International update: China stalls WHO – global Covid cases pass 87.2 million

7 January 2021 (Last Updated January 7th, 2021 10:15)

7 January

Global: Global coronavirus infections pass 87.2 million. Meanwhile, the global coronavirus death toll has passed 1,884,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

China has attempted to downplay concerns over its refusal to authorise a fact-finding mission to the country by the World Health Organization to study the origins of Covid-19, saying it is still negotiating access with the UN body.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 21.3 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 361,279 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

South America: The critical care wards of major hospitals in Peru and Bolivia stand at or near collapse after end-of-year holidays, reflecting wider regional public health capacity concerns as much of South America struggles to secure adequate Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

France: France is unlikely to avoid the new and more contagious “UK variant” of the coronavirus, the government’s chief scientific advisor on the epidemic said as it was reported the country already had about 22 confirmed cases of the UK variant.

Tunisia: Tunisia recorded 2,820 new confirmed coronavirus cases- the most since the start of the pandemic-the health ministry said on Wednesday. Seventy more deaths were reported, taking the death toll to more than 5,000.

Portugal: Portugal extends state of emergency amid record daily Covid cases. The daily number of Covid-19 cases in the nation of around 10 million people reached a record high of 10,027, putting increasing pressure on the health system.

South Africa: South Africa reported 21,832 new Covid-19 infections Wednesday, bringing its total to 1.15 million. The number of people who have died after being diagnosed with the disease rose by 844 to 31,368 deaths, the health ministry said.

Mexico: Mexico reported 1,165 Covid-19 deaths, the highest daily increase apart from Oct. 5, when it adjusted its counting strategy. The capital and metropolitan area, where more than 20 million people live, also saw a record number of virus hospitalizations. About 88% of Mexico City hospital beds for coronavirus patients are occupied.

Japan: Japan’s Covid-19 cases reached a new daily record of at least 6,001 on Wednesday, as the government faced mounting pressure from health experts to impose a strict state of emergency for the Tokyo greater metropolitan area.

China: Authorities in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province surrounding Beijing, banned people from leaving the city by train, China Central Television reported, citing local police. Many airlines have also canceled flights due to the worsening outbreak, the city’s airport said in a statement on Weibo, without elaborating. Infections spiked in Hebei after the New Year holiday. Ma Xiaowei, head of China’s National Health Commission, called the outbreak in the province “very severe,” while the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the strain is similar to those from Europe, but how it became locally transmitted is unknown. The first confirmed case was reported Saturday. The patient, a 61-year-old woman, visited relatives and attended events before being diagnosed.

Vaccine news

EU: The EMA has approved the Moderna vaccine, making it the second coronavirus shot to be cleared for general use across the EU, as tensions continued to rise over the slow progress of vaccination programmes in the bloc.

US: In the latest disagreement with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo said police officers and firefighters are not yet eligible to get the Covid-19 vaccine. De Blasio said Wednesday that police and firefighters can begin getting vaccinated this week. In response, Cuomo said that only police and firefighters who are also emergency-care providers are eligible. The rest will be able to get vaccinated when the state starts with its next tier.

US health officials encouraged states to start vaccinating people more widely, acknowledging that the immunization rollout has been slower than anticipated and opening the spigot for a broader range of Americans to begin getting shots. About 5.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. have been administered in the US since mid-December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That represents a fraction of the number of doses distributed so far.

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to the US Operation Warp Speed effort to develop Covid-19 vaccines, said he will stay on as a consultant to the incoming Biden administration.

Australia: Australia’s vaccination roll-out will begin by late February and 4 million people should have received at least their first dose by the end of March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra. The program will be implemented in five stages. The first will cover quarantine and border officials, health workers and residents in aged and disability care, providing a “ring of containment” around the whole population, he said. Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine should be approved for use by Australian authorities by the end of January, with the AstraZeneca Plc product following during February, according to Morrison.

Thailand: Thailand will allow private companies and hospitals to import and sell Covid-19 vaccinations – if the shots have been approved by the nation’s Food and Drug Administration. The government has set up a pathway for manufacturers to register their vaccines for approval, spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said. Domestic firms won’t be allowed to advertise or take advance orders if the shots haven’t been approved for use locally. Thailand reported 305 new cases, taking its total to 9,636.

Philippines: Almost half of Philippine citizens aren’t inclined to get a Covid-19 vaccine, mainly due to safety concerns, according to a survey of 2,400 adults by pollster Pulse Asia.

Lockdown updates

Malaysia: Malaysia’s Health Ministry is considering targeted lockdowns to manage the pandemic as the health system reaches breaking point, Malaysiakini reported, citing Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah. The country registered a record 2,593 in new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. Meanwhile, tensions are rising in the largest party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition over whether a general election should be held during the worsening pandemic.

Greece: In what had been described by some as a rebellion, by others a declaration of war, churches across Greece opened their doors on Wednesday – defying nationwide lockdown measures – to mark one of the holiest days in the Greek Orthodox calendar.

UK: National Express UK Coach said it will fully suspend its network of scheduled coach services from 11 January amid tighter restrictions and falling passenger numbers. The company set a provisional restart date of 1 March.

The UK government confirmed that GCSE and A-level exams will be canceled this year due to the pandemic, with pupils instead being graded using teacher assessments. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told members of Parliament it is right to “put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms” for generating grades. Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that England’s schools will be the first things to reopen after the national lockdown but warned that restrictions could last months.

Japan: Japan will revise legislation to allow imposing fines on business operators that don’t obey government shutdown orders, the Mainichi reported, citing a draft of the law. Violators will face fines of up to 500,000 yen ($4,855), the newspaper said.

Ireland: Ireland has ordered the closure of most schools and construction sites for at least three weeks in an effort to curb a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, tightening a lockdown that has already closed most hospitality and retail outlets. From 9 January all passengers arriving at Irish airports and ports whose trip started in Great Britain or South Africa will need evidence of a recent negative virus test result.

Economy updates

Thailand: Thailand’s consumer confidence fell to 50.1 in December, its lowest since July, as a new Covid outbreak spread across the country, according to the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. It was also the first decline in three months. Hundreds of cases in the country have been traced to cockfighting arenas and casinos, which present a major risk as they bring many people together in tight quarters over an extended period of time, usually without face masks and with lots of talking and shouting.