo’s COVID-19 cases have been traced to the city’s night life.

Suga said the steps are necessary because of surging infection rates, particularly of more contagious variants of the virus.

Japan has never imposed strict lockdowns such as those seen in other countries.

In Germany, Health Minister Jens Span told reporters Friday that a nationwide lockdown is necessary to bring the surging third wave of the virus under control.

Speaking at the same briefing, Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases President Lothar Wieler said a two-to-four-week lockdown would be sufficient to stem the surging infections in Germany. He said the surge is being felt most in the nation’s intensive care units which have seen 4,500 new patients in the last week, most of whom are younger people.

The implementation of a new lockdown is not a certainty. While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government is in favor of stricter measures to control the virus, regional leaders support lifting them, and some already have begun to do so.

Meanwhile, India’s health ministry Friday reported its highest daily tally of new COVID-19 cases, with at least 131,968 new cases in the previous 24-hour period. Friday’s tally beats the record count of 126,789 cases that the ministry reported Thursday.

AstraZeneca vaccine

Elsewhere, several nations have issued new guidelines over the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after the European Union’s medical regulator announced a link between the vaccine and very rare, possibly fatal blood clots.

Britain, where the vaccine was developed jointly by the British-Swedish drugmaker and scientists at the University of Oxford, said it will offer alternatives for adults under 30. Oxford researchers have also suspended a clinical trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine involving young children and teenagers as British drug regulators conduct a safety review of the two-shot regimen.

Reuters reported Spain and the Philippines will limit the vaccine to people over 60 years old, while The Washington Post reported Italy has issued similar guidelines.

The European Medicines Agency recently said blood clots should be listed as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but continued to emphasize that its overall benefits outweigh any risks. Rare blood clots have been associated with the deaths of at least 14 people across Europe.

AstraZeneca has been the key vaccine in Britain’s exceptionally speedy inoculation campaign, which has outpaced the vaccination rates in the rest of Europe.

But the vaccine has had a troubled rollout elsewhere, initially because of a lack of information from its late-stage clinical trials on its effect on older people, which has slowed vaccination efforts throughout Europe. Many nations stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports first surfaced of the blood clot incidents.

Also, Puerto Rico and Washington announced they will open COVID-19 vaccination eligibility beginning Monday to residents as young as 16.

Source: Voice of America