19 January

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,041,864 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 95.6 million world wide.

It’s wrong that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and old people in poorer countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at an executive board meeting on Monday. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” he said. “Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals – going around Covax, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue.” He also said manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to the WHO.

An independent panel established by the World Health Organization has criticized missteps in the global handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their report pointed out that the WHO has been underpowered to do the job expected of it and said that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by Chinese authorities in January last year. It identified that international, regional and national institutions have struggled to deliver the necessary responses, and that inequalities both within and between nations have worsened as vulnerable and marginalized people have been left without access to health care. The panel suggests that the pandemic be a catalyst for fundamental and systemic change in preparedness for future events. It will present a final report to the World Health Assembly scheduled for May.

US: US Covid-19 infections have passed 24 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 399,003 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

UK: The UK had the highest Covid death toll in the world in the week to 17 January, with 16.5 deaths per 1 million people on average, according to Our World in Data.

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Brazil: Brazil on Monday reported 23,671 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the new total to 8,511,770, the country’s health ministry said. Deaths rose by 452 to 210,299 in Brazil, which has the world’s highest death toll from the pandemic outside the US.

Spain: Spain reported a record rise in coronavirus infections over the weekend and the number of new cases measured over the past fortnight spiked to 689 per 100,000 people on Monday from 575 on Friday, health ministry data showed.

Portugal: Portugal’s daily Covid death toll reached a record high of 167 on Monday, bringing the total to 9,028 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Stricter lockdown rules are now being enacted there.

India: India registered 10,064 coronavirus cases in its latest daily figures, according to government data. That’s the lowest figure since 8 June. The country’s total confirmed virus cases stood at 10.58 million as of 19 January, the data showed.

Singapore: Singapore is seeing “more new infected cases in the community in recent days,” Education Minister Lawrence Wong says in post on Facebook. Wong highlighted a local cluster linked to a police para-vet and several recent cases who did not seek medical treatment. “We are also monitoring the situation carefully and considering if additional measures are necessary to ensure the infection remains under control,” he said.

Italy: Italy registered 8,825 new virus cases, below the 10,000 threshold for the first time this year, dropping from 12,545 the day before. The country reported 377 deaths, the same number as Sunday.

Ireland: Ireland reported its fewest new coronavirus cases since 1 January, in a sign that one of the world’s worst outbreaks is beginning to slow. The country reported 2,121 new cases – the fourth day in a row cases have fallen — with eight deaths. The positivity rate fell to 10.2% from 25% a fortnight ago.

Variant watch

Global: Scientists have found new biological evidence that a South African Covid variant binds more readily to human cells, making it more infectious, according to one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts.

Morocco: Morocco’s health ministry has confirmed its first imported case of the more contagious variant of coronavirus first discovered in the UK. The variant was detected in the northern port of Tangier in a Moroccan national returning from Ireland via Marseille, the ministry said in a statement.

Czech Republic: The Czech Republic has confirmed the detection of the new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus first found in Britain.

Japan: Japan has detected a variant of the new coronavirus first discovered in Britain in three people who had not travelled there.

Vaccine news

EU: The European Union’s executive arm will urge member states to set a target for vaccinating at least 70% of the bloc’s population by this summer, according to a draft of the latest pandemic response recommendations due to be released Tuesday.

UK: The UK reported that the number of people who have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine increased by 225,407 as of 17 January, compared with 277,915 the day before. The first dose total is currently at 4,062,501, according to government data. The number of individuals who received their second dose was 2,565 as of Jan. 17, compared with 2,475 the day before. The second dose total is currently at 452,301, the government’s data website showed.

Wales: The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has defended the slower rollout of the inoculation programme in Wales, saying the Pfizer vaccine could not be used all at once as supplies had to last until the start of February.

France: France will comfortably reach its target for 1 million Covid vaccinations by the end of January, Health Minister Olivier Veran said. Vaccine doses are being made available as they arrive, with appointments for the French to get the jab corresponding to available supplies, he said.

Russia: Russia expects to start Covid-19 vaccinations for as much as 14% of the population in the first quarter after President Vladimir Putin last week told authorities to provide universal access to the inoculations. Russia should have the production capacity to provide the first shot of one of its two registered vaccines to more than 20 million people this quarter, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said Monday in a televised meeting.

Philippines: The Philippine Food and Drug Administration has allowed China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. to hold clinical trials in the Southeast Asian nation for its coronavirus vaccine, the regulator’s head Eric Domingo said. The local regulator is still waiting for Sinovac to submit documents on late-stage trials before processing its separate application for emergency use in the Philippines, Domingo said in an interview with state-run PTV-4.

Singapore: Singapore is seeking to set up 36 vaccination centers from February to inoculate its population, the Straits Times reported, citing tender documents. The government is also looking to set up 10 mobile teams to provide mass vaccinations for sites such as nursing homes, according to the newspaper. These new facilities together with the roving teams could potentially deliver more than 70,000 shots every day across the island, though the numbers could be subject to change, the Straits Times said. Vaccination sites could include vacant schools, community clubs and sports halls, and the assigned centers will operate for up to 12 months.

Japan: Takeda Pharmaceutical plans to start the clinical trials of Novavax’s Covid vaccine candidate around 20 February, Yomiuri reported, citing the Japanese drugmaker.

Taro Kono. the outspoken reformer named by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to lead a massive vaccine rollout pledged to work quickly on inoculations as the country nears approval of Pfizer Inc.’s shot for the coronavirus. The former defense minister, told a news conference Tuesday he will do everything he can to get as many people as possible inoculated when Japan looks to start vaccinations in late February.

Brazil: Brazil accelerated its vaccination plans after the state of Sao Paulo publicly launched a drive to immunize residents, increasing pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro, a vaccine skeptic, to move faster. The government began distributing 6 million doses of a shot from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd in partnership with Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute to all of its 27 states, giving the green light for immunizations to begin right away, according to an official statement. Less than 24 hours before, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello had said the nationwide campaign would kick off on Wednesday.

US: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he asked Pfizer Inc. if the state could buy vaccines directly from the company because the US government has failed to increase supply. No state has ever purchased vaccines directly from the producer, but “my job is to pursue every avenue,” the governor said.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s government-appointed vaccine advisory panel is seeking more data from the Norwegian and German governments on the reported deaths of elderly people after they received the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot, the panel’s experts said at a press briefing on Monday. The panel recommended the shot for use in Hong Kong but would ask the government to stop administering it “as soon as we receive information that tips the balance ratio of risks and benefits,” the panel convenor Wallace Lau said.

Lockdown updates

US: President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration rejected a move by President Donald Trump to rescind coronavirus-related travel bans for non-American citizens arriving from the European Union, the U.K. and Brazil, which means the curbs will stay in effect. Trump said in a White House announcement Monday that the bans could be lifted because of a decision last week by the administration to require international travelers to present either the results of a negative recent coronavirus test or evidence that they had already recovered from the disease. The change would go into effect starting 26 January, six days after Biden takes office.

Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with state premiers on Tuesday on a possible extension and tightening of Germany’s virus measures, with curfews considered. There were 9,253 new cases in Europe’s biggest economy in the 24 hours through Tuesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University data. An additional 482 people died.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong will extend social-distancing measures, expand mandatory testing and introduce new restrictions in certain neighbourhoods to battle an extended wave of coronavirus cases. The moves come after the Asian financial hub reported 107 daily Covid-19 infections on Monday, the most in a month, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a weekly news briefing Tuesday. Lam said the city would announce specific new virus-control measures at a health department briefing later Tuesday.

Portugal: The Portuguese government reintroduced travel restrictions between municipalities on weekends. Most stores that are still allowed to stay open will have to close by 8 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said at a press conference on Monday. The government also limited certain takeaway services.

UK: The UK may begin to relax restrictions in the first half of March, according to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi. The current lockdown is set to be reviewed in mid-February. “There will be a point at which we can begin to gradually lift the non-pharmaceutical interventions,” Zahawi told Times Radio. Using the mid-February target for vaccinating the highest priority groups and adding 2-3 weeks for the shots to take effect, “you’re talking about the first, second week of March,” he said.