The novel coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 100 million people around the world, with over 2.1 million fatalities. Here are updates for January 26:

A worker digs a grave in a cemetery amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Manchester, Britain, on January 25, 2021.
A worker digs a grave in a cemetery amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Manchester, Britain, on January 25, 2021. (Reuters)

Tuesday,  January 26, 2021:

PM Johnson takes 'responsibility' as UK records over 100,000 deaths

More than 100,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in Britain since the pandemic took hold last year, official data showed.

Another 1,631 deaths were reported on Tuesday bringing the total to 100,162 from nearly 3.7 million positive cases.

Britain reported its first cases of the disease almost a year ago, on January 29, 2020, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson was initially relaxed about introducing measures to tackle the spread.

Then as cases rose, he eventually relented, and a lockdown was introduced in March but questions have remained ever since about the government's approach, particularly its testing and tracing regime.

The lockdown was ordered largely on the back of an Imperial College London study that warned 500,000 could die without severe measures, and 250,000 with less stringent regulations.

Since then, the country has endured another two waves of the virus, and is currently mired in its third and deadliest bout, blamed on a new variant that hit before Christmas.

The 100,162 deaths are more than Britain's civilian toll in World War Two and twice the number killed in the 1940-41 Blitz bombing campaign.

"It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives the missed chance, even to say goodbye," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

"I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost and, of course, as prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything that the government has done."

Turkey reports over 7,000 new cases

Turkey has reported over 7,000 new coronavirus cases, according to official figures.

A total of 7,103 cases, including 681 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, Health Ministry data showed.

Turkey's overall case tally is now over 2.44 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 25,344 with 134 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 8,108 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.32 million.

More than 28.8 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 180,303 since Monday.

The latest figures show that the number of patients in critical condition dropped to 1,791.

Italy reports 541 new deaths, 10,593 cases

Italy has reported 541 deaths, up from 420 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 10,593 from 8,561.

Some 257,034 tests were carried out in the past day, against a previous 143,116, the ministry said.

Italy has now registered 86,422 deaths since last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.486 million cases.

Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 21,355, compared with 21,424 a day earlier.

There were 162 new admissions to intensive care units, against 150 the day before. The total number of intensive care patients stood at 2,372 down from 2,421 on Monday.

Canada to unveil more steps to restrict foreign travel

Canada will soon take more steps to restrict foreign travel as part of its campaign to clamp down on the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told reporters, but did not give details.

Trudeau also said he did not expect Canada to be affected by shortages of vaccines that are hitting some European Union nations. The issues largely center around AstraZeneca Plc's vaccine, which Canada has not approved yet, he said.

The second wave of coronavirus is sweeping Canada and health officials say some hospitals run the risk of being overwhelmed. Trudeau is urging Canadians not to travel abroad and said Ottawa intended to introduce more restrictions.

Trudeau had previously said one possibility would be to oblige arriving passengers to spend a 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense.

People arriving from abroad currently only have to promise they will go into two weeks of quarantine. Canada obliges everyone flying into the country to provide a mandatory negative test for coronavirus. 

Spanish PM appoints new health minister amid worsening pandemic

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has appointed Regional Policy Minister Carolina Darias as the new health minister after her predecessor resigned to run in an election in a move criticised by the opposition amid rising infections.

In her previous job, the 55-year-old lawyer-turned- politician from the Canary Islands has helped coordinate Spain's response to the pandemic, overseeing weekly meetings of regional health chiefs.

Former health minister Salvador Illa, who like Darias is from Sanchez's Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), stepped down to run for elections scheduled in his native Catalonia for February 14 to try to win the regional government away from pro-independence parties.

"Spain again hits record Covid infections over the weekend, with 767 dead and 93,822 cases. It is intolerable that Sanchez is more concerned with garnering votes than saving lives," Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition People's Party, tweeted about Illa's departure.

Spain's cumulative infections now total 2,593,382, while the death toll is at 56,208.

Iran approves Sputnik V vaccine

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that his country approved Sputnik V vaccine for use on its citizens.

"The Sputnik V vaccine was registered in Iran yesterday... In the near future we hope we will be able to purchase it, as well as start joint production," he said after talks with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

Merkel urges 'fair' distribution of virus jabs

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged a "fair" distribution of vaccines across the world, warning that the memories of countries left out in the race for the life-saving jabs would persist.

