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 27:
Wednesday, January 27, 2021:
WHO says new variants have spread to dozens of countries
New Covid-19 variants that make the virus more contagious and could render vaccine and antibody protection less effective have spread rapidly across dozens of countries, the World Health Organization said.
In its latest epidemiological update, the UN health agency said the more contagious variant first spotted in Britain had by January 25 spread to 70 countries across all regions of the world.
That variant, which is known as VOC 202012/01 and has proven to transmit more easily than previous variants of the virus, had thus spread to 10 more countries over the past week, it said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week also warned that fresh studies had indicated the strain could be more deadly, but the WHO stressed Wednesday that those "results are preliminary, and more analyses are required to further corroborate these findings".
The WHO also said the variant of the virus first found in South Africa had now spread to 31 countries, eight more than a week ago.
Laboratory studies have found that that variant, 501Y.V2 "is less susceptible to antibody neutralisation" than previous variants, WHO said.
This has raised serious concerns that the variant poses a heightened risk of reinfection, and also could hamper the effectiveness of the growing number of vaccines coming to market.
The WHO said more studies were needed, but stressed that observational studies in South Africa did not indicate an increased risk of reinfection.
It also said that while studies by US biotechnology firm Moderna indicated that its vaccine could potentially be less effective against the variant, "neutralising titres remain above the levels expected to be protective".
The WHO said a third variant of the virus, first discovered in Brazil, was now in eight countries, up from just two a week ago.
That variant, called P1, has raised similar concerns it could be more contagious or cause more severe disease.
Turkey reports over 7,000 cases
Turkey reported 7,489 additional coronavirus cases, including 675 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.
The country's case tally passed 2.44 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 25,476 with 132 fatalities over the past day.
As many as 8,803 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.33 million.
More than 29 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in Turkey to date, with 179,419 since Tuesday.
The latest figures show that the number of patients in critical condition dropped to 1,765.
The number of people in Turkey who have received their first dose of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus crossed the 1.5 million mark as of Wednesday, according to official figures.
In week two of Turkey's mass vaccination campaign, in which it is administering CoronaVac jabs purchased from Chinese company SinoVac, immunisation efforts are running smoothly, officials say.
Turkey began its mass vaccination campaign on January 14, starting with healthcare workers along with top officials to encourage public confidence in the vaccines, and then moving to older individuals.
Health Minister Fahtrettin announced that over the suggestion of Turkey’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, older adults above the age of 75 will start to be vaccinated in health institutions as of Thursday morning.
Italy reports 467 deaths, 15,204 new cases
Italy reported 467 deaths, down from 541 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 15,204 from 10,593.
Some 293,770 tests were carried out in the past day, against a previous 257,034, the health ministry said.
Italy has now registered 86,889 deaths since last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.501 million cases to date.
Patients in hospital, not including those in intensive care, stood at 21,161, compared with 21,355 a day earlier.
There were 115 new admissions to intensive care units, against 162 the day before. The total number of intensive care patients stood at 2,352, down from 2,372 on Tuesday.
When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerating quickly in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by about 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day.
UK records second highest daily toll
The United Kingdom recorded its second highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic as the government battled to speed up vaccination delivery.
With a highly transmissible new variant of the virus surging across the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shuttered the economy and is rushing out vaccines faster than the country’s European neighbours in a bid to stem the pandemic.
The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth-highest official death toll and reported a further 1,725 fatalities within 28 days of a positive test.
On Tuesday the total deaths figure passed the 100,000 mark, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to questions about the government's handling of the crisis.
It rose to 101,887 on Wednesday.
The country recorded a further 25,308 cases of the disease, up from 20,089 the day before.
The data showed that 7,164,387 people have now been given their first dose of the vaccine, with 311,060 receiving it in the last 24 hours.
UK to impose hotel quarantine for returning Britons
UK citizens and permanent residents flying back from 22 countries deemed at "high risk" from variants must soon quarantine in hotels under new rules announced.
The announcement came as the government signalled a current national lockdown would stay in force until at least March 8.
Returning travellers must stay in hotels for 10 days while they complete the required self-isolation period, interior minister Priti Patel told lawmakers.
Non-UK arrivals from the targeted destinations, which include South America, Portugal, Cape Verde and South Africa, are already barred following the discovery of two virus variants in Brazil and South Africa.
Patel said the plans were still being "operationalised", with no date mentioned for their introduction, and further details would be announced next week.
The 10-day quarantine will cost returning Britons $2,060, with meals served at the bedroom door and security guards supervising stays, according to media reports.
Portugal to suspend flights to and from Brazil
Portugal will suspend all flights to and from Brazil from January 29 until February 14, the Interior Ministry said, citing a worsening pandemic globally and in Portugal, as well as new variants of the virus detected elsewhere.
Only humanitarian and repatriation flights will be allowed, with travellers required to provide a Covid-19 test taken 72 hours in advance before boarding and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival back in Portugal, it said in a statement.
Bulgaria's vice president tests positive for coronavirus
Bulgaria's Vice President Iliana Yotova has tested positive for the coronavirus, but was in good general health and has shown only mild symptoms of the disease, the president's office said.
President Rumen Radev tested negative for the virus, the office said in a statement.
Cannes Film Festival postponed
The 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival will be postponed until July because of the pandemic, organisers said.
Last year's event was cancelled and replaced by a low-key event in October showcasing short films but without the A-list movie stars, directors and producers.
The festival will take place from July 6-17, the organisers said in a statement, two months later than planned.
Hollywood superstars normally flock to the Mediterranean town's "Croisette" promenade for the two-week extravaganza, the world's biggest cinema showcase and a major market for the industry.
The palm-fringed town has been a subdued version of its normally glamorous self since the coronavirus outbreak. Many of its swankiest hotels are closed, as are its restaurants and bars.
Oxford scientists expect some vaccine data on UK mutant virus by next week
The University of Oxford expects efficacy data on a study of its vaccine against the UK variant of the coronavirus by next week, a representative said at a virtual meeting of a US CDC advisory panel.
"Since the middle of December, that (UK) variant has been dominant and spread so rapidly. And so, we should be able to put together an analysis on efficacy against that probably by next week," said Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the trials.
Oxford University has developed the vaccine along with AstraZeneca.
Oman prohibits group events in new measures - state media
Oman prohibited all group events, postponed students' return to universities and advised citizens and residents against foreign travel, in a tightening of measures against the coronavirus, state media said.
The ban on gatherings include international conferences, sports events and exhibitions, state news agency ONA said, citing a decision by the Gulf state's coronavirus emergency committee. Oman closed its land borders ten days ago.
CDC: US may reach 514,000 deaths by February 20
White House Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients is saying in the Biden administration’s first formal briefing on the pandemic that officials will always hew to the science and level with the public.
Rochelle Walensky, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says her agency’s latest forecast indicates the US will record between 479,000 to 514,000 deaths by February 20.
Zients says the federal Department of Health and Human Services is acting Wednesday to make more professionals available to administer vaccinations. The government will authorize nurses and doctors who have retired to administer vaccines, and professionals licensed in one state will be able to administer shots in other states.
Such measures are fairly standard in health emergencies.
The US leads the world with 25.4 million confirmed cases and more than 425,000 deaths.
Norway to close borders to all but essential visits, says PM
Norway will close its borders to all but essential visitors, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said, tightening further some of the toughest travel restrictions in Europe.
"In practice, the border will be closed to anyone not living in Norway," Solberg told a news conference.
While exceptions will apply to a few groups, including health workers from some countries, most migrant labour will be prevented from coming, she said.
The non-EU country on Saturday announced a lockdown of its capital region after an outbreak of a more contagious coronavirus variant, first identified in Britain.
AstraZeneca says vaccine delivery talks with EU to go ahead
AstraZeneca says it has not pulled out of vaccine talks with the European Union and plans to meet with EU officials later Wednesday in Brussels.
The comments came after EU officials said earlier that the company had pulled out of the meeting to discuss delayed vaccine commitments to the 27-nation bloc. The talks were slated to be the third in in as many days.
The public dispute between AstraZeneca and the EU has raised concerns about vaccine nationalism, as countries desperate to end the pandemic and return to normalcy jockey to make sure to obtain as many of the precious vaccine shots as possible.
Bahrain stops indoor dining, moves schools to remote learning
Bahrain will suspend dine-in services in restaurants and cafes and will move public and private schools to remote learning for three weeks to contain the spread of the virus, the health ministry said on.
The ministry has detected a new variant of virus, it said, without saying which kind. The decisions will come into effect on Sunday.
India's COVAXIN likely effective against UK variant
A vaccine developed by India's Bharat Biotech and a government research institute is likely to be effective against the UK strain of the virus, according to a study on 26 participants shared by the company.
The findings on COVAXIN, which is in use in India after receiving emergency-use authorisation early this month, have been published on the website bioRxiv that carries research not certified by peer review.
" Sera from the vaccine recipients could neutralise the UK-variant strains discounting the uncertainty around potential escape," wrote scientists from the company and its partner, the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
Russia reports 17,741 cases
Russia reported 17,741 new cases, taking its official tally to 3,774,672.
Authorities also reported 594 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 71,076.
Indonesia reports record daily increase in deaths
Indonesia reported a record daily increase in virus deaths, with 387 new fatalities, data from the country's Covid-19 task force showed.
This brought the total number of deaths to 28,855.
The Southeast Asian nation also recorded 11,948 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 1,024,298.
Morocco gets half million doses of Sinopharm vaccine
Morocco received half a million doses of China’s Sinopharm virus vaccine as it prepares to be the first African country to roll out a national immunisation campaign.
The consignment is the second batch to arrive in Morocco after 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India’s Serum Institute.
The government has announced that it will first start vaccinating health, security, and teaching staff this week and has launched a website for other people to register for the vaccine.
Bulgarian care home patients get first shots in slow vaccine rollout
Bulgaria started vaccinating care home patients in the capital Sofia against the virus as the Balkan country seeks to accelerate immunisations and catch up to European Union peers.
The country of 7 million people has inoculated about 29,000 medical workers so far – putting it at the bottom in terms of vaccinated people per capita in the 27-member bloc.
"This is a chance we are given and we have to grab it. There is no other way to fight this virus," said Ulyana Dumova, one of the first 15 patients in the Nadezhda care home to get the vaccine.
Palestine plans to buy 100,000 Sputnik V vaccine doses
The Palestinian Authority plans to buy 100,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against virus in February, the Interfax news agency cited the Palestinian Authority's envoy in Moscow as saying.
Abdel Hafiz Nofal, the Authority's ambassador to Russia, said Moscow would provide 10,000 free doses of the vaccine.
COVAX to supply 355M vaccine doses for Eastern Med this year – WHO
The COVAX vaccine sharing platform expects to have 25 million vaccine doses for the Eastern Mediterranean region in March, rising to 355 million doses by December, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said.
The first doses provided for the region through COVAX will arrive in February, WHO official Yvan Hutin told reporters.
The WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region comprises of Middle Eastern countries as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Djibouti.
China deploys anal swabs to test for virus
China has begun using anal swabs to test those it considers at high risk of contracting virus, state TV reported, with social media users and travellers squirming over the invasive procedure which doctors say can be more effective in detecting the virus.
Officials took anal swabs from residents of neighbourhoods with confirmed virus cases in Beijing last week, broadcaster CCTV said, while those in designated quarantine facilities have also undergone the test.
Small, localised outbreaks in recent weeks have seen multiple cities in northern China sealed off from the rest of the country and prompted mass testing campaigns – which up until now have mostly been conducted using throat and nose swabs.
Health workers become first to get vaccine in Nepal
Thousands of health workers lined up across Nepal to get the vaccine as the Himalayan nation began a three-month vaccination campaign.
At the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, doctors were encouraging hesitant colleagues to get the vaccine.
“We have to initiate this. If we will not take, then who will take this vaccine? We can’t say we will not take this as we are doctors,” said Dr. Poonam Sharma.
Hospital director Dr. Dinesh Kafle said 300 staffers were set to get the vaccine on Wednesday and the remaining 2,000 within a week.
Moscow relaxes curbs
The city of Moscow eased some virus restrictions, including the overnight closure of bars, restaurants and night clubs, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
Businesses would no longer have to restrict the number of employees working from the office, Sobyanin wrote on his personal blog.
The changes were effective from Wednesday, he said.
Sweeping lockdown in Peru as cases soar
Sixteen million Peruvians will enter a two-week virus lockdown covering a third of the country at the end of January, Peru's interim president said.
The South American nation's healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic – with only 500 intensive care beds for a population of 32 million – with authorities reporting a spike in deaths as infections increase.
The country's lockdown will run from January 31 to February 14, interim president Francisco Sagasti said in a televised address, blaming the soaring infections on end-of-year gatherings.
Virus shutdowns sap German consumer confidence
Extended virus shutdowns and rising job fears are weighing on gloomy German consumers as they head into February, a key survey said.
The GfK institute's forward-looking survey plunged to minus 15.6 points for February, following a January level of minus 7.5 points.
It was the fourth decline in as many months as Europe's top economy struggles to get a second wave of virus cases under control despite tough curbs.
"The closures of restaurants and large parts of retail trade in mid-December 2020 have hit consumers' inclination to spend just as hard as during the first lockdown last spring," GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said in a statement.
Tokyo Olympics test event to be postponed – reports
The first Tokyo Olympics test event of 2021 will be postponed due to travel restrictions under Japan's virus state of emergency, media reported.
The artistic swimming test event – which will double as the sport's final qualifier for the Games, and is set to feature around 10 countries – was scheduled to be held at the Tokyo Aquatics Center from March 4-7.
It could now be held in April or May, according to Japanese media outlets citing sources close to the matter.
Myanmar launches vaccination drive
Myanmar launched a vaccination programme, with healthcare staff and volunteer medical workers the first to receive shots of the AstraZenca and Oxford University vaccine donated by neighbouring India.
The Southeast Asian country managed to contain the number of virus cases early in the pandemic, but is now fighting a second wave, recording more than 138,000 cases and 3,082 deaths.
Last week, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, amid a diplomatic drive by New Delhi to supply neighbouring countries just as regional rival China has also pledged vaccine consignments.
Outbreaks in South Korea's Christian schools drive surge in cases
South Korean authorities were scrambling to rein in virus outbreaks centred on Christian schools as the country reported a jump in infections, dampening hopes of a speedy exit from a third wave of the pandemic.
At least 323 virus cases had been traced to churches and mission schools run by a Christian organisation in two cities, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data.
More than 100 cases were confirmed overnight among people linked to churches and its mission schools in Gwangju, about 270 kms south of Seoul, officials said.
Nadal, Serena support strict virus protocols in Australia
Rafa Nadal feels tennis players are privileged to be able to compete at the Australian Open during the pandemic and urged fellow participants to have a wider perspective of the strict health measures in the country.
About 1,200 participants were allowed to fly to Australia for the summer of tennis as thousands of its citizens are unable to return home due to travel restrictions.
Players are serving 14 days of isolation during which they are allowed five hours outside their rooms each day to train for the year's first Grand Slam, which has been delayed by three weeks and will be played from February 8-21.
China inoculates over 22M in mass vaccine drive
China has administered about 22.8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, a health official said, as the country steps up its campaign ahead of next month's Lunar New Year holidays and the accompanying flurry of travel.
The world's most populous nation has widened its targeted inoculation scheme since mid-December to include more priority groups facing higher risk of virus exposure, in a bid to prevent any outbreaks in winter and spring.
"Overall, the work is progressing in a smooth and orderly manner," Zeng Yixin, vice director of the National Health Commission, told a news conference, referring to the vaccination effort.
China aims to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year in February, state media Global Times said this month.
India vaccinates 2 million health workers
India has vaccinated 2 million health workers in less than two weeks and recorded 12,689 new virus positive cases in the past 24 hours, a sharp decline from a peak level of nearly 100,000 in mid-September.
The health Ministry said the daily new cases had fallen below 10,000 on Tuesday with 9,102 cases. The daily new positive cases were 9,304 on June 4 last year.
India’s fatalities dropped to 137 in the past 24 hours from a peak level of 1,089 daily deaths in September. India’s total positive cases since the start of the epidemic have reached 10.6 million, the second highest after the United States with 25.43 million cases.
India started inoculating health workers on January 16 in what is likely the world’s largest vaccination campaign.
Hong Kong turns to 'ambush lockdowns' to fight virus
Hong Kong has begun using "ambush lockdowns" to suddenly close off and test everyone inside neighbourhoods where virus cases have spiked, as a spate of recent outbreaks lay bare the rampant inequality in the wealthy Chinese finance hub.
Police cordoned off a row of densely packed tenement buildings in the Yau Ma Tei area overnight on Tuesday through to Wednesday morning to conduct mandatory tests.
The new tactic involves authorities giving no warning of an impending lockdown.
City leader Carrie Lam said such "ambush style" lockdowns were needed to ensure people did not flee before testers move in.
Mexico near approving Russian vaccine, with little data
Mexico said it is close to granting approval for Russia’s Sputnik V virus vaccine, with lots of spy drama but little public data available.
The approval process described by Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s assistant health secretary, sounded like a Cold War spy thriller, and may not foment confidence in the shot.
Lopez-Gatell said a Mexican technical committee on new medications has recommended approving the vaccine, adding only “some details” were lacking for COFEPRIS, the government medical safety commission, to give the final go-ahead.
Biden to reopen 'Obamacare' markets for virus relief
Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Joe Biden plans to reopen the HealthCare.gov insurance markets for a special sign-up opportunity geared to people needing coverage in the pandemic.
Biden is expected to sign an executive order Thursday, said two people familiar with the plan, whose details were still being finalized. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the pending order ahead of a formal announcement.
Although the number of uninsured Americans has grown because of job losses due to the economic hit of virus, the Trump administration resisted calls to authorise a “special enrollment period” for people uninsured in the pandemic.
South Korea adds 559 cases, highest in 10 days
South Korea has reported 599 new virus cases, the highest in 10 days, as health workers scramble to slow infections at religious facilities, which have been a major source throughout the pandemic.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju, where more than 100 have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been linked to more than 170 infections.
The Seoul metropolitan area reported nearly 300 cases.
Thailand reports 819 cases
Thailand reported 819 new virus cases, taking its total infections to 15,465.
One additional death was reported, bringing total fatalities to 76. More than 700 of the new infections were in Samut Sakhon province, the epicentre of the most recent outbreak, the Covid-19 taskforce said at a briefing.
Germany reports 13,202 cases
The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 13,202 to 2,161,279, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.
The reported death toll rose by 982 to 53,972, the tally showed.
US boosting vaccine deliveries
Answering growing frustration over vaccine shortages, President Joe Biden has announced that the US is ramping up deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.
Biden, calling the push a “wartime effort,” said the administration was working to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. He acknowledged that states in recent weeks have been left guessing how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next.
Shortages have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.
“This is unacceptable," Biden said. "Lives are at stake.”
Mexico reports 7,165 new coronavirus cases, 1,743 more deaths
Mexico's health ministry has reported 7,165 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 1,743 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,778,905 cases and 152,016 deaths.
The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.
China reports 75 new mainland Covid-19 cases vs 82 a day earlier
Mainland China has reported 75 new Covid-19 cases, down from 82 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.
The National Health Commission said in a statement that 55 of the new cases were local infections, down from 69 a day earlier. New asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 61 from 57 a day earlier.
The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Mainland China now stands at 89,272. The death toll remains at 4,636.
Cuba's coronavirus cases, death toll surge
Cuba's death toll from the coronavirus reached 200, with authorities reporting nearly as many deaths so far in January as in the six previous months combined, due to an unprecedented acceleration in infections.
While Cuba had just a tenth of the world average of daily infections per capita for much of last year, cases have surged since the government reopened borders in November and loosened restrictions on daily life.
The situation in Cuba is now much worse than at any other point during the pandemic, and edging closer to that world average.
Canada's PM: 'worrying" if EU blocks vaccine
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it would be very worrying if the European Union blocked Canada from getting Covid-19 doses from Europe.
The EU has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, and warned pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule. All of Canada’s vaccines come from Europe.
Trudeau says he spoke to the chief executive of Moderna and he says it was “very clear” that the Canadian contract will be respected. Canada isn’t getting any deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine made in Europe this week, shipments are set to resume next week.
Trudeau says he will work with European allies to ensure there are not any disruptions to the Canadian supply chain.
South Africa records 680 deaths in 24 hours
South Africa has recorded 680 new coronavirus deaths, pushing the total number of confirmed fatalities to 41,797 – the highest on the continent, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced.
Mkhize said the country also detected 6,041 new Covid-19 infections in a 24-hour period, taking the number of confirmed cases to 1,423,578.
He said the coastal province of Kwa-Zulu Natal recorded the highest number of fatalities at 306 followed by 141 deaths reported in Gauteng province, which includes the capital Pretoria and Johannesburg, the country’s largest city.
Other deaths were recorded in the Western Cape Province, the country’s tourism hub, where 95 people succumbed to the virus. The remaining six provinces had just over 100 deaths in total.
Australia set for 10th day of no local Covid-19 cases
Australia is on track for a 10th day of no new local Covid-19 cases with its most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) hoping to ease coronavirus restrictions this week after controlling a fast-spreading cluster.
Australia's most populous state NSW has recorded no local cases for 10 days after low single digit numbers earlier in January.
Victoria state, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis tournament, has gone three weeks without a local case.
Other states and territories which have mostly been Covid-free, some for months, will report daily case numbers later on Wednesday, but are expected to report zero local infections.
Australia's success in curbing small outbreaks, with a total 22,000 local cases since March 2020 and 909 deaths, comes at a time when global coronavirus cases are edging towards 100 million with the death toll surpassing 2 million.