Covid-19: Germany removes age restriction from AstraZeneca vaccine.

Germany will allow AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to be administered to adults of all ages and aims to offer 12-18 year olds a vaccine by the end of August as it seeks to speed up its rollout, health minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday.

The country’s 16 regional health ministers have agreed with Mr Spahn to reverse a previous decision to restrict the AstraZeneca shot to people over the age of 60. He also said that the 12-week gap between first and second doses of AstraZeneca vaccinations could be shortened.

“Both these measures serve to further accelerate our vaccination campaign overall,” said Mr Spahn. Initial supply shortages and bureaucratic hurdles meant Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, got off to a slow start with its inoculation strategy.

The move, already adopted in several German states, would be on a voluntary basis and family doctors would decide how best to administer the vaccine, Mr Spahn said.

Dozens of countries paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March or restricted them to older adults after reports of very rare, but serious, blood clots. Several of them have now resumed use either fully or with restrictions after health regulators said the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.

Mr Spahn also said Germany aimed to offer 12-18 year olds a vaccine by the end of August, provided European regulators give approval for the BioNTech/Pfizer shot for that age group.

So far, 30.6 per cent of Germany’s population of about 83 million has received a first dose and 8.6 per cent are fully vaccinated, Robert Koch Institute data shows.

Germany is due to ease restrictions this weekend on people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19. They will be exempt from a night-time curfew and will no longer need to provide a negative test to go shopping.

Germany has been hit by a third wave of the pandemic but the number of new cases is easing off. The 7-day incidence fell to 129 per 100,000 on Thursday, Robert Koch Institute data showed.

State of emergency

Meanwhile, Japan’s government is set to extend on Friday a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas by about three weeks until the end of May to curb a surge in novel coronavirus cases just months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

The government had hoped a “short and powerful” state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infection, but new cases in Tokyo and Osaka prefecture are still at high levels, said economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of pandemic measures.

Extending the state of emergency to May 31st from May 11th will leave a margin of fewer than two months before the July 23rd start of the Games, which were postponed by a year due to the pandemic.

“Osaka particularly is in quite a dangerous situation with its medical system,” Mr Nishimura said on Friday at the start of a meeting with a panel of medical and economic experts, noting that variant strains are spreading rapidly.

“We have a strong sense of danger that Tokyo could soon be turning into the same situation as Osaka.”

The panel later approved the extension plan, Mr Nishimura said. Formal government approval is set for later in the day, with prime minister Yoshihide Suga giving a news conference at 7pm (11am Irish time).

All hospital beds for critical patients in Osaka prefecture are occupied, public broadcaster NHK reported on Friday, and Nishimura said the medical situation in neighbouring Hyogo prefecture, where the city of Kobe is located, was also poor.

In Tokyo, there were 907 new cases of novel coronavirus infection on Friday.

Nationwide, Japan has recorded 618,197 cases of infection and about 10,585 deaths from Covid-19, government figures showed. – Reuters

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