The Covid-19 pandemic has infected more than 101 million people around the world, with over 2.1 million fatalities. Here are updates for January 29:

European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides speaks during a press conference on the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine export transparency, in Brussels on January 29, 2021.
European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides speaks during a press conference on the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine export transparency, in Brussels on January 29, 2021. (AFP)

Friday, January 29, 2021:

France to close borders to non-EU countries

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the country would close its borders to non-European Union countries for all except essential travel, while stepping back from a widely anticipated third lockdown.

The travel ban will come into force from Sunday to try to limit the spread of new variant cases of coronavirus from abroad.

Castex, speaking after a meeting of the country's defence council, said he was not announcing a fresh national lockdown for now, adding that "the next few days will be decisive" in terms of any possible new restrictions.

EU sets vaccine export controls until end-March

The European Commission said it had agreed a plan to control exports of vaccines from the European Union, including to Britain, arguing it needed to do so to ensure its own supplies.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference the export monitoring and controls were "time limited", initially lasting until the end of March, and applied to Covid-19 vaccines the EU had bought in advance.

The bloc could block the export of a vaccine if it determined that this could undermine the EU's own supplies.

"This is an insurance policy," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told a news conference. 

Britain said it was urgently seeking answers from the European Union over its decision to restrict the export of Covid-19 vaccines to Northern Ireland.

WHO says vaccine hoarding keeps pandemic burning

Rich countries squabbling over Covid-19 vaccine supplies must consider the situation in poorer parts of the world, the World Health Organization said, warning that hoarding of shots "keeps the pandemic burning".

"If we hoard vaccines and we are not sharing, there will be three major problems. One, I have said it, it will be a catastrophic moral failure and two it keeps the pandemic burning and three very slow global economy recovery," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told a virtual briefing.

"So it is our choice and I hope we will choose the right things," he said, almost a year since he declared a public health emergency over the emergence of the coronavirus.

Italy reports 477 deaths, 13,574 new cases

Italy reported 477 coronavirus-related deaths, down from 492 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 13,574 from 14,372.

Some 268,750 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, against a previous 275,179, the health ministry said.

Italy has now registered 87,858 deaths linked to Covid-19 since last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. 

The country has reported 2.529 million cases to date.

French death toll jumps above 75,000

France's coronavirus death toll jumped above 75,000 as the government reported 820 new deaths, taking the cumulative total to 75,620.

Friday's figure included 355 deaths in hospitals, compared with 344 a day earlier, and 465 deaths in retirement homes over the past three days, health ministry data showed. 

The seven-day moving average of deaths increased to 425 from 400 a day earlier.

Turkey reports over 6,900 new coronavirus infections

Turkey reported 6,912 additional coronavirus cases, including 664 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case tally passed 2.46 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 25,736, with 131 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 8,093 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.34 million.

Ukraine needs 15 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines more

Ukraine needs to buy 15 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in addition to the number it expects to receive under the global COVAX scheme and from China, the government said.

It said in a statement that the country was planning to vaccinate 14.4 million people in 2021 starting from February.

Ukraine, which has registered over 1.2 million coronavirus cases, expects at least 8 million doses from COVAX. 

The government also signed an agreement with China's leading vaccine manufacturer, Sinovac Biotech to buy 1.9 million doses.

Sweden registers 2,400 new Covid-19 cases, 71 deaths

Sweden, which has spurned a lockdown throughout the pandemic, registered 2,400 new coronavirus cases, Health Agency statistics showed.

New cases have come down significantly over the last few weeks and the figure was the lowest daily registered increase for over three months.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 71 new deaths, taking the total to 11,591. 

The deaths registered have occurred over several days and weeks.

Greece reverses decision to reopen shops

Greece will shut its shops less than two weeks after they were allowed to reopen, and has indefinitely postponed plans to reopen secondary schools, after a surge in coronavirus infections forced it to reverse early steps out of lockdown.

"The horizontal spread of infections in the most densely populated area of the country is worrisome," Vana Papaevangelou, a member of the committee of experts advising the government, told a press briefing.

"We don't want to face an exponential rise of infections and the impact it would have on the public health system."

European regulator gives green light for AstraZeneca vaccine

Regulators authorised AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults throughout the European Union, amid criticism the bloc is not moving fast enough to vaccinate its population.

The European Medicines Agency's expert committee unanimously recommended the vaccine to be used in people 18 and over, though concerns had been raised this week that not enough data exist to prove it works in older people.

The shot is the third Covid-19 vaccine given the green light by the European Medicines Agency, after ones made by Pfizer and Moderna. 

Both were authorised for all adults. 

The decision requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with the other vaccines.

J&J's Covid-19 vaccine 66% effective

Johnson & Johnson said that its single-dose vaccine was 66 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 in a large trial against multiple variants across three continents.

In the trial of nearly 44,000 volunteers, the level of protection against moderate and severe Covid-19 varied from 72 percent in the United States, to 66 percent in Latin America and just 57 percent in South Africa, from where a worrying variant has spread.

A high bar has been set by two authorised vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which were around 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness in pivotal trials when given in two doses.

Those trials, however, were conducted mainly in the United States and before new variants emerged.

Anchorage opens up after Covid-19 drop, vaccines

A decrease in the rate of Covid-19 infections buoyed by other factors like having 12 percent of the population vaccinated has led Alaska’s largest city to relax restrictions placed on businesses to combat the pandemic, officials said.

The municipality of Anchorage will double the occupancy rate to 50 percent for bars, restaurants, storefront businesses, gyms, bingo halls and theatres as of Monday, said acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. Last call will also be moved back an hour, with alcohol service ending at midnight.

AstraZeneca to seek Japan's approval of virus vaccine as early as mid-Feb

AstraZeneca Plc will file for Japanese approval of its virus vaccine as early as mid-February, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, making it the second vaccine maker to seek approval in Japan.

Although the British-Swedish company started domestic vaccine trials last summer, it fell behind its rival Pfizer Inc in the schedule to inoculate the Japanese public after Pfizer sought government approval in December.

Philippines to relax ban on visitors from countries with UK variant

The Philippines will relax travel curbs on foreigners coming from more than 30 countries that have detected cases of the more contagious British variant of the virus starting from next month, the presidential spokesman said.

The move covers foreigners previously allowed to enter the Philippines, including those holding work visas and spouses of Filipinos, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement, adding that tourists would remain banned.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 14,022 

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 14,022 to 2,192,850, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 839 to 55,752, the tally showed. 

S.Korea delays easing social distancing amid sign of another wave

South Korea has delayed until Sunday any easing of social distancing measures because outbreaks involving mission schools are threatening to undermine efforts to keep new infections under control ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

The number of cases linked to Christian schools nationwide grew further on Friday, reaching 344 infections in total in seven facilities.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that the government would not carelessly reduce social distancing rules, citing experts who view the recent surge in cases as a sign of another massive wave of infections.

WHO-led team in Wuhan probing virus origins meet Chinese scientists

A World Health Organization-led team of experts investigating the origins of the Covid-19 began meeting with Chinese scientists, and the WHO said the group plans to visit labs, markets and hospitals in Wuhan.

On Thursday, the team completed two weeks of quarantine following its arrival in China, moving to a lakeside hotel in the central Chinese city where the deadly virus emerged in late 2019.

"First face to face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: facemask to facemask given the medical restrictions. Discussing our visiting program," Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, tweeted.

India's Serum Institute seeks approval to conduct local trial for Novavax vaccine

The Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine makers, has sought the drug regulator's permission to conduct a small domestic trial of the Novavax Inc vaccine that was found to be 89.3 percent effective in a UK trial, its CEO told.

Virus infection may reduce fertility in men – study

Virus may damage sperm quality and reduce fertility in men, according to a new study based on experimental evidence.

The viral disease – which has swept the globe, claiming nearly 2.2 million lives – can cause increased sperm cell death, inflammation and so-called oxidative stress, researchers reported in the journal Reproduction.

"These findings provide the first direct experimental evidence that the male reproductive system could be targeted and damaged by Covid-19," the authors concluded.

Experts commenting on the research, however, said the capacity of the virus to compromise fertility in men remains unproven.

Vietnam reports nine new infections 

Vietnam reported nine more infections as the new outbreak spreads to Hanoi, the capital, where the ruling Communist party is holding its key five-yearly congress.

The new cases, including one in Hanoi and eight in Haiphong, Hai Duong, Quang Ninh and Bac Ninh provinces, brought the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 1,651, with 35 deaths, the Ministry of Health said.

UK bans direct flights from UAE

Britain is banning direct passenger flights to and from the United Arab Emirates, shutting down the world's busiest international airline route from Dubai to London.

Britain said it was adding the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda to its virus travel ban list because of worries over the spread of a more contagious and potentially vaccine-resistant variant first identified in South Africa.

Virus strands 1,000 Cuban, Haitian migrants in Colombia

The closing of Panama's border due to virus has stranded a thousand migrants – most from Haiti and Cuba – in Colombia, as they had planned to sneak across on their way to the United States, officials said Thursday.

Now in makeshift tents on the beach of Necocli, these migrants hope to sneak into Panama en route to the US by crossing the dangerous Gulf of Uraba to the Colombian border town of Acandi, emergency management director Cesar Zuniga told.

Acandi, a tiny Colombian town near the Panamanian border, however, has been unwilling to let the group come in, Zuniga said.

UN chief calls vaccine distribution a 'global emergency'

The United Nations chief is calling the distribution of vaccines a “global emergency,” saying more that 70 million doses have been administered but fewer than 20,000 vaccinations were on the African continent.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that while every country has the duty to protect its own people “no country can afford to neglect the rest of the world.”

He called “vaccine nationalism” both a moral and economic failure and said: “We need a global vaccination campaign to deal with a global pandemic.”

Mexico reports 1,506 more coronavirus deaths

Mexico's health ministry has reported 18,670 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 1,506 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,825,519 cases and 155,145 deaths.

The latest death toll brings the total past India's tally, giving Mexico the third-highest tally worldwide. 

Mexican president almost free of virus symptoms – official

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's health is improving and he is practically without symptoms of Covid-19 after he announced on Sunday he had caught the virus, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.

Novavax says vaccine 89 percent effective in UK trial but not against South Africa variant

Novavax Inc said its coronavirus vaccine was 89.3 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 in a trial conducted in the United Kingdom, and was nearly as effective in protecting against the more highly contagious variant first discovered in the UK, according to a preliminary analysis.

A mid-stage trial of the vaccine in South Africa, where a troubling new variant of the virus is common, showed 60 percent effectiveness among people who did not have HIV.

Novavax shares surged 34 percent in after hours trading following release of the trial results on the same day the United States reported its first cases of the South African variant.

Novavax is already stockpiling vaccine at six operating manufacturing locations, and said it expects a total of eight plants in seven countries to produce at the rate of 2 billion doses per year, including from the Serum Institute of India.

The company on a conference call noted that this was interim data and executives said they expect it will be two to three months before they are ready to apply for authorisation with regulators.

Turkey to receive remainder of second Sinovac vaccine consignment

Turkey will receive the remaining portion of a second consignment of 10 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech by Friday morning, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, allowing a nationwide rollout to continue.

Turkey received 6.5 million doses of the second consignment on Monday, following an initial consignment of 3 million doses nearly a month ago. It has so far vaccinated nearly 1.7 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people, according to health ministry data.

"The first portion of the 10 million dose second consignment of inactive vaccine had arrived at the weekend.

As of this morning (Friday), the second portion will have arrived in our country. Vaccines consignments will continue in accordance with the procurement programme," Koca said on Twitter.

Brazil researchers find people infected with two strains

Researchers in southern Brazil said they have discovered patients infected with two different strains of the new coronavirus simultaneously, reflecting concerns about the growing number of variants in the country.

The researchers, who posted their findings on medical website medRxiv, said their study would be the first in the world to confirm co-infection with two strains of the coronavirus. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal and has not been peer reviewed.

The patients, both in their 30s, were infected in late November with the P.2 variant of coronavirus identified in Rio, also known as the B.1.1.28 lineage, and simultaneously tested positive for a second variant of the virus.

Their symptoms were reportedly mild, with a dry cough in one case, and coughing, sore throat and headache in the second. They did not require hospitalization.

The cases underscore how many variants could already be circulating in Brazil and raise concerns among scientists that the co-existence of two strains in the same body could speed up mutations of new variants of coronavirus.

New York prosecutor says state 'undercounted' nursing home deaths

New York state’s health department may have undercounted the Covid-19 death toll among state nursing home residents by as much as 50 percent, according to a report released by the state attorney general's office.

The report, issued while the state prosecutor's office continues to investigate nursing homes' response to the Covid-19 pandemic, indicated that some facilities underreported deaths to the state health department. It also noted that the health department has not counted the deaths of nursing home residents who were transferred to and died in hospitals, contributing to a drastic underrepresentation of the nursing home death toll.

According to the report, the Department of Health's numbers for nursing home Covid-19 deaths – 6,423 from March through the beginning of August, based on records from 619 nursing homes – could be as much as 50 percent lower than the reality.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies