Coronavirus has killed more than 2.42M people and infected more than 109.89M globally. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for February 16:

Motorbike riders wear face masks to protect against Covid-19 in south Beirut's Shatila Palestinian refugee camp on March 30, 2020.
Motorbike riders wear face masks to protect against Covid-19 in south Beirut's Shatila Palestinian refugee camp on March 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon more likely to die of virus

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are three times more likely to die of Covid-19 than the population as a whole, according to UN figures that highlight the pandemic's outsized impact on the community.

An estimated 207,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon after being driven from their homes or fleeing the conflict, the vast majority in cramped camps where social distancing is impossible.

In the year since Lebanon registered its first case, about 5,800 have been infected with the coronavirus and about 200 of them have died, said a spokesperson for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

French death toll down week-on-week

France reported 586 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, down from 724 a week ago, while the seven-day moving average of deaths fell to 381, the first time the average was below 400 since late January.

The 586 deaths included 351 deaths in hospitals, from 412 on Monday, and 235 deaths in retirement homes over the past four days. The Health Ministry usually reports retirement home deaths on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Hospital numbers eased again, with the total number of people in hospital with Covid-19 down by 283 to 26,239 and the number of people in intensive care down by 33 to 3,348.

The number of new confirmed virus infection cases rose by 19,590 to 3.49 million, compared to an increase of 18,870 a week ago. The seven-day moving average of new cases increased to over 18,400.

The ministry also reported that a total of 3.16 million vaccination shots have been administered, including more than 815,000 second injections.

Iraq records rising cases, including new variant

Iraq has recorded a sharp rise in infections with 3,332 confirmed in the past 24 hours after the country confirmed infections of one of the newer variants of the novel coronavirus.

The rising cases, approaching levels of infection recorded last summer after a dip during the winter, have prompted authorities to announce a nightly curfew beginning on Thursday.

Health Minister Hassan al Tamimi said that the new variant first found in Britain had been detected in Iraq, including among children.

White House to send 13.5M vaccine doses a week to US states

The White House has said it is increasing the supply of coronavirus vaccines sent each week to the states to 13.5 million doses, and is also doubling the amount sent to pharmacies to 2 million doses this week.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the boost in distribution to states marked a 57 percent increase since President Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20.

Zimbabwe to start vaccinations this week

Zimbabwe will begin vaccinating against Covid-19, starting with health workers and other essential service personnel.

The southern African country, which has so far reported more than 35,000 cases and 1,410 deaths, aims to vaccinate 60 percent of its nearly 16 million population in three phases.

“The vaccination programme commences on February 18, 2021, on a voluntary basis, and will be free,” the Harare government said in a statement after the cabinet meeting.

EU regulator to give verdict on J&J vaccine by mid-March

Europe's drugs regulator has said it could issue an opinion by mid-March on whether to approve drugmaker Johnson & Johnson's vaccine under a speedy review.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had received a conditional marketing application for the vaccine, called Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen. The shot is also being evaluated by US authorities.

The EU watchdog said a fast-tracked review of the coronavirus vaccine by its human medicines committee was possible because it had been already assessing some data in real time, and will now look at the vaccine's efficacy, safety and quality.

The single-dose vaccine, developed by J&J's Janssen unit, was 66 percent effective in preventing the virus in a large global trial against multiple variants, a study showed last month.

Lazio face court over possible breaches of Covid-19 rules

Lazio will appear before an Italian court accused of breaking Covid-19 protocols.

After an investigation of positive tests at the club in October and November, federal prosecutors have decided to take Lazio club President Claudio Lotito and two medical staff to court.

They are accused of possible "violations of federal standards" and "failure to comply with health protocols in force," said the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in a statement.

Slovakia sees virus deaths soar, blames variant found in UK

Slovakia has become the nation with most Covid-19 deaths by size of population in the world amid a surge of cases from a highly contagious coronavirus variant.

Despite a tough lockdown, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Slovakia has risen from 1.68 deaths per 100,000 people on February 1 to 1.78 deaths per 100,000 people on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova called the situation very serious.

The most significant factor that has prevented coronavirus cases from falling in Slovakia is a high occurrence of the variant that was found in Britain,” Marek Majdan, a Slovak epidemiologist and vice rector of Trnava University said. 

South Africa readies to give J&J jabs to healthcare workers

South Africa is preparing to give its first vaccinations to healthcare workers this week.

The first batch of 80,000 doses of the J&J vaccine, which has not been authorised for general use in South Africa or anywhere else in the world, is expected to arrive in the country imminently and will be administered to healthcare professionals across the country, Zweli Mkhize told parliament.

The J&J vaccines will be administered as an observational study, in which no placebo shots will be given and the health and future infections of all participants will be tracked, say health experts.

Italy reports 336 deaths and 10,386 new cases

Italy has reported 336 virus-related deaths against 258 the day before, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 10,386 from 7,351 the day before.

Some 274,019 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 179,278, the country's Health Ministry said.

Italy has registered 94,171 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.74 million cases to date.

France head coach Galthie tests positive

France head coach Fabien Galthie has contracted coronavirus two games into this season's Six Nations tournament.

Galthie, 51, will spend a week in isolation, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) said.

The holding of the Six Nations had been in doubt before it started in early February after the French government called for further guarantees about the competition's safety protocol.

Hamas condemns Israel over blocking vaccines to Gaza

Hamas on Tuesday blasted Israel's refusal to allow some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers through its blockade of the territory as a "violation" of international law.

The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, had planned to send the Russian Sputnik V doses through Israel to Gaza, a separate territory run by Hamas.

But on Monday evening, the PA Health Ministry said Israel had blocked the delivery.

Israel's move marked "a real crime and a violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards," Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said.

Dutch govt says it must study court order to end nighttime curfew

The Dutch government has said it must study a court ruling that has ordered it to immediately end a nighttime curfew introduced in January as part of measures to counter the spread of the virus.

A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said the government was still taking stock of Tuesday's surprise ruling by the Hague District Court and had no further comment at this stage.

Germany plans to offer free rapid  tests from March 1

Germany plans to offer all citizens rapid coronavirus tests free of charge from March 1, its health minister said.

Jens Spahn said rapid antigen tests were now sufficiently available on the market to enable local test centres and pharmacies to offer the tests for free.

Earlier, German media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) reported that Spahn planned to expand the national testing strategy to enable free tests. The federal government plans to bear the costs, RND said.

Spahn also wants to make tests that can be conducted at home available to everyone once they have been approved by regulators.

"These testing options can contribute to a safe everyday life, especially in schools and daycare centres," Spahn said on Twitter, adding the health ministry was in negotiations with test manufacturers.

The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling in recent weeks, to 3,856 on Tuesday, although this was around 480 cases higher than a week ago. The seven-day incidence was 59 cases per 100,000.

German leaders agreed last week to tighten the threshold for a gradual reopening of the economy, targeting an infection rate of under 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days, down from 50 previously.

France's Six Nations squad isolating after staff member tests positive

France's Six Nations squad is in isolation after a staff member tested positive, the French rugby federation said in a statement.

Head coach Fabian Galthie returned a negative test but will be re-tested today, the federation added.

Hong Kong to ease restrictions from Thursday

Hong Kong will ease strict restrictions from February 18, re-opening sports and entertainment facilities and extending dining hours, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Tuesday, as daily cases in the city dropped into single digits.

Chan, speaking at a news conference, said catering businesses would be able to operate until 10 pm, from 6 pm now. Beauty salons, theme parks, cinemas and sports facilities would be allowed to resume, with conditions in place.

"We see there is room to gradually loosen social distancing measures," she said, adding that swimming pools, nightclubs and mahjong parlours would remain shut. A ban on gatherings of more than two people in public places also remains in place.

