The novel coronavirus has infected more than 88.9 million people globally and claimed over 1.9 million lives. Here are the updates for January 8:

Vials labelled
Vials labelled "Covid-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice, December 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Friday, January 8, 2021:

WHO urges countries to stop making bilateral vaccine deals

The WHO urged countries to stop making bilateral deals for Covid-19 vaccines and, if they have signed contracts for more than they need, to release them to the globally shared Covax programme.

World Health Organization director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, asked countries that have booked excess vaccine doses to "donate and release them to Covax immediately," adding, "Stop making bilateral deals at the expense of Covax."

Sweden tightens rules, but still no lockdown

Sweden tightened social-distancing rules for shopping centres, gyms and private gatherings and said it was ready to close businesses if needed, but stopped short of a lockdown to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, parliament voted to give the government wider powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings as an addition to what have so-far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distancing.

Germany secures 50M vaccine doses from CureVac, BioNTech 

The German government signed two preliminary deals with German biotech firms BioNTech and CureVac in the summer to secure 50 million doses of their vaccines, according to a Health Ministry document and an official.

The deals, which were not announced when they were signed, are controversial because EU governments had agreed not to negotiate bilateral supply agreements with vaccine makers in an effort to avoid vying for shots.

The ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Germany signed a memorandum of understanding with CureVac on August 31 for the supply of 20 million doses of its vaccine under development.

Portugal reports record daily increase in cases, deaths

Portugal reported record increases in the number of infections and the death toll, a day after the prime minister warned the country may need to go into a new lockdown next week if contagion continues to surge.

Data from the DGS health authority showed 10,176 new cases and 118 deaths compared to the previous day, bringing the cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 466,709 and 7,590 respectively.

Biden to release more available virus doses – spokesperson

President-elect Joe Biden will aim to release more available doses of virus vaccine when he takes office, a departure from Trump administration strategy of holding back a supply to make sure second doses are available, a spokesperson said.

"The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible," TJ Ducklo, a spokesperson for Biden's transition, told Reuters.

Italy reports 620 deaths 

Italy reported 620 virus-related deaths up from 414 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 17,533 from 18,020.

Some 140,267 swab tests were carried out in the past day, the ministry said, against a previous 121,275.

Italy has registered 77,911 virus deaths since its outbreak came to light on February 21, the second highest toll in Europe and the sixth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.238 million cases to date, the Health Ministry said.

UK reports daily record of 1,325 new deaths

Britain reported 1,325 new deaths from virus, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic, with another 68,053 additional cases.

The total eclipsed the previous record number of deaths reported on April 21, 2020, of 1,224.

England entered a new lockdown this week with a "stay at home" message, as health officials cited rising hospital admissions that threaten to overrun the National Health Service (NHS).

London declared a "major incident" because its hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed by a highly transmissible variant of the virus racing "out of control" across the United Kingdom.

Bhutan reports first death

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan reported its first virus death some 10 months after initially detecting the virus and managing to keep the disease under control by largely sealing off the tourism-dependent country.

In a statement issued late on Thursday, Bhutan's Health Ministry said a 34-year-old man with chronic liver disease and renal failure, who tested positive for virus, had died at a hospital in the capital Thimphu.

Bhutan has reported 767 cases of the virus, having conducted a little over 300,000 tests since it detected the first infection in an American tourist last March.

Spain's tally rises by 25,456 in biggest jump since October

Spain added 25,456 virus cases to its tally in the biggest one-day jump since October, Health Ministry data showed, as the infection rate continued to accelerate in the wake of the holiday season.

Total cases since the start of the pandemic rose to 2,050,360, while the death toll climbed by 199 to 51,874, the data showed. The virus' incidence jumped to 350 cases per 100,000 people from 321 cases on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia to lift travel ban on March 31

Saudi Arabia will lift a ban on international flights from Wednesday, March 31, the state news agency SPA said.

The country will allow its citizens to travel abroad and then return from March 31, and will open all air, land and sea ports from the same date, the agency added.

Turkey records over 11,000 new cases

Turkey reported over 11,000 daily infections of the novel virus.

The country confirmed 11,749 new cases, including 1,291 symptomatic patients, according to Health Ministry data.

With the new additions, the tally of infections topped 2.3 million, the figures showed.

A total of 186 people lost their lives to the virus over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 22,450.

As many as 9,894 recovered over the past day, bringing the total to over 2.18 million.

Indonesian clerics declare Sinovac's vaccine halal

A Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinovac Biotech has been deemed halal, or permissible under Islam, Indonesia's Ulema Council said, days before the country is scheduled to start its inoculation programme using the Chinese vaccine.

Asrorun Niam Sholeh of the council's fatwa commission told a news conference that the vaccine, named CoronaVac, was "halal," although authorisation still rests on the Indonesia's food and drug agency. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has received 3 million doses of CoronaVac.

EU doubles Pfizer vaccine order to 600M jabs

The EU has struck a deal to double its supply of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to a total of 600 million doses.

"We have right now, access to 300 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine... With the new agreement we could purchase a total of up to an additional 300 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine," , European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference.

She said that, along with the Moderna vaccine also authorised for use in the EU, "we have already secured an amount of doses that we need to vaccinate 380 mil lion Europeans, and this is more than 80 percent of the European population".

Von der Leyen said that other vaccine authorisations were expected "in the coming weeks and months" so "Europe will have more than enough vaccine within a reliable timeframe".

Iran bans imports of US, British vaccines

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned Iran's government from importing Covid-19 vaccines from the United States and Britain.

"Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are forbidden. I have told this to officials and I'm saying it publicly now," Khamenei said in a live televised speech.

"I have no confidence in them. Sometimes they want to test vaccines on other nations ... If the Americans were able to produce a vaccine, they would not have such a coronavirus fiasco in their own country."

However, Khamenei praised Iran's efforts to develop domestic vaccines but said Iran could obtain vaccines "from other reliable places". He gave no details but China and Russia are both allies of Iran.

"I'm not optimistic about France either because of their history of infe cted blood," Khamenei said, referring to the country's contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.

Russia reports 23,652 more cases

Russia has reported 23,652 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, including 5,027 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,355,794.

Authorities said 454 people had died, taking Russia's official death toll to 60,911.

Thailand tightens domestic travel as cases rise

Thailand has reported 205 new virus cases, a slight dip from previous days as it tightened controls on domestic travel.

Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the Covid-19 coordinating center, said Friday that 131 of the additional cases were local transmissions, 58 were migrant workers and 16 international arrivals.

That brought the country’s total to 9,841 including 67 deaths. Of that total, 5,367 cases were found from the start of the new surge on December 15 until Friday.

Infections have surged following months that saw only a handful of cases. Most of the new ones have been migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar working in the seafood markets and factories in a province next to Bangkok.

The capital, with a metropolitan area population of about 15 million, recorded 327 cases in that period. Thailand has about 70 million people.

The government has tightened controls on domestic travel and ordered a partial lockdown around Thailand.

US reports record deaths

The United States has counted a record number of daily coronavirus deaths at nearly 4,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The 3,998 deaths were recorded over the 24 hour period ending at 0130 GMT Friday(8:30 pm local time), during which the US notched 265,246 new infections, according to the university.

Singapore PM receives first dose of vaccine

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has received the first shot of a vaccine against Covid-19, the 68-year-old said in a Facebook post sharing a video of him being injected in the arm at a local hospital.

Singapore has so far only approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine but has said it has also secured enough doses for its 5.7 million population including from other vaccine-makers like Moderna and Sinovac.

"We got vaccinated early to show Singaporeans we are confident that the vaccine is safe and effective," Lee said, adding that he had been vaccinated alongside the country's top health official, Kenneth Mak.

The city-state gave its first jabs at the end of December, but Lee said broader vaccinations of healthcare workers from public institutions would start on Friday, followed by the elderly next month. 

Germany's cases rise by 31,849

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany have increased by 31,849 to 1,866,887, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 1,188 to 38,795, the tally showed. 

Pfizer vaccine effective under virus variant

A laboratory study conducted by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech has apparently shown its Covid-19 vaccine works against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in the UK and South Africa.

The not-yet peer reviewed study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralising virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein.

The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralisation elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer's top viral vaccine scientists.

Japan starts first day under emergency steps

Japan has begun its first day under a coronavirus state of emergency with much of life as usual, including morning commuter trains shuttling crowds of mask-wearing people at bustling stations.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated his request for restaurants to shorten business hours and for people to work from home.

The emergency runs through February 7. The declaration is asking restaurants and bars close by 8 pm (1300GMT) while drinks won't be served after 7 pm (1200 GMT).

It applies to Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

Mainland China reports 53 new Covid-19 cases vs 63 a day earlier

Mainland China has reported 53 new Covid-19 cases, down from 63 reported a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 33 of the 37 locally transmitted infections were in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing that entered a "wartime mode" earlier this week. Shijiazhuang, Hebei's capital, banned people from leaving the city in the latest step to curb the spread of the disease.

The commission also reported 57 new asymptomatic cases, down from 79 a day earlier. China does not classify these patients, who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease but are not yet showing any Covid-19 symptoms, as confirmed cases. 

Japan will consider expanding state of emergency if needed

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the government would liaise with other prefectures and check whether the state of emergency over the virus for the greater Tokyo region should be extended to those areas.

The governors of Osaka and Aichi are expected to request being added to the emergency declaration as infections surge in their prefectures. 

Australia's Brisbane in lockdown for three days

Authorities in Brisbane, Australia, are locking the city down for three days beginning on Friday, after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel was diagnosed with a highly contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain.

The Queensland state government says masks will also be compulsory for the first time in Brisbane and the surrounding municipalities of Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands.

The state's chief health officer said “we need to act really, really fast.”

While several cases of the variant have been found in travellers in hotel quarantine, the cleaner is the first person to be infected with it in Australia. Authorities believe the woman was infectious after January 2. She tested positive after showing symptoms on Wednesday.

Israel tightens nationwide virus lockdown

Israel tightened a national lockdown in a bid to curb a sharp rise in new virus cases, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising that all Israeli adults could be vaccinated by the end of March.

With a population of nine million, Israel is leading the world in a swift rollout of vaccinations, but the number of new infections has climbed to around 8,000 a day, the highest in months.

Israel imposed its third lockdown on December 27. Many Israelis, however, ignored travel and social-distancing restrictions, prompting stricter measures that will include additional police roadblocks and the closure of most schools and more businesses.

The new edicts will be in effect for at least two weeks.

Brazil passes 200,000 virus deaths – Health Ministry 

Brazil has registered more than 200,000 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said in a statement, without updating its precise case count or death toll.

"In the name of President Jair Bolsonaro, the Health Ministry and all the federal government, we want to offer our solidarity to every family that lost loved ones," said the statement.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies