LONDON / RABAT / BERLIN / ALGIERS / ADDIS ABABA / ROME / ZURICH / NEW YORK / PARIS / MOSCOW / VATICAN CITY / MINSK / SOFIA - Denmark leads the way in COVID-19 inoculations in the European Union, having already given 2 percent of its population the shot.
Health authorities expect all priority groups - healthcare workers and the elderly - to be vaccinated by April, and to offer shots to the rest of the population soon thereafter.
“We have achieved a very fast and efficient rollout of the vaccinations,” the head of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement. He pointed out that vaccines were administered in all of the country’s elderly care centers within a couple of weeks of the initial rollout.
While it’s still early days for the biggest vaccination campaign in history, here are four reasons Denmark is well positioned to succeed in its efforts: institutional trust, digital savviness, clear communication between the government and the population, and efficient bureaucracy.
Despite an encouraging fall in daily positive cases of COVID-19, concerns over the highly contagious B117 mutation of the coronavirus are the catalyst behind the decision to extend all current restrictions in Denmark, Minister for Health and Senior Citizens Magnus Heunicke said at a press conference on Wednesday.
"The spread of the B117 variant in Denmark means that one can expect more admissions to hospitals, even if the infection rates fall locally. It is therefore necessary to extend the current restrictions by three weeks," said Heunicke.
A total of 208 cases of the B117 mutation have so far been found in Denmark, he said.
The worldwide death toll is approaching 2 million people since the pandemic began, with 92 million people infected.
The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic may be tougher than the first given how the new coronavirus is spreading, especially in the northern hemisphere as more infectious variants circulate, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
“We are going into a second year of this, it could even be tougher given the transmission dynamics and some of the issues that we are seeing,” Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies official, said during an event on social media.
Both Pope Francis and former Pope Benedict XVI have received the first dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus, the Vatican said on Thursday.
The 84-year-old pope and the 93-year-old former pope, got their jabs as part of a Vatican vaccination program that began on Wednesday.
There have been fewer than 30 cases of coronavirus in the Vatican City, most of them among the Swiss Guard, who live in a communal barracks.
Pope Francis said at the weekend that everyone should get a jab. “It is an ethical choice because you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others,” he told Italy’s Canale 5 TV station.
Digital records of vaccination
Tech giants including Microsoft Corp, Oracle Corp and healthcare companies Cigna Corp and Mayo Clinic are part of a coalition pushing for digital records of people who get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The project, called Vaccination Credential Initiative, aims to help people get encrypted digital copies of their immunization records stored in a digital wallet of their choice, the companies said in a statement on Thursday.
Individuals without smartphones would receive paper printed with QR codes containing the credentials, they said.
In the United States, where vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been authorized for emergency use, vaccinated individuals receive a vaccination card or printout.
The current system does not readily support convenient access, control and sharing of verifiable vaccination records, the companies said.
A mother guides her child to his school in a flooded water area caused by the overflow of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya, on Jan 4, 2021 during the official re-opening day of public schools in Kenya. (PHOTO / AFP)
Kenyan medical researchers say a unique COVID-19 variant discovered in the country doesn’t have sufficient mutations to be assigned a lineage.
The variant has “one change that is suspected to be of significance,” Kenya Medical Research Institute Principal Researcher Dr. Charles Agoti said by phone. Variants in South Africa and the UK had eight and nine changes respectively, he said. “We are resisting calling this a new variant because it doesn’t have many changes.”
The variant was observed in sequencing rounds carried out between March and June and another that ended in October. It showed the unique change in an important protein spike in the second study, he said.
The change is unlikely to have an impact on the effectiveness of existing vaccines, and the Kemri scientists are still studying whether the variant is more transmissible, he said.
“Sequencing around Kenya is still very low, only eight of 47 counties have data, thus we don’t know how widespread it is,” Agoti said.
Researchers discovered 10 variants in the first round and 20 in the subsequent one, 16 of which were being seen in Kenya for the first time, he said.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson’s experimental one-shot COVID-19 vaccine generated a long-lasting immune response in an early safety study, providing a glimpse at how it will perform in the real world as the company inches closer to approaching US regulators for clearance.
More than 90 percent of participants made immune proteins, called neutralizing antibodies, within 29 days after receiving the shot, according to the report, and participants formed the antibodies within 57 days. The immune response lasted for the full 71 days of the trial.
J&J’s progress is being closely watched because its vaccine has the potential to become the first that can protect people after just one shot, making mass-vaccination campaigns much easier.
A drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Santa Rosa, California on Jan 13. (PHOTO / BLOOMBEG)
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 23 million on Wednesday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
US COVID-19 case count rose to 23,029,450, with a total of 383,939 deaths, as of 5:22 pm local time (2222 GMT), according to the CSSE tally.
More than 10 million Americans have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the year-old pandemic roared on unchecked.
The United States reached 10.2 million inoculations one day after the CDC and Trump administration gave new guidance to US states on who should receive the shots first. Strict rules putting healthcare workers first in line had slowed the rollout. Now states are urged to vaccinate anyone over 65 as well.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday said the administration was releasing its full stockpile of two vaccines approved for emergency use, including some that had been held in reserve to make sure that second doses could be given on schedule.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is weighing new measures that could allow expanded travel after unveiling testing requirements for people flying into the US.
President-elect Joe Biden will unveil a stimulus package proposal on Thursday designed to jump-start the economy during the pandemic with an economic lifeline that could exceed US$1.5 trillion and help minority communities.
Meanwhile, US Representative Andriano Espaillat said Thursday he had tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the fourth member of Congress to announce they had contracted the coronavirus following a mob attack on the US Capitol last week.
The UK is preparing travel restrictions to stop the spread of a new coronavirus variant from Brazil.
Britain on Wednesday altered its rules to allow coronavirus patients who have completed 14 days isolation without showing symptoms of COVID-19 to move directly into care homes from hospitals without being re-tested for the disease.
Such individuals were not considered to pose an infection risk, according to guidelines here issued by the government to care homes across the country.
A pre-departure COVID-19 test rule for passengers entering England will come into effect from Monday instead of this week, Transport Minister Grant Shapps said in a tweet late on Wednesday.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has confirmed that the British capital's total number of coronavirus deaths has topped 10,000
People who have had COVID-19 are highly likely to have immunity to it for at least five months but there is evidence that those with antibodies may still be able to carry and spread the virus, a UK study of healthcare workers has found.
Preliminary findings by scientists at Public Health England (PHE) showed that reinfections in people who have COVID-19 antibodies from a past infection are rare - with only 44 cases found among 6,614 previously infected people in the study.
Another 1,564 have died within 28 days of a positive test, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began in the country, according to official figures released Wednesday.
The total number of the coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 84,767, the data showed.
Another 47,525 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 3,211,576, the figures showed.
London had the most reported deaths at 202. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has confirmed that the British capital's total number of coronavirus deaths has topped 10,000.
Meanwhile, the UK has administered three million vaccines so far, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a tweet.
A further 1.21 million people received a vaccination for COVID-19 in England, according to the latest weekly NHS England data. A total of 2.37 million doses have been administered so far, including 237,524 in London, which is one tenth of all vaccine shots administered in England.
Italy has extended its state of emergency imposed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic until April 30, the government said in a statement Thursday.
The move came one day after Italy's COVID-19 death toll exceeded the 80,000 mark. The country first declared a national state of emergency due to the pandemic on Jan 31, 2020.
The measures adopted by the government also include a ban on movement between regions for at least another month, and the establishment of a national platform to coordinate vaccine distribution.
The latest data from the health ministry showed that Italy reported 15,774 new infections and 507 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the country's current active infections to 564,774 and the death toll to 80,326.
Germany will have the coronavirus pandemic under control by the end of the year, but a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus risks exacerbating the situation, the public health chief said on Thursday.
Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with a strain of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the strain from South Africa, said Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch health institute
Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with a strain of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the strain from South Africa, Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch health institute, said at a news conference. All cases so far were people who had traveled abroad, he said.
These will not be the last variations to be seen, he said, also referring to a new coronavirus variant found in Brazil. He urged people to refrain from traveling.
Wieler urged people who were offered a COVID-19 vaccination to accept it to relieve the strain on hospitals and said people should stick to social distancing and hygiene rules.
Hospitals in 10 out of Germany’s 16 states are facing bottlenecks as 85 percent of the beds in its intensive care units were used by coronavirus patients, he added.
On Thursday, the RKI reported 25,164 new cases and 1,244 deaths, bringing the tally to 1,978,590 and the toll to 43,881. It was the highest daily toll reported since the start of the pandemic.
The tougher rules apply when entering Germany from areas that have particularly high incidence rates of COVID-19 or where more infectious mutations of the virus are widely spread, according to the new regulation.
Virus mutations were an additional health risk and a spread in Germany must be prevented "as much as possible", said German Health Minister Jens Spahn in a statement on Wednesday.
Spain's Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Wednesday that the country is currently vaccinating around 67,000 people a day against coronavirus.
He made the remarks at a video conference with his counterparts from other European Union (EU) member states, who shared experiences of their respective vaccination processes.
Illa said that Spain aims to start to administer the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 18 and that this Wednesday saw the start of the distribution of the first doses of the Moderna vaccine in the country.
The Portuguese Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that the country had received the first shipment of 8,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccine produced by US biotechnology company Moderna.
A new lockdown to bring record high coronavirus cases under control will come into force in Portugal from Friday, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced, urging people to stay indoors and protect themselves.
“We are at the most dangerous moment (of the pandemic),” Costa told reporters on Wednesday. “The rule is simple: all of us should stay home.”
The rules will be similar to the six-week lockdown imposed between March and April last year during the first wave of the pandemic, except all schools - public and private - will stay open. The number of cases reported from schools was not significant in the first lockdown, Costa said.
France on Wednesday confirmed 23,852 infections with COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, the biggest one-day tally since Jan. 6, as more infectious variants circulate, posing growing risk of the epidemic rebound, health authorities data showed.
France's cumulative number of infections has grown to 2,830,442, with the coronavirus-related deaths surpassing 69,000 after 229 patients died in one day.
Some 24,769 patients were hospitalized, of whom 2,711 are in intensive care units, up by 32 and 23 respectively.
Early Wednesday, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the government's top scientific adviser, warned that "the coming three months will be difficult," notably due to the circulation of the highly infectious virus variant first detected in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, France’s top privacy watchdog has told police to stop using drone-mounted cameras to enforce virus lockdowns, monitor protests, stake out drug deals and chase carjackers.
“The Interior Ministry carried out drone flights equipped with cameras outside of any legal framework,” the regulator CNIL concluded in a statement.
The Polish government will start registering the COVID-19 vaccination intent of the general public on Friday, the head of the Prime Minister's Chancellery Michal Dworczyk said Wednesday.
All Poles over the age of 18 can register their intent to receive a vaccine at a special web portal. Starting on Friday, citizens over the age of 80 can register to receive a date and place to get their jabs, while those over the age of 70 can do the same a week later.
The vaccination process will start on Jan. 25, with 4,62 million Poles eligible for receiving their jabs at one of 5,994 designated points.
Before the end of March, Poland should have received around 6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, Dworczyk added.
Pedestrians walk through central Glasgow as Britain enters a national lockdown in London on Jan 5, 2021. (ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)
The cooperation with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech will help Ukraine start vaccination in the first half of 2021 with safe vaccines, the development director of Lekhim Group Mikhail Rensky said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.
According to Rensky, Lekhim signed an agreement on Monday with Sinovac Biotech on the purchase of 5 million doses of CoronaVac vaccine against COVID-19, becoming the exclusive supplier of this medication to Ukraine.
"The joint project Lekhim - Sinovac Biotech will give our country the opportunity to start vaccination in the first half of 2021 with safe vaccines," said Rensky.
The Swiss Federal Council announced Wednesday that it will, starting from Monday, introduce further measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus in view of the worrying epidemiological situation.
The country already tightened its measures to contain the outbreak in December. However, a statement from the Swiss Federal Council Wednesday said that there has been no significant fall in case numbers, and the epidemiological situation remains extremely concerning.
"The number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths remains extremely high and the strain on medical staff is acute," the government said in the statement.
Ontario has vaccinated only a small proportion of long-term care and retirement home residents, the group most vulnerable to COVID-19, while delivering tens of thousands of doses to healthcare workers outside of the homes, new provincial data released on Wednesday showed.
In care homes, vaccination is a matter of life or death. But less than a quarter of Ontario’s at least 138,000 long-term care and retirement home residents have received a dose, based on data from industry associations. Many doses - some 77,000 - have gone to healthcare workers outside of the homes.
Nearly 40 percent of the province’s long-term care homes are battling outbreaks, and 198 residents and two staff have died since Jan. 1. Under worst-case projections, another 1,520 residents could die by Feb. 14, experts advising the province said on Tuesday.
Brazil's vaccination campaign against COVID-19 will begin at the end of January in pandemic hotspot Manaus, capital of northern Amazonas state, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said on Wednesday.
"We are going to vaccinate in January," the minister told the press.
Brazil is sending an aircraft to India after the South Asian nation’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, agreed to expedite vaccine shipment to the South American country.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, will supply 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to Brazil, according to the Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello.
Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has tried to sabotage efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in his country and pursued policies that undermine the rights of Brazilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
The health department of the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil, announced on Tuesday that the presence of IgG antibodies, specific for SARS-CoV-2 virus, was detected in serum samples from December 2019.
Brazil's COVID-19 death toll reached 205,964 on Wednesday, after 1,274 more people died of the novel coronavirus disease in the previous 24 hours.
According to the Ministry of Health, in the same period, tests detected 60,899 new cases of infection, bringing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 8,256,536.
Argentine Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia on Wednesday urged the public to take every precaution to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to prevent the need for stepped up lockdown measures.
"We are walking a fine line where prevention, care and compliance with health regulations are essential to avoid further restrictions," the minister warned via Twitter.
The transmission rate of COVID-19 cases in the capital Buenos Aires and the rest of the country "in December is higher than that observed in June," noted Gonzalez Garcia.
Cuba reported 550 new infections of COVID-19 on Wednesday, setting a record for the sixth consecutive day, official data showed.
The figure brought the accumulated count to 16,044 cases, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) reported, adding that three more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 158.
MINSAP's National Director of Epidemiology Francisco Duran said more severe restriction measures will be necessary as January sees the most COVID-19 cases since the pandemic first hit the Caribbean island.
Ecuador detected three more cases of the coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of such cases in the South American country to four, Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said on Wednesday.
All three cases involve relatives of patient zero, the first to test positive for the variant on Monday, Zevallos said at a virtual press conference.
"Three relatives have tested positive, that's to say we have community transmission, because the person who arrived (from the UK) is the one who infected the other three," said Zevallos.
Ecuador's intensive care units (ICUs) are on average 85 percent full with patients suffering from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said on Wednesday.
The Chilean Ministry of Health reported 3,394 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the country's total caseload to 652,525 amid a resurgence of the virus during the austral summer season.
Minister of Health Enrique Paris said Chile's positivity rate rose to 8.19 percent in the past 24 hours.
Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said Mexico was two days away from approving Russia’s Sputnik vaccine for its use in the country. Herrera didn’t provide details about the shot’s effectiveness, or how Mexico is making sure the vaccine is safe.
African countries have conducted over 28.3 million COVID-19 tests so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Thursday.
The Africa CDC disclosed that 10 countries contributed about 71 percent of the COVID-19 tests that were reported to the agency. The ten countries include South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, Cameroon, Rwanda, and Zambia.
As of Thursday morning, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded across the African continent reached 3,142,781, while the death toll related to the pandemic stood at 75,709, according to the Africa CDC.
Meanwhile, the African Union has secured 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.
Morocco announced on Wednesday 1,266 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally in the North African country since March 2 of 2020 to 455,055.
The number of recoveries in Morocco increased to 429,278 after 1,927 more were added, while the death toll rose by 26 to 7,810, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Health on Wednesday said the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the East African country rose to 129,455 after 463 new cases were reported.
The ministry said that the number of COVID-19 related deaths in the country reached 2,006 as of Wednesday evening, including two new deaths reported during the last 24-hour period.
The ministry further said that some 114,567 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 had recovered so far, including 210 in the last 24-hour period.
It also said that some 12,880 of the total reported COVID-19 cases were active cases, of which 210 of the patients were said to be in severe condition.
Algeria on Wednesday reported 219 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total infections in the North Africa country to 102,866.
The death toll in Algeria rose to 2,819 after three new fatalities were recorded, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.
Meanwhile, 183 more patients recovered from the disease and were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 69,85.
Nigeria plans to vaccinate as much as 40 percent of its population of 200 million against the coronavirus in 2021.
Africa’s most populous country expects to get 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the end of January through the COVAX initiative, Faisal Shuaib, chief executive officer of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said Thursday on Bloomberg TV.
The country has secured the services of the private sector for ultra-cold storage facilities to help store and distribute the vaccines, Shuaib said. Ideally, Nigeria should have at least 70 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of 2022, he said. The shots will be used to mainly vaccinate health workers.
Nigeria has reported 103,999 cases, with 1,382 deaths, but testing is not easily accessible for most people. About 1.1 million tests have been performed so far.
South Africa’s National State of Disaster was extended by a month as it fights to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1.2 million people in the country and killed more than 33,000.
Russia on Thursday reported 24,763 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,893 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,495,816, the world’s fourth largest.
Authorities also confirmed 570 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 63,940.
Belarus reported 1,967 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, taking its tally to 219,663, according to the health ministry.
The number of recoveries increased by 2,314 to 202,446, while the death toll rose by 10 to 1,554, the ministry said.
Bulgaria is seeing a downward trend in the spread of COVID-19 as a result of stricter social restrictions imposed since the end of November, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said at a press conference.
In the last seven days, the total number of recoveries was more than three times higher than that of the number of newly confirmed infections, Angelov said.
As many as 14,853 COVID-19 patients in Bulgaria have recovered from the disease, while 4,023 new infections were confirmed during the last seven days, he said.
The minister also said that 535 new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's tally to 210,416. Another 3,094 people have recovered in the 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 143,642.
The death toll rose by 70 to 8,349, Angelov said.
Hungary’s coronavirus cases need to drop significantly or vaccinations need to pick up quickly to allow the government to ease pandemic curbs, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas said.
The eastern European country is close to signing a major order for vaccines from Sinopharm, regulatory approvals permitting, Gulyas said in a televised briefing on Thursday.
The COVID -19 pandemic appears to have eased somewhat in Finland over the past few weeks, authorities said.
A feared upswing in infections and related hospital admissions hasn’t materialized after Christmas and New Year holidays, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said.
Jamaica is seeking COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba, China and India, after accusing rich nations of “hoarding” medicine.
Health Minister Christopher Tufton told parliament this week that the Caribbean nation might not get its first batch of vaccines under the COVAX Facility until April, making it necessary to look beyond the program. Jamaica will enter bilateral talks with other states to try to speed up the inoculation of its people, Tufton said.
Tufton said that, globally, there are 40 vaccines under development beyond the ones made by Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca. That trio of vaccines are already being widely used but many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean won’t have access to them for weeks or months.
On Wednesday, the Caricom bloc of Caribbean nations called for a global summit to discuss drug distribution and said it was concerned about “inequitable access to vaccines”.
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