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AFP
April 11, 2021

Virus lockdowns around the world as vaccine efforts stumble

World

AFP
April 11, 2021

MUMBAI: Fresh lockdowns and curfews were imposed on tens of millions of people from India to Argentina on Saturday, as Covid-19 infections surged again and vaccine roll-outs were hampered by shortages and scares over side effects.

In India, the worst-hit state of Maharashtra was running out of vaccines as the health system buckled under the weight of the contagion, which has killed 2.9 million people worldwide.

Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches, the world’s second-most populous nation has added more than a million new infections since late March.

Every weekend from Saturday until the end of April, Maharashtra’s 125 million people will be confined to their homes unless travelling or shopping for food or medicine. "I’m not for the lockdown at all but I don’t think the government has any other choice," media professional Neha Tyagi, 27, told AFP in Maharashtra’s megacity Mumbai.

"This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously."

The crisis is being exacerbated by a shortage of vaccines.

India has so far inoculated 94 million of its 1.3 billion people, but The Times of India reported Friday that states on average had just over five days of stock left, citing health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.

Stay-at-home orders were also set to come into force for the eight million inhabitants of Bogota, as the Colombian capital battled a third wave of infections, adding to curfews already covering seven million across four other major cities. Elsewhere in South America, Argentina entered a night-time curfew Friday running from midnight to 06:00 am every day until April 30.

It will be in force in the country’s highest-risk areas, mainly urban centres, where bars and restaurants will close at 11:00 pm.

Both Argentina and Colombia have recorded about 2.5 million coronavirus cases, numbers surpassed only by Brazil in the region.

All of France is subject to restrictions of some form, while the German government’s attempts to curb movement and commerce have been stymied by several states refusing to go along with the proposals.

Now Berlin is changing the rules to centralise power, adjustments likely to usher in night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.

But some countries were in the process of opening up.

Italy was set to end lockdowns from next week for Lombardy, the epicentre of its coronavirus pandemic, and several other regions with improving contagion statistics.

Neighbouring Slovenia announced it would ease coronavirus restrictions and suspend a six-month-long curfew starting on Monday.

As in India, Europe’s stuttering vaccine roll-out faced multiple hurdles Friday as EU regulators said they were reviewing side effects of the Johnson & Johnson shot and France further limited its use of the AstraZeneca jab.

France has repeatedly changed the rules on AstraZeneca’s vaccine, first over doubts about its efficacy, then over fears that it could be linked to blood clots.

On Friday, it did so again, with Health Minister Olivier Veran saying under-55s who had been given a first shot with AstraZeneca would be given a different vaccine for their second dose.

But shortly after he spoke, the World Health Organization said there was "no adequate data" to support switching Covid-19 vaccines between doses.

As for the J&J shot, the European Medicines Agency said four "serious cases" of unusual blood clots had been reported -- one of them fatal -- with the vaccine, which uses similar technology to the AstraZeneca one.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it had found no causal link between the jab and clots, but noted "a few individuals" in the country had clots and low levels of platelets in the blood after receiving the vaccine, and its investigation was continuing.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s strongman premier Hun Sen threatened quarantine-breakers with jail time on Saturday and warned civil servants they could lose their jobs if they go unvaccinated, as the country grapples with a growing coronavirus caseload.

In the past two days Cambodia has registered more than 1,000 infections -- many among garment workers and market vendors -- bringing the country’s tally to 4,081 cases and 26 deaths.

Authorities this week banned travel between provinces, imposed a night-time curfew in the capital Phnom Penh and shut down popular tourism sites including the famed Angkor Wat archaeological park.

Wearing face masks is now mandatory in Phnom Penh and violators face a fine of up to $250.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday threatened harsher measures, saying anyone who flouts a two-week quarantine period would face a "quick trial" and jail time. "People who break Covid measures must be sentenced," he said on state-run TV. "I accept being called a dictator, but I will also be admired for protecting my people’s lives."

Cambodia has already passed a strict Covid-19 prevention bill that could see people who flout virus rules jailed for up to 20 years.

Hun Sen also announced that being vaccinated was "mandatory" for all state officials and the armed forces, warning them they could be fired if they refuse.

The kingdom’s vaccination programme began in February and a million people have since received at least their first of two shots.