Coronavirus has killed more than 2.4 million people and infected over 111 million globally. Here are virus-related developments for February 20:

A health worker gives a dose of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine to a medical staff member at the stadium Ollantaytambo in Lima, Peru on February 19, 2021.
A health worker gives a dose of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine to a medical staff member at the stadium Ollantaytambo in Lima, Peru on February 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

World tops 200M vaccine doses as G7 boosts funding

The number of coronavirus vaccine doses administered worldwide has passed 200 million, an AFP count showed, as wealthy G7 countries pledged to more than double aid to support access for the less well-off.

With 45 percent of injections so far among the rich club – which accounts for just 10 percent of the global population – the G7 on Friday said its aid to projects like the World Health Organization's Covax now amount to $7.5 billion.

The increased pledges from the US, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan and Canada came as permanent UN Security Council member Britai n showed a draft resolution to other countries on the global body, calling for wealthy nations to share doses with poor and war-torn states.

Infections dropped 95.8 percent after both Pfizer shots - Israel

The rate of Covid-19 infections has dropped 95.8 percent among people who received both shots of Pfizer's vaccine, Israel's Health Ministry said.

The vaccine was also 98 percent effective in preventing infections that caused fever or breathing problems and 98.9 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and death, the ministry said.

The findings were based on data collected nationally through February 13 from Israelis who had received their second shot at least two weeks previously. According to the Health Ministry's website, about 1 .7 million people had been administered a second shot by January 30, making them eligible to be included.

Turkey reports over 7,800 new infections

Turkey has reported 7,857 new coronavirus cases, including 635 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case count passed 2.63 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 27,983, with 80 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 7,210 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus for more than 2.51 million recoveries thus far.

Some 32.21 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 118,911 since Friday.

Earlier today, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced that Turkey will start to gradually normalise from coronavirus restrictions starting March 1.

Underlining that they are working carefully on normalisation steps, Koca said on Twitter that the process will start with provincial public health councils dealing with four risk levels in line with Health Ministry criteria.

Since last December, Turkey has been implementing curfew on weeknights and a full weekend curfew to curb the spread of the virus.

Italy reports 251 deaths in a day, 14,931 new cases

Italy has reported 251 coronavirus-related deaths compared with 353 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of new infections fell to 14,931 from 15,479.

Some 306,078 coronavirus tests were carried out, compared with a previous 297,128, the ministry said.

Italy has registered 95,486 deaths linked to coronavirus since the first outbreak last February. That is the second-highest death toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported around 2.8 million cases of infection.

Britain reports 10,406 new cases

Britain has reported 10,406 new Covid-19 cases, government statistics showed, and a total of 17.2 million people have now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

There were 445 more deaths recorded within 28 days of positive coronavirus test.

Additional measures needed in Nice region – French minister

The rapid spread of virus in the French Mediterranean city of Nice and the surrounding region will require further measures to curb the contagion, Health Minister Olivier Veran said. 

Philippines reports 239 new deaths

The Philippines' health ministry reported 239 new  deaths, the second-highest daily increase in casualties since the pandemic started, and 2,240 infections.

The previous daily high death toll was 259 deaths reported on Sept. 14.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases have increased to 559,288 while confirmed deaths have reached 12,068.

President Rodrigo Duterte is to decide next week whether to further loosen coronavirus curbs in the capital, Manila, to allow more economic activity.

Russia reports 12,953 new cases, 480 deaths

Russia on Saturday reported 12,953 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,623 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,151,984.

Authorities also reported another 480 deaths, raising the official toll to 82,876.

J&J applies to WHO for Covid vaccine approval

Johnson & Johnson says it had submitted data to the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use listing of its vaccine, which would allow for wider access of the one-dose shot.

J&J said an emergency use listing is a prerequisite for supplying vaccines to the Covax vaccine programme, co-led by WHO, which aims to deliver doses to poor and middle-income countries.

The J&J vaccine is administered in a single dose and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, a big selling point in countries with relatively weaker healthcare infrastructure.

The vaccine is under review by the US health regulator, and a panel of the Food and Drug Administration's experts are expected to discuss the vaccine's emergency use authorization next week.

The vaccine is being rolled out in South Africa, for the first time outside a major clinical trial.

Poland considering restrictions at Czech, Slovak borders

Poland's Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has not ruled out imposing restrictions at the country's borders with Slovakia and the Czech Republic due to their rising number of cases.

"Borders will be open for persons with negative test results, but this is as of today, as the dynamics of the situation may change," Niedzielski told Radio Zet, adding the decisions will be taken next week.

"Yes, definitely," he said when asked whether the government was considering restrictions at the southern borders with the two countries which have recently seen the number of new coronavirus cases spiraling.

UK urges UN resolution for pause in conflicts for virus jabs

Britain circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. The appeal was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The draft “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the Covax Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.

The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”

It would recognise “the role of extensive immunisation against Covid-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”

Virus outbreak hits Chinese community in Cambodia

An outbreak has hit the Chinese expat community in Cambodia, the country's Premier Hun Sen said, a setback in the Southeast Asian nation's otherwise successful containment efforts.

The kingdom has so far fared well in tackling the virus and life in the capital Phnom Penh has largely returned to normal.

But a group of Chinese nationals who underwent testing to obtain medical certificates for overseas travel recorded positive results on Saturday, sparking fears of a wider outbreak in the community.

"We have discovered a big community infection with 32 cases...
this is a bad situation for us," Hun Sen said during a speech broadcast on state-run TV.

"Those found positive today are all Chinese."

The increasing presence of Chinese businesses across the kingdom has heightened anti-Chinese sentiment among some Cambodians, and Hun Sen urged people not to discriminate against Chinese nationals because of the latest outbreak.

Russia to produce 88M vaccine doses in first half of 2021

Russia will produce 88 million vaccine doses in the first half of this year, including 83 million doses of its Sputnik V shot, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on state TV.

Russia has produced 11.1 million doses vaccine doses so far, she said. 

It will produce 30.5 million doses by the end of the first quarter of this year, she added. 

Russia on Saturday approved a third coronavirus vaccine for domestic use, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on state TV.

The first 120,000 doses, labelled CoviVac and produced by the Chumakov Centre in St. Petersburg, will be released for domestic use in March, he added.

New Zealand begins Covid-19 vaccine drive

New Zealand started its official rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine on Saturday, while Australia finalised plans to begin inoculations on Monday, a new phase in tackling the virus that both countries have kept largely contained.

A small group of medical professionals were injected on Friday in Auckland ahead of the wider rollout which was officially starting with border staff and so-called Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) workers on Saturday, officials said.

In Australia, hotel quarantine and healthcare workers will also be the first cohort to be inoculated at 16 Pfizer vaccination hubs across the nation, alongside older Australians at aged care facilities.

"Today, we kick off the largest immunisation programme in our history, by vaccinating the first of our border workforce, a critical step in protecting everyone in Aotearoa," New Zealand health minister Ashley Bloomfield told reporters in Auckland, using the country's indigenous Maori name.

"We will be moving through these first few days and weeks in a measured way to make sure our systems and processes are solid."

Taiwan grants emergency authorisation for AstraZeneca vaccine

Taiwan's government granted emergency use authorisation for AstraZeneca Plc's vaccine, with shots expected to be administered at soon as within seven days of arrival.

In December, Taiwan said it had agreed to buy almost 20 million vaccine doses, including 10 million from AstraZeneca and 4.76 million doses from the Covax global vaccine programme.

Emergency-use authorisation was granted on Saturday morning, and assuming the paperwork is in order, the first shots can begin with a week of arrival, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Wu Shou-mei told reporters.

The first batch of 200,000 AstraZeneca vaccines provided by Covax could begin arriving next week.

Taiwan is also getting five million doses from U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc. Wu said the process for granting it emergency-use approval was in full swing.

The government plans to vaccinate frontline health and quarantine workers first, and aims eventually to get 30 million vaccine doses to cover about 65% of the island's population.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 9,164 - RKI

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 9,164 to 2,378,883, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 490 to 67,696, the tally showed.

Denmark tightens border to Germany following virus outbreak

Denmark announced the closure of a number of border crossings from Germany and tightened security at others following a cluster outbreak in a German town close to the border.

A statement published on the justice ministry's website, cited a rise in infections in the town of Flensburg, close to the Danish border.

In total, 13 crossings will be closed outright and nine others will receive increased security from Thursday.

Denmark, which has been in partial lockdown since Christmas, reopened primary schools last week as the number of new coronavirus cases has dropped.

Mexico posts 857 more deaths, 7,829 new cases

Mexico on Friday registered 857 additional fatalities bringing the total in the country to 178,965 deaths.

According to health ministry data, Mexico also registered 7,829 new confirmed cases adding to the total of 2,030,491 cases. 

A first shipment of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine will reach Mexico on Monday night, Mexico's deputy health minister, Hugo Lopez Gatell, told a news conference on Friday.

UK insurers estimate to pay up to $2.4B for coronavirus claims

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said on Saturday insurers are likely to pay up to $3.5 billion for UK's Covid-19 insurance claims incurred in 2020.

The latest estimates include 2 billion pounds for Covid-19 business interruption claims and 500 million pounds for Covid-19 related protection insurance claims, travel insurance claims and other general insurance products.

ABI's Director General Huw Evans said in a release that the pandemic illustrated some uncomfortable gaps between what people expected to be covered for and what their policy was designed for.

"We need to learn lessons from this unprecedented event and redouble our efforts to improve consumers' trust in insurance products," he added.

The insurance trade body said 123,000 claims have been settled with payment so far and a further 9,000 have received partial payments as of mid-January 2021.

Canada, US extend closure of shared border to March 21

Canada's border with the United States will remain closed to all non-essential travellers until March 21, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced on Friday.

"Non-essential travel restrictions with the United States have been extended until March 21st, 2021," he said in a Twitter message.

"We will continue to base our decisions on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe from Covid-19."

The border was initially closed in March 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure has been renewed monthly since then. Only trade in goods an d merchandise and essential travel are allowed.

Argentina health minister resigns after reports of VIP vaccine access

Argentina's health minister resigned on Friday following reports that people had been able to use connections to get access to Covid-19 vaccines to which they were not entitled.

Gines Gonzalez Garcia said in a letter posted on Twitter that individuals were able to sidestep proper procedure for vaccinations due to "unintended confusion" in his office while he was away.

Two sources in the presidency said earlier on Friday that President Alberto Fernandez had asked for Gines' resignation after allegations were made in the media of at least 10 people receiving vaccinations without following the proper procedure, among them a veteran journalist who claimed he had received a shot after speaking directly with the minister.

The growing scandal throws a spotlight on wider fears in the region over corruption and access to vaccines, which are in short supply.

Earlier this month, Peru's health and foreign ministers quit and its former president was placed under criminal investigation after reports of hundreds of Peruvian officials and others receiving vaccine doses outside of clinical trials and before the national immunization program began.

In Argentina, well-know local journalist Horacio Verbitsky said he had received a shot after approaching the minister.

"I called my old friend Gines Gonzalez Garcia and he told me to go to the Posadas Hospital," Verbitsky, who is in his seventies, told radio station El Destape.

Since December, Argentina has been using Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to inoculate frontline health workers, though deliveries have lagged far behind what it initially hoped for.

The country has started inoculating some people over 70 this week but appointments are scarce and people are supposed to follow a procedure that involves registering first.

As of Wednesday in Argentina, about 250,000 people had received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The country of around 45 million people has confirmed over 2 million coronavirus infections and 51,000 deaths.

Two killed as Gabon citizens protest virus restrictions

Two people have died after demonstrations in Gabon's two major cities, the prime minister said on Friday, as anger over restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 spilled over into street stand-offs.

On Thursday night security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades in some neighbourhoods in the capital Libreville and Port Gentil to disperse protesters who banged pots and had set up barricades, burning tyres and debris.

"Yesterday evening, two of our compatriots died during protests against these protective measures," Prime Minister Rose Christine Ossouka Raponda said in a statement.

Gabon restricted travel in and out the capital city and expanded curfew hours to slow the spread of coronavirus infections last week. The curfew starting two hours earlier at 6 pm (1700 GMT) until 6 am irked some citizens.

US House Democrats advance $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid bill

President Joe Biden's push for a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill took a step forward on Friday as a US House of Representatives committee unveiled the legislation Democrats hope to pass by late next week.

The 591-page bill, stitched together by the House Budget Committee, would carry out Biden's proposals to provide additional money for Covid-19 vaccines and other medical equipment.

Biden toured a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, amid efforts to ramp up production, with only about 15% of the US population vaccinated against the coronavirus so far.

He said he was open to proposals to make the package less expensive. Referring to Republican critics, Biden said, "Let me ask them what would they have me cut, what would they have me leave out."

Brazil reports 1,308 new deaths

Brazil registered 1,308 additional Covid-19 deaths and 51,050 new confirmed cases of the virus on Friday, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The South American nation has now recorded 244,765 total coronavirus deaths and 10,081,676 confirmed cases. 

Kuwait to allow non-Kuwaiti citizens to enter the country starting Feb 21 - statement

Kuwait will allow non-Kuwaiti citizens to enter the country starting February 21 with some new procedures, the civil aviation authority said in a statement late on Friday.

Travellers arriving on direct flights from high risk countries will have to resort to institutional quarantine in one of the local hotels for 14 days, while travellers coming from the rest of the world will have to quarantine institutionally for one week and another at home.

Kuwait suspended entry for non-citizens for two weeks starting February 7 amid efforts to deal with the coronavirus.

Israel agrees to vaccinate 100,000 labourers: Palestinians say

The Palestinian Authority said on Friday that Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinian labourers working in the Jewish state, whose mass coronavirus inoculation campaign is regarded as the world's fastest.

A statement from the Palestinian health ministry said the agreement came "during a meeting which discussed the coronavirus pandemic", without saying when the vaccinations would take place.

The two sides also agreed on "technical cooperation" to combat the spread of the virus, the ministry added.

Neither the Israeli health ministry nor COGAT, the military unit that coordinates civil affairs with the Palestinians, would immediately confirm to AFP a vaccination a deal.

But Israel's health ministry issued a statement saying a meeting took place in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where the PA is based, with Palestinian counterparts to discuss the virus.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies