LONDON – Two U.K. studies released Monday showed that COVID-19 vaccination programs are contributing to a sharp drop in hospitalizations, boosting hopes that the shots will work as well in the real world as they have in controlled studies.
Preliminary results from a study in Scotland found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced hospital admissions by up to 85% four weeks after the first dose, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot cut admissions by up to 94%. In England, preliminary data from a study of health care workers showed that the Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk of catching COVID-19 by 70% after one dose, a figure that rose to 85% after the second.
The studies were released as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out plans Monday to ease a lockdown that has shuttered pubs, schools and nonessential shops since early January.
Germany reopens some schools
Elementary students in more than half of Germany's 16 states returned to school Monday after more than two months at home, the first major relaxation of the country's pandemic measures since before Christmas.
Kindergartens also reopened their doors for pre-school children, giving much-anticipated relief to stressed parents trying to juggle working from home and child care during the lockdown.
The move was agreed at a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors two weeks ago, and stuck to despite signs that the decline in case numbers seen in the country is flattening out again and even rising in some areas.
French firm, J&J team on vaccine
French drugmaker Sanofi, battling development delays with its own vaccine candidates against COVID-19, is turning over more of its vaccine production facilities to industrial competitors, teaming up with Johnson & Johnson to produce millions of doses of its rival coronavirus vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson is the second rival to have struck a deal with Sanofi to use its facilities, an unusual collaboration for the competitive industry now facing intense pressure from governments to speed up the production of vaccines against the devastating global pandemic.
First vaccinations given in Gaza Strip
The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip began its coronavirus vaccination drive Monday following the arrival of the first vaccines to the blockaded coastal area.
Former health ministers and several medical workers were inoculated with Russia's Sputnik V jabs in front of dozens of cameras. More medical workers and patients with chronic diseases are to start receiving injections on Tuesday.
The area has received just 22,000 doses of vaccines, a tiny fraction of what is needed to immunize the strip's 2 million people, including some 1.4 million people over age 18. The shortage of vaccines in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank stands in stark contrast to Israel, which is on pace to immunize almost all of its adult population in the coming weeks.
Migrants rescued bound for Europe
Spanish authorities say they have found and rescued 41 migrants who tried to reach continental Europe from North Africa last week, some of them hiding inside a container of discarded glass bottles and a bag of toxic ash.
Among people found Friday trying to travel to Europe from the Spanish port of Melilla, an enclave in North Africa, four hid among bottles and other glass partially broken in pieces and with sharp edges that were destined for recycling, the Spanish Civil Guard said Monday.
The port of Melilla, where trucks and containers embark on a trip to Spain that can take up to seven hours, is together with the nearby Ceuta enclave a target for many migrants trying to reach the European mainland.
Protests held amid strike in Myanmar
Protesters gathered in Myanmar's biggest city Monday despite the ruling junta's threat to use lethal force against people who join a general strike against the military's takeover three weeks ago.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered near the U.S. Embassy in Yangon despite barriers blocking the way, but left to avoid a confrontation after 20 military trucks with riot police arrived nearby. Protests continued in other parts of the city, including next to Sule Pagoda, a traditional gathering point. Factories, workplaces and shops were shuttered across the country Monday in response to the call for a nationwide strike. The closings extended to the capital, Naypyitaw.
The junta had warned against a general strike in a public announcement Sunday night on state television broadcaster MRTV. The junta's statement also blamed criminals for past protest violence, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back.” Three protesters have been fatally shot.
Rapper's arrest spurring backlash
The imprisonment of a rap artist for his music and tweets praising terrorist violence and insulting the Spanish monarchy has set off a powder keg of pent-up rage this week in the southern European country.
The arrest of Pablo HasÚl has brought thousands to the streets for different reasons. Under the banner of freedom of expression, many Spaniards strongly object to putting an artist behind bars for his lyrics and social media remarks.
They are clamoring for Spain's left-wing government to fulfill its promise and roll back the Public Security Law passed by the previous conservative administration that was used to prosecute HasÚl and other artists.
HasÚl's imprisonment to serve a nine-month sentence last week has also tapped into a well of frustration among Spain's youths, who have the highest unemployment rate in the European Union.
Four in every 10 eligible workers in Europe younger than 25 years old are without a job.