The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 2.4 million people and infected more than 109 million globally. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for February 14:

A health worker of the Indigenous Special Sanitary District of Manaus administers Sinovac's CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine to an Indigenous person  in Itacoatiara, Amazonas state, Brazil on February 13, 2021.
A health worker of the Indigenous Special Sanitary District of Manaus administers Sinovac's CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine to an Indigenous person in Itacoatiara, Amazonas state, Brazil on February 13, 2021. (Reuters)

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Brazil confirms UK variant in two coronavirus patients

Brazil has confirmed two cases of the UK variant in the state of Goias after sequencing test samples taken on December 31, according to the state's health department.

In a statement on Friday, the authorities said the two people have caught the UK variant live on the outskirts of the federal capital Brasilia. The health department did not say if these are the first cases of the UK variant found in Brazil.

The World Health Organization has said the UK variant has now been found in more than 70 countries.

A genomic sequencing of the virus confirmed infection by the UK variant of the coronavirus, the statement from Goias health authorities said.

France says new confirmed cases at 16,546

France has reported 16,546 new cases, down from 21,231 on Saturday and 20,701 on Friday.

The French health ministry reported 167 new deaths in hospitals, from 199 on Saturday, taking the total to 81,814.

The country's total number of cases now stands at 3,465,163. 

Zimbabwe to receive delivery of China's Sinopharm vaccines

Zimbabwe is preparing to receive its first delivery of China's Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine, saying the shipment will first undergo “rigorous examinations” before being rolled out, officials said.

It will be one of China's first shipments of vaccines to Africa, after deliveries to Egypt and Equatorial Guinea. The southern African country's first vaccines, expected early on Monday, will be 200,000 doses of the vaccine donated by the Chinese government, while another 600,000 doses of the same vaccine have been purchased by the government and will arrive early next month, the state-run Sunday Mail reported.

Zimbabwe “aims to assess these vaccines within 48 hours” of arrival, Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe spokesman Shingai Gwatidzo said according to the paper.

Turkey reports over 6,287 new coronavirus infections

Turkey has reported 6,287 more coronavirus cases, including 666 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's tally of cases passed 2.58 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 27,471, with 94 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 6,910 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.47 million.

UK records 258 new deaths, 10,972 more infections

Britain reported 258 new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test and 10,972 new infections, official data showed.

The data also showed 15,062,189 people had received their first vaccine dose, confirming an earlier announcement.

UK administers 15 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine

Britain has now given 15 million people their first dose of vaccine against Covid-19, the minister in charge of the vaccination programme said on Twitter.

"15,000,000! Amazing team," Nadim Zahawi tweeted, citing data compiled by the I news website using totals from each of the United Kingdom's four constituent countries. 

Germany partially closes borders despite EU criticism

Germany has partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol over a troubling surge in coronavirus mutations.

A thousand police officers were mobilised to ensure strict border checks, which recall the much-criticised early days of the pandemic when EU countries hastily closed their frontiers to each other.

Under the new rules, only Germans or non-German residents are allowed through, and they must provide a recent negative coronavirus test. Some exceptions are allowed for essential workers in sectors such as health and transport, as well as for urgent humanitarian reasons, the German interior ministry has said.

French hospitals to move into crisis mode from Thursday

The French Health Ministry has asked regional health agencies and hospitals to go into "crisis organisation" from February 18 to prepare for a possible surge in coronavirus cases due to highly contagious variants, Le Journal Du Dimanche reported.

The move, which would echo measures taken in March and November 2020 when France went into national lockdowns, involves increasing the number of hospital beds available, delaying non- urgent surgery and mobilising all medical staff resources.

"This crisis organisation must be implemented in each region, regardless of the level of hospital stress and must be operational from Thursday, February 18," health authority DGS said in a memo cited by the newspaper.

The DGS was not immediately available for comment to Reuters.

Israel plans to reopen restaurants in March, restart tourism with Cyprus

Israel is planning to reopen restaurants around March 9 and restart tourism with Cyprus as part of a gradual return to normality thanks to a Covid-19 vaccination campaign, officials said.

With more than 41 percent of Israelis having received at least one shot of Pfizer Inc's vaccine, Israel has said it will partially reopen hotels and gyms on February 23 to those fully inoculated or deemed immune after recovering from Covid-19.

To gain entry, these beneficiaries would have to present a "Green Pass", displayed on a Health Ministry app linked to their medical files. The app's rollout is due this week.

Israel began emerging from its third lockdown last Sunday.

UK says it shares US concerns over WHO Covid-19 mission to China

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said he shared concerns about the level of access given to a World Health Organisation Covid-19 fact-finding mission to China, echoing criticism from the United States.

"We do share concerns that they get full cooperation and they get the answers they need, and so we'll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs," Raab said in a BBC interview when asked if he shared US concerns.

Lebanon administers first vaccines to health workers, elderly

Lebanon has administered its first jabs of Covid-19 vaccine, with an intensive care unit physician and a well-known 93-year-old comedian becoming the first to receive Pfizer-BioNTech doses.

Lebanon launched its inoculation campaign a day after receiving the first batch of the vaccine – 28,500 doses from Brussels, near where Pfizer has a manufacturing facility. More were expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

The rollout will be monitored by the World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to ensure safe handling and fair and equitable access for all Lebanese.

Mexico gets AstraZeneca doses from India, expects more Pfizer

Mexico has received a shipment of 870,000 doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine from India, the government said, as the country prepares to prioritise older adults in the next phase of its vaccination campaign.

Sunday's shipment amounts to about 42 percent of the two million doses of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine the country plans to import from India, in addition to packaging it locally, the government said. Mexico is also expecting shipments of Pfizer's vaccine to resume, with 494,000 doses due to arrive on Tuesday.

Mexico and Argentina have an agreement with AstraZeneca to produce the vaccine for eventual distribution of 250 million doses in Latin America, with financial support from the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Oxford University to test its vaccine in children

The University of Oxford plans to test its vaccine in children for the first time, becoming the latest vaccine developer to assess whether its shot is effective in young people.

The trial seeks to recruit 300 volunteers between the ages of 6 and 17, with up to 240 receiving the vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine.

Andrew Pollard, chief researcher on the Oxford vaccine trial, says that while most children don’t get severely ill from the virus, “it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.’’

UK concerns over WHO mission to China

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has said he shared concerns about the level of access given to a World Health Organization's fact-finding mission to China, echoing criticism from the United States.

The White House called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the novel coronavirus outbreak, saying it had "deep concerns" about the way the findings of the WHO's report were communicated.

Asked about the US reaction, Raab told the BBC: "We do share concerns that they get full cooperation and they get the answers they need, and so we'll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak."

Malaysia reports 2,464 new cases

Malaysia has reported 2,464 new cases, bringing the total number of recorded infections to 264,269.

The health ministry also reported seven new deaths, raising total fatalities from the pandemic to 965. 

Japan formally approves its first vaccine

Japan has formally approved its first vaccine and said it would start nationwide inoculations within days, but months behind the US and many other countries.

Japan’s health ministry said it had approved the vaccine co-developed and supplied by Pfizer Inc.

The announcement comes after a government panel on Friday confirmed that final results of clinical testing done in Japan showed that the vaccine had an efficacy similar to what overseas tests showed.

Virus cancels one of Europe's oldest street carnivals

The pandemic has brought to a sudden halt one of Europe's oldest surviving street carnivals.

In normal times, the small town of Binche in southern Belgium would be bursting with excitement.

It's this time of the year when craftsmen put the finishing touches to the vibrant costumes, ostrich-feather hats and wax mask of performers known as Gilles.

The whole city braces itself for the carnival festivities that have been labeled a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO.

Russia records 14,185 new cases

Russia has reported 14,185 new cases , including 1,559 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 4,071,883 since the pandemic began.

Authorities said 430 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 80,126. 

Australia reports two new local cases

Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria has reported two new cases of locally transmitted  infection, day two of a snap lockdown as authorities scrambled to curb the spread of the highly infectious UK variant of the disease.

The two cases, including a 3-year-old child, were the first two who were not household contacts of a cluster of infected workers at a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport which had triggered the five-day lockdown, health authorities said. The hotel cluster has now affect ed 16 people.

While there have only been three new local cases identified following thousands of tests since the lockdown was announced on Friday, Victoria's health officials said the tough curbs - forcing the state's six million-plus people to stay home for five days - were still needed.

Auckland in lockdown after 3 virus cases

New Zealand's largest city of Auckland will go into a three-day lockdown beginning just before midnight following the discovery of three unexplained coronavirus cases in the community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move after an urgent meeting with other top lawmakers in the Cabinet.

She said they decided to take a cautious approach until they find out more about the outbreak, including whether the infections are of the more contagious variants.

UNSC to debate challenge of global vaccine access

At the initiative of Britain, which boasts of having an effective vaccination program, the UN Security Council on Wednesday will debate the problem of global access to vaccines, raising issues likely to underscore sharp differences between council members.

The Security Council, with a mission of maintaining peace and security around the world, has no special health expertise, an ambassador noted, adding, "the Security Council can just have a contribution."

He added that no resolution on the matter is likely to come this week.

The Security Council's only direct involvement in the pandemic came in July 2020 when, after long and difficult negotiations to resolve sharp US-Chinese tensions, it passed a resolution encouraging cease-fires in countries in conflict in order to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Pandemic tops agenda as UK hosts G7 leaders' meet next week

Britain has said it will use the first leaders' meeting of its G7 presidency next week to seek more global cooperation on vaccine distribution and post-pandemic recovery plans.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host G7 heads of state for a virtual meeting on Friday, their first gathering since April 2020 and US President Joe Biden's first major multilateral engagement since taking office last month.

They are meeting at a seaside retreat in Cornwall in southwestern England on June 11-13, after last year's gathering in the United States was shelved because of the pandemic.

Brazil governors seek own vaccine supplies as stocks run low

Brazilian state governors are pursuing their own vaccine supply plans, with some expressing concern that President Jair Bolsonaro's government won't deliver the shots required to avoid interrupting immunisation efforts.

Governors are under pressure from mayors, some of whose vaccine stocks have already been depleted, including three cities in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro. Northeastern Bahia state's capital Salvador suspended vaccination on Thursday because supplies are dwindling. Brazil's two biggest cities, Rio and Sao Paulo, are expected to be without shots in a matter of days.

The governor who has pushed hardest to shore up his state's own vaccine supply during the pandemic is Sao Paulo’s Joao Doria, a former Bolsonaro ally turned adversary. 

The president repeatedly criticised Doria's deal to purchase 100 million CoronaVac shots from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac and said the federal government wouldn't buy them.

Lebanon receives first vaccines

Lebanon received its first vaccines, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country.

A plane landed at the Beirut airport, an AFP correspondent reported, with authorities saying it was carrying 28,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine flown in from Belgium.

The shipment was the first after the World Bank allocated $34 million to inoculate two million of Lebanon's six million inhabitants.

Homeschooling taking off in US as pandemic shutters schools

Faced with long school closures because of the pandemic, many US parents have taken to homeschooling to ensure their children's education continues despite the massive disruptions of the past year.

Homeschooling "exploded" when the virus caused school closures across the country in March 2020, according to the National Home School Association, based in Colorado.

The number of children being taught at home in the United States rose from between four and five million in 2019 to almost 10 million last year, the NHSA estimates.

Nearly 51 million students, from kindergarteners to 12th graders, were supposed to have gone to public schools after the summer of 2020, but most schools opted for online instruction instead.

EU to swiftly approve vaccines adapted to combat mutations

The European Union will fast track approvals of virus vaccines adapted to combat mutations, the bloc's Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides says in a newspaper interview.

"We have now decided that a vaccine that has been improved by the manufacturer on the basis of the previous vaccine to combat new mutations no longer has to go through the entire approval process," she told Bavaria's Augsburger Allgemeine.

"So it will be faster to have suitable vaccines available without compromising on safety."

The European Commission has come under fire from EU member states over delays to deliveries of vaccines which has seen the bloc lag behind countries such as Britain, a former member, and the United States.

Saudi Arabia extends restrictions 

Saudi Arabia has extended by 20 days restrictions on entertainment activities, gatherings, and dine-in restaurant services to curb the spread.

The announcement extends a set of measures brought in ten days ago. 

The restrictions, which come into effect from 10pm (1900GMT) local time on Sunday evening, could be extended again, interior ministry said.

Germany tightens borders to keep variants at bay

Germany on Sunday implemented more measures to keep coronavirus variants at bay, banning travel from Czech border regions and Austria's Tyrol after a troubling surge in contagious mutations.

A thousand police officers have been mobilised to ensure strict border controls and state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn suspended services to and from the affected areas.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced Thursday that the states of Bavaria and Saxony had asked the government "to class Tyrol and border regions of the Czech Republic as virus mutation areas, and to implement border controls," and that Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to do so from Sunday.

Germany in late January banned most travellers from countries classed as so-called mutation areas or places hardest hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants. These include Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Portugal.

Only a handful of exceptions are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, including returning Germans and essential workers such as doctors. Trade links will also be maintained.

The number of confirmed virus cases in the country increased by 6,114 to 2,334,561.

The reported death toll rose by 218 to 64,960, the data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

New Zealand reports fresh community outbreak

In a significant setback to New Zealand’s efforts to keep the virus from spreading in the community, three people from one family have tested positive with the source of the infections unknown, health officials announced Sunday.

New Zealand COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins described the cases of the mother, father and daughter as new and active.

He told reporters the mother works at an airline catering company, and officials are investigating whether there is a link with returning passengers who are infected.

He said scientists are carrying out genome sequencing to see whether the cases are of the more transmissible variants, and also to see whether they match with any infected passengers.

Britain offers Covid shots to more people

Britain will begin giving Covid-19 shots to those aged 65 and over on Monday as it closes in on its target to offer vaccines to 15 million people in priority groups including the elderly and frontline healthcare workers.

The government set Monday as the deadline to deliver a first vaccine dose to everyone in its top four priority segments, including all those aged 70 and over, a goal it looks likely to reach.

According to the latest official figures, 14.56 million people have received a shot, allowing health officials to expand the programme to those aged 65 to 69, and to other clinically vulnerable people.

The National Health Service (NHS) said about 1 million people had already received invitations.

Britain, which has recorded more than 120,000 deaths from Covid-19, was the first Western country to begin mass vaccinations in December, and is ahead of other Europea n countries in rolling out the shots. 

Brazil reports 44,299 new cases, 1,043 deaths

Brazil has recorded 44,299 additional confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, along with 1,043 more deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered more than 9.8 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 238,532, according to ministry data.

Mexico's death toll rises to 173,771 

Mexico's health ministry has reported 1,214 new deaths in the country, bringing the total death toll to 173,771.

First batch of Sputnik V vaccine lands in Venezuela

Venezuela has received its first shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The batch of 100,000 doses of the vaccine arrived at the Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas.

"This is going to have an impact on national life and our health system, both public and private," said Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

President Nicolas Maduro said last week health workers will be the first to receive the jab.

He also has repeatedly said that the country would be ready to start a massive vaccination campaign as of April.

The country of 30 million residents has taken part in the Sputnik V vaccine trials since October and signed a contract with Russia in December for 10 million doses.

The Venezuelan government has not provided financial details of the agreement.

Venezuela has reported 132,259 Covid-19 cases and 1,267 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

China fires back at Washington after it raises concerns about WHO report

The US damaged multilateral cooperation with the World Health Organization in recent years, and should not be "pointing fingers" at China and other countries that supported the WHO during the pandemic, the Chinese Embassy said.

A spokesperson for the embassy, responding to a statement from US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, said China welcomed Washington's decision to reengage with the WHO, but it should hold itself to the "highest standards" instead of taking aim at other countries.

Sullivan on Saturday called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the outbreak, citing "deep concerns" about the way the findings of the WHO's investigation into the origins of the virus were communicated.

WHO experts want 'more data' from China on possible early cases

WHO experts have voiced frustration at lacking access to raw data while in China probing the pandemic's origins, saying more was needed to detect possible early cases.

"We want more data. We have asked for more data," Peter Ben Embarek, who headed WHO's expert mission to Wuhan, told AFP in an interview.

"There is a mix of frustration but also a mix of realistic expectations in terms of what is feasible under which time frame," he said, adding he hoped the requested data would be made available going forward.

The four-week WHO mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus wrapped up earlier this week with no conclusive findings.

Experts believe the disease – which has killed nearly 2.4 million people worldwide – originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

But while the virus was first discovered in Wuhan in December 2019, it remains unclear if that is when and where the outbreak actually began.

The expert team determined that there were no signs of large clusters in Wuhan or elsewhere prior to December that year, but did not rule out sporadic cases spreading before that.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies