The Covid-19 pandemic has infected over 96 million people and claimed more than 2 million lives around the world. Here are updates for January 19:

Medics take a patient from an ambulance into the Royal London hospital in London on January 19, 2021.
Medics take a patient from an ambulance into the Royal London hospital in London on January 19, 2021. (AFP)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021:

UK records its highest-ever daily Covid-19 death toll

Britain reported a record number of deaths from the virus, government figures showed, with 1,610 people dying within 28 days of positive coronavirus test, eclipsing a previous peak set last week.

The number was steeply up from the 599 deaths reported on Monday. There is often a lag in reporting new deaths after the weekend.

The UK's total death toll now stands at 91,470, with a further 33,355 new cases also reported over the last day, taking the total number of infections to nearly 3.5 million.

Turkey expands vaccination campaign to nursing homes and to those over 90

Turkey began inoculating people at the age of 90 and over and those in nursing homes and care homes for the elderly.

Under its nationwide programme, Turkey has so far vaccinated more than 950,000 people with shots developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd, health ministry data showed.

Ankara launched the programme last week, vaccinating health workers first, and inoculated more than 285,000 people on the first day.

Turkey has ordered 50 million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac and has received 3 million.

It is in talks for Sputnik V vaccine and the shot developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, and is working to develop one domestically.

Turkey reported over 6,800 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

A total of 6,818 cases, including 761 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is over 2.39 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 24,328, with 167 fatalities over the past day.

France reports 23,608 new cases

France reported 23,608 new confirmed cases, up from 3,736 on Monday and from 19,752 last Tuesday while hospitalisations in intensive care units were also on the rise.

Health ministry data also showed 656 people had died from the virus in hospitals, from 403 on Monday.

The number of people in intensive care rose by 26 to 2,839 while the total number of patients hospitalised for the disease was down 52 over 24 hours at 25,567. 

Brussels recommends vaccinating at least 70 percent of EU adults by summer

The European Commission recommended to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the European Union's adult population by this summer, in an attempt to curb the pandemic.

Vaccination campaigns are conducted by the 27 EU governments who decide their pace and priority groups. The Commission did not clarify how it intended to boost production capacity of vaccine makers to reach its bold vaccination goal.

The Brussels-based EU executive commission said EU states should have vaccinated 70 percent of all adult people by the summer, a feat that could involve inoculation of more than 200 million people, most likely with two doses each.

By March at least 80 percent of people over the age of 80, and 80 percent of healthcare workers should also be vaccinated in each EU states, the Commission recommended.

Key to reach these targets is the availability of large amounts of vaccines.

The EU has booked nearly 2.3 billion doses of shots and candidates, but only two have so far received regulatory approval in the EU.

The EU has secured a total of 600 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and expects them to be delivered by the end of the year despite early snags in deliveries.

The Commission is also urging EU states to boost their capacity to sequence the coronavirus in order to detect new variants.

It called on EU governments to sequence at least 5 percent of all positive tests whereas at the moment many states test less than 1 percent of samples.

It also said it was working with EU states to adopt by the end of the month a common approach on vaccination certificates to facilitate travel. 

Americas region experiencing sustained surge in cases

The Americas region is experiencing a sustained surge in infections, with 2.5 million new cases confirmed in the last week, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.

New coronavirus variants in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil may be playing a role in accelerating new infections throughout the region, said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne in a press conference. 

Kuwait registers first cases of new UK variant

Kuwait has registered its first cases of a more contagious variant in two Kuwaiti women who had been in Britain, the health ministry spokesman told state news agency KUNA.

They had polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests before departing for Kuwait but PCR tests upon arrival yielded positive results and further checks showed they had the variant B1.1.7, the spokesman said without specifying the point of departure.

Kuwait had on Jan. 6 suspended direct commercial flights to and from Britain until further notice, shortly after lifting a 12-day closure of air, land and sea borders over concerns about the spread of the new variant.

The Gulf Arab state has recorded a total of 158,244 infections and 948 deaths since the coronavirus outbreak. 

EU calls on Biden to take global leadership

The world needs American leadership in the battle against coronavirus, the EU's top diplomat said, urging President-elect Joe Biden to step up after the Trump administration was widely criticised for its slow response to the pandemic.

With rich countries contracting far more doses of various coronavirus vaccines than poorer ones, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was up to the United States to retake its place as "an engine of the world" and help.

In a pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 Americans and threatened the US economy, President Donald Trump's handling of the virus has been criticised at home, weakening any broad international response.

Borrell also proposed rebuilding transatlantic ties after the Trump era, describing his 'America First' approach as governing by Twitter.

Spain to extend furlough scheme until May

Spain will extend its scheme supporting hundreds of thousands of workers furloughed until May, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said after the government, unions and business groups reached an agreement on the issue.

The ERTE furlough scheme, which has benefitted millions of workers since the beginning of the pandemic, had been due to expire on January 31 under a previous such agreement.

As most of business restrictions were lifted during the past months following a nationwide lockdown, many furloughed workers returned to work though 755,000 were still on the state-supported furlough scheme in December.

Portugal's virus deaths hit new record

Portugal's daily death toll reached a record high of 218, up from 167 reported a day before, bringing the total to 9,246 deaths since the start of the pandemic, health authority DGS said.

The country of 10 million people, where hospitals are struggling to cope with a surge in infections that forced authorities to implement a new lockdown from last week, also reported 10,455 new cases, bringing the total to 566,958. 

Desperate search for oxygen in Brazil's crisis-hit Manaus

In Manaus in the north of Brazil, residents can no longer rely on the state to treat loved ones suffering from the virus.

Instead of taking them to hospitals, relatives of the stricken wait up to 12 hours under a blazing sun to buy their own oxygen supplies.

In Amazonas state, whose capital is Manaus, a second coronavirus wave has hit hard, and the health system is at breaking point.

The oxygen shortage has exacerbated the public health crisis in Manaus, which already was one of Brazil's worst-hit cities during the pandemic's first wave.

The disease has killed more than 210,000 people throughout the country.

To make matters worse, a new Covid-19 strain believed to be much more contagious was recently detected in Amazonas.

The state is the second-worst-affected of 27 Brazilian states, with 149 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

In Manaus, a city of 2.2 million, that figure shot up from 142 to 187 in recent days.

The central government has been criticized for its passive response to the crisis.

It is now trying to increase oxygen shipments to Amazonas, which is connected to the rest of the country primarily by air and river.

Mexico plans to administer 7.4M doses of Sputnik V vaccine by end of March

Mexico aims to administer 7.4 million doses of the Sputnik V Russian vaccine to its people by the end of March, even though the government has yet to approve its use, an official plan showed.

The country could start receiving supplies of the vaccine as soon as next week, according to the plan presented during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's daily morning news conference.

Sputnik V requires two doses per person, and if the official schedule is met, 3.7 million people will have been inoculated with it by the end of March, the figures showed.

Government officials say Mexico is set to purchase 12 million doses of the Russian vaccine, and that health authorities could approve its use in the country very soon.

Russia says its EpiVacCorona vaccine has 100% efficacy

A candidate vaccine known as EpiVacCorona, Russia's second to be registered, proved "100 percent effective" in early-stage trials, Russian consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has told local media.

The data, based on Phase I and II trials, were released before the start of a larger Phase III trial which would normally involve thousands of participants and a placebo group as a comparison.

"The effectiveness of the vaccine is made up of its immunological effectiveness and preventative effectiveness," the TASS news agency reported, citing Rospotrebnadzor.

"According to results of the first and second phases of clinical trials, the immunological effectiveness of the EpiVacCorona vaccine is 100 percent."

The Phase I and II studies tested the safety, side-effects and immunogenicity of the potential vaccine in 100 people aged 18-60, according to the state trials register.

Malaysia expands lockdown measures to most states

Malaysia said it would extend lockdown restrictions across most of the country as it grappled with a rise in coronavirus infections.

Last week, capital Kuala Lumpur and six states went into a two-week lockdown. Essential sectors including manufacturing, plantations and construction were allowed to stay open, but a nationwide travel ban was implemented.

Security minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the lockdown will also be imposed on six other states from Friday for two weeks. Only the eastern state of Sarawak will not see a full lockdown, though some restrictions are in place.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said the lockdown measures were necessary as the healthcare system was at a breaking point.

The Southeast Asian country is also under emergency rule, which was imposed to deal with the pandemic, though the political opposition has said it is a move by Muhyiddin to cling to power amid a leadership challenge.

The total number of coronavirus infections in Malaysia stood at 165,371, including 619 deaths.

Sputnik-AstraZeneca vaccine trials to start in February, says R-Pharm

Human trials of a coronavirus vaccine combining Russia's Sputnik V shot with that developed by Britain's AstraZeneca and Oxford University are expected to start in early February, the chairman of Russian drugmaker R-Pharm told Reuters.

AstraZeneca first announced plans to explore the possibility of working with Russian scientists on a combined vaccine in December, interpreted by Moscow as a vote of confidence in its vaccine.

There have been few details on where and how the trials will be run, but R -Pharm Chairman Alexei Repik, whose company will produce both Sputnik V and AstraZeneca shots, said human trials of a combined vaccine are expected to begin early next month.

The trials will take place in Azerbaijan, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Belarus, Russia and elsewhere, he said.

Cases in Switzerland and Liechtenstein pass 500,000 mark

Coronavirus infections in Switzerland and Liechtenstein passed the 500,000 mark, data from Swiss health authorities showed, as new infections rose by 2,260.

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 502,191, the death toll rose by 75 to 8,166, while 129 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the healthcare system. 

Japan's Okinawa declares emergency as cases spike

Japan's southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, declared a state of emergency, as the country grapples with a surge in infections six months before it is set to host the Summer Olympics.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said emergency measures include asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 pm and residents to refrain from non-urgent outings after 8 pm.

The emergency is scheduled to last until February 7.

The national government had already issued a state of emergency for Tokyo and other are as but the southern island, which hosts the bulk of US military forces in Japan, went ahead and declared an emergency of its own after a spike in cases.

The prefecture confirmed 113 cases on Tuesday, its third-highest daily tally on record, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Shizuoka prefecture, home to Mount Fuji, also declared "an emergency alert" of its own after it found cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant, Kyodo News reported.

Sweden registers 9,779 new cases, 268 deaths

Sweden, whose unorthodox pandemic strategy has placed it in the global spotlight, registered 9,779 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed.

The figure compares to 17,395 cases the corresponding period last week.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 268 new deaths, taking the total to 10,591. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and weeks with many from the Christmas period being registered with a significant delay.

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

Already in lockdown, Dutch to toughen measures

The Dutch government will soon announce new measures to help fight the country's coronavirus epidemic, ANP press agency reported, citing the country's Health Minister Hugo de Jonge.

The Dutch government has been weighing a night time curfew in addition to its current lockdown measures, which include a ban on public gatherings and the closure of schools, restaurants and non-essential stores. 

Rwanda re-imposes strict lockdown in capital

Rwanda has re-introduced tough lockdown measures in its capital Kigali after a surge in coronavirus cases.

The government has also banned movement into and out of the city, except for essential services and for tourists, it said, citing a jump in the number of cases found in a given sample of tests, known as the positivity rate.

Rwanda, which has 11,259 cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus and 146 deaths, said the number of tests returning positive results for Covid-19 has tripled to 7.7 percent from 2.6 percent at the start of this month.

African nations are grappling with a second wave of the novel coronavirus, infections rising to at least 3.3 million and 79,500 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed.

Indonesia reports record daily rise in deaths

Indonesia reported a record daily increase of 308 coronavirus deaths, taking the total deaths in the country to 26,590, data from the country's health ministry showed.

The Southeast Asian nation also recorded 10,365 new cases, taking the total tally to 927,380.

Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Southeast Asia. 

Swiss hunt down virus variant in St. Moritz

Swiss authorities have started mass testing residents and visitors in St. Moritz after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the upscale skiing resort.

People were asked to register online and come in for free tests to a local gym and a beverage store on Tuesday, after two luxury hotels were put under quarantine Monday. All schools, kindergartens and skiing schools were closed.

Officials said at least two dozen cases were detected in the two hotels, which local media identified as the Palace and the Kempinski hotel.

The Kempinski said late Monday that health authorities had confirmed cases of the mutated coronavirus among the hotel’s employees.

All people in St. Moritz who were 5 and older were asked to participate in the test, which was voluntary. Swiss media reported that the variant detected in St. Moritz was first found in South Africa.

Liberia's Johnson Sirleaf discouraged by vaccine roll-out plan

The World Health Organization's pandemic review panel co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed disappointment in vaccine roll-out plans which she said means shots will not be widely available in Africa until 2022 or 2023.

"The panel is discouraged and frankly disappointed by the unequal plans for vaccine rollout," the former Liberian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate told an Executive Board meeting of the WHO. 

Japan eyes use of robots to increase Covid-19 testing capacity

Japan's health minister has watched a demonstration of a prototype automated Covid-19 testing machine that uses a robotic arm to take a sample from a person's nose and can deliver the results in about 80 minutes.

“Looking at the global trend, we need to increase the number of people receiving tests, and the demand for preventive testing is rising,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters at the demonstration.

The robot system, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Inc , fits in a standard shipping container that can be transported by truck and set up at stadiums, theme parks and other mass gatherings, the company said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration has attracted criticism for Japan's paucity of testing. His government is under pressure to show it has the pandemic under control with fewer than 200 days until the start of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo - already delayed by a year - and vaccinations yet to start.

Japan conducts about 55,000 PCR tests daily, less than half of its capacity, according to government data.

British hospitals use blockchain to track vaccines

Two British hospitals are using blockchain technology to keep tabs on the storage and supply of temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines, the companies behind the initiative has said, in one of the first such initiatives in the world.

Two hospitals, in central England's Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick, are expanding their use of a distributed ledger, an offshoot of blockchain, from tracking vaccines and chemotherapy drugs to monitoring fridges storing the vaccines.

The tech will bolster record-keeping and data-sharing across supply chains, said Everyware, which monitors vaccines and other treatments for Britain's National Health Service (NHS), and Texas-based ledger Hedera, owned by firms including Alphabet's Google and IBM, in a statement.

Taiwan cancels major festival amid surge in cases

The Taiwan Lantern Festival, an annual celebration to mark the end of the upcoming Lunar New Year in mid-February, will be cancelled this year because of Covid-19, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said, citing the recent local infection cases.

Taiwan, which has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods, has been unnerved by new domestic transmissions, first in December and now in a hospital in the northern city of Taoyuan.

It has reported 868 cases, the majority of which were imported, including seven deaths, with 102 in hospital being treated.

Merkel wants to extend lockdown until mid-February

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to extend a lockdown to restrict coronavirus infections until February 15, mass-selling Bild newspaper has reported citing a draft resolution of the federal government.

Merkel is due to meet the premiers of the federal states on Tuesday to decide on extending a current lockdown which has closed most shops and schools and introducing new restrictions.

Covid-19 still circulating at a 'worrying' level in France

French Health Minister Olivier Veran has said the coronavirus is still circulating at a "worrying" level in France, but stopped short of recommending a third national lockdown.

"We already took a tough decision last week to impose a 6 p.m. curfew on the country as a whole," Veran told France Inter radio. "I cannot say we will impose a confinement but the circulation of the virus remains worrying."

Indonesia reports record daily rise in virus deaths

Indonesia has reported a record daily increase of 308 coronavirus deaths, taking the total deaths in the country to 26,590.

The Southeast Asian nation also recorded 10,365 new cases, taking the total tally to 927,380.

Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Southeast Asia. 

Russia records 21,734 new cases

Russia has reported 21,734 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 3,281 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 3,612,800.

Authorities said 586 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 66,623.

China reports over 100 new cases for seventh day

China has reported more than 100 new Covid-19 cases for a seventh day in the worst domestic outbreak since March last year, with one northeastern province seeing a record daily increase.

Mainland China posted 118 new cases on January 18, up from 109 a day earlier, the national health authority said in a statement.

Of those, 106 were local infections, with 43 reported in Jilin, a new daily record for the northeastern province, and 35 in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, the National Health Commission said.

Millions of people have been under lockdown in recent days as some northern cities undergo mass testing for the novel coronavirus amid worries that undetected infections could spread quickly during the Lunar New Year holiday, which is just weeks away.

Hundreds of millions of people travel during the holiday, due to kick off in mid-February this year, as migrant workers return home to see family.

The overall number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed infections, fell to 91 from 115 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China is 89,454, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says city to extend social distancing measures

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the government will extend social distancing measures due to expire this week as the city remains on heightened alert after the number of Covid-19 infections climbed back into triple digits.

Lam, speaking at a weekly press briefing, said the government would reveal details later in the day.

On Monday, Hong Kong reported 107 new cases of coronavirus, the highest number in nearly a month, fuelling concern over a new wave of infections in the densely populated city where businesses are already reeling from restrictions.

British firms call for immediate $10.3 billion in aid

British firms have called for another $10.3 billion (7.6 billion pounds) of emergency government help, saying they cannot wait until finance minister Rishi Sunak's March budget to learn if they will get more pandemic support.

With Britain back under lockdown and companies adjusting to life after Brexit, firms are taking big decisions about jobs and investment and need to know if their financial lifelines will be extended, the Confederation of British Industry said.

"We just have to finish the job. Now would be a very odd time to end that support," CBI Director-General Tony Danker said in a statement.

Sunak has extended his support measures several times already and has said his response to the pandemic will cost 280 billion pounds during the current financial year, saddling Britain with a peacetime record budget deficit.

But he is facing calls on many fronts to spend yet more including from lawmakers, some from his Conservative Party, who want an emergency welfare benefit increase to be prolonged.

The CBI said Sunak should extend until June his broad job retention scheme, which is scheduled to expire in April, and then follow it up with targeted support for jobs in sectors facing a slow recovery such as aviation.

He should give firms more time to pay back value-added tax which was deferred last year, grant a similar deferral for early 2021 and extend a business rates tax exemption for companies forced to close by the lockdown as well as their suppliers.

Biden and Trump at odds over pandemic travel restrictions

President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming White House press secretary has said the new administration does not intend to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for Europe, the UK, Ireland and Brazil.

The message from Jen Psaki came Monday evening after the White House said President Donald Trump had lifted the restrictions for those countries, effective January 26.

Psaki then tweeted: “On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.”

She added, “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

Trump imposed the travel restrictions early in the pandemic to slow the spread of the coronavirus to the US. They prevented most people without American citizenship or residency from traveling to the US from the affected regions.

Mexico reports more than 8,000 new coronavirus cases

Mexico has confirmed 8,074 new coronavirus cases and 544 more fatalities, according to health ministry data, bringing its official tally to 1,649,502 infections and 141,248 deaths.

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

Source: TRTWorld and agencies