Global Virus Update: US passes 25 million cases a year into Covid fight; SA registers 8,147 new cases

(Photo: Unsplash / Kevin Grieve)
By Bloomberg
24 Jan 2021 0

South Africa on Sunday registered a further 8,147 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,412,986. A further 300 Covid-19 related deaths were reported. This brings the total to 40,874 deaths.

US infections of Covid-19 topped 25 million. The US government is stepping up surveillance of virus variants to monitor their impact on vaccines and therapeutics, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The UK’s health minister warned that coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease. France may go into another lockdown within days to halt the spread of the potentially deadlier strain that emerged in Britain in 2020. In Portugal, fatalities rose to a record.

Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign is beginning to rein in the disease, according to the country’s second-largest health network.

Key developments:

Ireland reports fewest cases since late December

Ireland reported the fewest new cases in almost a month, in a sign that one of the world’s worst outbreaks may be coming under control. There were 1,378 newly confirmed cases on Sunday, the health ministry said in an emailed statement. That’s the lowest number since December 28. There were 23 deaths. “We are starting to make progress in reducing the level of the virus in the community,” Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said.

Denmark police arrest suspects in Covid protest

Police in Copenhagen said they had arrested two men, ages 30 and 34, in conjunction with the burning of an effigy of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at a protest against virus restrictions on Saturday. Police said they were continuing their investigation and more arrests may follow.

North Carolina deaths exceed 100 for fourth straight day

North Carolina reported 109 new deaths, the fourth consecutive day of more than 100 fatalities. It was the longest consecutive stretch of fatalities that high. Total deaths are 8,695, in a state hit hard by the latest virus wave, though the outbreak appears to be easing.

Israeli vaccination drive curbing infection

Israel’s world-leading campaign to vaccinate its citizens is beginning to rein in the disease, according to the country’s second-largest health network.

Maccabi Health Services studied a sample group of 50,777 people over the age of 60 inoculated in late December and then again in mid-January. Raw data showed that two days after the second shot, the number of new infections and hospitalisations were both down about 60% from their peak, researchers reported.

Meanwhile, the nation’s Cabinet approved restrictions that will bar foreign flights from entering the country in order to limit the country’s exposure to mutated strains of Covid-19. The closure takes effect at midnight on Monday and will last through the end of the month.

Germany fears cyber attacks on vaccination centres

The government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of possible attacks by opponents of vaccinations or coronavirus sceptics on vaccine facilities.

Due to “great media attention as well as the high dynamics and emotion” surrounding the topic, there is the threat of physical or cyber attacks on vaccination centres, transportation companies and producers, the German Interior Ministry said in a paper seen by Bloomberg.

Airbus plant in Germany hit by outbreak

Some 500 Airbus workers in Hamburg are self-isolating after 21 of them tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19, German newswire DPA reported, citing a city health department spokesman.

Airbus is reviewing the impact on production, broadcaster NDR reported. The plant, which cranks out most of the A320 aircraft, has about 12,000 employees.

US to boost surveillance of virus variants, CDC head says

The US government, including the Pentagon, is stepping up surveillance of coronavirus variants to monitor their impact on Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“We are now scaling up both our surveillance of these and our study of these,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Fox News Sunday. The agency is working with others, including the Defence Department and the Food and Drug Administration, to monitor the variants, she said.

UK has fewest new cases in five weeks

The UK reported its lowest daily tally since December 19, with 30,004 new cases on Sunday. That’s below the average of more than 37,000 over the previous seven days. Another 610 people died after testing positive for the virus, also lower than the weekly average of 1,248. Both figures tend to be lower on weekends. More than 6.35 million people have received the first dose of a vaccine.

US surpasses 25 million cases

The US passed another milestone in the year-long struggle against Covid-19, as total infections exceeded 25 million, or about 8% of the population, according to data reported on Sunday by Johns Hopkins University.

On Saturday, the nation added 172,878 cases, 0.7% less than the average of the preceding seven days, figures compiled by Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg show. While daily case counts have declined after spiking to records of almost 300,000 after the Christmas holiday, the weekly average of about 175,000 new infections every day remains high.

The US death toll surpassed 417,000 as another 3,390 people died of Covid-19 nationwide. It was the lowest increase on a Saturday in three weeks. The US count is more than double that of India, which has the world’s second-most infections.

New York cases continue at slower pace

New York state reported 12,720 new cases, as the virus continues to spread at a slower pace than during a post-holiday surge. Total hospitalisations declined slightly to 8,613, as did the statewide positive test rate to 5.09%, according to a statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo. Another 160 people died.

Netherlands police, protesters clash

Dutch police clashed with people protesting against the Netherlands’ lockdown of Amsterdam and the southern city of Eindhoven, the Associated Press reported. It comes a day after anti-curfew rioters set fire to a coronavirus testing facility in the country.

Portugal reports record deaths

Portugal on Sunday reported the highest daily number of deaths since the start of the outbreak. There were 275 fatalities in a day, more than the previous record of 274 on Saturday, taking the total to 10,469.

The government reported 11,721 new confirmed coronavirus infections in a day, compared with 15,333 cases announced on Saturday, taking the total to 636,190. The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by 22 to 742. The country’s national health service has a capacity of about 1,200 intensive-care beds.

Portugal eased curbs on travel for voters taking part in Sunday’s presidential election. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is seeking a second term. In Portugal, the president is mainly a figurehead and policy is set by the prime minister and the government.

Germany orders Trump treatment

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has ordered a coronavirus medication based on antibodies, which was used to treat former US president Donald Trump after he tested positive for Covid-19 in 2020. “Germany has bought 200.000 doses for €400-million euro,” Spahn told the Sunday edition of tabloid Bild. Germany would be the first EU country to use this treatment.

Fourth Zimbabwe Cabinet member dies

A fourth Cabinet minister from Zimbabwe has died after contracting Covid-19, the Associated Press reported. Other government officials who have succumbed to the disease recently include the foreign minister and transport minister.

KLM long-haul flights to continue

Air France-KLM’s Dutch unit will keep operating long-haul flights after it reached a deal to have staff undergo a rapid Covid-19 test upon return to the Netherlands. KLM last week urged the Dutch government to exempt its staff from a new requirement for mandatory pre-departure virus testing. It said it would otherwise halt all long-haul flights, which could threaten delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and other necessary cargo.

Egypt inoculates medical staff

Egypt has begun inoculating medical staff with the Sinopharm vaccine, Health Minister Hala Zaid said Sunday. The country is in the process of approving three other vaccines and has reserved a total 100 million doses, she said in a televised briefing, without specifying when the broader vaccination campaign will start.

EU’s Michel seeks clarity on delays

European Council President Charles Michel on Sunday called on pharmaceutical companies to provide clarity about the reasons behind delays in vaccine deliveries, according to a report in L’Echo. “We intend to enforce the contracts that have been validated by the pharmaceutical companies,” Michel said.

Dubai replaces health official

Dubai replaced its top health official on Sunday after coronavirus cases in the United Arab Emirates, of which it is part, spiked sharply in recent weeks. Awadh Al Ketbi was tapped as director-general of the Dubai Health Authority “to bring in new blood,” Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said on Twitter. The UAE has recently reported more than 3,000 daily cases, prompting Dubai to tighten restrictions on gatherings. The nation has so far inoculated a quarter of its population of about 10 million.

UK’s Hancock warns about variants

The UK’s health minister warned that coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease, such as those found in South Africa and Brazil, and that stricter border controls are therefore justified.

“We don’t know the degree of that,” Matt Hancock said in an interview on Sky News on Sunday, commenting on the extent of any potential reduced efficacy of the vaccines. “In the meantime, we’ve got to have a precautionary principle that says let’s not bring these new variants back to the UK.”

The warning came as the UK reported it had vaccinated more than five million people, including three-quarters of those over 80. Britain has already banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, plus all of South America. The UK is grappling with the highest death toll in Europe from Covid-19 and trying to recover from its deepest recession in more than 300 years.

France faces new lockdown

France is set to go back into lockdown “within days” amid concerns over a new wave of contaminations driven by the UK variant of the coronavirus, Journal du Dimanche said, citing unidentified people with knowledge of the matter.

French President Emmanuel Macron could announce the lockdown – the country’s third – on Wednesday night, according to the paper. It could start before the end of the week and last at least three weeks. France passed the threshold of three million Covid-19 cases on Friday.

Oslo area may expand restrictions

Municipalities surrounding Oslo have asked that restrictions imposed on Saturday on the area around Norway’s capital be extended to include them to stop the spread of a mutated version of the virus. The government told local media VG that a decision would be announced at a press conference later on Sunday.

India vaccinates more than 1.5 million people

India has vaccinated more than 1.5 million health care workers across the country as of January 23, the eighth day of the vaccination drive, the ministry of health and family welfare said.

Hong Kong imposes first lockdown

Hong Kong locked down thousands of residents for the first time over the weekend in a bid to contain a worsening outbreak. The unprecedented step for the Yau Ma Tei and Jordan areas – known for their night markets – was announced in a government statement early on Saturday morning.

The lockdown affects about 10,000 residents, Hong Kong Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui said at a briefing, adding that 162 cases had been found in the district since the start of 2021 through Wednesday. More than 3,000 government officers were deployed in the action, Tsui said. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Kamlesh Bhuckory, Frances Schwartzkopff, Turki Al Balushi, Joao Lima, Blaise Robinson, Joe Mayes, Abdel Latif Wahba, Lyubov Pronina, Arne Delfs, Ellen Proper, Sara Marley, Craig Torres, Ivan Levingston, and Peter Flanagan.


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