28 January

Global: The number of Covid infections is nearing 101 million worldwide, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Global deaths attributed to Covid have passed 2.17 million.

With populations under lockdown and governments wielding greater emergency powers, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated already alarming levels of graft and democratic violations worldwide, Transparency International said. Bribery for virus tests and the procurement of medical supplies are allowing ruling elites to skim taxpayer funds, according to a report from the global corruption watchdog published Thursday. Transparent budget spending is also particularly difficult to enforce during a pandemic, it said.

 UK: Covid-19 deaths have now passed 102,000 in the UK with infections in excess of 3.7 million. The UK recorded a further 1,725 deaths, up from 1,631 the day before, and a further 25,308 cases of the disease.

The lockdown in England is showing some signs of starting to curb the spread of the virus, the Financial Times reported, citing the React-1 study, led by Imperial College London. The prevalence of the virus had started to flatten last week, though high infection rates will continue to strain the healthcare system, according to the report.

US: Covid-19 cases have passed 25.5 million, with nearly 430,000 deaths, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Mexico: As the pandemic swept across Mexico, deaths increased by nearly 37% between January and August. Covid-19 was the second-leading cause of death nationwide after heart disease during the eight months.

Vietnam: Vietnam reported a coronavirus outbreak in two northern provinces, triggering movement curbs and prompting a plunge in stocks. The health ministry announced earlier on Thursday two domestic virus patients with one tied to a woman who tested positive for the new Covid-19 variant in Japan. Then officials reported 82 new local virus cases in the northern provinces of Hai Duong and Quang Ninh. The benchmark VN Index tumbled 6.5% at the mid-day break, poised for its biggest slump since September 2001.

China: China’s Fujian province said it detected Covid-19 in a shipment of imported cotton whose origins are unknown, the American Cotton Shippers Association said in an email to members seen by Bloomberg. The shipment has been sealed to prevent further distribution, ACSA said in a note, citing information obtained from sources on the ground. Local ports in Hubei and Qingdao are quarantining imported agricultural products for disinfection, ACSA said in the note.

South Korea: South Korea reported a drop in new cases to 497 after hitting a two-week high yesterday when cluster outbreaks at dormitory-style cram schools reversed a downward trend.

Vaccine updates

Global: Pfizer and BioNTech said results of studies indicate their vaccine is effective against both the UK and South Africa variants. Research found that neutralization against the virus with key mutations present in the South African variant was slightly lower compared to neutralization of virus containing other mutations. But the companies believe the small difference is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine. They said the findings don’t indicate the need for a new vaccine to address the emerging variants.

EU: The European Union failed to resolve its row with AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies, raising the risk of additional delays to the bloc’s sluggish inoculation campaign and putting the drugmaker on a collision course with 27 governments. The root of the dispute is Astra’s decision to prioritize the UK over the EU for its limited vaccine supplies following a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims to be a breach of contractual commitments. The quarrel could add another thorn to the tumultuous post-Brexit ties between Britain and the EU.

South Africa: South Africa is expecting its first 1m Covid-19 doses to arrive on Monday, 1 February, the health ministers Zweli Mkhize has said.

Czech Republic: The Czech health ministry has recommended halting new Covid-19 vaccinations for the next two weeks to prioritise giving second doses due to supply delays.

Pakistan: Pakistan will launch its Covid-19 vaccination programme next week, starting with frontline health workers, a government minister said on Wednesday. In the past 24 hours, the country has reported 1,563 new infections and 74 deaths.

Belgium: Pfizer’s production plant in Puurs, Belgium have said that they are back on schedule to produce the vaccine. Last week and at the start of this week, dose production was 8% lower than initially expected, Le Soir reports.

Israel: Vaccinations in Israel will now be available for all citizens aged 35 and up beginning on Thursday, the health ministry said.

UAE: Residents of the United Arab Emirates are being offered everything from free coffee and food to discounts on driving lessons and Uber rides as the UAE seeks to boost participation in its free Covid-19 vaccination program, the Khaleej Times reported. The UAE has the second-fastest vaccination program per capita after Israel, with 2.67 million doses administered, covering about one quarter of the population.

Philippines: The Philippines cleared AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shots for emergency use, paving the way for the expected rollout of these vaccines next quarter. The Food and Drug Administration found AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be effective in preventing coronavirus infections, the local regulator’s head Eric Domingo said. Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine was given a similar approval earlier this month. The nation, which has Southeast Asia’s second-worst outbreak, targets to inoculate more than half of its population this year.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong will set up 18 community vaccination centers – one in every district – to each handle at least 2,000 residents a day as the city prepares to administer the Covid-19 shot developed by BioNTech and Pfizer as early as the end of February. The centers will only handle the BioNTech vaccine, while the other two shots the city has ordered – from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and AstraZeneca – will be distributed to private hospitals and clinics, according to Thomas Tsang, a member of Hong Kong’s vaccination task force.

Lockdown updates

France: The French Cannes 2021 film festival will take place between 6 July and 17 July instead of 11-22 May as initially planned, organisers said in a statement on Wednesday.

UK: British home secretary Priti Patel has outlined new rules for tighter border controls amid unprecedented pressure on the UK health service and over 100,000 Covid-19 deaths. The home secretary has said that those who want to leave will need to make a written declaration explaining why they need to travel.

Norway: Norway is set to close its borders to all but essential visitors from midnight on Friday local time.

UAE: Dubai imposed further restrictions on air travel and hospitals as coronavirus cases continue to climb in the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East business hub reduced the validity of PCR test to three days from four “irrespective of the country they are coming from,” according to a statement. It also made it mandatory to have prior appointments for hospital visits.

Australia: Australia suspended its travel bubble with New Zealand for another 72 hours after two more cases of Covid-19 were reported in Auckland. The cases are linked to a woman who was likely infected with the South African variant of the virus while in mandatory isolation at a quarantine hotel for returned overseas travellers. The suspension underlines the difficulties of restarting broad international travel even between countries that have been highly successful in limiting community transmission of the virus.

China: Beijing has stepped up requirements for entering the city ahead of a meeting in March that will be China’s largest political gathering of the year. Travellers from medium- and high-risk areas for the coronavirus are in principle barred from entry while those traveling from low-risk regions need to provide a negative Covid-19 test result taken within seven days of entry, China Central Television reported on Wednesday, citing a local government briefing. The requirements were set to take effect Thursday and last to 15 March, according to the state broadcaster.

Thailand: At a popular resort in Thailand, officials arrested 89 foreigners for violating coronavirus regulations at a party in a bar. Thailand has barred nearly all tourists from entering the country since last April.

US: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, saying the “holiday surge is over,” lifted restrictions in hot spot areas across the state. He kept curbs in two areas of the Bronx, Manhattan’s Washington Heights, an area of Queens, and in Newburgh.

Economy updates

Germany: The German government has said that they expect to grow its economy by 3% this year, less than previously forecast, as the ongoing pandemic slows economic recovery.