Coronavirus has killed more than 2.4 million people and infected over 112 million globally. Here are virus-related developments for February 23:

Doctor Laura Tosberg administers a Moderna coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccination to Renate Schulz at a new Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Velodrom in Berlin, Germany February 17, 2021.
Doctor Laura Tosberg administers a Moderna coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccination to Renate Schulz at a new Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Velodrom in Berlin, Germany February 17, 2021. (Reuters Archive)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Merkel says Germany in third wave of pandemic

Germany is in a third wave of the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in her conservative party, two sources at the meeting told Reuters.

"We are now in the third wave," they quoted her as saying and said she warned that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until March 7 would have to be done carefully and gradually.

The closure of all non-essential businesses and border controls with Austria and the Czech Republic, where there have been outbreaks linked to a more infectious variant of the virus, have helped Germany bring down new daily virus infections.

Non-essential EU travel to stay restricted - draft EU leaders conclusions

Non-essential travel in the European Union will have to remain restricted for the time being because the epidemiological situation remains serious and new coronavirus variants pose additional challenges, EU leaders will agree.

Draft conclusions of the leaders video-conference, seen by Reuters, said that travel restrictions should be introduced proportionally, in a non-discriminatory way and taking into account specific cross-border situations of local communities.

They will also agree to continue work on a common EU vaccination certificate which would allow individuals more freedom of travel and help resurrect tourism, which is key for southern EU countries, that has been destroyed by the pandemic. 

Turkey reports 75 new Covid-19 deaths

Turkey has reported 9,107 new Covid-19 cases and 75 more deaths in the past 24 hours, official data showed.

The new data bring the total number of confirmed cases to 2, 655, 633 and the total death toll to 28, 213.

Scotland eyes 'substantial' easing of virus curbs from April

Scotland will look to begin a "substantial" easing of coronavirus restrictions from April 26, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said as she laid out plans to take the country out of lockdown.

The head of Scotland's devolved government told lawmakers there were "much brighter times ahead", adding that restrictions were working well alongside a mass vaccination programme that was "motoring".

"We can now see a firm way out of this if we all stick together and stick with it," she added.

Spain extends ban on arrivals from UK, Brazil, South Africa

Spain extended its ban on arrivals from Britain, Brazil and South Africa until March 16 to safeguard against the spread of new coronavirus strains from these countries. 

Only legal residents or nationals of Spain and the neighbouring micro-state of Andorra are currently allowed in on flights from these countries. 

The restriction on arrivals from Britain was imposed at the end of December to halt the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 variant discovered there in November.

Briton head to holidays after restrictions announcement 

Britons rushed to book overseas vacations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled plans to slowly ease a national lockdown.

That boosted optimism that travel restrictions will be removed in time for the summer holiday season. TUI, the UK’s largest tour operator said bookings increased six-fold on Monday, the company’s busiest day in more than a month.

Greece sees spike in virus cases

Greek health authorities have reported a spike in new virus cases, about half of which were in the greater Athens region.

A total 2,147 new infections were recorded, up from 880 a day earlier despite the ongoing lockdown. It brings the total to just over 180,000.

Authorities also recorded 22 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,343 confirmed deaths.

A total 357 people are intubated in intensive care units.

Germany medics arrive in Portugal

A second team of Germany army medics has arrived in Portugal to help with intensive care patients during the pandemic.

A Covid-19 surge in January made Portugal the worst-hit country in the world by size of population. The surge has ebbed, but hospitals are still under pressure.

The eight German doctors and 18 nurses arrived to relieve a previous team that flew to Portugal at the start of February.

A handful of medics from France and Luxembourg are also helping at Portuguese hospitals.

India says virus variants not behind upsurge in cases

India said mutated versions of coronavirus were not responsible for an upsurge in cases in two states, a potential relief for a country where mask-wearing and social distancing have largely disappeared.

Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south account for 75 percent of India's current active cases of about 147,000, and both states have seen a sudden rise in new infections in recent days, fuelling calls for a faster roll-out of vaccines.

India has reported more than 11 million cases - the most in the world after the United States - and about 156,000 deaths. Actual infections have inched closer to 300 million in the country of 1.35 billion, according to a random study of antibodies done by the government.

FDA to allow Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be stored at higher temps - NYT

The US Food & Drug Administration plans to approve Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's request to store their Covid-19 vaccine at standard freezer temperatures instead of in ultra-cold conditions, the New York Times reported.

The FDA is expected to announce the new guidance to the providers as early as Tuesday, modifying documents related to the emergency use authorisation that was previously granted for the vaccine, the NYT report said, citing people familiar with the matter. 

J&J ready to ship nearly 4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in US

Johnson & Johnson expects to be able to ship nearly 4 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine upon authorisation in the US, an executive said at a hearing in the US House of Representatives.

The single-dose vaccine is being considered by an outside advisory committee to the US Food and Drug Administration later this week, and emergency use authorisation could come shortly afterward.

Richard Nettles, Vice President of Medical Affairs at J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceutical, said the company expects to deliver 20 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March.

AstraZeneca expects US Covid-19 vaccine authorisation in April

AstraZeneca Plc expects its Covid-19 vaccine could receive US Emergency Use Authorization at the beginning of April and could immediately deliver 30 million doses of the shot there, a top executive said at a hearing in the US House of Representatives.

Ruud Dobber, executive vice president at AstraZeneca, said that the drugmaker expects to be able to deliver 50 million doses of the vaccine by the end of April.

Israel sharing some vaccines with Palestinians, Honduras, Czech Republic

Israel said  it was giving small amounts of surplus vaccines to Palestinian-run territories as well as to several countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not name which countries in a statement announcing the move.

But an Israeli official told Reuters that Honduras - which said last year it intended to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem - was among the recipients.

The Czech Republic confirmed it had received a small Israeli shipment.

South Africa says J&J, Pfizer, Moderna vaccines those for "immediate use"

South Africa's health minister said that government advisers had organised virus vaccines into three groups and those considered for "immediate use" were the Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Pfizer and Moderna shots.

The country started rolling out the J&J vaccine in a research study targeting healthcare workers last week and hopes to receive Pfizer doses in the coming months.

It has paused AstraZeneca vaccinations because of a small trial showing the British company's shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the dominant local coronavirus variant.

Italy reports 356 coronavirus deaths 

Italy reported 356 coronavirus-related deaths against 274 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 13,314 from 9,630 the day before.

Some 303,850 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with 170,672 previously, the ministry said.

Nearly 18 million Britons have received first vaccine doses

A total of 17,916,181 people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Britain, according to official data released, which also showed a further 8,489 cases and 548 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

Portugal's virus nightmare eases but end of lockdown still out of sigh

While the number of virus cases in Portugal is falling, the the far slower decline in hospitalisations and intensive care patients has left Lisbon residents resigned to the nationwide lockdown lasting for many more weeks.

Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people, faced its toughest battle against the coronavirus pandemic last month. For weeks it had the world's worst surge.

The nightmare has eased with the lockdown, with daily case and death tolls falling rapidly to just 63 deaths and 1,032 new cases - levels last seen in October when businesses were still open.

But the number of people in hospital remains around double the level authorities say must be reached to alleviate measures. A lockdown put in place on January 15, shutting non-essential services and schools, is expected to last until at least the end of March.

Dutch expected to ease lockdown slightly despite rising infections

The Netherlands is expected to announce a slight easing of virus restrictions, allowing schools and hairdressers to reopen, as the government seeks to relieve months of lockdown even as infection rates rise again.

A controversial night-time curfew will remain in place, broadcaster RTL said citing government sources, as health experts warn of a new wave of infections due to the rise of more contagious variants of the virus.

New coronavirus cases increased 19 precent to 29,997 in the week through Tuesday, the Dutch Institute for Public Health RIVM said, as new mutations continued to take hold.

Sweden readies new measures as virus cases accelerate

Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in virus cases as the coronavirus strain first detected in Britain spreads rapidly, the architect of Sweden's pandemic strategy said.

Sweden has avoided lockdowns throughout the pandemic. But health statistics agency figures showed 10,933 new coronavirus cases had been registered since Friday, a rise from 9,458 in the corresponding period the previous week.

Brazil approves Pfizer's  shot, but has none to use

Brazil has fully approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE , its health regulator said, though a dispute over a supply deal means it has none to start an immunisation program with.

It is the first coronavirus shot to receive full approval in Brazil, regulator Anvisa said. Vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd, have only been approved for emergency use.

The approval is good news for a country whose immunisation campaign has been plagued by delays and political squabbling. However, it is unclear whether this will pave the way for a supply deal of a highly effective shot that is being rolled out globally.

Thailand to start first virus vaccinations this week

Thailand will start vaccinating priority groups including health workers against Covid-19 by the end of this week, its prime minister said, a day ahead of the arrival of the country's first coronavirus vaccines.

Thailand will receive the first 200,000 of two million doses of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac on Wednesday. The Chinese vaccine was given emergency use authorisation on Monday.

The Sinovac vaccines will be given to priority groups in 13 provinces, the Covid-19 taskforce said. More than half of the 200,000 doses will be earmarked for Samut Sakhon, the epicentre of Thailand's latest outbreak, and the capital, Bangkok.

France eyes extra measures to limit virus spread in Dunkirk

French Health Minister Olivier Veran will head to Dunkirk in northern France on Wednesday as the government eyes new measures to limit the spread of the virus in the region, the prime minister's Office said.

Prime Minister Jean Castex had discussed the local health situation with the Dunkirk mayor.

"They agreed that in view of the sharp deterioration in health indicators in recent hours, additional measures to limit the epidemic must be taken," the statement said.

Hungary to start vaccinations with Chinese Sinopharm's shot 

First in the European Union, Hungary will start vaccinations on Wednesday with the vaccines purchased from Chinese company Sinopharm, the Hungarian government said on its coronavirus information page on Facebook.

Hungary's right-wing government, a strong critic of slow EU vaccine rollout, has been the first of the 27 member states to buy and authorise Russian and Chinese vaccines not yet approved by Brussels. Hungary announced in January that it had reached a deal with Sinopharm to buy 5 million doses of its vaccine. 

Senegal begins vaccinating against coronavirus with doses from China

Senegal began its coronavirus vaccination campaign with 200,000 doses that it purchased from China's Sinopharm, which it received last week.

The first shots were given to government ministers and health workers at the health ministry in the capital, Dakar.

The West African country is one of the first in the region to start vaccinating its population against Covid-19. It has so far recorded over 33,099 cases and 814 deaths from the disease.

As a lower-middle income country, Senegal is eligible for about 1.3 million vaccine doses for free through the first wave of the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVAX programme, but it is still waiting for them to arrive.

Afghanistan begins its vaccination campaign

Afghanistan launched its vaccination campaign aimed at inoculating hundreds of thousands, as the war-weary nation reels from near-daily attacks by insurgents.

Doctors, security personnel, and journalists were among the first volunteers to receive doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, donated earlier this month by India.

Afghanistan is believed to have been hit hard by the pandemic in the last year, but limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector have hampered its ability to track the virus.

Officially the country has recorded just 55,600 confirmed cases and about 2,430 deaths.

Russia reports 11,823 new cases

Russia reported 11,823 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,198 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,189,153 since the pandemic began.

The government taskforce also reported 417 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 84,047. 

New Zealand cluster grows with three new cases

New Zealand reported three new locally transmitted cases, as the cluster in its biggest city of Auckland expanded just days after authorities were forced to impose fresh curbs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted a brief lockdown in Auckland last week, saying the measures had helped limit the spread of the infection to a family of three.

However, a student from Papatoetoe High School in Auckland was reported to have tested positive earlier in the day. 

Health authorities later said that two siblings of the student were also infected with the virus, and have asked everyone linked to the school to get retested.

Egypt receives second shipment of Sinopharm vaccine

Egypt received 300,000 doses of a vaccine developed by Sinopharm in the early hours of Tuesday, the health ministry said in a statement.

The new batch from China was the second shipment of the Sinopharm vaccine to Egypt. 

The country received its first 50,000-dose shipment in December.

The North African country also got 50,000 doses of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca earlier in February as part of its programme to vaccinate health workers.

Egypt began vaccinating frontline medical staff  in January.

Oman bans entry from 10 countries to curb spread

Oman will not allow people from 10 countries to enter the country for 15 days to curb the spread of the virus, in particular certain mutated strains, the Gulf state's coronavirus committee said.

The countries are Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia. 

The decision is effective from Thursday.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 3,883

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 3,883 to 2,394,811, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 415 to 68,318, the tally showed.

Vietnam details priorities for first phase of vaccinations

Vietnam's government said health workers, diplomats, and military personnel would be among the first to be vaccinated when the country starts its inoculation programme next month.

The Southeast Asian country with a population of 98 million said it will receive 60 million vaccine doses this year, including half under the WHO-led Covax scheme.

In the first quarter of 2021, Vietnam aims to inoculate 500,000 medical staff and 116,000 others directly involved in the fight against the pandemic, the government said in a statement.

New York City movie theatres to reopen

Movie theatres in New York City will partially reopen next month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, the latest easing of restrictions in the Big Apple.

Cuomo said cinemas will be able to operate at 25 percent capacity, or up to 50 people per screen, from March 5 -- almost exactly a year since they shut.

Officials closed movie theatres on March 17 last year as the virus began ravaging America's commercial capital, where the disease has now killed almost 29,000 people.

In a statement sent to AFP, AMC's CEO Adam Aron announced that the chain's 13 movie theaters in New York would reopen on March 5.

Mexico posts 429 more deaths, 2,252 new cases

Mexico has registered 429 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 180,536 deaths.

According to the health ministry data, Mexico also registered 2,252 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, for a total of 2,043,632 cases.

Australia to ramp up vaccination drive as more doses arrive

Australia will ramp up its immunisation drive with more shots to be rolled out from next week, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said, after a second shipment of the vaccine reached the country overnight.

About 166,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNtech arrived late Monday, authorities said as the country entered the second day of a nationwide inoculation programme.

Total weekly doses will be raised to 80,000 next week from 60,000 doses this week, with the number expected to reach 1 million a week by the end of March when CSL Ltd begins to locally produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Australia on Monday began mass vaccinations for its 25 million people after the arrival last week of a first batch of more than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

China reports 10 new cases vs 11 a day earlier

China reported 10 new cases, down from 11 cases a day earlier, the national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement 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, rose to nine from eight a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 89,852, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Fauci says US political divisions contributed to 500,000 dead 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said political divisiveness contributed significantly to the "stunning" US death toll, which surpassed 500,000 lives lost.

The country had recorded more than 28 million cases and 500,054 fatalities as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters news agency tally of public health data. 

In an interview with Reuters, Fauci said the pandemic arrived in the United States as the country was riven by political divisions in which wearing a mask became a political statement rather than a public health measure.

"Even under the best of circumstances, this would have been a very serious problem," Fauci said, noting that despite strong adherence to public health measures, countries such as Germany and the UK struggled with the virus.

"However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top adviser to President Joe Biden.

Source: Reuters