Palestinians have received their first delivery of coronavirus vaccines via the United Nations Covax programme supporting poorer areas, an AFP journalist in the occupied West Bank reported.

Earlier, some 60,000 doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines allocated to the Palestinians under the Covax scheme arrived at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, according to an Israeli security source.

The UN's Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, welcomed the delivery.

"Those vaccines being sent to the West Bank and Gaza will be critical tools in our fight against the pandemic and for socioeconomic recovery," his office quoted him as saying.

The vaccines arrive as Palestinian hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, in sharp contrast to neighbouring Israel, which has fully vaccinated nearly 46% of its population with twin doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The Palestinian Authority said that vaccination would begin on Sunday, primarily for those aged over 75, cancer patients and medical personnel.

Israel has provided 5,000 doses to Palestinian medical personnel, and vaccinated 90,000 Palestinians who work inside Israel or in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But while rights groups have urged it to extend its innoculation campaign throughout the territory, as the occupying power, Israel says health responsibilities there fall to the Palestinian Authority.

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The United Arab Emirates has sent around 60,000 doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to Gaza.

The Palestinians are also to receive 100,000 Chinese vaccine doses and nearly two million other portions through the Covax scheme, set up by the World Health Organization and the Alliance for Human Rights.

In Gaza, health authorities have confirmed more than 57,000 infected people, including more than 568 dead, since the start of the pandemic.

In the occupied West Bank, around 156,000 patients have been recorded, including more than 1,745 deaths.

Johnson to get AstraZeneca vaccine 'very soon'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he would get the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine very soon.

He voiced confidence in a vaccine that has been suspended in some other European countries after reports of blood clots.

Several European Union countries have suspended their roll out of the shot, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

However, Britain's regulator has said that there is no evidence of a causal link between reports of thrombo-embolic events and the vaccine.

Asked if European countries had disregarded scientific evidence, Mr Johnson said: "The best thing I can say about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine programme is that I finally got news that I'm going to have my own jab ... very, very shortly."

"It will certainly be Oxford/AstraZeneca that I will be having," Mr Johnson told parliament.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency has said it will issue further advice on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine tomorrow as it continues to evaluate the cases of blood clots in recipients of the jab.

Eleven European states, including Ireland, have suspended the use of the vaccine, as a precaution.

The agency said that while the investigation is ongoing, it remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 outweigh any side effects.

Yesterday evening, the EMA said that it has made further progress in its evaluation of cases of blood clots in recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It said that national agencies are providing extra support to gather "missing and incomplete" information as soon as possible, particularly where it relates to the unusual cases.

While the investigation is ongoing, the EMA said it remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 outweigh the side effects.

Australia urges EU to send one million vaccines for Papua New Guinea amid fresh outbreak

Australia has said it will ask the EU to release one million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to help Papua New Guinea (PNG) battle a dangerous outbreak that authorities fear could spread to other parts of the region.

The request could inflame existing tension between Canberra and Brussels amid claims of vaccine nationalism after the EU recently blocked an Australia-bound shipment of the doses.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccines were contracted to Australia and were now badly needed to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in the Pacific island nation, parts of which are just a short boat ride from Australian territory.

"We've contracted them. We've paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbour, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"They're our family, they're our friends. They're our neighbours. They're our partners ... This is in Australia's interests, and is in our region's interests."

Australia will donate 8,000 locally produced Covid-19 vaccines to PNG as an immediate response to the outbreak, and would make a million doses available as soon as they arrived from Europe, he said.

Earlier this month, the EU, at Italy's request, blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca  vaccine to Australia, citing vaccine shortages in Europe.

It later denied Australia's request to review the blockage, the first such refusal since Brussels established a mechanism to monitor vaccine flows in late January.

PNG has officially recorded over 2,300 cases since the pandemic began, a figure experts say vastly underestimates the true outbreak.

UN sounds alarm on South Asia child deaths due to Covid

The coronavirus pandemic may have indirectly contributed to around 228,000 additional child deaths in 2020, 11,000 maternal fatalities and 3.5 million unwanted pregnancies in South Asia, the UN said in a report.

The study commissioned by UNICEF blamed "drastic cuts in the availability and use of essential public health services" because of the pandemic across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, home to 1.8 billion people.

"The fall-off of these critical services has had a devastating impact on the health and nutrition of the poorest families," said UNICEF regional director George Laryea-Adjei.

"It is absolutely vital that these services are fully restored for children and mothers who are in desperate need of them, and that everything possible is done to ensure that people feel safe to use them," Mr Laryea-Adjei said.

The estimates were based on actual observed changes and modelling exercises using data from before the pandemic in South Asia, where in 2019 alone 1.4 million children under five died, 63% of them newborn babies.

Countries in the region, like elsewhere, imposed stringent lockdown measures to halt the spread of coronavirus. Many restrictions have since been eased although many schools remain shut.

The report said that even where health services were not shut down, the number of people visiting them declined.

In Bangladesh and Nepal, for example, the number of young children being treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) fell by over 80%, while child vaccinations fell sharply in India and Pakistan.

With some 420 million children in South Asia out of school due to the pandemic, the report also warned that nine million children were likely never to return to school, the report added.

This in turn is expected to lead to an increase in child marriages, resulting in an additional 400,000 adolescent pregnancies, as well as an increase in the number of maternal and neonatal deaths, and in rates of child stunting.