The Latest: UK surge vaccinations fight variant from India
LONDON — British health authorities are aiming to vaccinate 15,000 people in one day at London’s Twickenham rugby stadium as part of a race to contain a fast-spreading coronavirus variant.
The strain, first identified in India, accounts for a majority of new cases in the U.K., which is seeing a rise in infections after weeks of decline. Scientists say the variant is more transmissible than even the previously dominant strain first found in the U.K. but current vaccines are effective against it.
Many scientists are urging the Conservative government to delay plans to lift social distancing and other restrictions on June 21, arguing that more people need to be vaccinated before measures can be eased safely. The government will announce its decision on June 14.
Three-quarters of U.K. adults have had one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and almost half have had both doses.
The Twickenham walk-in vaccination center is offering jabs without an appointment on Monday to people from northwest London, a hotspot for the Indian-identified variant.
Health officials in the northwest England town of Bolton, which had the highest rates of the new variant, say infections are starting to fall after a mass testing and “surge vaccination” campaign.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— American veterans return to Memorial Day traditions as pandemic eases
— China re-imposes travel curbs on southern province after fresh virus cases
— Vietnam to test all 9 million residents of Ho Chi Minh city amid outbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia opened its first mass vaccination center on Monday as the government sought to accelerate inoculations amid a worsening outbreak.
Located in an exhibition center in Kuala Lumpur, the center can vaccinate up to 8,000 people a day. Officials say more such mass centers will be opened nationwide but some critics urged the government to instead set up smaller centers at district levels to improve its outreach.
Malaysia begins a near total lockdown starting Tuesday, the second time in over a year. Most social and economic activities, except for 17 essential sectors, will be shut down for at least two weeks as the government struggles to contain a worsening pandemic.
Daily virus cases hit a record high of 9,020 on Saturday before easing to 6,824 Monday. Malaysia’s total infections have surged to 572,357 while deaths are more than 2,600, both rising five-fold compared to the whole of last year.
Less than 10% of the country’s 33 million people have been vaccinated so far.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities on Monday appealed to the private sector to offer incentives to help ease COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and warned that those who do not get vaccinated may face more stringent restrictions should the city face a new outbreak.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at a news conference Monday that she has written letters to over 100 real estate developers and retail outlets, urging them to offer incentives to boost the city’s vaccination campaign.
The move comes as Hong Kong faces vaccine hesitancy in its population, with just 20% of its population vaccinated despite widespread access.
Vaccine registrations surged over the weekend, after a real estate developer put a $1.4 million apartment up as a grand prize in a lucky draw, together with other prizes, open to all Hong Kong permanent residents who have been vaccinated.
Authorities also said while social distancing restrictions would be relaxed for vaccinated residents, those who do not receive the vaccine and are not exempt medically could face longer quarantine periods if they are designated as a close contact of someone infected and could face more frequent testing.
BANGKOK — Thailand was redoubling efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus in labor camps, factories and markets as the number of new reported cases surged Monday to the highest level so far.
A government spokesman said public health officials were meeting with labor and industry officials to discuss better ways to curb infections that are clustered in crowded, high-risk places.
The government reported a record 5,485 new cases on Monday, with nearly 2,000 in prisons. Confirmed deaths increased by 19, bringing the total to 1,031.
Still, Bangkok’s governor said the city would ease some pandemic restrictions, reopening parks, massage parlors and beauty salons, though with precautions such as mandatory masks. Other limits remain, such as closures of bars and entertainment venues and a ban on serving alcohol in restaurants.
ROME — The head of Italy’s central bank said Monday the eurozone’s third-largest economy could grow 4% this year, after shedding 9% during the pandemic year of 2020.
In the Bank of Italy governor’s annual report on the economy, Ignazio Visco cited indications of industrial production regaining momentum and plans for fresh investments by companies alongside progress in the vaccination plans, which together could help accelerate the recovery.
He noted that Italian firms were in better shape going into the pandemic than the financial crisis more than a decade ago, and that significant European and government support measures were helping to spur the economy.
Italy is slated to be the largest single recipient of EU recovery funds, which Visco said “offers us the chance to improve how the public sector works, and to stimulate private enterprise and modernize the economy.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — Authorities say a COVID-19 cluster in Australia’s second-largest city has spread into to nursing homes.
Victoria state began a seven-day lockdown on Friday due to a cluster in its capital Melbourne.
State health authorities on Monday announced 11 new cases.
A second staff member and a 90-year-old resident of the Arcare Maidstone Aged Care facility in Melbourne were among the new infections. The first infected staff member was reported on Sunday.
The second staff member had also worked at the BlueCross Western Gardens nursing home in Melbourne last week and had not been vaccinated.
The BlueCross facility has gone into lockdown after the news.
Health Minister Martin Foley described the cluster spreading into aged care homes as a “very great concern to the Victorian government.”
The vast majority of Victoria‘s 820 coronavirus deaths have been in nursing homes.
BEIJING — China on Monday re-imposed anti-coronavirus travel controls on its southern province of Guangdong, announcing anyone leaving the populous region must be tested for the virus following a spike in infections that has alarmed authorities.
Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, recorded 20 new confirmed cases, all contracted locally, in the 24 hours through midnight Sunday. Guangdong’s numbers are low compared with many places in the world, but the rise has rattled Chinese leaders who thought they had the disease under control.
People leaving Guangdong by plane, train, bus or private car after 10 p.m. on Monday must present results of a nucleic acid test within the past 72 hours, the provincial government announced. It said testing stations for truck drivers would be set up on major roads.
The government of the provincial capital, Guangzhou, a business center of 15 million people, ordered mass testing after locally acquired infections were found beginning May 21. The government said 700,000 people had been tested through last Wednesday.
HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam plans to test all 9 million people in its largest city for the coronavirus and imposed more restrictions Monday to deal with a growing COVID-19 outbreak.
People in Ho Chi Minh city are only allowed to leave home for necessary activities and public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned, the government announced. Prior to the order, the city, also Vietnam’s economic hub, shut down non-essential business last Thursday when cases started to increase.
State newspaper Vietnam News said the city authority is planning to test its entire population with a testing capacity of 100,000 samples a day.
The newspaper also said police had filed a case Sunday against the head of a Protestant church mission for “spreading dangerous infectious diseases” citing poor health protocols applied at the premises.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s health ministry says a 39-year-old Pakistani who recently tested positive for an Indian variant of coronavirus got infected in a Gulf country, ending speculations the man might have travelled from neighboring India.
The timely detection of the case helped in preventing the spread of secondary infections of Indian variant, the ministry said.
The announcement comes as Pakistan on Monday reported 43 new deaths from COVID-19, one of the lowest daily fatalities in recent months.
BERLIN — The German government is following up on media reports that coronavirus test centers across the country have overbilled authorities for the number of tests taken.
Germans are allowed one free “citizen’s test” per week to check if they are negative for coronavirus. They can use the result to be able to dine at outside restaurants, go shopping or visit cultural institutions.
In recent weeks, thousands of antigen tests centers for have popped up everywhere in cities and towns in empty store fronts, closed dance clubs or community centers. Several media have reported that test center operators are illegally billing for more tests than they actually take.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted Saturday that “anybody who uses the pandemic to enrich himself should be ashamed.” He noted that prosecutors in the western city of Bochum were investigating some suspected cases of fraud, but said that most providers were doing a professional job.