The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 2.3 million people and infected more than 108 million. Here are the developments for February 11:

Chief Pharmacy Officer Venessa Goodnow opens a freezer containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Jackson Hospital in Miami.
Chief Pharmacy Officer Venessa Goodnow opens a freezer containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Jackson Hospital in Miami. (AP)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

US pharmacy vaccine drive begins as cases fall

The United States' vaccination drive has entered a new phase as thousands of pharmacies were scheduling shots, but a wave of optimism brought about by falling cases could soon be tested by dangerous variants.

President Joe Biden's administration was shipping a million doses to some 6,500 drugstores and supermarket pharmacies nationwide, with several chains announcing they would begin giving out the first shots on Friday.

The US immunisation campaign got off to a shaky start in December but has since improved: 44.8 million shots have now reached arms, and at least 33.7 million people have received one or more doses, roughly 10 percent of the population.

South Africa secures millions of Pfizer, J&J vaccine doses

South Africa has secured millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines to fight the highly infectious variant that is dominant in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

During an annual state of the nation address, Ramaphosa said South Africa has secured 9 million doses of the J&J vaccine, of which 500,000 would arrived next week so authorities could start vaccinating health workers. Another 20 million Pfizer doses were also on their way, he said.

In addition, the World Health OrganiZation-backed COVAX facility would provide 12 million vaccine doses, Ramaphosa said.

UK's reported cases rises, deaths down

Britain has recorded a rise in the number of new daily cases, although there was a fall in the reported death toll.

There were 13,494 people who tested positive for the virus in the latest daily total, versus 13,013 on Wednesday. 

The number of new deaths within 28 days of a positive test fell to 678 from 1,001 on Wednesday.

The government also said 13,509,108 people had received a first dose of a vaccine up to Wednesday. 

Germany to reinstate border controls over virus variant

The German government has decided to temporarily reinstate border controls along its southeastern frontier after designating the Czech Republic and parts of Austria as “mutation areas" due to their high number of variant coronavirus cases, German news agency dpa reported.

The temporary border controls and certain entry restrictions will start Sunday at midnight, dpa reported.

Travelers coming from certain areas of Austria or the Czech Republic will have to provide proof of a negative  test in order to enter Germany, a requirement that will present a hurdle for thousands of cross-border workers.

Colombia expecting 5.7 million vaccine doses in February

Colombia's Health Ministry has said the country is expecting to receive more than 5.7 million doses of vaccines this month and next, via both bilateral deals and the COVAX mechanism.

The Andean country, set to administer its first vaccine dose on February 20, is hoping to inoculate about 35 million people against the disease in 2021. It has so far recorded more than 2.1 million confirmed cases and over 56,000 deaths.

First to be vaccinated will be frontline healthcare staff in intensive care units and hospitals which care for patients, ministry official German Escobar said in a statement.

Dubai 'surges' healthcare capacity as virus cases spike

Dubai has had to implement a "surge" in its healthcare capacity, recruiting workers from abroad and increasing beds for coronavirus patients, as infections rise despite a vaccination rush, a senior official told AFP.

The emirate, one of the first destinations to reopen to tourism last year, became a magnet for visitors escaping dreary winter weather and harsh restrictions.

But the open-door policy has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as some 500,000 tourists flocked to its luxury resorts and sunny beaches over the end-of-year holiday period, triggering a sharp spike in cases.

Slovenia eases more virus measures as infections fall

Slovenia has announced a partial lifting of restrictions from next week, including the reopening of elementary schools, following a significant improvement in the health situation.

The EU member state of two million inhabitants has been in partial lockdown since October, with schools and non-essential shops closed and travel out of people's home municipalities banned.

However, the number of new cases and patients admitted to hospital has decreased in recent weeks, meaning the country can move back to its so-called "orange phase," the third-highest of five virus alert levels.

Turkey reports over 7,500 new cases

Turkey has reported 7,590 additional coronavirus cases, including 660 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case tally is over 2.5 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 27,187, with 94 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 7,811 more patients in the country recovered from the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.45 million.

Sewage samples show virus spreading fast in French cities

Sewage samples from a new nationwide monitoring system have shown that in some French cities traces of coronavirus are spiking above levels seen during the second wave of the epidemic in the autumn.

France's new "Obepine" network continuously samples city sewage in nearly 50 waste water stations and publishes charts that indicate the quantity of genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For cities where data are available from spring 2020, the indicator charts show a strong correlation with charts of the number of positive cases and can give early warning signals.

Roche arthritis drug reduces deaths in trial in hospitalised patients

Roche's arthritis drug tocilizumab has cut the risk of death among patients hospitalised with severe infection, also shortening the time to recovery and reducing the need for mechanical ventilation, results of a large trial showed.

The findings – from the RECOVERY trial, which has been testing a range of potential treatments since March 2020 – should help clear up confusion about the potential benefits of tocilizumab for patients after a slew of recent mixed trial results.

"We now know that the benefits of tocilizumab extend to all Covid patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation," said Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and the joint lead investigator on the RECOVERY trial.

Serbia could manufacture Sputnik V vaccine by year's end

Serbia could have the capacity to domestically manufacture Russia's Sputnik V vaccine by the end of the year, the minister for innovations said.

Nenad Popovic was speaking after meeting a team of experts from Russia, a traditional ally, to assess the country's capacity to produce the vaccine.

"For the full production cycle ... that would probably require nine to 10 months," Popovic told reporters, adding that the vaccine would not only be distributed inside Serbia, "but also throughout the region and even the whole of Europe."

Europe's oldest person celebrates 117th birthday after beating virus

Europe's oldest person, French nun Sister Andre, has celebrated her 117th birthday with a cake and a prayer after shrugging off the coronavirus just weeks earlier.

Portugal extends lockdown 

Portugal has extended a nationwide lockdown until March 1 to tackle its worst surge of infections since the pandemic began as authorities scramble to relieve pressure on overstretched hospitals.

The country of just over 10 million fared better than other nations in Europe in the first wave of the pandemic, but 2021 brought a devastating surge in infections and deaths, in part blamed on the rapid spread of the British variant of the virus and the easing of restrictions over Christmas.

Nearly 14,900 people have died, with cumulative infections at 778,369.

Croatia moves toward easing measures as infections fall

Croatia will ease restrictive measures to fight the spread of the virus beginning next week as the number of infections has been steadily falling in recent weeks, the government said.

Croatia reported 376 new cases, a significant fall from the peak of around 4,500 daily cases in December.

Croatia will from next week allow restaurants and bars to open just for serving coffee-to-go. Bars and restaurants, as well as fitness and sport centres, have been closed since late November.

Italy reports over 15,00 new cases

Italy has reported 391 coronavirus-related deaths against 336 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 15,146 from 12,956 the day before.

Some 292,533 tests were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 310,994, the Health Ministry said.

Italy has registered 92,729 deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.68 million cases to date.

WHO says Europe still 'vulnerable' despite falling cases

The World Health Organization has warned of a "false sense of security" in Europe, saying most of the continent's nations were still vulnerable despite a fall in cases.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told a press conference that "the decline in cases conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving variants of concern."

More than a million cases are registered every week across the 53 member states in the UN agency's European region, which includes several in central Asia.

But the number of reported cases has been falling over the past four weeks and deaths have also been declining over the past two weeks.

AstraZeneca expects vaccine capacity of 200M a month

AstraZeneca has said it expects to produce more than 100 million doses of its vaccine – developed with Oxford University – this month, ramping up to more than 200 million a month by April, Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said.

Mene Pangalos, head of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at the British drugmaker earlier said the company expects much-anticipated data for the late-stage US trial of its vaccine before the end of March.

The company said that its profits had doubled in 2020, as the World Health Organization approved the pharma giant's jab for over-65s and global immunisation efforts gained momentum.

Turkish president receives second dose of vaccine

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has received the second dose of the vaccine.

"I have received second dose of Covid-19 vaccine. Hopefully, we aim to vaccinate all our citizens as soon as possible," President Erdogan said via his message on BiP, a popular Turkish messaging app, and Telegram.

The country also started administering the second dose of the vaccine developed by Sinovac company, to health care workers across the country.

Two million doses of CanSino vaccine arrive in Mexico

A Mexican deputy foreign minister has said that 2 million doses of CanSino vaccine had arrived in Mexico.

The vaccines will be packaged in Queretaro, deputy foreign minister Martha Delgado wrote on Twitter, including a video of the shipments arriving at the airport. 

Sweden registers over 4,000 new cases

Sweden, which has spurned a lockdown throughout the pandemic, has registered 4,333 new cases, Health Agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 12,370. 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.

WHO, EU launch vaccine help for six ex-Soviet states

The World Health Organization and the European Union have said they are launching a $48.5 million program to help deploy vaccines in six former Soviet republics.

The program will involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, and complements the work of an existing EU program and the WHO-backed COVAX Facility that aims to deploy vaccines for people in all countries in need whether rich or poor, WHO's regional director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge said.

US's CDC to issue new guidelines for schools on Friday

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to issue new guidelines for US schools reopening on Friday, White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt said.

Reopening schools is a top priority for the administration of President Joe Biden, who has stressed he wants it done safely and has supported vaccinations for teachers.

The top US health safety agency has been working on a new set of guidelines to meet the challenges that school districts face across the country.

China donates 100,000 vaccines to Equatorial Guinea

The West African state of Equatorial Guinea has said that China donated 100,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine to help it launch a Covid immunisation campaign.

The vaccines were ceremonially handed over at Malabo airport on Wednesday to Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of head of state Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the presidency said on its website.

Scientists say Britain’s variant ‘likely to sweep the world’

The virus variant first found in the British region of Kent is a concern because it could undermine the protection given by vaccines, the head of the UK's genetic surveillance programme said.

She also said the variant was dominant in the country and was likely "to sweep the world, in all probability."

Ireland’s third virus lockdown set to last to April

Ireland's virus lockdown to be extended until April, Prime Minister Micheal Martin has said, as the country battles to get infection rates and deaths down.

"Certainly we are looking at a continuation of high levels of restrictions until the Easter period," Martin told state broadcaster RTE.

Restaurants and pubs across Ireland have been shut since Christmas Eve and the non-essential retail sector has been closed since New Year's Eve.

Children did not return to school in January after the festive break, and residents have been told to stay at home as Dublin dramatically stepped up domestic and international travel curbs.

Kenya to move ahead with AstraZeneca vaccine

Kenya is going ahead with its plan to inoculate its citizens using a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, a senior ministry of health official said, dismissing concerns over its efficacy.

"We are going to continue with AstraZeneca because we are doing our own sequencing and we are comfortable to move forward with it," Mercy Mwangangi, the chief administrative secretary at the ministry, said. 

Czech government imposes complete lockdown

The Czech Republic announced a stricter lockdown in three districts from east to west where infections have soared and hospitals are struggling to cope.

The order means a ban on movement from and into the eastern district of Trutnov on the border with Poland and the western districts of Cheb and Sokolov on the border with Germany, Health Minister Jan Blatny said.

The restrictions will take effect on Friday, Blatny said, but they depend on an extension of a national state of emergency beyond Sunday which the minority government may be unable to secure in a parliamentary vote expected later in the day.

Africa CDC says in talks with Johnson & Johnson on supply of more vaccines

The African Union's disease control body is in discussions with Johnson & Johnson for the supply of more vaccine doses, its director John Nkengasong said.

Nkengasong added that the body was not expecting a delay to vaccination in Africa after a trial showed AstraZeneca's vaccine offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant dominant in South Africa. 

However, the body said it was not "walking away" from AstraZeneca's vaccine and that more was needed to be done to understand how it works against the 501Y.V2 variant.

German businesses dismayed by further lockdown extension

The German business community expressed consternation after Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed to extend the coronavirus lockdown until March 7.

"Politicians are leaving industry in the lurch," said Andrea Belegante from the BdS lobby group that represents the restaurant and catering business, adding she was "stunned".

"Again there are no prospects, again no concrete steps towards an opening strategy, again only a postponement without prospects to the beginning of March."

Under the agreement reached on Wednesday, hair salons will be allowed to reopen from March 1 but the threshold for a gradual re-opening of the rest of the economy has been tightened: an infection rate of no more than 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days, down from 50 previously.

UK variant a concern, 'likely to sweep the world'

The variant first found in the British region of Kent is a concern because it could undermine the protection given by vaccines, the head of the UK's genetic surveillance programme said.

She also said the variant was dominant in the country and was likely "to sweep the world, in all probability".

Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, said vaccines were so far effective against the variants in the United Kingdom, but that mutations could potentially undermine the shots.

Russia reports 15,038 new cases

Russia reported 15,038 new virus cases, including 2,040 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,027,748 since the pandemic began.

Authorities also reported 553 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the country's death toll to 78,687. 

UK uptake of virus vaccination better than expected- minister

The uptake of the jab has been better than expected at over 90 percent compared to an assumption that 75 percent would have the vaccine, Britain's health minister Matt Hancock said.

"Uptake of this jab has been far, far higher than I expected," he told BBC News. 

Israel opens education system 

Israel began reopening its education system after a more than six-week closure due to the country’s worrying surge in infections.

Kindergartens and first to fourth grades opened in cities with low infection rates, with around one-fifth of the country’s pupils returning to classrooms. Middle schools and high schools remained closed.

Israel began easing its restrictions on Sunday after more than a month of nationwide lockdown. It has vaccinated more than 3.5 million citizens with an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but infection rates remain high.

Philippines to get China-donated vaccines for troops, medical staff

The Philippines is set to receive 600,000 doses this month of Sinovac Biotech's vaccine donated by China, a portion of which will be used to inoculate military personnel, a senior government official said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a regular news conference the February 23 arrival of the vaccines is certain, but they would not be administered without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

So far, only shots developed by AstraZeneca and the vaccine of Pfizer and BioNTech have been approved for emergency use in the country.

Jump in cases worries South Korea as holiday starts

South Korea has reported 504 new virus cases for the latest 24-hour period. It is the highest daily jump in about two weeks and raising worries about a potential surge as the country begins the Lunar New Year’s holidays.

Health officials said the newly reported cases took the country’s total for the pandemic to 82,434, with 1,496 deaths.

In recent weeks, South Korea’s caseload has displayed a gradual downward trajectory largely thanks to stringent distancing rules such as a ban on social gatherings of five or more people.

Japan reports worst one-day death toll

Japan is reporting its worst one-day death toll for the pandemic, 121 people who died in the previous 24 hours.

The number reported by Japan’s Health Ministry raised the country’s pandemic death toll to 6,678.

Japan has not started vaccinations. Shots for medical workers are set to begin this month.

The country also has never had a lockdown, but a government-backed state of emergency is now in place for Tokyo and other urban areas that urges people to stay home and restaurants to close at night.

Although cases stayed relatively low in Japan last year compared to the US and Europe, infections have been climbing recently. 

Demands are growing for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to start in July.

Melbourne steps up tests as quarantine hotel cluster rises to 11

Authorities in Australia stepped up contact tracing and called for people in the city of Melbourne to come forward for testing as the number of infections in a cluster linked to a quarantine hotel rose to 11.

More than 22,500 tests were done in the previous 24 hours in Australia's second most populous city and authorities scrambled to contain the spread of a highly transmissible variant of the virus from workers at a Holiday Inn.

US CDC says fully vaccinated people need not quarantine after virus exposures

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people who have been given full doses of the vaccine no longer need to quarantine after an exposure to someone with the disease.

"Fully vaccinated persons who meet criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with Covid-19," the CDC said.

Malaysia offers vaccinations to foreign residents, undocumented migrants

Malaysia will extend its free vaccination programme to all foreigners residing in the country, including students, refugees and undocumented migrants, the government said.

The Southeast Asian country is expected to begin its vaccine rollout at the end of this month, aiming to cover at least 80 percent of its 32 million population within a year.

"A safe environment free from Covid-19 can only be achieved when as many Malaysian residents as possible are immunised," the government committee on vaccine supply said in a statement.

Zimbabwe purchases 600,000 Sinopharm vaccinations

Zimbabwe has purchased 600,000 vaccine doses from Sinopharm, in addition to 200,000 China has donated, its information minister said, adding these were due to arrive in Zimbabwe by the start of March.

Monica Mutsvangwa also said Zimbabwe negotiating with Russia over the procurement of its Sputnik vaccines and was expecting more doses from India and COVAX.

A total of 800,000 Sinopharm doses will be in the country by the start of March, Mutsvangwa said in a video posted on the information ministry's Twitter feed, with aircraft heading to China to collect the shots no later than February 13.

Thailand reports 201 new virus cases

Thailand reported 201 new virus cases, taking its total infections to 24,104.

No new deaths were reported, with fatalities remaining at 80, the Covid-19 taskforce said. 

Thailand's overall cases have increased five-fold since mid-December, but the number of new infections reported in recent days have fallen sharply from a week ago.

Mexico approves CanSino and Sinovac vaccines

Mexico has authorised emergency use of Sinovac and CanSino vaccines, Mexico's Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.

Mexico's vaccination drive has gotten off to a slow start, and officials in Latin America's second-largest economy are hoping to source millions of doses from China to boost their efforts amid global vaccines shortages and delays.

Earlier in the day, CanSino Biologics Inc said its vaccine was approved in Mexico for emergency use in people 18 and older.

Germany extends virus shutdown 

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has agreed to continue a partial lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic until at least March 7, even as Germans grow increasingly weary of the tough restrictions.

Following crunch talks with the leaders of Germany's 16 states, Merkel said that the number of new Covid-19 infections in Europe's top economy was dropping after more than two months of shuttered schools and shops.

"When we look at this development we can be quite satisfied," she told reporters.

But she called on Germans to be patient as fears grow over more contagious virus variants first detected in Britain and South Africa.

"We want to do everything in our power so that we don't end up riding an up-and-down wave of openings and closures," Merkel said, calling the period until mid-March "existential" for Germany's management of the pandemic.

The new strains "are spreading especially quickly and require significant additional efforts", the government said in conclusions agreed at the meeting.

Mexico's death toll rises to 169,760

Mexico's health ministry has reported 1,328 new confirmed deaths from Covid-19, bringing the total to 169,760.

The government says the real number of infected people and the death toll in Mexico are both likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Brazil reports 1,330 more deaths

Brazil recorded 59,602 additional confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, along with 1,330 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry has said.

Brazil has registered nearly 9.7 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 234,850, according to ministry data.

EU regulator wants vaccine data on mutation protection

Europe's medicines regulator has it has asked all developers to probe whether their vaccines offer protection against new coronavirus mutations, with a view to issuing new guidelines for manufacturers.

Several new coronavirus variants have emerged recently, sparking fears over an increase in infectiousness as well as suggestions that the virus could begin to elude immune responses, whether from prior infection or a vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency "is developing guidance for manufacturers planning changes to the existing Covid-19 vaccines to tackle the new virus variants," the Amsterdam-based body said.

To consider options to test and develop vaccines that are effective against new mutations, the EMA "has requested all vaccine developers to investigate if their vaccine can offer protection against any new variants," it said in a statement.

This includes mutations identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, the agency said, asking developers to "submit relevant data."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies