Covid-19 disease has killed over 2.5 million people and infected more than 112 million globally. Here are coronavirus-related developments for February 24:

A man receives his first dose of Pfizer's coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination centre at the Gateway World Christian Center in Valley Stream, New York, US, February 23, 2021.
A man receives his first dose of Pfizer's coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination centre at the Gateway World Christian Center in Valley Stream, New York, US, February 23, 2021. (Reuters)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

France sees biggest jump in cases since mid-November 

France reported 31,518 new confirmed Covid-19 cases, from 25,018 last, the biggest daily increase since mid-November.

The health ministry also reported 277 new coronavirus deaths in past 24 hours, from 431 on Tuesday. 

South Africa to vaccinate some 67 percent of population

South Africa plans to spend $712 million to vaccinate some 67 percent of its 60 million people and help the economy to rebound.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni says the vaccination drive will help South Africa’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa, to rebound by 3.4 percent this year.

Mboweni says the vaccines would be given to all South Africans free of charge. 

Fauci: NIH to study 'long-haul' virus symptoms

National Institutes of Health is launching research to understand the causes and consequences of the lingering brain fog, breathing problems and malaise reported by many recovering Covid-19 patients.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says some studies have shown up to 30 percent of patients report symptoms that can endure for months, complicating their return to normal routines and work, and plunging many recovering patients into depression.

Fauci noted at a White House coronavirus briefing that work at NIH started this week thanks to more than $1 billion provided by Congress for Covid-related medical research. Government scientists are looking to enlist doctors and research institutions around the country in the effort to learn about “long-haul” Covid-19.

Greece to continue Athens lockdown as virus cases rise

Greece will not be able to lift lockdown restrictions in the wider Athens area next Monday as planned following a sharp increase in virus infections, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Athens metropolitan area, where half of Greece's population lives, has been under strict lockdown restrictions that had been set to expire at the end of the month.

"There has been a steep rise in infections yesterday, particularly in Athens, which pushes back our plan...for a gradually reopening on March 1," Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.

US plans to distribute at least 3 million J&J doses

President Joe Biden's administration anticipates distributing at least three million doses of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine should it receive emergency use authorisation (EUA), White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said.

"If an EUA is issued, we anticipate allocating three to four million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine next week," he said. 

"Johnson and Johnson has announced it aims to deliver a total of 20 million doses by the end of March," he added.

Turkey reports over 9,500 new cases

Turkey has reported 9,561 more coronavirus cases, including 660 symptomatic patients.

The country's overall case count has passed 2.66 million, while the death toll now stands at 28,285, with 72 fatalities recorded over the past day, according to the Health Ministry.

Italy's health minister rules out loosening of virus curbs

Italy's government will extend coronavirus restrictions already in place until after Easter, the health minister said, as Rome plans to speed up vaccination efforts to try to beat the pandemic.

Italy has seen its daily cases fall from a high of around 40,000 in November to under 15,000 at present. But officials fear loosening restrictions may lead to a surge in infections driven by new, highly contagious variants.

The country reported 318 coronavirus-related deaths against 356 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 16,424 from 13,314 the day before.

Some 340,247 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with 303,850 previously, the ministry said.

EU mulls vaccination passports to resurrect tourism after virus

European Union leaders will agree on Thursday to work on certificates of vaccination for EU citizens who have had an anti-Covid shot, with southern EU countries that depend heavily on tourism desperate to rescue this summer's holiday season.

Lockdowns to slow the pandemic caused the deepest ever economic recession in the 27-nation bloc last year, hitting the south of the EU, where economies are often much more dependent on visitors, disproportionately hard.

Merkel says Covid variants risk third virus wave

New variants of Covid-19 risk a third wave of infections, and so Germany must proceed carefully so that a new complete nationwide shutdown does not become necessary, Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"Because of (variants), we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, from which a third wave may emerge," Merkel said. "So we must proceed wisely and carefully so that a third wave does not necessitate a new complete shutdown throughout Germany."

Sweden steps up pandemic restrictions

The Swedish government said it would reduce opening hours for all restaurants, bars and cafes as well as tighten limits on the number of people allowed in shops as it seeks to ward off a third wave of the pandemic.

The government said it would propose that restaurants and cafes would have to close at 8:30 pm from March 1. It adds to a previous ban of alcohol sales after 8 pm already in place.

It also said the number of people allowed in shops and malls would be further restricted and that it would provide further details about this measure shortly.

Zimbabwe to buy 1.2M more Covid vaccine doses

Zimbabwe will buy an additional 1.2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from China at a preferential price, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's spokesman said, after Beijing agreed to give more free doses to the southern African country.

Zimbabwe began vaccinations last week after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses from the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). The government initially aims to inoculate health workers, security forces and journalists, among others.

Chinese Ambassador Guo Shaochun said in a statement that his country had decided to double its donation of vaccines to 400,000 as part of its "solidarity and action" with Zimbabwe.

Dunkirk area in northern France to impose weekend lockdown -minister

The region around the northern French port of Dunkirk will start enforcing a weekend lockdown from this weekend to halt a spike in virus infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Veran said the situation in the Dunkirk area was "alarming" and that France would also increase vaccine supplies for the area.

Biden administration to distribute more than 25 million masks

The Biden administration will deliver more than 25 million masks to community health centres, food pantries and soup kitchens from March through May as part of its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, the White House said in a statement.

The White House estimates between 12 and 15 million Americans will have access to the masks. 

UK reports over 18 million people have had first Covid vaccine shot

More than 18 million people in Britain have now had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to official government data.

A total of 18,242,873 people have had the first shot, the data showed, while the number of new Covid-19 cases was up from Tuesday to 9,938 while there were 442 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, down from the previous day.

EU regulator says Celltrion's Covid-19 antibody drug under real-time review

Europe's drug regulator said it was evaluating South Korean drugmaker Celltrion's Covid-19 antibody treatment, the third such drug against the disease to go under real-time review in the region.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its human medicines committee was assessing the first set of data it received from animal and human trials of the drug, regdanvimab, and will continue to study them as more data was submitted. 

Polish lake district to see virus curbs return after cases spike

A northeastern region of Poland famed for its lakes, forests and sailing will see a raft of virus restrictions brought back from Saturday after it became a hotspot for infections, the government said.

The sparsely-populated Warminsko-Mazurskie region's soaring number of cases has left specialists searching for explanations.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference that public spaces such as shopping centres, hotels, cinemas and museums would close and children in the first three years of primary school would return to remote learning.

"We decided we had to take a small step back," he said.

Czech Republic faces 'hellish days', needs tighter measures –  PM

The Czech Republic must tighten measures to combat the pandemic and prevent a "catastrophe" in hospitals in the coming weeks as the country faces one of the world's highest virus infection and death rates, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

The country reported over 15,000 new virus cases on Tuesday, the highest daily tally since January 6, and has the fastest spread rate in Europe, with per capita infections more than six times higher than in neighbouring Germany in the last two weeks.

The number of hospital patients with Covid-19 who are in serious condition has risen to a record 1,389, leaving few spare beds in the country of 10.7 million.

CVS, Walgreens to give out shots in more states

CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start doling out virus vaccinations in more states on Thursday.

The drugstore chains say they have received additional vaccine doses from the federal government after they used up their initial allotment. Both companies started giving out vaccines on February 12 to eligible customers at stores in several states.

CVS Health Corp. says it will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania to a list of 11 that includes big markets like California, New York and Texas. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company received another 570,000 doses from the government.

Germany testing will give more freedom 

Germany’s health minister says home tests for the virus  may help the country “regain a bit more freedom” after authorities approved the first such tests for personal use.

Jens Spahn says the tests, already widely used in other countries such as neighbouring Austria, could provide “an important contribution” to people’s sense of security going forward.

Spahn told lawmakers that Germany is already seeing the positive effect of vaccinations in those over 80, who received the shots first. But he’s concerned about the spread of other variants.

People arriving in Norway have to quarantine in entry point

People who quarantine upon entry in Norway must stay at their point of entry and not travel further until the 10-day quarantine has been completed, the Norwegian Justice Minister Monica Maeland said.

The Norwegian government also introduced a mandatory reporting for everyone staying in such quarantine hotels and municipalities now must keep an eye on the guests at the quarantine hotels, which until now has only been recommended.

Switzerland to reopen shops, museums, libraries

Switzerland’s government will reopen shops, museums and libraries and allow more people to gather at sports and cultural events starting next week.

Confirming plans laid out last week, President Guy Parmelin acknowledged public frustration and pressure for a faster re-opening but called for “discipline” in the face of new variants spreading in the country. He says a reopening of restaurants and bars is planned for April 1 but could be moved forward “if the situation continues to improve.”

J&J vaccine protects against virus

An analysis by US regulators say Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against Covid-19.

The report confirmed the vaccine is about 66 percent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe Covid-19.

On Friday, a panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the vaccine. The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.

Hungary first country to use China's virus vaccine

Hungary became the first country in the European Union to begin using a Covid-19 vaccine produced in China and expects to inoculate up to 275,000 people by the end of the week.

Medical staff around the Central European country were instructed to administer the shots, developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to elderly patients. The Sinopharm shot brings the number of vaccines currently in use in Hungary to five, more than in any other country in the EU.

Alpine town residents to get tested after cluster of cases 

Authorities in Austria say all residents of an Alpine town will be required to take coronavirus tests after a cluster of cases involving the South African variant was discovered there.

Officials in Tyrol state say 29 of the 42 virus cases confirmed in Mayrhofen involved the virus type that experts say may be more resistant to currently available vaccines than the dominant variant.

Residents can only leave the town between Saturday and Wednesday if they present a negative PCR test result for the coronavirus, considered the ‘gold standard’ for testing. Schools, kindergartens, non-essential stores and churches will remain closed for a week.

China to make two more Covid vaccines

China is moving ahead with two more vaccines in the regulatory process, one from state-owned company Sinopharm and another from a private company CanSino.

Both vaccines have submitted been to regulators for approval this week. CanSino said that Chinese regulators are reviewing its application for its Covid-19 vaccine, in a stock filing. Sinopharm’s subsidiary the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products announced Wednesday that it had submitted an application Sunday and that regulators were reviewing it.

Kenya bars runners from Kilimanjaro Marathon over virus fears

Kenya announced that its athletes were banned from competing in Tanzania's top marathon race this Saturday over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Athletics Kenya said in a statement it would not be permitting its runners to participate in the Kilimanjaro Marathon at the foothills of Africa's highest mountain "due to the global outbreak and spread of Covid-19".

Ghana receives first doses of Covax vaccines

Ghana has received the first shipment of vaccines from Covax, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations for free to poor countries, UNICEF and the World Health Organization said.

"We are pleased that Ghana has become the first country to receive the Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax facility," UNICEF, which organised the shipment from Mumbai, said in a joint statement with the WHO.

It said the 600,000 doses are part of an initial tranche of deliveries of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine licensed to the Serum Institute of India, "which represent part of the first wave of Covid vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries."

The West African nation has recorded 80,759 Covid-19 cases and 582 deaths since the start of the pandemic. These figures are believed to fall short of the real toll as the number of tests is low.

Russia reports 11,749 new cases, 383 deaths

Russia has reported 11,749 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,417 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,200,902 since the pandemic began.

The government task force also reported 383 deaths, taking Russia's official death toll to 84,430.

Palestinian economy minister tests positive

The Palestinian economy minister and government spokesman has tested positive.

The Ministry of Economy announced late on Tuesday that Khaled al Osaily had contracted the virus, adding that he's in good health," without disclosing further details.

Palestine, so far, has recorded 199,769 coronavirus cases, including 3,000 deaths, and 184,210 recoveries.

Malaysia launches vaccination drive as PM gets first shot

Malaysia has launched its inoculation programme, which authorities hope will rein in a spike in infections and help revive an economy that recorded its worst slump in over two decades last year.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was the first to be given the vaccine, developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as part of government efforts to reassu re people of the vaccine's safety.

With nearly 290,000 coronavirus cases and 1,076 deaths, the Southeast Asian nation had largely contained the virus for most of last year, but a spike in infections that started in September has placed Malaysia third in the region in total cases, behind Indonesia and the Philippines.

It has set an ambitious target of vaccinating at least 80 percent of its 32 million people by February next year implementing the process in three phases, with the first expected to run from February to April involving 300,000 medical and 200,000 non-medical frontline workers - including politicians, security personnel and welfare officers.

Israel approves night-time curfew

Israel’s government has approved a nighttime curfew from Thursday until Sunday to prevent the spread of the virus over the Purim holiday.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said in a statement that a curfew from 8:30 pm until 5 am (local time) would be in force starting Purim eve. 

The holiday lockdown prohibits any large gatherings of more than 10 people indoors, concerts, parades or parties typical of the holiday’s observances.

Israel reopened its economy last week after a nearly two-month lockdown, the country’s third since the start of the pandemic, as new cases began to gradually decrease. But recent days have seen a slight uptick in new infections, prompting the government to impose the new lockdown.

It has one of the highest immunisation rates per capita, with over 4.5 million of its citizens having received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. The Health Ministry has reported over 759,000 cases and at least 5,634 deaths from Covid-19.

India warns states of worsening situation if rules ignored

India has warned that a breach of guidelines on testing and other measures to contain the virus could worsen a recent spurt in infections in many states, particularly after it detected several variants.

Nearly a month after the health minister declared that the virus had been contained, states such as Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south have reported a surge in cases, as reluctance grows over mask-wearing and social distancing norms.

India's tally of infections stands at 11.03 million, swelled in t he past 24 hours by 13,742, health ministry data shows, while deaths rose by a two-week high of 104 to 156,567.

"Any laxity in implementing stringent measures to curb the spread, especially in view of new strain of virus...could compound the situation," the health ministry said in a statement that singled out nine states and a federal territory.

India has confirmed the long-time presence of two mutant variants - N440K and E484Q - in addition to those first detected in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

Yemen warns against possible second wave

Hospitals should prepare for a possible second wave and take steps to prevent its spread, health authorities in the government-controlled part of Yemen have said.

Testing and reporting are limited in the war-torn country, but confirmed cases have risen in the past 10 days, after having levelled off since September to just a couple of new cases a day.

Eleven new cases were reported on Tuesday and on Monday each by the supreme national emergency committee for the internationally recognised government.

Yemen's government has reported 2,187 infections, including 620 deaths. Houthi authorities, who control most large urban centres, have not provided figures since May when they said there were four cases and one death.

But these official figures vastly underestimate the spread of the virus, say the United Nations and aid agencies, which have been preparing for several months to tackle a possible second wave during winter.

World Bank threatens to cut Lebanon's vaccine aid

The World Bank has threatened to suspend financing for vaccines in Lebanon as it investigated suspected favoritism amid accusations that lawmakers were inoculated in parliament without prior approval.

A top Lebanese official supervising the vaccine rollout called it “outrageous” and threatened to step down amid an outcry on social media by Lebanese deeply mistrustful of their notoriously corrupt politicians.

The World Bank is a major financier of Lebanon’s coronavirus campaign and has approved $34 million to pay for vaccines for 2 million people. Suspending its assistance would have grave implications for the cash-strapped government, which is going through an unprecedented financial and economic crisis and reliant on foreign assistance.

The vaccination campaign began February 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Teachers may play role in in-school transmission

Teachers may play an important role in the transmission of the virus within schools, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, citing a study conducted in elementary schools in a Georgia school district where it said mask use and social distancing were sometimes inadequate.

The report comes after researchers from the agency last month said there was little evidence that schools were spreading infections in the country - based in part on a study of schools in Wisconsin - easing concerns about allowing in-person learning.

The Wisconsin study found significantly lower virus spread within schools compared with transmission in the surrounding communities.

The Georgia investigation involving about 2,600 students and 700 staff members of a school district's elementary schools showed nine clusters of cases involving 13 educators and 32 students at six elementary schools, the CDC said.

US House plans vote on virus aid bill on Friday

The US House of Representatives will vote on legislation to provide $1.9 trillion in new virus relief, Representative Steny Hoyer, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, said.

The House Budget Committee approved the measure on Monday. Passing more relief to ease the economic effects of the pandemic is a top priority of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Although polls show Americans want more economic support, Democrats - who narrowly control Congress - and Republicans differ sharply over how best to provide it.

The US coronavirus death toll this week surpassed the grim benchmark of 500,000 victims. Millions more have been left jobless by the pandemic.

Vietnam's first batch of vaccine arrives from South Korea

Vietnam has received the first batch of 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of the planned rollout of the Southeast Asian country's vaccination programme from next month.

The vaccines, which arrived at Ho Chi Minh City on a flight from South Korea, will be used to inoculate more than 50,000 people who are seen as high risk, the government said in a statement.

Deputy health minister, Truong Quoc Cuong, was at the airport to meet the consignment of vaccines flown in from Seoul, according to media.

South Korea's SK Bioscience has a plant that has been approved to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The batch is part of 30 million doses that the Vietnam Vaccine Joint Stock Co., a company set up to handle vaccine import and distribution, will bring in, the government said.

Japan regions push to end state of emergency as cases fall

Regional Japanese governments have requested emergency pandemic measures be lifted ahead of the March 7 scheduled end as new cases trend lower, the country's economy minister said, adding the government will seek expert views before agreeing.

A surge in cases prompted Japan to announce a state of emergency last month for 11 prefectures, requesting residents to curtail activities and businesses to shorten operating hours.

The state of emergency would likely be lifted in stages though businesses would be asked to continue closing early, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday.

Japan recorded 1,083 new cases on Tuesday, national broadcaster NHK reported, compared with a peak of almost 8,000 on January 8. New infections in Tokyo have fallen to levels not seen since November.

Germany's virus cases rise by 8,007

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 8,007 to 2,402,818.

The reported death toll rose by 422 to 68,740, , the data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

Thailand receives its first virus vaccines

Thailand has received its first 200,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac, the country's first batch of coronavirus vaccines, with inoculations set to begin in a few days.

Prime Minister Prayut Chanocha is expected to be among the first to receive the vaccine this weekend. Most doses have been reserved for frontline medical workers.

Thailand is expecting to take delivery of a further 1.8 doses of CoronaVac in March and April, to be given mainly to health workers and at-risk groups.

Brazil reports 1,386 new deaths in 24 hours

Brazil has reported 62,715 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, and 1,386 deaths. 

The South American country has now registered 10,257,875 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 248,529, according to the country's ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

Mexico's coronavirus death toll reaches 181,809

Mexico's coronavirus death toll rose to 181,809, according to the country's Health Ministry.

It is the world's third worst-hit country with the latest number of deaths, following the US and Brazil.

Pandemic aid to poorest 'critical' to US interests

Wally Adeyemo, President Joe Biden's nominee for the No. 2 job at the US Treasury, said it was critical to ending the Covid-19 pandemic everywhere around the globe, and doing so would require providing resources to some of the poorest countries.

Adeyemo made the comment at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee when asked about a possible new allocation of the International Monetary Fund's own currency, or Special Drawing Rights, to provide additional resources.

"We need to be sure that countries around the world are put in a position to deal with the pandemic and its results," Adeyemo said.

"Providing financial resources to some of the poorest countries in the world is going to be critical to our national security if we seek to make sure that Covid-19 isn't something that continues to affect us."

China reports 12 new Covid-19 cases

Mainland China reported 12 new Covid-19 cases on February 23, up from 10 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, remained unchanged from a day earlier at nine.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,864, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.

Colombia approves emergency use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Colombia has approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, the director of the food and drug regulator INVIMA said as part of a government address. 

Colombia has secured vaccine agreements with a raft of pharmaceutical companies and the World Health Organization-backed Covax programme. The country is awaiting some 61.5 million vaccine doses, which will allow it to inoculate about 32.5 million people. This includes 10 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, enough for 5 million people.

Colombia has reported over 2.2 million coronavirus cases, as well as close to 60,000 deaths. So far it has administered just under 50,000 vaccine doses.

Mexico says it's doing better than US on virus

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that his country is doing better than the United States in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, even though Mexico's per capita death rate is probably higher and the country has vaccinated less than 1 percent of its population.

Lopez Obrador said that comparing countries is in "bad taste," but went on to say "the most powerful nation on earth, our neighbour, did worse than us." 

He blamed rich countries for "hoarding" vaccines, calling that "totally unfair," and said "the UN has to intervene."

The Mexican government's "estimated" death toll from Covid-19 is now about 201,000. The United States death toll is around 500,000, but its population is 2.6 times larger.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies