Bowing to pressure, Germany's Merkel eases virus curbs
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to gradually ease virus curbs in Europe's top economy, caving to political pressure and public discontent seven months before a general election.
After more than nine hours of talks, Merkel and Germany's 16 regional leaders unveiled a step-by-step plan to relax restrictions after months of shutdowns, despite concern over the spread of new and more aggressive virus variants.
Merkel said the loosening of restrictions, tied to strict conditions, was justified because of the imminent ramp-up in vaccinations and the arrival of mass rapid testing.
“Today, we can talk of hope and a transition to a new phase” in the fight against the pandemic, the veteran chancellor was quoted as saying by AFP.
Texas becomes biggest US state to lift Covid-19 mask mandate
Governor Greg Abbott has announced Texas is lifting its mask mandate, making it the largest US state to no longer require one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus, AP reports.
The announcement has rattled doctors and big city leaders who said they are now bracing for another deadly resurgence.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from the crowded dining room of a restaurant in Lubbock, surrounded by several people not wearing masks.
“It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.
Concerns over China vaccine diplomacy 'narrow-minded': political advisory body
Concerns about China using vaccines to sway other countries are “narrow-minded”, a top political advisory body has said, apparently dismissing a notion among rival powers that Beijing exploits the fight against Covid-19 to boost its global influence.
Guo Weimin, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said some suspect China is using Covid-19 vaccines to “expand our geopolitical influence”.
“This idea is extremely narrow-minded,” Guo said at a news conference, ahead of the opening of the annual meeting of CPPCC on Thursday.
First Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines to Africa under Covax go to Rwanda
The first doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 shots to be dispatched to Africa under the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme are set to arrive in Rwanda, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerate, Reuters reports.
The batch of 102,960 doses will soon arrive in Kigali, the health ministry said, hours after a flight carrying 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India also landed.
World Bank readies Covid-19 vaccine funds for around 30 African countries
The World Bank is preparing emergency financing to help about 30 African countries access Covid-19 vaccines, the global lender has told Reuters, as the continent scrambles to secure doses and start immunising vulnerable groups.
The World Bank said financing projects were being prepared in African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Niger, Mozambique, Tunisia, eSwatini, Rwanda and Senegal, without disclosing the amount of support under discussion.
“The funds are available now, and for most African countries, the financing would be on grant or highly concessional terms,” a bank spokesperson said in response to questions.
“This is the first World Bank-financed operation in Africa to support a country’s Covid-19 immunisation plan and help with the purchase and distribution of vaccines,” the spokesperson added.