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WHO Grants Emergency Approval to 2 AstraZeneca Vaccines 

FILE - AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at the Wellcome Centre in Ilford, east London, Feb. 5, 2021.
FILE - AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at the Wellcome Centre in Ilford, east London, Feb. 5, 2021.

The World Health Organization announced Monday that it has approved two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a move that will boost global supplies in the coming weeks.

AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea and the Serum Institute of India produce the vaccines, which the WHO says are safe for all persons above 18 years old. It took the global health body less than a month to assess data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs and grant the emergency use approval.

The World Health Organization will now distribute doses through its COVAX Facility to mid- and low-income countries. The approval also allows countries to speed up domestic regulatory approval to import and administer the vaccines.

“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.

Britain implements 'red list'

Also Monday, Britain launched its quarantine program for travelers arriving from 33 “red list” countries determined to be a high risk for COVID-19, as part of its effort to keep variant strains of the coronavirus out of the country.

Under the program, anyone legally entering Britain is required to spend 10 days quarantined in a hotel room. Arrivals from countries not on the red list are required to quarantine at home for 10 days and take two COVID-19 tests.

Also Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would like to stick to his current plan to reopen schools in the country March 8, but said it will depend “on the data.” He noted infection rates were still very high in Britain, as is the death rate.

Johnson said he wants to proceed cautiously with easing COVID-19 restrictions, so that once they are lifted, it will be “irreversible.”

Zimbabwe receives Chinese vaccine

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe state media reported Monday the nation received its first doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, donated from China. The report said Zimbabwe’s government has also purchased an additional 600,000 doses that are expected to arrive in the African nation next month. The amount is still far short of what it will need to inoculate the country’s population of 14 million.

Israel has made great strides in inoculating its population against the coronavirus, but now that progress is being dramatically slowed by what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is “the fake news and the superstitious and sometimes malicious beliefs that are planted in the public and on the internet.”

The Associated Press reports Israel has increased its digital task force to counter the misinformation and the says Israel has also deployed DJs and offered free food to lure residents to vaccination venues.

New variants found in US

Researchers have found at least seven new coronavirus variants in the United States. It is not immediately clear, however, if the U.S. variants are as highly contagious as the British and South African variants.

The average number of confirmed, daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. has recently dropped below 100,000 for the first time in months. However, the U.S. remains the country with the highest number of cases.

There have been more than 108 million coronavirus infections worldwide. The U.S. has more than 27 million, followed by India with 10.9 million and Brazil with 9.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus.

Mental health professionals are warning about a mental health crisis among young people brought on by the pandemic. Mental health experts say young people are experiencing loneliness and despair and some are contemplating suicide with all the upheavals the virus has brought to their young lives.

UN correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.