This article titled “Coronavirus live news: Germany may use Russian and Chinese vaccines; Pfizer pledge for 75m extra doses to EU” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now) Archie Bland and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Monday 1st February 2021 12.30 UTC
Palestinians will receive an initial batch of 50,000 coronavirus vaccines by mid-February, when inoculations will begin in the West Bank and Gaza, their prime minister announced on Monday.
Mohammed Shtayyeh said the procurement had been secured through various sources, according to AFP, such as the UN-backed Covax programme, established to provide vaccines to less wealthy states.
“Vaccination will start in the middle of this month,” Shtayyeh said.
He said the vaccines would be given to the 2.8 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the two million people in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas Islamist movement.
Israel, which is carrying out the world’s fastest per capita vaccination rollout according to most estimates, has faced rising international pressure to ensure Palestinians are inoculated.
The Palestinian Authority has not publicly asked for Israel’s aid in organising its vaccination campaign – however, the UN and human rights groups have said Israel has an obligation to do so under international law as an occupying military power.
Israel’s defence ministry said on Sunday that it would send 5,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate medical workers. An unnamed Palestinian health ministry official told AFP 2,000 of those doses had been delivered on Monday.
In the UK, residents in parts of Surrey will be offered Covid tests after two people with no travel links were found to have caught the variant discovered in South Africa, Sky News’s Aubrey Allegretti reports.
Read more on our UK-focused blog.
The easing of coronavirus restrictions in Italy from Monday has raised concern, with one expert forecasting a spike in infections within the next few weeks.
Sixteen out of 20 Italian regions are now in the lower-risk ‘yellow zone’, meaning bars and restaurants can serve until 6pm and people can travel more freely within their regions. The remaining four, including Umbria, Sicily, Puglia and Sardinia, are in the slightly more restrictive ‘orange zone’, along with the autonomous province of Bolzano.
A 10pm-5am curfew remains in place across the country, as does a ban on inter-regional travel unless for work or emergency reasons.
Italy registered 237 more coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 88,516 – the second-highest in Europe after the UK. There were 11,252 new infections, down from highs of over 40,000 in mid-November. The pressure on hospitals has been gradually easing, with 20,397 people currently in hospital with Covid-19, of whom 2,270 are in intensive care (down from over 3,600 in mid-November).
Infant and primary schools in Italy reopened in early January, while from Monday 50% of high school pupils across all regions, apart from Sicily, will return to the classroom.
Walter Ricciardi, a scientist advising the health ministry, said that while a lockdown akin to the one in place last spring is not needed, he would prefer the whole country to be under tougher ‘red zone’ restrictions.
Experts were concerned after seeing images of crowds of people in the shopping thoroughfares of major cities over the weekend.
Ricciardi predicts that the relaxation of restrictions will lead to a rise in infections “in two to three weeks”.
“The trend of this epidemic is now predictable,” he added. “It’s important to avoid gatherings but it seems to me that simple suggestions have no effect. If we add to this the reopening of schools, we will see an increase in cases.”
The government has been under pressure to ease restrictions from businesses, while teachers and pupils have been protesting against online learning.
Agostino Miozzo, the coordinator of the scientific panel advising the government, said: “The return to being a yellow area does not mean a return to normality.”
The coronavirus crisis has caused rental prices to plunge in Madrid and Barcelona, property portal Idealista said on Monday, a marked shift from markets in which landlords could expect endlessly growing returns.
In Barcelona, rents dropped by 17% while the capital, Madrid, has seen prices fall by 12% in January compared with May of last year as the cities felt the impacts of reduced international travel, limited mobility and a shift to home working, Reuters reported.
Professionals and students have left Spain’s two major cities as their work and studies transferred online, while the shuttering of the country’s hospitality industry have dimmed their appeal as employment hubs.
Across Spain, rents fell by 1% in January compared with December, Idealista said. Tourist-dependent regions, such as Seville and the Balearic Islands, have reported the biggest decreases, as well as areas badly affected by Covid-19, such as Lleida in Catalonia.
Vietnam reported 32 further coronavirus cases on Monday, all in the capital city of Hanoi.
The country shut schools in at least 22 cities and provinces in order to tackle a fresh outbreak beginning on Thursday, the ministry of health said.
Pupils across Hanoi’s schools – including public and private kindergarten, primary, secondary high, high, and vocational schools – will stay home to contain the outbreak, English-language daily Vietnam News reported. If it is contained, children will return to school on 16 February.
Hanoi’s outbreak has been connected to an outbreak in the northern province of Hai Duong, which has been the country’s epicentre of community transmission throughout the pandemic. The outbreak has also been linked to the presence of the more transmissible variant first found in the UK.
Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister has entered self-isolation.
Michelle O’Neill said she is taking the measure following a positive coronavirus test result at her home in Co Tyrone. “I will work from home to continue to protect families, workers and to take us through this pandemic,” she tweeted on Monday morning.
This is O’Neill’s second time self-isolating, as she stayed at home in October after a family member tested positive for Covid-19.
Stormont agriculture minister Edwin Poots tested positive in December, after being hospitalised with a burst appendix. Finance minister Conor Murphy, health minister Robin Swann and communities minister Caral Ni Chuilin have also previously self-isolated.
Some Americans are struggling to get their required second doses of coronavirus vaccines, with many vulnerable people unable to navigate labyrinthine provider and appointment systems.
Older people in particular are having trouble getting their second jab, Reuters reports, many of whom depend on family or friends to navigate complex sign-up systems and inconvenient locations.
There is regional variation between practices in different states and counties, according to the news agency. It writes:
Houston’s health department on Friday told those seeking a second dose to be patient, saying the volume of calls was creating long wait times at its call centre.
Practices vary. Seminole County in Florida schedules follow-ups during the 15-minute observation period after people get their first shots. New York’s Onondaga County holds off on scheduling second appointments until days before the shot.
After an online system showed no appointments, Stacey Champion secured a second appointment for her 78-year-old friend Dan Pochoda at Cardinal Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona – at 1:51am on 9 February. It took several calls to get even that, Champion said.
“If they had been saving appointments for second doses, would they really need to send people way out to the edges of the city in the middle of the night?” Champion asked.
Meanwhile, in California, people have turning up to University of Southern California hospitals asking for their second dose, saying their original vaccine provider could not confirm an appointment, a senior official at the university said.
As of Friday, nearly 23 million people in the US had had their first vaccine shot, and almost 5 million had the second, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has said an interval of up to six weeks is acceptable for both the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
The Guardian’s Paris correspondent has more on the situation in France, where a minister has cautioned restaurateurs about reopening in protest against coronavirus measures.
Kim Willsher writes:
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has responded to threats that certain restaurants will open illegally today to protest against coronavirus closures.
Bars, restaurants, cafés, and brasseries have been closed since the second nationwide lockdown at the end of October. The lockdown was lifted in December, but the restaurants and other establishments offering food and drink were ordered to remain closed.
Some had said they would open on Monday in a coordinated protest, however Le Maire warned that any restaurant that defies he ban will be deprived of state aid for a month. Those who continue to defy the Covid-19 rules and open will get no state aid at all, he said.
“France doesn’t need a Social Spring in 2021,” Le Maire said in a reference to the Arab spring.
The warning came after a Facebook appeal by a group called “Mon restaurant ouvre le 1er février (My restaurant opens the 1 February), which has 26,000 members, urging restaurateurs to stage an act of civil disobedience.
Portugal reports nearly half its total death toll in January
Portugal reported nearly half of its total coronavirus death toll during January, underlining the rapid worsening of the pandemic as officials blamed the UK variant and relaxation of restrictions over Christmas for the surge.
The country had largely been spared by the first waves of the virus.
In January, a total of 5,576 people died from the coronavirus, representing 44.7% of all 12,482 fatalities since the virus began spreading in the Iberian country in March 2020, data from health authority DGS reported by Reuters showed. Portugal has the world’s biggest seven-day rolling average of new daily cases per capita, according to ourworldindata.org.
Officials have blamed the huge rise in the case and fatality rates on the more virulent variant of the virus first detected in southeast England. They have also said an easing of restrictions on social contact over the Christmas holidays played a role.
Hospitals across the nation of just over 10 million are close to being overwhelmed, with ambulances sometimes waiting for hours due to a shortage of beds. Some health units are unable to find enough refrigerated space to preserve bodies, with Portugal’s largest hospital Santa Maria, installing extra cold containers to ease pressure on its morgue.
France’s finance minister has warned restaurant owners that they risk losing their coronavirus financial aid if they open and serve customers despite the shutdown.
Bruno Le Maire’s caution follows a call to protest by Stephane Turillon, a chef in eastern France, who urged restaurateurs to open their doors for “protest meals” on Monday, according to AFP. Several chefs and thousands of people have since followed through with the move.
Restaurants were ordered to shut on 30 October, with little hope of returning to business soon. “It’s extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,” Le Maire told RTL radio. “But in no way does that justify not respecting the rules,” he said.
On Saturday, police in Paris said they found 24 restaurants operating unlawfully on Thursday and Friday, and warned they would step up enforcement.
The minister said owners caught serving customers would have their coronavirus support funds suspended for a month, “and if they do it again, they won’t get any more at all”.
Under France’s Covid solidarity scheme for its hospitality industry, restaurants and other businesses that have been forced to shut can receive up to €10,000 a month, or compensation equal to 20% of their revenues from 2019, capped at €200,000 per month. But many restaurateurs say the funds are not enough to cover lost sales as they have to keep paying rent.
This is Clea Skopeliti in London taking over the blog from Archie Bland now. I’ll be bringing you the latest in coronavirus developments for the next few hours.
Hong Kong to extend social distancing for two weeks
Hong Kong will extend social distancing measures for a further two weeks until after the lunar new year holiday and will impose stricter testing rules when cases of Covid-19 are detected.
The measures, which include a ban on more than two people gathering and dining in restaurants after 6pm local time, will remain in place until 17 February, Reuters reported.
“More time is going to be needed before we see a substantial improvement,” the chief secretary, Matthew Cheun, told a news briefing on Monday.
The government has in the past week set up testing zones for residents of some areas with little warning. It will also now require all residents of a building to get tested if a single untraceable infection is found in their building.
Schools will remain closed. Cheung said he hoped they could reopen after the holiday period.
Hong Kong has been logging double-digit daily case numbers for several weeks with 34 infections recorded on Monday, down from Sunday’s 53. It has had around 10,500 Covid-19 cases since January last year and 181 deaths.
That’s it from me. Clea Skopeliti will take over the blog shortly.
BioNTech and Pfizer pledge 75m extra doses to EU
BioNTech and Pfizer said on Monday they will increase their coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the European Union, pledging to send up to 75m extra doses to the bloc in the spring.
“Pfizer and BioNTech continue to work toward increased deliveries beginning the week of February 15, ensuring we will supply the full quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter we contractually committed to and up to an additional 75m doses to the European Union in the second quarter,” they said in a statement reported by AFP.
The EU has ordered a total of 600m doses.
The statement came hours ahead of a national conference called by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, with vaccine manufacturers amid growing anger over the bloc’s sluggish inoculation campaign.
BioNTech and Pfizer, which will take part in the meeting, said that improvements in their production capabilities would allow them to speed up supplies.
These included the completion of modifications at Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium. “Now, we are back to the original schedule of vaccine dose deliveries,” they said.
In the face of a political firestorm – and after the EU reversed its decision to use an emergency Brexit provision to control vaccine exports via Northern Ireland – the European commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Sunday that AstraZeneca had agreed to increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30 percent.
An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.
Israel extends lockdown
Israel’s nationwide lockdown was extended Monday to contain coronavirus, which has continued to spread rapidly as the country presses ahead with an aggressive vaccination campaign.
The current lockdown, declared on 27 December, is the third since the pandemic began last year.
The cabinet prolonged the closure until Friday morning, but scheduled a fresh meeting for Wednesday to assess whether a further extension was required, a statement from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the health ministry reported by AFP said.
With Israel, a country of about 9 million people, still regularly registering more than 5,000 new cases per day, Netanyahu had pushed for the lockdown’s extension. His political opponents said they would only agree if fines were increased for rule violators.
Netanyahu’s critics have particularly highlighted persistent violations among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, the premier’s key political allies who have repeatedly disregarded public safety measures throughout the pandemic.
Israel’s lockdown also includes an unprecedented airport and border closure, which Netanyahu has described as a necessary weapon in the “arms race” against coronavirus variants.
The cabinet has extended the ban on commercial flights imposed last month until 7 February. Road crossings to Egypt and Jordan will also remain closed.
Israel hopes to vaccinate its entire over-16 population by the end of March.
Germany may use Russian and Chinese vaccines, politicians suggest
Germany may consider using Russian and Chinese vaccines in an effort to boost levels of vaccination in the country, regional leaders have suggested.
In a sign of how much pressure the country’s political leaders are under amid a stalling vaccine rollout, Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder said Germany should look at approving Sputnik V and Chinese jabs.
German health minister Jens Spahn also signalled he was open to using Russian and Chinese vaccines if they are approved by EU regulators. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeiting, he said those vaccines could help with ending the pandemic.
And on Monday morning, as heads of Germany’s 16 states prepared for a national vaccine summit, Brandenburg’s state premier Dietmar Woidke agreed leaders could look at vaccines from other countries.
He told German state broadcaster ARD that those vaccines would have to pass regulatory assessments first ‘and maybe that can be done as quickly as it was for BioNTech and other vaccines’. “I think it is necessary and possible to assess these vaccines if they are available. And if they are safe and work then they should be used.”
COVAX to deliver AstraZeneca doses to 36 states in the Americas
The Covax global vaccine sharing scheme expects to deliver 35.3m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to 36 Caribbean and Latin American states from mid-February to the end of June, the World Health Organization’s regional office said.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said the Americas region needed to immunise about 500 million people to control the pandemic.
According to a Reuters report, PAHO said WHO would complete its review in a few days of the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use listing (EUL).
“The number of doses and delivery schedule are still subject to EUL and manufacturing production capacity,” PAHO said, adding that supply deals also had to be agreed with producers.
Of the 36 nations receiving AstraZeneca’s shot, it said four countries, namely Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador and Peru, would also receive a total of 377,910 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine from mid-February.
The GAVI alliance, the group that co-leads Covax with WHO, said last week it aimed to deliver 2.3bnn vaccines worldwide by the end of 2021, including 1.8bn free doses to lower-income countries.
Geneva-based GAVI was expected to publish details of its allocations by country on Monday.
The 36 Caribbean and Latin American nations to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine ranged from regional giants Brazil and Mexico to small islands such as Dominica and Montserrat.
In the UK, the government has ordered an extra 40m doses of the Valneva Covid-19 vaccine.
The move means 100m doses of Valneva have been put on order, enough for every adult in the UK, with the latest batch earmarked for delivery in 2022. The government has also retained options over a further 90m doses for supply between 2023 and 2025.
Valneva said the total value of the entire order was up to €1.4bn (£1.24bn). The vaccine is still in clinical trials, with the early-stage phase 1/2 study expected to read out within the next three months.
With the UK having secured more than 400m vaccine doses, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, said on Sunday it is “too early” to determine when the government will send vaccines abroad.
She said “we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated” but added that it would be damaging to become a “vaccinated island” while other countries go without.
“It’s a bit too early to say about how we would deploy ‘XX’ vaccine, but we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries because we’re only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated,” Truss told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Russia reported 17,648 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, including 2,037 in Moscow, taking its official national tally to 3,868,087. That figure was down from 18,359 the day before.
Authorities also confirmed 437 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 73,619. There had been 485 deaths reported on Sunday.
The Guardian’s Christopher Thomond has been photographing Manchester’s northern quarter during the third UK lockdown. You can see the rest of his pictures here:
A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic on Monday visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China’s central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.
Reuters reported that the group of independent experts (see earlier post) spent about four-and-a-half hours on its longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday, and did not speak to waiting journalists.
The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.
The group has so far also visited hospitals where early cases were detected, markets, and an exhibition on the battle with the outbreak in the provincial capital of Wuhan.
No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.
Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that the coronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.
On Sunday, the experts visited the Huanan seafood market linked to initial infections, and the Baishazhou wholesale food market, where a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the sale of imported cold chain products was banned at the market
Good morning from London. This is Archie Bland taking over our coronavirus global coverage for the next few hours, and beginning in France, where finance minister Bruno Le Maire has indicated that a new lockdown to curb the spread of the virus will only be considered as a last resort.
In comments reported by Reuters, Le Maire told RTL Radio that the country’s current curfew measures were delivering results in terms of trying to contain the virus.
He said that the 6pm to 6am curfew cost the economy about €6bn (£5.3bn) a month whereas a full lockdown would cost it around €15bn a month. France decided against imposing a third nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Friday.
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. Thanks for following along – and stay tuned for the latest from around the world with my colleagues in London.
Until then – I’m out of here like a giant panda in the snow:
Here are the key pandemic developments from the last few hours:
- China’s daily new cases fell to a three-week low. China reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid cases in more than three weeks, official data showed on Monday, reversing a sharp uptick a day earlier, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of a major holiday break. New confirmed reported cases more than halved to 42, the National Health Commission said in a statement, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since 33 reported on 8 January.
- An expert warned the US to brace for virulent Covid strain. A leading infectious disease expert predicted on Sunday that the deadlier British variant of Covid-19 will become the dominant strain of the virus in the US and could hit the country like a hurricane.
- Chicago schools postponed in-person classes over Covid safety plan. Chicago Public Schools on Sunday delayed the resumption of in-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students by at least a day as the district and teachers failed to reach an agreement on a Covid safety plan.
- Japan is expected to extend a state of emergency this week for Tokyo and other areas as hospitals remain under pressure despite a decline in cases from their peaks, local media reported on Monday.
- Taiwan health authorities are still battling an outbreak centred around a Taoyuan hospital, which claimed the first Covid-related death almost nine months on Friday. The woman in her eighties was a relative of another confirmed case. Authorities said she presented with Covid-like symptoms on Thursday and was taken to hospital. A test returned a negative result for Covid, but she passed away on Friday night. She had chronic kidney disease and other underlying health issues.
- Hong Kong is continuing its “ambush lockdowns” on housing blocks. As Hong Kong continues to fight its widespread outbreak, authorities have employed a new tactic in response to clusters of infection in residential housing blocks. Since last week, police have launched four ambush-style lockdowns, arriving unannounced at buildings to immediately prevent anyone leaving and to run mandatory testing.
- The NHS has offered Covid jab to all older residents in care homes in England. The NHS has said official figures are expected to confirm on Monday that it has offered a coronavirus vaccine to every older care home resident across England.In another milestone for the vaccine programme, coming after it set a new daily record of almost 600,000 people being inoculated against Covid-19 on Saturday, nurses, GPs and other NHS staff have offered the jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents.
- Pakistan received its first batch of Covid vaccine doses, 500,000 from China’s Sinopharm, on Monday, Health Adviser Faisal Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter. “Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen,” he said. “I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they’ll be first to get vaccinated.”
- Ghana tightened restrictions as virus cases climb. Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday. Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but President Nana Akufo-Addo said a return to stricter measures was needed. “Our hospitals have become full, and we have had to reactivate our isolation centres,” he said.
- Israel extended lockdown as Covid variants offset vaccination drive. Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.
- EU wants 70% of adults vaccinated by end of summer. AstraZeneca will increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday as the bloc sought to claw back time lost rolling out the jabs. The aim was still to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of summer, she added.
- WHO team to visit Hubei CDC on Monday. A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic was due on Monday to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province, the central Chinese region where the outbreak emerged in late 2019. The team has already visited the Huanan food market in Wuhan.
- Two million Australians in lockdown over one case. About 2 million Australians begun their first full day of a strict coronavirus lockdown on Monday following the discovery of one case in the community in Perth, capital of Western Australia state, but no new cases have since been found.
More people are sleeping on the streets in Rome after being turned away from shelters due to coronavirus restrictions, while the number of homeless people dying from the cold has surged this winter.
There are about 8,000 homeless people in the Italian capital, of whom 3,000 have no shelter for the night, according to figures provided by the Catholic charity Community of Sant’Egidio.
“The number is higher than a year ago,” said Massimiliano Signifredi, coordinator for homeless outreach at Sant’Egidio. “One of the main reasons being that shelters which could previously host 100 or 200 people have had to reduce numbers or completely close.”
The consequences of Covid-19 on the homeless have become increasingly visible in Rome in recent months. Makeshift beds have appeared on the plush shopping streets in the centre, or on the steps of churches or outside supermarkets:
In more Australia news: universities across Australia are offering discounts of up to 20% to international students who are studying completely online while they are barred from entering Australia due to border restrictions.
At least three major universities are offering discounts to students who are still in their “home” countries while enrolled and paying fees to Australian universities:
Two million Australians in lockdown over one case
About 2 million Australians begun their first full day of a strict coronavirus lockdown on Monday following the discovery of one case in the community in Perth, capital of Western Australia state, but no new cases have since been found, Reuters reports.
Authorities ordered a five-day lockdown after a security guard at a hotel used to quarantine people returning from overseas was found to have contracted the virus.
The state government said 66 people have been deemed close contacts of the unidentified guard and none of those already tested were infected. Tests on the rest of the close contacts were expected to be completed on Monday, state Premier Mark McGowan said.
Pakistan receives 500,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine
Pakistan received its first batch of Covid vaccine doses, 500,000 from China’s Sinopharm, on Monday, Health Adviser Faisal Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter.
“Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen,” he said. “I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they’ll be first to get vaccinated.”
Pakistan is starting its vaccine drive this week.
Ten years after the rage and hope of the Arab spring filled the public spaces of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital has become a curiously quiet place.
Traders and customers alike shuffle through the streets of the old city, ground down by the repression of the Houthi rebel occupation and the economic hardship caused by the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition blockade.
The songs and poems of revolution that once echoed beneath the charming medieval architecture have faded away, replaced by the Houthi sarkha, or scream, daubed in red and green on almost every surface: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curses on the Jews, victory to Islam.”
On occasion, and always without warning, the tension is pierced by coalition airstrikes.
A decade since Yemenis dared to dream during the 2011 uprisings that swept across the Arab world, and six years after foreign actors piled in, unleashing a war of devastating proportions, Yemen resembles a jigsaw puzzle for which there is no simple solution.
Malnutrition, cholera, dengue fever, and now coronavirus stalk the young and the frail in what the UN has called the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”:
Hong Kong “ambush lockdowns” on housing blocks continue
As Hong Kong continues to fight its widespread outbreak, authorities have employed a new tactic in response to clusters of infection in residential housing blocks. Since last week, police have launched four ambush-style lockdowns, arriving unannounced at buildings to immediately prevent anyone leaving and to run mandatory testing.
Residents are fined HK$5,000 if they refuse:
The lockdowns last for one or two nights, but have reportedly created anxiety in the community. The South China Morning Post said many residents at the recently ambushed block in North Point, only realised what was happening when they got home and found police ushering neighbours into a cordoned off area for registration and testing.The effectiveness of the operation is being debated.
Some of the 400 residents of two buildings locked down last night in Lam Tin said the ambush was unnecessary and “a mess”, while others said it gave them peace of mind to know no new cases had been found.Local politician Lee Yue-shun told RTHK residents were anxious and there were concerns about hygiene issues like garbage collection during the lockdowns. The areas targeted are home to older buildings, often overcrowded with numerous subdivided units, and lacking centralised management.
Infectious diseases expert Leung Chi-chiu told the outlet many residents had moved out of buildings once cases among their neighbours were reported, and the lockdowns should have started earlier. The lockdowns and testing programs are finding very few cases, prompting questions of cost effectiveness. The first operation, in the densely populated Kowloon neighbourhood of Jordan, found 13 infections amid 7,000 tests last weekend.
Secretary for food and health, Sophie Chan, said the rate matched that in the broader community, and the snap lockdowns allowed authorities to quickly identify and isolate cases and close contacts.
“We don’t think this put a heavy burden on people or was a waste of public money,” she said. Hong Kong has recorded 10,453 confirmed or probable cases, and 181 deaths.
Taiwan bans recent arrivals from banquets for seven days after quarantine finishes
Taiwan health authorities are still battling an outbreak centred around a Taoyuan hospital, which claimed the first Covid-related death almost nine months on Friday.
The woman in her eighties was a relative of another confirmed case. Authorities said she presented with Covid-like symptoms on Thursday and was taken to hospital. A test returned a negative result for Covid, but she passed away on Friday night. She had chronic kidney disease and other underlying health issues.
In response to the outbreak social distancing and quarantine rules have been further tightened. Hospitals in Taipei City, New Taipei City, and Taoyuan City have banned visitors until 9 February, and enacted screenings and sign-ins for all entrants.
The Central Epidemic Command Centre has now said any recent arrival who is in what’s called the self-monitoring phase of quarantine must not attend banquets, meetings, or large gatherings. The self-monitoring phase refers to the seven days after a person leaves their two-week quarantine (either at home or in a hotel), and while largely free to move around are required to maintain social distancing and extra hygiene measures.
The total number of cases linked to the hospital is now 19, clearly a very low number compared to other countries, but one that has sparked alarm in Taiwan. The island has kept the virus largely at bay since the beginning of the pandemic, recording 911 cases, the vast majority of which were overseas arrivals diagnosed while in quarantine.
Chicago schools postpone in-person classes over Covid safety plan
Chicago Public Schools on Sunday delayed the resumption of in-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students by at least a day as the district and teachers failed to reach an agreement on a Covid safety plan, Reuters reports.
The third-largest school district in the United States told the parents of 62,000 elementary and middle school students who opted to begin taking some of their classes in their schools on Monday to stay home, saying it hopes to resume in-person classes for those students on Tuesday.
The parents of 5,200 pre-kindergarten and special education students who began taking in-person classes on Jan. 11 were also told to keep their children home on Monday.
The decision to postpone in-person classes comes after the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union, representing 28,000 public school educators, failed to reach an agreement despite months of negotiations. The two sides have been at odds on teachers demands for stronger safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus inside the classroom.
Captain Sir Tom Moore has tested positive for Covid-19 and has been admitted to hospital where he is being treated for pneumonia, his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore has said in a statement.
The 100-year-old, who raised millions of pounds for the NHS, was taken to Bedford hospital on Sunday, after being treated for pneumonia for some time and testing positive for Covid-19 last week.
In a statement posted on his Twitter page, Moore’s family said he had been treated at home until Sunday when he needed additional help with his breathing. The statement said he was being treated in a ward, not on the intensive care unit of the hospital:
Podcast: Conversations with kids about coronavirus
Anushka Asthana talks to children across the country about what life has been like under lockdown. Eight-year-old Aryan remembers starting to feel worried about the virus when he learned it was spreading to other countries. School was full of rumours, he tells Anushka, that Covid made you sick and gave you warts. Whenever you went to the toilet, you would hear Happy Birthday being sung at the sinks. Aryan is at home again, which means “loads of sheets of papers to print off” for home schooling, and he says he can’t wait to see his friends again.
For 14-year old Becca in Glasgow, the first wave led to her mum being laid off from her job. It meant things were “a little bit harder but we found a way”. She says that if her Mum found it tough looking after her and her three brothers, she didn’t show it.
Rory, 18, has just completed his first term at Durham University. He got Covid while he was there and said the experience was very isolating. He says he found returning to Northern Ireland a huge relief. He worries the pandemic has had a big impact on the mental health of people his age.
Anushka also talks to Dr Polly Waite, a clinical psychologist, who discusses the Co-Space study, which has followed 12,000 families during the pandemic to look at how they are coping and what parents can do to help support their children’s mental health.
Do read Guardian reporter Amelia Hill’s ongoing series on the impact of Covid on young people here.
Ghana tightens restrictions as virus cases climb
Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday.
AFP: Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but President Nana Akufo-Addo said a return to stricter measures was needed.
“Until further notice, funerals, weddings, concerts, theatrical performances, and parties are banned,” he said in a televised speech.
Justifying the restrictions, Akufo-Addo said: “Our hospitals have become full, and we have had to reactivate our isolation centres.”
The new measures on social gatherings come as the average daily rates of infection is at 700, compared to 200 two weeks ago.
Land and sea borders are closed since March, while beaches, night clubs, cinemas, and pubs continue to be shut.
Economic growth is expected to plummet this year to its lowest in three decades, to 0.9 percent according to the International Monetary Fund, from 6.5 percent in 2019.
As of January 31, Ghana had recorded 67,010 confirmed cases and 416 deaths.
NHS has offered Covid jab to all older residents in care homes in England
The NHS has said official figures are expected to confirm on Monday that it has offered a coronavirus vaccine to every older care home resident across England.
In another milestone for the vaccine programme, coming after it set a new daily record of almost 600,000 people being inoculated against Covid-19 on Saturday, nurses, GPs and other NHS staff have offered the jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents.
The small remainder have had their visits deferred by local directors of public health for safety reasons during a local outbreak. Those homes will be visited and jabbed as soon as NHS staff are allowed to do so:
Japan expected to extend state of emergency – reports
Japan is expected to extend a state of emergency to fight the spread of Covid-19 this week for Tokyo and other areas as hospitals remain under pressure despite a decline in cases from their peaks, local media reported on Monday.
Via Reuters: The government will decide on the extension after a meeting of its experts panel this week, public broadcaster NHK said.
The government last month declared a one-month state of emergency, due to end on Sunday, for 11 areas, including Tokyo and its neighbouring prefectures, as part of measures to rein in the pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has launched a raft of measures to contain a third wave of infections as his government remains determined that the Olympics go ahead as planned on 23 July.
But support for his administration has weakened over unhappiness with its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which critics have called too slow and inconsistent.
The government may also consider lifting the state of emergency in some less-populated areas such as Tochigi Prefecture, which has seen a decline in cases, local media said.
A Nikkei newspaper poll showed 90% of respondents favoured extending the emergency period in areas where it is implemented.
Japan has had a total of 390,687 coronavirus cases and 5,766 deaths, NHK said. In Tokyo, new cases totalled 633 on Sunday, below 1,000 for the third consecutive day.
Separately, the lower house is expected to pass on Monday a revision to the coronavirus special measures law, followed by upper house approval on Wednesday, NHK said. The revision would toughen regulations and allow authorities to levy fines on those who break the law.
China’s daily new cases fall to three-week low
China reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid cases in more than three weeks, official data showed on Monday, reversing a sharp uptick a day earlier, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of a major holiday break, Reuters reports.
New confirmed reported cases more than halved to 42, the National Health Commission said in a statement, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since 33 reported on 8 January.
Of the 33 new locally transmitted infections, northeastern Heilongjiang reported 22 new cases while new patients reported in neighbouring Jilin province fell to 10 from 63 a day earlier. The remaining nine cases were imported infections involving travellers arriving from overseas.
National and local authorities continue to discourage travel even as the number of new cases fell, underscoring their concerns about another flare-up as the country approaches the Lunar New Year holiday period next month when hundreds of millions typically travel.
Official forecasts are for the total number of trips taken during the holiday break to fall 60% from 2019, the last time when Chinese travellers did not face any major restrictions in movement during the period.
The number of asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, also fell to 16 from 19 a day earlier.
The total number of confirmed mainland Covid infections to date now stands at 89,564, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.
WHO team to visit Hubei CDC on Monday
A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic was due on Monday to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province, the central Chinese region where the outbreak emerged in late 2019, Reuters reports.
The group of independent experts left two weeks of quarantine on Thursday in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, and is conducting two weeks of field work. So far, it has included visits to hospitals, markets, and an exhibition commemorating Wuhan’s battle with the outbreak.
The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said that team members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, because of health restrictions.
No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.
The UK’s children face losing £350bn in lifetime earnings unless the UK’s governments invest in radical catch-up efforts when the pandemic is over, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The IFS is urging policymakers to consider options including nearly nine million children repeating a year of schooling, the use of large-scale tuition in summer holidays and extended hours to make up for the classroom time lost during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
In case you missed this earlier: Almost 600,000 people in the UK were vaccinated against Covid-19 on Saturday, a daily record for the vaccine programme.
Uptake was particularly strong in England, with almost 540,000 people receiving their first vaccination. In Wales, just over 25,000 people got their initial jab, along with almost 23,000 in Scotland and just over 10,500 in Northern Ireland.
In total, 598,389 vaccinations were administered across the UK on Saturday. Of the 9,468,382 jabs given in the UK so far, 8,977,329 were first doses and 491,053 were second doses.
The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 374,858. Based on the latest figures, an average of 401,512 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the government’s target of 15m first doses by 15 February:
Expert warns US to brace for virulent Covid strain
A leading infectious disease expert predicted on Sunday that the deadlier British variant of Covid-19 will become the dominant strain of the virus in the US and could hit the country like a hurricane.
The worrying forecast came as the total of confirmed infections in the US passed the 26m mark, with the death toll advancing steadily towards the grim milestone of half a million after on Sunday surpassing the total of 440,000, by far the highest in the world according to data gathered by the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus research center.
Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who served on Joe Biden’s transition coronavirus advisory board after the Democratic victory in the 2020 election, and is director of the center for infectious disease research and policy at the University of Minnesota, warned America to brace for the spread of the virulent strain this spring.
“The surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks, Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press show on Sunday morning.
He urged the new administration to move faster with plans to get as many people as possible in the US vaccinated, at least with their first dose, especially those aged over 65, in order to try and stave off the worst exacerbation by variants of the ongoing crisis.
“That hurricane is coming,” Osterholm told NBC:
WHO mission at ground-zero Wuhan market
A World Health Organization team has visited the Huanan food market in Wuhan as part of its fieldwork in a politically sensitive mission to investigate the origins of the pandemic, AFP reports.
Their visit is being tightly controlled, and the WHO has already lowered expectations of pinpointing the source of the virus, which is known to have infected more than 102 million people so far with over 2.2 million deaths.
The experts did not take any questions from journalists as they visited the market.
In recent days, Chinese authorities have relentlessly pushed a positive narrative of heroism and decisive, swift action against the virus.
But it has faced criticism at home and abroad for its handling of the initial Wuhan outbreak and its lack of transparency.
EU wants 70% of adults vaccinated by end of summer
AstraZeneca will increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday as the bloc sought to claw back time lost rolling out the jabs, AFP reports.
The British-Swedish company had announced last week that it could deliver only a quarter of the doses originally promised to the bloc for the first quarter of the year because of problems at one of its European factories.
But AstraZeneca, whose vaccine was authorised for use in the EU on Friday, has now agreed to send 9 million additional doses and “will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled”, Von der Leyen said in a tweet.
An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.
“They are bringing forward the delivery now by another week … and they will increase the vaccine doses for February and March by about 30 percent, that is 9 million doses,” von der Leyen said.
But she also acknowledged that February and March would remain “a difficult phase” for vaccine supply.
In the second quarter, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be on the market “and the manufacturers will have resolved their initial difficulties, so we can expect more vaccine”, she said.
The aim was still to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of summer, she added.
Israel extends lockdown as Covid variants offset vaccination drive
Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to extend the five-week-old national lockdown until Friday, pending parliamentary approval, Israeli media reported.Highlighting the country’s challenges in enforcing restrictions, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews attended the Jerusalem funerals of two prominent rabbis on Sunday, drawing criticism from Netanyahu’s coalition partners, Reuters reports.
The prime minister has promoted a speedy vaccination of around 24% of 9 million citizens and the lockdown as dual pathways to a possible reopening of the economy in February.
But a projected mid-January turnaround in curbing the pandemic did not transpire, as serious cases have surged among Israelis who have not yet been vaccinated.
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 news from around the world for the next few hours.
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, has said that the EU wants 70% of all adults in the blog to be vaccinated by the end of summer, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.
Here are the other key recent developments:
- Primary schools in the Netherlands will reopen from 8 February, the Dutch government announced on Sunday, in the first easing of lockdown restrictions in months.
- The number of Covid patients in French hospitals hit a near nine-week high on Sunday, with 27,613 Covid sufferers being treated in hospitals, up 331 on Saturday and reaching a level last seen on 1 December.
- The UK has carried out the highest number of Covid vaccinations in one day, with figures showing 598,389 received their first dose on Saturday. The Government said a further 587 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday, bringing the UK total to 106,158.
- On Sunday, police in Brussels said they have detained scores of people in an attempt to prevent two banned demonstrations against measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. A police spokesperson said more than 200 had been arrested by around midday.
- The UK’s priority is vaccinating its own population before it can think about supplying doses to help the EU or developing countries, the international trade secretary has said. Earlier, the World Health Organization called on the UK to halt its vaccination programme after vulnerable people and healthcare workers have been inoculated to ensure a “fair rollout”.
- Both France and Germany have threatened legal action against the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in the row over a shortage of coronavirus vaccine in the EU. Brussels raising concerns that doses may have been diverted from plants in Belgium and Germany to the UK.
- A World Health Organization team looking into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic today visited a market in the Chineses city of Wuhan where the virus was initially located. The team arrived at Huanan market amid heavy security, with additional barricades set up outside a high blue fence surrounding the market, and left in a convoy after about one hour. The experts did not take questions from journalists.
- Germany said today that it will support Portugal with medical staff and equipment after an appeal for help from the Iberian country, which said on Saturday that only seven of 850 ICU beds set up for Covid-19 cases on its mainland were vacant. Austria said it would assist by taking in some intensive-care patients from Portugal.
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