Visitors wear face masks while walking the pier amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Feb 19, 2021, in Santa Monica, Calif. (POTO / AP)
GENEVA / BRUSSELS / LONDON / PARIS / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / WASHINGTON / MADRID / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / BERLIN – Although the global number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen for the fifth consecutive week, the world is still not out of the woods and now is not the time to let the guard down, senior officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing here on Thursday that last week saw the lowest number of reported weekly cases since October 2020.
Since the beginning of 2021, the number of reported weekly cases has fallen by almost half, from more than five million at the beginning of January to 2.7 million in the week starting Feb. 8.
“This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants,” Tedros said.
Alongside Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the WHO on Monday authorized two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. These latter now have the green light to be rolled out globally through COVAX, a WHO-led international initiative for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said Friday that the company will expand manufacturing and work with new suppliers to ramp up production of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE.
Appearing at a Pfizer plant in Michigan with President Joe Biden, Bourla said the company will employ additional capacity at its Kalamazoo site to produce the shot’s formulation as well as a component of the vaccine, known as lipids, which help deliver the genetic material into the body. The drug giant also will increase lipid production capabilities at its plant in Groton, Connecticut, and add on so-called fill-finish capacity at its site in McPherson, Kansas.
He said he expects the number of doses, which average 5 million a week, “to more than double.”
Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 110.6 million while the global death toll topped 2.45 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The White House has been reaching out to social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google about clamping down on COVID misinformation and getting their help to stop it from going viral, a senior administration official said.
The White House’s direct engagement with the companies to mitigate the challenge has not been previously reported. Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain has previously said the administration will try to work with Silicon Valley on the issue.
“Disinformation that causes vaccine hesitancy is going to be a huge obstacle to getting everyone vaccinated and there are no larger players in that than the social media platforms,” said the source, who has direct knowledge of the White House’s efforts.
US land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least March 21, the one-year anniversary of the restrictions to address COVID-19 transmission concerns, the U.S. government said Friday.
Biden on Friday secured a commitment from Pfizer Inc to double the COVID-19 vaccine it churns out in the coming weeks, putting his goal to fill the country’s inoculation stockpile by summer in sight.
US COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been hindered by power outages amid the ongoing winter storms in much of the country, with nearly all states experiencing shipment delays.
US government vaccine distribution partners “have all faced challenges as workers have been snowed in and unable to get to work to package and ship the vaccines,” said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, on Friday.
The country has a backlog of six million vaccine doses due to storm weather, according to the White House.
More than 2,000 COVID-19 vaccination sites have been affected, slowing the pace of administering doses.
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Spain has given a full two-shot course of coronavirus vaccines to almost all its elderly nursing-home residents, the FED care-home association said on Friday, restoring some sense of security to the most vulnerable section of the population.
Separately, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the country, which has administered 2.8 million doses and fully inoculated 1.14 million people, was on track to vaccinate 20 million people in the first half of 2021 out of a population of 47 million.
Nearly 43,000 care-home residents died of COVID-19 or suspected infection in the devastating March-May first wave of contagion, and prosecutors are investigating more than 200 cases of potential criminal negligence at such homes.
The Dutch Senate on Friday backed emergency legislation by the government to maintain a night-time coronavirus curfew after a court earlier in the week ruled that the measure lacked legal justification.
Passed in a vote of 45-13, it ensures that one of the government’s key strategies to contain the virus will remain in place after being shot down by a district court on Tuesday.
With 24,116 new infections confirmed in the last 24 hours, France has counted an accumulative total of 3,560,764 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, according to data from the French Public Health Agency.
The country’s coronavirus-linked toll now stands at 83,964, after registering 328 deaths in the past 24 hours. A total of 9,435 COVID-19 patients remain in hospital, including 1,764 in intensive care in the last seven days.
The number of daily new infections was at a high plateau but started to decrease thanks to a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. introduced since mid-January, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France 2 television early Friday.
Attal, however, warned that the sanitary situation “is still fragile as the virus can resurge at any time.”
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has urged his compatriots to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, warning that the country was on the cusp of a third wave of the epidemic.
“If more people ask to be vaccinated, we save lives. If the virus curve rises, we lose lives,” he said on Friday on local public radio MR1.
“By now, 391,821 people in Hungary have been vaccinated at least once and all those registered will be vaccinated by Easter,” Orban said.
“We have the biggest stock of vaccines in the European Union,” he said. “So I encourage everyone to register, accept the vaccine and get vaccinated.”
Hungary on Friday registered 3,093 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour span, raising the national total to 397,116, according to the government’s coronavirus information website.
Ontario’s government has scrapped plans to allow more businesses to reopen in Toronto after city officials warned it would be a deadly mistake.
Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until at least March 8 in Canada’s largest city and financial center, as well as two other regions of the province. Toronto had been expected to return to less-stringent measures on Feb. 22, allowing for limited opening of some retail businesses that have been closed to in-person activity since November.
COVID-19 variants could drive a resurgence of more new cases across Canada without stronger public health measures, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Friday.
The PHAC data show that COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been declining over the past few weeks. An average daily count of some 3,000 cases were reported over the past seven days, down from a January peak of more than 8,000.
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Another 12,027 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,095,269, according to official figures released Friday.
The country also reported another 533 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 119,920. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
Meanwhile, Britain’s latest R value of COVID-19 stood at between 0.6 and 0.9, which means, on average, every 10 people infected with the virus will infect between 6 and 9 other people, according to the figures updated on Friday by the British government.
The R value, or the reproduction number, is the average number of secondary COVID-19 infections produced by a single infected person.
Irish authorities identified the so-called Brazilian variant in the country for the first time, the latest strain to appear there. The three cases of the P1 variant that have been found were all associated with travel, the health ministry said in a statement.
The B.1.1.7 strain, which is often referred to as the UK variant, accounts for about 90 percent of cases in Ireland now, and authorities believe its increased transmissibility is contributing to a slowing reduction in case numbers.
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Albania reached 97,909 on Friday as the Health Ministry registered 1,071 new infections in the past 24 hours.
This was the fourth consecutive day that the country registered over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.
Mexico expects to receive 200,000 Sinovac vaccinations on Feb. 20, another 800,000 on Feb. 28, and 3 million in March, April and May for a total of 10 million doses, said Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell.
Mexico reported a daily rise of 857 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 178,965, the Health Ministry said Friday.
Mexico on Friday registered 857 additional fatalities due to the coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 178,965 deaths.
According to health ministry data, Mexico also registered 7,829 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, for a total of 2,030,491 cases.
Brazil registered 51,050 new COVID-19 infections and 1,308 deaths from the disease in the past 24 hours, raising the national counts to 10,081,676 and 244,765 respectively, the Health Ministry said Friday.
Brazil, which has the world’s second-largest COVID-19 death toll after the United States, has seen a daily average of more than 1,000 deaths in the past month.
Sao Paulo state, a nationwide epicenter of the pandemic, has seen 1,960,564 cases and 57,499 deaths since the country’s first case was detected in the state on Feb. 26, 2020. The state government on Friday modified part of its contingency plan against COVID-19, expanding restrictions in interior cities, such as Barretos and Presidente Prudente, due to resurging cases.
Argentina’s health minister resigned on Friday following reports that people had been able to use connections to get access to COVID-19 vaccines to which they were not entitled.
The vaccination campaign against COVID-19 infection in Argentina, which began in January with health workers, has now moved on to senior citizens.
In the country’s largest province of Buenos Aires, which accounts for 41.73 percent of COVID-19 cases, immunization is being administered in 169 public hospitals, 169 public schools and 21 medical centers.
“Those over 70 years old will be vaccinated, followed by those over 60, as well as teachers with risk factors because classes begin on March 1” in the province, said Salvador Giorgi, the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Health.
Cuba recorded 859 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 42,547 cases, as well as five more deaths in the same period for a total of 287 deaths, the Public Health Ministry said on Friday.
In the daily televised report, the ministry’s national director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran said there were 4,998 active cases, “a slightly lower figure than yesterday, but still very high.”
Bolivia reported a drop in the number of high-risk cities as fewer new COVID-19 cases were reported in the past weeks, the Health Ministry said on Friday.
The pandemic is going through a “widespread de-escalation” amid the second wave of infections, Maria Renee Castro, deputy minister of promotion, epidemiological surveillance and traditional medicine, told Xinhua.
Chile’s Health Ministry on Friday reported 3,827 new COVID-19 infections and 99 more deaths in one day, for accumulative totals of 791,939 cases and 19,897 deaths.
Currently, 748,920 of the total number of cases have recovered, while 22,728 are active, according to the ministry’s daily report.
Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris said in a statement that COVID-19 cases nationwide have fallen by 11 percent in two weeks and that the number of people who are sick has decreased in 11 regions of the country.
In contrast, the northern region of Arica and Parinacota has the highest incidence rate for every 100,000 inhabitants in the country.
Ecuador on Friday reported 1,416 new cases of COVID-19 infection and 24 deaths from the disease in the past 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 271,276 and the death toll to 10,738.
The Ministry of Health also documented another 4,736 “probable deaths” due to COVID-19.
According to the ministry, Ecuador is seeing an exponential increase in infections every day, mainly in major cities, although all cities are registering a rise in cases.
The capital Quito, the current epicenter of the pandemic in Ecuador, registered 388 infections in the last 24 hours for a total of 87,832 confirmed cases, while the port and industrial center of Guayaquil, capital of the western province of Guayas, saw 111 new cases of infection for a total of 23,519.
African countries have reported 3,799,029 COVID-19 cases as of Friday evening, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
Meanwhile, the death toll from COVID-19 on the continent has risen to 100,359, it added.
South Africa has reported 48,708 deaths from COVID-19, the highest death toll in Africa, followed by Egypt and Morocco with 10,201 and 8,524, respectively.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday said the country will receive a donation of 75,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from India as his government steps up efforts in combating the pandemic.
“We are grateful to our Indian friends for committing to donate 75,000 COVID vaccines and the opportunity to buy more moving forward.
“We are working tirelessly to obtain sufficient vaccines so we can overcome this virus and revive our country,” Mnangagwa said in an update on his official Twitter account.
Zimbabwe aims to inoculate at least 10 million of its 16 million citizens to achieve herd immunity.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe on Thursday started rolling out its COVID-19 inoculation program following the arrival of vaccines donated by China.
The Rwandan government said Friday that the current COVID-19 restrictions will be eased from Feb. 23, with the reduction of curfew hours and the resumption of public offices in the capital city of Kigali.
Under the new measures effective from Feb. 23 to March 15, movements will be prohibited between 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. nationwide, and shortened from current 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., according to a Cabinet communique.
Public offices in Kigali, which have been required to be closed, will resume with essential staff at no more than 30 percent capacity, and all schools across the country will be allowed to open.
Ghana has recorded 556 COVID-19 cases in 139 schools since their reopening last month, Director General of the Ghana Health Service Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said Friday.
The director general described the COVID-19 spread within educational institutions as “sporadic”.
Ghana reopened all levels of schools in January after a nearly 10-month closure due to the pandemic.
As of Friday, Kuma-Aboagye said Ghana has registered 79,165 cases with 568 deaths.
Despite an average daily count of 700 cases currently, the director general expressed.
Ethiopia reported 837 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, taking the national count to 151,016, the country’s Ministry of Health said on Friday.
The death toll from COVID-19 in the country has risen to 2,259 with 12 more deaths reported, according to the ministry.
Algeria on Friday reported 182 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the North African country to 111,600.
The death toll from the virus in Algeria rose to 2,954 after four new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.
Morocco’s COVID-19 tally rose to 480,504 on Friday as 448 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Health, the death toll mounted to 8,540 as 16 COVID-19 patients died in the last 24 hours.
Infections in South Africa surpassed 1.5 million on Friday, with almost 50,000 dead, the health ministry said. The country began issuing its first vaccines this week — single-shot doses from Johnson & Johnson – with 6,524 people inoculated in the first three days of the rollout.