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Published: 09:55, July 07, 2021
UK to track virus variants with genomic sequencing across world
By Agencies
Published:09:55, July 07, 2021 By Agencies

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab walks in Downing street in London on May 27, 2021. (NIKLAS HALLEN / AFP)

GENEVA / BRUSSELS / MEXICO CITY / WASHINGTON / TUNIS / BRASILIA / HELSINKI / ATHENS / HARARE / LONDON / RABAT / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / SAN SALVADOR / ADDIS ABABA / LISBON / CARACAS / BERLIN / WARSAW / TBILISI / MOSCOW / TIRANA / CAPE TOWN / PARIS - Britain said on Wednesday it would provide genomic sequencing support to Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan to help identify, assess and track new variants of the novel coronavirus.

“The UK is a science superpower and it is right we support the worldwide fight against COVID-19,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

“We are sharing the UK’s genomics expertise with Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, boosting disease surveillance and helping countries identify, track and respond to COVID-19 variants, which are of concern globally.”

Britain reported the highest daily number of new COVID cases since Jan 29 on Tuesday, and the greatest number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test since April 23.

Tuesday's figures showed that there were 28,773 new cases, up from 27,334 on Monday, and 37 deaths. In total, Britain has reported 4,958,868 infections and 128,268 fatalities.

The so-called long COVID-19 is set to soar among younger people in England when remaining coronavirus restrictions are lifted, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Witty, warned.

READ MORE: UK finds greater vaccine hesitancy in young people

France

The highly contagious Delta variant now represents around 40 percent of new COVID-19 infections in France, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday, and could jeopardise the summer if a fourth wave of infections is allowed to build.

Attal said forging ahead with the vaccination campaign was the best way to avoid a return to tough curbs on movement and socialising. He urged any hesitant citizens to get the shot.

The share of this variant has doubled each week over the past three weeks, from 10 percent of infections three weeks ago to 20 percent last week and 40 percent this week, he said.

“This variant is dangerous and quick and wherever it is present, it can ruin the summer,” Attal told a news conference.

Attal said COVID-19 infection rates were surging higher in 11 metropolitan regions, and that the situation was deteriorating rapidly in the Ile-de-France region around Paris, with infection rates in the capital nearly doubling over the past week.

“We are getting more and more warning signals and we could see the same trajectory as in some neighbouring countries,” he said.

Ireland

More than half the adult population in Ireland is now fully vaccinated, and 69 percent of adults have received at least one dose, according to Paul Reid, the head of the nation’s Health Service Executive.

People in Ireland in the 30 to 34 age group can register for an mRNA vaccine from tomorrow. Additionally, 18- to 34-year-olds have been able to register this week with pharmacies to opt in to the single-dose Janssen vaccine, and local media reports say pharmacies are being overwhelmed with demand.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 184.73 million while the global death toll topped 3.99 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday recommended interleukin-6 receptor blockers for people with severe COVID-19, urging the producers to join efforts to rapidly increase the access to the drugs.

The WHO said in a press release that the move was based on the findings from a prospective and a living network meta-analysis initiated by the WHO, the largest such analysis on the drugs to date.

These are the first drugs found to be effective against COVID-19 since corticosteroids were recommended by WHO in September 2020.

"Patients severely or critically ill with COVID-19 often suffer from an overreaction of the immune system, which can be very harmful to the patient's health. Interleukin-6 blocking drugs - tocilizumab and sarilumab - act to suppress this overreaction," reads the WHO press release .

According to the WHO, the prospective and living network meta-analysis showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering these drugs reduces the odds of death by 13 percent, compared to standard care.

This means that there will be 15 fewer deaths per thousand patients, and as many as 28 fewer deaths for every thousand critically ill patients, WHO said.

In addition, by using the drugs the odds of mechanical ventilation among severe and critical patients are reduced by 28 percent, compared with standard care, and this translates to 23 fewer patients out of a thousand needing mechanical ventilation.

ALSO READ: COVAX eyes 1.9 billion vaccine doses by end of the year

EU

European Union (EU) countries have ordered nearly 40 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a spokesman for the EU Commission said, despite the company's supply shortfalls in the first half of the year.

The move is a sign of confidence in the single-dose vaccine but it also shows a cautious approach as the order placed is far below what was possible under the contract.

Some EU nations have decided to take on a first option and have ordered 36.7 million additional doses, a spokesman for the EU Commission, which coordinates the purchases, told Reuters.

Johnson & Johnson confirmed the extra order for nearly 40 million doses and said talks were under way about the possible supply of further vaccines. It declined to comment on the timing of the deliveries.

People wait to be inoculated with the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign for seniors at the Alba Caracas's hotel in Caracas, Venezuela, May 29, 2021. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Venezuela

The COVAX vaccine-sharing facility is aiming to overcome roadblocks to the shipment of coronavirus shots to Venezuela "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the GAVI alliance said on Tuesday.

"We are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible," a GAVI spokesperson said.

The comments from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance which runs COVAX with the World Health Organization, came after President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday said he was giving the COVAX system an "ultimatum" to send doses to the crisis-stricken South American country or return the money Venezuela had already paid. 

Officials from the OPEC nation said in June that several payments to cover the US$120 million fee have been made, but that the final four payments have been blocked by Swiss bank UBS. 

Mexico

Mexico opened registrations for COVID-19 vaccines to the entire population over 18, an attempt to fulfill the government’s promise that all adults would have at least one dose by October.

Currently, 37 percent of the adult population has a shot, according to government statistics, but a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has led the country to speed up vaccine distribution. 

Mexico is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19, though hospitalizations and fatalities are not rising at the same speed, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Tuesday.

The's vaccination program, which has administered 47 million doses, has kept deaths from rising at the same rate as the infections, according to Lopez-Gatell.

The minister said Pfizer will reduce deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico for two weeks due to renovations at a Pfizer plant in the US.

The health ministry reported 7,989 new cases along with 269 more fatalities, bringing the overall total to 2,549,862 infections and 233,958 deaths.

The number of new infections on Tuesday marks the highest level of the daily count since February 26, the data showed.

US

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday encouraged Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots to protect themselves from the widely-spreading, highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Biden told reporters the US will reach a mark of 160 million Americans being fully vaccinated by the end of this week, but he warned against complacency as the Delta variant spreads among those who have not been inoculated.

Biden said the variant was already responsible for "half of all cases in many parts of this country”.

Increasing cases have been reported in states with lower vaccination rates, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent COVID-19 case rates are an average of three times higher in states that have vaccinated a smaller share of their residents than the United States overall, CDC data show.

Currently about 25 percent of new infections in the United States have been linked to the Delta variant, up from 6 percent in early June, according to the CDC.

Tunisia

The Tunisian health ministry on Tuesday reported 7,930 new COVID-19 cases, a daily record since the start of the pandemic last year, taking the tally to 455,091.

The death toll rose by 119 to 15,601 while the total number of recoveries reached 369,632, the ministry said in a statement.

So far, a total of 1,999,363 people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in Tunisia, with 592,350 of them having received both doses.

The government announced Tuesday it would acquire 1,000 oxygen concentrators to help the hospitals amid the rapid rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.  

READ MORE: S. Africa hits new record with 26,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Brazil

Brazil registered 62,504 new COVID-19 cases and 1,780 additional deaths in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

This brings the total in Brazil to nearly 19 million cases and 526,892 deaths.

Finland

Finland will allow travelers from abroad who are fully vaccinated, can show they have had COVID-19 within the last six months, or come from a country with a low infection rate to freely enter the country, the government said on Tuesday.

Other potential visitors will have to take a COVID-19 test before entering Finland or at the border, then self-isolate on arrival and take another test after three days or face a fine, health officials said at a news conference.

The health ministry said the free entry list currently includes 13 countries that have recorded 10 or fewer new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks.

To date, the nation of 5.5 million people has recorded 96,791 cases and 973 deaths from COVID-19, with 38 people currently hospitalized due to the disease.

Some 72.9 percent of those eligible have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Greece

Greece on Tuesday reported a jump in daily coronavirus infections and outlined plans to reimpose curbs on entertainment, after many weeks of declining case numbers that prompted authorities to lift most COVID-19 restrictions.

Public health authorities reported 1,797 new daily cases on Tuesday, more than twice the level of 801 cases reported on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to 429,144. COVID-related deaths have reached 12,754.

Α government official said Tuesday many of the new positive test cases are youngsters and are linked to entertainment, so authorities decided to reimpose restrictions on restaurants, nightclubs and bars later this week.

“Effective July 8, restaurants, bars, clubs and entertainment venues will operate only with sitting clients and in line with legislated capacity rules,” Deputy Citizen’s Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said at a briefing.

Offenders will also face hefty fines, including suspension of their operation, Hardalias said.

A truck loaded with people travels on a street, in Harare, Zimbabwe, July, 6, 2021. Zimbabwe has reactivated strict lockdown measures it once imposed when COVID-19 first hit the country last year, as the country battles a resurgence of the virus amid vaccine shortages. (TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI / AP)

Zimbabwe

Some provinces in Zimbabwe are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and healthcare workers at a time when the country is experiencing a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on Tuesday.

As a result, the Treasury had been directed to urgently release some funds that it had committed for enforcement of the current Level 4 lockdown toward efforts to contain the spread of the disease, Mutsvangwa said during a post-cabinet media briefing.

Some district hospitals require bulk oxygen tanks, while others require functional isolation centers, Mutsvangwa said.

The minister added that funerals had become major spreaders of the virus.

Mutsvangwa called on relevant authorities to strengthen enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures.

As of Tuesday, Zimbabwe had recorded 56,014 COVID-19 cases, along with 1,911 deaths and 41,406 recoveries.  

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 535,974 on Tuesday as 1,177 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose by seven to 9,336, the health ministry said in a statement.

There were 262 people in intensive care units, it said, adding that the total recoveries stood at 520,963.

So far, 10,160,373 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 9,194,976 have gotten both doses.

Cuba

Cuba set a new record for COVID-19 cases registered in one day, reporting 3,591 fresh infections on Tuesday.

The tally now stands at 210,913.

Director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Public Health Ministry Francisco Duran said the death toll rose by 15 to 1,387.

The province of Matanzas remains as the epicenter of the pandemic on the island, with 874 new cases logged in the last 24 hours and an incidence rate of 1,226.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

South Africa

Wastewater surveillance has shown that the Delta variant, a highly transmissible coronavirus mutation first identified in India, has become dominant in some towns in South Africa’s Western Cape province.

The findings, announced in a South African Medical Research Council statement, highlighting the spread of the variant that’s driven a rapid rise in cases in Gauteng, South Africa’s most-populous province.

The Delta variant was dominant in samples in 19 wastewater treatment plants in Cape Town as well as in the Breede River Valley and Theewaterskloof areas, the SAMRC said.

Chile

Chile reported on Tuesday 1,885 new COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, the lowest daily tally since Dec 27 when 1,711 daily cases were reported.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the cumulative caseload stood at 1,574,465, while the death toll climbed to 33,288 as 39 additional deaths were logged.

Chile will on Thursday lift the lockdown on the Santiago Metropolitan Region following a significant drop in the positivity rate.

On the same day, the South American country will move into phase 3, which means there will be no quarantines, and restrictions will only apply to 29 municipalities. 

El Salvador

China will supply El Salvador with the fifth batch of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Sinovac, the Chinese embassy in San Salvador has said.

"In the coming days, 1.5 million Sinovac vaccines will arrive in El Salvador, the 5th and largest batch of Chinese vaccines the friendly country will receive, thanks to the excellent existing bilateral relations and the will to overcome the pandemic together and safeguard the health of the people," said the embassy on its official Twitter account.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele greeted the announcement by retweeting it and placing the Chinese and Salvadoran flags side by side.

As of Tuesday, El Salvador has reported 80,235 confirmed cases, according to official figures.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 95 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 276,598 as of Tuesday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

Three more deaths and 500 new recoveries were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,335 and the total number of recoveries to 261,656.

Portugal

Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged the Portuguese on Tuesday to keep up their guard up against a fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, with the more infectious Delta variant causing nearly 90 percent of new cases.

The infection rate jumped after Portugal opened to visitors from the EU and Britain in mid-May, and is now back at levels last seen in February, when a lockdown was in force.

The national health institute said in a report that the Delta variant was now responsible for 89.1 percent of infections, with sharp rises in the north and on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores.

More than half the new cases reported on Tuesday were in the Lisbon conurbation.

The Portuguese Directorate-General of Health (DGS) said 3,720,680 people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Portugal, equivalent to 36 percent of the country's resident population.

Portugal has reported 892,741 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the DGS.  

Argentina

Argentina's government has decided not to spur domestic tourism with incentives or ad campaigns amid fears of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, Tourism and Sports Minister Matias Lammens said Tuesday.

“Today tourism is allowed, but we are not going to promote it," Lammens said in statements to the press, according to state news agency Telam.

Unlike other years, there will be no "promotional campaign" or "incentive plans" ahead of the austral winter break, despite tourism's contribution to the economy, he said.

As of Monday, Argentina has confirmed 4,552,750 COVID-19 cases and 96,521 deaths in this pandemic.

Guatemala

The Biden Administration will send 1.5 million Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to Guatemala, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

Germany

Germany’s health minister stepped up his plea for as many people as possible to get a COVID-19 shot amid signs the country’s vaccination drive is losing steam.

Jens Spahn made the call on Wednesday as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany ticked up after more than two months of steady decline, according to official data.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases reported 985 new infections to bring the total to 3.73 million, a rise of 177 cases compared to the daily increase a week ago.

The death toll rose by 48 in the past day to a total of 91,110 - down from a daily rise of 56 a week ago.

Spahn dampened hopes on Wednesday for the lifting of all remaining coronavirus restrictions, saying that would depend on the pace of vaccination.

While a vaccination rate of 90 percent will soon be reached among the over-60s, it will take a big advertising drive to reach a rate of 85 percent among the younger population, Spahn said.

Poland

Poland could face around 15,000 cases a day if too few people get COVID-19 shots before a potential fourth wave in autumn, the health minister said on Tuesday, amid concern about the slowing pace of vaccination.

Adam Niedzielski urged people who have not yet got a jab to do so, saying that if there was a high rate of vaccination, the numbers could be hemmed in at 1,000-2,000 cases during a fourth wave.

Poland, a country of around 38 million, has so far fully vaccinated just over 14 million people.

In total, the country has reported 2,880,403 cases of the coronavirus and 75,095 deaths.

Georgia

Georgia on Wednesday reported 1,392 new COVID-19 cases, taking its total to 372,685, according to the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Data from the NCDC showed that 11 people died in the last 24 hours, raising the nationwide death toll to 5,394.

Meanwhile, 531 new recoveries were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 356,780.

Russia

The developer of CoviVac, one of Russia's vaccines against COVID-19, said on Wednesday it is effective against the highly infectious Delta variant, TASS news agency reported.

Aidar Ishmukhametov, general director of the center that developed CoviVac, said studies had showed it was equally effective against the Delta strain as against the Alpha strain of the virus.

The developer in early June said CoviVac was more than 80 percent effective against COVID-19.

Russia reported 23,962 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 5,621 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,682,634.

The government coronavirus task force said 725 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 140,041.

Albania

More than 1 million people in Albania have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the country's health ministry announced late Tuesday.

Another batch of 16,380 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses funded by the European Union arrived in the country on Monday evening, taking the total number doses in Albania to 1,120,070.

The ministry on Tuesday reported seven new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of confirmed cases nationwide to 132,544, along with 2,456 fatalities and 130,033 recoveries.

Albania has not reported any coronavirus-related deaths for 10 consecutive days.  

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