Russia says at least 49,389 people died from COVID-19 in Aug

MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 49,389 people died in Russia in August due to the coronavirus and related causes, taking the toll to around 418,000 people since the pandemic began, state statistic service Rosstat said on Friday.

Russian authorities blame the spread of the more contagious Delta variant and a low vaccination rate for the third wave of coronavirus infections, which peaked in July.

In July, Russia saw the highest monthly coronavirus death toll of the pandemic as 51,044 people died from COVID-19 or related causes that month, the figure revised recently after the first publication.

The number reported by Rosstat exceeds the official total death toll of 214,485, published by the Russian coronavirus task force earlier on Friday.

Authorities explained the discrepancy between Rosstat and coronavirus task force data by the fact that the latter reports deaths from COVID-19 on a daily basis that do not need additional confirmation from medical examiners, whereas Rosstat publishes full data on a monthly basis.

Some epidemiologists say that measuring excess mortality is the best way to assess the death toll during a pandemic.

Based on the new data, Reuters calculated that the number of excess deaths in Russia between April 2020 and August 2021 had reached 575,000 in comparison with the average mortality rate in 2015-2019.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Alison Williams)

Russia’s COVID-19 deaths return to record daily highs

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia on Thursday reported 820 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, matching an all-time high set on Aug. 26, and authorities warned that cases were again rising rapidly.

Moscow recorded 3,445 new infections in the last 24 hours, the most reported in a single day since July 31 following a case surge over the summer, authorities said. There were 21,438 cases recorded nationwide, they said.

The Kremlin told reporters that officials were not discussing the idea of re-imposing lockdown measures or other restrictions, but that the government and regional officials were monitoring the situation closely.

“As far as I know, despite the increase in numbers, no decisions have yet been made anywhere (in Russia),” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Thirty-six regions have recorded case increases this week, Anna Popova, the head of consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said on Wednesday.

She said the virus was spreading fastest in regions where there were fewer vaccinated people. Russia, which has a population of more than 144 million, says almost 40 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Russia has recorded a total of 7,354,995 cases, authorities say.

The government coronavirus task force says 201,445 people have died of coronavirus-related causes so far, while the federal statistics agency gives a higher number of 365,000 deaths from April 2020 to July 2021.

Reuters calculations based on official statistics show there were 528,000 excess deaths between April 2020 and July 2021. Some epidemiologists say excess deaths are the best way to measure the real death toll from COVID-19.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov and Alexander Marrow; editing by Tom Balmforth and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

U.S. FDA advisers may vote on COVID-19 boosters for older adults after rejecting broad approval

By Manojna Maddipatla and Michael Erman

(Reuters) – A panel of expert outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against broadly approving COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, but may vote on a narrower approval for older adults later on Friday.

The panel voted overwhelmingly against approving boosters for Americans age 16 and older, potentially undermining the Biden administration’s plan to roll out third shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as soon as next week.

But there was widespread support among panelists for a third dose for older Americans, who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and may be more likely to have waning immunity after the first rounds of shots. FDA officials said that a vote to recommend approval for such groups was possible later on Friday.

The FDA will take the panel’s recommendation into consideration in making its decision on the boosters. But it can reject the advice as it did recently in approving Biogen Inc’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug

Many committee members were critical of the booster plan, arguing that the data presented by Pfizer and the FDA was incomplete and that the request for approval for people as young 16 is too broad. Most of them said they were not needed yet for younger adults.

Top FDA members have been split on the necessity of the boosters, with interim head Janet Woodcock backing them and some of the agency’s top scientists arguing they are not needed yet.

If the FDA goes ahead and approves the booster, a separate panel advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to recommend which groups should get them.

The White House said it was ready to roll out boosters next week if health officials approve the plan.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru, Mike Erman in New York and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

Florida COVID hospitalizations surge, New York urges business push on vaccines

(Reuters) – New York’s governor on Monday urged businesses to turn away unvaccinated customers while Florida is grappling with a surge in hospitalized COVID patients, both sparked by rising cases of the Delta variant that could result in new restrictions on daily life.

Florida, whose governor has resisted mask or vaccine mandates, has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation and about one-quarter of the country’s hospitalized COVID patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The head of Florida’s hospital association said the current surge sent COVID hospitalizations skyrocketing to 10,000 from 2,000 in less than 30 days, although deaths have remained well below the previous peak.

“It is a much younger population that is being hospitalized today,” Mary Mayhew told MSNBC on Monday. At one Jacksonville hospital, the average age is 42, she said. “We have 25-year-olds in the hospital in intensive care on ventilators,” she told the cable network. “We’ve got to convince 25-year-olds, 30-year-olds, that this is now life-threatening for them.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also sounded the alarm, urging but not mandating bars, restaurants and other private businesses to require all customers be vaccinated before entering. The Democratic governor also said that vaccines could become mandatory for nursing home workers, teachers and healthcare workers if case numbers do not improve.

“Private businesses – I am asking them and suggesting to them to go to vaccine-only admission,” Cuomo told a briefing Monday. “I believe it’s in your best business interest. If I go to a bar and I want to have a drink and I want to talk to the person next to me, I want to know that that person is vaccinated.”

Cuomo also announced that all employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the trains and subways, and all the workers from his state for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the region’s bridges, airports, and tunnels, would need to be vaccinated by Labor Day on Sept. 6 or submit to weekly testing.

“If you are unvaccinated the Delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” Cuomo said.

The push by Cuomo marks the latest attempt by government leaders to spur reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges nationwide, infecting mostly unvaccinated people.

Cuomo’s announcement comes on the heels of a decision by President Joe Biden to require millions of federal workers and contractors to show proof of vaccination or be subject to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.

Even as cases have exploded, Governor Ron DeSantis has resisted mask mandates. Earlier this year, he and the Republican-controlled state legislature limited local officials’ ability to impose COVID-19 restrictions, and on Friday he issued an executive order barring schools from requiring face coverings when classes resume this month.

That order came days after the Broward County school board voted to require masks for students and staff. The superintendent of Miami-Dade schools had also said the district would reconsider whether to require masks in light of the surge.

Some local governments have also sought to impose public health measures despite DeSantis’ opposition. The village of Key Biscayne began requiring masks on Monday for all employees as well as any visitors to government buildings.

Both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties last week said that all adults would be required to wear masks when inside county facilities. Orange County, home to Disney World, has ordered all employees to get vaccinated, with an Aug. 31 deadline for the first dose.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Britain warns COVID-19 could infect half Myanmar in next two weeks

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Britain’s U.N. ambassador warned on Thursday that half of Myanmar’s 54 million people could be infected with COVID-19 in the next two weeks as Myanmar’s envoy called for U.N. monitors to ensure an effective delivery of vaccines.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. The United States, Britain and others have imposed sanctions on the military rulers over the coup and repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

“The coup has resulted in a near total collapse of the healthcare system, and health care workers are being attacked and arrested,” British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told an informal Security Council discussion on Myanmar.

“The virus is spreading through the population, very fast indeed. By some estimates, in the next two weeks, half of the population of Myanmar could be infected with COVID,” she said.

Myanmar state media reported on Wednesday that the military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with other countries to contain the coronavirus.

Infections in the Southeast Asian country have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

“In order to have smooth and effective COVID vaccination and providing humanitarian assistance, close-monitoring by the international community is essential,” Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who speaks for the elected civilian government, told the Security Council discussion.

“As such, we would like to request the U.N. in particular the Security Council to urgently establish a U.N.-led monitoring mechanism for effective COVID vaccination and smooth delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

Isolated Myanmar calls for international help as COVID cases surge

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. Various countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker. A drive to vaccinate some 40,000 inmates in densely packed prisons, which have seen major virus outbreaks recently, started on Wednesday, state-run MRTV reported.

The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after a devastating cyclone in 2008.

There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.

Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.

Vaccinations began at Insein and a prison in the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday and would be extended to inmates countrywide, MRTV reported, citing the prisons department.

Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.

Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.

The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.

But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” MRTV reported.

(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Britain reports highest deaths from COVID-19 since March as Johnson urges caution

By Alistair Smout and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain reported its highest number of deaths and people in hospital with coronavirus since March on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging caution despite a week of lower reported numbers of infection.

Britain reported 131 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily total since March 17, though it came after just 14 deaths were reported on Monday, suggesting the weekend might have impacted when deaths were reported.

The number of COVID-19 patients in British hospitals has also steadily risen to 5,918, also the highest since March, following a spike in cases earlier this month.

The number of new infections has fallen each day for the last seven days, though Johnson stressed the pandemic was not over.

“It is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about (lower case numbers),” Johnson told broadcasters, noting it would take a while for the lifting of restrictions in England to feed through to the data.

“People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government.”

Johnson has lifted restrictions in England and is betting he can get one of Europe’s largest economies firing again because so many people are now vaccinated, a decision which marks a new chapter in the response to the novel coronavirus.

Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said the effective end of Britain’s pandemic could be just months away as vaccines have so dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalization and death.

“We’re not completely out of the woods but the equation has fundamentally changed,” Ferguson, whose modelling of the virus’s likely spread at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020 alarmed governments across the world, told the BBC.

“I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.”

ON THE WAY DOWN

Johnson lifted COVID-19 restrictions in England on July 19. New daily cases in the current wave peaked two days earlier at 54,674 and have since fallen dramatically, to 23,511 new cases on Tuesday.

The closure of schools for summer, the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championships and warmer weather are among factors epidemiologists say might have reduced social mixing indoors and therefore cases, even as England’s economy has fully reopened.

Case numbers have been falling for longer in Scotland, where the recent peak in new infections was on July 1, than in England, corresponding to an earlier elimination from the Euros.

“Both of them seem to coincide in some ways with the end of activity in the Euro 2020 tournament,” Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Reuters, adding that changes in testing patterns might mean that the sharpness of the drop is overstated in daily testing figures.

“(Cases) may go up again, because we’re only just going to be starting to see the effect of the complete release of restrictions associated with July 19 in England. So there may still be rises yet to come.”

Britain has one of the highest official fatality rates from COVID-19 in the world, with 129,303 deaths, but vaccinations and lockdowns have greatly slowed the rate since March.

Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said a gradual return to usual social activity would help smooth the end of the current wave, but that the next few weeks would be unpredictable.

“On the way down is always bumpier than the exponential rise on the way up,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Janet Lawrence, Catherine Evans, William Maclean and Mike Harrison)

Factbox: Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

(Reuters) – The EU is on course to hit a target of fully vaccinating at least 70% of its adult population by the end of summer, given that same percentage of over-18s has now already received a first dose, the European Commission said.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

EUROPE

* Ireland became the latest European Union member state to commit to offering COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12-15 as it opened its strongly subscribed program to 16 and 17-year old’s.

* Greece said children aged 12-15 could be vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Tokyo’s 2,848 COVID-19 infections are the highest tally that the Olympic host city has reported since the pandemic began, officials said, as media reported that authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients, with the Delta variant driving the surge.

* India will meet its target of supplying more than half a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to its states by the end of this month, the health ministry said, but added not all doses may be administered by then.

* Moderna has pushed back its late-July vaccine shipment schedule for South Korea to August due to supply problems that will also affect other countries awaiting its shots, South Korean health officials said.

* Australia’s Victoria state will lift a strict lockdown, while neighboring New South Wales faces an extension of restrictions after daily new cases spiked to a 16-month peak.

AMERICAS

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to announce revised mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases.

* Argentina’s government has signed a deal with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer to acquire 20 million doses of vaccines to be delivered this year, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti told reporters.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Saudi Arabia will impose a three-year travel ban on citizens travelling to countries on the kingdom’s ‘red list’ under efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus and its new variants, state news agency SPA said.

* Nigeria expects to take delivery of 29 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in August, allowing it to ramp up its vaccination program just as a third wave of infections takes hold, the health minister said.

* Israel is considering giving a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to its elderly population even before FDA approval to help fend off the Delta variant.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Antibodies triggered by Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine decline below a key threshold from around six months after a second dose for most recipients, although a third shot could have a strong booster effect, according to a lab study.

* Russia has given the green light for clinical trials combining a shot from AstraZeneca and Britain’s Oxford University with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to go ahead.

* Moderna is in talks with U.S. regulators to expand the size of an ongoing trial testing its vaccines in children aged between five and 11.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* World stocks fell after investors sold Chinese internet giants for a third straight day, while real U.S. bond yields hit record lows on worries about the economic outlook ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting.

* The International Monetary Fund maintained its 6% global growth forecast for 2021, upgrading its outlook for the United States and other wealthy economies but cutting estimates for a number of developing countries struggling with surging COVID-19 infections.

(Compiled by Veronica Snoj and Ramakrishnan M.; Editing by Grant McCool, Maju Samuel, Sriraj Kalluvila and Gareth Jones)

How the Delta variant upends assumptions about the coronavirus

By Julie Steenhuysen, Alistair Smout and Ari Rabinovitch

(Reuters) – The Delta variant is the fastest, fittest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 the world has encountered, and it is upending assumptions about the disease even as nations loosen restrictions and open their economies, according to virologists and epidemiologists.

Vaccine protection remains very strong against severe disease and hospitalizations caused by any version of the coronavirus, and those most at risk are still the unvaccinated, according to interviews with 10 leading COVID-19 experts.

But evidence is mounting that the Delta variant, first identified in India, is capable of infecting fully vaccinated people at a greater rate than previous versions, and concerns have been raised that they may even spread the virus, these experts said.

As a result, targeted use of masks, social distancing and other measures may again be needed even in countries with broad vaccination campaigns, several of them said.

Israel recently reinstated mask-wearing requirements indoors and requires travelers to quarantine upon arrival.

U.S. officials are considering whether to revise mask guidance for the vaccinated. Los Angeles County, the most populous in the United States, is again requiring masks even among the vaccinated in indoor public spaces.

“The biggest risk to the world at the moment is simply Delta,” said microbiologist Sharon Peacock, who runs Britain’s efforts to sequence the genomes of coronavirus variants, calling it the “fittest and fastest variant yet.”

Viruses constantly evolve through mutation, with new variants arising. Sometimes these are more dangerous than the original.

The major worry about the Delta variant is not that it makes people sicker, but that it spreads far more easily from person to person, increasing infections and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated.

Public Health England said on Friday that of a total of 3,692 people hospitalized in Britain with the Delta variant, 58.3% were unvaccinated and 22.8% were fully vaccinated.

In Singapore, where Delta is the most common variant, government officials reported on Friday that three quarters of its coronavirus cases occurred among vaccinated individuals, though none were severely ill.

Israeli health officials have said 60% of current hospitalized COVID-19 cases are in vaccinated people. Most of them are age 60 or older and often have underlying health problems.

In the United States, which has experienced more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country, the Delta variant represents about 83% of new infections. So far, unvaccinated people represent nearly 97% of severe cases.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, said many vaccinated people are “so disappointed” that they are not 100% protected from mild infections. But the fact that nearly all Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated “is pretty astounding effectiveness,” she said.

‘TEACHING US A LESSON’

“There is always the illusion that there is a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. The coronavirus is teaching us a lesson,” said Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben Gurion University’s school of public health in Israel.

The Pfizer Inc/BioNTech vaccine, one of the most effective against COVID-19 so far, appeared only 41% effective at halting symptomatic infections in Israel over the past month as the Delta variant spread, according to Israeli government data. Israeli experts said this information requires more analysis before conclusions can be drawn.

“Protection for the individual is very strong; protection for infecting others is significantly lower,” Davidovitch said.

A study in China found that people infected with the Delta variant carry 1,000 times more virus in their noses compared with the original version first identified in Wuhan in 2019.

“You may actually excrete more virus and that’s why it’s more transmissible. That’s still being investigated,” Peacock said.

Virologist Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego noted that Delta is 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant first detected in the UK.

“It’s outcompeting all other viruses because it just spreads so much more efficiently,” Crotty said.

Genomics expert Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, noted that Delta infections have a shorter incubation period and a far higher amount of viral particles.

“That’s why the vaccines are going to be challenged. The people who are vaccinated have got to be especially careful. This is a tough one,” Topol said.

In the United States, the Delta variant has taken hold just as many Americans – vaccinated and not – have stopped wearing masks indoors.

“It’s a double whammy,” Topol said. “The last thing you want is to loosen restrictions when you’re confronting the most formidable version of the virus yet.”

The development of highly effective vaccines may have led many people to believe that once vaccinated, COVID-19 posed little threat to them.

“When the vaccines were first developed, nobody was thinking that they were going to prevent infection,” said Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and infectious disease epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. The aim was always to prevent severe disease and death, del Rio added.

The vaccines were so effective, however, that there were signs they also prevented transmission against prior coronavirus variants.

“We got spoiled,” he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Alistair Smout in London, Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Berkrot)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Sydney’s outbreak throws spotlight on vaccine rollout

Australia’s New South Wales state on Friday reported its biggest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases this year, prompting a tighter lockdown in Sydney and a request for additional vaccine doses that was rebuffed by other state leaders.

Australia reported another record day for vaccination with almost 200,000 doses delivered in one day. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who on Thursday apologized for the slow pace of inoculation, said the latest data signaled the country’s vaccination rollout had turned a corner.

New Zealand will pause its quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia for at least eight weeks starting Friday night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Philippines to bar travel from Malaysia, Thailand

The Philippines will suspend travel from Malaysia and Thailand, as well as tighten restrictions in the Manila area, in a bid to prevent the spread of the contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, the presidential spokesperson said on Friday.

The travel restriction will take effect from Sunday and run to the end of July.

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City extends lockdown

Vietnam will extend a strict lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City until Aug. 1, state media reported on Friday.

After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has been facing a complicated outbreak of the virus, with southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces accounting for most new infections.

Banking and securities services in the city will be reduced to minimal levels, while unnecessary construction projects will be suspended.

Taiwan to ease restrictions as cases drop

Taiwan will ease its COVID-19 restrictions next week, the government said on Friday, as rapidly falling case numbers give authorities confidence to further lower the alert level.

Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings, including closing entertainment venues and limiting restaurants to take-out service, in mid-May following a spike in domestic cases after months of no or few cases apart from imported ones.

While some of those curbs were eased this month, the so-called level 3 alert has been in force and is due to end on July 26.

Pfizer says U.S. govt buying 200 mln more doses

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech said on Friday the U.S. government had purchased 200 million additional doses of their COVID-19 vaccine and had the option to buy an updated version of the vaccine targeting new variants of the virus.

The announcement brings the total number of the doses to be supplied to the United States to 500 million, out of which roughly 208 million doses have already been delivered.

A longer gap between doses of Pfizer’s vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a British study found on Friday, but there is a sharp drop in antibody levels after the first dose.

Sinopharm’s shot offers weaker protection among elderly

Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine was less effective in offering protection against the disease among the elderly, according to the results of a Hungarian study.

The study of 450 participants who had received two doses of the vaccine showed measurable antibody levels were present in about 90% of people under the age of 50, but the protection reduced as age increased.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Joe Bavier)