The Covid-19 pandemic has infected more than 105 million people around the world, with over 2.28 million fatalities. Here are developments for February 4:

People gather on the terrace of the Giardino degli Aranci (Orange garden) backdropped by the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021
People gather on the terrace of the Giardino degli Aranci (Orange garden) backdropped by the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 (AP)

Thursday, February 4, 2021:

Italy death toll passes 90,000

Italy has reported 421 new deaths against 476 the day before, taking the official toll since the epidemic emerged a year ago to 90,241, according to health ministry data.

The ministry also reported 13,659 new infections over the past 24 hours, up from 13,189 the day before, bringing the total tally of cases to 2.597 million.

Ghana parliament restricts sessions after outbreak

Ghana's parliament has said it will restrict its sessions to twice a week after 15 lawmakers and dozens of legislative staff tested positive for coronavirus.

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo on Sunday reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiralled in the West African nation.

"Out of those who submitted themselves for the test in parliament, 15 MPs tested positive to the virus. All the 15 have been contacted and advised to self-isolate," parliament speaker Alban Bagbin said.

He said 56 staffers had also tested pos itive, forcing him to decide the parliament would only sit on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a measure to control the spread.

EU chief warns of more vaccine production delays ahead

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has defended her handling of the bloc's coronavirus vaccine strategy, but warned that more production and supply problems lie ahead.

In an interview with several outlets, including French daily La Croix and Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, von der Leyen admitted Europe could have acted more quickly to boost production capacity.

"In Europe, we aim to have 70 percent of the adult population vaccinated before the end of the summer. This is not insignificant, we are moving in the right direction," she said.

"There will certainly be other obstacles, other problems in production, and we must also prepare for possible shortages of raw materials or certain components of these vaccines."

French PM: No lockdown for now

The French government has said that it would hold off from imposing a new Covid lockdown, as new infection numbers have stabilised and a vaccination rollout is accelerating.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news conference that France's death rate throughout the second wave of infections was one of the lowest in Europe thanks to a decision to tighten restrictions last month, including with a 6:00 pm daily curfew.

The potential advantages of a third nationwide lockdown in the fight against the spread of the virus had to be weighed against its cost in "economic, social, human and sometimes even health terms," Castex said.

Hard-hit Portugal sees drop in virus infections

Portugal, hit by the world's highest per capita death rates and infections in recent weeks, has now seen a decline in cases, the health minister said.

"Currently, the incidence of new Covid-19 cases is starting to decrease in Portugal," minister Marta Temido said.

Speaking to a committee of the European Parliament in Brussels, she cited a decrease in the average over the last two weeks.

"We nevertheless have difficult weeks ahead of us," she added.

Turkey registers almost 8,000 new cases

Turkey has reported 7,909 new coronavirus cases, including 627 symptomatic patients, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The country's case count topped 2.5 million, while nationwide fatalities reached 26,467, with 113 deaths over the past day.

With 8,815 more patients winning the battle against the virus, the total number of recoveries in the country rose to over 2.39 million.

France registers four cases of Brazilian variant, says minister

France has detected four cases resulting from the contagious variant first detected in Brazil, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Veran said France was in a "race against time" against the mutations first identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

The variants now account for 14 percent of all new cases in France, the government says.

AstraZeneca shots may arrive in Canada before end March 

Deliveries of AstraZeneca Plc's vaccine to Canada could begin before the end of March, if the country's health regulator approves its use, federal procurement minister Anita Anand has said.

AstraZeneca Canada filed a rolling application for its vaccine with Health Canada in October and is waiting for approval from the drug regulator. 

UK reports over 20,000 cases and over 900 deaths

Britain has reported 915 deaths, down from 1,322 a day earlier, with 20,634 new cases of the disease.

Official data showed 10.49 million people had been given the first dose of a vaccine, up from 10.02 million people announced on Wednesday.

Israel says vaccine has almost halved cases among over-60s

Vaccination of Israelis over the age of 60 has reduced the rate of that age group getting the virus by almost half and the number of serious cases in that cohort by more than a quarter in the last two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

Israel began its vaccination program on December 19 and has so far reached 35 percent of the 9 million population, the government says. 

It has set March as a target date for reaching 50 percent of the population in the hope of outpacing high-contagion virus variants, but worries about ebbing turnout.

Netanyahu touted the programme's success in televised remarks to his cabinet, which convened to discuss a proposed extension of a more than five-week-old national lockdown.

Africa CDC: Death rate 'becoming very troubling'

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the fatality rate on the continent “is becoming very troubling” as it creeps higher than the global rate.

John Nkengasong told reporters in Addis Ababa that the fatality rate on the 54-nation continent is now 2.6 percent, while the global rate is 2.2 percent.

Twenty African countries, including South Africa and Sudan, have rates higher than the global average as a resurgence of cases in parts of the continent has a far deadlier toll than the initial wave of infections last year.

First batch of Sputnik V vaccines arrives in Iran

The first batch of Russia's Sputnik V vaccines have arrived in Iran, said state media in the Middle East country hardest hit by the pandemic.

"The first shipment of vaccines from Moscow ... has landed at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran," the IRNA official news agency reported without specifying the quantity of doses.

Sweden registers 89 new deaths, taking total above 12,000
Sweden, which has garnered global attention for its soft-touch pandemic response, has registered 89 new deaths, taking the total to above 12,000, Health Agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants has now registered 12,028 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and weeks.

Sweden registered 3,758 new cases.

Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Sputnik-AstraZeneca trials to start in Azerbaijan, MidEast

Human trials of a vaccine combining a British shot from AstraZeneca and Oxford University with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine will begin next week in Azerbaijan and some Middle Eastern nations, a Russian official has said.

AstraZeneca said in December it would start clinical trials to test combining the two vaccines to see if this could boost the efficacy of the British shot.

Both vaccines involve two doses, an initial shot and a booster, and use harmless adenoviruses as vehicles, or vectors, to carry genetic instructions into the body to prompt cells to produce antibodies.

Outbreak of UK virus variant detected in Italian town

Health experts have warned of new variants beginning to circulate in Italy, as authorities pinpointed an outbreak of a UK strain in a northern town.

The town of Corzano in the Lombardy region has been swabbing close contacts of students and teachers in a school where 24 people tested positive last month.

After 139 people were found positive out of 189 tested, health authorities in the province of Brescia decided to sequence the samples, which identified the British strain of the virus.

"Fourteen samples were sequenced which resulted in ... 14 positives for the British variant," the Brescia health agency wrote in a statement sent to AFP on Thursday.

Red Cross to help 500M get shots

The Red Cross has launched a plan to help vaccinate 500 million people in over 100 countries, warning that leaving out the world's poorest could seriously backfire.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it would throw its weight into the distribution and acceptance of vaccines among some of the hardest-to-reach communities.

The Geneva-based IFRC said it would spend $111 million (92.5 million euros or 100 million Swiss francs) on the push and was already working with governments in more than 60 countries to see where its help could be the most effective.

"The current lack of equity in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines is alarming and could backfire to deadly and devastating effect," IFRC secretary general Jagan Chapagain told reporters.

German body against relaxing rules for vaccinated

The government-appointed German Ethics Council has said it would be wrong to end coronavirus restrictions for those who have been vaccinated, adding that even those who are vaccinated could potentially still infect others.

Israel expands vaccination drive to people over 16

Israel's Health Ministry has expanded its vaccination campaign to all citizens over the age of 16.

The move was welcomed with relief by the Israeli public and people could be seen queuing at a centre in Tel Aviv.

Israel has vaccinated around a third of its population of more than 9 million.

But it has faced criticism for not including Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Catalonia lifts some restrictions as infections fall

Catalonia has removed some pandemic restrictions, allowing gyms to reopen and people to move outside their municipalities after infections and hospital admissions started to edge down.

The average number of cases per 100,000 people in the region fell to 494 on Wednesday, down from 589 a week ago and a peak of over 620 in mid-January.

"We believe we are leaving behind the maximum peak of the third wave," Catalan Health Secretary General Marc Ramentol told a news conference. But he warned there were still serious threats from new virus variants, intense pressure on hospitals and a slow vaccination roll-out.

UK says 4,000 variants of virus that causes Covid-19 around the world

There are around 4,000 variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 around the world now so all vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, are trying to improve their vaccines, a British minister said.

"Its very unlikely that the current vaccine won't be effective on the variants whether in Kent or other variants especially when it comes to severe illness and hospitalisation," Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky.

"All manufacturers, Pfizer-Biontech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and others are looking at how they can improve their vaccine to make sure that we are ready for any variant - there are about 4,000 variants around the world of Covid now." 

Half of Ukrainians not willing to be vaccinated  PM

Half of Ukraine's 41 million population is not willing to be vaccinated against the virus, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said.

Ukraine plans to start vaccination in mid-February and government said it would receive 117,000 doses of American-made Pfizer-BioNTech m-RNA vaccine in February within the framework of the COVAX programme. 

South Sudan takes new measures as virus cases rise

South Sudan has ordered a ban on religious and political events and closed most schools after a rise in coronavirus cases in the country.

Hussein Abdelbagi Akol, one of South Sudan's vice presidents, announced the measures for one month "due to the recent surge in the Covid-19 pandemic in the country."

The previous three days, South Sudan recorded some of its highest Covid-19 figures, with 39 testing positive on Monday, 54 on Tuesday and 37 on Wednesday.

Overall the east African nation – which achieved independence almost a decade ago and has been crippled by conflict, chronic underdevelopment and hunger – has registered 4,267 cases and 66 deaths.

Malaysia sets February 2022 target to complete vaccine rollout

Malaysia's government said it expects to complete its immunisation programme by February next year, covering 80 percent of its population of about 32 million people.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a televised address that the first phase of the vaccine rollout from February to April will involve 500,000 frontline workers, followed by 9.4 million high-risk individuals who will be vaccinated between April and August.

A third and final phase will involve more than 16 million adults aged 18 and older, and will run from May to February next year, Muhyiddin said.

Russia reports 16,714 new cases, 521 deaths

Russia reported 16,714 new virus cases across the country, including 2,095 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,917,918 since the pandemic began.

Authorities confirmed 521 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 75,205. 

Gulf Arab states launch new restrictions over virus fears

Gulf Arab states launched new restrictions over fears of the coronavirus resurging across their countries.

With populations including largely young and healthy foreign labourers, many Gulf countries have avoided the higher death tolls seen elsewhere around the world. However, reported case numbers appear to be rising since the New Year, sparking concern even as several regional countries have some of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world.

In Saudi Arabia, where authorities already have banned travel to the kingdom from 20 countries, including the US, officials also ordered all weddings and parties suspended. It closed down all shopping malls, gyms and other locations for 10 days, as well as indoor dining. Authorities warned the new measures could be extended.

WHO team in Wuhan says discussions open, meetings frank

World Health Organization investigators looking for clues into the origin of the virus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan said that the Chinese side has provided a high level of cooperation, but cautioned against expecting immediate results from the visit.

“I keep saying that we need to be realistic, a short mission like this one will not have all the answers but it helps advance the understanding of the #virusorigin #wuhan," Hung Nguyen-Viet, co-leader of the Animal and Human Health Program of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, said in a tweet.

Norway will not offer AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65

Norway will not offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to individuals over the age of 65, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said, making it the latest European country to restrict its use.

So far, some 135,000 individuals in Norway have received their first dose against the disease and some 35,000 have received their second shot, from vaccines made by Moderna and from a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech, the agency said.

The FHI said there had been few participants above the age of 65 in the trial conducted by AstraZeneca, meaning there was a lack of documentation as to the effect of the vaccine on older age groups.

The Nordic country has 5.4 million inhabitants. 

Palestinians will receive Russia's Sputnik V vaccine 

The Palestinians will receive 10,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, enough to cover 5,000 people, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila told Voice of Palestine radio.

The Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, launched a vaccination campaign on Tuesday after a small delivery of doses from Israel. 

Thailand reports 809 new cases, no new deaths

Thailand reported 809 new virus cases and no additional deaths, its Covid-19 task force said.

The new infections took the overall total to 22,058, with fatalities remaining at 79. 

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 14,211  RKI

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 14,211 to 2,252,001, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 786 to 59,742, the tally showed. 

Testing times for Australian Open organisers after Covid-19 case

Melbourne health officials were getting down to the business of testing 520 tennis players and officials for Covid-19 after the infection of a quarantine hotel worker threatened the Australian Open.

Thursday's warm-up matches at Melbourne Park were cancelled after the case was announced, and those who underwent quarantine at the Grand Hyatt hotel were told to get tested and isolate until they had a result.

Victoria state Premier Dan Andrews said he thought the case was not a threat to the tournament, which is scheduled to start on Monday, and health officials said the testing was precautionary.

Australia to buy 10M additional doses of Pfizer vaccine

Australia will buy 10 million additional doses of the Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by US drugmaker Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNTech , Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"These additional vaccines have been secured consistent with our requirements," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Brazil favelas launch bank amid economic hit of pandemic

The economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic has hit especially hard in Brazil's favelas, but the country's 10 biggest slums now have a plan to fight back: they are launching their own bank.

Dubbed the "G10 Bank," the new financial institution is set to open later this month, offering micro-loans to small business owners struggling to survive the pandemic and debit cards to slum-dwellers excluded from the traditional banking system.

Brazil has the second-highest death toll worldwide in the pandemic, after the United States, with more than 225,000 people killed.

French company to supply vaccines to UK before EU

While Britain invested millions in a little-known French vaccine startup called Valneva, the European Union was looking the other way.

Several months later, the European Union is scrambling to catch up.

Valneva's President and Chief Business Officer Franck Grimaud says the company was quickly spotted in Great Britain as an asset because of its production site in Scotland.

This led to an agreement to develop the vaccine and the company's manufacturing capacity.

The UK has ordered another 40 million doses from Valneva as the government prepares for the likelihood that repeated vaccinations will be needed to keep the virus in check.

Chicago schools, union continue talks over virus safety plan

Negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers' union over virus safety protocols stretched into Wednesday evening, days after district officials threatened a lockout and teachers entertained a strike.

The fight to reopen city schools, which went remote last March, has brewed for months. The nation's third-largest district pitched a gradual return for pre-K to 8th grade with no definitive plans for high school. But the Chicago Teachers Union said the district's safety plan falls short.

Fauci warns Americans to skip Super Bowl parties this year

Americans need to forget about snacks and drinks and inviting friends over for the big game because Covid-19 could be the unwelcome guest Sunday at Super Bowl parties.

Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, warned there could be a spike in virus cases nationwide if people stage or attend traditional Super Bowl bashes next weekend.

"As much fun as it is to get together for a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that," Fauci said in an appearance on NBC's Today show.

Oxford to run trial alternating virus vaccines

Oxford University announced it will launch a medical trial alternating doses of Covid-19 vaccines created by different manufacturers, the first study of its kind.

The trial will show whether different Covid doses – those created by the Astrazeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech pharmaceutical companies – can be used interchangeably to allow greater flexibility in pressured vaccine delivery schedules.

The British government's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said the trial would offer "greater insight" into the use of vaccines against Covid.

"Given the inevitable challenges of immunising large numbers of the population against Covid-19 and potential global supply constraints, there are definite advantages to having data that could support a more flexible immunisation programme," Van-Tam said.

Women's pro hockey league shuts down over Covid before semis

The National Women's Hockey League suspended the remainder of their 2021 "bubble" season due to new Covid-19 positives ahead of Thursday's semi-final games at Lake Placid, New York.

It marks the second year in a row the league could not decide a champion due to the virus pandemic, after last year's final between the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps was called off as a virus safety precaution.

More people vaccinated than total global cases

More people are now vaccinated against Covid-19 than have been infected by the virus that has swept the globe over the past year, a milestone on the road to ending the pandemic, based on data reported on Wednesday.

Despite the landmark data, it remains unclear how long it will take to vaccinate the world. Many of those vaccinated have received only one of two doses required.

A total of 104.9 million vaccine doses have been administered, according to University of Oxford-based Our Worldin Data and the latest data on Wednesday from the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mexico reports 1,707 more fatalities

Mexico's health ministry has reported 1,707 new confirmed fatalities from Covid-19, bringing the total deaths in the country to 161,240.

Brazil registers 1,254 deaths in 24 hours

Brazil has registered 56,002 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday and 1,254 related deaths, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The country has registered 9,339,420 total confirmed cases and 227,563 deaths due to the virus, the highest death toll outside the United States.

Vietnam reports 37 more infections

Vietnam has reported 37more local Covid-19 infections in a fresh outbreak, all linked to a factory in the northern province of Hai Duong, where the coronavirus was first found last week after nearly two months.

Those cases have been put under quarantine after the virus was detected and has no chance to spread further, the health ministry said.

The outbreak has spread to at least 10 cities and provinces, including the economic hub Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi. Vietnam has recorded 1,948 coronavirus cases in total, with 35 deaths

American Airlines warns of as many as 13,000 lay-offs

American Airlines will notify 13,000 workers that they could be laid off due the prolonged industry downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the carrier has said.

The airline expects to fly at least 45 percent less in the first quarter, American's executives said in a letter to employees, extending the industry slump as expectations for a travel recovery are delayed due to the slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

Colombia's vaccine plan may face delays: president

Colombia's plan to vaccinate over 35 million people against the coronavirus this year could face delays, President Ivan Duque has said, even as he reiterated his confidence pharmaceutical companies will meet delivery deadlines.

The country said last week it had secured 61.5 million vaccine doses from a raft of pharmaceutical companies and via the World Health Organization-backed COVAX scheme. It plans to inoculate 70 percent of its 50 million people to reach herd immunity.

But in a midweek media briefing Duque recognised the process could face delays, including potential export limits placed on vaccines by other countries and a low uptake of shots amid circulating disinformation.

"Are there risks [to the roll-out]? Yes, without doubt risks exist," Duque said.

Canada's Ontario to reopen schools as cases drop

Canada's most populous province, Ontario, will resume in-person classes for primary and secondary students across all regions by February 16, with most areas reopening on February 8, the province's education ministry has said.

Schools in Toronto, nearby York and Peel will reopen last, on February 16. Schools in southern Ontario, where most residents live, remained closed after the winter break amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, but some began to reopen on Monday.

New cases have dropped steadily in recent weeks.

Kuwait suspends entry for non-citizens for two weeks

Kuwait has said it will suspend entry for non-citizens for two weeks as of February 7 following a rise in coronavirus cases in the Gulf Arab state.

The cabinet decision read out at a televised press conference said first-degree relatives, such as parents and children, and accompanying domestic workers would be exempt, and that all those entering the country would have to quarantine.

Kuwait on Wednesday registered 756 new Covid-19 cases to take the total to 167,410. It had seen daily infections fall below 300 late last year from a peak of more than 1,000 in May.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has also said it would suspend entry to the kingdom from 20 countries, with the exception of Saudi citizens, diplomats, and medical practitioners and their families.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies