The novel coronavirus has infected over 95 million people globally and claimed more than 2 million lives. Here are the updates for January 18:

Pedestrians wearing face masks cross a street in Barcelona, Spain, January 18, 2021.
Pedestrians wearing face masks cross a street in Barcelona, Spain, January 18, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday, January 18, 2021:

Turkey's vaccine campaign focus moves to elder care

Turkey’s vaccination campaign is proceeding to its next step, focusing on the very elderly and those in institutional care, the country’s health minister said.

“As of tomorrow [Tuesday], we will start the vaccination of people staying in care and nursing homes, and of those caring for them,” Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

He said people 90 and above in the country will also start receiving their first shots on the same day, adding that they will get their jabs at their homes or residences without the need to visit health institutions.

He said that according to the schedule, the inoculation of Turkey’s healthcare workers will be completed by Wednesday, adding that over 830,000 workers have been vaccinated since last Thursday, when the campaign kicked off.

Morocco reports its first case of UK coronavirus variant, bans more flights

Morocco’s health ministry has confirmed its first imported case of the more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus first discovered in the UK.

The variant was detected in the northern port of Tangier in a Moroccan national returning from Ireland via Marseille, the ministry said in a statement.

On Monday, the foreign ministry said travellers from Australia, Brazil, Ireland and New Zealand will not be allowed into the country. Morocco has suspended flights coming from the UK since late De cember in an effort to protect against further spread of the virus.

Morocco has announced it plans to launch a free vaccination campaign targeting 25 million people, or 80 percent of its population.

The country ordered 66 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca Plc and China’s Sinopharm. It has not yet received any.

On December 23, Morocco imposed a nationwide four-week curfew from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am to contain virus.

On Monday, the country said it has recorded a total of 460,144 coronavirus infections including 7,977 deaths and 16,481 active cases.

Spain reports weekend record of over 84,000 cases

Spain reported a record rise in infections over the weekend and the number of new cases measured over the past 14 days spiked to 689 per 100,000 people on Monday from 575 on Friday, health ministry data showed.

Nearly 84,300 new cases were reported since Friday, bringing the cumulative total to 2,336,451, the data showed. Deaths rose by 455 over the same period to 53,769.

Czech Republic detects UK variant

The Czech Republic has confirmed the detection of the new, more transmissible virus variant of first found in Britain, the country's National Institute of Public Health said.

A spokeswoman said the mutation had been proven in part of samples that had been sequenced, while sequencing continued on others. She said more information would be released on Tuesday.

The country of 10.7 million has been one of the worst-hit globally with 14,449 deaths so far and over 150 daily deaths most days this month.

The variant identified in Britain is believed by scientists to be more contagious, putting more pressure health systems, although it is not thought to cause more severe disease.

Health Minister Jan Blatny told a news conference about 10 percent of recent cases were suspected to be of the new variant, which posed a risk for future load on the health system.

France reports rising number of patients in intensive care

The French health ministry reported 3,736 new infections over the previous 24 hours, a figure lower than Sunday's 16,642 but higher than last Monday's 3,582, raising fears the country might have to resort to a third lockdown.

France's cumulative total of cases now stands at 2,914,725, the sixth-highest in the world.

The seven-day moving average of new infections, which averages out weekly data reporting irregularities, increased to 18,270, the highest since November 24.

The number of people being treated in intensive care units for the disease was up for the ninth consecutive day, going beyond the 2,800 threshold for the first time since December 17.

The death toll was up by 404, at 70,687, the world's seventh-highest, versus 141 Sunday. 

Disneyland Paris postpones reopening to April

Disneyland Paris, Europe's biggest tourist attraction, said it now expects to reopen on April 2, seven weeks later than planned, because of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Disneyland Paris said on Twitter it could not honour the original February 13 target date for reopening the theme park, and that even the April date could only be met if health conditions permitted.

The park, which employs 17,000 people, closed between March 13 and July 15 last year, and has been shut again since October 30.

According to a union source, its management expects a return to pre-pandemic levels of activity only in 2022.

The Disney group has announced 32,000 job cuts at its theme park activities worldwide by the end of the first quarter, mostly in the United States, because of the impact of the coronavirus.

Nigeria requests 10M vaccine doses from African Union

Nigeria has written to the African Union to request 10 million vaccine doses to supplement the COVAX programme and has allocated $26 million for licensed vaccine production, the health minister said. 

Nigeria, like other countries across Africa, is grappling with a second wave of the novel coronavirus. As of Monday, Nigeria, the continent's most populous country of 200 million inhabitants, had 110,387 confirmed cases and 1,435 deaths.

The African Union has secured a provisional 270 million vaccine doses from manufacturers for member states, its chair South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week.

British variant prompts new measures in Belgium

Belgium prepared to fight the spread of the British variant of the virus after outbreak reports in schools and retirement homes of the strain believed to be more infectious.

Carl Decaluwe, the governor of West Flanders, which includes the postcard city of Bruges, said he had ordered a massive wave of testing in several schools.

The measures came after about two-thirds of the residents of a retirement home in the town of Houthulst and one third of the staff were infected, a statement said.

Three people died, the De Groene Verte home said.

In all a bout 130 people tested positive with the British strain, the town's mayor told AFP, with the country now seriously considering tougher restrictions on travel in and out of the country.

Reports said the government could decide by the end of the week to reduce the maximum length of stay to avoid testing and quarantine from the current 48 hours to 16 hours or shorter.

Belgium has recorded 678,839 cases of the coronavirus and 20,435 deaths, making it the most bereaved country in the world in terms of population.

Venezuela reopens flights to Panama and Dominican Republic

Venezuela's civil aviation authority said it is reopening flights to Panama and the Dominican Republic that it shut last month due to thepandemic. 

Last year, Venezuela allowed flights to Turkey, Mexico, Bolivia, Panama and the Dominican Republic, but weeks later halted air service to the latter two countries as part of its coronavirus prevention strategy.

The flights to Panama and the Dominican Republic are once again authorized, the Civil Aeronautics Institute of Venezuela said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Copa Airlines typically provides service between Venezuela and Panama, while Venezuela's Laser Airlines has operated the Caracas-Santo Domingo route.

Scientists see new evidence South African variant binds more readily to human cells

Scientists have new biological evidence that the so-called South African virus variant binds more readily and strongly to human cells, making it more infectious, top local epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said.

He was speaking at a presentation of research into the variant, known as 501Y.V2, by a team of scientists. The variant was identified by South African genomics experts late last year.

Italy reports 377 deaths, 8,824 new cases

Italy reported 377 virus-related deaths, the same amount as the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 8,824 from 12,545.

However, the number of swab tests also fell, as often happens over the weekend, totalling just 158,674 against a previous 211,078.

Italy has registered 82,554 deaths since its outbreak came to light last February, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.39 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 22,884, up 127 from a day earlier.

There were 142 new admissions to intensive care units, against 124 the day before.

The total number of intensive care patients rose by 41 to 2,544.

When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerated 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.

Czech foreign minister tests positive for coronavirus

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he had tested positive.

Petricek, 39, the fourth government minister to contract the virus, said he felt tired but had no severe symptoms. He cancelled planned meetings except for those online.

"Take care, take care for your close ones. I wish strong health to everyone," Petricek said in a statement via a spokeswoman.

The Czech Republic has seen one of Europe's highest rates of infections and deaths from the illness in past weeks.

The government is expected to ask the parliament this week for a further extension of a state of emergency - a framework for most of its anti-epidemic measures such as limits on free movement or closing non-essential services and shops.

WHO says expects global virus deaths to top 100,000 a week

Global deaths are expected to top 100,000 per week "very soon", from more than 93,000 reported last week, the World Health Organization's top emergency expert Mike Ryan said.

In an epidemiological update provided to the WHO's executive board meeting, he added that the Americas region accounted for about 47 percent of current deaths. 

In Europe, cases and deaths are stabilising but at a high level, he said.

"Currently our epidemiological situation is dynamic and uneven, it's further complicated by variants," he told the board.

Russia to vaccinate over 20M people during first 1/4 of 2021

Russia plans to vaccinate more than 20 million people in the first quarter of this year, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said.

Golikova added that Russia, which has registered two vaccines against the virus, plans to register a third vaccine on February 16. 

Russia reported 22,857 new cases on Monday, including 3,679 in Moscow, taking the national tally, the world's fourth highest to 3,591,066.

Authorities said 471 people had died from the virus in the last 24 hours, pushing Russia's official death toll to 66,037. 

Sinovac says its vaccine more effective with longer dosing interval

China's Sinovac Biotech said that a clinical trial in Brazil showed its vaccine was almost 20 percentage points more effective in a small sub-group of patients who received their two doses longer apart.

The protection rate for 1,394 participants who received doses of either CoronaVac or placebo three weeks apart was nearly 70 percent, a Sinovac spokesman said.

Brazilian researchers announced last week that the vaccine's overall efficacy was 50.4 percent based on results from more than 9,000 volunteers, most of whom received doses 14 days apart, as outlined in the trial protocol.

The spokesman said a small number of participants received their second shot late due to a various reasons, without elaborating.

The dosing interval for vaccines has become a hot topic of debate among scientists, regulators and governments.

The Sinovac spokesman cautioned the robustness of the data from the sub-group was weaker than the 50 percent result, which is based on the combined data of those receiving doses two or three weeks apart.

While Sinovac's researchers had said early stage trials showed a four-week interval induced the stronger antibody response than two weeks, this is the first time the company has released efficacy data from a Phase III trial with dosing patterns that differ from its trial protocol.

Sinovac has yet to release global results of its Phase III trials, but its vaccine has been approved for emergency use in several countries, including Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey. 

France can vaccinate 2.4M people by end of Feb

France is on track to reach its target of vaccinating 1 million people by the end of January and has enough doses to increase the total to 2.4 million by the end of February, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

During a visit to a vaccination centre in the eastern city of Grenoble, Veran told reporters that France had now set up about 800 such centres.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported that France had vaccinated more than 422,000 people since the start of the vaccination campaign on December 26.

But France still trails far behind several other European countries such as Britain, where the number of people who have received a first dose of the vaccination had reached 3.2 million by Friday. In Germany and Italy, more than 1 million people had been vaccinated at the end of last week.

Veran said the main challenge in France, which has reported nearly 3 million confirmed cases, the highest in the Europe Union, was not the logistics of the vaccination process but the delivery of doses.

A new delivery of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech would arrive this week and more would be arriving in coming weeks, he said.

With the vaccines already at its disposal, France will be able to have vaccinated 2.4 million people by the end of February, Veran said.

Norway to ease some restrictions

Norway's government will ease some restrictions designed to stop the spread of the virus after extra measures imposed for the past two weeks seem to have had the desired effect, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

"We still have control over the spread of infections, but the situation can change quickly," Solberg told parliament.

Hong Kong records 107 new cases in latest spike

Hong Kong reported 107 new cases, the highest toll in nearly a month as authorities tested thousands of residents after an outbreak in an old residential building located in a busy commercial and residential area last week.

The Chinese special administrative region last recorded a triple digit figure on December 19 with 109 cases. At its peak in July 2020 the city logged 149 new infections.

Dozens of infections were found last week in a densely packed apartment building in Yau Tsim Mong, a teeming district in the city's Kowloon area.

Authorities thereafter ordered mandatory testing on hundreds of people living in the area and neighbouring streets.

Hong Kong has recorded nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases and 162 deaths since the start of 2020.

Businesses are reeling from ongoing restrictions which have banned gatherings of more than two people and closed sport facilities, beauty salons and all restaurants for dining after 18:00 local time.

Uzbekistan to buy 100,000 doses of Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine

Uzbekistan plans to purchase 100,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, the Central Asian nation's health ministry said.

The country of 34 million is working on the deal together with vaccine alliance Gavi, the ministry said in a statement.

School in Oise, north of Paris, to close after cases on premise

A school in Oise, north of Paris, will be temporarily closed after the discovery of cases on the premises, said the local authority for Oise.

French media had earlier reported that more than 20 cases had been found at the school in question, situated in Plessis-Belleville in Oise.

For now, France is keeping schools open, despite concerns they can often result in the emergence of clusters. 

South Africa to get 9 million J&J vaccine shots

South Africa, which has yet to receive its first vaccine doses, will be getting 9 million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said.

The government of Africa's most advanced economy is trying to secure enough vaccines after health workers and scientists criticised it for not moving fast enough to inoculate its people.

The country has recorded more than 1.3 million infections and more than 37,000 deaths related to the virus, the most in Africa.

Health ministry spokeswoman Lwazi Manzi did not specify when the J&J doses might be available. She was confirming a report in the Business Day newspaper.

The J&J doses take the total number of doses that South Africa stands to receive to more than 30 million.

Germany says its new infections are much too high

The number of new infections in Germany is far too high, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Concern about new variants of the virus are the reason Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders have brought forward a planned meeting to Tuesday, he added.

"We still have a big risk ... that is the risk of mutation," Seibert told a regular news conference, adding that there needed to be a joint European response. 

Japan finds variant in 3 people with no record of travel to UK

Japanese doctors have detected a fast-spreading variant of the new coronavirus first discovered in Britain in three people who had not travelled there, the Health Ministry said.

The three, aged from their 20s to their 60s and living in Shizuoka prefecture, about 200 km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, first had symptoms in early January, the ministry said.

A health ministry official said that the authorities are looking into how the three became infected but that there was no proof yet that the variant first detected in Britain was spreading in Shizuoka now.

Japan has so far detected 45 cases of new variants of the virus that were first spotted in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, he said.

Turkmenistan registers Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

Turkmenistan became the first country in Central Asia to register Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said.

"The vaccine was approved under the emergency use authorisation procedure without additional clinical trials in Turkmenistan," the RDIF said in a statement.

Portugal daily deaths hit new record, hospitals struggle to cope

Portugal's daily death toll from the coronavirus reached a record high of 167, bringing the total to 9,028 deaths since the start of the pandemic, health authority DGS said.

The country of 10 million people, which is currently under lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, also reported a record 664 coronavirus patients in intensive care units at a time when hospitals are struggling to cope with a surge in infections.

England enters next phase of Covid-19 vaccination plan

England has launched the next phase of its vaccination programme, offering doses to people aged 70 and above, as well as those seen as extremely vulnerable clinically.

Europe's biggest vaccination programme so far had focused on people aged 80 and older as well as frontline healthcare workers.

The government wanted all adults to have been offered the first vaccination by September, Health Minister Matt Hancock said. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the four most at-risk categories, making up about 14 million people, by mid-February.

Meanwhile, Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the UK is vaccinating 140 people per minute.

"It is going well, we're vaccinating on average 140 people, that's first jab, literally a minute. That's the average so some areas are doing better," Zahawi said. 

"You'll see that improve as we open more of the large vaccination centres, 17 in total by this week and 50 by the end of the month."

"Today, in some areas where they've done the majority of their over 80s, letters are going out to the over 70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable," he said.

He said the 24-hour vaccine offering would begin to be piloted in London by the end of the month. 

Philippine cases hit 500K

Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination program amid a global scramble for Covid-19 vaccines.

The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections on Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia. 

There have been at least 9,895 deaths.

Israel trades Pfizer doses for medical data

After sprinting ahead in the race to inoculate its population against the coronavirus, Israel has struck a deal with Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine.

Proponents say the deal could allow Israel to become the first country to vaccinate most of its population while providing valuable research that could help the rest of the world. 

But critics say the deal raises major ethical concerns, including possible privacy violations and a deepening of the global divide that enables wealthy countries to stockpile vaccines as poorer populations, including Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, have to wait longer to be inoculated.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the government will turn over data to "see how it influences, first of all, the level of the disease in Israel, the possibility to open the economy, different aspects of social life, and whether there are any effects of the vaccination."

Germany's cases rise by 7,141

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 7,141 to 2,040,659, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 214 to 46,633, the tally showed.

Japan PM vows to press ahead with Olympics

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, in the face of growing public opposition as Japan battles a surge in coronavirus infections.

Suga faces heightened scrutiny after Taro Kono, his administrative and reform minister, told Reuters last week the Games may not go ahead as planned, becoming the first cabinet member to voice doubt over their staging.

Kono's comments added fuel to the fire after recent media polls showed close to 80 percent of Japanese believe the Olympics, already postponed by a year because of the pandemic, should be delayed again or cancelled entirely.

"We will press ahead with preparations, with the determination of building watertight anti-infection measures and holding an event that can bring hope and courage to the world," Suga said in a policy speech at the start of a regular parliament session.

Australia unlikely to fully open borders this year

Australia may not fully reopen its international borders this year even if most of the population is vaccinated against coronavirus, the head of its health department said as the country recorded zero local Covid-19 cases.

Australian authorities are also looking at potential adverse effects of the Pfizer vaccine after Norway reported a small number of deaths in old people who received the shot.

"Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus," Brendan Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Brazil Covid-19 death toll approaches 210,000

Brazil had 33,040 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours and 551 fatalities, the first day in six the death toll has been below 1,000, the health ministry said.

The South American country has now registered 8,488,099 cases since the pandemic began, and the official death toll has risen to 209,847, according to ministry data. 

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

Mexico's virus death toll rises to 140,704

Mexico reported 11,170 new confirmed virus cases and 463 more fatalities, according to the Health Ministry, bringing its total to 1,641,428 infections and 140,704 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.

Slovakia extends, tightens anti-coronavirus lockdown 

The Slovak government tightened lockdown of the country and extended it till February 7, as it launched week-long testing campaign in an attempt to tame the epidemic.

The lockdown, declared on New Year's Eve until January 24, includes a ban on visits between families, travel beyond one's district or public church services.

Slovaks are now asked to get tested from Monday until January 26. After that, only people with a negative result will be able to go to their workplace, the rest will have to stay home.

Ghana president warns of health system overload as Covid cases soar

Ghana's virus infection rates are skyrocketing and include new strains of the virus not before seen in the country, filling treatment centres and threatening to overwhelm the health system, President Nana Akufo-Addo said.

Since January 5, the number of active cases has risen to 1,924 from about 900, Akufo-Addo said in a speech. There are now 120 severe cases, up from 18 a week ago.

Ghana is not yet close to a peak seen during the first wave of infections in the middle of last year, but could quickly reach that level if cases keep rising at the current rate.

Turkey plans to reopen schools from February

Turkey is planning to reopen schools from February 15, said the country’s education minister.

"We have made a policy decision on reopening schools as of Feb. 15,” Ziya Selcuk said in an interview with CNN Turk.

The decision on possible scenarios of school reopening will be decided and shared with the public 10 days before the scheduled reopening date, Selcuk added.

Pointing out that the decision will be taken in line with instructions from the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, he said it is not possible yet to reopen all classes at once not only in Turkey but also in many countries around the world due to the pandemic.

Brazil approves two Covid vaccines, Sao Paulo nurse gets first jab

Brazil's health regulator gave emergency approval for two virus vaccines, kicking off a mass inoculation campaign amid a devastating second epidemic wave killing over 1,000 people in the vast South American nation daily.

Monica Calazans, a 54-year-old nurse in Sao Paulo became the first person in Brazil to receive the Chinese CoronaVac jab after the Anvisa watchdog's highly-anticipated ruling.

Anvisa also approved AstraZeneca and Oxford University's Covishield shot for use in the nation whose Covid-19 death toll now exceeds 209,000, surpassed only by the United States.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello announced the government would start distributing vaccines to all 27 states on Monday for a national inoculation campaign to start on Wednesday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies