WHO says ‘too early to ease’ virus curbs in Europe

Poland eases restrictions; EU-AstraZeneca dispute over jab deliveries continues; Scotland starts manufacturing its vaccine.

With nearly 2.5 million infections and 55,400 deaths for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, Spain ranks among the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus in Europe [Emilio Morenatti/AP]
  • The European branch of the World Health Organization said it was too early to ease restrictions. Meanwhile, a WHO team of experts left quarantine in Wuhan to begin their on-the-ground investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
  • More than one million people in the Americas have now died from complications due to COVID-19, according to the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
  • As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration warned in its first science briefing on the pandemic.
  • Nearly 100.9 million people around the world have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 2.17 million have died, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University. More than 55.7 million patients have recovered.

This blog is now closed. These were Thursday morning’s updates:

Northern France health agency pushes back date of some vaccination doses

The Health agency for the Hauts-de-France region in northern France says it is pushing back to the first week of March the injection of the first vaccine doses that had been planned for early February due to tight Pfizer vaccine supplies.

The move was aimed at making sure people who received the first dose of the vaccine in January would be able to receive the second dose, a statement from the agency said.

Poland to reopen shopping malls as infections stabilise

Poland will reopen shopping malls on February 1 while keeping most other restrictions in place until the middle of next month, as the number of infections has fallen.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said the pandemic situation in Poland has stabilised, but the government has to take into consideration risks related to a high number of infections in other European countries and to new variants of the virus.

A man receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the University Hospital in Wroclaw, Poland [Tomasz Pietrzyk/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters]

Too early to ease restrictions in Europe: WHO

The UN health agency’s European branch says it is too early to ease virus restrictions in Europe despite a drop in new cases in most countries.

“Thirty countries have seen a significant decrease in 14-day cumulative incidence … Yet, transmission rates across Europe are still very high, impacting health systems and straining services, making it too early to ease-up,” the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said at an online news conference.

Senegal confirms presence of UK variant of coronavirus

A more transmissible variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK has now been detected in Senegal, said the country’s health institute, just as measures to contain the spread of the virus appeared to have stalled a recent surge.


A man sits at his shop as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Yoff neighbourhood, Dakar, Senegal [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

What is behind the EU-AstraZeneca vaccine dispute?

The European Union and AstraZeneca are engaged in a bitter dispute over the United Kingdom-based pharmaceutical giant’s supply of coronavirus vaccines to the bloc.

The dispute began last week when AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, said it would cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter of this year, citing production issues.

Crisis talks between the pair on Wednesday failed to achieve a breakthrough, prompting fears the argument over how many doses the EU will receive could continue.

But what caused the row? And how will the argument be resolved? Read the full story here.

Large-scale vaccine manufacturing begins in Scotland

Speciality vaccine company Valneva has started commercial manufacturing of its promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland, according to a statement by the British government.

This follows a multimillion-pound joint investment in the facility by the UK government last year as part of an agreement in principle to secure early access to Valneva’s vaccine by the end of 2021.

Sixty million doses have already been secured for the UK, with an option to acquire a further 130 million if the vaccine is proven to be safe, effective and suitable.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works against UK, South Africa variants

Pfizer and BioNTech, makers of a COVID-19 vaccine, says their product is effective against coronavirus variants that have emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

In a statement, the two companies said the “small differences” detected in tests comparing the original virus and the recent versions “are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine”.

AstraZeneca to produce COVID vaccine in Japan

Japan says AstraZeneca will manufacture more than 90 million coronavirus vaccine shots in the country.

The British company confirmed to Japan’s health ministry it will make the bulk of the vaccines within the Asian nation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

“We believe it is very important to be able to produce the vaccines domestically,” Kato said.

Japan plans to begin its inoculation drive in late February.

WHO expert says investigation could ‘take years’

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu is outside the Wuhan hotel where the WHO team has been in quarantine for the past two weeks and has been speaking to some of the experts ahead of the start of their on-the-ground research.

Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans told Yu she is “quite optimistic” about the investigation.

However, she also cautioned that people might need to temper their expectations, noting that this is only the “very beginning” of their investigation into COVID’s origins and that the process could “take years”.

Philippines approves AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The known and potential benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risks, FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo told a news conference. The Philippines’ FDA has already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is already being administered to people in countries including India. It has just received regulatory approval for emergency use in the Philippines [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Malaysia plans ‘dry run’ with ultra-cold Pfizer vaccine in Borneo

Malaysia is planning to test its ability to handle the ultra-cold Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with a delivery to a remote vaccination site in Belaga, deep in the interior of the Borneo state of Sarawak.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told CodeBlue, a health news website, that the dry-run, scheduled for January 29, will transport saline-filled bottles at minus 70 degrees Celsius from a vaccine storage facility to Belaga.

Malaysia is due to start COVID vaccinations next month and has ordered 25 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. It will also use the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is easier to handle.

New Zealand to tighten quarantine rules after new cases

New Zealand is tightening its quarantine rules after two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant were confirmed in Auckland.

Both cases were returned travellers in hotel quarantine who were allowed to leave after returning negative tests following their 14-day isolation.

They had been in the same hotel at the same time as the woman who was confirmed with COVID on Monday – the first case in the country in more than two months.

Under the new rules, people will not be able to leave their rooms between the COVID test they take on the 12th day of quarantine and their departure from the facility.

China turns to anal swabs for COVID testing

Chinese cities are beginning to use anal swabs to ensure no COVID-19 infections are missed.

Doctors say such swabs can pick up infections that other tests miss, as virus traces in faecal samples or anal swabs could remain detectable for a longer time than in samples taken from the upper respiratory tract.

Anal swabs require inserting a cotton swab three to five centimetres (1.2 to two inches) into the anus and gently rotating it.

You can read more on that story here.

Medical workers at a COVID-19 coronavirus testing site in Beijing on January 23. COVID tests usually involve a swab from the upper respiratory tract [Noel Celis/AFP]

AMLO has minor COVID symptoms: Deputy health minister

Mexico’s Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell has given an update on the health of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who has COVID-19.

He says while the 67-year-old president has experienced brief episodes of fever and a minor headache, he has had “virtually no other discomfort”.

“He is still very active, not only with minimal symptoms, but he continues to carry out his functions,” Lopez-Gatell said.

WHO panel to conclude China quarantine

The 10-strong team from the World Health Organization, which is in China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, is due to complete its 14-day quarantine today.

The experts are in Wuhan where the first cases of what was then a mysterious new pneumonia first emerged late in 2019.

You can read more about their work here. Chinese state media, meanwhile, are staking out their hotel.

New Zealand, Vietnam, Taiwan responded best to COVID: Lowy Institute

Australia’s Lowy Institute has found New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan mounted the best response to the pandemic in the 36 weeks after reaching 100 confirmed cases of the virus.

New Zealand scored 94.4 to top the think-tank’s performance ranking, followed by Vietnam on 90.8 and Taiwan with 86.4. Brazil was at the bottom of the ranking, with the United States fifth from bottom.

China was not included “due to a lack of publicly available data on testing”, the think-tank said. It evaluated 98 countries and territories.

Vietnam confirms first locally-transmitted cases in nearly two months

Vietnam’s health ministry has announced the country’s first two locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases for nearly two months.

The two patients are a worker at Van Don international airport who was responsible for taking passengers arriving from abroad and diagnosed with COVID-19 to quarantine facilities and a factory worker who had contact with a Vietnamese who tested positive on Wednesday for the UK variant after arriving in Japan.

Chile health regulator approves AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Chile’s health regulator on Wednesday approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use among its population by a unanimous vote of its advisory board.

The approval from the Chilean Public Health Institute is for the use of 6.6 million doses as part of a two-dose regime for Chileans over the age of 18 and without an upper age limit.

Chilean trade vice minister Rodrigo Yanez, in charge of vaccine supply agreements, said four million doses that had been purchased directly from the company would start to arrive at the end of March and be administered until June.

He said another 2.6 million AstraZeneca doses purchased through the COVAX vaccine alliance facility were also expected to arrive in March.

Some US states are loosening restrictions on restaurants and other businesses

Improving infection and hospitalisation numbers are prompting governors in some US states to move cautiously to loosen restrictions on businesses where people gather.

While the easing could cause COVID-19 case rates to rise, health experts say it can work if done in a measured way and if the public remains vigilant about masks and social distancing.

“If the frequency goes up, you tighten it up. If the frequency goes down, you loosen up. Getting it just right is almost impossible,” Dr Arnold Monto, a public health professor at the University of Michigan, told The Associated Press.

“There’s no perfect way to do this,” Monto said.

Michigan, Illinois, California, Oregon, North Dakota and the city of Washington, DC, have recently eased restrictions on dining and other activities.

EU says it failed to make breakthrough with AstraZeneca on vaccine deliveries

The EU’s health chief said the bloc and AstraZeneca have failed to finalise a plan on delayed vaccine deliveries.

“We regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a tweet, adding the EU was requesting a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the rapid delivery of the vaccine doses the bloc has reserved for the first quarter.

The EU is pushing the company to supply more doses of its vaccine from plants in Europe and the UK after the AstraZeneca announced delivery delays, adding to frustrations over the EU’s inoculation programme.

Mexico’s richest man Carlos Slim hospitalised

Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest men, has been hospitalised with COVID-19, spokesman Arturo Elias has said.

Elias said Slim, 80, is doing “very well” and has been hospitalised so his health can be monitored during his treatment.

Morocco to start vaccinations on Thursday, palace says

Morocco will start its vaccination campaign against the coronavirus on Thursday, the royal palace has said in a statement after receiving doses from AstraZeneca and Sinopharm.

The palace said Morocco has enough doses to start a campaign open to all people over the age of 17.

PAHO expects COVAX facility vaccines to be deployed in Latin America as of March

The Pan American Health Organization expects the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines made available for poorer countries through the UN-led COVAX facility to start in March, with some 164 million doses.

PAHO assistant director Jarbas Barbosa has said that the COVAX facility is expected to deploy two billion doses of vaccines made by producers that are pre-qualified with the World Health Organization. So far that is only Pfizer Inc of the US, he said.

Canada PM Trudeau says EU’s transparency measures will not affect vaccine deliveries

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and she assured him the bloc’s measures to track vaccine exports would not affect deliveries to Canada.

“I was reassured to hear that the transparency measures taken by Europe will not affect Pfizer and Moderna (COVID-19 vaccine) deliveries to Canada,” Trudeau said during question time in Parliament.

This week the EU said it wanted to require pharmaceutical companies producing COVID-19 vaccines inside the bloc to register in advance any exports of doses from the European Union.

Czech ministry recommends two-week halt of first-dose vaccinations

The Czech Health Ministry has recommended regional health officials to halt COVID-19 vaccinations by the first dose of the vaccine for the coming two weeks, news agency CTK has said.

The Czech Republic, like other European countries, has complained about cuts in deliveries of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Death toll in the Americas reaches 1 million people: PAHO director

More than one million people in the Americas have now died from complications from COVID-19, the head of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa Etienne has said.

There is growing pressure on hospital capacity throughout North America. In some US states, nearly 80 percent of ICU beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients, and similar rates are seen in many Mexican states, she warned.

The hospital situation in Brazil is particularly worrying, with three-quarters of ICU beds occupied in many Brazilian states, she said.

Mexico registered 184,000 more deaths in first eight months of 2020

Deaths in Mexico jumped nearly 37 percent between January and August as the pandemic swept the country and 184,000 more people died than during the same period in 2019, Mexico’s statistics institute (INEGI) has said.

INEGI reported 108,658 deaths from COVID-19 during the first eight months of the year. That compares to 64,414 COVID-19 deaths reported by Mexico’s health department during the same period.

INEGI’s president Julio Santaella told local media that the two agencies rely on different sources for the data, with INEGI’s count based on death certificates, whereas the health department’s figures were based on hospital data.

COVID-19 was the second leading cause of death nationwide during the eight-month period, after heart disease, it said, adding that the largest increases in deaths occurred in Mexico City and the surrounding urban sprawl, as well as in the states of Veracruz and Jalisco.

Israel to close land crossings

Israel has said it is closing its land crossings with Jordan and Egypt to travellers, in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision announced by the interior ministry follows the shutdown of the country’s international airport, which took effect on Tuesday.

“To complete the joint efforts to prevent the increase in morbidity, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced that the land crossings will be closed to Israelis and foreigners,” the ministry said in a statement.

The crossings to be closed are the Jordan River and Arava – both with Jordan – and Taba, which is a crossing with Egypt.

The order will take effect at 4:00 GMT on Thursday and remain in place until at least Sunday, when the initial ban on air travel is due to expire, too.

Madrid halting vaccinations due to supply delays

Delays to COVID-19 vaccine shipments have forced authorities in Madrid to halt inoculations and are threatening supplies in Catalonia, Spanish officials have said.

The Madrid region has ceased first vaccinations for at least this week and next and was using the few doses it has to administer second shots to those who have had the first one, said deputy regional government chief Ignacio Aguado.

“We need more doses and we need them now,” he told reporters, urging newly appointed Health Minister Carolina Darias to act quickly to secure the shots.

Biden, Harris directly engaged in building support for recovery plan: White House

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are directly engaged in building support for a $1.9 trillion economic recovery plan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said.

She said the president would meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other members of his economic team to assess the effects of the plan and the potential cost of delaying action, she said.

South Africa says first one million vaccine doses to arrive on February 1

South Africa expects the flight carrying its first one million COVID-19 vaccine doses to arrive on February 1, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said.

Mkhize said after their arrival, the vaccine doses would be subject to technical processes including quality assurance over a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 14 days. After that, the doses can be distributed to all provinces, he said.

Riots sparked by lockdown hit Lebanon’s Tripoli for third day

Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli has witnessed its third straight night of angry protests and riots, with hundreds of people taking to the streets to denounce harsh living conditions and meagre government aid during a strict coronavirus lockdown.

Security forces used water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowd who were apparently attempting to break into an official building near the northern city’s central Al Nour Square.

Read more about it here.

A Lebanese soldier stands next to a burning dumpster during ongoing demonstrations in the northern port city of Tripoli [Fathi Al-Masri/ AFP]

White House renews virus briefings

As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration has warned in its first science briefing on the pandemic, as experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of COVID-19 vaccines.

The hour-long briefing by the team charged by President Joe Biden with ending the pandemic, was meant to deliver on his promise of “levelling” with Americans about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 US lives.

The briefing was conducted virtually, rather than in person at the White House, to allow for questions from health journalists and to maintain a set timing.

Norway to close borders to all but essential visits: PM

Norway will close its borders to all but essential visitors, Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said, tightening further some of the toughest travel restrictions in Europe.

Oxford scientists expect some vaccine data on UK mutant virus by next week

The University of Oxford expects efficacy data on a study of its COVID-19 vaccine against the UK variant of the coronavirus by next week, a representative has said at a virtual meeting of a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel.

“Since the middle of December, that (UK) variant has been dominant and spread so rapidly. And so, we should be able to put together an analysis on efficacy against that probably by next week,” said Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the trials.

Oxford University has developed the vaccine along with AstraZeneca.

IOC says it is fully committed to successful Tokyo Games

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is fully committed to the successful organisation of the Tokyo Summer Olympics this year despite the pandemic, IOC President Thomas Bach has said.

Though much of Japan is under a state of emergency because of a third wave of COVID-19 infections, Bach said all stakeholders were committed to pressing ahead with the rescheduled games, which are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the coronavirus.

Portugal suspends all Brazil flights

Portugal has announced it would suspend all flights to and from Brazil due to the surge in the number of coronavirus cases and the detection of new virus variants.

“The government has decided to suspend flights arriving from and departing to Brazil from January 29, given worldwide developments in the pandemic,” the Portuguese government said in a statement.

Cannes 2021 film festival to take place July 6-17: Organisers

The Cannes 2021 film festival will take place from July 6-17 instead of May 11-22 as initially planned, organisers have said in a statement.

UK records 1,725 more COVID-19 deaths

The UK has recorded a further 1,725 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, up from 1,631 the day before, and a further 25,308 cases of the disease, official data shows.

The number of total deaths increased to 101,887 having passed the 100,000 mark on Tuesday.

According to the data, 7.16 million people have been given the first dose of a vaccine.

German armed forces considering Portuguese request for help: Der Spiegel

Germany’s armed forces are considering a request from Portugal to help it set up a field hospital to treat coronavirus patients, German magazine Der Spiegel has reported.

The Portuguese government approached German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on the weekend and is asking for the field hospital to be set up for the delivery of medical supplies and for Germany to take Portuguese intensive care patients, Spiegel reported.

Netherlands: What’s behind violent anti-lockdown riots?

Monday was the third day of violence to shake the Netherlands, where hundreds of rioters in several towns and cities have been clashing with police. In some of the ugliest scenes, a COVID testing centre was attacked, and knives were thrown at police officers.

The protesters are angry at strict social distancing measures to curb the coronavirus, but authorities say the new rules – which include a night curfew – are essential to bringing down infections and deaths.

Read the story here.

Biden to open ‘Obamacare’ enrolment period for COVID-19 relief

US President Joe Biden plans to open a special period to enrol in healthcare coverage under the former President Barack Obama-era Affordable Care Act (ACA) geared to people needing coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday reopening the HealthCare.gov insurance markets, a portal that connects Americans to subsidised health plans, said two people familiar with the plan, whose details were still being finalised.

Read more here.

President Joe Biden is expected to reopen enrolment in Obamacare to allow for those who need healthcare coverage during the pandemic [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

France’s current 6pm curfew not enough to rein in COVID: Government spokesman

France’s current 6pm curfew put in place 12 days ago is not sufficient to slow the spread of the coronavirus, government spokesman Gabriel Attal has said.

Various scenarios were being looked at, ranging from keeping the current curfew system in place to reimposing a strict lockdown, Attal told a news conference.

UK PM pushes back school reopening until March 8

Johnson has said it would not be possible to reopen schools in February, but that he hoped the vaccination programme would allow them to open their doors from March 8.

Johnson said that if the government hits its vaccination targets: “We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday the 8th of March, with other economic and social restrictions being removed (then or) thereafter, as and when the data permits,” he told Parliament.

Ramaphosa urges businesses to contribute financially to vaccine Africa’s roll-out

African Union (AU) Chair Cyril Ramaphosa has called on African companies and foreign companies that do business in Africa to contribute financially to the continent’s efforts to roll out COVID-19 vaccines.

Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, added during an AU webinar that telecoms firm MTN had offered to donate $25m to the vaccine programme of the AU’s disease control body to immunise healthcare workers.

Johnson says it would have been a ‘great pity’ to stay in EU vaccine programme

Johnson has said it would have been a “great pity” if the UK had followed advice to stay in the EU’s vaccine programme rather than set up its own plan.

“I do think that we’ve been able to do things differently, and better, in some ways,” he said in Parliament.

“But it is early days, and it is very, very important to remember that this is an international venture, these vaccines. We depend on our friends and partners, and we will continue … to work with those friends and partners in the EU and beyond.”

Mexican president is ‘stable and well’ after diagnosis, minister says

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is “stable and well” a few days after testing positive for COVID-19, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez has said.

Oman bans group events under new measures: State media

Oman has banned all group events, postponed students’ return to universities and advised citizens and residents against foreign travel, in a tightening of measures against the coronavirus, state media has said.

The ban on gatherings includes international conferences, sport events and exhibitions, state news agency ONA said, citing a decision by the Gulf state’s coronavirus emergency committee. Oman closed its land borders 10 days ago.

EU says it has rights to AstraZeneca vaccines from two UK plants

The EU Health Commissioner has said that, under the contract it signed with AstraZeneca for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the drugmaker committed to providing doses from four plants, including two in the UK.

Stella Kyriakides told a news conference that the company had legal obligations to comply with the contract.

UK PM’s office kept up to date on AstraZeneca plan

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office is being kept up to date from police and officials on what is happening at a factory in Wales that produces AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, his spokesman has said.

Earlier, the factory was partially evacuated after it received a suspicious package and police said a bomb disposal unit was dealing with the incident.

Decrying vaccines, Tanzania president says ‘God will protect’ from COVID-19

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has said no lockdown was planned because God will protect people from COVID-19 while homespun precautions such as steam inhalation were better than vaccines.

“Vaccines are not good and if they were good, whites would have brought even HIV/AIDS vaccine,” he said in a speech in western Tanzania, contradicting global scientific consensus and advice from the World Health Organization.

Read more about what he said here.

Pakistan to start vaccination drive next week: Minister

Pakistan will start its COVID-19 vaccination drive next week, starting with front-line health workers, a government minister has said.

“God willing, the vaccination of front-line health workers will start next week,” Asad Umar, who oversees Pakistan’s efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic, said in a tweet.

China has pledged a donation of 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine made by the Chinese firm Sinopharm.

Two government sources said the first batch would be flown in on Saturday.

People must explain travel reasons under new UK measures

The UK has announced new measures to reduce travel with a requirement that people wishing to leave the country must fill in a form to explain why they are travelling, as well as introducing new hotel quarantine stays for some arrivals.

“It is clear that there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day,” Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel said.

“We will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel.”

South Africa approves AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

South Africa has given fast-track approval to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use and is reviewing applications by rival manufacturers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the medicines regulator has said.

As the country prepares to roll out a massive vaccination programme, South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) chairwoman Helen Rees said: “In terms of the AstraZeneca vaccine … this has been granted emergency use (approval).”

Cyprus to ease lockdown measures after fall in cases

Cyprus has announced a staggered easing of lockdown measures following a fall in the number of COVID-19 infections, including the reopening of primary schools and shopping malls on February 8.

“We want to avoid any rash and risky action which might undermine the effort to resume social and economic activity,” Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou told a news briefing.

Authorities will permit the reopening of hairdressers and beauty salons on February 1, allow up to 50 percent of staff to return to work at service companies and permit limited family gatherings.

Malls, large department stores and primary schools will reopen a week later, on February 8.

Churches will also reopen for worship after that date, with a maximum 50 people in attendance.

Vaccine spat heats up as AstraZeneca confirms plans for EU talks

The European Union’s dispute with AstraZeneca has intensified with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker denying the EU’s assertion that it had pulled out of talks on COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it still planned to meet with EU officials in Brussels later in the day. The comments came after EU officials said the company had informed the bloc that it would not take part in a meeting to discuss delayed vaccine commitments – the third such talks in as many days.

Read more here.

The latest disagreement between the two sides came after AstraZeneca rejected the European Union’s accusation that the company had failed to honour its commitments to delivering coronavirus vaccines [File: Niranjan Shrestha/AP Photo]

UK PM confident vaccine supply will keep accelerating

Boris Johnson has said he is confident that the country’s supplies of COVID-19 vaccine would keep accelerating.

“I’m confident that … we will be able to continue that accelerating curve of supply as well,” Johnson said when asked about possible shortages of the vaccine.

Questions over how many people plan to come to the UK

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Gatwick airport near London, has said Johnson is “basically saying that the UK will be tightening up restrictions” as he tries to demonstrate his government has a hold on the pandemic.

But Challands noted there were questions over “how many people were planning to come to the UK” at the moment, given it has just breached the grim figure of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths and the toll is still rising by more than 1,000 daily.

Travellers to UK from high-risk countries to quarantine for 10 days

Travellers arriving in the UK from high-risk COVID-19 countries will have to quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation to stop new variants of the virus, Johnson said.

“We will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government-provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days without exception,” he told politicians.

“They will be met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies