GENEVA —The head of the World Health Organization says it's "not right" that younger, healthier adults in rich countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people in poorer countries.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO's week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — on Monday by lamenting that only 25 vaccine doses have been provided in a single poor country, while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.
"Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt," Tedros said. He did not specify the country.
Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronavirus.
"Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively," he said. "But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world's haves and have-nots."
In some of his toughest public words yet against vaccine makers, Tedros again criticized "bilateral deals" between drug companies and countries that hurt the ability of the WHO-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to all countries based on need.
"Most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting'' data to WHO, he said, so it can approve vaccines for wider use.
HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PARIS — France on Monday began a campaign to inoculate people over 75 against coronavirus, as its death toll rose past 70,000 over the weekend.
There is increasing concern that delays in delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might hinder the drive to vaccinate in France and beyond. French authorities have already been criticized for the country's slow pace in delivering shots, especially compared to Britain, Germany and Italy.
French health authorities have been worried over polls showing that the majority of French people are wary of vaccines against COVID 19, so they may have been surprised by the number of people who have signed for shots, reserved for those 75 and older or with a high health risk.
The health agency reported that more than 500,000 appointments scheduled for the first of two shots until Feb.14 have overwhelmed its system. An internet site set up as one other way to make vaccine appointments was receiving up to 20,000 connections a minute, the agency said.
BRUSSELS — The new variant of COVID-19 first detected in Britain is now starting to gain a foothold in Belgium, officials say, with cases reported several northern schools on top of an outbreak in a nursing home.
"The variant has settled into our country," pre-eminent virologist Marc Van Ranst told HLN network. "Like in other nations, it is getting traction."
The town of Houthulst in northwestern Belgium shot up to the top of the country's infection rate with 1,207 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days after a spike in cases at a nursing home this year left over 100 people infected. Tests showed the new variant was to blame.
In the Antwerp area, two schools reported cases over the weekend and closed Monday for a week due to the new variant. Authorities said students, teachers and their families should all quarantine for ten days.
Belgium has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, seeing 20,435 confirmed deaths.
LONDON — Britain is to expand the rollout of its coronavirus vaccine program by offering jabs to those over the age of 70 in areas where those deemed to be the most vulnerable have already received their first dose.
More than 3.8 million people across the U.K. — more than 5% of the population — have already received their first dose of vaccine.
The early phase of the vaccination program has been focused on the most vulnerable groups — those over the age of 80, residents in nursing homes and their carers, and staff in hospitals.
Britain is also opening another 10 mass vaccination centers this week. And a pilot program to provide 24-hour vaccinations will commence in London hospitals by the end of January.
Britain's vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the normal daytime slots work "much more conveniently" for those over the age of 80 but that nighttime appointments may be handier for those in lower age groups.
Britain, which has Europe's highest virus-related death toll at nearly 90,000, is aiming to have offered a first dose of vaccine to the four groups deemed most vulnerable to COVID-19 by mid-February.
BERLIN — Frankfurt airport, Germany's busiest and one of Europe's main hubs, saw passenger numbers drop to their lowest level in over three decades last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Operator Fraport said Monday that the airport handled some 18.8 million passengers in 2020, 73.4% fewer than the previous year. Fraport CEO Stefan Schulte said that "passenger volumes dropped to a level last seen in 1984."
But he said cargo traffic reached almost at the same level as in 2019, despite the loss of capacity in passenger planes' holds.
Schulte said that Fraport expects passenger traffic to "rebound noticeably" in this year's second half as vaccinations lead to the lifting of travel restrictions. But he said it will still be a "difficult year" and passenger numbers in Frankfurt in 2021 are expected to reach only 35 to 45 percent of the 2019 level.
BERLIN — Germany's health minister says the country will step up its monitoring of coronavirus variants amid concern that some mutant version could spread faster or cause more serious illness.
Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Monday that he is ordering laboratories to sequence the genome of 5 percent of positive samples, or up to 10 percent if case numbers fall.
Spahn noted that Britain, where one apparently more contagious variant was first detected last year, has a very strong surveillance network.
German officials have expressed worry about the sharp rise in cases seen in Britain and Ireland in recent weeks.
Germany's disease control agency said there 7,141 newly confirmed cases and 214 deaths in the country over the past day, though numbers reported over the weekend are often incomplete.
BEIJING — A Chinese province grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases is reinstating tight restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening violators with criminal charges.
