The novel coronavirus has infected over 94 million people globally and claimed more than 2 million lives. Here are the updates for January 16:

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site during mass testing, in Nitra, Slovakia January 8, 2021.
A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site during mass testing, in Nitra, Slovakia January 8, 2021. (Reuters)

Saturday, January 16, 2021:

Slovakia plans mass testing to cut virus infections by 50 percent

Slovakia is planning another large-scale testing and quarantine push to combat a serious rise in coronavirus infections, Health Minister Marek Krajci said.

The central European country with a population of 5.5 million has seen record numbers of new cases and hospitalisations since the turn of the year. There were 3,055 people in hospital on Saturday despite some slowdown amid a partial national lockdown.

If the testing succeeds, Slovakia could ease some epidemic measures in early February, Krajci said. Its colour-coded, six-level state of emergency is currently at black, the most serious.

France's virus death toll tops 70,000

France's cumulative virus death toll has risen past 70,000, the health authority reported, after 196 deaths were reported in the previous 24 hours.

The authority said 70,142 people had now died from the virus. It also reported 21,406 new confirmed virus infections over the previous 24 hours, up slightly from 21,271 on Friday.

The Health Ministry said 413,046 people had been vaccinated, up from 389,000 on Friday.

Portuguese finance minister tests positive for virus after meeting top EU officials

Portugal's Finance Minister Joao Leao has tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said, a day after he took part in an in-person meeting in Lisbon with top EU officials including Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The 46-year-old minister has so far shown no symptoms and will continue to work from home during a period of self-isolation, a statement from his ministry said. Self-isolation could last between 10 to 14 days.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa was also at the meeting, as were several other ministers and secretaries of state. Costa recently had to self-isolate for 14 days after a lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron, who then tested positive for the virus.

Thousands of anti-maskers rally in Vienna

Around 10,000 people rallied in the Austrian capital to protest coronavirus restrictions, calling on the government to resign, Austrian police said.

With the Alpine country currently in its third lockdown since March in a bid to bring the pandemic under control, and with non-essential shops, concert halls and theatres, sports centres and schools all closed, the protesters' anger was directed at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as well as at the media.

Brandishing banners proclaiming: "You're the disease. We're the cure" and waving Austrian flags, most of the demonstrators refused to wear masks or respect social distancing rules, including far-right politician and former deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

Germany has already vaccinated over a million people

Germany has carried out more than a million vaccinations as new infections and deaths remain high and officials mull whether to increase lockdown measures.

Figures released by the national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, showed nearly 1.05 million vaccinations have been recorded — 79,759 more than a day earlier — in the nation of 83 million people.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors will consult on Tuesday on how to proceed with lockdown measures, which are currently due to expire on January 31.

Spain vows to vaccinate large part of population by summer

Spain’s health minister says the government is standing by its pledge to vaccinate a large part of its population by the summer despite the delay in the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Minister Salvador Illa says although Spain will only receive 56 percent of the expected doses next week from Pfizer, Spain’s vaccination program has reached “cruising speed.”

Indonesia logs record daily cases

Indonesia has logged a record daily high number of virus cases for the fourth day in row as the Health Ministry reported 14,224 new infections in 24 hours.

The country’s daily virus count first topped 11,000 cases on Wednesday, then climbed to 11,557 on Thursday and 12,818 cases on Friday.

Indonesia’s official virus tally nationwide reached 896,642, making it the largest number in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10.5 million cases. The figure includes 25,767 deaths.

Pakistan approves AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

AstraZeneca’s virus vaccine has been approved for emergency use in Pakistan, the health minister said, making it the first coronavirus vaccine to get the green light for use in the South Asian country.

Pakistan, which is seeing rising numbers of coronavirus infections, said its vaccines would be procured from multiple sources.

“DRAP granted emergency use authorisation to AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine,” the health minister, Faisal Sultan, told Reuters.

Approval has been given to get more than a million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine from China, he said

Greece starts Covid-19 vaccinations among the elderly

Greece kicked off Covid-19 vaccinations among the elderly, after first inoculating tens of thousands of frontline workers to fight the spread of the virus.

More than 75,000 healthcare workers and nursing home residents and carers have received the shot of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech since Greece rolled out the plan along with other EU countries last month.

“I couldn’t wait. It will save people,” a 91-year-old woman, who gave her name as Kassiani, told Greek state television after receiving the vaccine at an Athens hospital.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that Greece aims to have 2 million people inoculated by March. The country has a population of about 11 million.

UK sees third-highest daily death toll

Britain has reported its lowest number of daily new coronavirus infections since the start of the year, adding to signs that a national lockdown is slowing the spread of a more infectious variant of the disease.

However, the effect of the recent surge in cases remains unclear in the death toll, which was the third-highest on record. Health experts have warned it has further to rise.

Government figures showed the number of people testing positive was 41,346, compared with 55,761 on Friday. It was the lowest daily reading since December 27, when fewer people were getting tested over the festive holiday period.

Deaths continue to rise rapidly, however, with another 1,295 reported on Saturday, taking the total number of fatalities recorded within 28 days of a positive test to 88,590.

Britain has Europe's highest death toll - though more have died in Italy and Belgium on a per capita basis. Chris Witty, the government's chief medical officer, warned the public on Friday that daily death numbers had not yet peaked.

Turkey sees further drop in number of cases

Turkey has reported over 7,500 new coronavirus case, down from 8,314 registered the previous day, according to Health Ministry’s data.

A total of 7,550 cases, including 902 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed.

Turkey’s overall case tally has crossed 2.38 million. The nationwide death toll hit 23,832, with 168 fatalities over the past day.

On Thursday, Turkey kicked off a mass Covid-vaccination campaign with healthcare workers being the first to get the jab.

The Health Ministry announced on Saturday over 650,000 healthcare workers in the country have received the first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Russia to reopen air travel with Finland, Vietnam, India and Qatar

Russian authorities have said that flights between Moscow and the capitals of Finland, Vietnam, India and Qatar, suspended since the early weeks of the pandemic, would restart from Jan 27, after certain epidemiological criteria were met.

A statement shared following a meeting of the government's coronavirus HQ said that the four countries were seeing fewer than 40 new cases per fortnight per 100,000 people.

Italy suspends flights from Brazil

Italy is suspending flights from Brazil, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, in response to a new coronavirus strain.

Anyone who has transited Brazil in the last 14 days is also prohibited from entering Italy, he said on Facebook, while people arriving in Italy from Brazil will be required to take a test for the virus.

"It is critical for our scientists to study the new strain. In the meantime, we are taking a very cautious approach", he said. 

Italy reports 475 more deaths, 16,310 new cases

Italy has reported 475 coronavirus-related deaths compared with 477 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 16,310 from 16,146.

Italy has registered 81,800 Covid-19 deaths since the virus came to light last February - the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world. It has also reported 2.369 million cases to date, the ministry said.

A total of 260,704 tests were carried out during the past day, down from the previous day's 273,506 tests.

Those numbers include the so-called "rapid tests", which are less accurate but give much faster results.

Denmark registers 256 cases of new B117 coronavirus variant

Denmark has registered 256 cases of infections with the new and more contagious coronavirus variant known as B117, health authorities said.

Between mid-November and Jan 10, 256 Danes have been infected with the new variant, first seen in Britain, corresponding to 1.3 percent of all positive tests genetically analysed in that period, the State Serum Institute said in report published on Saturday.

Argentina receives second batch of Russia's Sputnik vaccine

The second batch of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Argentina, allowing the South American country to apply the second part of the two-dose program aimed at inoculating front-line health workers.

Some 300,000 doses of the vaccine arrived from Moscow on a special flight of flag carrier Aerolineas Argentinas.

They will be used to complete the Sputnik treatment program that began in late December. More doses are expected to arrive in Argentina later this month and in February.

Paraguay this week became the eighth country outside Russia to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute.

Russia reports 24,092 new Covid-19 cases, 590 deaths

Russia has reported 24,092 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 4,674 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,544,623, the world's fourth-largest.

Authorities also confirmed 590 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 65,085. 

China says latest Covid-19 outbreak caused by imported cases

China's recent Covid-19 outbreaks in the northeast have come from travellers entering the country or contaminated frozen food imports, the National Health Commission, NHC, has said.

NHC Minister Ma Xiaowei made the comments at a government meeting, where he also said the virus was spreading to rural areas and that the handling of the recent situation had exposed how prevention and control measures had been relaxed.

"Since December 2020, epidemic clusters have occurred in Beijing, Sichuan, Liaoning, Hebei, and Heilongjiang," a statement posted on the NHC's website said citing the briefing by Ma.

"They mainly have the following characteristics. Firstly, they are all imported from abroad, caused by travelers from overseas, or contaminated cold-chain imported items."

Total case numbers remain well below what China saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, but concerns about a new wave are growing with the Lunar New Year a month away.

Azerbaijan to open restaurants but other restrictions extended

Azerbaijan will allow cafes and restaurants to open their doors to customers from February 1 but other coronavirus lockdown restrictions will be extended until April, the government has said.

Measures to stem the spread of the virus were introduced in late March and have been extended several times, with borders closed as the number of new cases keeps rising.

Shopping malls will stay closed and the metro service in the capital Baku will remain suspended.

As of Saturday, the country of about 10 million people in the South Caucasus had registered 226,549 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 2,983 deaths.

Two Covid-19 cases on Australian Open flight, 24 players quarantined

The build-up for next month's Australian Open suffered a jolt after two coronavirus infections were reported on a flight to the year's first grand slam, forcing two weeks of hotel quarantine for 24 players and their entourage on board.

Health officials in Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, said an aircrew member and Australian Open participant who is not a player had been transferred to a health hotel following positive test results for the new coronavirus.

"The 24 players will not be able to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared," the tournament organisers said in a statement.

"They will not be eligible to practice."

Australia has agreed to accept about 1,200 players, officials, and staff on 15 flights for the major sporting event that is due to begin next month.

India's huge vaccine drive starts

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched one of the world's largest vaccination campaigns, as part of efforts by the populous nation to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control starting with two locally-manufactured shots.

Modi, who addressed healthcare workers through videoconferencing, will not immediately take the vaccine himself as India is initially prioritising nurses, doctors, and others on the front line.

The world's second-most populous nation hopes to inoculate around 300 million of its 1.3 billion people by July, a number equal to almost the entire US population.

Brazil requests emergency use approval for Sputnik V

Brazilian pharmaceutical company Uniao Quimica said that, together with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), it has requested regulatory approval for the emergency use of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The request, filed with Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, seeks approval for the use of 10 million doses of Sputnik V in Brazil in the first quarter of 2021, the company said in a statement issued in Moscow. 

Anvisa officials said the vaccine would have to be submitted to Phase III clinical trials in Brazil before its use can be authorised.

Brazil reports more than 1,000 virus deaths for fourth consecutive day

Brazil had 66,047 new confirmed virus cases reported in the past 24 hours, and 1,038 deaths, the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,000 fatalities, the Health Ministry said.

The South American country has now registered 8,390,341 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 208,133, according to ministry data. 

It is the world's third-worst outbreak outside the United States and India. 

Mexico's coronavirus death toll rises to 139,022

Mexico reported 21,366 new confirmed virus cases and 1,106 more fatalities, according to the Health Ministry, bringing its total to 1,609,735 infections and 139,022 deaths.

The real number of infected people and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the ministry has said, because of a lack of widespread testing. 

China mainland reports 130 new cases

China reported 130 new virus cases in the mainland, compared to 135 cases a day earlier, the health commission said.

Of the new infections, 115 were local infections, according to a statement by the National Health Commission.

China reported 79 new asymptomatic patients, which it does not classify as confirmed cases, compared to 66 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,118, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,635.

Tunisia reports daily virus record of 4,170 cases

Tunisia recorded 4,170 new confirmed virus cases, a record since the start of the pandemic.

Tunisia on Thursday imposed a four-day national lockdown and closed schools until January 24 to combat a sharp rise in cases.

Other measures included rotating staffing in-state jobs to reduce people in offices and transport, longer curfew hours, and the removal of all chairs from cafes.

Coronavirus cases have been rising fast in Tunisia, which had managed to contain the virus last year. They have now reached 175,065 cases and 5,528 deaths.

WHO committee rules against vaccine passports

The key emergency committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that a lack of data on vaccine safety is a barrier to ensuring a quick and equitable global supply of vaccines and recommended against countries issuing vaccine passports.

"If you look at the recommendation made by the committee around vaccination for travellers, it says at the present time that the committee does not recommend including a requirement of proof of vaccination for international travel," said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program.

It recommended countries not require vaccination proof from incoming travellers but advised nations to implement “coordinated, evidence-based measures for safe travel and to share with WHO experiences and best practices learned.”

During the group’s bi-weekly news webinar, the confirmed global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.

South Africa reports 14,880 new cases

South Africa registered 14,880 additional virus cases in a 24-hour period bringing the number of infections to 1,311,686, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

Mkhize said the nation lost 615 people to Covid-19 in the same period that pushed the overall number of fatalities to 36,467.
South Africa is battling a second wave of the pandemic. It has the highest number of infections and deaths on the continent and is the sixteenth most affected country globally.

Africa’s most developed economy has conducted 7.4 million tests for the virus with 65,209 new ones performed since Wednesday.

At least 1, 062,690 patients have recovered, representing a recovery rate of 80.9 percent.

Pfizer says has second doses of virus shot on hand, expects no US supply problems

Pfizer Inc has been holding on to second doses for each of its Covid-19 vaccinations at the request of the federal government and anticipates no problems supplying them to Americans, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Pfizer's comments run counter to a report in the Washington Post that the federal government ran down its vaccine reserve in late December and has no remaining reserves of doses on hand.

"Operation Warp Speed has asked us to start shipping second doses only recently," the spokeswoman said. "As a result, we have on hand all the second doses of the previous shipments to the US."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies