This article titled “Coronavirus live news: Covid death rates 10 times higher in countries where most adults overweight” was written by Helen Sullivan, for theguardian.com on Thursday 4th March 2021 05.40 UTC
Germany to relax Covid curbs
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday unveiled plans to gradually ease coronavirus curbs in Europe’s top economy, AFP reports.
Merkel and Germany’s 16 regional leaders revealed a step-by-step plan to relax restrictions, despite concern over the spread of more aggressive virus variants, as Merkel caved to political pressure and public discontent.
“Today, we can talk of hope and a transition to a new phase” in the fight against the pandemic, she told a Berlin press conference, citing the imminent ramp-up in vaccinations and the arrival of mass rapid testing.
The relaxations will happen gradually and many of the current virus restrictions will stay in place until March 28, but from Monday, Germans will be allowed to socialise more, with up to five adults from two households allowed to meet up.
The desire to leave pandemic regulations behind is widespread throughout the rest of Europe too, as the Swiss government said a referendum would be held in June on the legality of government powers to order lockdowns.
In the Dutch town of Bovenkarspel, a suspected bomb went off at a coronavirus testing centre, breaking windows but not causing any injuries.
The Netherlands has been shaken by riots against coronavirus curfews and the torching of another testing centre in January.
Indian doctors and politicians on Thursday welcomed efficacy data for a state-backed coronavirus vaccine that was given emergency approval in January without the completion of a late-stage trial, making people reluctant to receive the shot, Reuters reports.
Government data shows that only 10% of about 12.6 million people immunised in India have taken the Covaxin shot, which was found to be 81% effective in an interim analysis of the late-stage trial, its developer Bharat Biotech said on Wednesday.
Any boost to the vaccine’s acceptance in India, which on Thursday reported a new Covid cases at their highest in five weeks, could also brighten its export prospects. Bharat Biotech said 40 countries were interested in Covaxin.
Many Indian doctors and opposition politicians had rejected Covaxin because it was approved by the drug regulator only on the basis of data from intermediate trials. The regulator has also authorised the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, marketed as Covishield in India, which was found to be 70.42% effective based on overseas trials.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 11,912 to 2,471,942, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.
The reported death toll rose by 359 to 71,240, the tally showed.
South Africa medics celebrate after sharp drop in Covid cases
After a year battling coronavirus, exhausted health workers in South Africa are celebrating a drop in cases but dread another wave of infections – a scenario that could strike just months from now.
Via AFP: “We are relieved now because the numbers are down and patients are no longer that sick,” nurse Constance Mathibela told AFP at Thembisa Hospital, in a township east of Johannesburg.
After the epidemic hit its stride, the hospital “was almost full everyday,” she recalled.
“There was no time when we had an empty (Covid) ward. It was just a continuous (flow of) things.”
South Africa recorded its first case of coronavirus on March 5 last year.
It has since been through two virus storms, recording over 1.5 million cases and more than 50,000 deaths – the highest in all of Africa.
But on Sunday President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that the second wave, fuelled by a new, more contagious, variant, was now over.
The nationwide tally of daily new infections fell to just over 500 this week after peaking at more than 21,000 on January 7.
Ramaphosa’s announcement was welcome news for many medical workers who have been driven to the brink of burnout.
But with a vaccination drive having started only last month, they are also bracing for a possible third wave.
Scientists believe it could land with the onset of the southern hemisphere winter, around May or June.
Australia records biggest monthly trade surplus ever as household spending drives growth
Australia recorded the biggest monthly trade surplus in history as the economy continued to rack up records in a marked rebound from last year’s deep recession.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the trade balance of goods and services was a record $10.1bn in January and was up more than $3bn compared with December.
This was the result of a 6% jump in exports, while imports declined 2%.
Economists had forecast a surplus of around $6bn based on preliminary data released last month, with export earnings rising on higher commodity prices, in particular those for iron ore on strong demand from China:
Brazil set a daily record for Covid deaths for a second straight day on Wednesday, as a raging resurgence of the virus led Sao Paulo state to shutter businesses and the government to try to close vaccine deals with Pfizer and Janssen, Reuters reports.
With a new coronavirus variant from the Amazon spurring more infections, according to studies, 1,910 people died from the virus in the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data. In a year, Brazil’s death toll has nearly topped 260,000, the world’s second-worst after the United States.
A sputtering vaccination campaign has also put pressure on Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, who said on Wednesday he was close to an agreement with Pfizer Inc, effectively overcoming a dispute over liability clauses.
The government said it intended to buy 100 million doses from Pfizer and 38 million from Janssen, the pharmaceutical subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
“We’ve reached a grave moment of the pandemic. The coronavirus variants are hitting us aggressively,” Pazuello said in a video posted on social media, adding that he expected the Pfizer doses to arrive in May.
In another video, he said the ministry was close to a contract to receive the “first rate” Janssen vaccine by August.
The partial lockdown in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most-populous state, underscored mounting concerns about a surging new wave of infections. The country is facing its deadliest stretch since the pandemic began due to a homegrown variant dubbed P1, scarce restrictions to slow the virus and the patchy vaccine rollout.
Brazil is setting single-day death records as outbreaks ebb in North America and parts of Western Europe. That risks internationally isolating Latin America’s biggest country as other nations seek to shore up their gains against the virus.
The Sao Paulo announcement, made by state Governor João Doria, irked far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes lockdowns and has long sought to diminish the gravity of the virus. But more states and cities are likely to follow Sao Paulo’s lead as health systems are pushed to the breaking point.
Bolsonaro attacked the lockdowns again on Wednesday.
“You cannot panic, like resorting once again to this stay-at-home policy. People are going to die of hunger and depression,” he told a group of supporters.
A national panel of vaccine experts in Canada recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a Covid shot to four months to quickly inoculate more people amid a shortage of doses in Canada, AP reports.
A number of provinces said they would do just that.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed optimism that vaccination timelines could be sped up. But one top health official called it an experiment and noted no other country is doing it.
The current protocol is an interval of three to four weeks between doses for the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is a one dose vaccine but has not been approved in Canada yet.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said extending the dose interval to four months would allow as many as 80% of Canadians over the age of 16 to receive a single dose by the end of June simply with the expected supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
Second doses would begin to be administered in July as more shipments arrive, the panel said, noting that 55 million doses are expected to be delivered in July, August and September.
And now for very important breaking news – these baby fish dance to MC hammer:
Joe Biden sharply criticized the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi, who announced yesterday that they were rescinding their mask mandates, despite public health experts’ concerns about another surge in coronavirus cases.
“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms,” Biden said.
“The last thing we need is neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine,” Biden said. “It still matters”:
The coronavirus is still around and dangerous and people should keep to the rules, the UK health secretary Matt Hancock has warned, as new data showed a slowing in the decline of infections and a possible slight increase in London, the south-east and the Midlands.
The latest REACT1 study, which collects swab samples from people around the country on a continuous basis, found a drop of two-thirds in infections since the last report on swabs collected from 6-23 January.
But the decline has slowed, say the Imperial College London team who run the study. In January to February, prevalence of the virus halved in 15 days. Since then, it has halved in 31 days.
While the R number is firmly below 1, the scientists warn that infection levels are still too high. One person in every 200 still has the virus:
Fake Covid-19 vaccines seized in South Africa, China: Interpol
Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of fake doses of Covid-19 jabs, global police organisation Interpol said on Wednesday, warning this represented only the “tip of the iceberg” in vaccine-related crime, AFP reports.
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.
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.
Brazil suffers another day of record Covid deaths
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
Covid death rates 10 times higher in countries where most adults overweight
Countries with high levels of overweight people, such as the UK and the US, have the highest death rates from Covid-19, a landmark report reveals, prompting calls for governments to urgently tackle obesity, as well as prioritising overweight people for vaccinations.
About 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths from Covid were in countries with high levels of overweight people, says the report from the World Obesity Federation. Countries such as the UK, US and Italy, where more than 50% of adults are overweight, have the biggest proportions of deaths linked to coronavirus.
The issue is not just obesity, but levels of weight that many assume are now normal in many countries. Death rates are 10 times higher in those where more than half the adults had a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25kg/m2 – the point at which normal weight tips into overweight.
People who are overweight should be given greater priority for vaccinations and tests because of their increased risk of death, says the World Obesity Federation:
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan. I’m on Twitter @helenrsullivan if you need me.
Coronavirus death rates are 10 times higher in those where more than half the adults had a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25kg/m2 – the point at which normal weight tips into overweight, a new study shows. More on this shortly, in the meantime here are the other key recent developments.
- 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.
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