"Money is one thing, but the other thing in a time of scarcity is the availability of the vaccine. Here it's about a fair distribution, and not about a question of money," she told an online forum.

"Let's not kid ourselves, the question of who gets which vaccine in the world will of course leave new wounds and new memories because those who get such emergency help will remember that."

WHO expected to review AstraZeneca vaccine 

The World Health Organization's vaccine advisory panel has tentatively scheduled a review of the AstraZeneca vaccine for February 8, an expert said.

"Reviewing the data from AstraZeneca, and we have tentatively — I have to underline tentatively — scheduled a meeting of SAGE to discuss policy recommendation on February 8th," Joachim Hombach, executive secretary of WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE), told a news briefing held as it issued recommendations on the use of the Moderna vaccine.

Top Colombia minister dies of virus complications

Colombia's Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo has died of complications stemming from the virus, the country's president said.

"Carlos Holmes Trujillo died at dawn today, after complications in his health while he was battling Covid-19," President Ivan Duque said in a video posted on Twitter.

Mauritius begins vaccination programme

Mauritius has begun vaccinating against the virus, a crucial step for the Indian Ocean archipelago nation as it seeks to revive its hard-hit tourism industry and welcome visitors again.

An on-duty doctor at Victoria Hospital, in the central town of Quatre-Bornes, was the first to receive the jab, with about 100 other medical staff expected to be vaccinated Tuesday.

Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal said the campaign would initially target frontline healthcare staff treating patients, and workers meeting passengers at the airport.

Indonesia passes one million cases

Indonesia's cases have topped the one million mark, as the archipelago launches one of the world's biggest vaccine drives to clamp down on a soaring infection rate.

The Southeast Asian nation of nearly 270 million has recorded 1,012,350 virus cases and almost 29,000 deaths, according to official data. 

But low testing rates mean the crisis is believed to be much more severe than those figures suggest.

Some hospitals are on the brink of collapse as they are overwhelmed with patients in one of Asia's worst-hit nations, health experts warn.

Russia reports 18,241 new cases

Russia reported 18,241 new cases, taking its official national tally to 3,756,931.

Authorities also confirmed 564 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 70,482.

Russia's RDIF signs deal to supply Sputnik V vaccine to Malaysia

Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund signed a deal to supply the Sputnik V vaccine against the virus to Malaysia, the TASS news agency cited Russia's embassy in Kuala Lumpur as saying.

Science Magazine confirms efficacy of PharmaMar's Plitidepsin against virus

Spanish pharmaceutical company PharmaMar said the peer review journal Science has published a  paper that confirms its drug Plitidepsin has a "potent preclinical efficacy" against the virus.

A study carried out in vitro and in vivo by a team of scientists in New York, San Francisco and Paris  

showed the drug leads to a reduction of viral replication, resulting in a 99 percent reduction of viral loads in the lungs of plitidepsin-treated animals, the Science paper reported, according to a 

PharmaMar statement. "We believe that our data and the initial positive results from PharmaMar’s 

clinical trial suggests that plitidepsin should be strongly considered for expanded clinical trials for the treatment of Covid-19,” Science said.

German minister calls for 'Europe's fair share' in vaccine distribution

German Health Minister Jens Spahn backed European Union proposals to introduce restrictions on vaccines leaving the bloc, saying Europe should have its "fair share".

The EU has proposed setting up a register of vaccine exports amid frustration over delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot and other supply problems.

"I can understand that there are production problems but then it must affect everyone in the same way," Spahn told ZDF television.

"This is not about Europe first but about Europe's fair share," he said, adding it therefore made sense to have export limits on vaccines.

No need to decide on new French lockdown for now, says minister

There is no need for the French government to make a decision on a new national lockdown at this stage, as it is still evaluating results from its current night curfew, government minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.

France has imposed a 6pm-6am (1700-0500GMT) curfew, though some doctors and medics have called for a new lockdown to tackle a resurgence of cases.

"To the best of my knowledge, and based on the data we have at our disposal, at this stage there is no reason to decide on a lockdown," she told BFM TV.

China offers flight refunds to curb travel

Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as the virus continues to spread in the country's northeast.

The offer from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

China has largely curbed the virus’ spread in most areas, but travel limits remain in place where outbreaks have been detected, including in the capital Beijing. Schools are going on break a week early and migrant workers have been told not to travel back to their hometowns.

France to grant state-backed loan to AccorInvest, says minister

France will grant French hotel property group AccorInvest a 500 million euro state-guaranteed loan to cope with the impact of the virus crisis, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

"We are indeed granting AccorInvest a state-backed loan of half a billion euros ... It is certain. We are finalising this loan today," Le Maire told Radio Clasique.

UK unemployment hits 5.0 percent on virus fallout – official

Britain's unemployment rate hit 5.0 percent at the end of last year due to the virus fallout, the highest level since late 2016, official data showed.

The rate for the three months to the end of November compares with 4.9 percent in the quarter to October, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

Britain confident of AstraZeneca, Pfizer vaccine supplies – minister

Britain's Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said he was confident both AstraZeneca and Pfizer would honour their vaccine supply agreements with the UK.

Responding to reports that the European Union had threatened to block supplies of vaccines to the United Kingdom, he told Sky News: "I'm confident that they (AstraZeneca and Pfizer) will both deliver for us the quantities that we need to meet our mid-February target and of course beyond that." 

He added that the British public should not book any overseas summer holiday yet.

"I think it's far too early. There's still 37,000 people in hospital with Covid at the moment, it's far too early for us to even speculate about the summer," he said.

Zahawi also said there would be an announcement later on whether all arrivals to Britain would have to quarantine in a hotel.

Philippines confirms local transmission of Britain variant

The Philippines has confirmed domestic transmission of the new, highly contagious British variant of the virus, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to abandon a plan to allow some minors to go outside their homes.

"Right now, we have local transmission where this individual or these cases with the variant have already infected their community, their family," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told news channel ANC.

The world is scrambling to contain the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, despite travel bans, new lockdowns and a tightening quarantine measures in dozens of countries, amid concerns it could not only be more transmissible, but deadlier.

Thailand sees daily record 959 cases amid mass testing

Thailand reported a daily record 959 new virus cases, due to what authorities said was a ramping-up of testing at the epicentre of its most recent outbreak.

The new infections, the highest daily rise since the 745 cases reported on January 7, brought the overall number to 14,646, with deaths remaining at 75, the country's Covid-19 taskforce said at a briefing.

The tally included 22 imported cases and 914 that were reported late on Monday by authorities in Samut Sakhon province, where Thailand's biggest outbreak was first detected at a big seafood market last month.

India likely to double health spending next fiscal year

India is likely to double health spending in the next fiscal year with the aim of raising expenditure in the sector to 4 percent of gross domestic output in the coming four years, two officials said, as the country looks to fix its health system after the virus pandemic.

India will likely raise its health spending to $16.46-$17.83 billion (1.2-1.3 trillion rupees ) in the fiscal year starting April 1, from the current year's projected spending of $8.6 billion (626 billion rupees), the officials told.

The new healthcare plan is likely to be unveiled on February 1 when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the country's budget for 2020/21. The officials did not want to be named as the plan is not yet public. 

Taiwan quarantines 5,000 after hospital cluster

Health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new virus cases linked to a hospital.

Officials said that they have not been able to identify how the husband and wife became infected after a brief hospital stay in the Taoyuan General Hospital, located in the city of Taoyuan just outside Taiwan’s capital city. The man had stayed at the hospital for three days for health problems unrelated to Covid-19, while his wife looked after him.

Tokyo seeks 10,000 medical staff for Olympics despite virus surge

Japan's government said it still planned to recruit 10,000 medical personnel for the virus-delayed Olympics, despite the heavy strain on the healthcare system caused by a third wave of infections.

Opposition politicians grilled the government over the plans in parliament, as medical associations raised the alarm about dwindling capacity.

Japan's government and Olympic officials have insisted the Games will open as scheduled this July, despite rising infections at home and abroad, and sinking domestic support.

AstraZeneca rejects 'incorrect' reports on jab efficacy in elderly

Pharma giant AstraZeneca has defended the efficacy of its vaccine after media reports said the German government had doubts about its effectiveness among those over 65.

The Handelsblatt economic daily reported that Berlin had estimated the efficacy of the jab among over-65s was just 8 percent, citing sources.

Bild also said that Berlin did not expect the vaccine – developed with Oxford University and set to get the green light from the EU this week – would receive a license for use in the elderly, presenting a significant challenge to rollout plans in many countries.

Mexico's death toll passes 150,000

Mexico's virus death toll has surpassed 150,000, the government said on Monday, a day after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he had virus.

The health ministry reported 659 more deaths in its daily update, taking the total to 150,273, behind only the United States, Brazil and India.

The overall number of infections registered now stands at more than 1.77 million in the nation of around 128 million, an increase of 8,521 from the previous day.

New Zealand PM expects closed borders for much of 2021

New Zealand's borders are likely to remain closed for much of the year as health officials assess global vaccine rollouts, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned.

Ardern said the emergence over the weekend of New Zealand's first case of community transmission in more than two months showed the danger virus still posed to a nation hailed for its response to the virus.

She said her government would not re-open its borders – which have been effectively closed to all but returning citizens since last March – while the pandemic was still raging worldwide.

Biden more bullish on vaccines, open to 1.5M daily shot goal

President Joe Biden appeared to boost his goal for virus vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, suggesting the nation could soon be injecting 1.5 million shots on an average per day.

Biden signaled his increasing bullishness on the pace of vaccinations after signing an executive order to boost government purchases from US manufacturers. It was among a flurry of moves by Biden during his first full week to show he’s taking swift action to heal an ailing economy as talks with Congress over a $1.9 trillion stimulus package showed few signs of progress.

China says customs should prioritise inspection for vaccine exports

China said that its customs department should prioritise procedures for exports of vaccines and make their clearance convenient.

Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccine are being shipped to Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil for mass inoculation drives, while countries including Egypt and United Arab Emirates have received doses from China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

Customs should prioritise inspection procedures for carriers handling vaccine exports and make it convenient to clear shipments, China's transport ministry said in a guideline about vaccine logistics.

Germany's cases rise by 6,408 to 2,148,077

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 6,408 to 2,148,077, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 903 to 52,990, the tally showed. 

Thousands expected to protest Australia Day despite Covid-19 concerns

Thousands of people are expected to defy public health concerns and protest against the mistreatment of Australia's Indigenous people as the country marks its national day on the anniversary of the arrival of the British First Fleet in 1788.

For many Indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, the Australia Day holiday is known as Invasion Day symbolising the destruction of their cultures by European settlers.

In Sydney, Indigenous groups have called for protests to demand the national day be changed, although state health officials have refused to make an exemption to social distancing rules to allow for crowds of more than 500 people.

Television footage showed protesters gathering in small groups to comply with the limits. Police have warned protesters could face fines and imprisonment for breaching public health orders designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Britain to help other countries track down coronavirus variants

Britain will share its genomic sequencing capabilities with other countries to help quicker identify new variants of the coronavirus in places with less ability to do so, its health ministry said on Tuesday.

New variants of the coronavirus have alarmed scientists, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the prospect of a "vaccine-busting" variant could mean that lockdown measures are needed for longer and new travel restrictions are introduced.

Britain said it had carried out more than half the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences submitted to a global database, and would launch a New Variant Assessment Platform which could be used for coronavirus variants and also future pandemics.

"Our New Variant Assessment Platform will help us better understand this virus and how it spreads, and will also boost global capacity to understand coronavirus, so we're all better prepared for whatever lies ahead," Health Minister Matt Hancock will say in a speech at Chatham House, according to advance extracts released by the health ministry.

The three major variants of concern identified so far were discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

China reports 82 new mainland cases

Mainland China has reported 82 new cases of Covid-19, down from 124 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 69 of the new cases were local infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 57 from 45 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,197. The death toll rose by one to 4,636.

US detects first case of Brazil coronavirus variant

The first case of a coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Brazil has been confirmed in the United States, health authorities in the state of Minnesota said.

The Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement that the "Public Health Laboratory has found the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil."

The patient, who is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, tested positive for Covid-19 in early January and was advised to isolate, the statement said.

Further lab information revealed the case to be the Brazil variant.

Canadian gaming CEO resigns after accusations of flouting rules

Great Canadian Gaming Corp CEO Rod Baker has resigned, the company said on Monday, after he and his wife were charged with traveling to northern Canada and misleading authorities in order to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

The North York, Ontario-based company said in a statement that it received the chief executive officer's resignation on Sunday but offered no details, stating that it did not comment on personnel matters.

Baker did not immediately ret urn a request for comment.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp is in the process of being bought by Apollo Global Management Inc for $1.98 billion (C$2.52 billion).

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp, which first reported the incident, said Baker, 55, and his wife Ekaterina Baker, 32, had traveled from Vancouver to the Yukon territory and posed as local workers in the remote community of Beaver Creek in order to receive a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies