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.
All restaurants and cafes have been closed in France for eating in for the last five months. The country this week began a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging Covid-19 infections.
Chalencon, who owns the luxury Palais Vivienne venue in the centre of Paris that was allegedly used for such an event, had told the channel that several such dinners had taken place and even ministers had attended. He later backtracked from this remark and the government has vehemently denied that any ministers have been involved.
AFP note that Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened into putting the lives of others at risk. Police on Thursday searched the premises of the Palais Vivienne and a similar search had been carried on Wednesday at the home of Christophe Leroy.
Leroy’s lawyer Thierry Fradet said his client had submitted documents that showed that any dinners he had organised where in private homes – in line with the current rules – and not secret restaurants.
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.
At an infection rate of less than 100 per 100,000 people over seven days, the states will retain control over measures to slow the spread of the virus.
Germany is struggling to tackle a third wave of the pandemic, and Merkel and several regional leaders have called for a short, sharp lockdown while the country tries to vaccinate more people.
A meeting of Chancellor Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states scheduled for Monday, at which they were to discuss an extension to Covid restrictions, has been cancelled, the government source told Reuters.
Health minister Jens Spahn earlier today warned that nationwide measures were necessary to break the current wave of coronavirus infections as quickly as possible. He told journalists that there were currently nearly 4,500 patients in intensive care in Germany, adding: “If this continues, it will be too much for our health system.”
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”.
“With the extremely inequitable vaccine distribution I will not attend the Cop26 conference if the development continues as it is now,” Thunberg told AFP.
She said the conference should be postponed “if everyone could not attend in the same terms”.
The conference has already been postponed once as it was originally planned for November 2020. However, the campaigner said she did not rule out reversing her decision if vaccine access improved.
“Of course I would love to attend the Cop26. But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms,” Thunberg said.
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.
“This is indeed a war and the situation requires non-standard behaviours,” Adam Niedzielski told radio RMF 24. “These are the toughest, the most difficult pictures, which reflect the burden of this work,” he said when asked to comment on some doctors’ using drips and oxygen to regain strength to work.
“When I visited a temporary hospital in Katowice I saw doctors and nurses sleeping to rest in between their shifts. The intensity of work is significant, which results from the deficit of personnel,” Niedzielski said.
Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk note for Reuters that Poland recorded high numbers of new cases last week at about 35,000 a day and on Wednesday the government extended restrictions until 18 April, keeping kindergartens, schools, shopping centres, hotels, cinemas and theatres closed.
“If we look at the course of the number of new infections, it seems that the apogee of infections is behind us,” Niedzielski told a press conference, warning against complacency.
“The pandemic is still a real threat and the fact that we see some slight falls is absolutely not a signal which would allow us to think that we have the worst behind … Now we will have to do with an apogee, so to say, in hospitals,” he said.
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.
AFP reports city authorities in the financial hub of Mumbai saying that one out of three private hospitals administering jabs ran out of supplies yesterday.
The situation at government-run inoculation centres was not much better, with a giant 1,000-bed field hospital turning away people arriving for their first dose on Friday morning.
“There is a shortage of vaccines so the programme has been halted,” Heeba Patwe, a doctor at a facility inoculating 5,000 people daily, told AFP.
India’s vast vaccination programme – which has already administered 94m shots – is reportedly facing major supply snags in the quest to inoculate its huge population. The Times of India reported that states on average had just over five days of stock left, according to health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.
The health minister of Maharashtra state, the epicentre of the pandemic, warned on Wednesday that it would not be able to continue vaccinations beyond the weekend unless stocks were replenished. In the state’s badly hit city of Pune, two leading private hospitals told AFP they had run out of vaccines and would be unable to inoculate anyone until fresh supplies arrived.
“We halted vaccinations yesterday and we expect to remain shut for the next two or three days,” an official at Pune’s Noble Hospital said Friday.
Deepak Baid, president of the Association of Medical Consultants in Mumbai, told AFP the situation was becoming increasingly dire. “Vaccination is the need of the hour, it is the best weapon we have against Covid,” he said.
Production capacity at India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, is “very stressed”, the firm’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, said earlier this week, calling for financial help from the government.
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.
Officials in France initially said that those given the AstraZeneca jab in a first dose should go ahead with the second jab even if aged under 55, but Veran indicated that the HAS would now change that advice.
“This will be confirmed today, it is totally logical,” said Véran.
AFP reports that France has been injecting healthworkers as a priority group in the vaccination drive, meaning that many younger people have already received the AstraZeneca jab due to their work.
As Véran noted, they included the minister himself, a neurologist aged 41, who was given the AstraZeneca vaccine live on television on 8 February. “It is completely consistent to say that we do not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 55 years of age while we learn more,” he said.
“Therefore, if you have received a first injection and are under 55 years old, you will be offered another vaccine 12 weeks after the first injection,” he added.
Europe’s medicines regulator said this week the AstraZeneca vaccine could cause very rare blood clots among some recipients, prompting several countries to to scale up restrictions on the jab.
There are several clinical trials under way looking at the efficacy of combining two types of coronavirus vaccine – testing the technique known as heterologous prime-boosting. Experts say the theory is sound and, as with some other diseases, it could help convey effective immunity.
“Based on previous studies which combine different vaccine types, a combination of the AZ and Pfizer vaccines is likely to be safe but it’s important that this is tested in the context of a clinical vaccine trial,” said Helen Fletcher, professor of Immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
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.
The two-term prime minister apologised last month for organising an event to celebrate her 60th birthday with 13 family members at a mountain resort in late February, despite a government ban on events attended by more than 10 people.
While the police would not have issued a fine in most such cases, the prime minister has been at the forefront of the government’s work to impose restrictions, the police said.
“Though the law is the same for all, all are not equal in front of the law,” said Saeverud, justifying the fine.
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.
Reuters report him saying that there were nearly 4,500 patients in intensive care in Germany, adding: “If this continues, it will be too much for our health system.”
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 …
I’ll still be here bringing you the coronavirus news from around the rest of the world.
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.
Popular spots are once again buzzing with people enjoying a meal or a drink. Gino Jimenez, the chairman of the Gibraltar Catering Association who also runs a popular eatery, said it was “especially gratifying” to see vulnerable seniors finally “out of their homes and safe”.
Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo announced Thursday that rules restricting gatherings to no more than 16 people will be eliminated as of 16 April. And as of Monday there will no longer be any limit on the numbers who can sit together at a bar or restaurant.
In Gibraltar, with a population of 34,000, the pandemic claimed 94 lives, most this January and February, and infected nearly 4,300 residents. But thanks to the vaccine drive, there have been no virus-related hospitalisations for more than two weeks
Since “Operation Freedom” began in January, Gibraltar has fully inoculated 85% of the population. “It is a huge relief,” health minister Samantha Sacramento told AFP at her office atop the only hospital. She credits the enclave’s small size and a steady supply of vaccines – Pfizer and AstraZeneca – for the swift rollout.
“During the first weeks, we were vaccinating seven days a week. It was literally a conveyer belt,” said Sacramento, the only woman in Gibraltar’s cabinet. Frontline hospital staff and elderly care home residents and workers were the first in line.
Those who receive both doses of the jab are issued with a vaccination card that can be used to attend mass events or to travel. Last week Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium welcomed 600 fully vaccinated people for the territory’s World Cup football qualifier against the Netherlands.
And on 27 March, 500 spectators watched a top heavyweight boxing match at Gibraltar’s Europa Sports Complex. In both cases, fans also had to test negative on the day of the event.
Rafael Cordon, a 63-year-old chef who commutes daily to work in the British territory from the Spanish town of San Roque said he was grateful to Gibraltar for being able to get fully vaccinated so quickly. He said there was now a big contrast between both places.
Being in Spain, where mask-wearing in public is compulsory and night curfews are in place, is “like being inside a fishbowl where your movements are limited,” he said. “Then you cross over to this side and it is like going from one world to another. This is an oasis right now.”
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.
“I wish we had another three or four months before this B.1.1.7 variant surge started to occur,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said this week.
As states including California and Vermont plan to fully reopen this summer, experts are warning that to truly declare victory against the variants, Americans need to get vaccinated and continue measures like social distancing and mask wearing.
Read more here: CNN – More than 1 in 4 US adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19
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.”
The Sputnik V shot has become embroiled in a controversy in Slovakia, where the health agency has claimed that the vaccines delivered to it are not the same as the Sputnik V vaccines that were tested in clinical trials.