Portugal sees record rise in cases and deaths
Vitamin D levels under scrutiny as dates of Covid surge in Europe correlate to latitudes – research
Summary of the latest developments
British Medical Association wants gap between vaccine jabs shortened
China reports 107 new cases as it marks anniversary of first lockdown
Hong Kong locks down part of Kowloon district
Belgium bans travel in and out of the country
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 20,537,990 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Saturday morning and distributed 41,411,550 doses.
The tally of vaccine doses are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines as of 6am ET on Saturday, the agency said.
17,390,345 people have received one or more doses, while 3,027,865 people got the second dose as of Saturday.
A total of 2,437,670 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.
According to the tally posted on 22 January, the agency has in total administered 19,107,959 vaccine doses, and distributed 39,892,400.
Sweden plans to introduce a temporary ban on entry from Norway, it said on Saturday, due to the spread of a new mutated form of the coronavirus in the neighbouring country.
Norway’s capital Oslo and nine nearby municipalities imposed some of their toughest lockdown measures yet after an outbreak of the more contagious UK coronavirus variant.
Sweden’s health authority recommended that travellers from Norway self-isolate for at least a week and test for Covid-19 upon entry to Sweden.
Concern over the new variant means travellers from Britain have been banned from entering Sweden since December.
“The government is also working on introducing an entry ban for Norway to reduce the risk of contagion. The decision will be taken shortly,” a spokesman for Swedish interior minister Mikael Damberg said in a text message.
“The government is taking these actions due to the spread of the British mutation of the Covid-19 virus in Norway,” he said.
Norway has 55 confirmed cases of the virus variant that has already spread widely in the UK, according to Norwegian health authority data.
Damberg’s spokesman said Sweden has the same number of confirmed cases of the variant.
France reported 23,924 new confirmed Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, compared with 23,292 on Friday and 21,406 last Saturday.
The number of people in intensive care units with coronavirus infection fell by 16 to 2,896, the first fall in two weeks after having risen by about 20 per day since mid-January.
Italy’s Lombardy region and the central government exchanged blame on Saturday over the release of Covid-19 data that wrongly condemned the region to stricter restrictions.
Lombardy, the country’s wealthiest and most productive area which includes the fashion capital Milan, was forced to close most shops a week ago after being classed “red”, the worst of Italy’s tiered coronavirus restriction zones.
Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Saturday Lombardy had initially submitted wrong data, messing up calculations by Italy’s higher health council.
He then designated Lombardy as “orange”, allowing shops to reopen and older students to attend classes after they were forced to switch to distance learning.
Lombardy’s administration, led by the right-wing League party which has come under fire for its handling of the pandemic, hit back at Rome.
“They wanted us to say it was our mistake, but it wasn’t. I’ll never agree to saying there has been a mistake in the data we sent,” governor Attilio Fontana told a press conference.
He said the region would press ahead with a lawsuit filed with an administrative court and seek money from the government to compensate shopkeepers who have been forced to close down just as the sales season was starting.
Retail association Confcommercio Milano estimated shops in Milan had lost around 100m euros in revenue.
Lombardy, the country’s industrial heartland, accounts for more than a fifth of Italy’s 2.46 million Covid-19 cases to date.
With 26,622 deaths out of the national total of 85,162, it is by far the worst-hit region and was the epicentre of the pandemic during the first wave in the spring.
Italy calculates its tiers using a rage of data including the number of cases and intensive care occupancy rates.
Egypt will begin coronavirus vaccinations on Sunday, beginning with medical staff, president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in recorded comments on Saturday.
On Friday, Egypt recorded 748 new cases and 52 deaths, Reuters reports. However, health officials say the real number is likely far higher because of the relatively low rate of coronavirus testing and the exclusion of private test results.
Egypt received its first shipment of vaccines developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in December.
The country will get 40 million vials via the GAVI vaccine alliance for 20 million people, or 20% of the 100 million population, its health minister said last week.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced on Saturday that Covid-19 vaccinations will be rolled out in Iran in coming weeks.
Foreign vaccines are a necessity until local vaccines are available, Rouhani said in televised remarks, without giving details of what foreign vaccines would be used, Reuters reports.
The news comes as Covid-19 deaths fell to a low of more than seven months and officials announced that there were no more high-risk “red cities” in the country.
Earlier this month Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, banned the government from importing vaccines from the US and the UK, which he said were possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.
Rouhani himself, in compliance with Khamenei’s ban, said at the time that his government would purchase “safe foreign vaccines.”
Iran launched human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate late last month, saying this could help it defeat the pandemic despite US sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.
“There have been good movements in the field of local and foreign vaccines,” Rouhani said, adding that three domestic vaccines – Barekat, Pasteur and Razi, some of which have been developed with foreign collaboration – could begin in the spring and summer.
Cuba said earlier this month that it had signed an accord with Tehran to transfer the technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and carry out last-stage clinical trials of the shot in Iran.
Tehran and Havana are under tough US sanctions which, while they exempt medicine, often deter foreign pharmaceutical companies from trading with them.
Iran is also participating in the COVAX scheme that aims to secure fair access to Covid-19 vaccines for poorer countries.
The country has recorded nearly 1.37 million cases and about 57,300 deaths, but there has been a decline in new infections in recent weeks.
Deaths fell to 69 in the 24 hours to Saturday, the health ministry said, the lowest since 5 June.
The UK will have to administer an average of 397,333 first doses of coronavirus vaccine each day in order to meet the government’s target of 15 million first doses by 15 February.
Government data up to 22 January shows of the 6,329,968 jabs given across the country so far, 5,861,351 were first doses – a rise of 478,248 on the previous day’s figures.
Some 468,617 were second doses, an increase of 1,821 on figures released the previous day.
The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 328,882.
All adults in the UK should have been offered the Covid vaccination by September, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said last week, setting a clear timescale for the first time.
Brazil’s federally funded Fiocruz Institute said on Saturday it had begun distributing 2 million ready-to-use AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines after they arrived in the country from India on Friday.
Brazil’s government has a deal with AstraZeneca to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine locally at Rio de Janeiro’s Fiocruz Institute, but delivery of the active ingredient needed to manufacture them has been plagued by delays from China.
As a result, AstraZeneca agreed to supply the government with 2 million ready-to-use doses made in India. After a major diplomatic effort, that included a letter from Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, those shots arrived on Friday.
Until now, Brazil’s widely criticised vaccine rollout has depended on a shot developed by Sinovac Biotech limited vaccine in partnership with Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute.
Bolsonaro had previously branded the Chinese shot as being useless, but his government is becoming increasingly reliant on it to tame the world’s second most deadly coronavirus outbreak after the United States.
The far-right former army captain is under growing pressure for his handling of the rollout, which has been plagued by delays and a lack of vaccines, just as a brutal second wave gathers steam.
Portugal sees record rise in cases and deaths
Portugal reported record daily numbers of coronavirus deaths and new infections on Saturday, the day before the country holds a presidential election.
Total coronavirus-related deaths exceeded the 10,000 mark after a further 274 fatalities were reported in the 24 hours to Saturday, the national health authority said.
15,333 new cases were identified in the country of 10 million people, the highest daily increase since the beginning of the pandemic.
Together with Saturday’s cases, over 95,000 new infections have been recorded in the past week, making Portugal the country with the fastest-growing outbreak in proportion to its population, according to a global AFP tally from official figures.
Sunday’s presidential vote comes 10 days after Portugal entered a second national lockdown.
Incumbent, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is predicted to win re-election in the first round, but observers fear abstentions could be as high as 70% given voters’ health concerns.
Spain’s defence chief resigned on Saturday, the armed forces said, after getting vaccinated despite not being on a priority list caused a row.
General Miguel Angel Villarroya’s resignation came as a scandal brews over Spanish military and political officials getting early vaccinations supposedly reserved for health workers and people in retirement homes.
“In order to preserve the image of the armed forces, General Villarroya today presented his resignation request to the defence minister,” the armed forces said in a statement.
The 63-year-old general was quoted as saying he had “never intended to take advantage of unjustifiable privileges”.
His resignation was accepted by defence minister Margarita Robles, a source told AFP.
Villarroya’s departure came just a day after the interior ministry sacked a lieutenant-colonel who served as a staff liaison to the civil guard, because an internal report found he had received the shot without being on a priority list.
The report accuses several other defence staff members of improperly receiving the vaccine, and Robles has warned more resignations could follow.
Politicians have also resigned over receiving the vaccine out of turn, including Manuel Villegas, health advisor for the southeast Murcia region.
But Javier Guerreron, health adviser to the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta, refused to resign, saying he had not violated any protocol.
“I didn’t want to be vaccinated,” he said, adding that he “doesn’t like vaccines”.
Spain has recorded 55,441 deaths from nearly 2.5 million identified cases so far, the fourth highest death toll in Europe.
German health authorities put a Berlin hospital under quarantine and stopped taking in new admissions after 20 patients and staff members tested positive for a more infectious variant of the virus first discovered in the UK, officials said on Saturday.
The number of people at the Humboldt hospital infected with the more infectious B117 variant was likely to rise further in the coming days, a spokeswoman of public hospital operator Vivantes told Reuters.
The hospital will not admit any new patients as part of the quarantine measures.
“New patients and emergencies will be redirected to other hospitals,” the spokeswoman said.
The more infectious UK variant was also reported to have been found in another Berlin hospital, the Virchow-branch of the Charité hospital in Wedding, according to the Berliner Zeitung.
As of Saturday afternoon, none of the infected patients are believed to have visited the UK prior to testing positive.
Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Thursday to stop complaining about the slow rollout of a vaccine against Covid-19, and defended a decision to extend a lockdown as necessary to stem the more aggressive variant.
Guernsey has gone into lockdown following the discovery of four new cases of coronavirus, the island’s government has said.
The States of Guernsey said in a statement that it was unclear how the individuals concerned had contracted the disease, as none was from travel or from contacts with known cases.
“Contact tracing is continuing to determine whether there is a link between the cases and whether these cases are linked or if this is a result of wider community seeding,” the statement said.
The island had been free of coronavirus restrictions since early June, PA reports.
Under the latest measures, islanders have been told to stay home from midday Saturday except for essential shopping, medical care or up to two hours exercise outdoors.
Non-essential shops and restaurants have been ordered to close, including for deliveries and takeaways.
Schools will also shut, except for children of key workers, or those from vulnerable families.