Covid-19 wrap: Netherlands curfew riots continue, Brazil variant in US, Iran approves Russian vaccine

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

FOLLOW LIVE | Covid-19 in SA: Death toll tops 41 000 as cases hit 1 417 537

Another night of riots in Netherlands over curfew

The Hague – The Netherlands was hit by a second wave of riots on Monday evening, as protesters again went on the rampage in several cities following the introduction of a coronavirus curfew over the weekend.

Riot police clashed with groups of protesters in Amsterdam as well as the port city of Rotterdam, where people smashed shop windows and ransacked their supplies.

The unrest also hit Amersfoort in the east, the small southern city of Geleen near Maastricht, The Hague and Den Bosch, police and news reports said.

More than 70 people had been rounded up by 22:00 (GMT), public newscaster NOS reported.

Geleen police said in an earlier tweet that they were dealing with "rioting youths who are throwing fireworks".

In Rotterdam, police used a water cannon after clashing with the protesters, the NOS said.

The city's mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, issued an emergency decree which gave police broader powers of arrest.

"There is an urgent request to all to leave the area," the city council said on Twitter.

Images on social media showed rioters looting a shop in Den Bosch and a press photographer being hit in the head in Haarlem, after an angry mob chased him off and threw a brick at him.

 - AFP

New Zealand PM expects closed borders for much of 2021

Wellington – New Zealand's borders are likely to remain closed for much of the year as health officials assess global vaccine rollouts, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned on Tuesday.

Ardern said the emergence over the weekend of New Zealand's first case of community transmission in more than two months showed the danger Covid-19 still posed to a nation hailed for its response to the coronavirus.

She said her government would not re-open its borders – which have been effectively closed to all but returning citizens since last March – while the pandemic was still raging worldwide.

"Given the risks in the world around us and the uncertainty of the global rollout of a vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year," she told reporters.

Still, Ardern said New Zealand would continue to pursue "travel bubbles" with Australia and Pacific island nations, which have also been largely successful at keeping out or containing the virus.

Plans to open a travel bubble by the end of March were thrown into question when Australia suspended quarantine-free travel for Kiwis in response to the latest case of community transmission.

Ardern said the case – a 56-year-old New Zealander who recently returned from Europe – was "well under control" and criticised Australia for re-imposing quarantine for New Zealanders.

 - AFP

Minnesota lab confirms first US coronavirus case associated with Brazil variant

Laboratory testing by the Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed the first known Covid-19 case in the United States associated with a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus originally seen in Brazil, the agency said on Monday.

The announcement came as President Joe Biden signed an order extending a travel ban barring nearly all non-US citizens who have recently been to Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 other European countries from entering the United States.

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Sunday that the federal government is stepping up efforts to track coronavirus mutations as a flurry of more infectious variants emerge around the globe.

The variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as Brazil P.1 was detected in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil, the state health department said in a press release. The agency said it marks the first documented instance of the P.1 variant in the United States.

While the Brazil variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of virus that causes Covid-19, it is not known whether the illness it causes is more severe.


Iran approves Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V for use

MOSCOW – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that Tehran had approved the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for domestic use.

"The Sputnik V vaccine was yesterday also registered and approved by our health authorities," Zarif said at a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow on Tuesday.


New Zealand may approve Covid-19 vaccine next week, start general vaccinations mid-year

New Zealand may approve a Covid-19 vaccine as early as next week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday, a day after the country confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in the community in months.

"We're making swift progress towards vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but we're also absolutely committed to ensuring the vaccines are safe and effective," Ardern said in a statement.

The recent community case, in a woman who returned to New Zealand on 30 December and had tested positive for the South African strain of the virus after leaving a two-week mandatory quarantine, led Australia to immediately suspend a travel bubble with New Zealand for 72 hours.

Pressure has been mounting on Ardern's government to vaccinate the population, but New Zealand has repeatedly said the process will not start for months.

Ardern said the country's medicines regulator Medsafe was working towards granting provisional approval for the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE vaccine.

The first vaccines are due to arrive in New Zealand by the end of the first quarter, but the government was making sure everything is in place in case of an earlier arrival.


Mexico's coronavirus death toll passes 150 000

Mexico City – Mexico's coronavirus death toll has surpassed 150 000, the government said on Monday, a day after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he had Covid-19.

The health ministry reported 659 more deaths in its daily update, taking the total to 150 273, behind only the United States, Brazil and India.

The overall number of infections registered now stands at more than 1.77 million in the nation of around 128 million, an increase of 8 521 from the previous day.

Lopez Obrador, 67, announced on Sunday that he was undergoing treatment for Covid-19, but said his symptoms were mild.

The family of Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men, said on Monday that the 80-year-old was also being treated for Covid-19, but has only minor symptoms.

Mexico City has been in a state of maximum alert since mid-December, with more than 90% of hospital beds full due to soaring infections. Non-essential activities have been suspended in the capital.

 - AFP

Indonesia passes one million coronavirus cases

Jakarta – Indonesia passed more than one million Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, as the archipelago launches one of the world's biggest vaccine drives to clamp down on a soaring infection rate.

The Southeast Asian nation of nearly 270 million has recorded 1 012 350 virus cases and almost 29 000 deaths, according to official data. But low testing rates mean the crisis is believed to be much bigger than those figures suggest.

Some hospitals are on the brink of collapse, as they are overwhelmed with patients in one of Asia's worst-hit nations, public health experts warn.

"I think we hit one million cases of Covid-19 a long time ago," said Pandu Riono, a University of Indonesia epidemiologist.

"We are still climbing a mountain and we don't even know where the peak is. This is a never-ending climb."

There are reports of patients being unable to access intensive care units and isolation rooms due to high demand – a shortage underscored by an East Java city's move to outfit a train carriage to accommodate the sick.

The virus has killed more than 600 doctors, nurses and other medical workers, many outfitted with limited protection equipment, according to independent researchers.

"Hospitals are already collapsing," Riono said, adding that the government had "no management, no plan, no priorities, just trial and error".

Indonesia's government has been widely criticised for initially downplaying the pandemic and, later, for lacking a coherent crisis strategy.

 - AFP

Moderna says it believes vaccine will work against new variants

Moderna Inc said on Monday it believes its Covid-19 vaccine protects against new variants found in Britain and South Africa, although it will test a new booster shot aimed at the South African variant after concluding the antibody response could be diminished.

The company said in a news release it found no reduction in the antibody response against the variant found in Britain. Against the South African variant, it found a reduced response, but still believed its two-dose regimen would provide protection.

The emergence of new variants in Britain, South Africa and Brazil has created some concern that mutations in the virus may make vaccines less effective.

Moderna said it is looking at whether a booster shot – either of its existing vaccine or of a new shot designed to protect against the South African variant – could be made available in future if evidence were to emerge that protection declined.

"The virus isn't going to stand still," Moderna President Stephen Hoge said on a conference call. "While the current strains appear to be well-protected by our Covid-19 ... it's important that we remain vigilant and develop potential tools and countermeasures that would allow us to continue to beat back the pandemic."


Philippines confirms local transmission of Britain coronavirus variant

MANILA – The Philippines has confirmed domestic transmission of the new, highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to abandon a plan to allow some minors to go outside their homes.

"Right now, we have local transmission where this individual or these cases with the variant have already infected their community, their family," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told news channel ANC on Tuesday.

The world is scrambling to contain the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, despite travel bans, new lockdowns and a tightening of quarantine measures in dozens of countries, amid concerns it could not only be more transmissible, but deadlier.

The Philippine health ministry said the B.1.1.7 variant had spread among 12 people in Bontoc, a mountainous northern province, with 17 such cases in the country.

Its first case of the British variant was found in a Filipino who had travelled from the United Arab Emirates.

Citing the British variant, Duterte said he had scrapped a plan to allow children ages 10 to 14 in low-risk areas to go outside the home starting 1 February.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 6 408 to 2 148 077 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 6 408 to 2 148 077, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday.

The reported death toll rose by 903 to 52 990, the tally showed.


Russia reports 18 241 new Covid-19 cases, 564 deaths

MOSCOW – Russia on Tuesday reported 18 241 new Covid-19 cases, taking its official national tally to 3 756 931.

Authorities also confirmed 564 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 70 482.


Brazil has 627 new Covid-19 deaths and 26 816 new cases, health ministry says

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil saw 627 new Covid-19 deaths, and 26 816 new cases of coronavirus, the Health Ministry said on Monday.


Thailand sees daily record 959 new coronavirus amid mass testing

BANGKOK – Thailand reported a daily record 959 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, due to what authorities said was a ramping up of testing at the epicentre of its most recent outbreak.

The new infections, the highest daily rise since the 745 cases reported on 7 January, brought the overall number to 14 646, with deaths remaining at 75, the country's Covid-19 taskforce said at a briefing.

The tally included 22 imported cases and 914 that were reported late on Monday by authorities in Samut Sakhon province, where Thailand's biggest outbreak was first detected at a big seafood market last month.

The majority of the Samut Sakhon cases were found as a result of a new, province-wide mass testing effort that authorities have said would take place for a week. Most cases were among migrant workers.


China reports 82 new mainland Covid-19 cases vs 124 a day earlier

BEIJING – Mainland China reported 82 new Covid-19 cases for 25 January, down from 124 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Tuesday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 69 of the new cases were local infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 57 from 45 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89 197. The death toll rose by one to 4 636.



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