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Saturday, January 09, 2021, 18:09
WHO chief: COVAX has secured 2 billion virus vaccine doses
By Agencies
Saturday, January 09, 2021, 18:09 By Agencies

In this June 25, 2020, file photo, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (SALVATORE DI NOLFI / KEYSTONE VIA AP)

LONDON / GENEVA / RIO DE JANEIRO / PARIS / STOCKHOLM / LIMA / OTTAWA / WASHINGTON / BRUSSELS / MEXICO CITY / ROME / MADRID / LISBON / DUBLIN / ATHENS / ZAGREB / KIGALI / HAVANA / COPENHAGEN / TUNISIA / QUITO / SANTIAGO / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / MOSCOW - COVAX, an international initiative for COVID-19 vaccines led by the World Health Organization (WHO), has secured contracts of 2 billion doses of vaccines, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

"We are ready. COVAX is ready. Countries are ready," Tedros declared at a press briefing on Friday, adding that the doses are to be rolled out soon after being delivered.

"At present, 42 countries are rolling out safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 36 of these are high-income countries and six are middle-income. So there's a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet," Tedros said.

Since "vaccine nationalism hurts us all and is self-defeating," Tedros urged countries that have contracted more vaccines than they will need, and are controlling the global supply, to also donate and release them to COVAX immediately. He also urged countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 88.9 million while the global death toll topped 1.91 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

UK

The United Kingdom recorded its highest daily death toll on Friday since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain has the world’s fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 at nearly 80,000, and the 1,325 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test on Friday surpassed the previous daily record from last April.

London’s last “major incident” was the Grenfell Tower fire in a high-rise residential block in 2017, when 72 people died

“Our hospitals are under more pressure than at any other time since the start of the pandemic, and infection rates across the entire country continue to soar at an alarming rate,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

A further 68,053 COVID-19 cases were reported - also a new daily high - meaning almost three million people have now tested positive for the disease in the UK, which has a total population of around 67 million.

ALSO READ: UK clears Moderna’s vaccine to add third COVID-19 shot

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said hospital beds in the capital would run out within the next few weeks because the spread of the virus was “out of control”. Earlier on Friday, Khan declared a "major incident" in London.

London’s last “major incident” was the Grenfell Tower fire in a high-rise residential block in 2017, when 72 people died.

Khan said there were parts of London where 1 in 20 people had the virus. The pressure on the ambulance service, which was now dealing with up to 9,000 emergency calls a day, meant firefighters were being drafted in to drive vehicles, and police officers would follow.

The Office for National Statistics estimated that 1.1 million people in England had the coronavirus in the week to Jan 2, the equivalent of one person in 50.

A billboard reminding people to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is seen at a bus stop in London, Britain, on Jan 8, 2020. (DOMINIC LIPINSKI / PA VIA AP)

WHO

As much as three-quarters of the global population is probably still susceptible to infection by COVID-19, said Mike Ryan, the WHO's health emergency director.

The WHO is starting to organize studies to better track how much of the world population has been infected, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead officer on COVID-19. Previous blood-test studies estimated as many as 10 percent of people may have been infected by COVID-19 in various countries, but those took place about half a year ago.

“We are at the fight of our lives,” Ryan said, adding that the mutation of the virus is speeding up the rate of infection. Reported infections worldwide have exceeded 4 million per week over the past three weeks.

Russia

Russia on Saturday reported 23,309 new coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours, including 4,900 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,379,103.

Authorities said 470 people had died, taking Russia’s official death toll to 61,381.

Brazil

Brazil's COVID-19 tally surpassed 8 million on Friday, a day after reaching the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths.

In its daily pandemic report, the  Ministry of Health said 52,035 new cases were registered in the past 24 hours, raising the tally to 8,013,708 .

The ministry said 962 more fatalities were reported, bringing the death toll to 201,460.

A Brazilian woman became the first person in the world to be re-infected with the South African variant, known as E484K, state-run news agency Agencia Brasil reported.

The case, discovered by researchers from the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in northeast Bahia, involves a 45-year-old woman who tested positive for COVID-19 in May and tested positive again in October with the mutation. In both cases, the patient did not present serious symptoms.

Also on Friday, Vice-President Hamilton Mourao was discharged from hospital on Friday after recovering from COVID-19 and will return to work on Monday, his press office said.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) received the first two applications for the emergency use of China's SInovac vaccine and the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot.

Brazilian pharmaceutical company Uniao Quimica plans to start producing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 in Brazil as soon as next week and make up to 8 million doses a month, its international business director Rogerio Rosso said .

US

The US drugs regulator said on Friday genetic variants of COVID-19, including the one found in the UK, could lead to false negative results from some molecular COVID-19 tests, but the risk of the mutations affecting overall testing accuracy is low.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has alerted lab staff and healthcare providers to the possible false negative results and has asked them to consider such results in combination with clinical observations, and use a different test if COVID-19 is still suspected. 

READ MORE: Moderna CEO says vaccine likely to protect for 'couple of years'

Meanwhile, according to the White House coronavirus task force, there could be a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus that evolved in the United States and is fueling spread of the virus.

The US topped 4,000 daily fatalities for the first time on Thursday, also breaking a record for deaths for the second consecutive day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg

The new strain, in addition to the variant found in Britain, is already spreading in communities and may be 50 percent more transmissible, according to a report obtained by US media that the task force had issued to states on Jan 3.

The task force said that the recent spike in cases has been at nearly twice the rate seen in the spring and summer seasons, according to the report.

"This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50 percent more transmissible," reads the report.

The US topped 4,000 daily fatalities for the first time on Thursday, also breaking a record for deaths for the second consecutive day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Los Angeles County, the nation’s most-populous, set a record for daily deaths with some 318 reported on Friday.

Another 277,475 new cases were reported nationally on Thursday, among the highest numbers for the entire pandemic, as states report of a surge of cases following the holidays. Hospitalizations also hit a record of 132,370, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

President-elect Joe Biden said he’ll distribute more of the available doses of coronavirus vaccines, reversing the Trump administration’s practice of holding back second doses to ensure they’re available for people who’ve already had their first shot.

New York will begin providing coronavirus vaccines to people age 75 and older on Monday, expanding eligibility beyond health-care workers on the front lines.

EU

The European Union (EU) has secured an additional 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, doubling the total available for the bloc’s 27 member states to 600 million.

Of the new orders, 75 million will be available next quarter and the rest will arrive in the second half, according to Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm. The EU has come under pressure from governments due to the slow roll-out of vaccination programs.

The EU could approve the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford by the end of January.

An application for authorization will likely be made next week, the bloc’s drug regulator said in a tweet Friday. 

A few people walk on the main boulevard in Timmendorfer Strand at the Baltic Sea, Germany, Jan 8, 2021. Hotels, restaurants and shops are closed to avoid the outspread of the coronavirus. (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)

Germany

Germany’s death toll from the coronavirus exceeded 1,000 for a fourth-straight day, making the past week the country’s deadliest stint of the pandemic.

Fatalities increased by 1,035 in the 24 hours through Saturday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Total infections rose 19,840 to 1.91 million, in line with figures from recent weeks and portending no relief in sight for the country’s increasingly stretched health system.

The first case of the more transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus has been confirmed in Berlin, city health officials reported. The affected person, who had traveled to the UK, has recovered.

Meanwhile, a total of 476,959 people in Germany have been vaccinated against COVID-19, up by almost 51,000 within one day, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Friday.

Separately, Germany is considering suspending flights from more countries, including Ireland, over concerns of a more transmissible COVID-19 variant, German broadcaster n-tv reported on Friday, citing government sources.

The cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel could discuss rules similar to those that are in place for Britain at a meeting next week, according to the report. 

France

France's health authorities on Friday reported 19,814 new COVID-19 cases, down from Thursday's 21,703, bringing the cumulative caseload to 2,747,135.

In its daily update, Public Health Agency also reported another 281 deaths, taking the total fatalities to 67,431.

The agency warned that "the epidemic is not weakening and the indicators remain at a high level," noting that the number of cases rose by 17 percent last week with an average of 13,820 infections per day.

Another 10 departments in eastern France would be placed under an earlier night-time curfew starting at 6 pm.

Also on Friday, the French National Authority for Health (HAS) approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, the second approved shot following the Pfizer-BioNTech one.

More than 80,000 older people and health workers have been inoculated this week, said Health Minister Olivier Veran in a tweet.

Sweden

Sweden introduced on Friday a maximum limit for private events as COVID-19 infections continued to soar.

Under the new rules, a maximum of eight people will be allowed at private events, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. Indoor venues such as gyms, bathhouses and shops will also have strict capacity limitations.

Lofven said that department stores and malls could be closed if the risk of infections is considered high and existing restrictions deemed insufficient.

The new measures were announced after the Swedish parliament passed a new temporary law that gives the government the power to impose more restrictive measures to combat the pandemic. The law is scheduled to be in force from Jan 10 till the end of September.

According to statistics from the Public Health Agency on Friday, 7,187 new cases and 171 additional deaths were logged in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 489,471 and the toll to 9,433.

Argentina

Argentina's government on Friday announced it has empowered the governors of the country's 24 provinces to restrict movement given the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Argentina reported 13,835 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the highest daily tally in about two months.

The South American country has so far confirmed 1,690,006 cases and 44,122 deaths from the disease as of Thursday.  

Peru

Peru's Ministry of Health on Friday confirmed the country's first case of the new UK variant.

Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti said the case involved a Peruvian woman who lives and works in Lima, and has no travel history.

Officials do not have "much information about how the mutation was acquired," but the patient said she attended a family gathering in the days leading up to Christmas, said Mazzetti.

"The family members who were at the reunion were already identified yesterday (Thursday), and so far we have two more people who tested positive" for COVID-19, she said.

Peru has so far reported  1,026,690 cases of COVID-19 and 38,049 deaths from the disease.

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic situation was "frightening".

"Frankly, it's frightening to see cases rise at home and around the world, day after day," Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa.

As of Friday afternoon, Canada has reported a total of 642,548 new cases of COVID-19 and 16,665 fatalities, according to CTV.

Ontario province reported a record 4,249 new cases and 26 more deaths. Premier Doug Ford said that the province was in the "most serious situation" and warned that the shutdown in the province might not end on Jan 23.

Quebec province, which is to impose a four-week curfew starting on Saturday, reported 2,588 new cases and 45 additional deaths.

Trudeau said his government was committed to vaccinating every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September. He said that the quantities of Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines will be scaled up in February.

UN

United Nations' (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is waiting for his COVID-19 vaccination, his spokesman said on Friday.

The secretary-general and some senior leaders are of a certain age category. They will get the vaccine when it is proper for them to get it, the spokesman said at a daily press briefing.

Mexico

Mexico’s Health Ministry on Friday reported 14,362 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the country and 1,038 more fatalities, bringing its total to 1,507,931 infections and 132,069 deaths.

It was one of the highest numbers for daily new cases.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that the capital would remain at the highest coronavirus alert level for the time being as authorities seek to contain the spread of the pandemic, which has stretched local hospitals.

Mexico City official Eduardo Clark said the current restrictions would be applied for at least another week.

Eighty-nine percent of general hospital beds and 84 percent of hospital beds with ventilators are now filled in the city, while the same is true for 82 percent of general hospital beds and 79 percent of beds with ventilators in the State of Mexico, according to official data.

Healthcare workers say those figures are deceptive, and the grim reality is that finding an available hospital bed for those in desperate need has often seemed like an impossible feat.

Meanwhile, the “active” components of AstraZeneca’s vaccine will arrive in 10 days after Mexico’s regulator approved it for emergency use on Monday, Foreign Relations official Efrain Guadarrama said on Twitter.

Italy

Italy reported 620 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, up from 414 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 17,533 from 18,020.

In total, Italy has registered 77,911 COVID-19 deaths, the second highest toll in Europe and the sixth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.238 million cases to date, the ministry said.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 23,313 on Friday. The current number of intensive care patients remained unchanged at 2,587.

Italy will tighten coronavirus restrictions in Milan and its surrounding area, as well as four other regions, to curb the accelerating spread of the pandemic. 

Bars and restaurants will have to close as part of the toughened rules, which come into force on Jan 10.

Spain

Spain reported its biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases since October on Friday amid a post-holiday surge that has pushed several regions to tighten restrictions.

Spain’s health ministry reported 12,327 new cases on Friday, bringing the cumulative caseload to 2,050,360, while the death toll climbed by 199 to 51,874.

Regional policy minister Carolina Darias insisted that a nationwide lockdown was unnecessary and said regional authorities were on top of the situation.

Madrid, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands were the latest to announce tougher coronavirus restrictions on Friday, following similar moves by Castile and Leon, and Catalonia.

Authorities in the Madrid region extended localized lockdowns to some 40 neighbourhoods. Some 1.2 million people in the worst affected areas will be confined to their home district when the restrictions come into force on Monday, Madrid’s health chief, Antonio Zapatero, said.

The Madrid health department will also begin offering free rapid tests for 18-29 year olds in a push to detect asymptomatic virus carriers.

The southern region of Andalusia ordered bars and restaurants to close by 6 pm, while on the popular tourist island of Mallorca they will be entirely shut down for two weeks.

Portugal

Portugal reported record increases in the number of COVID-19 infections and the death toll on Friday, a day after the prime minister warned the country may need to go into a new lockdown next week if contagion continues to surge.

Data from the DGS health authority showed 10,176 new cases and 118 deaths compared to the previous day, bringing the cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 466,709 and 7,590, respectively.

Ireland

Three cases of a new variant of COVID-19 recently identified in South Africa have been confirmed in Ireland and all are directly associated with recent travel from South Africa, Ireland’s chief medical officer said on Friday.

Health officials urged anyone who has travelled from South Africa recently to self-isolate for 14 days and get a test as soon as possible. Ireland this week reported an increasing presence of the new more infectious UK variant.

Ireland also recorded another record high in daily COVID-19 infections, with 8,248 confirmed cases bringing the incidence rate per 100,000 people over the last 14 days to 1,088. 

Public health chiefs said on Thursday that there were early signs that the spread was being curtailed by the country’s lockdown.

Iceland

Iceland plans to ease COVID-19 measures from Jan 13 with cases having dropped significantly from an October peak.

Changes include doubling the cap on public gatherings to 20, and looser restrictions for gyms, sports and cultural events. 

The health minister announced the moves following a meeting with the country’s top epidemiologist.

A medical staff member of the National Health Organization (EODY) conducts a COVID-19 rapid test on a man at a drive-through testing site at Aspropyrgos suburb, west of Athens, Greece, Jan 8, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)

Greece

Greece will extend the nationwide lockdown by another week to Jan 18 to cope with a new wave of COVID-19 infections, Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias announced on Friday.

Only elementary schools and kindergartens will reopen across Greece. All other students will have classes online.

Retail shops, hairdressers' salons, bookshops and places of worship will remain closed, Hardalias said.

A 9 pm-5 am curfew and restrictions on traveling outside of home prefectures will remain.

Starting from Friday until Jan 21, all incoming passengers will have to undergo a seven-day quarantine, according to  the Civil Aviation Authority.

The new measures came on a day health authorities reported 721 new cases and 49 more deaths, taking the tally to 143,494 and the death toll to 5,195.  

Croatia

Croatia's national civil protection headquarters announced on Friday an extension of anti-pandemic measures until the end of January.

Despite a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said that the measures were necessary due to a high number of hospitalizations, adding that the cold weather could help spread the virus.

There were 2,251 patients hospitalized across the country.

In the last 24 hours, the Croatian Institute of Public Health registered 1,098 new cases. 

Overall, the country has reported more than 217,000 cases and 4,304 deaths.

Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Ministry of Health on Friday reported 345 new COVID-19 cases, taking the national count to 127,572.

The ministry said deaths rose by eight to 1,974, while the total recoveries increased by 161 to 113,182.

Chile

Chile faces a "complex scenario" due to the increase in COVID-19 infections, the Ministry of Health warned on Friday after reporting 4,201 new cases, the highest daily count since June.

In total, Chile has reported a total of 633,381 cases, including 595,799 recoveries.

The death toll climbed by 61 to 16,974.    In the last 24 hours, 61 more people died from causes associated with COVID-19, raising the death toll to 16,974.

According to Minister of Health Enrique Paris, some 10,689 health officials have been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Ecuador

Ecuador registered 763 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the caseload to 219,148 and the death toll to 9,583, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Friday.

According to the ministry, there were another 4,582 deaths likely caused by COVID-19.

A sustained increase in infections in Quito has overwhelmed the intensive care units (ICU) at public hospitals, according to health authorities.

Quito's Health Secretary Ximena Abarca said in an interview with local radio on Friday that the rise "was foreseeable" following the Christmas and New Year festivities.

Tunisia

The Tunisian Health Ministry on Friday night reported 2,649 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 154,903.

The death toll rose by 56 to 5,108. 

Meanwhile, the ministry reported there were 1,615 patients hospitalized, of which 344 were in intensive care.

Earlier in the day, Tunisian President Kais Saied called on authorities to examine the possibility of reimposing a general lockdown in regions with high numbers of COVID-19 infections.

Denmark

Danish authorities on Friday raised the security level in its latest travel guidelines to "red", advising against all travel abroad and imposing stricter entry restrictions.

"From Jan. 8 until Jan. 17, the travel guidelines for the whole world will be sharpened from being 'orange' (all unnecessary travel is not recommended) to 'red.' That is, all travel to the whole world is discouraged," reads a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Denmark's Statens Serum Institut (SSI) reported on Friday 1,660 new COVID-19 infections and a further 30 deaths, bringing the tally to 178,497 and the death toll to 1,517.

Cuba

Cuba received on Friday a batch of ventilators from China as the island nation strives to keep the COVID-19 pandemic in check.

Chinese Ambassador to Cuba Chen Xi handed over 38 ventilators to Marcelino Medina, Cuba's deputy foreign minister, at a ceremony at the headquarters of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Havana.

Romania

Romania has confirmed its first case of the new UK variant. The patient hasn’t traveled abroad, which suggests that the variant is already active in the country, epidemiologist Catalin Apostolescu told B1TV Friday.

Rwanda

The Rwandan Ministry of Health on Friday inaugurated a new COVID-19 treatment center as part of its efforts to curb a surge in cases following festive celebrations.

Many patients in serious condition in Kigali and surrounding areas will be admitted to the new facility, Rwanda Biomedical Center Director-General Sabin Nsanzimana said.

Efforts were underway to set up COVID-19 ICU treatment centers in all provinces of the country, he said.

As of Friday, Rwanda has recorded 9,368 COVID-19 cases with 6,940 recoveries and 115 deaths. 

Morocco

Morocco registered 1,543 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, taking the tally to 450,221, the health ministry said in a statement.

The death toll rose to 7,685 after 40 fatalities were logged in the last 24 hours, the ministry said, adding that 1,092 people were in intensive care units.


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