Britons landed in Portugal on Monday on the first flights since a four-month coronavirus travel ban between the two countries was lifted at midnight.
Twenty-two flights from Britain were due to land in Portugal, with most heading to the southern Algarve region.
Tourism businesses hope the return of Britons, who pumped around 3.2 billion euros ($3.9 billion) into Portugal’s economy in 2019, will provide a much-needed boost to the sector, accounting in normal times for 15% of the country’s GDP. “We were massively affected by the pandemic. It was so sad to see the arrivals gate empty. But today it’s better. It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Maria Joao, 55, whose shop in Lisbon airport sells drinks and snacks. Visitors from Britain must present evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken 72 hours before boarding their flights to Portugal and there is no need to quarantine for Covid-19 when returning home. Portuguese doctor Rute Castelhano, who has been battling the pandemic in Britain, was another of the arriving passengers, exhausted but delighted to see her parents at Lisbon airport after months apart. “I’m so happy to see my family again,” she said. “It’s great to be back home.” Tourists from European countries with fewer than 500 infections per 100,000 people were also allowed in for the first time on Monday. Portugal, which imposed a strict four-month lockdown in order to tackle a Covid-19 surge this year, has reopened restaurants and shops but some capacity limitations remain in place and restaurants must close at 10:30pm.
The UK’s government said the concern about the spread of the Indian variant was not confined to people unwilling or able to take a vaccine but the risk that people who had received a jab would still be vulnerable.
In a worst-case scenario, where the Indian variant is far more transmissible than the existing UK strain, prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “What we would be talking about then is a situation where not just individuals who are vaccine resistant or vaccine hesitant or those who have not sought out their first jab might catch coronavirus but those who have had the first does or those who have had two doses but for whom vaccine efficacy is reduced. “That would then lead to increased hospitalisations and put unsustainable pressure on our NHS. That’s the situation we are attempting to avoid here.”
Malaysia records highest daily Covid-19 death toll
Malaysia has reported 45 new Covid-19 deaths, its highest daily number so far.
The health ministry also recorded 4,446 new coronavirus cases, raising the total number of infections to 474,556 with 1,947 deaths, Reuters reports.
Malaysia has recorded the third highest number of infections in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia and the Philippines
Indonesia set up roadblocks on Monday to screen for Covid-19 among travellers returning from Muslim holidays, as fears rose that mass gatherings and virus variants could trigger a surge of new cases in the world’s fourth most populous nation.
Each year millions of Indonesians fan out across the sprawling archipelago after Ramadan to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and visit extended families, in a tradition known as “mudik”, Reuters reports. To try and avoid mass transmission of the virus, the authorities banned travel between May 6 and 17, during the Eid period, but government data suggests that at least 1.5 million people left their homes ahead of the ban. Police are stopping cars at checkpoints around Jakarta in an attempt to identify and isolate positive cases. They were asking people about their travels, requesting to see test results and instructing some people to undergo tests.
India has found 26 suspected cases of bleeding and clotting among recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine, describing the risk as “minuscule” out of the 164 million doses administered.
This is the first time India has reported any serious reaction to the use of the jab, branded locally as Covishield, Reuters reports.
The country’s adverse events committee reviewed 498 instances of serious and severe side effects following the injection of the shot, the ministry said, 26 of which were potentially “thromboembolic” – meaning the formation of a clot in a blood vessel that might break loose and plug another vessel.
The ministry said the rate of these events in India was about 0.61 per million doses, much lower than Britain’s 4 and Germany’s 10.
“Bleeding and clotting cases following Covid vaccination in India are minuscule and in-line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions,” the ministry said.
The vaccine “continues to have a definite positive benefit risk profile with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths due to Covid-19”, it said.
Netherlands to relax lockdown restrictions
The Netherlands will ease its coronavirus lockdown measures this week as the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations has eased pressure on hospitals, health minister Hugo de Jonge said.
Amusement parks and zoos will be allowed to reopen as of Wednesday, while outdoor service at bars and restaurants will be extended by two hours until 8pm.
De Jonge added that the next steps to ease the lockdown are expected in the coming three weeks, Reuters reports.
In a village in northern India engulfed by Covid-19, the sick lie on cots under a tree, glucose drips hanging from a branch. Cows graze all around, while syringes and empty medicine packets are strewn on the ground.
There is no doctor or health facility in Mewla Gopalgarh in India’s most-populous state of Uttar Pradesh, a 90-minute drive from the national capital Delhi.
There is a government hospital nearby but it has no available beds and the villagers say they cannot afford private clinics.
Instead, village practitioners of alternative medicine have set up an open-air clinic where they distribute glucose and other remedies to patients with symptoms of Covid-19.
Some believe lying under the neem tree, known for its medicinal properties, will raise their oxygen levels. There is no scientific basis for this belief or for some of the other remedies being offered.
“When people become breathless, they have to go under trees to raise their oxygen levels,” said Sanjay Singh, whose 74-year-old father died a few days ago after developing a fever. Singh said his father was not tested and died in two days.
“People are dying and there is nobody to look after us.”
Hong Kong-Singapore ‘travel bubble’ deferred again after case surge
The long-awaited Hong Kong-Singapore “travel bubble” has been deferred again, amid the surge in Covid cases in Singapore, the two governments have said.
This is not the first time the authorities on both sides have decided to suspend the quarantine-free corridor, which was scheduled to be launched on 26 May. In November last year, the plan was suspended due to a resurgence of cases in Hong Kong.
In a statement on Monday, the Singapore government said recent increase in “unlinked community cases” has resulted in the city state not being able to meet the criteria for this initiative.
“Both sides remain strongly committed to launching the Air Travel Bubble (ATB) safely,” said Singapore’s Ministry of Transport. “However, in the light of the recent increase in unlinked community cases, Singapore is unable to meet the criteria to start the Singapore-Hong Kong ATB.”
Meanwhile, the authorities in Hong Kong said on Monday that it will announce further updates on or before 13 June, when Singapore’s current virus-control measures expire.
Singapore has in the last few days seen a resurgence of locally-transmitted Covid cases. On Monday, the government reported 28 new cases. Among them, seven were imported.
Also on Monday, Hong Kong reported one additional case – imported by a 25-year-old woman who arrived from Indonesia, the government said on its website. In the past two weeks, a total of 40 cases have been reported. This included eight local cases, of which one is from an unknown infection source, it said.
Today so far …
- Taiwan has been left it scrambling to get vaccines as its stock of 300,000 doses starts running out with only about 1% of its 23 million people vaccinated. It reported 333 new community transmission cases on Monday, a record daily total for the fourth consecutive day.
- Thailand announced 9,635 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday – the biggest daily increase recorded in the country, by far – following outbreaks in its notoriously overcrowded prisons.
- India reported a further decline in new coronavirus cases, but daily deaths remained above 4,000. Experts said the count was unreliable due to a lack of testing in rural areas where the virus is spreading fast.
- Cyclone Tauktae is moving toward India’s western coast as authorities tried to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and suspended Covid-19 vaccinations in one state.
- Some Covid restrictions have been relaxed in England, Wales and Scotland today. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon posted a message urging people in the nation to “continue to be cautious and very careful”.
- UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has urged people not to drink alcohol too heavily on the first day of being permitted to eat and drink inside pubs again in England.
- Gatwick airport chief executive Stewart Wingate has said welcoming holidaymakers for the first time in months is a “big relief” and that he expects the numbers of travellers to increase tenfold by the end of May – but this will still be less than 15% of the traffic seen in pre-pandemic times.
- Dubai has eased some Covid-19 restrictions, allowing hotels to operate at full capacity and permitting concerts and sports events where all attendees and participants have been vaccinated.
- Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on citizens travelling out of the Gulf state without prior permission from authorities.
- France is reopening outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants from Wednesday 19 May, as well as reopening all shops and pushing back the nightly curfew to 9pm.
- GlaxoSmithKline and French partner Sanofi said interim results from a phase 2 trial on their vaccine showed a “strong neutralising antibody response” in all adult age groups, and raised no safety concerns, clearing the way to move to phase 3.
- Ireland is considering allowing the use of vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson for those aged between 40 and 49 in addition to the over-50s.
- South Africa has launched a large-scale Covid immunisation campaign, targeting about 5 million people aged over 60 by the end of June. The government, which has been widely criticised for the sluggish immunisation campaign, says it has ordered enough doses to vaccinate at least 45 million of the estimated 59 million population.
- Virgin Airlines in Australia is standing by its chief executive’s comment that Australia’s borders should reopen sooner than the middle of next year even though “some people may die”. Prime minister Scott Morrison rebuffed calls for a swifter reopening of the borders, saying Australians understand the government taking a “cautious approach”.
- More than 80% of Japanese people oppose hosting the Olympics this year, a poll showed, with just under 10 weeks until the Tokyo Games.
That’s it from me, Martin Belam. I’ll see you tomorrow. Andrew Sparrow has the UK Covid live blog, and Nadeem Badshah will be here shortly to continue bringing you the latest global coronavirus news.
GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi report strong results in trials of Covid vaccine
GlaxoSmithKline is in the running to bring a new Covid-19 vaccine on to the market by the year end, thanks to positive results from early trials that will allow the formula to enter into late-stage studies within weeks.
The news will offer some relief for GSK as it plays catchup with rivals, and to its chief executive, Emma Walmsley, who has come under pressure since activist investor Elliott Management took a sizeable stake in the company in April.
The vaccine, created with its French partner, Sanofi, was originally expected to gain regulatory approval in the first half of 2021, but was delayed in December after it failed to produce a strong immune response in older people.
GSK said on Monday interim results from a phase 2 trial showed a “strong neutralising antibody response” in all adult age groups, and raised no safety concerns, clearing the way to move to phase 3.
“We believe that this vaccine candidate can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against Covid-19 and will move to phase 3 as soon as possible to meet our goal of making it available before the end of the year,” Roger Connor, the president of GSK’s vaccines arm, said.
The vaccine uses similar technology deployed in Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccine, and will be used alongside a so-called adjuvant created by GSK, which will act as a booster to the jab.
The phase 3 trial is expected to start in the coming weeks and involve 35,000 adults from a wide range of countries. It will also assess the efficacy of two vaccine formulas against variants that first emerged in Wuhan (D614) and South Africa (B.1.351). The pharmaceuticals firm said it hoped to gain regulatory approval for the vaccine in the fourth quarter of the year.
Read more of Kalyeena Makortoff’s report here: GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi report strong results in trials of Covid vaccine