AstraZeneca pledges EU 9 million extra doses of COVID vaccine

Increase announced by EU Commission president to bring first-quarter shots to 40m, still half what bloc was expecting from pharmaceutical firm.

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease vaccine at Matei Bals Infectious Diseases Institute in Bucharest, Romania [File: Reuters]
  • EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen says AstraZeneca will deliver 9 million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses making a total of 40 million doses to Europe.
  • World Health Organization experts have visited the market in Wuhan, central China, linked to the first known COVID-19 cluster, seeking clues about the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak as a number of nations further tightened restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the pandemic.
  • France has closed its borders to non-European countries except for essential travel, a day after Germany imposed a ban on most travellers from nations hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants.
  • Globally more than two million people have died from the virus, with nearly 102 million cases recorded and 56 million recoveries.

Below were the updates on Sunday:

Netanyahu ‘cuts short visit to UAE’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly shortened an official visit to the United Arab Emirates next week from three days to three hours.

Citing Israeli officials, journalist Barak Ravid said the decision was taken “due to the COVID lockdown in Israel.”

In the UAE, Netanyahu will reportedly meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Algeria says it has discussed with Russia producing Moscow’s Sputnik V vaccine

Algeria has discussed with Russia the possibility of producing Moscow’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Talks to manufacture the vaccine in Algeria took place during a meeting between Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Russian ambassador Igor Beliaev, the prime minister’s office said.

“The two parties agreed to initiate contacts between the competent services of the two countries with the aim of establishing a bilateral cooperation…,” it said in a statement.

South African virus variant detected in Greece

Greek authorities have confirmed the first detection of the South African variant of the new coronavirus in the country, prompting top health officials to fly to the area where it was found for meetings.

The minister leading the government response to the pandemic and the head of the country’s public health body met with doctors and the local bishop in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The variant is believed to be more contagious than the original type and it was detected in a 36-year-old deacon in a suburb of the city.

“We will be doing screenings to isolate the persons who have been in contact with the patient,” said Panayiotis Arkoumaneas, head of the National Public Health Organization.

Britain’s centenarian fundraiser Captain Tom in hospital with COVID

British centenarian Captain Tom Moore, who raised millions of pounds for the health service by walking laps of his garden in last year’s lockdown, has been admitted to hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, his daughter said.

The World War Two veteran caught the public’s imagination in April, just before his 100th birthday, when he was filmed doing laps with the help of a walking frame around his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine, north of London.

He hoped to raise 1,000 pounds. Instead, he raised more than 30m ($41m) for the National Health Service, broke two Guinness world records, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, scored a number 1 single, wrote an autobiography and helped set up a charity.

British centenarian Captain Tom Moore, has been admitted to hospital after testing positive for COVID-19 [Dylan Martinez/Reuters]

German health minister open to using Russia, Chinese vaccines

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said he is open to the use of coronavirus vaccines from Russia or China in Germany, as a debate over the availability of vaccines rages in Europe.

“If a vaccine is safe and effective, no matter in which country it was produced, then it can of course help in beating the pandemic,”
Spahn told the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The vaccine would have to go through the normal authorisation process.

Republicans urge Biden to scale down $1.9tn COVID relief

Ten Republicans in the United States Senate have offered a counter-proposal to President Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill, saying a scaled-down version of the aid package would garner bipartisan support in Congress.

In a letter on Sunday, Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and others said their version of the bill would include $160bn for COVID-19 vaccines, testing, treatment and personal protective equipment, among other things.

Read more here.

President Joe Biden made a robust response to the coronavirus central to his campaign [File: Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]

Italy reports 237 coronavirus deaths

Italy reported 237 coronavirus-related deaths, down from 421 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections was equal to 11,252 compared with 12,715 on Saturday.

Some 213,364 tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past day, against a previous 298,010, the health ministry said.

European capitals hit by anti-COVID curbs protests

Protesters angry with coronavirus restrictions have staged rallies in a number of European cities, days after the Netherlands was rocked by anti-curfew riots.

Read more here.

A person wearing a face mask attends a demonstration against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures  in Budapest [Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

Canada to quarantine arriving travellers, suspend flights south

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced stricter restrictions on travellers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus – including making it mandatory for travellers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada and suspending airline service to Mexico and all Caribbean destinations until April 30.

Trudeau said on Friday in addition to the pre-boarding test Canada already requires, the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada.

