EU to rule on J&J shot safety as raging virus wave grips India

The Hague, Netherlands: Europe's drug regulator was expected to rule Tuesday on the safety of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine after fears it could be linked to extremely rare blood clots, while India said it will make shots available to all adults as it battles a terrifying wave of infections.

The United States is also expected to announce its decision on the single-shot J&J vaccine by Friday, as nations around the world try to accelerate their rollouts and revive their pandemic-ravaged economies.

The European Medicines Agency was due to hold a press conference from Amsterdam on Tuesday, after reviewing four cases -- one fatal -- of rare blood clots reported among people who got the J&J shot.

But the number of reported clots was "extremely small" compared with the 4.5 million J&J shots administered worldwide, the EMA has said.

That comparison echoes the comments by top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci, who described the clots as "an extraordinarily rare event".

Fauci said Sunday he believed the US would resume use of the jab, possibly with some restrictions or warnings.

The J&J vaccine concerns follow similar reports of blood clots in a very small number of people who received the AstraZeneca shot.

The EMA described those clots as a "very rare" side effect, stressing that the AstraZeneca jab's benefits outweigh the risks.

The leaders of Europe are keen to accelerate vaccinations and expand availability after facing intense criticism over a sluggish rollout and with the public desperate for a return to some degree of normality.

That desire was on display in EU member Slovakia on Monday, where shops, museums, libraries and swimming pools reopened after a lengthy lockdown, bringing big crowds onto the streets.

Hairdressers were in particularly high demand.

"We have been very busy since the morning, but I am very happy that we can cut hair again," said Martin, a Bratislava barber.

Crisis in India

India, home to 1.3 billion people, is battling a worrying surge, with record daily case numbers overwhelming already stretched hospitals and medical supplies.

Its capital New Delhi was locked down Monday for a week, and the government said all adults would be eligible for a vaccine from May as it tries to get a grip on the spike.

The Delhi lockdown follows the strict restrictions already imposed in other Indian states.

The US Centers for Disease Control on Monday advised against all travel to India because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The brutal wave has dramatically increased the workload for crematoriums and gravediggers, with social media and newspapers flooded with horrifying images of row upon row of burning pyres.

The chimney of one electric furnace in the western city of Ahmedabad cracked and collapsed after being in constant use for up to 20 hours a day for the past two weeks.

And the iron frames inside another in Surat melted because there was no time to let the furnaces cool.

At a cemetery in New Delhi, gravedigger Shamim told AFP: "At this rate, I will run out of space in three or four days."

Concerns about a spike were growing in Japan too, where its third-most populated region Osaka on Tuesday will ask the central government to impose a state of emergency.

Tokyo and several other areas are expected to follow suit, hoping to avoid the crisis in Osaka, where hospital beds for coronavirus patients in severe condition have run out.

Vaccine inequality

There are concerns that vaccine inequality between wealthy and poor nations will further complicate and prolong the pandemic.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg became the latest high-profile figure to criticize the lopsided distribution, describing vaccine inequity as a "tragedy".

Mass vaccinations are considered key for resuming regular life and economic activity, especially travel.

But the World Health Organization's emergency committee said it was against international passengers being required to have proof of vaccination -- a proposal being mulled by numerous countries.

The committee said such requirements would "deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement" because of the uneven global vaccine rollout.

But the threat of the virus being spread by international travelers was brought into sharp focus in Hong Kong, where at least 49 passengers on a single flight from India tested positive.

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