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Thousands Protest Against Coronavirus Restrictions in Berlin

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(BERLIN) — Thousands protested Germany’s coronavirus restrictions Saturday in a Berlin demonstration that insisted “the end of the pandemic” has arrived — a declaration that comes just as authorities are voicing increasing concerns about an uptick in new infections.

With few masks in sight, a dense crowd marched through downtown Berlin from the Brandenburg Gate.

Protesters who came from across the country held up homemade signs with slogans like “Corona, false alarm,” “We are being forced to wear a muzzle,” “Natural defense instead of vaccination” and “We are the second wave.”

They chanted, “We’re here and we’re loud, because we are being robbed of our freedom!”

Police used bullhorns to chide participants to adhere to social distancing rules and to wear masks, apparently with little success. They tweeted that they drew up a criminal complaint against the rally’s organizer for failing to enforce hygiene rules, then said shortly afterward that the organizer had ended the march.

Police estimated that about 17,000 people turned out. The demonstrators were kept apart from counterprotesters, some chanting “Nazis out!”

Protests against anti-virus restrictions in Germany have long drawn a variety of attendees, including conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.

Unlike the U.S., Brazil and Britain, Germany’s government has been praised worldwide for its management of the pandemic. The country’s death toll — just over 9,150 people out of more than 210,670 confirmed virus cases as of Saturday – is five times less than Britain’s, which has a smaller population.

The German government has been easing lockdown measures since late April but social distancing rules remain in place, as does a requirement to wear masks on public transit and in shops.

Officials have been warning against complacency as the number of new COVID-19 cases crept up recently. They pleaded with Germans this week to observe the distancing and mask rules and, amid concern about residents bringing home infections from summer trips abroad, introduced free tests for people entering the country.

Germany’s national disease control center registered 955 new cases Friday, a high figure by recent standards.

“Thousands of #covidiots are celebrating themselves in Berlin as ‘the second wave,’ without distancing, without masks,” tweeted Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the Social Democrats, the junior party in Germany’s governing coalition.

“They are not just endangering our health, they are endangering our success against the pandemic and for the revival of the economy, education and society. Irresponsible!”





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New Zealand Reports First New Coronavirus Cases in 102 Days

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(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday that authorities have found four cases of the coronavirus in one Auckland household from an unknown source, the first reported cases of local transmission in the country in 102 days.

Ardern said Auckland, the nation’s largest city, will be moved to Alert Level 3 from midday Wednesday through midnight Friday, meaning that people will be asked to stay at home, while bars and many other businesses will be closed.

“These three days will give us time to assess the situation, gather information, make sure we have widespread contact tracing so we can find out more about how this case arose and make decisions about how to respond to it once we have further information,” Ardern said at a hastily called news conference late Tuesday.

“I know that this information will be very difficult to receive,” Ardern said. “We had all hoped not to find ourselves in this position again. But we had also prepared for it. And as a team, we have also been here before.”

She said that traveling into Auckland will be banned unless people live there and are traveling home.

She said the rest of the country will be raised to Level 2 through Friday, meaning that mass gatherings will be limited to 100 attendees and people would need to socially distance themselves from each other.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the infections were confirmed after a person in their 50s went to their doctor on Monday with symptoms and was swabbed twice, testing positive both times. Six other people in the person’s household were then tested, with three more positive results.

“Importantly, the person has no history of overseas travel,” Bloomfield said, adding that the source of the infections remains unknown.

Until Tuesday, the only known cases of the virus in New Zealand were 22 travelers who had recently returned from abroad and were being held in quarantine at the border.

The country has been praised globally for its virus response.

New Zealand initially got rid of the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in late March when only about 100 people had tested positive for the disease. That stopped its spread.

Life had returned to normal for many people in the South Pacific nation of 5 million, as they attended rugby games at packed stadiums and sat down in bars and restaurants without fear of getting infected. But some had warned that the country had become complacent.

New Zealanders have never routinely worn masks, but authorities have been urging people to buy them just in case.

The outbreak comes less than six weeks before New Zealanders are due to go to the polls in a general election.





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Coronavirus: health secretary Alex Azar expects US vaccine by December

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* Azar plays down significance of Russian vaccine progress * Health secretary predicts ‘tens of millions of doses’ by year’s endThe US health secretary, Alex Azar, said on Tuesday morning that America hopes to have a coronavirus vaccine approved by December and tamped down Russia’s celebrations over unveiling its own vaccine after rapid development.“The point is not to be first,” Azar said. “The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world.”Russia approved a controversial Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use after less than two months of human testing, including a dose administered to one of Vladimir Putin’s daughters.Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the country’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, said the vaccine would be marketed abroad under the brand name Sputnik V with international agreements to produce 500m doses and requests for 1bn from 20 countries.The development was hailed by Putin as evidence of Russia’s scientific prowess, but the truncated testing regime has raised eyebrows elsewhere for skipping so-called phase 3 large-scale safety trials, which usually take months. Instead, phase 3 trials will be conducted in parallel with mass production of the vaccine, including in Brazil.Azar said on Tuesday that: “We need transparent data, it’s got to be phase 3 data that shows that the vaccine is safe and effective and that’s what President Trump is leading with Operation Warp Speed.”The project is the public-private partnership that is coordinating vaccine trials in the US. Azar told ABC’s Good Morning America show that six vaccines were in development and “we believe that we are on track towards having tens of millions of doses by December of FDA [Food and Drug Administration] gold-standard and hundreds of millions as we go into the new year”.The top US public health expert Anthony Fauci, who sits on the White House coronavirus taskforce, has said he is “cautiously optimistic” about trials under way, but the trials would have to have their results before scientists will know if the US has a viable vaccine.Azar was challenged by ABC on reports from analysts looking at the work of Moderna, one of the US companies with a vaccine in phase 3 trials, and concluding that trials will not show results until early 2021.Azar said it depended on the speed with which people could be enrolled for the ongoing trials.Azar spoke to the TV network from Taiwan, where he is on a rare official visit by a US government figure and has praised the country’s handling of coronavirus, which contrasts sharply with the situation in the US where the pandemic is out of control.He met the Taiwanese president on Monday, with the visit threatening to escalate worsening tensions between Washington and Beijing.The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan, the Republic of China, is part of its territory and takes issue with any acknowledgment of Taiwan’s status as a sovereign state.Trump on Tuesday told Fox Sports Radio that he used to have a very good relationship with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, but that changed after the pandemic and that he has not spoken to his Chinese counterpart in a long time.Azar in the TV interview praised Taiwan’s transparency over its public health plans, while saying “China has not been transparent and has not been collaborative”.Meanwhile, Trump will be briefed on US vaccine efforts later on Tuesday and will probably give a public update, the White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News.Reuters contributed reporting



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Russia Registers Coronavirus Vaccine Despite International Skepticism, Putin’s Daughter Inoculated

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(MOSCOW) — Russia on Tuesday became the first country to officially register a coronavirus vaccine and declare it ready for use, despite international skepticism. President Vladimir Putin said that one of his daughters has already been inoculated.

Putin emphasized that the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and has proven efficient, offering a lasting immunity from the coronavirus. However, scientists at home and abroad have been sounding the alarm that the rush to start using the vaccine before Phase 3 trials — which normally last for months and involve thousands of people — could backfire.

Speaking at a government meeting Tuesday, Putin said that the vaccine has undergone proper testing and is safe.

“I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests,” he said. “The most important thing is to ensure full safety of using the vaccine and its efficiency.”

The Russian leader added that one of his two adult daughters has received two shots of the vaccine. “She has taken part in the experiment,” Putin said.

Putin said that his daughter had a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) on the day of the first vaccine injection, and then it dropped to just over 37 degrees (98.6 Fahrenheit) on the following day. After the second shot she again had a slight increase in temperature, but then it was all over.

“She’s feeling well and has high number of antibodies,” Putin added. He didn’t specify which of his two daughters — Maria or Katerina — received the vaccine.

Russian authorities have said that medical workers, teachers and other risk groups will be the first to be inoculated. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that the vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month.

The Health Ministry said in Tuesday’s statement that the vaccine is expected to provide immunity from the coronavirus for up to two years.

Putin emphasized that vaccination will be voluntary,

Russian officials have said that large-scale production of the vaccine will start in September, and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.

When the pandemic struck Russia, Putin ordered state officials to shorten the time of clinical trials for potential coronavirus vaccines.

Becoming the first country in the world to develop a vaccine was a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power. State television stations and other media have praised scientists working on it and presented the work the envy of other nations.

Professor Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya institute that developed the vaccine, raised eyebrows in May when he said that he and other researchers tried the vaccine on themselves.

Human studies started June 17 among 76 volunteers. Half were injected with a vaccine in liquid form and the other half with a vaccine that came as soluble powder. Some in the first half were recruited from the military, which raised concerns that servicemen may have been pressured to participate.

Amid Russia’s rush to become the first to create a vaccine, the U.S., Britain and Canada last month accused Russia of using hackers to steal vaccine research from Western labs.

As the trials were declared completed, questions arose about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Some experts scoffed at Russian authorities’ assurances that the vaccine drug produced the desired immune response and caused no significant side effects, pointing out that such claims need to be backed by published scientific data.

The World Health Organization said all vaccine candidates should go through full stages of testing before being rolled out. Experts have warned that vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways — from a negative impact on health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations.





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