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February 15, 2021

International update: Global Covid infections near 109 million – UK variant found in 39 US states

By Paul Dennis

15 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,399,985 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 108.8 million world wide.

There is growing controversy over a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic after one of its members said China had refused to hand over key data, and the US national security adviser said he had “deep concerns” about the initial findings.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 27.6 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 485,336 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Americans should not get complacent about rapidly falling coronavirus cases as a potentially more lethal variant spreads in the US, according to Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The US has seen more than 1,000 cases of the strain first identified in the UK, with infections across at least 39 states, Walensky said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of three scheduled interviews on Sunday.

New infections at Nebraska’s almost 200 federally-licensed nursing homes fell by more than 80% in three weeks of vaccinations, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The newspaper reported a similar drop among nursing staff. More than 40% of the state’s 2,000 deaths have been at nursing homes, the paper said.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear indicated that infections have declined for five straight weeks, which he said was the longest stretch since the start of the pandemic. “We are doing better and better,” he said in a video message. “So keep it up.”

Ohio reported 1,809 cases, the fewest since October. Cases and hospitalizations have been on a steady decline for more than a month after Governor Mike DeWine imposed restrictions, including a recently-lifted curfew. Deaths remain at a plateau, and the state just completed logging more than 4,000 unreported fatalities. Total deaths are now 16,346.

New York state hospitalizations fell by more than 1,000 to 6,593 over the last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. That compares with more than 9,000 almost a month ago at the peak of the state’s post-holiday virus surge. Cuomo reported 8,316 new cases, a daily decline in line with the lower pace of infection that has prompted him to ease some restrictions, including allowing limited indoor dining in New York City. The positive test rate was steady at 3.54%. Another 107 people died of Covid-19.

Brazil: Brazil has confirmed two cases of the UK variant in the state of Goiás after sequencing test samples taken on 31 December, Reuters reports, citing the state’s health department. It did not say if these are the first cases of the variant detected in Brazil.

UK: The UK has reported a further 10,972 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases, according to government data – a fall from last Sunday’s figure at 15,845. A total of 4,038,078 people have tested positive.

Australia: Melbourne has recorded one new locally acquired case of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the Australian city’s Holiday Inn cluster to 17 cases. The lack of new cases may give optimism to Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews that the cluster of the UK strain of the virus is being contained, and could allow the state’s 5-day lockdown to be lifted on Thursday as planned.

France: France reported 16,546 new infections on Sunday amid worries about variants of the coronavirus that are spreading in some northern and eastern parts of the country. Deaths rose by 167 to 81,814.

Vaccine news

Global: Sanofi’s two Covid-19 vaccines are entering new phases of trials in coming weeks and both could be available by the end of the year, said Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi’s more advanced vaccine candidate, being jointly developed with GlaxoSmithKline Plc, will enter another Phase II trial later this month, and there have been no problems with getting the right formulations, Triomphe said in a phone interview. His comments came in response to an earlier report in French weekly Journal du Dimanche, questioning whether they would be ready.

Lebanon: Lebanon has started vaccinating high-risk groups, including healthcare workers and elderly people.

Rwanda: Rwanda has started vaccinating healthcare workers and other high-risk groups, its health ministry has said, making it the first country in east Africa to start its rollout.

UK: A total of 15,062,189 people in the UK have now had a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest government figures.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed his government had met its target of immunizing everyone over the age of 70, along with people who live or work in nurse homes, health service workers and those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Israel: An Israeli study of more than half a million fully vaccinated people indicated the Pfizer/BioNTech jab offered 94% protection against Covid-19, according to the country’s largest healthcare provider.

US: The Biden administration should consider tailored solutions to get the vaccine into “underserved communities,” including mobile vans and grass-roots outreach to community groups instead of mass vaccination sites, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. “I’d be marshalling federal resources toward that kind of a mission and letting Walmart work off the easy demand,” Gottlieb said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Mexico: Mexico is in talks with Cuba to host part of a trial on a Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to draw more supplies from international laboratories as doses run short in the country and the death tally grows.

North Macedonia: A shortage of shots prompted one ex-Yugoslav republic to donate 4,680 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to another member of the former federation, in an atypical instance of Balkan solidarity. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic delivered the vaccines to North Macedonia’s Premier Zoran Zaev at the mutual border on Sunday, the first part of 8,000 vaccines for the southern neighbour. Both states aspire to join the European Union though they haven’t received any vaccines from the bloc. Serbia has managed to buy more than 1.8 million shots directly from drug makers, and has shared some with neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

Lockdown updates

Italy: Italy extended its ban on ski resorts, set to expire on Monday, until 5 March, Ansa reported. The action was taken by Health Minister Roberto Speranza after warnings from a senior aide as well as Italy’s Scientific Committee that the spread of new coronavirus variants made the reopening of resorts too risky, despite the overall easing of outbreak in Italy and a loosening of other restrictions. Resorts were a source of infection in last year’s deadly surge in Italy.

Denmark: Denmark must prepare to deal with Covid-19 for a long period of time, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in an interview with the newspaper Berlingske. Frederiksen suggested a “massive testing strategy” to keep society open. This model would require Danes to get used to getting tested several times a week. She also referred to longer-term border controls to prevent new mutations from spreading.

Switzerland: Influential Swiss business lobby group Economiesuisse called for the easing of some coronavirus restrictions beginning in March, putting pressure on Switzerland’s government. Health Minister Alain Berset is expected to announce the government’s plan to potentially reduce restrictions on 24 February. The Swiss government has closed restaurants, banned outdoor gatherings of more than five people, urged people who can to work from home and closed non-essential shops to stop the spread of the virus.

Australia: Australia has suspended quarantine-free travel with New Zealand after it locked down Auckland following the detection of three new community cases.

Serbia: Around 1,000 people have been caught flouting restrictions in a Belgrade nightclub, Serbia’s interior ministry said on Sunday. The country’s coronavirus restrictions allow gatherings of up to five.

Czech Republic: The Czech government prolonged its pandemic lockdown measures, escalating its conflict with lawmakers opposed to the extension even as the country struggles to contain one of the worst outbreaks in Europe. The cabinet of Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Sunday agreed to maintain the state of emergency for two more weeks, keeping the legal framework allowing it to shut shops and services, curb movement of people and impose a nighttime curfew. Babis’s rivals said the move violated the constitution.

UK: On Sunday, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab signalled that schools in England will be allowed to reopen from early next month.

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