ROME — Pope Francis is offering Brazilians a message of hope and consolation amid soaring coronavirus deaths and infections in the country suffering “one of the most difficult tests in its history.”
In a video message to a conference of Brazilian bishops on Thursday, Francis says he was particularly praying for Brazilians who had lost loved ones to the pandemic.
“Young and old, parents, doctors and volunteers, sacred ministers, rich and poor: the pandemic has spared no one in its wake of suffering.” He says it was particularly tragic families couldn’t say goodbye to their loved ones: “This leaving without being able to say goodbye, leaving in this stripped-down solitude, is one of the greatest pains for those who leave and those who remain.”
Brazil trails only the United States in the official COVID-19 death toll, recording 361,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. Public health experts blame President Jair Bolsonaro for refusing to enact strict measures to halt infections and for clashing with governors and mayors who did.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— WHO: Europe surpasses 1 million COVID-19 deaths
— Iran finalizes deal for 60M doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine
— Africa CDC urges India to lift COVID vaccine export limits
— India skyrockets past 14M virus cases; 200,000 new infections in 1 day
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
STOCKHOLM — Health authorities in Sweden say the coronavirus situation in the country is “serious” and hospitals have quickly filled with patients nationwide.
Sweden reported more than 7,000 new coronavirus cases and 41 deaths in the past 24 hours. Britta Bjorkholm of the Public Health Agency of Sweden says, “now is the time to start following recommendations.”
Some 400 COVID-19 patients are currently being treated at intensive care units in hospitals. Bjorkholm says there’s an increasing number of cases detected in children and young people in Sweden. But she stressed it’s likely from improved testing procedures rather than an emerging trend.
She says recent studies showed the quickly spreading virus variant first detected in Britain “doesn’t seem to increase the risk of serious illness in children and young people.”
Despite a Europe-wide delay in the launch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, Sweden is sticking to its target of all adult Swedes getting at least one vaccination shot by Aug. 15. Sweden has totaled more than 892,000 coronavirus cases and 13,761 confirmed deaths.
TORONTO — Ontario reported a record 4,736 coronavirus infections on Thursday.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the number includes 1,188 new cases in Toronto, the country’s largest city. There were 29 reported deaths.
There are 1,932 people hospitalized in Ontario with COVID-19, and 659 patients in intensive care and 419 on a ventilator.
Canada is dealing with a third wave of infections, likely fueled by variants, health officials say. Vaccinations have ramped up in Canada, but a delay in reapplying restrictions has led to a surge in Ontario.
The Ontario government says a field hospital in the parking lot of a Toronto hospital could be activated later this month as it grapples with rising hospitalizations caused by the virus.
TIRANA, Albania — Albania will receive a second batch of AstraZeneca vaccines this weekend.
Prime Minister Edi Rama says the country is expecting 90,800 AstraZeneca vaccines. The first batch of 38,000 arrived a month ago.
“There have been no problems with that, according to the immunization commission,” said Health Ministry spokeswoman Etiola Kola Nallbani. “Albania will continue vaccination with AZ.”
Albania has vaccinated some 300,000 people, starting with the medical personnel, elderly and schoolteachers. The goal is half a million people vaccinated ahead of the summer tourism season.
The new arrival will be available to the tourism industry staff of hotels and restaurants, according to Minister Ogerta Manastirliu.
The government has received about 400,000 doses so far out of 2.6 million contracted by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Sputnik V. Albania has registered 128,959 coronavirus cases and 2,331 confirmed deaths.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has finalized a deal with Russia to purchase 60 million doses of Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
The state-run IRNA news agency reported Thursday that Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, says the contract for enough vaccines to inoculate 30 million people was “signed and finalized.” Jalali says Iran will receive the vaccines by the end of the year.
Iran began a 10-day lockdown Saturday amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. Authorities ordered most shops closed and offices restricted to one-third capacity in cities declared as “red zones,” with the highest infection rates. Over 85% of the country is either a red or orange zone.
Only some 200,000 doses have been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization. COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world, delivered its first shipment to Iran on Monday from the Netherlands, containing 700,000 AstraZeneca doses.
Earlier this year, Iran started its vaccine program with a limited number of Russian Sputnik V vaccine doses going to medical workers.
NEW DELHI — India’s two largest cities have imposed stringent restrictions on movement and one planned to use hotels and banquet halls to treat coronavirus patients.
New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend. The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the financial capital of Mumbai.
Those moves came as daily infections in the country shot past 200,000 Thursday amid a devastating surge that is straining a fragile health system. The soaring cases and deaths have forced India to delay exports of vaccines to other countries.
“The surge is alarming,” says S.K. Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, says despite rise in infections, 5,000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and added capacity. Still, more than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls were ordered to convert into COVID-19 centers where doctors from nearby hospitals will treat the moderately ill.
GENEVA — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has kicked off an appeal to other countries to help inject $2 billion more to the U.N.-backed program to ship coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.
The United States is co-hosting a pledging and donor conference Thursday, bringing together four presidents, three prime ministers and other dignitaries to help buttress the $6.3 billion already raised for the U.N.-backed COVAX program.
Blinken laid out a goal to raise COVAX’s target of vaccinating 20% of populations in the affected countries to 30%, with the addition of $2 billion in funds. The COVAX effort has been providing millions of vaccine doses to 92 of the world’s poorest countries.
“We recognize that as long as COVID is spreading and replicating anywhere, it poses a threat to people everywhere,” Blinken says.
Donors were expected to chip in either funds — prime minister Stefan Lofven announced Sweden was increasing its contribution to COVAX from $20 million to $280 million — or announce plans to share doses with the low- and middle-income countries.
Blinken highlighted the Biden administration’s contribution of $2 billion to COVAX in March and its plans to add another $2 billion through 2022.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — The death toll from coronavirus in Bangladesh crossed 10,000 on Thursday.
The country’s health facilities are struggling to cope with the increased demands for hospital beds for the critical patients. There were more than 4,000 confirmed cases and 94 deaths reported in the last day.
Officials say new strains of the virus were spreading quickly, prompting the government to enforce a nationwide lockdown. They say the number of daily cases has increased seven-fold in a month while the number of deaths has doubled in recent weeks.
Dr. A.S.M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told The Associated Press the deaths could worsen in coming weeks. Authorities say Bangladesh, a nation of more than 160 million people, has only 825 Intensive Care Unit beds for the critical patients in both government and private hospitals.
Total cases have increased to more than 707,000 and more than 10,000 confirmed deaths, according to the Ministry of Health Affairs.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency has warned that the situation in some of the country’s hospitals is “dramatic” in the need for treatment for COVID-19.
The Robert Koch Instiute reported 29,425 confirmed coronavirus cases in the past day and 293 deaths.
Lothar Wieler, who heads the Robert Koch Institute, says clinics in some cities and counties have already run out of intensive care beds. He says many of those requiring treatment are young adults.
Meanwhile, German set a record for COVID-19 vaccinations in a single day with nearly 740,000 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry says. The upswing began last week with the start of vaccinations in doctor’s offices.
Germany has recorded nearly 3.1 million cases of the coronavirus and nearly 80,000 confirmed deaths.
BUDAPEST — A Hungarian minister dismissed concerns over the effectiveness of a Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, claiming it provided better protection from coronavirus than some Western shots without providing any evidence.
Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told an online press briefing that all six vaccines currently in use in Hungary are “reliable and effective,” and there is no need to provide a third dose of a jab produced by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm.
Hungary is the only country in the European Union to have approved the Sinopharm vaccine and has already received more than 1 million of the 5 million doses it ordered. Prime Minister Viktor Orban received the first of the two-dose shot in February, saying he trusted it the most.
But the distributor in the United Arab Emirates began offering a third dose of the vaccine to a small number of people in March, saying it had not produced enough protective antibodies in some cases.
Concerns over the effectiveness of the vaccine were further heightened on the weekend when China’s top disease control official said current vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus. Gao Fu later told The Associated Press that his words had been misinterpreted, and he was speaking about the effectiveness rates for “vaccines in the world, not particularly for China.”
GENEVA — A top official from the World Health Organization says Europe has surpassed 1 million deaths from COVID-19.
Dr. Hans Kluge says the situation remains “serious” with about 1.6 million new cases reported each week in the 53 countries that make up its European region.
Addressing recent concerns about vaccines, Kluge says the risk of people suffering blood clots is far higher for people with COVID-19 than people who receive AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.