The notice from the high court in Hebei province did not give specifics, but said all types of social gatherings were now being regulated to prevent further spread of the virus.
Hebei has had one of China's most serious outbreaks in months and it comes amid measures to curb the further spread during February's Lunar New Year holiday.
Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.
Hebei recorded another 54 cases over the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said on Monday, while the northern province of Jilin reported 30 cases and Heilongjiang further north reported seven.
Beijing had two new cases and most buildings and housing compounds now require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel's Foreign Ministry says the United Arab Emirates has decided to suspend visa exemptions for Israelis amid surging numbers of coronavirus cases.
The measure will make it harder for Israelis to fly to the UAE, where they have traveled in droves recently. The two countries established ties last year and until recently the UAE was one of the few countries Israelis could travel to without having to self-quarantine for two weeks.
But both countries have seen their coronavirus infections spike in recent weeks, prompting the change in travel requirements.
Dubai has remained open to foreign tourists who came in the tens of thousands to celebrate holidays and New Year's in the United Arab Emirates, sending coronavirus cases surging to new heights. The UAE has shattered its daily infection record for six consecutive days over the past week.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Monday that following the change, entry visas to each country will be required for traveling Emiratis and Israelis until July.
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has started reopening schools in phases after about two months of closure despite a steady increase in infections and fatalities from the coronavirus.
Wearing masks, children entered schools on Monday with smiles on their faces, as teachers welcomed them back to their classes.
To lower the spread of the virus, students are being kept at a distance from each other in classrooms.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood wished good luck to students who return to their classes.
Pakistan has reported 10,997 deaths from the coronavirus among 521,211 cases since February, when the first case was detected in the country.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel says it has recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began as it continues to battle a spiraling outbreak.
The Health Ministry said Monday that 4,005 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic. The grim milestone comes as Israel is in its third nationwide lockdown, with schools, shops, malls and other non-essential businesses closed until at least the end of this week. Daily case numbers have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which was tightened last week and could be extended.
The lockdown comes as Israel has unleashed a rapid vaccination campaign, with some 2 million people, or more than one in five Israelis, already having received the first dose of the vaccine.
The country has identified more than 550,000 total virus cases.
MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone, with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination program amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines.
The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia.
The Philippines has been negotiating with seven Western and Chinese companies to secure vaccines but the effort has been fraught with uncertainties and confusion.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is launching a project to test almost all citizens for the coronavirus in nine days.
The government hopes the nationwide testing will speed up a recovery from the latest wave of the infections, make it possible for students to return to school in February, help the health system and ease restrictions that harm the economy.
The nationwide testing is set to start Monday and will be completed on Jan. 26. It's not mandatory, but all people who want to go to work will need to have a negative test for the coronavirus beginning Jan. 27.
Slovakia entered a tough lockdown before Christmas that includes a round-the-clock curfew.
The exceptions include necessary trips to work, to do business or see doctors. People are also allowed to do necessary shopping in the stores that are the closest to their homes.
Close to 3,500 people have died of the virus in the country of 5.4 million.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's health regulator on Sunday approved the urgent use of coronavirus vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, enabling Latin America's largest nation to begin an immunization program that's been subject to months of delay and political disputes.
Brazil currently has 6 million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days, and is awaiting the arrival of another 2 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and partner Oxford University.
On Saturday night, the health regulator Anvisa rejected an application for use of a Russian vaccine called Sputnik V, submitted by Brazilian company União Química. Anvisa said it didn't evaluate the application because it didn't meet minimum requirements to start an analysis.
Vaccination in Brazil is beginning later than neighbors such as Argentina and Chile despite a robust public health system and decades of experience with immunization campaigns. The process to present and approve the COVID-19 vaccines was fraught with conflict, as allies of President Jair Bolsonaro sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinovac shot backed by his political rival, Sao Paulo state's Gov. João Doria.
WASHINGTON — Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the coronavirus pandemic will get worse before it gets better, projecting another 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the first five weeks of President-elect Joe Biden's administration.
Speaking to CNN's "State of the Union," Klain said Biden was inheriting a dire situation, saying even with vaccines, "It's going to take a while to turn this around."
Biden has set a goal of injecting 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office, a goal Klain said they were on pace to meet.
Klain added he believed there was enough supply of the pair of vaccines currently granted emergency approval to ensure that those who have received their first shot will get the required second.