10 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2,342,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 106.9 million world wide.

“We are only at the start of this epidemic, unfortunately,” said Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot. “We have to start thinking in terms of society living with Covid.” While vaccines will likely allow a return to a semblance of normalcy, from time to time, there will be flare ups, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in an interview with L’Echo newspaper. “We must also continue the distancing measures for a period long enough for there to be a good suppression of the virus,” said Piot, who helped isolated the Ebola virus in 1976 and now advises European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

A World Health Organization-led investigation in China found that the coronavirus most likely jumped to humans through an animal host or frozen wildlife products, finding that it’s “extremely unlikely” it came from a laboratory leak. No further research is needed to look into the theory about a leak, Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food-safety scientist, told reporters Tuesday at a joint briefing with China in Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 first mushroomed at the end of 2019. That speculation has been promulgated by former US. President Donald Trump and some others.

A member of the WHO mission to China exploring the origins of the coronavirus pandemic took a swipe Wednesday at US intelligence on the issue, after the State Department cast doubt on the transparency of their probe. Briton Peter Daszak said in a tweet as the mission ended: “Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump and frankly wrong on many aspects.”

Estonia is working on a pilot project with the World Health Organisation on how globally recognised electronic vaccine certificates – so-called ‘vaccine passports’, might work.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 27.1 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 468,203 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Eli Lilly’s combination antibody drug for Covid-19 was cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, providing doctors with a treatment option that is expected to be better able to combat new coronavirus mutations. The FDA authorized the treatment for use in Covid-positive adults and children 12 and older who are at high risk of developing severe forms of the disease or progressing to the hospital, according to a fact sheet posted by the agency on Tuesday.

Brazil: Brazil has reported 51,486 new coronavirus cases, as well as 1,350 deaths, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

UK: Two new Covid variants, one of which has been classified as a “concern”, have been identified in England with some similarities to the South African and Brazilian variants, a government advisory scientific committee said.

In London, Lambeth council is asking some residents to take a coronavirus test after the variant first identified in South Africa was detected in the local area.

Spain: Spain has now recorded more than 3 million Covid cases, while also registering 766 deaths over the past 24 hours – the highest daily death toll of the current third wave.

Indonesia: Indonesia’s capital is racing to open more cemeteries to cope with the coronavirus death toll that has doubled in less than three months despite vaccination efforts. Jakarta’s government bought more than three hectares (7.4 acres) of land to use as dedicated cemeteries for those who have died from Covid-19, said Suzi Marsitawati, who heads the province’s park and forest service. The new sites will accommodate at least 8,000 burial plots, after the existing two cemeteries hit capacity.

Vaccine news

Global: People may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually for the next several years due to mutations to the virus, Johnson & Johnson chief executive Alex Gorsky told CNBC on Tuesday.

EU: Pfizer Inc. said it has resumed manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine it developed in partnership with BioNTech SE at its plant in Belgium after temporarily reducing production to upgrade the facility’s production lines, the Wall Street Journal reported. Pfizer also plans to increase deliveries next week to meet its contractual obligations for the first quarter, a spokeswoman said.

US: The Navajo Nation’s vaccination rollout continues to surpass the broader United States, Al Jazeera reports, having distributed 94 per cent of the doses it has received.

New York City has surpassed 1 million vaccine doses, a major milestone but missing a goal that Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to reach by the end of January. “The challenge for us constantly is the lack of supply,” he said in a briefing on Tuesday. “This is a really good sign of what we could do in this city, but we could be doing a lot more.”

New Zealand: Will administer the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines to quarantine personnel, frontline health workers and airline staff, after the government formally approved its use on Wednesday.

Venezuela: Will receive the first 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine next week, President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday.

South Africa: Approval processes for Johnson & Johnson inoculation are underway, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. Roll out of vaccination will proceed in form of “implementation study” in partnership with Medical Research Council, Health Dept. Government in “advanced stages” of evaluating Sputnik V vaccine; continuing engagements with Sinopharm and offer by China currently being considered.

The lead researcher of the South African trial of AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus vaccine urged authorities in the country to continue using the shot to cut death and hospitalization rates and the chance of further virus mutations. Early data of a small phase trial showed that AstraZeneca’s vaccine has limited efficacy against mild disease caused by the B.1.351 variant that’s now dominant in South Africa, prompting the government to suspend plans to give it to health workers. The study didn’t determine whether it protects against severe Covid-19 cases and deaths because most participants were “young healthy adults,” according to the company.

South Korea: South Korea’s drug safety agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine under the condition that it submits results of additional clinical trials. The vaccine will be used for people aged 18 years and over, including the elderly.

Japan: Japan will start coronavirus vaccinations by middle of next week, Jiji reported.

UK: Early findings from the UK’s vaccination program, due to be released within days, show that the first dose reduced the symptomatic infection risk among patients by 65% in younger adults and 64% in over-80s, a person familiar with the matter said. The data, first reported by The Sun newspaper, showed that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine saw protection rise to between 79% and 84%, depending on age. The AstraZeneca vaccine offers similar protection, the newspaper said.

Lockdown updates

Ireland: Ireland is likely to gradually emerge from its strict lockdown between April and June with outdoor dining and domestic tourism likely to be possible during the summer, deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar has said.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is expected to announce Wednesday planned changes to existing social-distancing measures after the Lunar New Year holiday, South China Morning Post reported, citing an unidentified government source. Currently, restaurant dine-in services are banned after 6pm, public gatherings are limited to two, and venues such as gyms, beauty parlors, bars and clubs remain closed.

Japan: The Japanese government is planning to keep the state of emergency in the 10 prefectures despite earlier reports that it was considering lifting it in some areas on Friday, broadcaster FNN reported, without attribution. Officials see need to keep the emergency in place to ease pressure on the medical system.

Australia: A hotel in Melbourne being used to quarantine overseas arrivals has been closed after new coronavirus cases were linked to it. The Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport will close until further notice, Victoria state quarantine authorities said. About 135 staff and 48 residents who were in the hotel between 7 January and 9 February will need to enter a 14-day quarantine, while two schools located in the suburb that’s recorded seven new exposure sites have closed as a precaution.

Greece: The Greek government has reintroduced a stricter lockdown in Athens and the surrounding Attica region in a bid to curb a recent spike in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The area accounts for around half of Greece’s population of almost 11 million.