The city has recorded around 10,700 infections and 193 deaths since January last year. Daily reported cases have fallen to low single-digit numbers over the past two weeks, from more than 80 at the end of January. 

Russia reports 13,233 new cases, 459 deaths

Russia has reported 13,233 new cases, including 1,409 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 4,099,323 since the pandemic began.

Russia's coronavirus taskforce said 459 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official national death toll to 80,979. 

UK to facilitate other countries' vaccine passport plans: minister

Britain will provide vaccine certificates for its residents if they are required by other countries, although it is not planning to introduce them for use at home, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said.

"Internationally, if other countries will require a vaccine certificate, then I think it's right that we facilitate it," Zahawi told the BBC in an interview.

"We're not looking at the domestic use of vaccine passports, that's not in our planning. As the prime minister described, it'll be the national vaccination programme combined with rapid testing that I think is the way forward."

Zahawi also said Britain was expecting the supply of vaccines to increase next month and he was confident of meeting a target to give first vaccine doses to the 32 million people in top priority groups by the end of April.

"I see much greater volume in March and April - tens of millions of doses coming through," he said. 

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 3,856 -RKI

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 3,856 to 2,342,843, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 528 to 65,604, the tally showed. 

India sees fall in cases, experts stumped

India has reported 11,805 new cases of Covid-19 taking the country's total number of infections to 10,925,710 as the death toll rose by 81 to reach 155,813 fatalities.

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in India, there were fears it would sink the fragile health system of the world's second-most populous country.

Infections climbed dramatically for months and at one point India looked like it might overtake the United States as the country with the highest case toll.

But infections began to plummet in September, and now the country is reporting about 11,000 new cases a day, compared to a peak of nearly 100,000, leaving experts perplexed.

Experts have suggested many possible explanations for the sudden drop — seen in almost every region — including that some areas of the country may have reached herd immunity or that Indians may have some pre-existing protection from the virus.

Among the possible explanations for the fall in cases is that some large areas have reached herd immunity — the threshold at which enough people have developed immunity to the virus, by falling sick or being vaccinated.

But experts have cautioned that even if herd immunity in some places is partially responsible for the decline, the population as a whole remains vulnerable — and must continue to take precautions.

Syringe shortage hampers Japan's vaccination roll out

Japan is scrambling to secure special syringes to maximise the number of vaccine shots used from each vial, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production quickly, raising fears that millions of doses could go waste.

Japan, with a population of 126 million, last month signed a contract with Pfizer Inc to procure 144 million doses of its vaccine, or enough for 72 million people, with the vaccination campaign set to start on Wednesday.

One vial is meant for six shots, Pfizer says, but i t takes special syringes that retain a low volume of solution after an injection to extract six doses, while only five shots can be taken with standard syringes that the government has stored up in preparation for the inoculation drive.

"We are still trying to secure these special syringes," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.

He did not directly answer questions when asked last week whether the shortage meant the number of shots Japan can administer would be reduced.

Both a Pfizer Japan spokeswoman and a Japanese health ministry official declin ed to say whether the contract to supply Japan with 144 million doses of vaccine by the end of the year is based on six doses being taken from each vial.

No new cases raise hopes New Zealand will end lockdown

For a second consecutive day, New Zealand has reported no new community cases of the coronavirus, raising hopes that a lockdown in Auckland will be lifted on Wednesday.

Just how three family members contracted the disease remains a mystery. After the cases were found, top lawmakers hurriedly placed New Zealand’s largest city into a three-day lockdown, the nation's first in six months.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the final decision by lawmakers on whether to lift the restrictions will depend on any new information or cases that crop up over the next 24 hours.

“A day when we get zero positive test results is always a good day,” Hipkins said.

Health officials have been ramping up testing since the outbreak. On Monday, they administered more than 15,000 tests and processed the results of nearly 6,000.

Canadian singer Raymond Levesque dies at 92 after contracting Covid-19

Canadian singer-songwriter Raymond Levesque, whose 1956 classic "Quand les hommes vivront d'amour" was an international hit, has died at the age of 92 after contracting Covid-19, Canadian media reported.

Poet, novelist, playwright and actor, Levesque composed hundreds of songs that became part of the fabric of Quebec's cultural life.

His best-known work remains the pacifist hymn "Quand les hommes vivront d'amour" ("When Men Live by Love"), which was written partly in reaction to the Algerian war that France was waging at the time, and which has been covered by a varie ty of Canadian and French singers including Celine Dion and Eddie Constantine.

Amid scandal, Peru says 487 officials vaccinated secretly

Peru's president has announced that 487 officials, including the former ministers of foreign affairs and health, took advantage of their privileged positions to secretly receive early inoculations of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine that the government then bought for doctors and other health workers battling the pandemic.

Interim President Francisco Sagasti said the officials' names are being turned over to prosecutors as the intensifying scandal over unequal access to coronavirus vaccines rattles Peru’s government.

“These people who were part of our government failed to do their duty as public servants,” Sagasti said in a television broadcast.
He said he was furious at the attitude of “many public officials who took advantage of their position.”

Parties in the opposition Congress scheduled a meeting Tuesday to decide whether to set up an investigative commission on the secret shots of a vaccine developed by the Chinese state company Sinopharm.

South Africa asks Serum Institute of India to take back 1 mln vaccine doses-report

South Africa has asked the Serum Institute of India to take back one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine that the company had sent in early February, The Economic Times reported.

Last week, South Africa's health minister said the government may sell doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, after the country paused its rollout following a small clinical trial that showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant dominant in the country. 

Mexico begins rocky rollout of vaccinations for elderly

Mexico has begun the task of vaccinating millions of senior citizens against the coronavirus, with dozens of Mexicans over 60 years old waiting in line for hours because of delays in administering shots.

Mexico began vaccinating healthcare workers in late December, and is starting a second phase for the elderly, even as it waits for more vaccine shipments.

By the end of April, the government aims to have inoculated everyone over 60, or 12 percent of the population of about 128 million, who are among the most vulnerable to complications from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

But the rollout began slowly in Mexico City. By midday, 75-year-old Elena Diaz had already waited in the sun for three hours and counting for her shot.

Meanwhile, Mexico's Health Ministry on Monday reported 450 new deaths from coronavirus in the country, bringing the overall toll to 174,657.

Australia medical regulator approves AstraZeneca's vaccine

Australia's medical regulator has granted provisional approval for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, making it the second vaccine to get regulatory approval in Australia.

The regulator last month approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use and inoculations for its 25 million population will begin from February 22.

South Korea reaches deals to buy more vaccines for 23 million people

South Korea has arranged to buy coronavirus vaccines for 23 million more people, its prime minister said, a day after authorities said delays and efficacy concerns meant fewer people would be vaccinated in the first quarter of the year.

The deals include Novavax vaccines for 20 million people and Pfizer products for 3 million, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in remarks at a meeting that were broadcast.

"The government has been working to bring in sufficient early supplies, but there is growing uncertainty over our vaccination plan for the first half due to production issues with global drugmakers and international competition to adopt more vaccines," he said.

Colombia to start vaccinations

Colombia will begin Covid-19 vaccinations following the arrival of the country's first vaccines from Pfizer Inc, President Ivan Duque has said.

The government had planned to administer the first dose on Saturday, following the arrival of the country’s first vaccine doses. 

The Health Ministry last week said it was expecting more than 5.7 million doses from different providers in February and March.

"Today we received this first batch," Duque said. "The vaccination process will begin the day after tomorrow, on Wednesday, February 17."

Malaysia to receive first batch of Pfizer vaccines on February 21

Malaysia will receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines produced by US and German drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech on February 21, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Tuesday.

Muhyiddin said he will be the first to receive a dose of the vaccine, when the country's national Covid-19 vaccination programme begins on February 26. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies