Coronavirus has killed more than 2.4 million people and infected over 110 million globally. Here are virus-related developments for February 19:

Zimbabwean Vice President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga receives a Covid-19 vaccination in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 18, 2021.
Zimbabwean Vice President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga receives a Covid-19 vaccination in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 18, 2021. (Reuters)

Friday, February 19, 2021

G7 countries commit $7.5B to Covax vaccine funding

G7 leaders have agreed to "intensify cooperation" in response to the coronavirus pandemic and increase funding commitments for the rollout of vaccines in the world's poorest countries to $7.5 billion.

"Today, with increased financial commitments of over $4 billion USD to ACT-A and COVAX, collective G7 support totals $7.5 billion," the elite club comprising Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US said in a joint statement.

EU doubles contribution to Covax with over $600M in new funding

The European Union has contributed an additional $606.3 million to the World Health Organization-backed Covax programme to supply Covid-19 shots to emerging economies, doubling the bloc's contribution, the European Commission said on Friday.

The contribution consists of a $363.31 million grant and $242.21 million in guarantees by the European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+) that will back a loan by the European Investment Bank, the commission said. 

UN health agency WHO, along with the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, are spearheading Covax to secure and distribute vaccines to poorer countries and to ensure shots do not go only to wealthy nations.

They are targeting to deliver 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021, and the WHO has endorsed vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

Dutch curfew to remain in place pending February 26 ruling

A nighttime curfew in the Netherlands intended to slow the spread of coronavirus will remain in place for a least a week, after a high court decided on Friday it would rule on the measure's legality only on February 26.

The decision gives some breathing room to Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government, which has argued the curfew is vital to slow a third wave of coronavirus cases.

Protesters and political opponents say the curfew, the first seen in the Netherlands since World War Two, is an unnecessary restriction on freedoms.

Germany pledges additional $1.82B  for Covax and WHO 

Germany will contribute an additional $1.82 billion to support global Covid-19 vaccination efforts and other programmes to fight the pandemic, increasing its overall pledge to $2.54 billion, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.

"We can only get out of the pandemic with vaccinations. We need to make progress on this, at home and abroad," Scholz said, adding that the additional money was meant to support the Covax program, the Word Health Organization (WHO) and other international efforts.

"With today's announcement we make clear: We're standing side-by-side with the poorest countries," Scholz said. The German contribution would increase international funds for vaccines, drugs and tests by over 30 percent, he added.

"We'll only be safe if there is immunisation through vaccination all over the world," Scholz said.

Britain reports 533 new deaths

Britain has recorded 533 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, an increase on the 454 reported on Thursday, according to government figures.

The number of new cases recorded was broadly steady at 12,027, it said, while the number of people who had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine rose to 16,875,536.

Biden pledges $4 billion for global vaccine initiative

The US is making a $2 billion pledge to global initiative Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) with a pledge of an additional $2 billion, according to President Joe Biden. 

"We must cooperate if we are going to defeat Covid-19 everywhere," Biden said at an address to the Munich Security Conference, his first speech to world leaders since taking office last month. 

The US president stressed the world needs to work together to strengthen the World Health Organization (WHO), and the world needs a UN system focused on biological threats that can take quick action. 

Turkey reports over 7,400 new coronavirus infections

Turkey has reported 7,419 new coronavirus cases, including 638 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case-count passed 2.62 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 27,903, with 82 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 7,498 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.5 million.

Spain close to vaccinating all nursing home residents

Spain has given a full two-shot course of coronavirus vaccines to almost all its elderly nursing home residents, the FED care-home association said on Friday, restoring some sense of security to the most vulnerable section of the population.

Separately, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the country, which has administered 2.8 million doses and fully inoculated 1.14 million people, was on track to vaccinate 20 million people in the first half of 2021 out of a population of 47 million.

Nearly 43,000 care home residents died of Covid-19 or suspected infection in the devastating March-May first wave of contagion, and prosecutors are investigating more than 200 cases of potential criminal negligence at such homes.

African Union says Russia offers 300M doses of Sputnik V vaccine

The African Union's vaccine task team said that Russia had offered it 300 million doses of its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine and that the offer included a financing package for countries wanting to secure the shots.

It said in a statement that the Sputnik V vaccine would be available for a period of 12 months starting May 2021.

Only a handful of countries in Africa have started to roll out vaccination programmes, lagging behind some wealthier nations that are well into their immunisation campaigns.

Czech government drops shop reopening plan amid virus surge

The Czech government dropped plans to possibly open non-essential retail shops from next week as a surge in coronavirus cases continued to put pressure on strained hospitals.

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek announced the decision on Twitter.

"The pandemic situation is not good, the UK variant is still spreading. That's why we decided not to open closed shops for now," Havlicek said, adding the government will debate shop openings again next week.

Euro zone services hit in February but factories racing along – PMIs

Business activity across the euro zone contracted again in February as lockdown measures to contain the virus hammered the bloc's dominant service industry, a survey showed, even as factories had their busiest month in three years.

With daily reported infections still high governments have been encouraging citizens to stay home and closed much of the continent's hospitality industry while factories have largely remained open.

IHS Markit's flash composite PMI, seen as a good guide to economic health, nudged closer to the 50 mark separating growth from contraction, registering 48.1 in February compared to January's 47.8. A Reuters poll had predicted 48.0.

Hong Kong is not politicising any vaccine, says health chief

Hong Kong's top health official said the government had not politicised any virus vaccine, as she sought to reassure residents worried about China's Sinovac, due to be rolled out in the global financial hub from next week.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan told Reuters that standards had not been lowered to accept the Sinovac vaccine and there was no pressure from Beijing to get it approved in the Chinese-ruled city.

"The government has not politicised any vaccine. In fact, we really think that one should not politicise any of the vaccination process, because really the Covid-19 vaccine is our hope," she said in an interview at her office.

Poland entering third wave of infections, health ministry says

Poland is seeing the beginning of a third wave of coronavirus infections, a health ministry spokesman said, as the country posted a large week-on-week increase in daily cases.

Poland has loosened some restrictions, recently opening ski slopes as well as cinemas, hotels and theatres at up to 50 percent capacity, but authorities have warned that these measures may have to be rolled back depending on the pandemic situation.

"We are at the beginning of the third wave, it is not as dynamic as in Slovakia or the Czech Republic..., but unfortunately we are observing this upward trend," Wojciech Andrusiewicz told reporters.

Portugal bumps security services down vaccine priority list amid tight supply

Portugal will refocus its inoculation campaign towards vulnerable age groups and away from key state workers such as the police and firefighters due to scarce vaccine supplies, the head of its vaccination taskforce was quoted as saying.

Portugal, like many European Union countries, has been slow to get its vaccination programme started. It had hoped to receive 4.4 million doses by the end of March but supply shortages mean that only 2.5 million will arrive by then.

"This is an example of adapting our strategy to the circumstances...focusing on saving lives, now that the highest priority health professionals have been seen to," Henrique Gouveiae Melo told the Expresso newspaper.

Vietnam says Covax to supply 30M vaccine doses in 2021

Vietnam will receive 60 million vaccines this year, including 30 million under the WHO-led Covax scheme, the health minister said as the Southeast Asian country battles its biggest virus outbreak since the pandemic began.

Vietnam has been one of the world's virus-mitigation success stories, thanks to targeted mass testing and strict quarantining. Its total number of cases since the virus was first detected in the country over a year ago stands at 2,347, including imported cases, with 35 deaths.

Dutch government urges court to keep curfew

The Dutch government asked appeals judges to overturn a court order scrapping a virus curfew, comparing the pandemic to waters overwhelming the low-lying country's famed dykes.

The hearing came on a crunch day for the Netherlands' anti-Covid measures with the senate set to vote on a fast-track law that would reinstate the curfew even if the government loses the case.

A lower court judge ordered the government to immediately lift the curfew on Tuesday, saying that such measures could only be used in sudden national emergencies such as a dyke breach.

EU to double Covax vaccine funding to one billion euros

The European Union will announce it is doubling its contribution to the Covax global vaccination programme to $1.2 billion (one billion euros) at a G7 meeting Friday, a European source said.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel are set to unveil the increased funding from the bloc's budget and pledge a further 100 million euros in aid to support the fight against the virus in Africa, the source said.

The move comes as world powers look to ramp up support for poorer nations in the face of accusations that rich countries are hoarding vaccines against the virus and leaving other parts of the globe behind.

France reinforces medical staff in Reunion island

The French government said it will send more medical staff to Reunion island in the Pacific Ocean as part of efforts to rein in virus variants spreading in the overseas territory.

The government also said in a statement it would extend curfew measures to other parts of the island.

Hungary to ramp up vaccinations to fight third wave – PM

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the country's health care system will withstand pressure from a rising third wave of the pandemic and ramp up inoculations with new vaccine shipments.

Several central European countries have struggled to maintain health care services as the pandemic spreads rapidly, with Slovakia asking for help from EU partners.

As large Chinese and Russian vaccine shipments join Western drugs to help the vaccination effort, Budapest expects to inoculate 1.2 million people by early March and 2.5 million of its 10 million citizens by early April, Orban told public radio.

NatWest bank slumps into annual loss, to exit Ireland

Britain's NatWest bank announced that it slumped into a net loss in 2020 on the fallout from the pandemic, adding it would shut its Ulster Bank unit in Ireland.

NatWest, which last year changed its name from Royal Bank of Scotland and remains majority owned by the UK government, reported an annual loss after tax of  $1.05 billion (£753 million), compared with a net profit of $ 4.374 billion (£3.13 billion) in 2019.

Japan to receive second vaccine shipment on Sunday

Japan will receive its second shipment of virus vaccines on Sunday, vaccine programme chief Taro Kono said, according to news agency Jiji Press.

Japan launched its inoculation drive on Wednesday, giving medical personnel the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine. It is the last of the Group of Seven grouping of industrialised nations to begin vaccinations.

Pakistan T20 tournament marks return of fans in stadiums

Spectators will return to cricket stadiums in Pakistan for the first time since the pandemic began when the sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League begins in the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday.

The government has allowed the Pakistan Cricket Board to admit 20 percent capacity of fans inside the stadiums for the country’s premier Twenty20 league, maintaining proper social distancing and making masks mandatory for spectators.

The decision meant National Stadium in Karachi will accommodate 7,500 fans and Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium 5,500.

Renault says pandemic pushed it into record loss in 2020

French automaker Renault said it booked a record loss in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic hit its performance and looked set to weigh on the outlook this year as well.

Renault said in a statement that it recorded a net loss of 8.05 billion euros ($9.7 billion) last year, compared with a bottom-line profit of 19 million euros in 2019.

"After a first half impacted by the virus, the group has significantly turned around its performance in the second half," the carmaker said.

Virus delays Asian badminton tournaments

Three Asian badminton tournaments have been delayed indefinitely while two others have been shifted to new dates due to virus-related disruptions, officials said.

The Malaysia Masters, the Indonesia Masters and Indonesia Open have been postponed with no new dates yet set, said the Badminton World Federation.

The Malaysia Open, previously due to take place from late March to early April, has been shifted to May 25 to 30.

Africa's Covid-19 death toll tops 100,000

Africa's reported death toll surpassed 100,000, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.

The continent's reported deaths, at 100,354, compare favourably with North America, which has registered more than half a million, and Europe, which is approaching 900,000, a Reuters tally shows.

But deaths are rising sharply across Africa, driven by its southern region, especially economic powerhouse South Africa, which accounts for nearly half.

New Zealand vaccinators receive jab ahead of formal rollout

New Zealand officials injected a small group of medical professionals with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, in preparation for a wider rollout over the weekend.

The group chosen for the test run were vaccinators who will be administering the inoculation to border and quarantine staff from Saturday.

Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said the test run gave vaccinators the opportunity to handle the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, which requires ultra-low temperature storage.

Germany reports 9,113 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 9,113 to 2,369,719 , data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 508 to 67,206, the tally showed. 

Pfizer, BioNTech start testing vaccine in pregnant women

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE have started an international study with 4,000 volunteers to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of their vaccine in healthy pregnant women, the companies said.

Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19, and many public health officials have recommended some women in high-risk professions take coronavirus vaccines even without proof they are safe for them.

Dr. William Gruber, senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development for Pfizer, said in an interview the company could have results by the fourth quarter of 2021.

London Fashion Week goes virtual as Covid bites

London Fashion Week begins on a virtual format due to a virus lockdown with mainstays like Victoria Beckham shunning the event but others like Burberry embracing the online avatar.

Despite the absence of global celebrities and fashionistas, designers such as Turkey's Bora Aksu, Britain's Molly Goddard and Ireland's Simone Rocha will stream their collections on the London Fashion Week website.

Most of the 94 designers participating in the show, which concludes on Tuesday, will broadcast video highlights of their collections showcasing menswear, womenswear or mixed fashions in an event that is now gender-neutral.

Thailand reports 130 cases

Thailand reported 130 new virus cases, taking its total infections to 25,241.

One additional death was confirmed, taking fatalities to 83 overall, the country's Covid-19 taskforce said at a briefing.

Biden to visit Pfizer factory as Americans clamour for more vaccine supply

President Joe Biden heads to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to visit the Pfizer Inc manufacturing plant that is churning out vaccines, as state and local governments across the country clamour for more.

Biden is due to tour Pfizer's largest manufacturing site and its only facility in the United States making the vaccine at a time when less than 15 percent of the US population is vaccinated.

The United States has rolled out ambitious vaccination programs in recent weeks that include large sites capable of putting shots into thousands of arms daily, as well as hospitals and pharmacies.

Mexico's death toll rises to 178,108

Mexico's health ministry on Thursday reported 1,047 new deaths from coronavirus in the country, bringing the toll to 178,108. 

New Zealand reports one new locally transmitted case

New Zealand reported one new locally transmitted case of coronavirus on Friday, which was linked to the existing cluster in its biggest city Auckland.

The new case was a household contact of some of the previously reported cases, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

It also said there were three new cases in managed isolation facilities at the border.

Study in Israel shows Pfizer vaccine 85% effective after first dose – The Lancet

The first dose of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine is 85% effective, a study of Israeli healthcare workers published in The Lancet medical journal has found.

The research was conducted on more than 7,000 healthcare workers who were vaccinated at the Sheba Medical Centre in Israel. Researchers saw an 85% reduction of symptomatic Covid-19 between 15 and 28 days after they were given the vaccine.

Overall infections, including among asymptomatic patients, were reduced by 75%.

Japan finds more than 90 cases of new virus strain – media

Japanese health authorities have found more than 90 cases of a new strain of the Covid-19 virus, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday.

The variant is believed to have come from overseas but is different from strains that originated in Britain and South Africa, according to the report which cited Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Japan has reported 151 cases of variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil, according to the health ministry. The nation has had more than 400,000 cases of Covid-19 with 7,194 fatalities. 

China reports 10 new mainland cases vs 11 a day earlier

China reported 10 new mainland Covid-19 cases on February 18, down from 11 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Friday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to eight from 20 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,816, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Rich nations stockpiling a billion more Covid-19 shots than needed – report

Rich countries are on course to have over a billion more doses of Covid-19 vaccines than they need, leaving poorer nations scrambling for leftover supplies as the world seeks to curb the coronavirus pandemic, a report by anti-poverty campaigners found on Friday. 

In an analysis of current supply deals for Covid-19 vaccines, the ONE Campaign said wealthy countries, such as the United States and Britain, should share the excess doses to "supercharge" a fully global response to the pandemic. 

The advocacy group, which campaigns against poverty and preventable diseases, said a failure to do so would deny billions of people essential protection from the Covid-19-causing virus and likely prolong the pandemic. 

The report looked specifically at contracts with the five leading Covid-19 vaccine makers - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. It found that to date, the United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan have already secured more than 3 billion doses - over a billion more than the 2.06 billion needed to give their entire populations two doses.

Brazil passes 10 mn infections

Brazil, the country with the second-highest coronavirus death toll, passed the 10-million mark for reported infections on Thursday, amid a deadly second wave and problems with its vaccination campaign.

The country became the third to reach the grim mark – after the United States and India – with more than 51,900 new infections in 24 hours, according to official data.

Over the same one-day period, 1,367 people died, bringing the total to over 243,400.

Brazil's figure of 10,030,626 came amid mounting criticism of how President Jair Bolsonaro's government has handled the epidemic and a vaccination response.

So far, three percent of the population of 212 million have received one of two required vaccine doses.

Biden to pledge $4B to COVAX vaccine program at G7 meeting 

The Biden administration will pledge $4 billion to a coronavirus vaccination program for poorer countries in hopes of prying loose bigger donations from other governments, US officials said on Thursday.

US President Joe Biden will use his first meeting with leaders of Group of Seven advanced economies on Friday to announce an immediate $2 billion donation to the COVAX program co-led by the World Health Organization, officials said. COVAX aims to ensure a fair supply of coronavirus vaccines around the world.

The United States will provide the remaining $2 billion over the next two years as other nations fulfil and make their own pledges, the officials said.

Venezuela kicks off Covid vaccine program

Venezuela started immunising health care workers against the coronavirus Thursday with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, as the government said it intended to inoculate 70 percent of the population by year end.

Glendys Rivero, a 37-year-old surgeon from Los Teques in the country's north, was the first to receive one of the 100,000 doses to have arrived so far.

"We started this first phase of immunisation on the right foot, in this fight against the pandemic and for the defence of the health of the people," President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter.

Along with medical personnel, police, soldiers, parliamentarians and other public servants will be among the first to receive jabs in Venezuela's vaccination program.

Elderly people, particularly vulnerable to the virus, were not singled out in the timetable announced Wednesday by Maduro, who said mass immunisation of the general public will begin in April.

South Africa reports 2,327 new cases

South Africa recorded 2,327 new coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Thursday, bringing the number of confirmed infections in the country to 1,498,766, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced.

Mkhize said 230 more deaths were also recorded, taking the total number of fatalities to 48,708.

He said the highest number of deaths were recorded in Limpopo province, where 122 people died from Covid-19 related illnesses in a day, followed by Kwazulu-Natal province, which lost 27 lives, and the Eastern Cape 24.

Gauteng province, which includes the economic hub Johannesburg and capital Pretoria, recorded 21 deaths, while the tourism hub of Western Cape registered 19 fatalities and Free State province seven.

Two provinces out of the country’s nine, which include the North West and Northern Cape provinces, did not report any new deaths.

Mkhize said at least 1.4 million people in the country had recovered from the virus, representing a recovery rate of 93.6%.

He said 8.8 million people have been tested for the virus since the pandemic was first discovered last March. Meanwhile, 34,556 new tests were conducted in the past 24 hours.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies