(CNN)- Russia’s Sputnik V has seen rising popularity across Latin America as more countries announce shipments and deals to purchase the Covid-19 vaccine.
Millions of doses of Sputnik V are already being produced each month at the Generium Pharmaceutical plant.
The Sputnik V vaccine has a cheaper list price and can be stored at higher temperatures than the Pfizer vaccine, which has made it appealing to Latin American countries with less-developed economies and infrastructures. It requires two doses taken 21 days apart to be effective.
Argentina became the first Latin American country to distribute the Sputnik V vaccine in late December, with the purchase of up to 25 million doses. The country has already distributed over 600,000 doses.
Since then, Venezuela and Mexico both received shipments of 100,000 and 200,000, respectively, in early February. Nicaragua began distributing the vaccine on March 2 after receiving a donation of an undisclosed amount of doses.
As Russia struggles to keep up with demand, some countries have received only very small shipments. Bolivia received 20,000 Sputnik V doses in January, though it expects enough to eventually vaccinate 2.6 million people. Paraguay announced the purchase of one million doses, but has so far only received 4,000.
A nurse Injects the Sputnik V vaccine to the first doctor as part of the vaccination plan against COVID-19 at Hospital del Norte in El Alto, Bolivia. (Photo by Gaston Brito/Getty Images)
Russia has acknowledged the production squeeze and has considered launching regional production hubs in several countries, including Brazil, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Some interest has been expressed in producing the Sputnik V vaccine locally in Latin America. The RDIF recently announced an agreement with Argentina’s Richmond Laboratories to begin producing the vaccine in the country, though it has not yet provided a timeframe for delivery.
Experts have repeatedly voiced concern over transparency around Sputnik’s testing and its accelerated authorization in Russia. However, the vaccine was found 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective against severe and moderate disease, in an interim analysis of the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial results published in The Lancet.
Reporting contributed by Mitchell McCluskey in Atlanta, Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota, Tatiana Arias in Atlanta and Tim Lister in Spain.
President Jair Bolsonaro has told Brazilians to “stop whining” about Covid-19, as he criticised measures to curb the virus despite a surge in cases and deaths.
His comments came a day after Brazil saw a record rise in deaths over a 24-hour period.
Brazil is facing its worst phase of the pandemic yet, leaving its health system in crisis.
In response some cities and states have imposed their own restrictions.
Brazil’s health ministry says more than 260,000 people have died with Covid-19, the second-highest pandemic death toll in the world after the US.
On Thursday, another 1,699 deaths were added to that tally, a slight decrease on Wednesday’s record 1,910. Meanwhile, a further 75,102 cases of coronavirus were reported, the second-highest daily rise on record.
The explosion of cases has been attributed to the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus thought to have originated in the Amazon city of Manaus.
Yet on Thursday Mr Bolsonaro continued to downplay the threat posed by the virus.
“Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?” Mr Bolsonaro said at an event. “How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.”
What reaction has there been to President Bolsonaro’s comments?
The comments were met with a furious response from São Paulo’s governor, João Doria, who has been particularly scathing of Mr Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Doria called President Bolsonaro “a crazy guy” for attacking “governors and mayors who want to buy vaccines and help the country to end this pandemic”.
“How can we face the problem, seeing people die every day? The health system in Brazil is on the verge of collapse,” Mr Doria said
President Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures introduced by governors, arguing that the collateral damage to the economy will be worse than the effects of the virus itself.
“Unfortunately, Brazil has to fight, at this moment, two viruses: the coronavirus and Bolsonaro virus. This is a sadness for the Brazilians,” Mr Doria said.
What measures are cities and states introducing?
Concerned about the strain on hospitals, mayors and state governors have taken matters into their own hands in recent days.
Rio de Janeiro is the latest city to announce a partial lockdown, placing restrictions on bars, restaurants and beaches.
The measures, which will take effect on Friday for one week, will require bars and restaurants to shut early and suspend commercial activity on the city’s famed beaches.
The measures come after São Paulo state – Brazil’s largest, with 46 million people – declared a “code red” situation, ordering non-essential businesses closed for two weeks starting Saturday.
Frustrated state governors announced on Tuesday that they would join forces to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers rather than wait for the federal government to deliver them.
Brazil, the worst-affected country by Covid in Latin America, has lagged behind in its roll-out of Covid vaccines.
What do we know about the new variant?
Researchers from the University of São Paulo working with their colleagues at Imperial College London and Oxford University think that the second wave may be linked to the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus which has been traced to the city of Manaus.
The new variant, named P.1, was first detected in people who had travelled from Manaus to Japan in January. The researchers studying it think it first emerged in Manaus in early November and has been spreading there quickly since.
Their data – which is still preliminary – suggests that the P.1 variant could be up to twice as transmittable as the original version of the virus.
It also suggests that the new variant could evade immunity built up by having had the original version of Covid. They put the chance of reinfection at between 25% and 60%.
Manaus, in the Amazon region, was one of the hardest hit cities in the first wave of the pandemic.
It was expected that the people infected in the first wave would have acquired some degree of protection or immunity. And yet, the city has seen a second wave of infections.
Researchers think this may be because a new variant has emerged which may be evading immunity provided by past infections.
Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia
The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia.
The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.
Italy is the first EU country to use the bloc’s new regulations allowing exports to be stopped if the company providing the vaccines has failed to meet its obligations to the EU.
Australia said losing “one shipment” would not badly affect its rollout.
But it has asked the European Commission, which reportedly backs Italy’s move, to review the decision.
AstraZeneca is on track to provide only 40% of the agreed supply to member states in the first three months of the year. It has cited production problems for the shortfall.
In January, then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.
The EU has been widely criticised for the slow pace of its vaccination programme.
Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.
There has been no official comment on the Italian move by the EU or AstraZeneca.
Australia began its vaccination programme last week using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. It was due to start inoculations with the AstraZeneca jab on Friday.
What does Italy say?
The Italian government approached the European Commission last week to say that it was its intention to block the shipment.
In a statement on Thursday, the foreign ministry explained the move, saying it had received the request for authorisation on 24 February.
It said that previous requests had been given the green light as they included limited numbers of samples for scientific research, but the latest one – being much larger, for more than 250,000 doses – was rejected.
It explained the move by saying that Australia was not on a list of “vulnerable” countries, that there was a permanent shortage of vaccines in the EU and Italy, and that the number of doses was high compared with the amount given to Italy and to the EU as a whole.
What does Australia say?
“Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
Australia said it had already received a shipment of 300,000 doses and planned to begin local production next month.
“Domestic production starts with 1 million [doses] per week of deliveries from late March and is on track,” Mr Hunt said.
“This [Italy] shipment was not factored into our distribution plan for coming weeks.”
Summary (Guardian (UK)
Paris will not be put under weekend lockdowns, the French prime minister, Jean Castex, announced at his weekly Covid-19 round-up on Thursday evening, reports the Guardian’s Paris correspondent, Kim Willsher.
The news came as a relief to Parisians, who feared they were heading for yet another restriction after the city and surrounding areas became one of more than 20 French departments on high alert following a rise in coronavirus contaminations and deaths. City mayor Anne Hidalgo had vigorously argued against a weekend lockdown, saying it was “inhumane” not to allow residents, many of them living in small flats, to spend time outside.
Nice, in the south of France, and Dunkirk, in the north, remain under weekend lockdown, which has been extended to the department around the Channel port.
The whole of France remains under a daily 6pm to 6am curfew.
Castex also announced a speeding up of France’s much-criticised vaccine rollout with pharmacies being allowed to vaccinate from 15 March. Vaccines will even be administered at weekends, he said, in the hope of getting 30 million French people inoculated by the summer.
However, there is concern that only 40% of France’s health workers have been vaccinated, despite having been eligible for the jab for weeks. French media reported that president Emmanuel Macron had suggested it be made obligatory for health workers, but Castex and the French health minister, Olivier Véran, stopped short of this and urged those in the health sector to get vaccinated to protect “themselves, their families and the people they care for”.
Castex warned another lockdown was “not inevitable” but also not ruled out if the situation worsens.
During a council of ministers meeting on Thursday – the equivalent to a Cabinet meeting in the UK – Macron was reported to have had a dig at the sluggish pace of vaccinations in France that has seen millions of doses still unused, telling ministers: “You’re great, but as long as there are vaccines sitting in fridges, I’m not locking people down again.”
Some people with asthma have been ‘refused’ the Covid-19 vaccine
The main UK story from overnight this morning is that Cyprus will allow British tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 into the country without restrictions from 1 May.
Visitors would need to be inoculated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the second dose of a vaccine should be administered at the latest seven days before travel. Authorities would still reserve the right to carry out random tests on arrivals.