Lebanon begins curfew to stem rising Covid-19 cases – latest updates

WHO Covid-19 mission team arrives in China's Wuhan

An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization has arrived in China's central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic, state television said

The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 93 million people globally and claimed more than 1.9 million lives. Here are the updates for January 14: A woman runs with her dog in an almost empty street during a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 14, 2021 (AP) January 14:

Lebanon begins all-day curfew  

Lebanese authorities have begun enforcing an 11-day nationwide shutdown and round the clock curfew, hoping to limit the spread of coronavirus infections spinning out of control after the holiday period.

For the first time, residents were required to request a one-hour permit to be allowed to leave the house for “emergencies,” including going to the bakery, pharmacist, doctor, hospital or airport.

Authorities came under pressure to take a tougher approach after the country's hospitals ran out of beds with daily infections reaching an all-time high of 5,440 cases last week in the country of nearly 6 million people.

Even before the coronavirus, Lebanon was going through an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has seen its national currency and bank sector collapse and locked depositors out of the savings. Hospitals, long considered among the best in the Middle East, struggled to pay staff, keep equipment running and secure necessary medical supplies as dollars grew scarce.

Amid the surge, many hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have halted elective surgeries as they run out of bed s, oxygen tanks and ventilators.

Turkey starts vaccinations with China's Sinovac

Turkey has became the latest country to roll out its Covid-19 vaccination program, starting with health care workers in hospitals across the country.

Thursday’s start of the nationwide inoculation program came a day after Turkish authorities gave the go-ahead for the emergency use of the vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Turkey’s health minister and members of the country’s scientific advisory council received the first shots live on television shortly after the regulator's approval.

People over the age of 65 will be the next in line to be administered the vaccine in two doses.

Turkey received a first shipment of the Sinovac vaccine, consisting of 3 million doses, last month. The country is scheduled to get a total of 50 million doses of the vaccine – although there is uncertainty over just how protective it is.

Indonesian health workers receive vaccination

Indonesia has started vaccinating health workers and public servants for Covid-19, a day after President Joko Widodo received the first shot of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine.

The Health Ministry is planning to vaccinate more than 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million public officials in the first stage.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, plans to vaccinate two-thirds of its population of about 270 million people – or just over 180 million people.

The first 25 health workers to get the jab were employees of Jakarta's Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital.

Hospital Director Lies Dina Liastuti said a total of 6,000 will be vaccinated at a rate of 275 a day.

Meanwhile, the country reported a record daily rise in cases, with 11,557 new infections, bringing the total caseload to 869,600, data from its task force showed.

It added 295 deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 25,246.

China denies entry to two WHO team members after tests

China has denied entry to two members of a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the novel coronavirus after both tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Chinese officials blocked the duo from boarding their plane to the central Chinese city of Wuhan after they tested positive for the antibodies in blood-based serology tests during transit in Singapore, the report said, citing citing people familiar with matter.

“Relevant epidemic prevention control requirements will be strictly enforced,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing, when asked about the report. 

Russia reports 24,763 new cases

Russia has reported 24,763 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,893 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,495,816, the world's fourth largest.

Authorities also confirmed 570 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 63,940. 

Moscow has extended all restrictions against Covid-19 until January 21, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said, with the exception of pupils returning to schools from Monday.

WHO Covid-19 mission team arrives in China's Wuhan

An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization has arrived in China's central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic, state television said.

The team arrived late in the morning on a budget airline from Singapore and was expected to head into two weeks of quarantine. They had been set to arrive earlier this month, and China's delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the agency's chief.

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO's top expert on animal diseases that cross to other species, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July, is leading the 10 independent experts, a WHO spokesman said.

Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist who is part of the 10-member team, said that he did not expect any restrictions on the group's work in China, but cautioned against finding firm answers.

After completing quarantine, the team will spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged, Hung added.

Philippines approves PfizerBioNTech vaccine

The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration has authorised for emergency use the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the first to be approved in the country, which has among the most coronavirus cases in Asia.

FDA head Rolando Enrique Domingo said the PfizerBioNTech vaccine, which has shown a 95 percent success rate, could be effective in preventing Covid-19, with which nearly half a million people in the Philippines have been infected.

Australian state considers mining camps for quarantine

An Australian state premier said she was considering the use of remote mining camps to quarantine international arrivals, aiming to break a cycle of coronavirus outbreaks around the country at city hotels used for isolation.

Queensland's state capital of Brisbane emerged earlier this week from a snap three-day lockdown sparked by the discovery of the highly infectious strain of Covid-19 in a worker at a quarantine hotel.

“I think with this new strain, we have to put all options on the table,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said of the camp proposal, which received a mixed reaction in Australia.

Since Australia effectively eliminated local transmission of Covid-19 in the second half of last year, almost all new outbreaks have stemmed from quarantine hotels.

Germany's cases rise by 25,164 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 25,164 to 1,978,590, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by 1,244 to 43,881, the tally showed.

China reports first virus death in 8 months

China has reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months as the country battles to contain a resurgence in cases.

More than 20 million people are under lockdown in the north of the country and one province has declared an emergency, as daily Covid-19 numbers climb after months of reporting only a handful of daily cases.

China had largely brought the virus outbreak under control through a series of strict lockdowns and mass testing. But another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission  – the highest single-day tally since March last year.

No details were given by health authorities about the latest death, except that it occurred in Hebei province, where the government has placed several cities under lockdown.

J&J vaccine on track for March rollout

Johnson & Johnson is on track to roll out its single-shot coronavirus vaccine in March, and expects to have clear data on how effective it is by the end of this month or early February, the US healthcare company's chief scientific officer said. 

Dr. Paul Stoffels in an interview on Tuesday also said J&J expects to meet its stated target of delivering 1 billion doses of its vaccine by the end of this year as the company ramps up production.

Stoffels said it was premature to say how many doses would be available in March, presuming the company receives emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is being produced in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India with the help of contract manufacturers in order to build capacity.

“It's a few weeks too early to be giving final numbers on what we can launch in the first couple months,” he said.

African Union secures 270M vaccine doses for continent

The African Union said it had secured 270 million doses of anti-Covid vaccine for the continent, in a deal that will benefit countries unable to finance their own immunisation campaigns.

Under the deal, the vaccines will be supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The doses will complement the vaccines secured via Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort which has struck agreements to secure two billion doses

“From the onset of this pandemic, our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort.

We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind,” South African President and AU chair Cyril Ramaphosa told a special African Union meeting.

New York pleads for more vaccines

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would fall short of its inoculation goals unless it could get more vaccine.

The mayor said short supplies were hampering New York City's efforts to increase its immunisation campaign. His appeal comes as the country as a whole struggles to meet an overall goal, with vaccinations now running far behind a target of 20 million people by now.

“We need the federal government, the state government and the manufacturers to step up and get us more supply immediately,” de Blasio said at a briefing.

The country's most populous city is adding vaccination sites across its five boroughs, including its two Major League Baseball parks, and has succeeded in loosening restrictions on who is eligible for vaccination, de Blasio said.

New York is on track to inoculate 1 million of its more than 8 million residents by the end of the month, but only if it gets enough vaccine, he said.

“I confirmed with our healthcare team yesterday that even with normal supplies that we expect to have delivered next week, we will run out of vaccine at some point next week, unless we get a major new resupply,” he added.

Nationwide, only about one-third of the 29.4 million doses distributed to states have been administered, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cuba moves into stricter lockdown

The Cuban government is once more shutting down schools, public transport and cultural activities across swathes of the Caribbean island during the worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

Cuba has registered new daily records of infections for the last six days, including 550 on Wednesday, and has already recorded more infections in the first 12 days of 2021 than in the entire previous month.

Cuba has 11 million people and while it still only has half the global average of daily confirmed cases per capita, at 43 cases per million, that is up from around one-tenth for most of last year when authorities were hailed for their successful containment of the virus.

Portugal returning to virus lockdown Friday

Portugal will return to a lockdown to tackle a surge in coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced Wednesday.

The fresh lockdown, starting Friday, will mean a return to the restrictions in place in March and April 2020, said Costa after a special cabinet meeting.

That means non-essential shops, cafes and restaurants will all close. But this time round, the schools will remain open.

The rule is simple,” said Costa. “Each one of us has to stay at home.”

People will be able to leave their homes to vote in the first round of the presidential election on January 24.

From Sunday, they will even be able to vote early if they want to.

But the authorities will require a negative coronavirus test for anyone flying into the country, the country's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said.

Calls to reopen US classrooms grow as teachers get vaccinated

State leaders around the US are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter — pressuring them, even — as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic.

Ohio's governor offered to give vaccinations to teachers at the start of February, provided their school districts agree to resume at least some in-person instruction by March 1. In Arizona, where teachers began receiving shots this week, the governor warned schools that he expects students back in the classroom despite objections from top education officials and the highest Covid-19 diagnosis rate in the nation over the past week.

“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”

The US recorded an all-time, one-day high of 4,327 deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll from Covid-19 has topped 380,000, closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II. Confirmed infections have reached about 23 million.

President-elect Joe Biden initially pledged to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools in his first 100 days but recently revised the goal to most of the country’s K-8 schools.

He has said teachers should be eligible for vaccinations as soon as possible after those who are at highest risk.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies