21 January

Global: The global covid death toll has reached 2,074,886 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 96.9 million world wide.

Global deaths topped 17,500 on 20 January, according to Johns Hopkins data, the highest daily total of the Covid-19 pandemic to date, the latest example of how the pandemic continues to rage around the world even as vaccines begin to be deployed. The previous high was on 8 January at 17,454.

Coronavirus vaccines may need to be redesigned this year to boost protection against a new variant that emerged rapidly in South Africa, research suggests, while past Covid sufferers may not be protected against reinfection.

US: The US Covid-19 coronavirus death toll now exceeds 406,000. Meanwhile, US infections have passed 24.4 million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

President Joe Biden has signed a letter retracting Donald Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization, which would have been effective in July this year. On 6 July 2020, Trump formally notified the WHO of the country’s withdrawal, despite widespread criticism and an almost complete lack of international support for the move in the midst of a pandemic.

President Biden also moved quickly to address Covid-19, signing orders to mandate mask wearing and social distancing in federal buildings and lands and to create a position of a Covid-19 response coordinator. Biden’s team is increasingly worried that the coronavirus pandemic is spiralling out of control as cases and deaths mount, vaccinations lag and a more-transmissible strain emerges, according to people familiar with the matter.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, 51, an infectious-diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, was sworn in on Wednesday as the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She takes the helm at a time when the country’s death toll has eclipsed 400,000 and continues to accelerate.

Texas recorded more than 25,000 new virus cases, the highest daily total since 5 January, state health department figures showed. Fatalities increased by 310.

UK: Cases of coronavirus may no longer be falling across England, according to a major survey that raises concerns over whether lockdown measures can contain the new variant, as the UK reported a record daily number of deaths. Boris Johnson described the 1,820 deaths reported on Wednesday as “appalling”, as he warned: “There will be more to come.”

NHS staff are preparing to transport patients using two London buses that have been converted into makeshift ambulances, in another sign of the strain Covid is putting on the capital’s health services.

Australia: Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country’s most populous state to call for a special travel “bubble” with Pacific island nations.

China: China’s latest Covid-19 outbreak continued to swell with the total number of domestic infections reported this year surpassing 1,300. Two domestic cases reported in Beijing’s Daxing district are due to a virus variant found in the UK, and not related to any domestic or imported cases so far detected from China, local authorities said. In the country’s northeastern provinces, numbers surged even faster triggering lockdowns in some cities. Heilongjiang province reported 68 cases on Thursday, and Jilin reported 33.

France: France reported 26,784 new virus cases over the past 24 hours, 13% more than the previous day.

Spain: Spain reported 18,500 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the most since the pandemic began, reflecting the relaxation of restrictions during the holiday period. New cases rose from 15,578 on Tuesday as the country recorded 464 deaths in the past 24 hours. The infection rate rose to 736 per 100,000 while the rate of hospitalization also increased to 20%. Spain’s regions eased some restrictions during Christmas, allowing people to meet indoors in limited numbers. Even though some regions have since tightened the rules, the country hasn’t brought back a national lockdown like the ones seen in France or the UK.

Vaccine news

Global: The WHO’s assistant director-general Mariangela Simao said the UN health agency was working towards ensuring access to coronavirus jabs all around the world. “No one needs to panic, because you’re going to get a vaccine,” said Simao, the assistant DG for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

Indonesia: Indonesia has given the first dose of Covid-19 vaccines to 60,815 people in the first week of its mass inoculation program. The Southeast Asian nation aims to inoculate 181.5 million people, about two-thirds of its population, by the end of the year to curb an infection that has sickened over 900,000 people across the country and killed more than 26,000, the highest in the region.

Indonesia plans to start giving the general public Covid-19 vaccinations sometime between late April to May, health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Thursday.

US: Amazon.com Inc. is offering to help the Biden administration accelerate the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, including to its own employees. In a letter dated Wednesday, Dave Clark, the incoming chief executive officer of Amazon’s retail unit, offered his congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. He reiterated a request Amazon made to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month asking that the company’s more than 800,000 US front-line workers receive vaccines at the “earliest appropriate time.”

New York state is averaging 65,000 vaccinations a day as it works to ensure the shots are fairly distributed, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. The federal government plans to send about 250,000 shots to New York next week, well below the 329,849 shots allocated last week, Cuomo said on Wednesday at a press briefing. He has been urging the US. to increase supply, and said his attempt to purchase the vaccine directly from Pfizer Inc. isn’t allowed under federal emergency-use guidelines. The state has about 145,780 doses left, he said. “At this rate we’re going to be out in two days,” the governor added.

Some shipments of Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine are being replaced after they became too cold in transit, pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corp. said in a statement Wednesday. McKesson, which is distributing Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in the US learned that some of the deliveries it sent on Sunday were too cold upon arrival. The company attributed the issue to gel packs used in shipping the shots getting too cold.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is rescheduling 23,000 vaccine appointments because of a supply shortage. The mayor cited Moderna Inc. specifically, saying the drug manufacturer and its distributor told the city the 103,000 doses it was expected to receive Tuesday will be delayed by a number of days. About half of that supply was intended to be given as second doses.

Lockdown updates

France: France is unlikely to reopen ski lifts this season due to the risks posed by the pandemic, Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said Wednesday. “We are moving toward a lost season,” he said at a press conference. The government will continue to provide financial support to the industry and possibly to suppliers to mountain resorts.

China: Beijing imposed a lockdown of 1.7 million people in part of the Chinese capital as officials race to prevent a Covid-19 resurgence in the country’s northern region from seeping into the city. Daxing district in southern Beijing, where its new airport is located, has been sealed off from the rest of the country after six infections were found there. The total number of cases in Beijing stands at 15, while over a thousand infections have been found nationwide since early January, mostly in China’s vast rural northern provinces.

Singapore: Singapore will host an ATP 250 tennis tournament next month. The city-state will ensure strict implementation of safe management measures at the venue, as well as travel protocol for players and officials. Authorities are monitoring the situation at the Australian Open where the majority of players will be coming to Singapore from. ATP, the governing body of men’s professional tennis, awarded single-year licences for the 2021 season to Singapore and Spain’s Marbella.