Russia has asked Slovakia to return 200,000 doses of its Sputnik V vaccine which have sat in storage since they were delivered on 1 March. Former Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic got hold of the doses secretly but then lost his job last week over the controversy. Now Slovakia’s drug regulator says the doses are different to those reviewed positively by the Lancet.
Germany has started talks on buying the Sputnik drug, according to Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. The EU’s medical agency EMA hasn’t yet approved the vaccine and Germany’s health minister says purchase will be conditional on its approval.
For the first time in eight days the number of Covid patients in intensive care in France has fallen, by 24 cases, to 5,705. A big surge of infections was reported on Thursday, but that includes figures from several days. Meanwhile, France has recorded its10 millionth Covid vaccination and a record 437,000 were inoculated yesterday alone. Germany’s case numbers have risen above 25,000 in the past 24 hours.
The Netherlands and Portugal have joined several other countries in limiting the Oxford-AstraZeneca drug to over-60s after the EMA advised of a possible causal link with very rare blood clots. The agency is clear that the benefits outweigh the risks. Meanwhile France’s health minister says anyone under 55 who has already had the first AZ dose will be offered another vaccine for the second.
Iceland is revising a new rule requiring anyone arriving from a high-risk country to stay in a special quarantine hotel for five days or submit a second negative test. The courts have ruled that the mandatory hotel stay is illegal. The health minister says travellers won’t have to pay for the hotel and will be allowed outdoors.
- France has changed its stance on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – now it can be given to people with underlying health conditions in the 65-74 age group. Earlier France had restricted its use, saying there was not enough data from trials in older age groups. France now has 1.1m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but by Saturday just 273,000 people had received that jab, French LCI news reports
- Germany is still not giving the AstraZeneca jab to the over-65s, but such a move is now under discussion. Germany also has large stocks of that vaccine waiting to be used
- German border police are now carrying out spot checks on people entering from the French Moselle region. They must have proof of a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. About 16,000 Moselle residents commute to Germany daily. They face having to get tested three times a week – it takes time and there is a fee in Germany, unlike in France. Germany is worried about the Brazil variant – there have been many cases of it in Moselle
- Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced plans to develop Covid vaccines with Denmark and Israel. The countries’ leaders are to meet in Israel on Thursday. Mr Kurz said the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) was too slow to approve vaccines, and it was vital to be prepared for further mutations of the virus
- Slovakia – an EU member like its neighbour Hungary – is following Hungary’s example by accepting the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Slovakia says it has just received the first batch of what will be two million doses. Yet the EMA has not yet approved Sputnik V.
By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Prague
By Nick McPheat
By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Bratislava
Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova will self-isolate at home until Friday as a precaution after one of her aides came into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid, her spokesman said.
The president has cancelled her engagements, including a meeting on Wednesday with the head of the Czech Senate, Milos Vystrcil and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen.
Slovakia has been praised for its response to the pandemic. It was one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders and introduce mandatory mask-wearing even before the first cases were reported. The EU and NATO member, which has a population of 5.5 million, has so far recorded just 1,589 positive cases. The majority have now recovered. A total of 28 people have died.
Slovakia has eased its lockdown in recent weeks, and is currently allowing in tourists from 19 countries, mostly in central and eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Tourists from the rest of Europe are not permitted to enter.