Coronavirus has killed more than 2.47 million people and infected over 111.6 million globally. Here are virus-related developments for February 21:

A person gets the coronavirus vaccine, at a vaccination centre in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, amid the outbreak of Covid-19, in London, Britain, February 18, 2021.
A person gets the coronavirus vaccine, at a vaccination centre in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, amid the outbreak of Covid-19, in London, Britain, February 18, 2021. (Reuters)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

UK to reopen in stages after driving down South African variant

Britain has started to drive down cases of the more infectious South African variant of coronavirus and will only emerge from lockdown in stages to make sure that does not change, the country's health secretary said on Sunday.

A day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson sets out his plan to ease restrictions in England, Hancock said there was also early data showing that the faster-than-expected vaccine rollout was reducing transmissions and easing pressure on hospitals.

France reports over 22,000 new cases 

The French health ministry has reported 22,046 new confirmed Covid-19 cases, from16,546 last Sunday, when new cases had dipped briefly.

The seven-day moving average of cases rose above 20,000 again after new cases increased week-on-week for the fourth day in a row.

The ministry also reported 160 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday, from 183 on Saturday, taking the cumulative toll to 84,306. The total number of cases now stands over 3.6 million.

The ministry has not published hospital data for three days.

Swiss could re-examine AstraZeneca vaccine contract

Switzerland could pass on the doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination it has ordered, with the country yet to approve the shot, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Switzerland earlier this month demanded more efficacy and quality data before greenlighting the shot that has already been approved by the European Union.

NZZ am Sonntag said there was speculation among local authorities that the government wanted to cancel its order, a situation which could occur if tests show the drug is insufficiently effective.

"It is still unclear what will happen with AstraZeneca," Nora Kronig, vice director of the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) told the newspaper. "There are considerations to pass on the material."

Switzerland, which has ordered 5.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, is waiting for results from trials in North and South America, after saying earlier testing did not produce clear data including on efficacy in older people.

UK speeds up vaccinations: All adults get 1st jab by July 31 

The British government has declared that every adult in the country should get a first coronavirus vaccine shot by July 31, at least a month earlier than its previous target, as it prepared to set out a “cautious” plan to ease the UK's lockdown.

The previous aim was for all adults to get a jab by September. 

The new target also calls for everyone 50 and over and those with an underlying health condition to get their first of two vaccine shots by April 15, rather than the previous date of May 1.

Turkey reports over 6,500 new infections

Turkey has reported 6,546 new coronavirus cases, including 601 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case count passed 2.63 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 28,060, with 77 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 5,002 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus for more than 2.52 million recoveries thus far.

Some 32.31 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 101,105 since Saturday.

UK and France ease Covid test demands on truck drivers

 Lorry drivers returning to France from Britain will not now need to have a coronavirus test if they have spent less than 48 hours in the country, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

France demanded in December that lorry drivers travelling from Britain to France must carry a negative Covid-19 test result to reduce the spread of a more infectious coronavirus variant that had been found in Kent in southeast England.

Fauci says it is possible Americans will still be wearing masks in 2022

US infectious diseases official Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that it is possible Americans will still be wearing masks in 2022, but that measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 would be increasingly relaxed as more vaccines are administered.

Fauci made the comment during an interview on CNN.

Thousands of Covid vaccines from UAE arrive in Gaza

Around 20,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from the United Arab Emirates have arrived in Gaza through its crossing with Egypt, AFP journalists said.

The delivery, reportedly orchestrated by a UAE-based rival of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, comes three months before the first Palestinian polls in 15 years are set to be held. 

UK gives first dose of vaccine to 17.6 million people

More than 17.6 million people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Britain, official data showed, as daily deaths and coronavirus cases slipped.

Official figures showed that a further 215 people had died within 28 days of a positive test, down from the 445 reported on Saturday, although numbers can be distorted over the weekend.

A total of 120,580 people have now died in Britain from the virus. Deaths on a seven-day average are down 27 percent.

The figures showed 9,834 new cases, down from 10,406 the day before. 

Italy reports 232 coronavirus deaths, 13,452 new cases - health ministry

Italy has reported 232 coronavirus-related deaths against 251 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 13,452 from 14,931 the day before.

Some 250,986 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with 306,078 previously, the ministry said. 

Italy marks one year since it recorded the first locally acquired case 

Italy has marked the anniversary of the country's first coronavirus case.

Mourners gathered at San Biagio Church in Codogno, where a special memorial service was taking place.

It was at a hospital in Codogno, a year ago to the day, that an Italian man aged 38 was confirmed as having the virus – the first known locally-transmitted case outside Asia.

In the year since the first case was identified, Italy has lost more than 95,000 people to the virus, the second-highest death toll in Europe.

More anniversary commemorations were scheduled across the country on Sunday.

Russia reports 12,742 cases

Russia has reported 12,742 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,602 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,164,726.

Authorities also reported another 417 deaths, raising the official toll to 83,293.

Data will determine how quickly UK emerges from lockdown, Hancock says

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the government will need to analyse the data as it slowly unlocks from the national lockdown because it is wary of the impact virus variants from Brazil and South Africa could have.

"It is very important to see the impact of steps that we're taking," Hancock told Sky News. "We want to set out a roadmap which gives people guidance in terms of how we think we'll be able to do this. We also absolutely will be vigilant to the data on the way.

The British government says it aims to give every adult in the country a first dose of virus vaccine by July 31, a month earlier than its previous target.

The goal is for everyone over 50 or with an underlying health condition to get a shot by April 15, rather than the previous target of May 1.

The makers of the two vaccines Britain is using, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have both experienced supply problems in Europe. But UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “we now think that we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.

India's Serum Institute says prioritising domestic vaccine needs, asks for patience

Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume, has asked for patience from foreign governments awaiting their supply of shots, saying it had been directed to prioritise India’s requirements.

"...I humbly request you to please be patient," SII's Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said in a tweet, adding the company "has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world."

South Korea to begin using Pfizer coronavirus vaccines on February 27

South Korea will begin administering the first of 117,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine on February 27, a day after the country begins its first vaccinations with AstraZeneca's products, the prime minister announced.

Plans call for about 10 million high-risk people, including health care workers and staffers and some residents of assisted care facilities and nursing homes, to be inoculated by July.

The first AstraZeneca vaccines are scheduled to be administered on Friday, with Pfizer's shots being deployed the next day, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in remarks reported by Yonhap news agency.

Mediterranean Nice wants to curb tourist inflow 

The mayor of the French city of Nice has called for a weekend lockdown in the area to stop the flow of visitors, saying tourists are welcome in normal times, but the city needs to focus on battling a sharp spike in infections.

The Nice area has the highest infection rate in France, with 740 new cases per week per 100,000 residents, according to Covidtracker.fr, triple the national average.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Saturday the government will decide this weekend on tightening virus control measures in the Mediterranean city.

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine

A shipment of 150,000 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University has arrived at Belgrade airport, making Serbia the first country in the Western Balkan region to receive supplies of the shot.

The vaccines, which arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul, were produced in India, said President Aleksandar Vucic, who came to the airport to meet the shipment.

Vucic said the price of the vaccine was "very good as both AstraZeneca and Oxford gave up their profits". He added that another shipment of 150,000 vaccines is expected in 12 weeks time.

WHO chief calls on Tanzania to combat virus

The head of the World Health Organization has appealed to Tanzania to take "robust action" to combat the virus in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed virus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread.

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

Israel starts reopening as number of vaccinees nears 50 percent

Israel has reopened swathes of its economy in what it called the start of a return to routine enabled by a vaccination drive that has reached almost half the population.

While shops were open to all, access to leisure sites like gyms and theatres was limited to vaccinees or those who have recovered from the disease with presumed immunity, a so-called "Green Pass" status displayed on a special Health Ministry app.

Social distancing measures were still in force. Dancing was barred at banquet halls, and synagogues, mosques or churches were required to halve their normal number of worshippers.

Malaysia to start vaccination drive early as first doses arrive

Malaysia has moved up its inoculation drive by two days as the first batch of vaccines arrived in the Southeast Asian nation.

Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 80 percent of its 32 million people within a year as it pushes to revive an economy that, slammed by virus-related curbs, recorded its worst slump in over two decades in 2020.

It has imposed more lockdowns this year amid a fresh wave of virus infections. The country has recorded 280,272 cases and 1,051 deaths.

Germany reports 7,676 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 7,676 to 2,386,559, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 145 to 67,841, the tally showed. 

Argentina has new health chief after vaccine line-jumping scandal

Argentina's new health minister has taken office following the resignation of her predecessor after he was caught helping friends skip the line for vaccinations.

Carla Vizzotti, an internal medicine specialist, was sworn in by President Alberto Fernandez at the presidential residence in a brief ceremony broadcast on television. She did not issue a statement afterward or take questions from the media.

As a former deputy minister, Vizzotti, 48, was responsible for securing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for Argentina.

Taiwan confirms three cases of Brazil variant

Taiwan's government has said that it had confirmed three cases of the variant first discovered in Brazil, and that all arrivals from that country would undergo centralised quarantine from this week.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the three people, whose initial infections officials announced last month and are being treated in the hospital, had been confirmed on Saturday to have what is known as the P1 Brazil variant.

Chen added that starting at midnight on Wednesday, anyone arriving in Taiwan from Brazil or who had been in Brazil the previous 14 days must quarantine at a centralised facility for two weeks, as arrivals from Britain and South Africa also must to prevent the spread of separate variants found there.

Fujifilm to restart clinical trial of Avigan for treatment

Fujifilm Holdings Corp will restart a clinical trial in Japan of its antiviral drug Avigan for the treatment of the virus, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Domestic approval of the drug was delayed after a health ministry panel said in December that trial data was inconclusive. The new study will involve about 270 patients and Fujifilm will aim to seek approval again in October, Nikkei said.

Mexico's reports 7,785 new cases, 832 more deaths

Mexico's health ministry on Saturday reported 7,785 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the country and 832 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,038,276 infections and 179,797 deaths.

The real number of infected people and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the health ministry has said.

Mainland China reports seven new cases vs eight a day earlier

China on Sunday reported seven new Covid-19 cases in the mainland for February 20, compared with eight cases a day earlier, the health authority said.

All the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement. There were no new deaths.

China also reported six new asymptomatic patients, compared with 13 a day earlier. China does not classify asymptomatic cases as confirmed Covid-19 cases.

As of Saturday, mainland China had 89,831 confirmed coronavirus infections, while the Covid-19 death toll remained at 4,636, it said.

Australian PM Morrison gets Covid-19 vaccine as inoculation rollout starts

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was injected on Sunday with the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, as the nation started its inoculation program a day ahead of schedule.

Up to 4 million Australians are expected to receive a Covid-19 vaccine voluntarily by March, with Morrison and Paul Kelly, the country's chief medical officer, among a small group of Australians receiving the first inoculations.

"We're here making some very important points," Morrison said moments before cameras captured the first person being injected at a medical centre in Sydney.

"That it is safe, that it's important, and we need to start with those who are most vulnerable and on the frontline."

Doses of the Pfizer inoculations, which need to be kept at temperatures well below freezing, were still being distributed to 16 vaccine hubs around Australia in preparation for the broader rollout of the vaccines on Monday.

A small number of older Australians at the Castle Hill Medical Centre in the western part of Sydney, aged-care staff, and frontline nurses and workers were among the group injected on Sunday, officials said.

The country is enjoying a second day without a single new Covid-19 transmission in the community, officials said. The vast majority of its population will be injected with the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of October.

Peru suffering medical oxygen crunch amid Covid spike

Hundreds of Peruvians waited in long lines on Saturday to get medical oxygen for loved ones with Covid-19, amid a shortage of the gas in the pandemic's second wave.

In San Juan de Lurigancho, a largely poor area just northeast of the capital, more than 200 people waited in front of a new plant opened by the San Marcos parish and the municipality of Lima, which provides free medical oxygen.

People had to show a medical order and a photocopy of the patient's identity document.

There was tight police surveillance at the plant, as in almost all medical oxygen sales spots around the country.

According to the government, the demand for medical oxygen grew by 200 percent in Peru with the second wave of Covid-19, which saw infections and deaths quadruple compared to rates in December.

Texas reports 227 more confirmed deaths

The number of deaths in Texas due to the illness caused by the coronavirus increased by more than 200 on Saturday while the number of people hospitalised with the virus declined, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There were an additional 227 Covid-19 deaths, more than 4,900 new cases and 7,535 hospitalisations, a decline of 222 people hospitalised, the department reported.

Texas has had more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and more than 42,000 deaths due to Covid-19, the third highest death count in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil reports 1,212 new deaths

Brazil registered 1,212 additional Covid-19 deaths and 57,472 new confirmed cases of the virus on Saturday, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The South American nation has now recorded 245,977 total coronavirus deaths and 10,139,148 confirmed cases. 

WHO director-general says he has no information yet on Tanzania's measures against pandemic

The World Health Organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Sunday the organisation has yet to receive any information regarding measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting Covid-19 cases and share data," Tedros said in a statement published on WHO's website.

Tedros said that in late January he had joined Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa head, in urging Tanzania to scale public health measures against Covid-19 and prepare to distribute vaccines.

"I also encouraged the sharing of data in light of reports of Covid-19 cases among travellers," he said.

Britain to offer all adults a Covid-19 vaccine by end of July

All adults in Britain will be offered a first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday ahead of a planned announcement on the cautious reopening of the economy from lockdown.

Johnson will set out a roadmap to ease England's third national lockdown on Monday, having met a target to vaccinate 15 million Britons from higher-risk categories by mid-February.

Britain now aims to give a first dose to all over-50s by April 15, the government said, having previously indicated it wished them to receive the shot by May.

If all adults receive a dose by the end of July, it will be well ahead of a previous target that they would receive a vaccine by autumn.

After suffering the world's fifth-worst official Covid-19 death toll and a series of mishaps in its pandemic response, Johnson's government moved faster than much of the West to secure vaccine supplies, giving it a head start.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies