Akshay Kumar: Bollywood star in hospital with Covid

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has been hospitalised a day after testing positive for Covid-19.

The actor said he was doing fine but decided to get admitted as a “precautionary measure under medical advice”.

Many crew members of the film he was working on in Mumbai city have also tested positive. 

Several Indian states have reported a sharp increase in Covid-19 case numbers in recent weeks.

The western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, has been the biggest contributor to the surge. India on Sunday breached the the 100,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began in March last year. Maharashtra alone accounted for 57,000 new cases on Sunday. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The state has announced several new limitations to curb the spread but infections continue to rise, affecting Bollywood and several other industries.

A number of popular actors, including Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Alia Bhatt and Kartik Aaryan, have tested positive in the past few days. Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is being treated at a hospital after testing positive – his condition is said to be stable.

The future of the cash-rich Indian Premiere League cricket tournament is also in doubt. It’s due to start on 9 April and Mumbai is slated to host a number of matches.

Officials at the Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) say the tournament will go ahead but fans will not be allowed inside stadiums. 

Indian spinner Axar Patel and support staff of different teams have already tested positive.

The recent surge comes after a sharp drop in India’s Covid caseload. In January, India was reporting less than 15,000 cases daily. But numbers began to spike again in March, largely driven by poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols.

Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12.2 million cases and over 163,000 deaths. It now has the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil. But its number of deaths per capita is far lower.

Source: BBC

Covid: Europe’s vaccine rollout ‘unacceptably slow’ – WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Europe as being “unacceptably slow”.

Tents for a COVID-19 vaccination centre are installed inside the national stadium of France, Stade De France, in Saint Denis, near Paris, France, 31 March 2021
image captionEurope’s vaccination campaign has been hit by delays

It also says the situation in the region is more worrying than it has been for several months. 

Vaccination campaigns in much of Europe have been hit by delays and the number of infections is rising.

The EU has been criticised for the pace of its vaccination programme – only 16% of its population has received the jab, compared with 52% in the UK.

But the EU says the UK has had an unfair advantage in contracts it signed with vaccine manufacturers, some of whom are based within the EU.

“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic… However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow” and is prolonging the pandemic in the wider Europe region, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

“We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now,” he added.

Last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region – which includes more than 50 countries and extends from Greenland to the far east of Russia – with 1.6 million new cases and close to 24,000 deaths, the WHO said. 

Only 10% of the nearly 900 million people in the region have had a single dose of coronavirus vaccine.

It remains the second most affected by the virus of all the world’s regions, with the total number of deaths fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million, it added.

It also warned of the risks of greater spread associated with increased mobility and number of gatherings over the forthcoming religious holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. 

Some 27 countries of the more than 50 included in the WHO Europe region have implemented partial or full coronavirus lockdowns.

What else is happening around Europe?

  • After President Emmanuel Macron announced new restrictions in France on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday morning at the National Assembly: “The third wave is here.” He announced more detailed measures including a ban on alcohol in public spaces. France is set to begin a limited lockdown for four weeks from Saturday night, with travel restrictions extended from 19 areas to the entire country
  • Eurovision is to take place in Rotterdam’s Ahoy arena in May. The Dutch government wants to use the event as a test with 3,500 spectators allowed for all the rehearsals and the three big shows. There will be extensive safety measures for the 39 countries taking part
  • As infections surge in Belgium, a Brussels court has ruled that all the country’s Covid measures have to be lifted within 30 days because the legal basis is not sound enough. The court backed a lawsuit from the League for Human Rights. Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden has appealed against the ruling
  • Spain is seeing a new rise in cases with an average incidence of up to 152 cases per 100,000 over the last two weeks. Madrid and Navarre in the north are among the areas seeing a spike
  • Cases are also rising in Germany, with 24,300 in the past 24 hours. Almost 90% of infections involve the UK (Kent) variant
  • The Austrian capital, Vienna and two other provinces in the east have imposed an Easter lockdown to help ease the pressure on hospitals. Austrians have been told to stay at home, except for necessary activities such as food shopping, work, exercise and helping their families
  • A new German survey suggests only 25% of people have faith in the government’s vaccination strategy. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been limited to over-60s in Germany and 40% of those surveyed said they did not want it

Covid: Rapid home test kits to be available for workers

Employers in England will be able to offer free rapid coronavirus tests to staff to take at home under the extension of a government scheme.

Home kits will be offered to firms with more than 10 employees from 6 April, where on-site testing is not possible.

Businesses should register by 12 April for the lateral flow tests, which can give results in less than 30 minutes, and they are free until 30 June.

Some 60,000 firms have already signed up for workplace testing.

The hope is that asymptomatic cases can be detected quickly, helping to prevent workplace outbreaks.

The wider availability of the rapid flow tests is part of government policy to ensure all kinds of workplaces are able to operate safely as lockdown measures are eased, with the stay-at-home rule ending on Monday.

