Global Virus Update: US infection rate eases to lowest since October; SA reports 78 deaths

Global Virus Update: US infection rate eases to lowest since October; SA reports 78 deaths
A woman in London walks past a piece designed by British artist Mark Wallinger titled ‘The World’ turned Upside Down' during the third national lockdown, 28 January 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Facundo Arrizabalaga)

South Africa registered a further 1,744 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,491,807. A further 78 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 47,899 deaths.

The pace of the coronavirus outbreak in the US continued to ease as the country’s week-to-week average fell to its lowest in almost four months. A top Biden administration health official warned Americans not to become complacent as the potentially more lethal variant first found in the UK spreads across the country.

The UK affirmed its plan for schools to reopen in early March as the nation’s vaccine programme meets its first target. The Czech government prolonged its lockdown as the country struggles to contain one of Europe’s worst outbreaks.

New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland, will go into a snap three-day lockdown after three members of one household were diagnosed with the virus.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 108.6 million; deaths pass 2.3 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 172 million shots given worldwide
  • US Spotlight: Covid cases drop in hard-hit states, heralding more improvement
  • Rise of variants sparks push for all-in-one Covid vaccines
  • What to know about severe reactions to Covid vaccines: QuickTake

Mexico hopes to work with Cuba on vaccine trial 

Mexico is in talks with Cuba to host part of a trial on a Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to draw more supplies from international laboratories as doses run short in the country and the death tally grows.

So far, just 0.5% of Mexico’s population has received at least one vaccine against the coronavirus, compared with 11.5% in the US, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

Czechs extend lockdown

The Czech government prolonged its pandemic lockdown measures, escalating its conflict with lawmakers opposed to the extension even as the country struggles to contain one of the worst outbreaks in Europe.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Sunday agreed to maintain the state of emergency for two more weeks, keeping the legal framework allowing it to shut shops and services, curb movement of people and impose a nighttime curfew. Babis’ rivals said the move violated the constitution.

Italy experts raise warning on ski resorts 

Italy needs an immediate time-limited lockdown to prevent wider spread of new coronavirus variants, Walter Ricciardi, senior adviser for Health Minister, told Ansa. Though the outbreak has eased and Italy has loosened restrictions, Ricciardi said ski resorts should not be reopened as planned on 15 February. Resorts were a major source of infection in Italy last winter. 

Italy’s Scientific Committee, also known as CTS, advised Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Sunday to keep ski resorts closed due to “the widespread circulation of viral variants,” Ansa said in a different report.

Italy reported 11,068 new cases on Sunday and 221 fatalities, in line with the previous week’s numbers. 

UK confirms vaccine target reached

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed his government had met its target of immunising everyone over the age of 70, along with people who live or work in nursing homes, health service workers and those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Johnson is due to announce his “road map” on February 22 to unlock the country gradually over the months ahead.

“In England, I can tell you we have now offered jabs to everyone in the first four priority groups, the people most likely to be seriously ill from coronavirus, hitting the first target we set ourselves,” he said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

Earlier on Sunday, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab signalled that schools in England will be allowed to reopen from early March

The UK reported another 10,972 cases on Sunday, the fewest since 2 October. Daily infections have been below 20,000 for 10 days in a row after peaking at more than 68,000 in early January. Fatalities are also at the lowest in 2021, though reporting often lags on weekends. Another 258 people died within 28 days of a positive test.

Rite Aid chief sees vaccine role for private sector

State and local governments struggling to get people swiftly registered for vaccinations could find help from the private sector, said Rite Aid Chief Executive Heyward Donigan.

“The governors are doing a wonderful job, as best they can,” including by putting their own call centres together, Donigan said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But demand is so high that I do think the private sector can play a role here.”

State and county officials nationwide have reported long wait times amid a crush of eligible residents seeking to schedule appointments for Covid-19 vaccinations.

The pharmacy chain is set to distribute 100 doses of Covid-19 vaccines per week at participating stores in California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

NY hospitalisations continue to drop

New York state hospitalisations fell by more than 1,000 to 6,593 over the past week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. That compares with more than 9,000 almost a month ago at the peak of the state’s post-holiday virus surge.

Cuomo reported 8,316 new cases, a daily decline in line with the lower pace of infection that has prompted him to ease some restrictions, including allowing limited indoor dining in New York City. The positive test rate was steady at 3.54%. Another 107 people died of Covid-19.

Sanofi says both shots could be ready in 2021

Sanofi’s two Covid-19 vaccines are entering new phases of trials in coming weeks and both could be available by the end of the year, said Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi Pasteur.

Sanofi’s more advanced vaccine candidate, being jointly developed with GlaxoSmithKline, will enter another Phase II trial later this month, and there have been no problems with getting the right formulations, Triomphe said in a phone interview. His comments came in response to an earlier report in French weekly Journal du Dimanche, questioning whether they would be ready.

Don’t let down guard on virus, CDC head warns

Americans should not get complacent about rapidly falling coronavirus cases as a potentially more lethal variant spreads in the US, according to Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US has seen more than 1,000 cases of the strain first identified in the UK, with infections across at least 39 states, Walensky said on NBC’s Meet the Press, one of three scheduled interviews on Sunday. It is around 40% to 50% more transmissible and early data “have suggested there might in fact be increased morbidity and mortality”.

Even with more than 52 million vaccines administered in the US, the country continues to see close to 100,000 cases per day — although infections, hospitalisations and deaths have declined steadily from January peaks.

US infection rate lowest since October

New US cases of Covid-19 declined to about 84,000 on Saturday, compared with an average 97,240 for the seven days ended Friday — the country’s lowest week-to-week average since late October, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

While testing has declined slightly nationwide, the positive-test rate has fallen from more than 13% early this year to less than 6%, according to JHU data.

Even so, the US added 3,433 deaths on Saturday, compared with an average 3,058 over the preceding seven days. The latest death toll is likely to have been inflated by revised numbers in Ohio following an earlier undercount.

Lebanon gives first vaccines

Lebanon administered its first shots of Covid-19 vaccine on Sunday, with an intensive care unit physician and a 93-year-old comedian becoming the first to receive Pfizer-BioNTech doses, the Associated Press reported.

The country began its inoculation campaign a day after receiving the first batch of the vaccine. The head of the intensive care unit at the country’s lead hospital in fighting the virus, Mahmoud Hassoun, was the first to receive the vaccine, while Salah Tizani, a famous actor in Lebanon who goes by the name Abu Salim, was the first among elderly members of the public.

Denmark readies for regular testing, long-term border controls

Denmark must prepare to deal with Covid-19 for a long period, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in an interview with the newspaper Berlingske.

Frederiksen suggested a “massive testing strategy” to keep society open. This model would require Danes to get used to being tested several times a week.

She also referred to longer-term border controls to prevent new mutations from spreading.

Sweden keeps late-June vaccination target

Sweden’s Public Health Agency maintained its goal for everyone in the country to be offered vaccination by the Midsummer celebration in late June.

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a Swedish public radio interview that meeting the target would become a tight race in May and June, with much depending on the delivery of vaccines in time. Tegnell also said it would be difficult to see loosened restrictions for large public gatherings before then.

Swiss business group calls for virus reopening

Influential Swiss business lobby group Economiesuisse called for the easing of some coronavirus restrictions beginning in March, putting pressure on Switzerland’s government.

Economiesuisse and the association of Swiss employers said the Swiss federal government should reopen non-essential shops, allow outdoor gatherings of more than five people and permit restaurants to have outdoor dining, beginning next month. The easing of restrictions would reduce harm to Switzerland’s economy, the groups said in a statement Sunday.

Health Minister Alain Berset is expected to announce the government’s plan to potentially reduce restrictions on 24 February. The Swiss government has closed restaurants, banned outdoor gatherings of more than five people, urged people who can to work from home and closed non-essential shops to stop the spread of the virus.

Serbia delivers vaccines to North Macedonia

A shortage of shots prompted one ex-Yugoslav republic to donate 4,680 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to another member of the former federation, in an atypical instance of Balkan solidarity.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic delivered the vaccines to North Macedonia’s Premier Zoran Zaev at the mutual border on Sunday, the first part of 8,000 vaccines for the southern neighbour. Both states aspire to join the European Union, though haven’t received any vaccines from the bloc.

Serbia has managed to buy more than 1.8 million shots directly from drug makers and has shared some with neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

Japan approves Pfizer vaccine

The Japanese government gave formal approval to the Covid-19 vaccine by ‎Pfizer. It’s the first go-ahead for shots against the coronavirus and Japan is expected to begin inoculations this week, beginning with medical professionals.

The government has agreed to buy the vaccine from Pfizer for 72 million people this year, and the first batch arrived on Friday. On Sunday, Tokyo reported 371 new Covid-19 cases, staying below 500 cases for eight consecutive days.

UK lockdown-sceptic MPs seek April end to restrictions: Sky

A group of lockdown-sceptic members of parliament told UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that coronavirus restrictions in the country must be entirely lifted by the end of April, Sky News reported. The Covid Recovery Group has written to Johnson saying there will be “no justification” for restrictions to continue once all people over 50 have been offered inoculation against the virus, according to Sky.

More than 60 backbench Conservative MPs are understood to have backed the letter, which urges that the prime minister commit to a timetable for ending the lockdown, the news service said.

Auckland begins snap three-day lockdown

Auckland, the most populous city in New Zealand, will start a snap three-day lockdown from midnight after three people from the same household were diagnosed with the virus.

The alert level for the remainder of New Zealand will rise to level 2, which requires social distancing and signals the risk of community transmission.

The source of the cases isn’t yet known, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a media conference late on Sunday. The government decided to adopt a “cautious approach that has served us so well previously,” she said.

New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries in containing the virus, at one stage going 100 days without a case in 2020 thanks to border closures and a strict nationwide lockdown. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Greg Ritchie, Andy Hoffman, Abbas Al Lawati, Matthew Brockett, Misha Savic, Andrew Davis, Jonas Cho Walsgard, Pete Norman, Sara Marley, Jennifer A Dlouhy, and Daniele Lepido.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c), it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are, therefore, disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information we should know about, please email [email protected]


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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