The novel coronavirus pandemic has infected almost 100 million people around the world, with over 2.1 million fatalities. Here are updates for January 25:

FILE PHOTO: A CalFire firefighter is administered his first dose of the Moderna vaccine in his arm by a CalFire Emergency Medical Technician during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in El Cajon, California, US, January 15, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: A CalFire firefighter is administered his first dose of the Moderna vaccine in his arm by a CalFire Emergency Medical Technician during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in El Cajon, California, US, January 15, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday,  January 25, 2021:

Moderna plans trial of altered vaccine booster 

Moderna said it plans to start clinical trials of an altered booster version of its vaccine aimed at the South African variant after tests showed its authorised vaccine may produce a diminished antibody response.

It will also test an additional booster shot of its authorised vaccine in trials to see if it boosts antibody reaction against the South Africa variant. The current regimen is for two shots four weeks apart.

The company said in a press release that it was being cautious and that the two-dose regimen of the vaccine was still expected to be protective against the South African and other variants detected to date.

The company said the vaccine did not see any impact from the UK variant, which has been shown to be more transmissible, in the tests.

The company said it plans to publish data from its tests against the South African and UK variants on the website bioRxiv.

Turkey reports over 5,600 new cases

Turkey reported over 5,600 new cases, according to official figures.

A total of 5,642 cases, including 671 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, Health Ministry data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 2.43 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 25,210, with 137 fatalities over the past day .

As many as 6,682 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.31 million.

More than 28.64 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 151,109 since Sunday, said official data.

The latest figures show that the number of patients in critical condition dropped to 1,808.

Turkey began a mass vaccination campaign on January 14, starting with healthcare workers along with top officials to encourage public confidence in the vaccines.

So far, over 1.2 million people have received their first doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech.

Since last month Turkey has also been imposing nighttime and weekend curfews to curb the spread of the virus.

Britain records 22,195 new cases

Britain said it had recorded 22,195 new cases, down from 30,004 the previous day, with government statistics showing that 6,573,570 people had received a first dose of a vaccine.

There were 592 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, down from 610 on Sunday.

Azithromycin, doxycycline not effective in early-stage

A UK trial found that commonly used antibiotics azithromycin and doxycycline were generally not effective as a treatment for early stages of Covid-19 in order to prevent hospitalisation or further intervention, Oxford University said.

The trial, dubbed PRINCIPLE, found that there was no beneficial effect in patients over the age of 50 who were treated with either of the antibiotics at home, the University said on its website, adding that further details will be published in a peer-reviewed journal soon. 

Italy adds 420 new deaths, 8,561 cases

Italy reported 420 deaths on Monday, up from 299 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 8,561 from 11,629.

However, the number of swab tests also fell, as often happens over the weekend, totalling just 143,116 against a previous 216,211.

Italy has now registered 85,881 deaths linked to Covid-19 since last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.475 million cases.

Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 21,424 on Monday, compared with 21,309 a day earlier.

There were 150 new admissions to intensive care units, against 120 the day before. The total number of intensive care patients stood at 2,421 up from 2,400 on Sunday.

When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerating quickly in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by about 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day.

Mexico to get 24 million Sputnik V doses

Mexico agreed to acquire 24 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said after talking with President Vladimir Putin by telephone.

Lopez Obrador, who himself announced on Sunday that he had Covid-19, said on Twitter that he thanked Putin "for the decision to send us 24 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine."

The controversial shot has yet to be approved by Mexico's health regulator.

Mexico has officially registered more than 1.75 million coronavirus cases and nearly 150,000 deaths, the world's fourth-highest death toll after the United States, Brazil and India.

Mexico City has been in a state of maximum alert since mid-December, with more than 90 percent of hospital beds full due to soaring infections. Non-essential activities have been suspended in the capital.

California lifts regional stay-at-home orders

California has lifted regional stay-at-home orders statewide in response to improving conditions.

Public health officials said the state will return to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus. The state is also lifting a 10 pm to 5 am curfew.