Kluge pointed to “early signs that transmission may be slowing across several countries” and cited “declining incidence” among the oldest people. He says the proportion of COVID-19 deaths among people over 80, who have been prioritized for vaccines, had dropped to nearly 30%.
Worldwide, a tally by Johns Hopkins University shows nearly 3 million deaths have been linked to COVID-19 — with the Americas hardest hit, followed by Europe. The United States, Brazil and Mexico have reported the highest number of deaths, collectively, at more than 1.1 million.
TOKYO — Japan’s western metropolis of Osaka reported a record 1,208 new coronavirus cases.
Tokyo reported a two-month high of 729 daily cases. A virus alert status began in Tokyo on Monday, allowing the authorities to issue binding orders for shorter hours at bars and restaurants.
Osaka and four other prefectures are also on alert, and the government is expected to add a few more areas for the elevated measures Friday.
The rapid resurgence in Japan comes less than three months before the Olympics. On Thursday, a top ruling party official suggested an option of canceling the Olympics if the infections make it impossible.
Officials are concerned that the sense of urgency is not shared by the people. Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan government taskforce warned that the new variant could replace the conventional coronavirus virus and trigger more infections by early May.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, head of a government taskforce, urged municipal leaders to take action quickly to curb the spread of the infections. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged the residents to take maximum protection and asked non-Tokyo residents, except for essential workers, not to visit the area. She also asked the people to avoid traveling during the upcoming “Golden week” holidays beginning at the end of April.
Overall, Japan added 4,300 new cases Wednesday for a total of about half a million and 9,500 confirmed deaths.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia has announced it will begin packing and later producing Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which would make it the first European state outside Russia and Belarus to begin manufacturing the jab.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday visited an institute in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, where he said the Russian vaccine will be manufactured in a “few months.” He said for now, the vaccine will be packed in Belgrade after receiving its components from Russia.
Although the European Union drug regulator, EMA, has not yet approved Sputnik V, the vaccine has been registered for use in dozens of countries worldwide.
Serbia has one of the highest inoculation rates in Europe, mainly thanks to the government’s large purchases of the Sinopharm vaccine from China and the Sputnik V vaccine. The country also is administering the vaccines developed by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
Serbia also plans to start producing the Sinopharm vaccine.
PARIS — France is expected Thursday to pass the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, after a year of hospital tensions, on-and-off lockdowns and personal loss that have left families nationwide grieving the pandemic’s unending, devastating toll.
The country of 67 million will be the eighth in the world to reach the symbolic mark, and the third in Europe after the United Kingdom and Italy.
The cumulative death toll since the start of the epidemic totaled 99,777 on Wednesday. In recent days, French health authorities have been reporting about 300 new daily deaths from COVID-19.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa CDC director says he hopes India will lift export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.
John Nkengasong spoke as the African continent of 1.3 billion people doesn’t know when second doses of key vaccines will arrive and India experiences a resurgence in infections. The country is a major vaccine producer and a critical supplier to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative that aims to bring shots to some of the world’s poorest countries.
“If you finish vaccinating your people before Africa or other parts of the world, you have not done yourself any justice because variants will emerge and undermine your own vaccination efforts,“ Nkengasong said.
He said the uncertainty around the arrival of second doses puts the African continent in a “very dicey situation.”
African officials aim to vaccinate 750 million people over the next two years. Just under 14 million vaccine doses have been administered across the 54 countries.
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand’s coronavirus cases surpassed 1,500 on Thursday to set another record, sparking concerns the country’s outbreak may spiral out of hand.
More than 8,000 cases have been recorded since April 1 in a fresh outbreak linked to nightclubs and bars in central Bangkok. The 1,543 new cases pushes the country’s tally to 37,543, with 97 deaths.
Dr. Chawetsan Namwat from the Department of Disease Control said the outbreak appeared to have spread beyond entertainment venues with new cases now linked to seminars, office meetings and student field trips.
He said the National Infection Control Committee will meet later Thursday to discuss new measures. Up to 6,000 hospital beds will be added in Bangkok.
Mass travel for the Thai new year holiday this week is fueling the surge, said Dr. Opas Karnkavinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department. More worrying is that infections include a more contagious variant of the virus first found in the U.K.
The outbreak as added pressure on the government to speed up its slow vaccination drive, which has seen less than 1% of its population inoculated.