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January 29, 2021

International update: South African Covid variant sweeps across African continent – Europe suffers vaccine shortages

By Paul Dennis

29 January

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,192,912 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 101.5 million world wide.

A team from the World Health Organization began meetings in China today to try to understand the origins of the coronavirus. The WHO said on Twitter the group would visit hospitals, laboratories and markets, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Huanan market, and Wuhan’s CDC laboratory, and would speak with early responders and some of the first Covid-19 patients.

Africa: A variant of the coronavirus first identified in South Africa is driving record numbers of infections and deaths as it spreads across the region, the World Health Organization said. The mutated virus has been found in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and the French territory of Mayotte, and is probably circulating in other countries on the continent, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. Another fast-spreading mutant that surfaced in the UK has been detected in Nigeria and the Gambia.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 25.7 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 433,206 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The US has detected its first cases of a coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, health officials in South Carolina said.

President Joe Biden moved to make it easier for Americans to buy health insurance during the pandemic, reopening the federal Obamacare marketplace with an order on Thursday taking a step toward reinvigorating a program his predecessor tried to eliminate.

California reported 737 daily coronavirus deaths, its second-highest tally, in a bleak reflection of the surge in cases over recent months that’s now starting to ebb. The most-populous state’s fatalities now stand at 38,961, behind only New York in the US. California’s outbreak has shown improvement, leading Governor Gavin Newsom to lift lockdowns earlier this week. There were 16,696 new cases on Thursday, well below the 14-day average, according to the state health department. Hospitalizations are down 25% from a peak three weeks ago.

New York state may have had twice as many coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than the official count of more than 8,700 reflects, state Attorney General Letitia James said. The Attorney General’s Office released a report Thursday saying the state Health Department erred in counting Covid-19 fatalities and detailed a lack of compliance with infection-control policies at many nursing homes. Howard Zucker, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s health commissioner, said in a release late Thursday afternoon that New York’s data has always been clear. Any suggestion of an undercount, he said, is “factually wrong.”

Brazil: Researchers in southern Brazil said they found two patients infected with different strains of the new coronavirus at the same time, Reuters reported. The patients, both in their 30s, had mild symptoms and did not require hospitalization. The cases raise concern among scientists that co-existence of two strains in the same body could speed up mutations of the virus. The study, posted on medical website medRxiv, has not been published in a scientific journal or been peer reviewed, Reuters said.

France: French health authorities reported 23,770 new coronavirus infections over the previous 24 hours on Thursday, down from 26,916 on Wednesday. The country’s Covid-19 death toll rose by 344 to 74,800, the world’s seventh-highest, after an increase of 350 on Wednesday.

Mexico: Covid-19 deaths surpassed those in India, making it the country with the third-highest number of fatalities worldwide, as officials struggle to contain a pandemic that’s taking an increasingly grim toll. The Health Ministry reported the number of deaths rose 1,506 to 155,145 on Thursday night. Total cases reached 1,825,519.

Vaccine news

Global: Novavax Inc said on Thursday its coronavirus vaccine was 89.3% effective in preventing Covid-19 in a trial conducted in the United Kingdom, and was nearly as effective in protecting against the more highly contagious variant first discovered in the UK, according to a preliminary analysis. A mid-stage trial of the vaccine in South Africa, where a troubling new variant of the virus is common, showed 60% effectiveness among people who did not have HIV.

Germany: Authorities have blocked the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on people aged over 65, the Financial Times has reported.

Spain: Spain has insisted it supported the European Union’s handling of a shortfall in Covid-19 vaccines after a leaked document suggested the health ministry was blaming Brussels, Reuters reports.

US: Johnson & Johnson initially will deliver about 2 million doses of its one-shot Covid-19 vaccine when it receives emergency-use authorization in the US, according to a Government Accountability Office report. A spokesman for J&J said in an email that the company expects to supply 100 million doses to the US government in the first half of the year.

France: France’s health ministry has announced supplies of the Moderna vaccine expected during February will be reduced by 25%. Elsewhere, a shortage of vaccines has forced Paris and two other regions – that together account for a third of the French population – to postpone giving out some first doses, a source familiar with the discussion and health officials said on Thursday. The public health agency for Paris and the surrounding region, an area of 12.1 million people, told regional hospitals on a conference call on Wednesday that from 2 February, all deliveries of first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to medical establishments would be suspended, the source said.

Singapore will grant financial assistance to people who suffer serious side effects related to the Covid-19 vaccine in a bid to boost confidence among those being inoculated. People with a reaction that require hospitalization or intensive care would receive up S$10,000 ($7,517), or S$225,000 in the case of death or permanent severe disability. More than 113,000 people have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as of 27 January, the city-state’s health ministry said. Over 50 individuals have received the second dose.

Brazil: President, Jair Bolsonaro, who says he won’t take any Covid vaccine, has vowed to quickly inoculate all Brazilians, tempering his tone after his support fell due to a patchy vaccine rollout and a brutal second wave of infections, Reuters reports.

Lockdown updates

Lebanon: A man has died of his wounds after clashes last night between security forces and protesters angered by the combined impact of a severe economic crisis and a coronavirus lockdown. There were fresh protests today.

US: New York City will ask government workers to return to their offices in May after working remotely since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the city last Spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his annual “State of the City” address. He pledged to vaccinate 5 million New Yorkers by the end of June.

UK: The UK banned direct passenger flights from Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates to stop the spread of a new virus strain originally identified in South Africa, putting one of the world’s busiest international air routes on ice. Starting 1 pm UK time, passengers who’ve been in or transited through the UAE in the previous 10 days will no longer be allowed to enter the country. Visitors from Burundi and Rwanda in Africa are barred as well. Exemptions usually in place, including for business travel, will no longer apply.

New Zealand: Is mulling tighter restrictions on international arrivals after three people tested positive for Covid-19 despite completing a mandatory quarantine without showing signs of the virus. People may have to self isolate even after finishing two weeks in a government-managed quarantine facility, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. People may also be required to have another Covid test, meaning some could face as many as five tests in less than a month.

Denmark: Will extend its current coronavirus restrictions by three weeks to curb the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant first registered in the UK, its prime minister said on Thursday.

Thailand: Thailand loosened restrictions across much of the country to allow businesses and schools to resume operations as the biggest coronavirus wave to hit the nation eased. The number of provinces categorized as high-risk areas will drop to five from 28. Most businesses, including restaurants, will be allowed to resume near-normal operations, while some establishments, such as gambling venues, will remain closed. Bangkok and its three surrounding provinces are still considered high-risk zones, although more curbs can be eased by local authorities. Almost 13,000 of the nation’s 17,023 Covid cases were reported since 15 December.

Philippines: The Philippines will lift on 1 February a travel ban imposed on more than 30 nations, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. Foreign nationals are required to have a pre-booked accommodation for at least seven nights in a quarantine hotel or facility and will undergo Covid-19 testing on the sixth day from arrival, he said.

Economy updates

Global: The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $1.3tn in lost revenue in 2020 as the number of people travelling plunged, the United Nations has said, calling it “the worst year in tourism history”.

UK: At least a fifth of Oxford Street, London’s main shopping thoroughfare, will be “boarded up with no hope of recovery” and more than 50,000 retail and hospitality jobs lost when the latest lockdown ends, according to The New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses in the city’s premier shopping and entertainment area. The group said 57 of 264 stores on Oxford Street are already permanently closed and more than 50,000 jobs will be lost in the West End area by March if action is not taken soon.

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