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February 8, 2021

International update: US passes grim milestone of 27 million Covid infections as weekly case numbers fall

By Paul Dennis

8 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2.3 million according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 106 million world wide.

 US: Covid-19 infections have now passed the grim milestone of 27 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 463,471 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The US added 106,570 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, almost 8,000 fewer than the week’s previous low, suggesting that the declining trend in infections is continuing.

President Joe Biden said it’s unlikely the US will reach herd immunity for the coronavirus before the end of the summer due to a shortfall in vaccine availability. “The idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult,” Biden said in an interview with CBS News that aired on Sunday.

A new study warns of “further surges” in the US as the coronavirus variant first found in the UK likely becomes the dominant strain.

The B.1.1.7 variant is 35-40% more transmissible, the study says, and “will likely become the dominant variant in many US states by March, 2021, leading to further surges of Covid-19 in the country, unless urgent mitigation efforts are immediately implemented.”

The study was carried out by a team of virologists in the US in association with the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. It echoed the same warning last month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the variant’s rapid spread. The variant has been found in at least 30 US states.

South Korea: South Korea reported 289 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, the lowest number in 11 weeks.

Indonesia: Covid-19 infections and deaths continued to rise by record numbers in the Indonesia in January. Authorities confirmed 163 deaths from the virus in the 24 hours through midday Sunday, bringing the total to 31,556.

Japan: Tokyo reported 276 new infections as an easing trend in the Japanese capital continues. While the beginning of the week typically brings lower tallies, the number is the smallest for a Monday since 16 November.

Vaccine news

US: There’s “a reasonable chance” that vaccines will stay ahead of virus mutations, said Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the US Food and Drug Administration. “I think there’s a rule of thumb we can assume that the vaccines are probably going to be about 20% less effective against these new variants from Brazil and South Africa,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans not to delay their second doses of the coronavirus vaccine, after other health experts suggested recently there may be a benefit to pushing more people to get a first shot and possible delaying the follow-ups a bit.

UK: More than 12 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to government data up to and including 6 February, when 549,078 were vaccinated.

France: France aims to vaccinate up to 4 million by the end of this month, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in an interview on CNews, without clarifying if this target included the shots from both Pfizer and Moderna.

Afghanistan: Afghanistan received its first batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccines from India’s Serum Institute on Sunday.

Hungary: Hungary has approved Russia’s coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, with 40,000 doses of the jab ready to be rolled out.

South Africa: South Africa plans to fast-track the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after it showed more efficacy against a new variant that’s prevalent in more than 90% of new cases in the country, according to Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council. The move comes after trial data released Sunday showed that a shot developed by AstraZeneca Plc has limited efficacy against the mutation that was identified late last year. Even though South Africa received its first vaccines this month with the arrival AstraZeneca’s product, its use should temporarily be suspended, Barry Schoub, chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, said Sunday in an online briefing.

Sarah Gilbert, leading the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine program, said work was already under way to adapt the vaccine to deal specifically with the South African variant. The new shot is “very likely” to be available by autumn, she said.

Lockdown updates

Montserrat: The government of Montserrat imposed a 14-day lockdown on Sunday after four coronavirus cases were confirmed on the Caribbean island with less than 5,000 residents.

Japan: The Japanese government is considering lifting the state of emergency in 10 prefectures early depending on the virus situations ahead of the expiry date of 7 March, Asahi reported, without attribution.

Indonesia: Indonesia is extending restrictions to focus on specific regions as it continues to battle the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia. The new restrictions, which will run from 9 February until 22 February, will impose different limitation on movements in certain districts and regencies, depending on their severity, according to an order issued by the Home Ministry. Restrictions will be eased in locations where improvements are seen.

South Korea: The government over the weekend relaxed social distancing rules, allowing longer opening hours for some retail businesses. Restaurants, coffee shops and gyms outside the capital Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi province will now be permitted to stay open until 10 p.m., Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a meeting on Saturday.

Singapore: Singapore’s efforts to open its borders are stalling, with a plan to allow business travelers to avoid quarantine and stay in a dedicated facility near the airport still not materializing. The Connect@Singapore pilot program for businesspeople and so-called high-economic value travelers was due to get going in January, yet the tourism board hasn’t selected operators for the facilities where the visitors would stay, the Business Times reported Monday.

Germany: Germany will have to extend its lockdown when state and federal leaders meet on Wednesday to discuss Covid-19 strategy, Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder said. Soeder, whose CSU party is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing bloc, told broadcaster ARD “it makes no sense to just call it off now” and risk a resurgence of the virus by easing restrictions prematurely.

Norway: Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, will go into lockdown after transmission of the South African virus variant was detected at construction sites. Shops, cafes, restaurants, gyms and museums will close, and all events will be banned in the city and two nearby municipalities for one week from 6 pm on Sunday.

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