The Covid-19 pandemic has infected more than 104 million people around the world, with over 2.26 million fatalities. Here are developments for February 3:

Residents undergo antigen rapid tests for coronavirus during a mass screening to test 100 percent of the town's population in Leon, northern Spain, on February 3, 2021.
Residents undergo antigen rapid tests for coronavirus during a mass screening to test 100 percent of the town's population in Leon, northern Spain, on February 3, 2021. (AFP)

Wednesday, February 3, 2021:

Spain to receive 1.8M doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in Feb.

Spain's death toll surged has passed the 60,000 mark as another 565 people died during the past 24 hours, health ministry figures showed. 

The latest deaths pushed the overall toll to 60,370 while confirmed cases rose by 31,596 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of infections to 2,883,465. 

The country also said it will receive just over 1.8 million doses of AstraZeneca's recently approved vaccine in February.

A technical committee is set to decide on Thursday whether or not to recommend the AstraZeneca shot be administered to elderly people, Health Minister Carolina Dariastold said in a news conference.

US lawmakers agree on need to get stimulus checks to Americans

US President Joe Biden and Senate Democratic leaders have agreed on the need to move swiftly to get $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

She told reporters that Biden and Senate Democrats also agreed to make the process as bipartisan as possible. 

Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus, while Republicans have offered a proposal of less than half of that figure.

Turkey registers over 8,000 new cases

Turkey has registered 8,102 new cases, including 632 symptomatic patients, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The country's case count topped 2.5 million, while nationwide fatalities reached 26,354 after 117 deaths over the past day.

With 8,314 more patients winning the battle against the virus, the total number of recoveries in the country rose to over 2.38 million.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the country currently has one case of the Brazilian variant, two cases of the South African variant and 196 cases of the UK variant.

Koca added that Turkey will start vaccinating people over the age of 65 years, the second group in vaccine programme after safety tests of second Covid-19 vaccine party.

France reports over 26,000 new cases

France has reported 26,362 new confirmed cases, up from 23,337 a day earlier and just below the 2021 high of 26,916 set last Wednesday.

Despite increasing government curbs on the movement of people in the past weeks, the spread of the virus is not slowing and the seven-day moving average of new cases — which smooths out daily reporting irregularities — has been above 20,000 since January 23, from 13,274 on December 31.

Italy reports over 13,000 new cases

Italy has reported 476 deaths against 499 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 13,189 from 9,660.

Some 279,307 tests were carried out in the past day, against a previous 244,429, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 89,820 deaths since its outbreak emerged last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. 

The country has reported 2.58 million cases to date.

Covax sets out vaccination plans in first distribution list

The Covax programme for vaccines has published its first distribution list, planning enough doses for dozens of countries to immunise more than three percent of their populations by mid-year.

The list comes with concerns over whether lower-income countries will be left out of the immunisation race dominated by rich nations, a problem Covax was set up to resolve.

It broke down for the first time how the programme's initial 337.2 million doses will be distributed, with first deliveries expected in late February.

Hard-hit Czech Republic reaches 1 million confirmed cases

The Czech Republic has reached one million confirmed coronavirus cases, health authorities said.

The battle against the pandemic is far from over in the hard-hit European Union country, which hopes to learn from previous mistakes that repeatedly allowed soaring infections to almost bring down the struggling health system.

The Czech Republic is by far the smallest of the 20 countries to surpass the milestone, with the U.S. leading the global table with more than 26 million confirmed cases.

“I’d like to say our approach has not been successful,” said Jan Trnka, a biochemist from Prague’s Charles University.

PAHO: Cases falling in US, Canada, but rising in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil

Infections have been finally decreasing in the United States and Canada after weeks of unrelenting rise, but in Mexico cases and deaths continue to increase, particularly in states that drew tourism in the holiday season, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In South America, Colombia reported the highest incidence of cases, followed by Brazil, where the city of Manaus is still seeing exponential increases in both cases and deaths, PAHO director Carissa Etienne said. 

Three new variants have been detected in 20 countries of the Americas, though their frequency is still limited, she said in a briefing.

South Korea steps up virus prevention for holiday

South Korean officials have taken steps to limit travel and gatherings during next week’s Lunar New Year’s holidays, allowing train operators to sell only window seats and passenger vessels to operate at half capacity, as they fight a steady rise in transmissions.

Officials have also extended a clampdown on private social gatherings of five or more people, which they enforce by fining restaurants and other businesses if they accept large groups. Indoor dining at restaurants in the greater capital area will continue to be prohibited after 9 pm.

Swiss say more data needed on AstraZeneca jab

Swiss regulators have said that data submitted by AstraZeneca were not sufficient for it to authorise use of the Anglo-Swedish firm's vaccine and "new studies" were needed.

The Swissmedic regulatory authority said it had been examining information from AstraZeneca but that was "not yet sufficient to permit authorisation."

"To obtain more information about safety, efficacy and quality, additional data from new studies are needed," it said in a statement.

Russia asks Germany's IDT about making Sputnik vaccine
Russia has reached out to German biotechnology company IDT Biologika to explore jointly producing the Sputnik V vaccine, the German health ministry said.

It comes a day after The Lancet journal published trial results showing the Sputnik vaccine to be 91.6 percent efficacy, defying international scepticism about the Russian-made jab.

A German health ministry spokeswoman told AFP that Russia's state-run Gamaleya research institute, which developed Sputnik V, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which helped finance the project, "are interested in a co-partner for a possible production and have as such contacted IDT Biologika."

Sweden registers over 4,000 new cases

Sweden, which has spurned a lockdown throughout the pandemic, has registered 4,310 new cases, Health Agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 124 new deaths, taking the total to 11,939. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and weeks.

Sweden's death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

German medical workers help hard-hit Portugal

A German military medical team is heading to Portugal to help that country deal with a spike in coronavirus cases.

The team of 26 doctors and nurses was flying to Portugal Wednesday from Wunstorf, in northern Germany. Dr. Ulrich Baumgaertner, the head of the military’s medical service, said the team will help at a civilian hospital in Lisbon.

Baumgaertner told reporters before the team’s departure: “It’s clear that significantly more capacity is probably needed there, but we can only give small, but we hope important, help from the limited resources we have.” He said the team is also taking material such as ventilators.

Nigeria's Kaduna pairs with Zipline for drone-delivered vaccines

Nigeria's Kaduna state has signed a deal with medical delivery firm Zipline that will allow drone shipment of Covid-19 vaccines without significant state investment in cold-chain storage, the company said.

Kaduna's partnership with Zipline, which delivered more than 1 million doses of other vaccines in Africa over the past year, will also enable on-demand delivery of blood products, medications and other vaccines.

"It will help ensure that millions of people in Kaduna State will always get the care they need," Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai said.

Vietnam reports 28 new virus infections

Vietnam reported 28 new locally transmitted coronavirus infections, mostly linked to an outbreak detected last week in the northern province of Hai Duong, the country's health ministry said.

The outbreak has spread to at least 10 cities and provinces, including the economic hub Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi. Vietnam has recorded 1,911 coronavirus cases in total, with 35 deaths.

Nicaragua approves Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

Nicaragua has granted regulatory approval to Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, TASS news agency cited the Russian sovereign wealth fund as saying.

Over 300 million Indians may have virus

About one in four of India's 1.35 billion people may have been infected with the coronavirus, said a source with direct knowledge of a government serological survey, suggesting the country's real caseload was many times higher than reported.

India has confirmed 10.8 million infections, the most anywhere outside the United States. But the survey, whose findings are much more conservative than a private one from last week, indicates India's actual cases may have crossed 300 million.

The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which conducted the survey, said it would only share the findings at a news conference on Thursday. The source declined to be named ahead of the official announcement.

Israel offers vaccines to all over-16s as cases rise again

Israel will expand vaccinations to include all citizens over the age of 16, officials said as cases and deaths surged again, setting back a predicted turnaround.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped that Israel's fast vaccination drive, twinned with a third national lockdown now in its sixth week, would enable a reopening of the economy this month. He is up for reelection on March 23.

But serious cases and deaths have risen sharply, attributed mainly to highly communicable foreign virus variants. That has offset gains from the vaccines. The lockdown, meanwhile, has been widely violated and challenged in the Cabinet.

Health Ministry figures show that Israel has recorded 663,665 cases and 4,888 deaths to date.

Malaysia reports 4,284 new cases 

Malaysia reported 4,284 new virus cases, raising the total number of recorded infections to 226,912.

The health ministry also reported 18 new deaths, bringing total fatalities from the pandemic to 809.

Israel data shows Pfizer jab protects against virus but immunity unclear

Initial data from Israel's closely-watched coronavirus vaccination campaign proves the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine protects against serious illness but offers no conclusion yet on progress towards herd immunity, experts say.

The Jewish state is carrying out what is widely described as the world's fastest vaccination campaign per capita.

Japan toughens virus measures with new law

Japan passed a new law strengthening enforcement of its virus restrictions, allowing authorities to fine bars and restaurants that defy closure requests.

People can also be fined up to $4,800 (500,000 yen) if they test positive for Covid-19 but refuse hospitalisation, although lawmakers scrapped plans to introduce prison sentences as punishment.

With just six months until the pandemic-postponed Summer Olympics, Tokyo and other regions are currently under a state of emergency following a record surge in coronavirus infections.

Atletico Madrid forward Felix has Covid-19

La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid suffered a blow when the club announced that forward Joao Felix had become the third player in two weeks to test positive for Covid-19.

"Joao Felix has tested positive for Covid-19. The striker is isolating at home, in compliance with the health authorities' guidelines and La Liga protocols," Atletico said in a statement. 

The 21-year-old Portuguese player joins teammates Yannick Carrasco and Mario Hermoso, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, on the sidelines.

China to offer 10 million vaccine doses to Covax

China plans to provide 10 million doses of Covid-19 jabs to the WHO-backed international vaccine distribution programme Covax, Beijing said as it seeks to reframe perceptions of its role in the pandemic.

The Covax programme, which aims to provide two billion doses of vaccine, pools funding from richer countries with the intention of ensuring poorer nations can inoculate their health workers and most vulnerable citizens, on the basis that the pandemic would remain a global threat if it was not tackled worldwide.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China "decided to provide 10 million vaccine doses to Covax, primarily to meet the urgent needs of developing countries."

French firm to start making Moderna Covid vaccine next month – minister

A French lab will start producing Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine in March, while another  will begin making the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in April, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Tuesday that four sites on French soil would begin making coronavirus vaccines soon, as the government draws sharp criticism over an innoculation drive that has started off slowly.

French pride has also taken a hit after its pharma giant Sanofi said its Covid vaccine would not be ready until later this year.

New Zealand approves first Covid vaccine

New Zealand’s medical regulator has approved its first coronavirus vaccine, and officials hope to begin giving shots to border workers by the end of March.

New Zealand has no community transmission of the virus, and border workers are considered the most vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease because they deal with arriving travellers, some of whom are infected.

Regulators gave provisional approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for people aged 16 and over.

South Korea curbing travel, gatherings for holiday

South Korean officials are moving to limit travel and gatherings during next week’s Lunar New Year’s holidays by allowing train operators to sell only window seats and passenger vessels to operate at half capacity.

The Health Ministry announced the steps while repeating a plea for people to stay home amid a steady rise in coronavirus infections.

Officials also plan to strengthen sanitisation and install more thermal cameras at train stations, bus terminals and airports. 

Travellers will be required to be masked at all times and will be prohibited from eating food at highway rest areas.

Russia reports 16,474 new cases, 526 deaths

Russia reported 16,474 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,545 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,901,204.

Authorities also reported an additional 526 deaths, raising the official total to 74,684.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to seek India approval by March

India's Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd will seek emergency-use authorisation for Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by next month, a company official said, after peer-reviewed trial data confirmed its effectiveness.

A source close to the drug regulator said the application could come within days and when approved, bolster India's 18-day-old immunisation campaign which has covered more than 4 million people with two other shots.

Dr Reddy's has been working with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to hold small clinical trials of Sputnik V in India. 

Britain says science shows Oxford vaccine works after French president comments

Britain's health secretary said that scientists had shown the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine worked well when asked about reported comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron that is "quasi-ineffective" among people over 65.

"My view is that we should listen to the scientists ... and the science on this one was already pretty clear, and then with this publication overnight is absolutely crystal clear that the Oxford vaccine not only works but works well," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio, referring to new data published by Oxford on Tuesday.

South Korea approves import of Pfizer vaccines

South Korea approved the special import of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines provided by the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme, drug safety minister Kim Gang-lip told a news conference.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for about 60,000 people will arrive as early as this month, as the country plans to roll out its vaccination campaign targeting about 50,000 frontline health workers and the elderly in February.

Pakistan begins vaccination of health workers

Pakistani authorities have started vaccinating frontline health workers against the coronavirus amid a steady decline in confirmed cases and fatalities.

Wednesday's start of the vaccine campaign comes days after Pakistan received half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.

At a ceremony in Islamabad, Pakistan’s minister for planning and development paid tribute to the health workers, saying they were “real heroes” as they put their lives at risk in the fight against Covid-19.

Pakistan has said it plans to vaccinate 70 percent of the country’s high-risk population by the end of the year.

Pakistan reported 1,384 additional virus infection in the past 24 hours and 56 deaths.

Malawi setting up field hospitals to cope with virus surge

Malawi faces a resurgence of Covid-19 that is overwhelming the southern African country where a presidential residence and a national stadium have been turned into field hospitals in efforts to save lives.

President Lazarus Chakwera, just six months in office, lost two Cabinet ministers to the virus in January amid a surge that led him to declare a state of national disaster in all of Malawi's 28 districts.

A more contagious strain of the coronavirus first reported in South Africa has since been confirmed in Malawi.

Malawi has seen its number of confirmed cases of the disease go above 23,000, including a total of 702 deaths as of Monday, according to Dr John Phuka, co-chair of the presidential task force on Covid-19.

The numbers appear relatively small in a country of 18 million, but the 14,000 active cases are many times more than the number of established hospital beds.

GSK, CureVac to make vaccines targeting new variants

UK-based drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline and Germany’s CureVac say they plan to collaborate on a new generation of vaccines targeting emerging variants of Covid-19.

The announcement comes as public health experts around the world raise concerns about mutations in the virus that may make existing vaccines less effective.

“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,’’ the companies said in a statement.

Vaccines may protect against severe disease even as variants evolve – Oxford's Pollard 

Vaccines might offer protection against severe disease even as coronavirus variants evolve to better allow continued transmission between people, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group Andrew Pollard said.

Asked how effective the Oxford/AstraZeneca will be against new variants, he said "they are making changes that allow them to avoid human immune responses, so that they can still transmit."

"So, that does mean that it's likely over time that the virus will find ways of adapting so that can continue to pass between people," he told BBC TV.

"But that doesn't mean that we won't still have protection against severe disease... The virus is much more about the virus being able to continue to survive, rather than trying to cause harm to us." 

Czech Republic's cases surpass one million

The Czech Republic reported 9,057 new cases of the virus, taking the total number of infections in the country since last March to more than one million.

The country of 10.7 million has reported 16,683 deaths in connection with Covid-19.

Australia's NSW state to ease restrictions after 17 days Covid-19 free

Australia's most populous state of New South Wales said it will ease pandemic restrictions on restaurants and cafes this week after recording 17 days with no local cases.

The move comes as the city of Perth, on the country's west coast, recorded a third day without a fresh coronavirus case, having started a five-day lockdown on Monday after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive.

New South Wales tightened coronavirus restrictions in December after more than 100 cases were detected in the state's north and west.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the new limits would double the number of customers allowed in venues from Friday, helping business recover.

Thailand reports 795 new cases, no new deaths

Thailand reported 795 new virus cases, taking its total infections to 21,249.

No new deaths were reported, the country's task-force said at a briefing. Thailand has recorded 79 coronavirus-related deaths overall.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 9,705

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 9,705 to 2,237,790, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 975 to 58,956, the tally showed. 

Singapore becomes first in Asia to approve Moderna's vaccine

Singapore has become the first country in Asia to grant approval for Moderna's vaccine and the city-state said it expects the first shipment to arrive around March.

The Moderna vaccine is the second to be authorised for pandemic use in Singapore, after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is already being rolled out in the city-state.

As of February 2, more than 175,000 individuals have received their first dose of the vaccine, Singapore's health ministry said. 

France says no AstraZeneca virus vaccine for people over 65

France will only administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to people under age 65, President Emmanuel Macron has said after the government's health advisory body cited a lack of sufficient data about its effectiveness in older people.

The decision could shake up the French vaccination strategy, because the country has prioritised nursing home residents and people over 75.

France had counted on the AstraZeneca vaccine for a large part of its upcoming inoculations, until the company announced delays affecting countries around Europe and the world.

“For this AstraZeneca vaccine, we will not propose it to those older than 65,” Macron told TF1 television on Tuesday night. 

Instead, the vaccine the British-Swedish company developed with Oxford University will be given to medical personnel under 65, individuals with health vulnerabilities or those facing high exposure, he said.

WHO team leaves after visiting Wuhan Virology lab

A team of investigators working on behalf of the World Health Organization wrapped up a visit to a major virus research laboratory in China's central city of Wuhan, in its search for clues to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The experts spent about 3.5 hours at the heavily-guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the centre of some conspiracy theories that claim a laboratory leak caused the city's first coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019.

Most scientists reject the hypothesis, but some speculate that a virus captured from the wild could have figured in lab experiments to test the risks of a human spillover and then escaped via an infected staff member.

"Very interesting. Many questions," Thea Fischer, a Danish member of the team, called from her car as it sped away, in response to a question whether the team had found anything.

China reports 25 new cases

China reported 25 new mainland cases on February 2, down from 30 a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Wednesday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 15 of the new cases were locally transmitted infections, compared with 12 a day earlier. New asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 12 cases from 15 a day earlier.

The total number of Covid-19 cases reported in mainland China now stands at 89,619, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Mexico sees over 400 more fatalities

Mexico's health ministry has reported 433 new confirmed fatalities from Covid-19, bringing the total deaths in the country to 159,533.

Latin America and Caribbean top 600,000 deaths

More than 600,000 lives have been lost to Covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean since the pandemic began, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

The region, which encompasses 34 countries and territories in South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, has recorded 601,256 deaths – the second-highest number of virus fatalities after Europe. 

Saudi bars entry from 20 countries as Covid-19 surges

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday suspended entry from 20 countries, ranging from some neighbouring states to the United States, in a bid to curb a jump in coronavirus infections.

The interior ministry announced the "temporary suspension" would be effective from 1800GMT on Wednesday, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The ban applies to neighbouring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and in the wider region, to Lebanon and Turkey.

In Europe, the ban includes Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

Elsewhere, as well as the US, it applies to Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan and South Africa.

Saudi citizens, as well as diplomats and health workers coming from those countries, will be allowed to enter the kingdom "in accordance with the precautionary measures," it added.

New York resumes virus vaccinations 

New York is to resume coronavirus vaccinations, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday, after the city's biggest snowstorm in five years briefly halted the program.

The winter storm brought chaos to the United States east coast on Monday, canceling thousands of flights, closing schools and forcing the postponement of Covid-19 vaccinations.

South Africa's death toll nears 45,000

South Africa registered 547 new coronavirus deaths, taking the country’s total number of fatalities to 44,946, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced. 

Mkhize said health officials also detected 2,649 more coronavirus cases after carrying out 28,942 new tests. 

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases identified in the country is now 1,458,958. 

"We convey our condolences to the loved ones of the departed and thank the healthcare workers who treated the deceased patients," the minister said, adding the country has conducted more than 8.3 million tests for the virus.

France sees record patients since end November

France registered 23,337 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, from 4,347 on Monday and 22,086 last Tuesday, Health Ministry data showed.

The ministry reported 726 new deaths from the virus, compared with 455 on Monday, and said 28,029 people were in hospital in France with the virus and 3,270 in intensive care. Both numbers set new 2021 highs.

The last time more than 28,000 people were in hospital with Covid-19 was on November 30, at the end of the second lockdown. The record was 33,497 on November 16. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies