Britain launches new visa for Hong Kong citizens
Former politician Lee Cheuk-yan and other politicians and activists hold up five fingers to signify the five demands of their protest movement in Hong Kong on October 1, 2019.
Britain on Friday announced that starting Sunday millions of Hong Kong residents will be able to apply to work and live in the European country under a new visa the government created in response to Beijing’s imposition last summer of a draconian national security law upon its former colony.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement Friday that he is “immensely proud” of the new visa for Hong Kong British National (Overseas) passport holders that offers them a new route to citizenship.
Fire at COVID-19 hospital in Romania kills four patients
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A fire killed four patients at a COVID-19 hospital in the Romanian capital Bucharest early on Friday and 102 others were evacuated, officials said, the second deadly hospital fire in the European Union state in under three months.
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The fire, which has since been extinguished, broke out at around 0300 GMT in one of the buildings of the Matei Bals hospital. Four rooms were affected and prosecutors were investigating the cause of the fire.
The hospital building where the blaze broke out was built in 1953 and had been completely renovated, its manager said.
Matei Bals is one of the largest and most used COVID-19 hospitals in the country.
The evacuated patients had medium to serious COVID-19 infections and most were using oxygen, the hospital’s manager said. About 44 of them have been sent to other COVID-19 hospitals across Bucharest, and the remaining patients were re-located to other buildings at Matei Bals.
Novavax vaccine 60% effective against South African virus strain
Results welcomed by UK government which has secured 60 million doses of the new jab
The UK government has welcomed the results from the UK trials of the Novavax vaccine which show it offers 89 per cent protection against coronavirus.
The jab is due to be manufactured in Britain and appears to be effective against both the original strain of coronavirus and a mutant strain first identified in Kent.
It has also shown around 60 per cent effectiveness against the South African strain of Covid which has been worrying scientists due to concerns it may evade vaccines.
The UK has secured access to 60 million doses of the new vaccine which will be available in the second half of this year if it is approved by the medicines regulator.
More than 15,000 people in the UK took part in the clinical trial, 27 per cent of whom were over the age of 65.
The study assessed how effective the vaccine was when transmission of Covid-19 was high in the UK, and with the variant strain first identified in Kent circulating widely.
Prof Paul Heath, Novavax clinical trial chief investigator, said the data showed science was able to adapt to mutations of the virus.
“The UK variant can successfully prevented with this vaccine. Yes, the South African is more difficult,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.
“But I think all of the technologies we have seen mean we can adapt at pace, so we can keep up and get ahead of the virus.”
The UK arm analysis, based on the first 62 cases of Covid-19 identified in the trial, reported 56 cases in people given a placebo vaccine while six cases were found in those given the Novavax shot.
This part of the trial showed the jab was 89 per cent effective against Covid-19.
More than half of cases related to the UK strain of the virus with the vaccine offering 86 per cent protection against this particular mutation.
Against the original strain, the vaccine was 96 per cent effective.
Overall data from more than 20,000 people, including a trial in South Africa, has now been reported in full.
Germany recommends AstraZeneca vaccine should only be used on under 65s
German health officials say there is insufficient evidence for use of shot on older people
Germany has recommended the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to people aged under 65.
The country’s vaccine committee said there was insufficient data to prove the medicine was effective among older people.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to approve AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine on Friday.
Germany’s surprise recommendation came a day after AstraZeneca’s factory in Belgium was raided by investigators.
The EU’s executive branch requested the investigation due to doubts over AstraZeneca’s explanation of an expected shortfall in vaccine deliveries to the bloc.
The pharmaceutical company blamed production issues at the Brussels plant for the shortages.
The Belgian federal medicines agency took samples and records from the plant on Wednesday and a further inspection of the facility is expected in the coming days.
The EU requested some British-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines be redirected to Europe but the company declined.
In a move that could prevent millions of doses from entering Britain, the EU said on Thursday it would give national regulators the power to block vaccine exports if they are not “legitimate”.
European Council President Charles Michel welcomed the move, saying: “The EU needs to take robust action to secure its supply of vaccines and demonstrate concretely that the protection of its citizens remains our absolute priority.”
The criteria for blocking exports is set to be published on Friday. UK ministers earlier insisted there would be no interruption to vaccine supplies.
“It is the case that the supplies that have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue,” UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said.
The shot is currently being delivered to people in the UK aged 18 and over.
But the German health ministry said: “There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine, unlike the mRNA vaccines, should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage.”
AstraZeneca disputed the German regulator’s findings said the latest clinical trial data for its vaccine “support efficacy in the over 65 years age group”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK’s regulators had concluded that the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot was “very good and efficacious”.
“It gives a high degree of protection after just one dose, even more after two doses. And the evidence that they’ve seen, that they’ve supplied, is that they think it is effective across all age groups, providing a good immune response across all age groups,” he said.
“So I don’t agree with that.”
German media reports this week said officials feared the vaccine may not be approved in the EU for use in the elderly.
The same media reports also suggested German officials believed the efficacy rate among over-65s could be as low as 8 per cent.
The claim was refuted by AstraZeneca and the German government, which suggested the efficacy rate could have been confused with the number of participants aged 56 to 69 in clinical trials, which was about 8 per cent.
The German health ministry said of the 341 people vaccinated in the group aged 65 and over in Oxford’s clinical trials only one became infected with coronavirus, meaning the vaccine committee had not been able to derive a statistically significant statement.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drug makers on the elderly because it started vaccinating older people later.
“But we have strong data showing very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, similar to what we see in younger people,” he told Die Welt newspaper this week.
Meanwhile, police arrested a 53-year-old man from Kent, in southern England, over a suspicious package that was sent to a factory that manufactures doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The factory in Wales was evacuated but workers were able to return to the site after police cleared the package.
“There is no evidence to suggest there is an ongoing threat,” police said.
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