A health worker checks the temperature of a woman at the emergency entrance of Steve Biko Academic Hospital, which is battling an ever-increasing number of COVID-19 patients. In Pretoria, South Africa, on Jan 11, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)
NEW YORK / PARIS / LONDON / MOSCOW / CAIRO / MEXICO CITY / ROME / SAO PAULO / TBILISI / LILONGWE / LUSAKA / MADRID / MINSK / MOSCOW / ADDIS ABABA / ROME / BERLIN / ZURICH - The African Union (AU) secured almost 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for the continent, a step toward starting the complex task of inoculating more than 1.2 billion people with limited logistical and financial resources.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the AU chairman, is expected to give more detail on the vaccines later on Wednesday, according to Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, deputy director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). The order would be by far the largest on the continent to date.
The continent has recorded more than 3 million infections, a fraction of the global figure of more than 91 million.
Africa's tally reached 3,107,979 as of Wednesday, the Africa CDC said. The death toll stood at 74,444, it added.
Many African nations are relying on COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to vaccines. However, the AU’s 300 million doses will come from other sources, the Associated Press reported, citing Nicaise Ndembi, senior science adviser for the Africa CDC. Deliveries should be made by the end of March and talks have been taking place with more than 10 manufacturers, he said.
Members of the NYPD line up to receive a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Jan 11. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
US deaths from the virus climbed by a record 4,610 on Tuesday, topping the previous high of 4,102 on Jan 7. There were 223,934 new cases.
The US will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test before allowing visitors to fly into the country from other nations, in an effort to help airlines regain at least some of their most lucrative international travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said it approved the new anti-pandemic measure that will take effect on Jan. 26.
President-elect Joe Biden will seek a deal with Republicans on another round of COVID-19 relief, rather than attempting to ram a package through without their support, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The approach could mean a smaller initial package that features some priorities favored by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
The Trump administration is expected to encourage states to widen access to COVID-19 vaccines as part of an effort to speed up a stumbling immunization campaign.
Health officials on Tuesday will push states to expand the shots’ availability to anyone older than 65, regardless of underlying conditions, and anyone 16 and older with such a condition, according to two US officials who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.
New Jersey will expand vaccinations to people over the age of 65, Governor Phil Murphy said.
A study of Northwestern Medicine shows that the severe complications of COVID-19 compared with other pneumonias might be related to the long course of disease rather than more severe disease.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is facing unexpected delays in the manufacturing of its vaccine and may not be able to supply as many doses it promised the US government by spring, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Schools should be kept open or reopened as soon as possible, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) chief said on Tuesday.
"As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as cases continue to soar around the world, no effort should be spared to keep schools open or prioritize them in reopening plans," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement released on Tuesday.
Many countries have opted to keep schools closed, some for nearly a year.
She said there is overwhelming evidence of the impact that school closures have on children and increasing evidence that schools are not drivers of the pandemic.
"The cost of closing schools -- which at the peak of pandemic lockdowns affected 90 percent of students worldwide and left more than a third of schoolchildren with no access to remote education -- has been devastating," Fore said.
"The number of out-of-school children is about to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not seen in years and have fought so hard to overcome," the executive director said.
The number of COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide has surpassed 90 million, reaching 90,054,813 as of Wednesday, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than 1.94 million deaths had been reported globally, reported to the WHO.
The US remained the worst-hit with the highest tally and toll, followed by India and Brazil.
According to WHO regional offices, the Americas remained the most affected area by COVID-19, with a total of 39,835,210 confirmed cases and 925,289 deaths, followed by Europe with 29,251,917 cases and 634,670 fatalities.
According to a separate tally by Johns Hopkins University, the global tally has exceeded 91 million while the global death toll topped 1.96 million.
Pfizer Inc. and US federal health officials are investigating the death of a health-care worker 16 days after the person received the first dose of the company’s COIVD-19 vaccine.
So far, the evidence doesn’t suggest a connection, Pfizer said in a statement on Tuesday. The Florida-based physician developed a rare disorder called severe thrombocytopenia that decreases the body’s ability to clot blood and stop internal bleeding.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday tougher restrictions brought in last week were starting to have an effect on the spread of COVID-19 in some parts of the country, cautioning that it was still early days.
“What we are now seeing, and it’s very, very important to stress that these are early days, we are now seeing the beginnings of some signs that that is starting to have an effect in many parts of the country, but by no means everywhere and it is early days,” he told parliament.
He also said he did not rule out bringing in even tougher restrictions to try to temper the spread of the coronavirus, which has largely been driven by a new variant.
Johnson also confirmed the government was working to provide coronavirus vaccines around the clock, telling lawmakers: “We will be going 24/7 as soon as we can.”
On the same day, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the country of 5.5 million people, already subject to nationwide lockdown rules, will from Saturday face a series of additional restrictions intended to curb the spread of the virus.
The country’s devolved government, which is responsible for health, is imposing the extra restrictions in areas ranging from click-and-collect shopping to takeaways and the consumption of alcohol outdoors in an effort to limit social interactions, Sturgeon told lawmakers in Edinburgh on Wednesday.
The UK government urgently called on the public to follow lockdown rules as a continuing surge in coronavirus infections pushed the number of patients on ventilators to its highest level since April.
What we are now seeing, and it’s very, very important to stress that these are early days, we are now seeing the beginnings of some signs that that is starting to have an effect in many parts of the country, but by no means everywhere and it is early days.
Boris Johnson, British prime minister
Home Secretary Priti Patel warned police are cracking down on those “putting the health of the nation at risk by not following the rules,” as she raised the prospect of a tougher lockdown in England in the coming weeks.
More coronavirus patients are on mechanical ventilation in the UK than at any point in the pandemic. There are now 3,363 people on ventilation, compared with a previous peak of 3,301 set on April 12 last year, the latest data shows.
Nearly half of staff working in intensive care units (ICU) in England in the COVID-19 pandemic have severe anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, with some reporting feeling they’d be better off dead, according to a study published on Wednesday.
Another 45,533 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 3,164,051, according to official figures released Tuesday.
Another 1,243 people have died within 28 days of a positive test, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain to 83,203, the data showed.
It is the second highest daily total of deaths since the pandemic broke out in the country. The highest daily coronavirus-related death toll was posted with 1,325 on Friday.
AstraZeneca pledged to deliver 2 million doses a week of its coronavirus vaccine for the UK before mid-February as it ramps up production to help fuel the country’s immunization campaign.
Germany’s ruling coalition is moving to restrict arrivals from countries where potentially more dangerous virus mutations have been detected, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“We must do everything we can to stop these mutations being carried into Germany and Europe,” Spahn said in an interview with DLF radio. “That’s why we’ll agree further restrictions on arrivals and compulsory testing measures in cabinet today.”
The new, tighter rules will require people arriving from countries with high caseloads or where the more virulent variant is circulating to take a coronavirus test.
Spahn said Germany will not be able to lift all measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus at the beginning of February, while stressing the need to further reduce contacts to fend off a more virulent strain of the virus.
“One thing is already evident: It will not be possible to loosen all restrictions on Feb. 1,” Spahn told Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday, adding it would take another two or three months for the effects of the vaccination campaign to kick in.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases reported 19,600 new COVID infections on Wednesday. The death toll rose by 1,060 to 42,637.
Top-selling tabloid Bild reported on Tuesday that Chancellor Angela Merkel had told a meeting of lawmakers that the current lockdown could last until the start of April.
The German cabinet is set to meet later on Wednesday to approve stricter controls on people entering the country after a national lockdown was last week tightened and extended to the end of January.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that bringing forward the curfew to 6 pm from 8 pm in certain parts of the country has been effective against the spread of the coronaavirus.
Where the earlier curfew is in place, “the growth dynamic of the virus isn’t as speedy as in other areas,” he told reporters in Paris following a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Official figures showed on Tuesday that some 19,752 people in France have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, sharply higher than Monday's 3,582.
To date, France has registered a total of 2,806,590 cases since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 742 patients in hospitals and nursing homes had succumbed to the disease within a day, bringing the combined death toll to 68,802.
France’s health authorities analyzed thousands of positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday and Friday, finding about 1 percent of confirmed cases were the UK variant, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a hearing in the senate on Tuesday.
Suspect PCR tests were identified using Thermo Fisher’s platform, followed by genetic sequencing. Monitoring will be repeated about every 7-10 days to survey the progress of the variant.
France aims to vaccinate 5 million people by Easter, Veran said. The country will potentially have as many as 77 million doses of various vaccines delivered by the end of June, depending on approvals, the minister said.
The Austrian government may extend the country’s third lockdown, which was supposed to end on Jan. 24, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told Austrian public radio Oe1. Several incidents suggest the super-infectious B117 strain is already spreading through the country, upending the previous plans. The latest lockdown, which entered into force after Christmas, has so far failed to further reduce the rate of new infections in Austria.
Lockdown measures in the Netherlands will be extended by three weeks until Feb. 9, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday evening. The current lockdown, which added the shuttering of non-essential shops to the closure of bars and restaurants, was announced mid-December and had been set to last until at least Jan. 19. “The British corona variant is in the Netherlands, and this worries us greatly”, Rutte said at a press conference in the Hague.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to an official statement.
"The test done this morning by the Ricardo Jorge Institute returned to give a negative result. The President of the Republic is now awaiting instructions from the health authorities," said a note published on the official website of the Portuguese Presidency.
This is the president's third PCR test, known as polymerase chain reaction test, in the last 24 hours.
After taking arguably the world’s softest approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden is tightening the screws.
As of Sunday, the government of Premier Stefan Lofven can fine and shutter businesses that fail to follow restrictions such as caps on visitors, as well as restrict private gatherings, under a new law that runs through September. It’s a departure from relying mainly on recommendations and trusting people to follow them. With the health-care system under increasing duress and deaths surging, some say it was too little too late.
COVID-19 cases exceeded half a million in Sweden, according to official figures released on Tuesday, as the country is struggling to contain the spread of the disease under new restrictive rules.
The Swedish Public Health Agency said Tuesday that 17,395 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported since Friday, bringing the country's total number of cases to 506,866. Meanwhile, there have been 234 new deaths registered since Friday, bringing the total death toll to 9,667 in Sweden.
A healthcare worker and a COVID-19 patient in the ICU ward at the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, on Jan 12, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
Switzerland announced tighter measures on Wednesday to tackle new variants of the COVID-19 virus spreading across the country but fell short of implementing the full lockdown imposed by neighboring countries to tackle the pandemic.
The country also eased rules on allowing pandemic-hit businesses to apply for state financial aid in hardship cases.
Switzerland said it will close shops selling non-essential supplies from Monday. The government extended the closure of restaurants, cultural and sport sites by five weeks to now run until the end of February, confirming measures it proposed last week. Private gatherings will now be limited to five people, instead of 10, the government added.
Swissmedic on Tuesday warned of the danger of buying vaccines online, saying that fake coronavirus vaccines are already being offered on the internet
The federal department of public health reported 3,001 new cases and 58 deaths in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein on Wednesday. Some 490,000 cases have been reported and 7,851 people have died since the pandemic broke out in February 2020.
On Tuesday, Switzerland's health regulator Swissmedic authorized the "immediate" use of Moderna's vaccine in the country. Switzerland, a country of 8.5 million people, has already pre-ordered 7.5 million doses of the vaccine.
Swissmedic on Tuesday warned of the danger of buying vaccines online, saying that fake coronavirus vaccines are already being offered on the internet.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Swissmedic said that as the demand for coronavirus vaccines being on the rise, criminal individuals and organizations are exploiting pesople's fears by offering fake vaccines on the internet.
Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine was approved for use by Swissmedic in December. Taken together, the two vaccines will be available in half a million doses in January, the Swiss government said.
Availability will increase in the next few months, and by the summer "everyone who wishes to go for vaccination should be able to do so," the government said.
It also said that so far it has procured more than 15 million vaccine doses from three manufacturers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered officials on Wednesday to begin mass coronavirus inoculations next week and to open up the vaccination program to all Russians.
Russia, which has the world’s fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases, started large-scale vaccinations last month.
The RDIF sovereign wealth fund has said 1.5 million Russians have already been inoculated with the Sputnik V vaccine.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said authorities would be ready to broaden the program from Monday.
Russia recorded 22,850 more COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, slightly down from 22,934 a day earlier, the country's COVID-19 response center said Wednesday.
The national tally has thus increased to 3,471,053 with 63,370 deaths and 2,854,088 recoveries, the center said.
Moscow, Russia's worst-hit region, reported 4,320 more cases, taking the city's total to 871,535.
More than 94.6 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted across the country.
Ontario declared an emergency on Tuesday after latest modelling put Canada’s most populous province on track to have more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the middle of February, a nearly ten-fold increase from the current count.
Ontario, which is battling a coronavirus surge that has swamped its hospitals and triggered a province-wide lockdown, could also see roughly 1,500 more deaths in its long-term care homes through mid-February under a worst-case scenario, according to modeling from experts advising the government.
New restrictions that take effect on Jan. 14 mandate that residents must stay at home except for essential activity, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people, and non-essential construction work will be restricted.
Brazil registered 1,110 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 204,690, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday.
The country confirmed 64,025 new cases, taking the nationwide count to 8,195,637, it added.
The state of Sao Paulo, the most populous in the country and also the most affected area, reported 1,561,844 cases and 48,662 deaths in total, followed by Rio de Janeiro, with 465,150 cases and 26,976 deaths from the virus.
Brazil has been seeing a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, with a significant increase in cases since December that has pushed the public healthcare system to the brink of collapse in several regions.
In this file photo taken on Nov 19, 2020 students work on computers in a room of the Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, southern France, as the university opened rooms for students in need to take courses online during the French national lockdown. (PHOTO / AFP)
Mexico reported the highest daily increase in Covid-19 deaths as the government struggles to contain the outbreak. Deaths reached 1,314 on Tuesday, the single highest increase apart from Oct. 5, when health authorities adjusted their way of calculating fatalities from the novel coronavirus.
The Latin America nation, which has the fourth-highest death toll from the virus, now counts 135,682 fatalities and 1,556,028 cases. The nation’s capital, Mexico City, has seen a surge in hospitalizations.
Ecuador once again surpassed 1,000 infections of the novel coronavirus in the span of one day, registering 1,061 cases in the last 24 hours and climbing to an accumulated 222,567 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, the Ministry of Public Health (MSP) reported on Tuesday.
In its daily report, the MSP also said there were 10 deaths in the same period, for a total of 9,610 confirmed deaths.
Ecuador is registering a sustained increase in infections since June, when it relaxed its three-month-long quarantine.
The virus is spreading in Ecuador's 24 provinces, including 13 with the highest rate of community transmission, according to the MSP report. The capital Quito, the current epicenter of the country's pandemic, had a total of 71,989 cases as of Tuesday.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his wife Cecilia Morel are to begin "preventive quarantine" after coming into close contact with a person later diagnosed to have COVID-19, the president's press office said on Tuesday.
Both Pinera and the first lady tested negative for COVID-19, according to the statement.
The Chilean Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday 3,238 new cases of the novel coronavirus, for an accumulated 649,135 infections.
In its daily report, the ministry also recorded 20 deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll in the South American country to 17,182.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Health on Tuesday evening reported 376 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, taking the national count to 128,992.
During the same period, one new death was reported, bringing the death toll to 2,004, said the ministry.
With 699 more recoveries registered, the total number of recoveries came to 114,262, said the ministry.
Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation with over 100 million people, has the most COVID-19 cases in the East African region.
Morocco on Tuesday reported 801 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections in the country since March 2 to 453,789.
The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased to 427,351 after 1,345 new ones were added, Moroccan Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The death toll rose to 7,784 with 17 new fatalities added during the last 24 hours, while 1,045 people were treated in the intensive care units.
Algeria on Tuesday reported 272 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total infections in the North Africa country to 102,641, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.
The death toll from the coronavirus in Algeria rose to 2,816 after four new fatalities were recorded.
Meanwhile, 205 more patients recovered from the disease and were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries in Algeria to 69,668.
A total number of 1,350 Namibian healthcare workers have contracted the Coronavirus (COVID-19) while six of them died due to the virus, Minister of Health and Social Services, Kalumbi Shangula said on Wednesday.
Shangula stated that it is very worrisome as more staff are, and will be required to manage COVID-19 patients and clients.
"For the period between Oct. 26 to Nov. 22, 2020, the average COVID-19 positivity ratio in Namibia stood at 4.7 percent. This has increased 5-fold for the period from Dec. 28, 2020 to Jan. 3, 2021, where the positivity ratio rose to 24 percent on average," he said.
Georgia reported 1,618 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing its tally to 243,255, said the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health.
Of the new cases, 750 were confirmed in the capital city of Tbilisi, the center said.
As of Wednesday, 227,611 patients have recovered while 2,846 others have died.
Italy will extend a state of emergency imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus until the end of April as infections currently show no sign of abating, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday.
“In the past week there has been a generalised worsening of the epidemic, we are back to an expansionary phase,” Speranza told the lower house of parliament.
“With indicators worsening... the government sees it appropriate to extend the state of emergency to April 30.”
Italy has registered 79,819 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic first erupted last February, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world.
Italy has reported 2.303 million COVID-19 cases to date.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's cabinet passed a national recovery plan to boost the economy in the post-COVID phase. Overall, the multi-year package was worth 310 billion euros (US$378.3 billion) over the next six years, most of which made of European Union (EU) funds.
Ireland will allow hospital staffers deemed close contacts of coronavirus cases to keep working, as pressure on the nation’s health system increases.
Previously, employees in those circumstances were required to self isolate, but they will now be monitored at work for any symptoms.
The country should brace for “rough” weeks ahead, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said Wednesday, with deaths likely to increase.
The country yesterday saw the most coronavirus fatalities since April, even as cases fell.
Belarus reported 1,972 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking its nationwide tally to 217,696, according to the country's health ministry.
The death toll climbed by nine to 1,544, while the number of recoveries rose by 2,281 to 200,132, the ministry added.
Hungary has registered the first three cases of the new UK variant, Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said at a briefing on Wednesday.
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