The schools testing programme – in which pupils, their family members and staff at secondary schools and colleges are tested twice a week – combined with the wider use of workplace testing, has seen the total number of Covid tests carried out in the UK jump.

There were about 500,000 tests a day in mid-February – whereas on two days this week there were more than 1.8 million.

Initially, only businesses with 250 or more employees were eligible to access lateral flow tests. Earlier this month, it was made available to all businesses and this has now been extended to home testing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said rapid testing was a “vital part” of the roadmap out of lockdown, “helping us to cautiously lift restrictions on our economy and society”.

“Around one in three people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms,” he said. “So extending employee testing from the workplace to the home will help us identify more cases we otherwise wouldn’t find, prevent further transmission and save lives.”

Employees will be told to inform their bosses of a positive test result, as well as the NHS, which will then offer them a confirmatory PCR test. 

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson welcomed the move, saying: “This is something we have called for as the next step for smaller businesses and stores where the space for testing at work is limited. It is also supported by employees as a practical approach.”

Most businesses in England can register via an application form on the government’s website. Charities and some other organisations, including those who are a building society, a partnership or a sole proprietor, will need to register by email, with details listed on the same web page.

Exclusive: Japan to issue digital vaccine passport: Nikkei

(Reuters) – Japan is set to issue digital health certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, joining China, the EU and other countries that have adopted similar measures aimed at opening up overseas travel, the Nikkei reported s.nikkei.com/3stfAX6 on Saturday.

In line with international standards, the certificate can be managed on a mobile app, allowing the carrier to present the proof of vaccination when boarding a plane or checking in to a hotel, the report said.

The app is also focused on foreigners staying in Japan and returning to their respective home countries, according to the report.

Uber teams up with ScriptDrop to expand prescription delivery access in U.S.

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc will work with prescription delivery services provider ScriptDrop to enable customers in 37 U.S. states to receive medication at their doorstep, the ride-hailing service said in a blog post. (ubr.to/3978Gz5)

Pharmacies signed up with ScriptDrop will be able to use Uber’s delivery services, which could result in fewer events of customers going without their prescriptions due to COVID-19 related limitations, the post said on Wednesday.

The partnership news comes as big tech companies are increasingly pushing into the healthcare sector. Earlier this month, Amazon.com Inc expanded its virtual healthcare services, after launching an online pharmacy last year.

Last August, Uber partnered with on-demand prescription delivery platform NimbleRx.

Uber will become the default application for select ScriptDrop pharmacies, depending on location and driver availability, the company said, adding that it plans to expand the services to more pharmacies in the coming weeks and months.

Covid-19: Mumbai to rollout random testing in crowded places

The Indian city of Mumbai is to rollout rapid coronavirus tests in crowded places as the country grapples with a rise in infections.

The city’s local government said people would be tested randomly in an order issued on Saturday.

A refusal to be tested would “amount to an offence” under an 1897 epidemic law, the order said.

The move came as India recorded 40,953 new cases on Saturday, the biggest daily jump for nearly four months.

India has recorded more than 11.5 million coronavirus infections and 159,000 deaths related to the disease.

Infections have been steadily climbing for weeks as the country scrambles to vaccinate its population and identify highly contagious variants of the disease.

In Mumbai, a coronavirus hotspot in the western state of Maharashtra, 2,982 people have contracted the disease in the past 24 hours.

How will the tests work?

The rapid tests will be mandatory in crowded places such as shopping centres and train stations from 22 March, city officials said.

The commissioner of the local authority told India Today that people should “be ready for the swab test” whenever they enter a busy area in Mumbai.

The local authority said it would use rapid antigen tests (RATs), a type of test that detects the presence of proteins unique to the coronavirus.

But research shows these tests are less reliable than other types and sometimes produce incorrect results.

What’s the coronavirus situation in India?

India has recorded the third-highest number of infections, and the fourth-highest number of deaths, of any country in the world.

Infections started to dip at the start of 2021, but doctors have blamed a fresh wave on poor adherence to restrictions.

Chart showing the countries in Asia with the highest average number of cases in the last week. Updated 19 March

In recent weeks Maharashtra, which has long been a virus hotspot, has accounted for the majority of new infections.

Seven other states – including Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – are also reporting a resurgence of Covid-19.

Some regions in India have brought back restrictions, including lockdowns and restaurant closures, while more are believed to be considering similar moves.

How is the vaccination programme going?

The vaccination drive began in January in India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people.

More than 40 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine so far.

The rollout is currently targeting elderly people and those with underlying health conditions, but it is expected to expand further soon.

vaccine doses

The government aims to use up to 500 million doses to cover 250 million “priority people” by the end of July.

Although the pace of vaccination has picked up, experts say unless the drive is scaled up the target could be missed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 70, received a dose on 1 March. After receiving the jab, he urged people to take the vaccine when their turn comes.

Covid: Germany warns of ‘exponential’ rise in coronavirus cases

Coronavirus cases are rising exponentially in Germany, officials warn, as continental Europe braces for a third wave of infections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was likely that the country would now need to apply an “emergency brake” and re-impose lockdown measures.

France, Poland and other nations are also reintroducing restrictions.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that Europe lacks the vaccines needed to significantly reduce cases.

“We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone,” he told reporters. 

The vaccine rollout across the EU has been hindered by delayed deliveries as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, over fears of possible side effects.

On Friday, Ms Merkel defended Germany’s decision to temporarily suspend the rollout of the vaccine and said she did not believe its reputation had been damaged.

“I would get vaccinated with AstraZeneca,” she said, adding: “I would like to wait until it’s my turn.”

What’s the situation in Germany? 

The increase in reported cases in Germany is said to be fuelled by outbreaks among younger people. 

“The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us,” Mr Spahn said.

Ms Merkel said she had hoped lockdown measures would not need to be reintroduced so soon after easing restrictions, but that “sadly” developments meant that it was looking unavoidable.

“We agreed that, should the seven-day incidence rate exceed 100 per 100,000 people in a region or state, we will go back to the restrictions which were in place until 7 March – we called it the emergency brake.”

Ministers are particularly concerned about the Easter holidays. They are urging people not to travel and to limit gatherings to immediate family.

Just 8% of Germany’s population has so far received a first dose of vaccine, although the government on Friday resumed the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, warned of the possibility of “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

The RKI has said that cases in Germany are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate”. 

What’s the latest on the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Despite assurances from the European medicines regulator that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, some countries remain reluctant to resume their campaigns using the jab. 

Finland’s health authority has announced a pause in its use of the vaccine that will last at least a week. 

The move, which follows two reports of blood clots in patients who had received the jab in the country, was said to be a precautionary measure. 

Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark and Norway said on Friday that they needed more time to determine whether they should resume AstraZeneca inoculations. 

Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands are among the countries that have restarted their AstraZeneca vaccination campaigns. 

Health authorities in France have recommended that the vaccine be offered only to people aged 55 and over. 

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reviewed the jab after 13 European countries suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots.

It found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Friday, experts at the WHO said the vaccine had “tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world”. 

“The available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines,” the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement.

What’s happening in France and Poland?

Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France, including the capital Paris, will be placed under Covid lockdown measures from midnight on Friday as the country fears a third wave.

Trains leaving Paris for parts of the country where lockdown restrictions do not apply, such as Brittany and Lyon, were reportedly fully booked hours before the measures were due to come into effect. Traffic jams were reported on several roads leaving the capital. 

In Poland, coronavirus cases are continuing to surge with new daily infections reaching levels not seen since the second wave peaked in November. 

A three-week partial lockdown is being introduced on Saturday to try to slow the spread of Covid-19. Shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities will close across the country.

Covid: Paris lockdown as France fears third wave

The French capital is set to go into a month-long Covid lockdown as the country fears a third wave.

Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France will be placed under the measures from midnight on Friday.

These measures will not be as strict as the previous lockdown, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, with people allowed to exercise outdoors. 

France has recorded more than 35,000 new infections within the past 24 hours.

Mr Castex said a “third wave” of infections in the country was looking increasingly likely.

The situation in Paris is particularly worrying with 1,200 people in intensive care there, more than at the peak of the second wave in November, Health Minister Olivier Véran said. 

Under the new measures, non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but schools will remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a “particular sanitary protocol”. 

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal stressed there would be differences with the two earlier lockdowns and said further details would be given of which business could stay open or would have to shut.

People will be allowed to exercise outdoors within 10km (6 miles) of their home and are not allowed to travel to other parts of the country unless they have a valid reason. Those in the affected areas will have to fill out a form to explain why they have left their homes. 

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Parisians prepare for lighter lockdown

Analysis box by Hugh Schofield, Paris correspondent

There is a weary resignation about Paris, as people prepare for another four weeks of tedium. Yes, we know this third lockdown won’t be quite as bad as the second – which was itself a lighter version of the first. But still.

Another month of bits of paper for the police; another month of having to justify a trip to the supermarket; another month without meaningful social contact. It’s enough to drive you to distraction.

Passengers wait before boarding trains at Montparnasse railway station in Paris, on March 19, 2021
image captionFrance’s SNCF train company reported a surge in bookings ahead of the new lockdown

Except it hasn’t. In general, most Parisians simply knuckle under. Those who can are leaving by train or car, but because schools are staying open, most families will stick it out in the city.

Everyone’s made the calculation. The long Easter weekend in two weeks is a bust. But the Paris school holidays start on 17 April – exactly when the lockdown is supposed to end.

That’s the light that will keep people going. Spring break.

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As well as the greater Paris region, the northern Hauts-de-France, Seine-Maritime and Eure areas will go under lockdown as well as the Alpes-Maritimes on the French Riviera.

France’s nationwide curfew will remain in place. However, it will begin an hour later at 19:00 (18:00 GMT), taking into account the longer hours of daylight. 

Fears of a third wave come as the French government faces criticism for its slow vaccine rollout. 

From Friday, France will resume vaccinating using the AstraZeneca jab following the EMA’s announcement that it was fit for use. Mr Castex said he would be getting the vaccine straight away to prove that it was OK.

France had suspended the jab after a number of people in Europe reported blood clots developing after the vaccine was administered. 

A survey conducted just as the suspension was announced found that only 20% of the French have confidence in AstraZeneca.

EU agency says AstraZeneca vaccine is ‘safe and effective’

A review by the EU’s medicines regulator has concluded the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is “safe and effective”.

A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Genoa, Italy, 10 March 2021.
image captionGermany, France and Italy were among the countries to pause their rollouts of the vaccine as a precaution

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated after 13 EU states suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots.

It found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

Italy announced it would resume using the jab on Friday while Sweden said it needed a “few days” to decide

It is up to individual EU states to decide whether and when to re-start vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The agency’s investigation focused on a small number of cases of unusual blood disorders. In particular, it was looking at cases of cerebral venous thrombosis – blood clots in the head. 

Decisions to suspend use of the vaccine sparked concerns over the pace of the region’s vaccination drive, which had already been affected by supply shortages.

Much of Europe is struggling to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called on countries to continue using the vaccine, and is due to release the results of its own review into the vaccine’s safety on Friday. 

What did the EMA say exactly?

Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director, told a news conference: “This is a safe and effective vaccine.”

“Its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalisation outweigh the possible risks.” 

Emer Cooke
image captionMrs Cooke was speaking at an online news conference in Amsterdam

The EMA’s expert committee on medicine safety, Mrs Cooke said, found that “the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of… blood clots”. 

But the EMA, she added, could not rule out definitively a link between the vaccine and a “small number of cases of rare and unusual but very serious clotting disorders”.

Therefore the committee has, she said, recommended raising awareness of these possible risks, making sure they are included in the product information. Additional investigations are being launched, Mrs Cooke added. 

“If it was me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow,” Mrs Cooke added. “But I would want to know that if anything happened to me after vaccination what I should do about it and that’s what we’re saying today.”

Why did European countries act?

Thirteen EU countries suspended use of the vaccine, after reports of a small number of cases of blood clots among vaccine recipients in the region.

Leading EU states said they had opted to pause their use of the drug as a “precautionary measure”.

“There were a few very unusual and troubling cases which justify this pause and the analysis,” French immunologist Alain Fischer, who heads a government advisory board, told France Inter radio. “It’s not lost time.”

In Germany, the health ministry also pointed to a small number of rare blood clots in vaccinated people when justifying its decision. It postponed a summit on extending the vaccine rollout ahead of the EMA’s announcement. 

Other countries, such as Austria, halted the use of certain batches of the drug, while Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic were among those to say they would continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Decisions to halt rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine were criticised by some politicians and scientists.

A spokeswoman for Germany’s opposition Free Democrats said the decision had set back the country’s entire vaccination rollout. German Greens health expert Janosch Dahmen, meanwhile, argued that authorities could have continued using the drug.

Dr Anthony Cox, who researches drug safety at the UK’s University of Birmingham, told the BBC it was a “cascade of bad decision-making that’s spread across Europe”.

What has AstraZeneca said?

The company says there is no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine.

It said it had received 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and UK as of 8 March.

These figures were “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid-19 vaccines”, it said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group which developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, told the BBC on Monday that there was “very reassuring evidence that there is no increase in a blood clot phenomenon here in the UK, where most of the doses in Europe [have] been given so far”.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock this weekurged people to “listen to the regulators” and to “get the jab”. 

Chart showing the number of countries using each vaccine. Updated 15 March.

EU regulators team up with U.S. and UK on pharmaceutical mergers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU antitrust enforcers have teamed up with their U.S. and British counterparts to share expertise on how to examine mergers in the pharmaceutical industry amid concerns such deals could push up prices or hold back innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine supply bottlenecks have spurred regulatory interest in the pharmaceutical industry which has seen a wave of consolidation in recent years.

The European Commission said the working group, which was launched on Tuesday, included the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Canadian Competition Bureau, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The group would “take stock of the lessons learned in recent years and explore new ways to foster vibrant competition to the benefit of citizens”, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The EU competition enforcer said greater scrutiny of pharmaceutical deals was needed to single out those that might lead to higher drug prices, lower innovation or anti-competitive conduct.