Read more here.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the country will require tests for those arriving in the country [File: Blair Gable/Reuters]

Brazil’s Sao Paulo says ingredients for 8.6 million vaccine doses to arrive on Wednesday

Brazil’s Sao Paulo state is expecting to receive on Wednesday ingredients from Sinovac Biotech Ltd that will allow local production of 8.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the state government has said.

The ingredients are in Beijing’s airport, in China, awaiting discharge and will be used by Sao Paulo’s state-funded Butantan Institute, which has a partnership with Sinovac to produce the vaccines in Brazil.

Oman extends land border closure by a week due to pandemic

Oman will extend the closure of its land borders for another week, until February 8, to curb the spread of the coronavirus, state TV said, citing a decision by the Gulf state’s coronavirus emergency committee.

The borders were closed on January 19 because of concerns about a new coronavirus variant, a measure that was extended last week.

Israel says to send 5,000 vaccine shots to Palestinians

Israel has said it would send 5,000 coronavirus vaccine shots to the Palestinian Authority to inoculate medical personnel, following global pressure to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated.

Israeli authorities have launched an aggressive campaign to vaccinate its own citizens, but the shots have not been made available to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Thousands protest in Vienna as far-right march on COVID measures banned

Thousands of protesters have faced off with police in riot gear in Vienna at the site of a banned far-right demonstration against coronavirus restrictions.

Vienna police banned numerous protests planned for this weekend, including one by the far-right Freedom Party on Sunday, on the grounds that protesters have generally failed to observe rules on social distancing and often not worn face masks.

Since December 26, Austria has been in its third national lockdown, with non-essential shops and many other businesses closed and their staff unable to work.

Portugal virus surge ‘like a tsunami’

Germany’s defence ministry says it will send medical assistance to Portugal, which on Saturday said only seven of 850 ICU beds set up for COVID-19 cases on its mainland were vacant.

It came after the Portuguese government had asked Berlin for help.

“The situation is only comparable to a tsunami in the sense of the number of infections that we are seeing on the rise for weeks,” Ricardo Baptista Leite, from the Catholic University of Portugal, told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve seen this ongoing now for [three] months, and …. only last Friday did we start to see a slowdown in the rise of new cases … following the closure of schools and a more strict lockdown that was imposed two weeks before.”

In total, Portugal has recorded 711,018 confirmed infections and 12,179 related deaths.

Portugal has recorded 711,018 confirmed infections [Duarte Sa/Reuters]

China sees uptick in cases

China has recorded more than 2,000 new domestic cases of COVID-19 in January, the highest monthly total since the tail end of the initial outbreak in Wuhan in March of last year.

The National Health Commission said 2,016 cases were reported in January, a figure that does not include another 435 infected people who arrived from abroad. Two people died this month, the first reported COVID-related deaths in China in several months.

Most of the new cases have been in three northern provinces, including more than 900 infections in hardest-hit Hubei province. In the capital, Beijing, 45 cases were registered this month.

Thousands flout virus restrictions at Israel funeral

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have defied Israel’s coronavirus restrictions to attend a rabbi’s funeral, prompting Defence Minister Benny Gantz to demand an end to the community’s repeated breaking of lockdown rules.

A huge crowd, many not wearing masks, packed the streets in Jerusalem for the funeral of 99-year-old Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, head of the influential Brisk yeshiva, or religious educational institute.

Egypt ‘receives’ first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines

Egypt has received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, according to airport officials.

The 50,000-dose shipment arrived at Cairo International Airport on a flight from Dubai, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

Mohammed Awad Tag el-Din, Egypt’s presidential health adviser, said the shipment originated from the company’s factory in India.

Italy to relax COVID curbs in many regions

The Italian government has said it would ease coronavirus restrictions across much of the country from Monday, despite warnings from health experts that the move was risky given concerns over the spread of more contagious variants.

After a review of latest COVID-19 data, the health ministry said it was shifting 11 regions from orange to so-called yellow zones, giving inhabitants there greater freedom to travel and allowing bars and restaurants to reopen during the day.

In all, 16 regions will be in the lowest-risk yellow zone, and just four regions – Puglia, Sardinia, Sicily and Umbria – in the orange zone, together with the northern Bolzano province. Nowhere in Italy will be classified as a red zone, which brings with it stringent curbs on travel and business.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Elizabeth Melimopoulos in Doha, Qatar.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies