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World Roundup: Auckland goes into snap lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the country's biggest city Auckland into a snap lockdown for the first time in nearly six months on Sunday after three coronavirus cases emerged in the community.

The Pacific island nation has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths in a population of five million.

But almost two million residents were told on Sunday to stay at home from midnight, when the level-three lockdown begins, with schools and businesses to close except for essential services.

"The main thing we are asking people in Auckland to do is stay at home to avoid any risk of spread," Ardern said.

The city will also be ring-fenced from the rest of New Zealand, with travel in and out of the metropolis highly restricted for the next three days.

Germany tightens borders

Germany on Sunday implemented more measures to keep coronavirus variants at bay, banning travel from Czech border regions and Austria's Tyrol after a troubling surge in contagious mutations.

A thousand police officers have been mobilized to ensure strict border controls and state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn suspended services to and from the affected areas.

Germany in late January banned most travellers from countries classed as so-called mutation areas or places hardest hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants. These include Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Portugal.

Only a handful of exceptions are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, including returning Germans and essential workers such as doctors. Trade links will also be maintained.

Japan approves 1st vaccine

Japan on Sunday approved its first coronavirus vaccine, clearing the way for mass inoculations as the nation prepares to host the postponed 2020 Olympics.

"The health minister today gave a special approval to the Pfizer vaccine," the prime minister's office said in a tweet.

Japan is now expected to put the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the arms of 10,000 to 20,000 medical workers from as early as Wednesday, before making it and other coronavirus vaccines available for more medical workers and the elderly from April.

EU to hasten jabs vs. variants

The European Union has agreed to hasten approvals of vaccines updated to target coronavirus variants, the bloc's health commissioner said Sunday, following criticism of the EU's sluggish vaccine drive.

"We looked at the process together with the European Medicines Agency (EMA)," Stella Kyriakides told German daily Augsburger Allgemeine in an interview.

"And we have now decided that a vaccine, which has been improved by a manufacturer based on its previous vaccine to combat new mutations, no longer has to go through the entire approvals process. So it will be faster to have suitable vaccines available without cutting corners on safety," she said.

Topics: Jacinda Ardern , New Zealand , COVID-19 , Japan , Germany , Vaccine , European Medicines Agency
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