MADRID — Spain is sending a plane to Nepal to pick up and bring home some 40 Spanish mountaineers, aid workers and others who have been affected by the travel bans imposed amid high coronavirus infection rates there.
Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said Monday that the plane will also take ventilators and other medical supplies to Nepal to treat patients with COVID-19.
The mountaineers had called on authorities to repatriate them, a move met with criticism from those who said a pandemic is not a time to travel abroad to climb Mount Everest or other major peaks in the Himalayas.
Nepal is experiencing a coronavirus surge with record numbers of new infections and deaths. Authorities imposed a lockdown across most of the country last month and have extended it until the end of May.
China has also cancelled attempts to climb Mount Everest from its side of the world’s highest peak because of fears of importing COVID-19 cases from neighboring Nepal.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— A dip in cases is bringing a glimmer of hope in India, but shortage of beds, oxygen show virus crisis isn’t over yet
— Joy in UK as pubs, restaurants and museums reopen but new variant sparks worry
— Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine candidate triggered strong immune responses; production to begin soon
— Eurovision song contest gears up in Rotterdam for 1st time since the pandemic began, hopes virus bubbles will ensure safety
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Pubs and restaurants across much of the U.K. opened for indoor service for the first time since early January on Monday, even as the prime minister urged people to be cautious amid the spread of a more contagious COVID-19 variant.
The latest step in the gradual easing of nationwide restrictions imposed on Jan. 4 also includes the reopening of theaters, sports venues and museums, raising hopes that the economy may soon start to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. The government is also relaxing guidance on close personal contact, such as hugging, and permitting international travel, though only 12 countries and territories are on the list of “safe” destinations.
But the rapid spread of a variant first discovered in India is tempering the optimism amid memories of how another variant swept across the country in December, triggering England’s third national lockdown. Public health officials and the government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing and hygiene guidance, even though they say the situation is different now because almost 70% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
“Please, be cautious about the risks to your loved ones,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter. “Remember that close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease, so you should think about the risks.”
Britain has Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll, at some 128,000 people.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa has started its mass vaccination drive with the goal of inoculating nearly 5 million citizens 60 and over by the end of June.
Shots of the Pfizer vaccine were given to South Africans on Monday to start the campaign.
So far the country has inoculated just over 478,000 of its health care workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and it plans to give the shots to the remainder of its 1.2 million health workers this week.
South Africa has nearly 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, after receiving a delivery of 325,260 doses on Sunday night.
South Africa’s vaccination drive comes as the country is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases and experts warn of a resurgence as the country approaches the colder months of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
LISBON, Portugal — British vacationers have started arriving in Portugal after the U.K. and Portuguese governments eased their COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.
A flight from Manchester, England, arrived early Monday in Faro, the main city in Portugal’s southern Algarve tourist region. More than 5,000 British visitors were expected to arrive in Portugal on 17 flights during the day.
That has brightened the outlook for Portugal’s crucial tourism sector, which relies heavily on the U.K. market and which shut down for most of the past year.
Both Portugal and the United Kingdom have reduced their seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people to between 3 and 4.
The U.K. government has put Portugal and 11 other countries on a so-called Green List of low-risk territories. British people returning home from those areas do no need to go into quarantine.
Portugal from Monday allowed nonessential travel from all but five European countries.
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Vaccinated Saudis will be allowed to leave the kingdom for the first time in more than a year on Monday as the country eases a ban on international travel aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus and its new variants.
For the past 14 months, Saudi citizens have mostly been banned from traveling abroad out of concerns that international travel could fuel the outbreak of the virus within the country of more than 30 million people. The ban, in place since March 2020, has impacted Saudi students who were studying abroad, among others.
In recent months, however, the kingdom has vaccinated close to 11.5 million residents with at least one jab of the COVID-19 vaccine, making them eligible to depart the country Monday under the new guidelines. Authorities will also allow people who have recently recovered from the virus and minors under 18 years of age with travel insurance to travel abroad.
Saudi travelers are required to show their health statuses to airport officials through the government’s health app, Tawakkalna. Travelers returning from abroad will be required to quarantine at home and be tested for the virus.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has announced the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions as its vaccinations accelerate, allowing live concerts, weddings and sporting events to resume for those vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a statement Monday, the city-state in the United Arab Emirates said it was giving the green-light to concerts, weddings, sports matches and other big events, provided that the spectators, attendees and staff are all vaccinated.
The announcement was the first indication that the reopening of Dubai, the region’s major financial hub that depends heavily on tourism, aviation and retail, may be conditioned on vaccination.
Dubai also said indoor events could resume for a maximum of 1,500 people and outdoor events for 2,500. Hotels would be able to operate at full capacity and restaurants and coffee shops to seat 10 per table instead of six.
The UAE has boasts among the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, relying mostly on the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine, but offering other options as well. As of this week, authorities had administered 11.5 million vaccine doses. Daily infections have gradually declined from peaks reached in January, but remain over 1,000 a day.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s government says the start of a proposed quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore has been postponed following a spike in untraceable cases in the Southeast Asian city state.
A news release Monday said the two governments had decided to defer the start of the air travel bubble originally slated for May 26 “in view of the recent COVID-19 epidemic situation in Singapore.”
It said both governments remained committed to the bubble and would continue to closely monitor developments in both places, with an emphasis on the effectiveness of the stepped-up anti-epidemic measures that took effect in Singapore from Sunday and are due to run through June 13.
The announcement came after Singapore restricted gatherings to just two people and limited restaurants to delivery or takeout service only.
The number of new cases has risen to 71 in the past week, from 48 the week before, as infections rise from a cluster tied to Changi Airport. Infections not linked to identified cases have risen to 15 in the last week, more than double the week before.
The health ministry said infections not connected to known cases suggested the virus was spreading and current measures were insufficient to stop it.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan reported 333 domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases Monday, in the island’s largest outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
Local governments ordered the closure of all schools in the capital for two weeks starting Tuesday. The largescale school closure is a first for the island, which has otherwise been a success story, keeping infections and deaths low. It has counted 2,017 confirmed cases and 12 deaths throughout the pandemic.
Of Monday’s new cases, 158 were in Taipei and 148 were found in neighboring New Taipei city, Health minister Chen Shih-chung said at a news briefing Monday afternoon.
NEW DELHI — For the first time in weeks, India’s daily cases dropped below 300,000, continuing a decline as the country battles a ferocious surge of COVID-19.
The health ministry said around 280,000 cases and 4,106 deaths were confirmed in the last 24 hours. Both numbers are almost certainly undercounts.
India’s overall vaccination efforts are also struggling. Ever since the country opened vaccinations to all adults this month, the pace of administering doses has plunged, with many states saying they don’t have enough stock to give out. Over the last month, cases have tripled and deaths have jumped by six times — but vaccinations have dropped by 40%.
The southern state of Karnataka has suspended vaccinations for the 18-44 age group in government-run centers, and a number of states are looking into directly getting shots from overseas to fill a domestic shortage. On Sunday, health officials said around 5 million doses will be sent to the states this week.
India has the second-highest caseload after the U.S. with more than 24 million confirmed infections and over 270,000 fatalities.
BEIJING — China is instituting new controls in a northeastern province where several new cases of COVID-19 are believed to have originated.
China on Monday reported five new cases of local transmission, all in Liaoning province or believed to be linked to its cases.
Checkpoints were set up at toll stations, airports and railway stations in three cities in Liaoning and travelers must have proof of a recent negative virus test, according to state media reports Monday. Mass testing was ordered in part of Yingkou, a port city with shipping connections to more than 40 countries.
China had largely stamped out domestic transmission of the coronavirus through restrictions on the public, contact tracing, mass testing and, increasingly, vaccinations.
China has reported 90,872 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,636 deaths since the virus was detected in Wuhan in late 2019.