The decision comes with improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalisations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations. The lifting of the order is based on projections that the state says show improving ICU conditions, but officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.

Australia OKs Pfizer vaccine, to begin in February

Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Residents and workers at aged-care facilities, frontline healthcare workers and quarantine workers are among the groups being prioritised for the first doses.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia has an agreement for 10 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and an option to buy more if supplies allow.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country overall had secured 140 million vaccines, one of the highest dosing rates per head of population in the world.

The biggest of the pre-orders, conditional on regulatory approval, is 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which would be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

Pakistan to approve Russian Sputnik vaccine

Pakistan is all set to approve the Russian Sputnik vaccine for emergency use, a government official said on Monday, a week after China's Sinopharm and Oxford University's AstraZeneca vaccine got a similar authorisation.

The Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan (DRAP) has accepted the data submitted by the Russian candidate, a spokesman for the authority told Reuters.

He said the data and its evaluation had been forwarded to the authority's registration board, which will have the final word on granting Sputnik an Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA).

Pakistan has not yet rolled out a vaccination campaign, waiting for the first shipment of Sinopharm's vaccine by the end of this month with a donation of half a million doses from China.

Pakistan hopes to get another donation of over a million doses from China.

The health ministry says both the EUA approved vaccines will be reviewed on a quarterly basis for further data regarding safety, efficacy and quality.

Sultan said the country could get "in the range of tens of millions" of vaccine doses under an agreement with China's Cansino Biologics Inc.

The vaccine company's Ad5-nCoV candidate is nearing completion of Phase III clinical trials in Pakistan, awaiting results likely to come in by mid-February, Sultan said.

Pakistan plans to cover the majority of the population for free, but private companies could also be allowed to import and sell vaccines.

Pakistan reported 1,629 new coronavirus infections and 23 deaths on Monday, taking the total number of cases to more than 534,041 with 11,318 fatalities. 

Thailand confirms record 914 new cases

Thailand confirmed a record 914 new cases, all in Samut Sakhon province near Bangkok where a major outbreak began in December. The new cases shot the national total past 14,000.

The previous high was on January 4, when 745 cases were reported, mostly in Samut Sakhon among migrant workers from Myanmar. The province is a center for fishing and industry. The first case reported in the recent surge was detected there in mid-December at a major seafood market, which has been closed.

Any new cases in other provinces will be announced in Tuesday.

National totals are announced the day after test results, but Samut Sakhon health officials released local results on Monday, the same day they began mass proactive testing in the province, targeting up to 10,000 people a day for a week.

They said 844 new cases were detected Monday through proactive testing and 70 discovered in hospitals. Thai nationals accounted for 119 cases and migrant workers for 795.

Anger and grief as UK's death toll nears 100,000

As the United Kingdom's death toll approaches 100,000, grief-stricken relatives of the dead expressed anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's handling of the worst public health crisis in a century.

When the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in China in 2019, slid silently across the United Kingdom in March, Johnson initially said he was confident it could be sent packing in weeks.

But 97,939 deaths later, the United Kingdom has the world's fifth worst official death toll - more than its civilian toll in World War Two and twice the number killed in the 1940-41 Blitz bombing campaign, although the total population was lower then.

Behind the numbers there is grief and anger.

Some scientists and opposition politicians say Johnson acted too slowly to stop the spread of the virus and then bungled both the government's strategy and execution of its response.

Johnson has resisted calls for an inquiry into the handling of the crisis and ministers say that while they have not got everything right, they were making decisions at speed and have among the best global vaccination programmes.

The United Kingdom's death toll - defined as those who die within 28 days of a positive test - rose to 97,939 on Jan. 24. The toll has risen by an average of over 1,000 per day for the past 7 days.

Portugal ramps up vaccination as medical staff "feel like crying" over out-of-control pandemic

Portugal's firefighters, police, and people over 50 with pre-existing conditions will start getting jabs from next week, the government said, as it scrambled to contain soaring infection rates that are overwhelming hospitals.

Lawmakers and government ministers will also get vaccinated from next week, Health Minister Marta Temido said, while medical staff spoke of despair at the steep increase in cases.

The country of 10 million people, which fared better than others in the first wave of the pandemic, now has the world's highest seven-day rolling average of new daily cases and deaths per million inhabitants, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.

Temido said that Portugal has so far received around 411,600 doses of coronavirus vaccines but only 255,700 doses have been administered so far to frontline health workers and care home residents. The ambulance worker Reuters spoke to had received her first vaccination dose and was waiting for the second one.

Spain's health minister quits amid pandemic to run for regional Catalan election

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa will leave his job on Tuesday to run for elections scheduled in Catalonia on February 14 to try and win the regional government away from pro-independence parties.

"Salvador Illa starts today his last 24 hours at the helm of the ministry," the office of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a statement. "Tomorrow Tuesday will be his last cabinet meeting and his replacement will be disclosed."

A source close to the government pointed to Regional Policy Minister Carolina Darias as the most likely candidate to take over the position.

In her current role, Darias has worked closely with Illa and overseen weekly summits of regional health chiefs to coordinate the coronavirus response.

The new minister's first task will be tackling a rampaging third wave of infection that has sent Spain's 14-day incidence of the virus spiralling to 829 cases per 100,000 people from 263 cases a month ago.

Projected UK Pfizer vaccine supply unchanged for Jan to March period

The total projected amount of Pfizer vaccine supplied to Britain between January and March will be unchanged by a planned upgrade at a production facility, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said.

"Their projected volumes of deliveries to the UK remain the same for January to March," the spokesman said.

"As Pfizer have said, supplies will be lower this month and next, given it's upgrading its factory in Belgium. I believe they also said it will then increase production in March."

Global cases nears grim milestone of 100M

The world is edging closer to another grim milestone of 100 million cases according to tracker Worldometer.

The site, which uses live data from health agencies, says over 2.1 million people have lost their lives.

Over 71 million people have also recovered from the virus.

Global life insurers worried about long-term pandemic risks

Global life insurers are taking steps to curb payouts stemming from the pandemic, including long-term health consequences that are not fully understood, industry sources told Reuters.

Life insurers, including Prudential Financial Inc, and Aviva PLC, are now imposing waiting periods before Covid-19 patients, including those who have recovered, can apply for coverage, executives and spokespeople said. Some are also limiting coverage for certain age groups.

These changes come as some reinsurers demand new safeguards from life insurers they backstop, and as the industry struggles to ascertain the extent of problems caused by the novel coronavirus.

Biden to impose South Africa travel ban

President Joe Biden will impose a ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa starting Saturday in a bid to contain the spread of a new variant of Covid-19, a senior US public health official told Reuters.

Biden on Monday is also reimposing an entry ban on nearly all non-US travelers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in an interview Sunday. 

Japan likely to hit herd immunity by October

Japan is likely to achieve herd immunity to Covid-19 through mass inoculations only months after the planned Tokyo Olympics, even though it has locked in the biggest quantity of vaccines in Asia, according to a London-based forecaster.

That would be a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who has pledged to have enough shots for the populace by the middle of 2021, as it trails most major economies in starting COVID-19 inoculations.

"Japan looks to be quite late in the game," Rasmus Bech Hansen, the founder of British research firm Airfinity, told Reuters.

New Zealand says new case is South African variant

New Zealand's first case in the community for more than two months has been identified as the more contagious South African variant, prompting Australia to suspend quarantine-free travel from the neighbouring country for at least 72 hours.

A 56-year-old New Zealander, who recently returned from Europe, tested positive on Saturday to the infectious strain, 10 days after she completed her compulsory two weeks in isolation.

New Zealand has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths from 1,927 confirmed virus cases in a population of five million.

Hong Kong lifts lockdown in Kowloon district

The Hong Kong government lifted a lockdown in an area of Kowloon district after testing about 7,000 people to curb an outbreak in the densely populated area.

The government set up 51 temporary testing stations on Saturday and found 13 confirmed cases in the restricted area that is home to many ageing, subdivided flats in which the disease could spread more quickly.

“Businesses in the area have been hit hard and brought to a standstill,” the government said in a statement.

US cases top 25 millions 

The number of cases in the United States crossed 25 million, as states accelerate their vaccine distribution and more infectious strains are found globally.

States including North Dakota and West Virginia have injected more than 83% of their allocated doses into residents' arms, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Sunday.

Virginia administered the fewest doses, with 42% of the vaccines received.

Second batch of vaccines arrives in Turkey

A plane carrying the second batch of vaccines ordered from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. arrived in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 plane, which departed from Beijing, landed at Istanbul Airport at 0315 GMT.

Containers containing the vaccine were taken from the aircraft after customs procedures and moved to warehouses.

A total of 6.5 million doses of the inactive Covid-19 vaccine were brought in the first part of the second shipment of 10 million doses.

Tata in talks to launch Moderna vaccine in India

Tata Medical & Diagnostics is said to have started initial discussions with Moderna Inc for a partnership to launch its vaccine in India, the Economic Times reported.

Tata could team up with the India's Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) to carry out clinical trials of Moderna's vaccine candidate in India, the report added, citing officials familiar with the matter.

The Indian government this month gave emergency-use approval to a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd and state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

Portugal’s defense minister tests positive

Portugal’s Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho has tested positive, the Defense Ministry said.

The ministry said Cravinho has mild symptoms and is in good health.

Cravinho, 56, will remain in quarantine and continue working from home, it added.

In the last 24 hours, Portugal reported 275 fatalities,  the highest daily number since the beginning of the pandemic, taking the country’s death toll to 10,469.

The country has reported more than 636,000 cases and over 456,000 recoveries.

Tunisia's foreign minister tests positive

Tunisia's foreign minister has tested positive.

“My Covid-19 test was positive today, although I complied with health protocols and adhered to all measures,” Othman Jerandi said on Twitter.

He said he had severe symptoms and urged people to protect themselves from the virus.

“This has made me more insistent on the supply of vaccines to protect my country's people from the pandemic,” he added.

Could take 10 years for the poorest to recover from virus losses

The thousandth richest people on the planet recouped their losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world's poorest to recover, says a new Oxfam report.  

The report entitled 'The Inequality Virus' published on the opening day of the World Economic Forum's 'Davos Dialogues', suggests Covid-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once - the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.

Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly White male, billionaires to bounce back, the report said.

The survey suggests that the world's 10 richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began, enough to pay for a vaccine for everyone and ensure no one is pushed into poverty.

New Zealand confirms first case in months

New Zealand has confirmed it is investigating one positive case in the community that was first reported on Sunday, the first domestic case in months.

The infection in a 56-year-old woman who returned to New Zealand on December 30 was of the South African variant, the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said during a news conference.

There were no other community cases reported and authorities said the source of the infection was probably a fellow returnee at a quarantine facility.

China reports 124 new mainland cases vs 80 a day earlier

Mainland China has reported 124 new cases, up from 80 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 117 of the new cases were local infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 45 from 92 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China is 89,115, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,635.

Australia approves vaccine

Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. 

The regulator said priority would be given to groups that include aged-care residents and workers, frontline healthcare workers, and quarantine workers. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive and thorough process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

Mexico's president says he's tested positive

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday he has tested positive and that the symptoms are mild.

Mexico's president, who has been criticised for his handling of his country's pandemic, said on his official Twitter account that he is under medical treatment.

“I regret to inform you that I am infected with Covid-19,” he tweeted. “The symptoms are mild but I am already under medical treatment. As always, I am optimistic. We will all move forward.”

Lopez Obrador, 67, has long been criticised for not setting an example of prevention in public.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies