Covid-19 wrap: Over 83m global cases, Tokyo state of emergency, Australia urges China to give WHO access

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Coronavirus toll at 11:00 (GMT) Thursday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1 818 946 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 11:00 (GMT).

At least 83 381 330 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 52 534 200 are now considered recovered.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and excludes later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

On Thursday, 13 629 new deaths and 728 621 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on the latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 3 426 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 1 074 and the United Kingdom with 964.

The United States remains the worst-affected country with 345 844 deaths from 19 974 883 cases. At least 6 298 082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 194 949 deaths from 7 675 973 cases, India with 148 994 deaths from 10 286 709 cases, Mexico with 125 807 deaths from 1 426 094 cases, and Italy with 74 159 deaths from 2 107 166 cases.

 - AFP

Japan declares state of emergency for Tokyo area as Covid-19 cases surge

TOKYO – Japan declared a limited state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and three neighbouring prefectures on Thursday to stem the spread of the coronavirus, resisting calls from some medics for wider curbs due to the economic damage they would cause.

The government said the one-month emergency would run from Friday to 7 February in Tokyo and Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, covering about 30% of the country's population. Restrictions would centre on combating transmission in bars and restaurants, which the government says are main risk areas.

The curbs are narrower in scope than those imposed in April under an emergency that ran to late May. At that time, the curbs were nationwide and schools and non-essential businesses were mostly shuttered. This time, schools are not being closed.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government is seeking to limit damage to the world's third-biggest economy, while striving to defeat the virus once and for all as it looks ahead to staging the postponed summer Olympics.

"The global pandemic has been a tougher one than we expected, but I'm hopeful we can overcome this," Suga told a televised news conference.

"For this to happen, I must ask citizens to endure life with some restrictions."

Some medical experts have said they fear the government's plan for limited restrictions might not be enough.


Australia urges China to give access to WHO coronavirus experts 'without delay'

CANBERRA – China should give access to World Health Organisation (WHO) officials investigating the origins of Covid-19 "without delay", Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the head of WHO said he was "very disappointed" that China had still not authorised the entry of a team of international coronavirus experts.

"We hope that the necessary permissions for the WHO team's travel to China can be issued without delay," Payne said.

She reiterated the importance of the WHO-convened scientific study and said: "We look forward to the findings from the international field mission to China".

The novel coronavirus is believed to have first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. It has since spread globally, infecting more than 86 million people and killing over 1.8 million, Reuters calculations show.


Spain increases virus curbs but rules out lockdown

Madrid – Spain's regions stepped up virus restrictions this week but the government remained adamant it would not impose a lockdown despite an expected post-Christmas surge in infections, a minister said Thursday.

Outgoing Health Minister Salvador Illa said the situation was causing "a great deal of concern", warning there were "complicated weeks ahead and people must remain on high alert".

But although countries across Europe are living through a second or even third lockdown, Spain was not even considering such a measure, he said.

"It's not in our sights, nor is it a measure we are contemplating," said Illa, who is stepping down to run for the top post in Catalonia in regional elections next month.

Illa insisted that the scope of restrictions available under a state of emergency which is in place until May was enough.

Memories of the harsh months-long lockdown imposed last March remain fresh in Spain where no one was allowed out for walks or exercise for six weeks until the government began slowly easing the rules, first for children.

But with the number of cases rising, several regions -- which are responsible for managing healthcare -- have brought forward a nightly curfew or ordered the closure of certain businesses since the start of the year.

 - AFP

AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in England extended to doctors' practices

LONDON – Some doctors' practices in England will be able to offer the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University from Thursday, the National Health Service (NHS) said, targeting the vaccination of the most vulnerable within six weeks.

More than 1.3 million people in the United Kingdom have received one shot of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine.

"We are aiming to offer vaccinations to the majority of care home residents by the end of January and all 13 million people in the top four priority cohorts by mid-February," health minister Matt Hancock said.

The government must ramp up shots to around 2 million a week to hit its target. The top priority groups include care home residents, the elderly, the clinically vulnerable, and frontline health and social care workers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that if the vaccine rollout goes to plan, new lockdown measures introduced this week could start to be eased in February.


South African medical schemes to fund Covid-19 vaccines for 30% of adults

JOHANNESBURG – Millions of South Africans will have their Covid-19 vaccinations subsidised by medical schemes that pool health insurance premiums through an agreement with the government, a top medical scheme administrator said.

Under the arrangement, medical schemes will pay above cost for doses for their members – roughly 7 million adults over the age of 15 – subsidising procurement for another 7 million adults who are without private medical cover, Ryan Noach, chief executive of the country's largest medical scheme administrator, Discovery Health, said.

In all, vaccines for around 30% of the country's adult population would be financed by the agreement.

SA aims to vaccinate a minimum of 67% of its population against the coronavirus to reach herd immunity, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday.

But it is yet to start vaccinating or receive its first doses, and some local health experts and trade unions have publicly criticised the government for moving too slowly with its vaccine strategy.

Noach told Reuters on Wednesday that the cost to medical schemes of buying the vaccines could reach a maximum of R7 billion, but may be much less. That was "completely digestible", he said, since it represented less than 2% of gross annual premiums.

Many medical schemes ended 2020 with large surpluses because non-coronavirus related healthcare was drastically reduced during the pandemic, he added.


Mexico reports surge in coronavirus cases after Christmas period

MEXICO CITY – Mexico saw one of the biggest daily rises in coronavirus cases and Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, the health ministry said, as gatherings during the Christmas period likely fuelled a surge in infections.

The ministry reported 13 345 new confirmed cases and 1 165 deaths on Wednesday. That brought the country's total number of infections to 1 479 835 and its overall death toll to 129 987.

The latest case and death tallies were the highest recorded in one day, barring a one-off spike in October, which the government said was due to methodological changes.

Ricardo Cortes, a health ministry official, said the fresh surge was likely linked to Mexicans attending Christmas celebrations, adding that the virus is more likely to spread when many people meet in closed spaces without ventilation.

"We're starting to see a reflection of what we lived in the past weeks," Cortes said during a press conference.

The real number of infected people and deaths in Mexico is likely significantly higher than the official count, the health ministry has said.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 26 391 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 26 391 to 1 835 038, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by 1 070 to 37 607, the tally showed.


Brazil sees 1 242 Covid-19 deaths, 63 430 new cases

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil has recorded 63 430 new cases of coronavirus and 1 242 fresh Covid-19 deaths, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.


Thailand reports 305 new coronavirus cases, 1 more death

BANGKOK – Thailand on Thursday reported 305 new coronavirus infections and one new death, bringing its total to 9 636 cases and 67 fatalities since it first detected the virus early last year.

The new infections included three cases imported from abroad and found in quarantine, the government's Covid-19 taskforce said at a news briefing.


China reports highest Covid-19 figures since July

Beijing – China reported 63 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday – the highest single-day tally since July – as authorities try to stamp out an outbreak of the virus in a city of 11 million near Beijing.

The virus first emerged in central China in late 2019, but since then authorities have largely brought the situation under control through travel restrictions, strict lockdowns and mass testing.

But a recent outbreak in northern Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, has seen cases spike and prompted mass testing, school closures and travel links being cut into the province.

On Thursday, there were 51 more cases reported in the province, the National Health Commission reported – plus another 69 asymptomatic cases.

State broadcaster CCTV showed a small crowd gathered outside a railway station in Shijiazhuang being directed by medical staff in full hazmat suits and protective wear.

 - AFP

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