Coronavirus live news: Brazil sets new grim record with 1,910 deaths in 24 hours; Greece extends lockdown

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: Brazil sets new grim record with 1,910 deaths in 24 hours; Greece extends lockdown” was written by Lucy Campbell (now), Clea Skopeliti, Kevin Rawlinson, Rachel Hall and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 3rd March 2021 22.10 UTC

The Italian prime minister Mario Draghi told the EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday that there needed to be a “more rapid” response to the virus pandemic, particularly on the roll-out of vaccines, his office said.

Speaking to von der Leyen by phone, Draghi stressed “the priority goal of a more rapid European health response to Covid-19, especially on vaccines”, the Italian presidency said in a statement.

For her part, the EU chief tweeted that she was “glad to speak to Draghi tonight. We discussed cooperation on vaccine production & delivery”.

The EU Commission has come under fire from EU member states over delays in the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in Europe.

But last week, von der Leyen said the EU’s goal of fully vaccinating just under three-quarters of adults by late summer was one “that we’re confident with”.

As well as vaccines, Draghi and von der Leyen also talked about “the preparatory on the [Italian] recovery plan”, the EU chief said.

Italy, the eurozone’s third-biggest economy, is to receive more than 200 billion euros in EU aid in the wake of the economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic. And it must present its spending plans to Brussels by 30 April.

Updated

Brazil sets new grim record with 1,910 deaths in 24 hours

Brazil has suffered yet another day of record Covid losses with at least 1,910 new fatalities reported in the crisis-stricken South American country.

On Wednesday evening the National Council of State Health Secretaries said those deaths took the country’s total death toll to 259,271 – about 10% of the global total. A record 1,726 deaths were reported on Tuesday.

The announcement came as hospitals all across Brazil struggled to cope with a wave of new infections and criticism of the president Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis intensified. Pot-banging protests are planned for Wednesday night.

Earlier, Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly undermined containment measures and trivialised the coronavirus, defended his response to the public health calamity. He accused journalists of “creating panic” and unfairly blaming him for the rising death toll. “For the media, I’m the virus,” the far-right politician said.

Political rivals have dialled up their attacks on Bolsonaro in recent days as the situation has deteriorated. On Tuesday, the centre-right politician Eduardo Leite told reporters:”It’s hard to understand Bolsonaro’s mind, harder still his heart because this is a question of inhumanity, contempt for life.”

“Leaders who spurn public health guidelines and confuse people are killing them, I’m afraid. That’s what’s happening in Brazil right now,” Leite added

Updated

A cyclist with a backpack for food delivery service runs through a quiet City of London during England’s third lockdown on the day the chancellor sets out tax and spending plans in the budget to help repair the UK economy.
A cyclist with a backpack for food delivery service runs through a quiet City of London during England’s third lockdown on the day the chancellor sets out tax and spending plans in the budget to help repair the UK economy.
Photograph: Akira Suemori/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

The Czech Republic launched mass coronavirus testing at business premises on Wednesday, in a bid to stem the world’s highest infection rate.

The government also enabled regions to call up private doctors and other medical staff to work in public Covid hospitals, many of which have reached capacity.

“The situation in our hospitals is really critical. We have to employ all reserves to save lives,” the health minister Jan Blatny told reporters.

The Czech Republic, which has a population of 10.7 million, has registered 1.27 million Covid-19 cases and almost 21,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The case rate is at 1,424 per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days and the death rate is the second highest in the world after neighbouring Slovakia.

The government is in talks to receive assistance from other European countries including Germany, Poland and Switzerland, which have all offered hospital beds.

Mass testing kicked off on Wednesday at companies with more than 250 members of staff. They must test their employees by 12 March, with defaulters facing hefty fines or even closures. Mobile army testing teams have been deployed in the worst-hit regions.

The country’s billionaire populist prime minister Andrej Babis said Wednesday that vaccine supplies for the month ahead looked promising.

A spokesman for the president Milos Zeman said the head of state had asked his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a supply of the Sinopharm vaccine and that China had agreed. Zeman had already asked the Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier to provide his country with the Sputnik V vaccine.

Last week, Babis’s government banned people from leaving their districts and ordered them to wear face masks in busy workplaces and outdoors in inhabited areas.

A curfew, a limit on gatherings, and restaurant closures have been in place since last year. But the government decided not to impose the kind of full lockdown which helped it steer through the first wave last spring with relative ease.

Sociologist Daniel Prokop has blamed the uncontrolled spread on the high proportion of people still going into work, along with the government’s lukewarm response, and some Czechs’ reluctance to play by the rules.

“The countries that have handled the new strains well, such as Britain and Portugal, have reduced the presence of people in workplaces,” Prokop told AFP.

The Swiss will vote in June on the validity of a law giving the government new powers to impose lockdowns and other restrictions to rein in Covid-19, Bern said on Wednesday.

Switzerland’s federal chancellery confirmed that enough signatures had been gathered to trigger a referendum on the 2020 Covid-19 Act as part of the wealthy Alpine nation’s direct democratic system.

Campaigners had handed over 97,878 signatures on 12cJanuary, and the chancellery said on Wednesday it had determined that 90,789 of them were valid – far more than the 50,000 needed for the referendum to go ahead.

The issue will be among several voted on on 13vJune, the chancellery said.

The Covid-19 Act, adopted by parliament last September, gives the government a legal basis to impose restrictions aimed at tackling the pandemic on an ongoing basis.

Before the law was introduced, Bern could only impose restrictions through a string of emergency decrees, providing for strictly time-limited measures under tight parliamentary oversight.

A group calling itself “Friends of the Constitution” gathered the signatures needed to trigger the referendum, arguing that the law was unnecessary and voiced concern the government might use it to launch an obligatory vaccination campaign – something the government adamantly denies.

The announcement came as the government faces increased pressure to loosen restrictions as new Covid-19 cases and deaths have declined significantly in recent weeks.

On Monday, non-essential shops, museums and zoos were permitted to reopen after two months of near-lockdown conditions, but restaurants and other venues remain closed.

The lower house of parliament pushed Wednesday for the government to allow restaurants, cinemas, theatres and gyms to open as of 22 March, and called for the lifting of restrictions limiting gatherings to just five people.

Switzerland, a country of 8.6 million people, has seen more than 557,000 cases and 9,258 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

A further 315 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, taking the death toll by that measure to 123, 783, according to the UK government’s daily dashboard, which has just been updated.

This figure includes 172 deaths within 28 days of a positive test which have been added to Scotland and the UK’s totals. A note on coronavirus.data.gov explains this:

Public Health Scotland has improved its method for linking daily confirmed Covid-19 cases with deaths reported through the National Records of Scotland. As a result, an extra 172 deaths were identified as having occurred within 28 days of a first positive test result since the start of the outbreak. These have now been added to the cumulative totals for Scotland and the UK.

Between 25 February and 3 March, there have been 1,864 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. This shows a decrease of 33.8% compared to the previous 7 days.

However, the number of UK deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate is significantly higher, now standing at 140,062.

A further 6,385 people tested positive for coronavirus, taking the cumulative total to 4,194,785. Between 25 February and 3 March, 50,208 people had a confirmed positive test result. This shows a decrease of 31.6% compared to the previous 7 days.

Summary

  • A further 208,968 Covid-19 vaccinations have been carried out in England, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses.
  • Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of fake doses of Covid-19 jabs, adding that Interpol has warned this represented only the “tip of the iceberg” in vaccine-related crime.
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, on Wednesday announced tough new measures to slow a snowballing coronavirus pandemic in the country with the world’s second highest death toll.
  • The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have come under severe strain in recent weeks, will be given an extra 100,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses each by the EU.
  • Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country’s massive vaccine rollout.
  • Greece has extended its coronavirus lockdown to 16 March as it reported the highest number of new cases recorded so far in 2021.
  • Estonia has imposed new restrictions on restaurants and non-essential shops as part of efforts to curb rising infections.
  • New infections are dropping in the United States, Canada and Mexico but vaccinations have hardly begun in Latin America, raising the risk of dangerous new variants emerging, the Pan American Health Organization has said.
  • Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech has said its Covid-19 vaccine is almost 81% effective at preventing infection following interim phase 3 trials.

Greece prolongs lockdown to 16 March

Greece has extended its coronavirus lockdown to 16 March as it reported the highest number of new cases recorded so far in 2021.

“We are at the toughest part of this pandemic,” health minister Vassilis Kikilias told reporters as he warned that public health resources in Athens had been under “unbearable pressure” for weeks.

Health officials reported 2,702 new infections and 40 deaths on Wednesday.

“At the rate of new hospitalisations, the health system is stretched beyond its limits in terms of infrastructure and staff,” he said, adding that there was an “important rise” in cases of the more transmissible virus variant first detected in the UK.

A military hospital and two private hospitals in Athens will take in extra non-Covid patients in order to free up hundreds of beds in the capital’s state-run hospitals for coronavirus cases.

Restrictions will also be tightened from Thursday to 16 March to stop people from crossing municipal boundaries for shopping and exercise.

“The measures aim to reduce mobility…we stay at home, in our own neighbourhoods,” civil protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters.

Updated

The White House has said that the president Joe Biden hoped Americans would continue to follow coronavirus guidelines including mask-wearing despite the states of Texas and Mississippi removing their restrictions in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves ended their states’ mask mandates on Tuesday and rolled back others restrictions on businesses, allowing hospitality to open at full capacity. The announcements came a day after the CDC warned against complacency.

Biden administration officials have sought to push back against the lifting of restrictions, warning that now is not the time to stop being vigilant in the face of emerging variants.

Czech Republic and Slovakia to receive 100,000 extra vaccines each

The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have come under severe strain in recent weeks, will be given an extra 100,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses each by the EU.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic are currently recording the highest number of fatalities per capita, and are running out of hospital beds.

“Thanks to EU solidarity and the Commission’s SOS mechanism, the Czech Republic will receive an extra 100,000 doses of @pfizer next week,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted on Wednesday.

The Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic also posted a statement thanking the EU, saying:

“Slovakia can rely on its European partners in tough times. I am glad that we were able to reach a final agreement on the so-called ‘SOS’ vaccines.”

According to Statista, Slovakia has recorded the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in recent days, with 112.39 fatalities per million residents over the last seven days. The Czech Republic has recorded the second highest, with 95.5 per million.

The UK government’s daily coronavirus figures, usually published at 4pm, have not been updated yet today.

A notice on the dashboard says that the delay is due to “an issue with the processing of cases data”.

Doctors affiliated with the Palestinian ministry of health and working in a mobile clinic, perform checkups on 15 members of the al-Awawdeh family infected with Covid-19 and administer treatments, at their home in Dura village southwest of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank, on 3 March, 2021.
Doctors affiliated with the Palestinian ministry of health and working in a mobile clinic, perform checkups on 15 members of the al-Awawdeh family infected with Covid-19 and administer treatments, at their home in Dura village southwest of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank, on 3 March, 2021.
Photograph: Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images
Doctors affiliated with the Palestinian ministry of health and working in a mobile clinic, perform checkups on 15 members of the al-Awawdeh family infected with Covid-19 and administer treatments, at their home in Dura village southwest of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank, on 3 March, 2021.

Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech has said its Covid-19 vaccine is almost 81% effective at preventing infection following interim phase 3 trials.

Health officials approved the firm’s Covaxin jab for emergency use in January despite its phase 3 trials – the last stage before regulatory approval – not being complete, AFP reports.

Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella said in a statement:

“Covaxin (not only) demonstrates high clinical efficacy trend against Covid-19 but also significant immunogenicity against the rapidly emerging variants.”

The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine has been found to be about 62% effective in preventing infection, while Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s jabs were found to be more than 90% effective. Despite this apparent disparity, recent research found that one dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s vaccine reduces hospitalisation in over-80s by 80%.

The Indian company said results were based on 43 cases of Covid-19 among 25,800 participants. Of the 43 cases, 36 were recorded in participants who received a placebo and seven in those who were given Covaxin, suggesting an efficacy rate of 80.6%.

Bharat Biotech said it would share further interim analysis after 87 cases, with a final analysis planned for 130 cases. The data has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Updated

German doctors are reportedly concerned about the large proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds among coronavirus patients in intensive care, citing a lack of proper communication with Muslim communities in particular about the dangers of the disease.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, confirmed that the issue was discussed with senior medical consultants last month, though he stressed the meeting was informal.

Wieler has been quoted by German media as saying the topic was “taboo” for the German government, which feared the debate could be seen as racist. He reportedly called it a “huge problem” that had “massive implications” for the government.

Turkey reported 11,520 new Covid-19 cases and 65 deaths on Wednesday as the country begins easing coronavirus restrictions.

The cumulative total number of cases registered in Turkey stands at 2,734,835, while 28,771 have died since the pandemic began.

Restaurants reopened and many pupils returned to the classroom on Tuesday, even as infections continued to rise, according to Reuters. Turkey reported its highest number of daily cases on Tuesday since 7 January, with nearly 12,000 new infections.

President Tayyip Erdogan ended weekend lockdowns in low- and medium-risk cities on Monday, while limiting lockdowns to Sundays in those deemed higher risk.

More than 7.29 million of Turkey’s 83 million people have received a first vaccine dose and 2.1 million have received a second dose of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish researchers said the Sinovac vaccine has an efficacy of 83.5% based on final results of Phase III trials, a downward revision from a preliminary finding of 91.25%.

Updated

Estonia imposes weekend shutdown on hospitality and retail

Estonia has imposed new restrictions on restaurants and non-essential shops as part of efforts to curb rising infections.

Hospitality and non-essential retail will have to close at weekends, while on weekdays restaurants will have to shut at 6pm, the government said. The nation of 1.3 million people is currently recording the second highest per capita rate of infections in the European Union after the Czech Republic, Reuters reports.

Authorities said on Tuesday that Estonia has recorded 1,121 Covid-19 cases over the previous 14 days per 100,000 people – more than twice the amount registered a month ago.

The prime minister Kaja Kallas urged Estonians to reduce their social interactions to a minimum to alleviate pressure on the overburdened healthcare system.

“The availability of medical care has already decreased in Estonia and the workload of hospitals is approaching a critical level”, she said on Tuesday. “Our aim under the current circumstances is to guarantee the sustainability of the Estonian healthcare system”.

As of Wednesday, Estonia had reported a total of 69,193 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 615 deaths.

Updated

Italy has recorded 347 deaths, compared to 343 on Tuesday, the health ministry has said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 20,884 from 17,083 the day before.

Officials said 358,884 tests were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 335,983.

Reuters reports that Italy has registered 98,635 deaths linked to Covid since its outbreak emerged in February last year; the second-highest toll in Europe – after Britain – and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.98m cases to date. The agency reports:

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 19,763 on Wednesday, up from 19,570 a day earlier.

There were 222 new admissions to intensive care units, in line with Tuesday’s. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 2,411 from a previous 2,327.

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.

Updated

New infections are dropping in the United States, Canada and Mexico but vaccinations have hardly begun in Latin America, raising the risk of dangerous new variants emerging, the Pan American Health Organization has said.

Reuters quotes the organisation’s director Carissa Etienne as saying: “As long as Covid-19 endures in one part of the world, the rest of the world can never be safe.”

Sao Paulo announces shutdown to curb steep rise in cases

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, on Wednesday announced tough new measures to slow a snowballing coronavirus pandemic in the country with the world’s second highest death toll, Reuters reports.

It says that, from Saturday, bars and restaurants will only operate via delivery, while malls and non-essential businesses will be shut, citing the governor, João Doria. The measure, which come as Brazil notches record daily deaths, are due to last two weeks, he said.

Updated

Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country’s massive vaccine rollout, Reuters reports.

According to the local health ministry, some 4,056 people have tested positive since Tuesday; more than double the daily number of infections seen a few weeks ago.

The news agency reports that, in a regional hospital in Serbia’s southern city of Nis, doctors and nurses clad in protective suits struggled to help new patients, some in serious condition.

“The situation is escalating into a major problem,” said Radmilo Jankovic, a doctor and the hospital’s acting general manager. “We are almost full, we will have to free more space.”

It quoted Milorad Jerkan, the director of the public health centre in Nis, as saying new, more contagious virus strains were behind the rise in cases but also people failing to adhere to basic health measures.

“Take a stroll … and you will see packed cafes, young people without face masks,” said Jerkan who himself recovered from Covid-19 but lost his sister to the disease.

Updated

The Duchess of Cornwall has said she suffered no side effects from her Covid-19 jab, and it was painless even though she dislikes needles, PA Media reports.

The Duchess of Cornwall visits a community vaccination centre in south London
The Duchess of Cornwall visits a community vaccination centre in south London
Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Camilla continued the royal family’s prominent support of the UK’s vaccination rollout as she carried out an official engagement at St Paul’s Church, Croydon, which is being used as a centre for administering the injections.

Camilla, who had her first coronavirus jab last month, like the Prince of Wales, spoke to NHS staff, administrators and volunteer marshals, and met members of the public receiving their injections.

The duchess, who was wearing a medical face mask and a pink tweed Anna Valentine coat, chatted to Dr Agnelo Fernandes, a GP leading the vaccination process, about her own vaccination.

“No side effects and it didn’t hurt and I’m not a lover of needles,” Camilla remarked. She joked to staff: “Have you had anyone sitting down and then legging it out of the room yet? No? Good.”

The duchess asked: “Are you having a lot of numbers coming in? What are your main problems?”

Told misinformation was an obstacle, Camilla replied: “Social media is an issue, isn’t it? The misinformation put out there – it just helps talking to your friends and colleagues about how easy it was. It may encourage them. It’s good to see the community leading by example.”

The royal family has been vocal in its backing of the Covid-19 vaccination, with the Queen encouraging those hesitant about it to “think about other people rather than themselves”.

In January, Buckingham Palace took the rare step of confirming the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had both had their first dose of the vaccine, and Clarence House confirmed the same for Charles and Camilla a month later.

The Duke of Cambridge has warned against “rumours and misinformation” on social media about coronavirus jabs.

Updated

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency is reporting that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of fake doses of Covid-19 jabs, adding that Interpol has warned this represented only the “tip of the iceberg” in vaccine-related crime.

The Lyon-based Interpol said 400 vials – equivalent to around 2,400 doses – containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston outside Johannesburg in South Africa, where officers also recovered fake masks and arrested three Chinese and a Zambian national.

In China, police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines in an investigation supported by Interpol which has 194 member countries, it said.

They raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene, it said.

Interpol earlier this year issued an “Orange Notice” warning authorities worldwide to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.

Interpol said that, in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China, it was also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies such as nursing homes.

It warned that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online.

“Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.”

Stock had warned in December in an interview with German weekly WirtschaftsWoche of a sharp rise in crime due to the vaccine rollout, with thefts and warehouse break-ins and attacks on vaccine shipments.

Thousands of people breached coronavirus restrictions to attend the funeral of a controversial long-time mayor of Croatia’s capital Zagreb on Wednesday.

Milan Bandic, who had run the city for almost continuously for more than two decades, died on Sunday of a sudden heart attack at the age of 65. Bandic had been under investigation for corruption and was facing trial at the time of his death.

Despite a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people at funerals, several thousand mourners gathered at the Mirogoj cemetery, according to estimates by an AFP photographer.

Mourners gather for the the funeral ceremony of Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Mourners gather for the the funeral ceremony of Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Photograph: Darko Bandić/AP
Thousands attended the funeral of Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic despite coronavirus restrictions on March 3, 2021 in Zagreb.
Thousands attended the funeral of Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic despite coronavirus restrictions on March 3, 2021 in Zagreb.
Photograph: Damir Sencar/AFP/Getty Images

A further 208,968 Covid-19 vaccinations have been carried out in England, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses.

Of this number, 181,316 were the first dose of a vaccine, while 27,652 people received a second dose. The latest figures take the total number of first doses administered in England to 17,554,700, while 640,219 have had both shots.

Here’s a breakdown of the figures by region since vaccinations began on 8 December:

  • London – 2,114,110 first doses and 85,889 second doses (2,199,999 total)
  • Midlands – 3,428,512 first doses and 103,782 second doses (3,532,294 total)
  • East of England – 2,067,274 first doses and 79,713 second doses (2,146,987 total)
  • North East and Yorkshire – 2,705,996 first doses and 103,833 second doses (2,809,829 total)
  • North West – 2,299,619 first doses and 81,113 second doses (2,380,732 total)
  • South East – 2,837,516 first doses and 109,004 second doses (2,946,520 total)
  • South West – 2,012,757 first doses and 76,340 second doses (2,089,097 total)

Summary

  • Slovakia imposed an overnight curfew from Wednesday, with a government decree banning residents from leaving home between 8pm and 5am.
  • Austria will be given an extra 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses to administer to all adults in the Schwaz district of the province of Tyrol, which has become a hotspot for the South African virus variant.
  • The Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech has an efficacy of 83.5% based on final results of Phase III trials, Reuters reports.
  • Dutch police said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after there was an explosion at the location before the site opened.
  • Kenya received just over 1m doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in its first batch as part of a global agreement aimed at ensuring equitable distribution.
  • Senegal has received 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine via the Covax scheme as the programme ramps up its distribution to the world’s poorest countries.
  • Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend the hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Monday.
  • Japan’s government plans to extend a state of emergency over coronavirus for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures by two weeks, until 21 March.

Updated

Russia has designated a medical trade union with ties to Alexei Navalny a “foreign agent” – a term with unpatriotic connotations that subjects organisations to increased scrutiny and bureaucracy.

The Alliance of Doctors has been critical of Moscow’s pandemic response, accusing authorities of failing to protect health workers and downplaying the severity of the outbreak, AFP reports.

The trade union raised the alarm over shortfalls of PPE and testing kits for health personnel at the start of the pandemic.

It is headed by Anastasia Vasilyeva, who is Navalny’s personal doctor. The organisation was labelled a “foreign agent”, the justice ministry said in a statement sent to AFP.

The government accused the union of accepting foreign funding and acting as political activists.

Alexandra Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Doctors, said the trade union does not receive foreign funding and would continue its work despite the designation.

“A lot of doctors are in a tough situation so we are planning to continue helping them,” she told AFP.

Alongside implications that the union lacks patriotism, the term also requires organisations to label their paperwork and come under intensive scrutiny.

Updated

France is preparing for a potential easing of coronavirus restrictions from mid-April, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, as the government looks to its accelerating vaccination campaign as a way out of lockdown.

Following a cabinet meeting, spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters:

“We will still face hard times, it is true, but for the first time in months, the return to more normal living conditions is in sight.

“It is neither a far nor uncertain horizon – it is an horizon that is getting closer and closer. We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it.

“President Emmanuel Macron asked us to submit proposals that could allow for a cautious reopening of the country soon.”

Earlier this week, health minister Olivier Véran said France will keep its current restrictions for at least next four to six weeks.

Updated

A government plan to force all NHS and care staff in England to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has been criticised as “sinister” and likely to increase the number of people refusing to have the jab.

Health unions and hospital bosses urged the health service to continue its efforts to persuade its 1.4 million workforce in England to get immunised rather than resorting to compulsion and “bullying” to try to increase take-up.

Downing Street did not dispute a report in the Daily Mail that it was considering making it mandatory for everyone working in health and social care to have the jab as a way of protecting patients.

But the report triggered unease and criticism from key organisations in both sectors.

“Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go, and send out a sinister and worrying message,” said Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which represents about 100,000 NHS staff.

Report by Denis Campbell, Robert Booth and Aubrey Allegretti:

Updated

Austria to get extra 100,000 jabs to deal with Covid hotspot

Austria will be given an extra 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses to administer to all adults in the Schwaz district of the province of Tyrol, which has become a hotspot for the South African virus variant.

The Alpine region of Tyrol has one of Europe’s worst outbreaks of the variant, and residents require a negative coronavirus test in order to leave the province.

The efficacy of the Pfizer jab will be studied, as research has suggested this variant may be more resistant to existing coronavirus vaccines. South Africa has halted the use of the AstraZeneca jab, after a small-scale trial found that it offered as little as 10% protection against the variant first detected in the country (though there is hope it may offer significant protection against more severe illness).

“Our goal must be to extinguish as best we can this variant, which represents a threat for us, not only in Tyrol but in all of Austria,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference.

Updated

Italy’s government is considering prolonging a ban on firing employees until the end of June, a draft document seen by Reuters said, in continued efforts to prevent a surge of unemployment due to the coronavirus crisis.

The freeze was brought in last year when companies and shops were closed to curb the spread of the virus as the government ramped up social security spending and financial aid to businesses.

It had been set to end on 31 March but is now likely to be extended to 30 June, according to the draft text seen by the news agency. Furlough schemes may also be funded until the end of 2021, according to the document.

An analysis by the treasury found that least 250,000 people could become unemployed if the ban on firings is not extended, a government sourced told Reuters.

A large British study researching potential early-stage Covid-19 treatments will begin testing colchicine, a cheap drug normally used to treat gout, and has expanded enrolment criteria for the trial, University of Oxford researchers said on Wednesday.

The anti-inflammatory drug is already being tested in a separate study conducted by the Recovery programme, which is the world’s largest randomised Covid-19 drugs trial.

An international trial published in February found colchicine cut hospitalisations and deaths among Covid-19 patients by more than 20%.

Last summer, the Recovery programme discovered the effectiveness of another anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone, which has been estimated to have saved hundreds of thousands of lives globally.

Updated

Wales has reported a further 208 coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 204,196.

Public Health Wales also reported an additional 12 deaths, taking the total in the country since the beginning of the pandemic to 5,356.

A member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has urged European countries to “get on” with using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in elderly people after new research found that a single dose gives extremely high protection.

A single dose of either the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines is more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisations in over-80s, according to a separate study by Public Health England (PHE) that resulted in similar findings, PA reports.

Presenting the new data, Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said:

“The UK is well forward, this age group have been immunised now, we’re down into people in their 60s, we’ve achieved 90% uptake.

“In the short term, the job’s done in the UK. But there are lots of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine available in European countries, and they are not being given to people over the age of 65, in some cases in countries over the age of 55, for lack of data.

“Well, here are the data. There are data from Public Health England and Scotland and now from us, showing that you can save lives in elderly people by giving them a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. And those countries need to get on and start doing that as fast as possible.”

The study, led by Prof Finn, showed that one dose of Pfizer was 79.3% effective from 14 days after inoculation at preventing Covid-19 hospitalisation, even in people with multiple health problems. Meanwhile, a fortnight on from vacination, a single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca cut serious illness by 80.4%.

Prof Finn said the study had been carried out in a different way from that released this week by PHE, but had found very similar results. The PHE study found that both jabs reduced the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 80% among the over-80s.

Updated

Total revenues at Portuguese hotels fell by 73% in 2020 compared with 2019, the Portuguese Hotel Association said on Wednesday, as the Covid-19 pandemic drastically curbed oversees tourism.

Nearly half of all hotels were closed in December last year, according to a survey by the association reported by Reuters. The highest number of openings over the year was in September, when 79% of hotels were open.

“The impact of these closures … is brutal on total revenues for the hotel industry,” Cristina Siza Vieira, CEO of the association, said in a video presentation.

Updated

Senegal has received 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine via the Covax scheme as the programme ramps up its distribution to the world’s poorest countries.

The west African country has already purchased 200,000 doses from China’s Sinopharm and began its inoculation campaign last week, vaccinating around 40,000 people so far, according to Reuters.

The country, which has a population of about 16 million, is eligible for around 1.3m free doses in Covax’s first phase of vaccine deployment. The programme is backed by the World Health Organization and Gavi vaccine alliance to provide vaccines to poor and middle-income countries.

Senegal aims to vaccinate about 90% of a targeted 3.5 million people in the first wave of its immunisation drive, including health workers and high-risk individuals between the ages of 19 and 60, by the end of 2021.

Covax intends to dispense 237m AstraZeneca doses to 142 countries over the next three months to help countries curb the spread of the virus.

Updated

Slovakia imposes nighttime curfew

Slovakia imposed an overnight curfew from Wednesday, with a government decree banning residents from leaving home between 8pm and 5am.

During the day, Slovaks are being asked to stay at homes other than for a few exempted reasons, including medical visits, work and outdoor exercise or walking pets, AFP reports.

The curfew is in place until 19 March but may be extended.

Slovakia has the highest death rate per capita, an analysis by AFP has found. The EU country of 5.4 million has recorded with 24 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days.

The high rate “is due to many factors, Slovakia has made several mistakes,” Doctors’ Trade Union Association chairman Peter Visolajsky told the agency.

“The lockdown was introduced too late and it is not sufficiently monitored. Also, this mortality rate is caused by the overall bad condition of Slovak healthcare,” Visolajsky said.

Hello, my name is Clea Skopeliti and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis over the next few hours. If you’d like to draw my attention to something, you can message me on Twitter. Thanks in advance.

Updated

One dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech’s or AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine helps to prevent disease severe enough to require hospitalisation of people in their 80s with other illnesses, interim data from a UK study shows.

Reuters reported the findings, which found that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot was 71.4% effective from 14 days at preventing symptomatic illness severe enough to result in hospitalisation among patients with a median age of 87 years.

For the AstraZeneca vaccine, the results showed it was 80.4% effective by the same measures among patients with an average age of 88.

“These early results show the UK COVID-19 vaccine programme is working better than we could have hoped,” said Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics and chief investigator of the AvonCAP study at Britain’s University of Bristol.

Germany to keep border curbs with neighbours despite EU warnings

Germany has told the EU it is keeping border curbs with neighbouring countries despite its warnings this would curtail freedom of movement within the bloc, AFP reports.

Germany faces an “acute risk situation” because of high Covid-19 infection numbers in its neighbours, its ambassador to the European Union, Michael Clauss, wrote in a letter replying to a warning from the European commission over border restrictions deemed excessive in six member states.

Germany was criticised for deviating from a set of EU recommendations after filtering traffic from Austria’s Tyrol region and from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Updated

The Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech has an efficacy of 83.5% based on final results of Phase III trials, Reuters reports.

Turkish researchers revised the rate down from a preliminary finding of 91.25% after monitoring 41 infections, 32 of which had received a placebo.

The trial showed that the vaccine prevented hospitalisation and severe illness in 100% of cases, with the six people who were hospitalised all in the placebo group.

An update from Rory Carroll, Ireland correspondent, on Northern Ireland’s plans to ease lockdown:

Northern Ireland business groups have criticised the region’s plan to ease lockdown as vague, messy and useless for planning.

The Stormont executive published its 28-page lockdown exit plan, titled Moving Forward: The Executive’s Pathway out of Restrictions, on Tuesday and called it a “careful, cautious and hopeful approach”. The five-stage plan has no dates and is to be led by data, notably the reproductive rate of the virus.

Tina McKenzie of the Federation of Small Businesses said it risked creating a messy patchwork of restrictions that would baffle people and lose credibility.

Retail NI’s chief executive, Glyn Roberts, said his members were left in the dark. “Accepting that exact dates were not going to be in the document, the very least that could have been included should have been broad timelines to give retailers some idea of the next steps.”

Simon Hamilton, the head of Belfast Chamber and a former Stormont economy minister, said businesses would not be able to plan. He said: “It is not too harsh to say that as far as offering both hope and certainty, this falls far short.”

Updated

Brazil’s handling of its rampant coronavirus outbreak has criticised as a global threat that risks spawning new and even more lethal variants, Tom Phillips reports.

Speaking to the Guardian, Miguel Nicolelis, a Duke University neuroscientist who is tracking the crisis, urged the international community to challenge the Brazilian government over its failure to contain an epidemic that has killed more than a quarter of a million Brazilians – about 10% of the global total.

The Lloyd’s of London insurer Hiscox has swung to a loss after paying out $475m (£340m) for cancelled events, business interruption policies and other claims related to the coronavirus pandemic, Julia Kollewe reports.

Japan to extend coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo

Japan’s government plans to extend a state of emergency over coronavirus for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures by two weeks, until 21 March, Reuters reports.

While new cases have fallen significantly from a peak in early January, Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike, said on Tuesday the pace of decline had slowed, expressing concern it may not be enough to lift restrictions.

Updated

A top Chinese political advisory body has said that concerns about China using vaccines to influence other countries are “narrow-minded”, Reuters reports.

Guo Weimin, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said some suspect China is using Covid-19 vaccines to “expand our geopolitical influence”.

“This idea is extremely narrow-minded.” Guo said at a news conference. China’s president, Xi Jinping, has pledged to make China’s vaccines a “global public good”.

The Financial Times on Wednesday reported that the US is working with allies Japan, India and Australia on a plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines in Asia to counter the influence of China.

Updated

An updated report from Reuters on the explosion on the Netherlands describes the metal remains of the explosive as measuring about 10cm x 10cm in size.

The report also adds context, noting that the region around Bovenkarspel, a rural town, is suffering one of the Netherlands’ worst Covid-19 outbreaks, with 181 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with about 27 per 100,000 nationally. At least one hospital has been forced to send patients to other provinces due to lack of space in its intensive care units.

National elections are coming up on 17 March, and are widely seen as a referendum on the government’s handling of the pandemic. Prime minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party is likely to remain the largest, according to opinion polls.

Wednesday is the first day in several months in which lockdown measures in the Netherlands have been slightly eased, with hairdressers and non-essential stores partially reopening. The controversial nighttime curfew remains in place.

Updated

As many as 18 states in the US have not prioritised the homeless community in their plans for distributing Covid-19 vaccines, despite warnings that the population is particularly high risk, Hallie Golden reports.

The Seychelles government is hoping the island nation will achieve herd immunity by mid-March, Reuters reports.

Seychelles began vaccinations in January, and by the end of February, about 44% of those vaccinated had received a second shot. President Wavel Ramkalawan said the country is hoping to achieve 70% vaccinations out of its population of 100,000 within the next fortnight.

Herd immunity is reached when enough people have antibodies to make it difficult for a virus to continue to spread. The exact threshold for coronavirus is unknown, although some experts suggest that at least 70% of a population would need to be protected. It is unclear how this would be affected by the emergence of new variants.

Updated

Kenya received just over 1m doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in its first batch as part of a global agreement aimed at ensuring equitable distribution, Reuters reports.

Updated

The first doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 shots to be dispatched to Africa under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme arrive in Rwanda on Wednesday, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerate, Reuters reports.

The batch of 102,960 doses will arrive in Kigali later on Wednesday, hours after a flight carrying 240,000 doses AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India also landed.

Explosion at a coronavirus testing location may have been intentional – Dutch police

Dutch police said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after there was an explosion at the location before the site opened, Reuters reports.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

Police said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don’t know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we’re saying is that something like that doesn’t just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.

Updated

Russia reported 10,535 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a slight drop on the previous day, Reuters reports.

The new reported cases include 1,284 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,278,750,

Authorities said 452 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 87,348.

Coronavirus are on the rise in the Czech Republic, and has reached 154,580 confirmed cases in the country of 10 million people.

Local news source Onemocnění Aktuálně reported record numbers of hospitalisations, at 8,162.

The health authorities warned in mid-February that Czech hospitals could be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients by the beginning of March.

The country has one of the highest death tolls in the world, at 20,941.

Updated

South Korean authorities are investigating the deaths of two people, both with pre-existing conditions, who died within days of receiving AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, Reuters reports.

One is a 63-year-old nursing home patient with cerebrovascular disease, who developed symptoms including high fever after being given the vaccine four days ago and died after showing symptoms of blood poisoning and pneumonia.

Another nursing home patient in his 50s with a cardiac disorder and diabetes died on Wednesday after suffering multiple heart attacks, having received the vaccine a day earlier, according to Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

KDCA said it is investigating the cause of the deaths, but did not confirm any causal relationship to the vaccine. The agency earlier said it will provide compensation of over 430m won ($383,466) for deaths from the Covid-19 vaccine.

Updated

Taiwan has received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines as the island rolls out its immunisation campaign, Reuters reports.

About 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccines landed at Taipei’s main international airport in the morning, Chen Shih-chung told reporters. He declined to say when the shots will start being administered.

Chen said while the amount of vaccines that arrived only represented a “relatively small” number of what the island has ordered from AstraZeneca, the shipment marked a “very meaningful” event for Taiwan’s health workers.

Updated

Indian government officials have voiced their support for an Indian-made Covid-19 vaccine on social media, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lead, Reuters reports.

India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticised Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.

“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.

Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.

Updated

Ukraine hits record levels of hospitalisations due to Covid-19

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook 3,486 people were hospitalised in the past day, the highest number since the epidemic hit the country of 41 million last year, Reuters reports.

Stepanov said 7,235 new cases were registered over the past 24 hours with 185 deaths. Ukraine has reported 1,364,705 coronavirus cases and 26,397 deaths so far.

Lagging behind the rest of Europe, Ukraine has only just started vaccinating its population. The government cited statistics showing that 47% of Ukrainians do not want the vaccine.

Updated

The number of civilians reported killed in explosions nearly halved in 2020 to the lowest level in a decade, thought to be the result of lower reporting, ceasefires and restrictions due to coronavirus, Karen McVeigh reports.

Last year, an average of 10 civilians a day were reported killed by explosive weapons, compared with 18 in 2019, according to analysis by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity.

The fall of 43% represents the largest percentage drop in civilian casualties in conflict reported over the past 10 years.

Iain Overton, the director of AOAV, said: “Our data seems to support there being a general decline in deaths and injuries as a consequence of the pandemic. It could be due to less reporting of violence, or it could be due to restrictions due to the pandemic and ceasefires.

“If the pandemic can stop people blowing people up then why can’t states?” he added. “This is proof that man-made violence can be prevented.”

Vaccination required for 2021 hajj – Saudi newspaper

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend the hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Monday.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” the report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.

Updated

Australia armed forces called in to support immunisation

Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its Covid immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule.

Reuters: The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting defence minister Marise Payne said. ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on planning, logistics and operations support.

Rachel Hall taking over from Helen Sullivan for the rest of the morning – do send over any tips and thoughts to rachel.hall@theguardian.com.

Updated

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. Thanks for following along – and stay tuned for more updates from my colleague Rachel Hall.

Updated

Japan embarks on random and targeted testing

Last week, about 600 people were tested for the coronavirus in the city of Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo – the Japanese government’s first stab at systematic random and targeted testing that it hopes will prevent a new wave of infections, Reuters reports.

Concerned by highly transmissible variants of the virus and asymptomatic spread, Japan revised its pandemic strategy in early February.

However, many health experts argue the updated strategy still falls far short of what is needed, especially given that inoculations have only just started and vaccine supplies are limited.

Updated

Summary

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • 168m children worldwide have missed school for a year. Worldwide, more than 168 million children have had their schools completely shut for almost a year, according to UNICEF, due to coronavirus lockdowns.One in seven children – 214 million – have missed more than three-quarters of in-person learning.
  • Brazil registered a national record daily death toll. Brazil on Tuesday posted a national single-day record for Covid deaths with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data. The previous single-day high of 1,595 Covid deaths was recorded in late July 2020. Brazil faces a new peak in coronavirus cases and the hospital system is pushed to the brink of collapse.
  • Contagious Brazil variant evades immunity, scientists warn. A highly transmissible Covid9 variant that emerged in Brazil and has now been found in at least 20 countries can re-infect people who previously recovered from the disease, scientists said on Tuesday.
  • Biden said the US is ‘on track’ to have enough vaccines for all adults by May. Joe Biden has said that the US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that the drugmaker Merck would help produce Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.
  • The Texas governor lifted the mask mandate and declared: ‘It’s time to open 100%. With less than 7% of Texans fully vaccinated and another Covid-19 surge potentially imminent, Texas is flinging open businesses to full capacity while simultaneously ending its highly politicized mask mandate, the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, announced on Tuesday.
  • Chinese delegates to propose vaccine passports at annual meetings. Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid vaccine passports and recognising such passports globally that they say will restore some normality, boost international tourism and economic exchanges, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.
  • Dolly Parton was inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine that she helped to fund. The country music star, 75, broke into song while getting the Moderna jab and adapted one of her best-known ballads.To the tune of Jolene, she sang: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”
  • Australia’s economic recovery continued with 3.1% growth in December quarter. The Australian economy grew by 3.1% in the December quarter as the domestic recovery from the pandemic-induced shock consolidated.
  • There were no new Covid cases in Auckland for second day. New Zealand’s government has said it is still too early to make a decision on extending Auckland’s lockdown, despite the city recording no new community cases of coronavirus for a second consecutive day.
  • Africa virus fight boosted as jabs reach Nigeria, Angola. Millions of coronavirus shots from the global Covax scheme have arrived in Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, as African countries ramp up their vaccine rollouts.

Contagious Brazil variant evades immunity, scientists warn

A highly transmissible Covid9 variant that emerged in Brazil and has been found in at least 20 countries can reinfect people who previously recovered from the disease, scientists said on Tuesday.

Reuters: In a study of the mutant virus’s emergence and its spread in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, the scientists said the variant – known as P.1 – has a “unique constellation of mutations” and had very rapidly become the dominant variant circulating there.

Updated

In case you missed this earlier – and in case you did not but know that watching it again will be good for you:

 

Rishi Sunak will use the budget on Wednesday to set out further government support before lockdown ends, alongside steps to reboot Britain’s economy from the worst recession in 300 years.

The chancellor is expected to extend spending measures, tax breaks and government grants to help soften the blow from Covid-19 for businesses and their workers before restrictions are eased in-line with the government’s roadmap over the coming months. Sunak will also aim to lay the foundations for a post-Covid recovery, while addressing the impact of the pandemic on the public finances:

The catch cry of “be kind” – which prime minister Jacinda Ardern impressed upon New Zealand since its first lockdown a year ago – is in danger of being replaced with a less positive mantra as Aucklanders struggle through their second Covid-19 lockdown in a fortnight.

The country’s biggest city has been in level-three lockdown since Sunday morning as a result of two cases of community transmission, which were found to have happened while an earlier period of level-three restrictions were in place – threatening to fracture the unity of the “team of five million”:

Chinese delegates to propose vaccine passports at annual meetings

Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid vaccine passports and recognising such passports globally that they say will restore some normality, boost international tourism and economic exchanges, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.

Reuters: Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also told the Global Times, published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, that international arrivals could be exempted from quarantine requirements if they have a negative nucleic acid test and a vaccine passport.

Brazil on Tuesday posted a national single-day record for Covid deaths with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data:

Africa virus fight boosted as jabs reach Nigeria, Angola

Millions of coronavirus shots from the global Covax scheme have arrived in Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, as African countries ramp up their vaccine rollouts, AFP reports.

Richer countries have surged ahead with vaccinations but many poorer countries are still awaiting deliveries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that the crisis cannot end unless everyone can inoculate their populations.

The Covax facility, run by the WHO along with health NGOs, is aiming to supply vaccines to dozens of countries in the first 100 days of 2021, and two billion doses by the end of the year.

While the continent’s most populous country Nigeria received almost four million jabs on Tuesday, Angola received more than 600,000 doses and DR Congo was scheduled to get a consignment later, following recent deliveries to Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Kenya received its first shipment of just over 1 million Covax-funded AstraZeneca/Oxford shots early Wednesday.

Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria, Lai Mohammed (C) makes statements to media at the delivery ceremony for first badge of AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus vaccines, provided by Covax.
Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria, Lai Mohammed (C) makes statements to media at the delivery ceremony for first badge of AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus vaccines, provided by Covax.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

However, there are still critical hurdles for the scheme’s rollout in vast African countries with sketchy infrastructure and an array of security challenges – a point addressed by Faisal Shuaib, director of Nigeria’s primary healthcare agency.

“States without a functional airport will have their vaccines transported by road using vans with fitted cold cabins, from the nearest airport,” he said.

He called the delivery – which arrived around noon in the capital Abuja – a “good day for Nigeria” and promised the rollout would begin in earnest on Friday with frontline health workers the first to be inoculated.

Nigerian official Boss Mustapha urged traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups and the media to spread the message that vaccinations were needed, adding: “This is a fight for everyone.”

In Angola, where some healthcare workers were vaccinated shortly after the doses were offloaded, the WHO’s Djamila Cabral said the arrival of vaccines brought a “stronger hope to save lives”, but warned that everyone needed to continue respecting Covid restrictions to beat the pandemic.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 9,019 to 2,460,030, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 418 to 70,881, the tally showed

Australia’s economic recovery continues with 3.1% growth in December quarter

The Australian economy grew by 3.1% in the December quarter as the domestic recovery from the pandemic-induced shock consolidated.

The continued bounce back in growth late last year as coronavirus restrictions eased followed a 3.4% increase in GDP in the previous quarter. The September result followed a record 7% fall in GDP in June, triggered by the public health measures.

While the solid December quarter result suggests the economy is on a recovery path, in annual terms, there has been a 1.1% fall in GDP.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that GDP per capita was also weaker, falling 1.8%, reflecting a 0.7% rise in population. The economic recovery, while exceeding market expectations and previous economic forecasts, was also partial.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said this was “the first time in recorded history that Australia has seen two consecutive quarters of economic growth of more than 3%”:

Helen Sullivan your faithful blogger here. As always, you can offer me gifts, gift vouchers and so on on Twitter @helenrsullivan. I wouldn’t say no to a yard sale bowl worth $300,000.

Texas governor lifts mask mandate and declares: ‘It’s time to open 100%

With less than 7% of Texans fully vaccinated and another Covid-19 surge potentially imminent, Texas is flinging open businesses to full capacity while simultaneously ending its highly politicized mask mandate, the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, announced on Tuesday.

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” a maskless Abbott declared to cheers at a crowded restaurant in the city of Lubbock.

When Abbott’s policy changes go into effect next week, Texas will be the most populous state in the country that does not require residents to wear masks. Restaurants and other businesses can choose to maintain their own mask policies, but without government backing to do so:

The Australian state of New South Wales has again complained that it is not being told key details about the commonwealth’s vaccine rollout, including which of the state’s aged care facilities have begun immunisation, plans for the potential involvement of the military, and when aged care staff might be immunised:

No new Covid cases in Auckland for second day

New Zealand’s government has said it is still too early to make a decision on extending Auckland’s lockdown, despite the city recording no new community cases of coronavirus for a second consecutive day.

More than 16,000 tests were processed on Tuesday, returning no positive results, three days into a week of level-three restrictions in the nation’s biggest city.

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, had earlier said that this would be a pivotal point in signalling whether there had been further transmission from the February Auckland cluster:

US president Joe Biden said the country was on track to have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May.

“When we came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that,” he said:

 

Girls and young women aged between 14 and 24 are taking responsibility for the majority of household chores during the pandemic, leaving them less time to focus on their education, according to a new survey.

Sixty-six percent of girls and women aged between 14 and 24 said they are spending more time cooking for their families as a result of the pandemic, compared with 31% of boys and men in the same age group.

Women and girls are also spending more time cleaning (69%, compared with 58% of boys and men), shopping (52%, compared with 49%), and looking after siblings (28%, compared with 16%), according to a survey of 1,000 men and women aged 14-30 produced by a market research agency for the children’s charity Theirworld:

Here is the video of Dolly Parton receiving her vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiine:

 

Dolly Parton gets vaccinated with Moderna jab she helped fund

Dolly Parton has been inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine that she helped to fund.

The country music star, 75, broke into song while getting the Moderna jab and adapted one of her best-known ballads.

To the tune of Jolene, she sang: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

Parton was credited with helping fund the Moderna vaccine after donating $1m (£716,000) to Vanderbilt University medical centre in Nashville, Tennessee:

Biden: US ‘on track’ to have enough vaccines for all adults by May

Joe Biden has said that the US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that the drugmaker Merck would help produce Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program.

He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden.

The president described the partnership between the two drug companies as a “major step forward” in expanding vaccine access to every American, and likened the partnership to the spirit of national cooperation during the second world war:

Brazil registers national record daily death toll

Brazil on Tuesday posted a national single-day record for Covid deaths with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data.

That surpassed the previous single-day high of 1,595 Covid deaths recorded in late July 2020, as Brazil faces a new peak in coronavirus cases and the hospital system is pushed to the brink of collapse.

More than 257,000 people have died of Covid in Brazil, according to the official count, making it the deadliest outbreak after that of the United States.

Roughly 10.6 million people have been infected since the pandemic began, according to the Health Ministry, with 59,925 new cases reported on Tuesday.

Brazilian state governors said on Tuesday they would join together to buy Covid vaccines and bypass the federal government, which has been slow to roll out its vaccine program.

168m children worldwide have missed school for a year

Worldwide, more than 168 million children have had their schools completely shut for almost a year, according to UNICEF, due to coronavirus lockdowns.

One in seven children – 214 million – have missed more than three-quarters of in-person learning.

Here is what else the study found:

  • Two thirds of countries that have remained largely closed are in Latin America and the Caribbean, affecting nearly 98 million
  • Of the 14 countries, Panama has kept schools closed for the most days, followed by El Salvador, Bangladesh, and Bolivia.

Unicef explains the impact of school closures which, they say:

Have devastating consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, and even being forced into child marriage or child labor.”

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next few hours.

Our top line this morning: A staggering 168m children worldwide have had their schools closed for the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Unicef. We’ll have more on this soon.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Italy’s government on Tuesday ordered the closure of all schools in areas hardest hit by Covid-19 and extended curbs already in place on businesses and movement until after Easter amid worries over the highly contagious UK variant.
  • Turkey added a further 11,837 new coronavirus cases to its tally on Tuesday, health ministry data showed – the country’s highest daily figure since 7 January.
  • Tunisia has detected its first cases of the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus first discovered in the UK, the country’s health ministry said on Tuesday in a statement reported by Reuters.
  • German chancellor Angela Merkel wants to begin relaxing coronavirus restrictions from next week, a draft document seen by AFP shows, hoping that reinforced numbers of rapid antigen tests and vaccines will allow the country to unlock.
  • Venezuela has received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine President Nicolas Maduro said, as well as protective material for healthcare workers.
  • Nigeria’s first Covid-19 vaccines, Oxford/AstraZeneca shots from the international Covax scheme, landed in the capital city Abuja today, Reuters reports.
  • The uptake of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in France stood at 24% as of 28 February, a health ministry official said on Tuesday, well below the country’s target of between 80 and 85%.
  • Spain will buy 17m more doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine as part of a new deal negotiated by the European Union, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said on Tuesday.
  • American pharmaceutical Merck & Co Inc will help manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine in an agreement due to be announced on Tuesday by President Joe Biden, a White House official said on Tuesday.
  • Greek officials have announced plans to expand the public health system’s capacity to admit Covid-19 patients following an emergency meeting chaired by prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

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