March 3 coronavirus news

By Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder, Hannah Strange and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 4, 2021
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8:21 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Fake Covid-19 vaccine network dismantled in South Africa and China, Interpol says

From CNN's James Frater in London and Niamh Kennedy in Dublin, Ireland

South African authorities seized fake COVID-19 vaccines after INTERPOL issued a global alert.
South African authorities seized fake COVID-19 vaccines after INTERPOL issued a global alert. INTERPOL

A global fake Covid-19 distribution network has been dismantled in South Africa and China and “hundreds of illicit vaccines seized with arrests made across two continents,” says Interpol, which represents 194 international police forces.

In a statement published Wednesday, Interpol said that in South Africa, “some 400 ampoules -- equivalent to around 2,400 doses -- containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng."

 “Officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national,” the statement added.

Doses of the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, South Africa.
Doses of the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, South Africa. INTERPOL

In China, “police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene," the agency said.

"Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security remarked that "the Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security" and will continue to "further strengthen the constructive cooperation with Interpol" to crack down on illegal vaccine crimes, according to the Interpol statement. 

Interpol said it was also dealing with “additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.”

The agency has warned the public “that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online. Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.”

Anyone who purchases these fake vaccines is “putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organized criminals,” the statement concluded.

7:25 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Israel partially re-opens borders for citizens

From CNN's Hadas Gold and Amir Tal in Jerusalem

A cleaner works in a deserted Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 1, ahead of the partial re-opening of borders.
A cleaner works in a deserted Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 1, ahead of the partial re-opening of borders. Jack Guez//AFP/Getty Images

Israel will partially re-open its skies for citizens to leave and enter after an unprecedented closure which has lasted nearly six weeks.This will allow a greater number of Israelis to return to the country in time to vote in the general election on March 23. 

Transport Minister Miri Regev announced that starting Sunday, March 7, up to 1,000 passengers will be allowed to enter Israel’s main Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv each day. One week later the number will increase to 3,000 passengers allowed to enter per day from all entry points.

All passengers will still be required to undergo tests before and after arriving. Those who cannot prove they have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be required to either enter home quarantine wearing a new electronic tracking bracelet, or stay in state-run quarantine hotels. 

Vaccinated Israelis will be allowed to leave the country to certain specific destinations, while unvaccinated Israelis will still have to apply for special permission to leave. Foreign nationals still need to apply for special permission to enter or leave the country. 

Thousands of Israelis said they were stranded abroad or stuck in Israel after the government imposed a near total ban on entries and exits.

An exceptions committee, which was convened to hand out limited special permissions to enter or exit the country, has come under harsh scrutiny and accusations of mismanagement.

The government has also faced lawsuits, which claim the border closures would impede on Israeli citizens’ right to vote.

7:18 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Rwanda receives first batch of vaccines through the COVAX initiative, health ministry says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa, Italy

Staff transport a load of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines into a refrigerated vehicle during the arrival of the first batch of doses at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3.
Staff transport a load of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines into a refrigerated vehicle during the arrival of the first batch of doses at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3. AFP/Getty Images

Rwanda has received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative, the country's Health Ministry tweeted Wednesday.

"The first batch of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in Kigali on Wednesday morning. A second shipment of 102,960 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, also from the COVAX facility, is expected to arrive on Wednesday afternoon," the ministry said in a statement.

Administration of the doses will begin on Friday, it added.

Both vaccines will be used to vaccinate a total of 171,480 people identified as priority risk groups, including health personnel, those aged over-65 year olds or with underlying health conditions, and other frontline workers, the statement said.

Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said the government's target is to vaccinate 30% of the population by the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022.

Kenya and Nigeria received Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday as part of the global COVAX program. 

The vaccine scheme's mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can't compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.

6:41 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Biden urges patience on Covid as Republican governors go rogue on US state reopenings

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

US President Joe Biden is barreling into his first science-vs.-politics showdown with powerful Southern Republican governors, one that could define the outcome of the race to vaccinate enough Americans before variants take hold.

Biden on Tuesday warned the country to dig in for a while longer as he flexed sweeping wartime powers under the Defense Production Act in another big leap forward in the inoculation drive, announcing there would be enough doses for all US adults by the end of May. He unveiled a pioneering plan for pharmaceutical giant Merck to make a vaccine developed by its rival Johnson & Johnson.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now to ensure victory is inevitable; we can't assume that. We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and look out for one another," the President said.

But the governors of Texas and Mississippi defied federal government warnings to not relax restrictions and open their economies too fast, going it alone as new infections plateau at high levels and fears grow over a huge spike in the coming weeks. On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had warned that with variants spreading, "we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."

Read more:

8:02 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Pope's visit to Iraq must go on as "act of love" despite Covid concerns, Vatican says

From CNN’s Delia Gallagher in Rome and Ben Wedeman in Baghdad, Iraq 

An Iraqi civil defence worker sprays disinfectant in front of a mural depicting Pope Francis at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 2.
An Iraqi civil defence worker sprays disinfectant in front of a mural depicting Pope Francis at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 2. Ameer Al Mohammedaw/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

Ahead of Pope Francis’ historic trip to Iraq Friday, the Vatican says the visit will go ahead despite rising Covid-19 infections there.

“All the precautions have been taken from a health point of view,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. 

“The best way to interpret the journey is as an act of love; it’s a gesture of love from the Pope to the people of this land who need to receive it,” he said.

When questioned by journalists about the potential risks to Iraqis of a spread of coronavirus, Bruni said that the Pope “will not encounter crowds.”

“He will travel in a closed car and it will be difficult to see him from the street. But even to see him on TV will be worth it,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Pope urged Catholics to pray for a successful trip. “I ask you to accompany with prayer this apostolic trip, so that it might take place in the best of ways and bring home the desired results.
"The Iraqi people are waiting for us. They had waited for Pope John II, who was prohibited from going. We cannot disappoint a country (a people) for the second time. Let’s pray so that this trip can be done well.” 

Pope Francis and his entourage have all been vaccinated against Covid-19, the Vatican said -- despite the announcement by its embassy in Iraq on Sunday that its ambassador, Mitra Leskovar, has tested positive for Covid-19.

The Pope will be staying at the Vatican embassy throughout his trip, the Vatican said on Tuesday. Ambassador Leskovar has been transferred to another residence.

The Pope will visit Najaf, a site sacred to Shia Muslims, where Mohammed’s son-in-law, Imam Ali, is buried. 

Najaf is home to one of the most important teaching centers in the Islamic world, and there Pope Francis will meet privately with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential Shia Muslim leaders.

“The significance of the meeting goes beyond just the meeting itself,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said on Tuesday.

Pope Francis has made dialogue with Muslims a cornerstone of his papacy. In 2019, he famously signed a joint document with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the head of the top Sunni Muslim authority and university of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi, encouraging peace among people of different faiths.
“The Pope goes to Iraq looking for his brothers and comes as a brother,” Bruni said.

In Qaraqosh, Francis will meet Christians at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was almost wholly destroyed by ISIS 2016-17; the church’s courtyard was used during the ISIS occupation as a firing range. 

The declining Christian population in Iraq is one of the major reasons for the Pope’s trip, according to the Vatican.

“I am a pastor of people who are suffering,” the Pope said in an interview last month with Catholic News Service, discussing his upcoming trip.

In Ur, Francis will also meet with some representatives of Iraq’s minority Yazidi community, which suffered killings and enslavement by ISIS in 2014.

6:16 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

How the UK failed to impose an effective quarantine system

From CNN's Tara John

A week after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a triumphant road map for the country's exit from lockdown, off the back of its successful Covid-19 vaccination drive, major flaws have been exposed in the UK's efforts to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants in the country.

The government issued a public appeal on Sunday to trace someone who has been infected with a coronavirus variant first identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus. The unidentified person failed to properly fill out a test registration card, meaning British authorities had no idea who, or where, they are.

They are one of six people infected with the variant, known as P1, which studies suggest has mutations that make it more transmissible and able to evade immunity from previous coronavirus infection and possibly vaccines.

Read more:

5:23 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Losing our sense of control during the pandemic

From CNN's Allison Hope

Covid-19 and the seemingly unending sense of uncertainty that came with it have stripped us of much of the control we had pre-pandemic. With that loss comes grief. This has resulted in a spectrum of challenges, including feelings of despair, anxiety and depression, and general helplessness, which can hinder productivity and our ability to connect with others.

"Dealing with Covid was not in our daily repertoire of stressors," said Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who has focused in her career on people with control issues.

"There is no handbook for coping with Covid. There are no role models or well-documented research that points to how to effectively cope with a global pandemic. Covid requires a new set of coping skills that many people have never had to exercise."

Focusing on what you can control, she said, might be one step toward mitigating that helpless feeling.

Read more:

6:29 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

German Chancellor and state premiers to discuss extending Covid-19 lockdown

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a weekly cabinet meeting on March 3, in Berlin, Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a weekly cabinet meeting on March 3, in Berlin, Germany. Omer Messinger/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet with 16 state premiers on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next steps in combating the coronavirus crisis.

Under discussion will be whether to extend the current lockdown till March 28, as well as the possibility of loosening regional restrictions in areas where the incidence of Covid-19 infections allow it, according to CNN’s affiliate n-tv. 

The German Government has to “regionalize more, to enable more freedoms,” Merkel was quoted as saying by n-tv online.

Merkel will meet the state premiers via video conference at 2 p.m., and a press conference will follow later in the day.

According to the latest numbers from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German agency for disease control and prevention, another 9,019 related coronavirus infections were recorded in the past 24 hours, which brings the total number of cases to 2,460,030.

The Covid-19 death toll stands at 70,881, including 418 in the last 24 hours.

So far, 6,394,364 vaccinations have been administered in the country, a combination of first and second doses, according to the RKI.

5:04 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Explosion reported near Covid-19 test center in the Netherlands

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Police officers stand in a street after an explosion occurred near a Covid-19 test center in Bovenkarspel, the Netherlands, on March 3.
Police officers stand in a street after an explosion occurred near a Covid-19 test center in Bovenkarspel, the Netherlands, on March 3. Koen van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

An explosion has been reported near a Covid-19 testing center in the Netherlands, police officers said Wednesday. No injuries resulted from the incident, which took place in the northwestern province of North Holland.

The blast comes in the wake of several anti-lockdown demonstrations in the country.

“On the street of the Municipal Health Service’s Covid-19 test center in Bovenkarspel, an explosion went off at 6:55am this morning," police said in a tweet Wednesday.
"Windows destroyed, no injuries. Police are investigating. Area is cordoned off.”

The police force later said the blast appeared to have been caused by a metal cylinder the size of a paint can.

“An improvised explosive device went off, a metal cylinder of about 10cm high and diameter, I think in the form of a paint can.” a police spokesperson said in a statement.
“Damage [is] limited to five windows, façade does not appear to be damaged.”

Last month, police in the Netherlands arrested two people after they allegedly caused a fire near a different Covid-19 test center in the town of Urk on January 23.

The Netherlands is slowly easing its Covid-19 lockdown but a controversial night curfew remains in place until at least March 15.

January saw several nights of riots over the restrictions. CNN affiliate RTL Netherlands described the unrest as the country's worst in 40 years.