Coronavirus live: Merkel plans new German law to force restrictions on states; Hong Kong suspends AZ order

Angela Merkel wants to impose restrictions on regions recording high numbers of new infections; Hong Kong tells AstraZeneca not to deliver doses

Here some more detail on the German government’s plans to centralise containment measures, whenever there is a 7-day incidence rate of 100 per 100,000 people in a state, in the country’s battle against a third wave from Reuters:

The [7-day incidence] figure reached a high near 200 in late December, soon after Germany went from a “lockdown lite” that started in early November, during which schools and stores were open, to a full shutdown.

It last stood at 110.4, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

The largest Covid-19 vaccination centre in the Czech Republic was put through its paces on Friday, but it will not be fully operational until May as the country badly hit by the pandemic waits for more vaccine shots.

Reuters reports:

The government has come under criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including its failure to order as many vaccines as it could under the EU’s programme.

Following a spat in Brussels over distribution of extra vaccines among member states, the Czechs are now projected to lag behind all other EU countries by mid-year.

In addition to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘emergency brake’ that will see her take control from federal states, Berlin is also mulling a statutory authorisation to issue ordinances from the federal government, which could also apply if the incidence value is below 100 new infections, according to a journalist, Handelsblatt reports.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said the details could not be elaborated on today.

719,927 vaccine doses were administered in Germany on Thursday. This is a new record: the day before it was just under 660,000, previously the number of daily vaccinations never exceeded 370,000.

This is shown in the daily overview of the Federal Ministry of Health and the [Robert Koch Institute].

That’s it from me, Martin Belam, today. I will see you next week. Jedidajah Otte will be along in a moment to take you through the rest of the day’s global coronavirus news. And if you want our UK covid and politics live blog, then Yohannes Lowe has that over here.

Also in France, president Emmanuel Macron has been visiting the Delpharm plant in Saint-Remy-sur-Avre, west of Paris.

The plant started bottling Pfizer vaccines this week as France tries to make its mark on global vaccine production, and speed up vaccinations of French people amid a new virus surge. While he was there, Reuters report that Macron said that French healthcare company Sanofi’s plans for a domestic Covid-19 shot is making some progress

French police have detained for questioning leading chef Christophe Leroy and flamboyant businessman Pierre-Jean Chalencon after accusations they organised clandestine restaurant dinners for top figures in defiance of Covid-19 restrictions, prosecutors said.

The M6 television channel had broadcast footage recorded with a hidden camera purportedly from a clandestine restaurant in a high-end area of Paris where neither the staff nor the diners were wearing masks.

There’s just a little bit more here from Reuters on developments in Germany. They are reporting that Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to take control from federal states to impose restrictions on regions recording high numbers of new coronavirus infections.

“The federal government plans to introduce draft legislation next week, in close coordination with the states, that includes a binding and comprehensive emergency break for districts with an incidence of 100 and up,” a source told Reuters.

The Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has said she will not attend the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, saying the uneven rollout of Covid-19 vaccine campaigns would mean countries could not participate on even terms.

The 18-year-old activist said she deplored the fact that by November richer countries would be vaccinating young healthy people “very often at the expense of people in risk groups in other parts of the world”.

Some Polish doctors and nurses are just taking naps between shifts as they fight a third wave of the coronavirus, the health minister said this morning, amid reports of medical staff using oxygen and intravenous drips to boost their energy.

However, he believes that the Poland may have passed the peak of infections. The country of 38 million, report 768 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, after the number of deaths hit a new record of 954 on Thursday – albeit because that number incorporated some unrecorded deaths from the Easter weekend.

Leading hospitals in India’s most coronavirus-hit state halted vaccinations today, citing shortages as infections across the country crossed 13 million and set a new daily record.

The nation of 1.3 billion is confronting a ferocious second wave that has brought the fastest infection rate since the pandemic began, with nearly 132,000 cases recorded in the past 24 hours.

French health minister, Olivier Véran, has said authorities are set to rule that under 55s who received a first injection of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine can be given a jab from a different producer for their second dose.

France’s national health authority HAS last month said that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to those aged 55 and over, due to the reports of potentially deadly blood clots in a very small number of those younger people vaccinated.

Norwegian police said on Friday they had fined prime minister Erna Solberg for breaking Covid-19 social distancing rules when organising a family gathering to celebrate her birthday.

Reuters report the fine is for 20,000 Norwegian crowns (£1,715 GBP/$2,352 USD) police chief Ole Saeverud told a news conference.

Germany needs to implement nationwide measures to break the current wave of coronavirus infections as quickly as possible, its health minister said this morning.

“We need a lockdown,” Jens Spahn told journalists in a news conference, adding that nighttime curfews may be necessary to further reduce social contacts.

My colleague Yohannes Lowe has launched our UK live blog for the day, so if you want to follow UK Covid and politics news, then that is the place to head …

Related: UK Covid live news: public could now ‘start to think’ about foreign holidays, says Shapps

Gibraltar has become one of the first places in the world to vaccinate the bulk of its adult population against Covid-19, allowing virus restrictions to be lifted and life to almost return to normal.

AFP report that since the end of March, masks are only required in enclosed public spaces, shops and on public transport. And a curfew between midnight and 5am was also lifted, boosting business at bars and restaurants, which only reopened on 1 March after months of restrictions.

The US vaccination programme continues to gather pace. Madeline Holcombe reports for CNN:

As the US aims to ramp up inoculations to win the race against Covid-19 variants, more than one in four adults are now fully vaccinated. Officials and experts hope to get Americans vaccinated quickly as lockdown fatigue takes its toll and many people are letting down their guard just as more transmissible, and perhaps more deadly, variants of the virus become dominant. In that effort, all 50 states have committed to opening vaccinations to all Americans 16 and up by 19 April.

The US is still averaging above 60,000 new cases a day – a level Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said puts the US at risk for another surge. Experts are especially concerned about the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK and now the dominant strain in the US.

Maria Kiselyova for Reuters reports that Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus shot is less effective against the South African variant – but the manufacturer is claiming that it still does better than other vaccines

The lead scientist behind it, Alexander Gintsburg, has been cited by the Interfax news agency as saying: “With regards to the ‘South African’ strain, the effictiveness of the antibodies produced by Sputnik V, like all other vaccines, against it declines.”

There is a lot of frustration in Australia about the distribution of vaccines not matching the efficiency with which the country initially tried to squash Covid. Christopher Knaus reports for us:

Australia could have been manufacturing vaccines like Pfizer already had it acted early on calls to develop onshore mRNA capability, experts say.

Related: Frustrated experts say Australia could already be producing mRNA Covid vaccines if it had acted earlier

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is legally compelled to ship coronavirus vaccine to global vaccine sharing facility Covax, its co-lead Gavi has told Reuters, a provision that could complicate the SII’s efforts to boost domestic supplies. Gavi is a public–private global health partnership which says it has the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

India, where infections have surged to 13.06 million, suspended all major exports of vaccines last month to fill demand at home, forcing the world’s biggest vaccine maker to divert nearly all its production to the domestic market, and meaning reduced supplies for nations expecting vaccine shipments.

By the way, if you want a refresher on the developments with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine this week, then my colleagues Nicola Davis and Jon Henley have put together this guide to what the medical regulators in the UK and Europe said about the risk of blood clots as a side effect, and how different countries have reacted.

It is a complex scenario balancing the risks of the rare blood clot type that may be linked to the vaccine, and the risk of blood clots and other potential outcomes of catching Covid-19. Read it in full here: What do I need to know about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

Related: What do I need to know about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

Hong Kong has confirmed this morning that it has requested AstraZeneca suspend delivery of its Covid-19 vaccine amid fears of side-effects and concerns over its efficacy against new variants of the coronavirus.

Hong Kong’s health chief, Sophia Chan, said the city has asked AstraZeneca not to deliver as planned later this year. “We think it is not necessary for AstraZeneca to deliver the vaccines to the city within this year,” she said, adding Hong Kong wanted “to avoid any waste as vaccines are in short supply globally”.

An extremely quick snap from Reuters here, that Finland plans to gradually ease the country’s Covid-19 restrictions towards the summer.

Prime minister Sanna Marin added a note of caution at a news conference this morning though, saying that the spread of the virus is still severe and that the restrictions should not be lifted prematurely.

The UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said that the public could now “start to think” about foreign holidays this summer.

Asked if people could start to book foreign holidays now, he told Sky News: “I’m not telling people that they shouldn’t book summer holidays now, it’s the first time that I’ve been able to say that for many months.

Related: Covid plan for England: trips abroad could be permitted from May

There’s a grim despatch from Agence France-Presse about the situation in the Philippines this morning. In a bid to slow the spread of the virus and decongest hospitals, authorities in the Philippines last month ordered more than 24 million people in the capital and four neighbouring provinces to stay home unless they are essential workers.

A week after lockdown was imposed, 70-80 percent of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients were full, while ICU beds were “almost 100 percent” occupied in most of the capital, Health Undersecretary Maria Vergeire said.

There’s been some more to-and-fro in the UK over government plans to allow foreign travel from England in the summer. Transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News the Government would give more information on when foreign holidays could be allowed before 17 May, which is the earliest possible date in the road map for international travel to resume.

“What we’ve got today is a framework for doing that, so there’s a traffic light system you have been talking about – red, amber, green,” he said. “And in the green category, we’ll try to make it as affordable as possible to travel.”

Related: Covid plan for England: trips abroad could be permitted from May

Here’s Melissa Davey with the latest on the vaccination rollout in Australia:

States and territories have been left scrambling to respond to government advice recommending against vaccinating anyone under 50 with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, leaving tens of thousands of people in the lurch.

Related: Tens of thousands of Australians left in the lurch as AstraZeneca Covid vaccine advice changes

Yesterday Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyás was bullish about Hungarian schools reopening in 19 April as planned.

Today, Orbán himself is not. Reuters report that he’s just announced on state radio that school reopenings will be pushed back three weeks to 10 May.

Whether people can easily fly abroad for summer holidays is proving to be quite the battleground in the UK. This morning Heathrow airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye has welcomed the UK government’s proposed traffic light system approach to travel – where countries will be graded at different risk levels according to their infection and vaccination numbers. However, he’s not impressed with the proposed testing regime that goes with it.

PA Media quotes him telling BBC Breakfast “It’s good news that we now have flying opened up again from 17 May at the earliest, and I think the risk-based approach with this traffic light system is a good step forward.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 25,464 to 2,956,316, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed today. The reported death toll rose by 296 to 78,003, the tally showed.

The country is facing two different crises about its handling of the pandemic – over the procurement of vaccines and over the central imposition of rules to try to contain it.

Good morning from London, it’s Martin Belam taking over from Kate Lyons here. PA Media has put together a handy guide to the state of play with Covid restrictions in the UK.

Wales: The Welsh government announced yesterday it had decided to lift restrictions on household mingling a week earlier than planned. Two households will be able to meet indoors from 3 May instead of 10 May.

Hopes are rising for foreign holidays to be permitted from 17 May, with the public given a “watchlist” of countries whose quarantine status is at risk of changing to help with planning and to avoid the chaos of last summer.

Under the proposals, countries will be placed in a traffic light system with green, amber and red lists that will set out whether, and where, travellers must isolate on returning to England, government officials confirmed.

Related: Covid plan for England: trips abroad could be permitted from May

The bad news from Thailand continued on Friday, as the south-east Asian nation reported 559 new coronavirus cases and one new death.

The new cases took the total number of infections to 30,869, with 96 deaths.

Back to Australia, where the vaccine rollout is facing a major shake-up after the federal government released advice last night to avoid giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-50s amid fears of a potential link to unusual blood clots.

Related: What does Australia’s new advice on the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine mean and what is the risk?

France’s top health body is set to announce today that recipients of a first dose of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine who are under 55 should get a second shot with a new-style messenger-RNA vaccine, according to two sources aware of the plans.

Two mRNA vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and one from Moderna, are approved for use in France.

In Australia, the government’s announcement last night that people under 50 should not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine due to risk of blood clots, unless it is clear the benefits outweigh the risks, has been wreaking havoc with Australia’s already fraught vaccine rollout.

Hello and welcome to today’s coronavirus coverage. I’m Kate Lyons and I’ll be kicking things off.

Today we start with some concerning news from Asia, where various countries are looking at fears of a fourth wave of the virus.

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