Covid-19 wrap: UK bans travel from 11 African countries, record deaths in US, Sinovac vaccine declared halaal

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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: Cases at 1 170 590 as death toll hits 31 809

Worldwide coronavirus cases cross 87.42 million, death toll at 1 888 982

More than 87.42 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1 888 982 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.


UK extends England entry ban to travellers from 11 African countries for Covid variant

The United Kingdom said on Thursday it would extend a ban on travellers entering England to southern African countries in a measure to prevent the spread of a new Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa.

The restriction will take effect on Saturday and remain in place for two weeks, the government said in a statement.

"Entry into England will be banned to those who have travelled from or through any southern African country in the last 10 days, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola – as well as Seychelles and Mauritius," the country's Department for Transport said.

In addition, it said: "Israel (and Jerusalem) would be removed from the list of travel corridors for England and people arriving from January 9 from Botswana, Israel (and Jerusalem), Mauritius or Seychelles would need to self-isolate."

The UK had previously said it had temporarily banned entry of passengers to England arriving from South Africa from 24 December, excluding British and Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents, who will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for 10 days.


Indonesian clerics declare Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine halaal

JAKARTA – A Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinovac Biotech is deemed halaal, or permissible under Islam, the Indonesian Ulema Council said on Friday, days before the country is scheduled to start its inoculation programme using the Chinese vaccine.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has 3 million doses of CoronaVac and plans to use it when it starts its vaccination programme on Wednesday, with President Joko Widodo due to receive the first shot.

Asrorun Niam Sholeh of the council's fatwa commission told a news conference that Sinovac's CoronaVac was "holy and halaal", although authorisation for its use still rests on Indonesia's food and drug agency (BPOM).

"This could be the information that could soothe the people, especially Muslims," Niam said.

Indonesia is struggling with the worst Covid-19 epidemic in Southeast Asia and authorities are relying on a vaccine to help alleviate the health and economic crises ravaging the country.


Iranian leader Khamenei bans imports of US, British Covid-19 vaccines

DUBAI – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned Iran's government on Friday from importing Covid-19 vaccines from the United States and Britain.

"Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are forbidden. I have told this to officials and I'm saying it publicly now," Khamenei said in a live televised speech.

"I have no confidence in them. Sometimes they want to test vaccines on other nations ... If the Americans were able to produce a vaccine, they would not have such a coronavirus fiasco in their own country."

Iran, the country that has been worst hit by the novel coronavirus in the Middle East, launched human trials of its first domestic Covid-19 vaccine candidate late last month, saying it could help Iran defeat the pandemic despite US sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.

However, Khamenei praised Iran's efforts to develop domestic vaccines, but said Iran could obtain vaccines "from other reliable places". He gave no details, but China and Russia are both allies of Iran.

"I'm not optimistic about France either because of their history of infected blood," Khamenei said, referring to the country's contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.


Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears effective against mutation in new coronavirus variants - study

NEW YORK – Pfizer Inc and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the US drugmaker.

The study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralising virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein.

The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralisation elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer's top viral vaccine scientists.

The first results of tests on the variants offer a glimmer of hope while more studies are carried out as Britain and other countries try to tame the more infectious variants which authorities believe are driving a surge in infections that could overwhelm healthcare systems.

The Pfizer-BioNTech study was conducted on blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine. Its findings are limited because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.

Dormitzer said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously tested against.


UK virus strain triggers snap lockdown in Australia's Brisbane

Brisbane – Australia's third-largest city was headed into another lockdown on Friday and nationwide restrictions on international arrivals were being tightened, after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel contracted the highly infectious UK strain of Covid-19.

More than two million residents in the Greater Brisbane area will have to stay at home for at least three days from Friday evening, authorities said.

"If we are going to stop the spread of this infectious strain, this UK strain, we must act immediately," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told media.

Large queues formed at shops around the city, with officials urging people to stop panic-buying. The incoming restrictions will still allow residents to leave home to buy essentials.

On Brisbane's central shopping strip, Queen Street Mall, people voiced their support for the measures – keen to avoid the soaring case numbers seen as the variant takes hold in Britain.

Andy McPhee, 51, a Brisbane resident who works for an international firm, said the lockdown paled in comparison to what his colleagues overseas were experiencing.

"I don't think a three-day lockdown is going to hurt us at all. I think it's imperative to stamp out the virus," McPhee told AFP.

"One case becomes two and two cases become 10 so before you know it, it can get a bit out of control."

The variant, which first triggered warnings in the UK last month, appears to be more infectious than Covid-19 strains previously detected in Australia.

Several UK and South African variant cases have been detected in travellers currently under mandatory quarantine in recent weeks.

 - AFP

Israel tightens nationwide coronavirus lockdown

JERUSALEM – Israel tightened a national lockdown on Friday in a bid to curb a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising that all Israeli adults could be vaccinated by the end of March.

With a population of nine million, Israel is leading the world in a swift rollout of vaccinations, but the number of new infections has climbed to about 8 000 a day, the highest in months.

Israel imposed its third lockdown on 27 December. Many Israelis, however, ignored travel and social-distancing restrictions, prompting stricter measures that will include more police roadblocks and the closure of most schools and more businesses.

The new edicts will be in effect for at least two weeks.

In a speech on Thursday, Netanyahu said a vaccine supply agreement with Pfizer Inc meant that all Israelis over the age of 16 would be able to be inoculated by the end of March, or perhaps even earlier.

"As part of the agreement, we agreed that Israel would serve as a model nation, a model for the world in the swift vaccination of an entire country," Netanyahu said in his address, promising accelerated shipments.


'Please take it' - Singapore PM after getting Covid-19 vaccine

SINGAPORE – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received his first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, and urged others to take the jabs in a country that has largely brought the pandemic under control.

Unlike other mass vaccination programmes in the United States and Britain, Singapore is administering the jabs having largely eradicated the disease and has reported only a handful of local cases in recent months.

The government has said its studies show nearly 60% of residents are willing to be vaccinated. But the plans have stirred rare hesitancy among some due to the low risk of infection in the island nation and concern about any possible side effects from rapidly developed vaccines.

"It will make us safer, and it will make you and your loved ones safer too, so please take it when you can," Lee, 68, said after receiving the jab at a local hospital.

Singapore has only approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine, but has said it has secured enough doses for its 5.7 million population, including from other vaccine-makers like Moderna and Sinovac.


US CDC: 21.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines distributed, 5.9 million administered

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it had administered 5 919 418 first doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Thursday morning, and distributed 21 419 800 doses.

The tally of vaccine doses distributed and the number of people who received the first dose are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines as of 09:00 (ET) on Thursday, the agency said.

According to the tally posted on 6 January, the agency had administered 5 306 797 first doses of the vaccines and distributed 17 288 950 doses.

A total of 3 770 425 vaccine doses were distributed for use in long-term care facilities and 603 313 people in the facilities got their first dose, the agency said.


US sets new record with nearly 4 000 Covid deaths in one day - Johns Hopkins

Washington – The United States counted a record number of daily coronavirus deaths on Thursday at nearly 4 000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The 3 998 deaths were recorded over the 24-hour period ending at 20:30 local time (01:30 GMT Friday), during which the US notched 265 246 new infections, according to the university.

 - AFP

Indonesia reports new daily Covid-19 record, total cases top 800 000

JAKARTA – Indonesia reported on Friday a record daily number of new Covid-19 cases for the third successive day with 10 617 infections, bringing the total to over 800 000, data from the country's Covid-19 task force showed.

Southeast Asia's biggest country also reported 233 new Covid-19 deaths, taking that total to 23 753.


Spain hits two million virus cases

Madrid – Spain's total number of coronavirus infections surged past two million on Thursday as cases jumped following the Christmas holidays, government figures showed on Thursday.

The milestone came as the health ministry announced another 42 360 new cases over the past 48 hours, taking the overall figure to 2 024 904, although seroprevalence studies that test people using a blood serum sample suggest the figure is far higher.

"The total number of confirmed cases... already exceeds two million today," said Maria Jose Serra, deputy head of the health ministry's emergencies unit, indicating the number of infections was "clearly on the increase".

Over the same 48-hour period, Spain also saw another 245 deaths, raising the overall toll to 51 675. And the incidence rate also shot up, rising from 296 cases per 100 000 people to 321, the figures showed.

On 21 October, Spain became the first European country to record a million coronavirus infections, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez admitting just days later the real number was three times higher.

 - AFP

Brazil passes 200 000 Covid-19 deaths as cases hit daily record

BRASILIA – Brazil's Covid-19 death toll passed 200 000 on Thursday, the health ministry said, as daily new cases accelerated to a record of 87 843 after year-end holidays in the country with the world's second-deadliest outbreak.

Experts warn Brazil has still not seen the height of cases resulting from people celebrating Christmas and New Year's with friends and family. Others, including President Jair Bolsonaro, booked their regular beach vacations at the height of summer in the southern hemisphere.

"It's a shame what happened in the summer. What we expect is that after January 15, we will unfortunately face a critical state again in hospitals," said Rafael Deucher, a doctor in Paraná state, where 80% of public intensive care beds occupied.

Immunologists say various factors are likely to intensify what is a second wave of the virus. Brazil is at least three weeks away from beginning its vaccine campaign, according to the government, which has been criticised for not moving quickly enough.

"People are tired and are no longer adhering to preventive measures due to psychological strain, but also due to the lack of a unified political discourse," said Alexandre Naime, head of the department of infectious diseases at Universidade Estadual Paulista's faculty of medicine.

"There are many people who are against science and public health, against the mask, and in favour of big gatherings."

Brazil registered 1 524 additional deaths over the past 24 hours, according to health ministry data. Since the outbreak began, nearly 8 million people have been infected and 200 498 have died.


Mexico reports 13 734 new coronavirus cases, 1 044 more deaths

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's health ministry on Thursday reported 13 734 new coronavirus cases and 1 044 more fatalities, bringing the country's totals to 1 493 569 infections and 131 031 deaths.

It was one of the highest numbers for daily new cases.

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


Russia reports 23 652 new coronavirus cases, 454 deaths

MOSCOW – Russia on Friday reported 23 652 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, including 5 027 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3 355 794.

Authorities said 454 people had died, taking Russia's official death toll to 60 911.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 31 849 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 31 849 to 1 866 887, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday.

The reported death toll rose by 1 188 to 38 795, the tally showed.


Thailand reports 205 new coronavirus cases

BANGKOK – Thailand reported 205 new coronavirus cases on Friday and no new deaths, taking the total number of infections to 9 841 and 67 fatalities.

A cleaner from the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority
A cleaner from the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority in protective gear.

The tally included 16 cases imported from abroad, most of those found in state quarantine, according to the country's Covid-19 task force.


Mainland China reports 53 new Covid-19 cases vs 63 a day earlier

SHANGHAI – Mainland China reported 53 new Covid-19 cases on 7 January, down from 63 reported a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Friday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 33 of the 37 locally transmitted infections were in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing that entered a "wartime mode" earlier this week.

Shijiazhuang, Hebei's capital, banned people from leaving the city in the latest step to curb the spread of the disease.

The commission also reported 57 new asymptomatic cases, down from 79 a day earlier.

China does not classify these patients, who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease but are not yet showing any Covid-19 symptoms, as confirmed cases.


Morocco approves AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine - minister

RABAT – Morocco's health ministry on Wednesday approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for emergency use, Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb said.

Morocco had announced it plans to launch a free vaccination campaign targeting 25 million people, or 80% of its population.

The country has ordered 66 million doses from AstraZeneca and China's Sinopharm, but has not yet received any, Ait Taleb told state 2M TV channel.

The deal with Sinopharm includes technology transfer and the setting up of a production plant in Morocco, he said.

The vaccination campaign would last three months at least, in order to achieve population immunity, Ait Taleb said.

On Wednesday, the country said it had recorded a total of 447 081 coronavirus infections including 7 000 deaths and 20 719 active cases.


Tunisia reports daily coronavirus record of 2 820 cases

TUNIS – Tunisia recorded 2 820 new confirmed coronavirus cases, the health ministry said on Wednesday, a record since the start of the pandemic last year.

Seventy more deaths were reported, taking the death toll to more than 5 000, the ministry added.

The total number of cases has jumped to around 150 000.


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