Coronavirus live news: variant first found in UK now accounts for 6% of German cases; Israel to ease lockdown
Food insecurity levels in Bangladesh in April 2020 doubled compared to previous years.
This article titled “Coronavirus live news: variant first found in UK now accounts for 6% of German cases; Israel to ease lockdown” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now); Mattha Busby, Sarah Marsh, Ben Quinn and Alison Rourke (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 5th February 2021 20.51 UTC
Greece limits AstraZeneca jab to under-65s
Greece has become the latest EU country to limit its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 65, with the health ministry saying it is awaiting more data on the jab’s efficacy on older people.
“In Greece, as in other European Union countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be used on ages 18-64,” health ministry general secretary Marios Themistokleous said, in comments reported by Reuters.
There is “insufficient evidence” regarding its use on older people, he added.
France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and other countries have so far put age limits on the vaccine, which was developed by the British-Swedish firm with Oxford University.
Fewer than 360,000 vaccinations have been carried out in the country of 11 million.
Germany has not yet decided whether to extend its Covid-19 lockdown, a state source told Reuters amid reports that the country was likely to keep the measures in place for a further two weeks.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders are due to meet next Wednesday to take a decision on the matter. Germany is under a national lockdown, with schools and kindergartens shut until mid-February, though factories and offices remain open.
“Nothing has been decided or discussed at – everything is open,” said the state source.
Most shops and non-essential services have been shut since mid-December after a partial lockdown covering the hospitality sector brought in early November failed to bring down infections.
France’s case count has remained steady, with 22,139 new confirmed Covid-19 infections reported on Friday, taking the cumulative total to 3.29 million.
Friday’s figure compares to 23,448 on Thursday and 22,858 last Friday, Reuters reported.
Hospital figures fell for the third day in a row, with the number of people in hospital with the virus decreasing by 194 to 27,614. Five fewer people were in ICU, leaving a total of 3,245.
Slovak regional authorities have quarantined a Roma settlement after a quarter of its residents tested positive for the coronavirus.
The settlement of Sacurov near Vranov nad Toplou in the east of the country, made up of two three-storey apartment blocks and around 70 shacks, is to be closed off for 10 days.
Residents will be able to shop for food, Sacurov mayor Peter Barat said, adding that assistants will help them with other services.Footage by TA3 television showed a police car blocking the entry road to the settlement.
“In a week-and-a-half it grew [from five] to the unreal number of 113, due to a failure to maintain quarantine and isolation,” he said.
There are about 750 people living in the settlement, Slovak newspaper dennikn.sk reported, and about 400 were tested. Most of the positive cases were among children, it said, with no or mild symptoms.
The country has a Roma population about 440,000-strong, with many living in settlements on the outskirts of towns, although most declare themselves as Slovaks or Hungarians, according to Reuters.
Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic said on Friday that more than 70% of positive tests on Wednesday were with the more infectious UK variant of the virus.
More than 80% of people in some developing countries have seen their incomes fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, economists have found, warning that rising poverty could mean poorer countries struggle to curb infections – especially with mass vaccination potentially years away.
“Economic help is part and parcel of fighting the virus,” co-author of the study Shana Warren told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If you want people to stay home to stop the virus spreading while they wait for vaccines you need to provide them with the economic support to do so.”
Without financial aid, people are likely to risk contracting and spreading the virus if they need to work, economists said in a major study spanning three continents.
The study, which surveyed 30,000 households, is one of the largest of its kind, tracking the “unprecedented” rise in global poverty in 2020. It was carried out by 18 organisations, including Ivy League universities, European universities and the World Bank.
It comes amid fears that some poorer countries may not get vaccines until 2024, while the UN has warned that the pandemic could push a billion people into extreme poverty by 2030.
- In Colombia, 87% of respondents reported a fall in income.
- In Ghana, it was 84%.
- A total of 81% reported a fall in Rwanda.
- Nearly nine in 10 rural households surveyed in Sierra Leone said they had cut meals due to the pandemic.
- Food insecurity levels in Bangladesh in April 2020 doubled compared to previous years.
The report recommended providing help in the form of mobile phone cash transfers, subsidising utilities like water and electricity and removing penalties for unpaid bills.
China will provide Nepal with an initial batch of vaccines, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday, citing Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks during a telephone conversation with his Nepali counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Reuters reported.
Greece has tightened some lockdown restrictions for 10 days in three high-risk areas of the country in a bid to bring down Covid-19 levels after a recent spike in infection numbers.
The new rules affect the regions of Attica (including Athens), Thessaloniki and Halkidiki, daily Kathimerini reported.
Only essential retail, including supermarkets and pharmacies, will be able to remain open on weekends, while the nighttime curfew will be brought forward from 9pm to 6pm.
High schools will also return to remote teaching.
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Italy’s medicines regulator AIFA has given the green light for emergency use of Covid-19 antibody therapies developed by US drugmakers Eli Lilly and Regeneron, it said, Reuters reports.
The treatments are aimed at patients with mild to moderate disease who are at risk of their condition worsening, AIFA said. The regulator’s scientific committee said it was appropriate to provide this treatment option, while also pointing out that the data is not yet well developed and there is uncertainty about how much benefit the drugs offer.
“This is a high-risk setting for which no standard treatment with proven efficacy is currently available,” AIFA said, noting it was giving approval on extraordinary basis due to the emergency situation. The EU regulator said on Thursday it was reviewing data on the Eli Lilly and Regeneron antibody therapies.
Regeneron’s cocktail of casirivimab and imdevimab was authorised for emergency use in the United States in November, and was given to former US president Donald Trump when he was ill with Covid-19.
Eli Lilly’s combination therapy of two antibodies, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, helped cut the risk of hospitalisation and death in Covid-19 patients by 70%, data from a late-stage trial showed in January.
Spain has approved AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use in 18-55 year olds, El Pais newspaper has reported. France, Germany, Italy and Austria have also imposed restrictions on the use of the vaccine, amid a lack of data on the recently-approved shot’s use in the elderly.
The UK government is exploring the idea of documentation that would allow travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against coronavirus, the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has said.
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson had previously denied there were any plans for “vaccine passports” – but officials have now been asked to look at how people could comply with the requirements of some foreign governments for a vaccination before travel.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Cleverly said:
It is often the case that the entry requirements for countries [include] vaccines and inoculations – that is not an uncommon practice. We will work with international partners to help facilitate their border arrangements and immigration requirements.
Coronavirus infection rates remain high but are showing clear signs of declining in most areas of the UK, new data suggests.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests around 1 in 65 people in the community in England are estimated to have had the disease in the week ending 30 January, compared with 1 in 70 in Wales, 1 in 65 in Northern Ireland and 1 in 115 in Scotland. The week before the figures were 1 in 55, 1 in 70, 1 in 50 and 1 in 110 respectively.
“Our modelling suggests that the percentage of people testing positive in England decreased in the week ending 30 January 2021 but remains high,” the team report, adding declines were seen both in the percentage of cases which are thought to be down to the new variant of the coronavirus, B117, and those which are not.
More than 100 economists have on the European Central Bank (ECB) to give a €2.5-trillion boost to the economic recovery of the single currency zone from the Covid-19 pandemic by writing off the public debt it holds, AFP reports.
In an open letter published in major newspapers in leading eurozone countries, the economists note that a quarter of the public debt of nations that use the euro is now held by the ECB.
In other words, we owe ourselves 25% of our debt and, if we are to reimburse that amount, we must find it elsewhere, either by borrowing it again to ‘roll the debt’ instead of borrowing to invest, or by raising taxes, or by cutting expenses.
All three of those options would depress growth and hold back recovery, they said; proposing instead that the ECB forgive these debts in exchange for the countries pledging to spend the equivalent amount on a green transition and social projects, which the economists say would result in a stimulus package of a similar value to the existing debt.
However, ECB vice president Luis de Guindos said that a debt cancellation would have a negative impact on the “reputation, credibility and independence of the central bank”.
Bahrain is to reintroduce restrictions on Sunday for two weeks to prevent the spread of Covid after a sharp rise in cases over the past month, Reuters reports.
The kingdom has ordered indoor gyms, sports halls and swimming pools to close and social gatherings in homes to be limited to up to 30 people until 21 February, state news agency BNA reports.
It is also limiting outdoor group exercise to 30 people, while government institutions and entities must allow up to 70% of employees to work from home. The small Gulf island state last week banned indoor dining at restaurants and cafes and moved schools to remote learning after detecting a new Covid varian.
The kingdom reported 704 new cases today, compared with 229 infections a month ago. In total, Bahrain has had 105,119 cases and 377 deaths. Neighbouring Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all recently reimposed restrictions in response to an increasing number of infections.
- Belgium is to allow hairdressers to reopen the weekend after next in a slight easing of Covid restrictions as serious infections decrease. Camping and cabin sites can reopen from Monday, also with hairdressers and zoos from 13 February and beauty parlours from 1 March (see 5.30pm).
- Israel announced that it would ease lockdown measures but keep its international airport and land borders closed following a slight fall in the spread of coronavirus cases (see 11.40am)
- The US shall deploy 1,100 troops to help get Americans get Covid jabs at state vaccination centres after a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (see 5.03pm).
- South Africa, hardest hit by Covid across Africa, has secured enough Covid vaccines for at least 26 million people and knows where it will source the other doses it needs, the health minister has said (see 2.41pm)
- World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on companies to share manufacturing facilities to help ramp up the production of Covid-19 vaccines (see 4.55pm).
- Italy has fully vaccinated most people in Europe, an official claimed. “Meanwhile, the number of Italians that are fully vaccinated will top 1 million today,” he said. “We have about one million people who have received both the first and second dose, ahead of Germany with 756,000.” (see 2.16pm)
- Burundi became at least the second African country to say it does not need Covid-19 vaccines (see 1.15pm).
- Ghanaian MPs who had contracted Covid continued to attend parliament, according to the speaker, Alban Bagbin (see 2.09pm).
- Britain’s Oxford University said its researchers behind the joint AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine had found it to be effective against the UK virus variant now dominant across the country (see 3.43pm).
- The Czech government faces the threat of parliament tying its hands in efforts to combat the pandemic, after a key parliamentary ally of the largest party said it would not support extending emergency executive powers after its calls to reopen schools and ski resorts were ignored (see 5.34pm).
- A police officer in Florida, US, has been fired after colleague complained that he mocked her concerns about Covid, hugged her against her wishes and misled investigators who probed the allegations against him (see 2.32pm)
Madrid health authorities have confirmed the region’s first case of the Brazilian Covid variant, while a national committee debates whether to recommend AstraZeneca’s vaccine to people over 65, Reuters reports.
The national health ministry said it was not aware of any other cases of the highly contagious Brazilian variant in Spanish territory.
Catalan authorities announced the country’s second known case of the South African variant on Wednesday, a day after the government restricted air travel with Brazil and South Africa to curb the spread of the virulent new strains from those countries.
Officials have warned that although a third wave of infection has slowed, with the 14-day incidence rate falling to 751 cases per 100,000 people on Friday from 900 cases in late January, the arrival of the new strains could drive a resurgence.
The health ministry recorded 28,565 new cases on Friday, bringing the cumulative total above 2.94 million, while the death toll climbed by 584 to 61,386.
Meanwhile a national vaccine committee was expected to announce that Spain would follow France and Germany in restricting the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people amid a lack of data on its use in the elderly.
The Czech government faces the threat that parliament may tie its hands in efforts to combat the pandemic, after a key parliamentary ally said it would not support extending emergency executive powers, Reuters reports.
The Communist Party, which supports prime minister Andrej Babis’s minority coalition government, said it had decided to withdraw backing for the powers in response to the government ignoring its calls to reopen schools and ski resorts. “The government did not take our conditions seriously and decided otherwise,” the party said in a statement.
If the government fails to find the votes in parliament, the state of emergency will expire on 14 February. Many Czechs have grown tired of the government’s measures, and the opposition has called the policies chaotic.
Groups of angered restaurant owners staged demonstrations, and a few opened their restaurants or ski-lifts, while some accommodation providers have circumvented bans on offering holiday stays.
The Czech Republic has suffered one of the world’s highest death rates, with 16,976 deaths in the population of 10.7 million. Daily cases have remained stubbornly high at around 9,000 this week, with higher two-week per-capita averages in Europe seen only in Portugal and Spain, according to ECDC data.
Belgium has allowed hairdressers to reopen the weekend after next in a slight easing of Covid restrictions as serious infections slow, Reuters reports.
The Belgian government, regional chiefs and health experts decided after a three-hour meeting today to permit camping and cabin sites to reopen from Monday, hairdressers and zoos from 13 February and beauty parlours from 1 March.
Prime minister Alexander De Croo said the measures should not be understood as the start of wide-scale easing.
The consultation committee is very aware of the fact that personal care plays an important role in how we feel and how we feel is a very important element in helping us through the very difficult months to come,” he told a news conference. We have to be particularly careful with the situation. That is why the consultation committee has chosen a very cautious approach.
Belgium has recorded more than Covid-19 21,000 fatalities among its 11 million people, more than most other countries proportionally. However, while cases have been inching up with more children tested, daily hospital admissions and fatalities have been heading down. The health agency said Belgium had been in a clear plateau since November, unlike many other countries.
The Belgian government says it needs to have fewer than 800 confirmed infections a day and 75 daily hospital admissions for a period of three weeks before substantially easing lockdown rules. Those figures are now respectively 2,349 and 121.
The UK variant of coronavirus, more infectious than the previously dominant strain, has taken over as the main cause of new Covid cases in Slovakia, prime minister Igor Matovic has said.
Matovic said the government had checked all positive samples of PCR laboratory tests taken in the country yesterday and preliminary results showed 71% were the UK variant.
So far from 1,360 clinical samples positively tested by RT-PCR, 71% have been diagnosed as the B.1.1.7 UK variant of SARS-CoV-2.
Reuters reports that hospitals in the central European country of 5.5 million has been strained with 3,560 coronavirus patients as of today. The British variant is believed to be up to 70% more infectious than the previously dominant strain, and may also be 30% more lethal, some scientists say.
The proportion was even higher among coronavirus patients at the Louis Pasteur University Hospital in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice where tests showed 91% carried the UK variant of the virus, news agency TASR reported. Slovakia has recorded 5,050 deaths from the coronavirus.
Matovic said the spread of the UK variant made it difficult to ease lockdown measures, as his ruling coalition was split today on whether to reopen lower grades of elementary schools and kindergartens as planned next week.
Such a proportion of the Brit (mutation) means that any easing without any adequate protective/compensatory measures will cause an increase of positive cases and an erosion of the situation.
US to deploy troops to assist with vaccine drive
The Biden administration has said it is invoking the Defense Production Act to help Pfizer ramp up vaccine production and that “every option” was on the table to produce more Johnson & Johnson vaccine should it be authorised, Reuters reports.
It will also use the wartime powers to increase at-home Covid-19 tests, and make more surgical gloves in the US, officials said at a media briefing today.
The White House also said it would deploy 1,100 troops to help get Americans get the jabs at state vaccination centres after a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, AP reports.
President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centrrs around the country within a month. Two are opening in California, and Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt said military personnel would arrive at those centres in a little over a week.
Currently about 6.9 million Americans have received the full two-dose regimen required to get maximum protection from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. That translates to about 2% of the US population.
WHO calls on companies to share facilities to ramp up vaccine production
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on companies to share manufacturing facilities to help ramp up the production of Covid-19 vaccines, Reuters reports.
Speaking at an online news briefing from Geneva, Adhanom Ghebreyesus said almost 130 countries with a combined population of 2.5 billion people were yet to administer a single dose of vaccine, and repeated his plea for rich nations to share doses with poorer countries once they have vaccinated health workers and older people.
“But we also need a massive scale-up in production,” the WHO director general said. “Last week, Sanofi announced it would make its manufacturing infrastructure available to support production of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. We call on other companies to follow this example.”
French drug maker Sanofi said last week it would will fill and pack millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from July, aiming to help supply more than 100 million doses this year from its German plant to meet massive demand.
Variant first discovered in UK now accounts for 6% of cases in Germany
A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain now accounts for almost 6% of all cases in Germany, officials said Friday.
The head of Germany’s disease control agency said labs examined the genome of the virus in more than 30,000 positive samples last week to assess the spread of the variant, known to scientists as B.1.1.7., and two others that were first found in South Africa and Brazil.
“The three variants, particularly B.1.1.7., have arrived in Germany,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, told reporters in Berlin.
“They’re not dominant yet, but we have to reckon that their share will continue to rise, just as it has been reported from other European countries in recent weeks.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that the prevalence of new variants of the virus will play a role in discussions between the federal and state governments next week about whether to extend existing lockdown restrictions beyond mid-February.
Wieler said the variant first observed in Britain and now detected in 13 of Germany’s 16 states “is more contagious than the existing one, and there are first indications that it can also lead to more serious illnesses.”
The US House of Representatives was expected to approve a budget measure on Friday that would enable Democrats to push President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package through Congress without Republican support in a process that will likely take weeks.
The senate narrowly approved a version of the budget plan at the end of a marathon debate that went into Friday morning. House leaders said lawmakers will begin a procedural vote around midday, and if that succeeds, the budget will be deemed adopted.
Democrats and the Biden administration have said they want comprehensive legislation to move quickly to address a pandemic that has killed more than 450,000 Americans and left millions jobless.
Italy reported 377 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday against 421 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 14,218 from 13,659 the day before.
Some 270,507 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, virtually stable compared with a previous 270,142, the health ministry said.
Italy has registered 90,618 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.61 million cases to date.
Patients in the hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 19,575 on Friday, down from 19,743 a day earlier.
Britain’s Oxford University said on Friday its researchers behind the joint AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine had found it to be effective against the UK virus variant now dominant across the country.
The university, which developed the jab with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm, said an ongoing assessment of its effectiveness showed that it has “similar efficacy” to other coronavirus strains.
“Data from our trials… in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus but also protects against the novel variant,” said Andrew Pollard, a co-chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.
The analysis, which relied on samples taken between October and mid-January, also indicated the jab reduces “duration of shedding and viral load”, which may translate into reduced virus transmission, the university said.
President Joe Biden said on Friday that fresh data on the health of the US jobs market shows the need for aggressive action by Congress on a coronavirus relief bill.
Meeting with top Democrats from the US House of Representatives at the White House, Biden said the US would not return to full employment at the current jobs-creation pace for 10 years, underscoring the need for lawmakers to act.
European nations need to work more closely with drug firms to increase the pace of coronavirus inoculations, the World Health Organization said, as Johnson & Johnson pushed for its jab to become the third approved for use in the US.
EU chiefs have engaged in bitter public rows with firms over supply shortages and legal obligations, as a slow vaccine rollout has sparked public anger and plunged the bloc’s leadership into crisis.
“We need to join up to speed up vaccinations,” the World Health Organization’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, told AFP in an interview.
“Otherwise, competing pharmaceutical companies (must) join efforts to drastically increase production capacity … that’s what we need,” he added.
In a sign of Europe’s increasing urgency, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said he hoped Russia’s Sputnik V jab would be approved for use in Europe soon.
“It’s good news for the whole of mankind because it means we will have more tools to fight the pandemic,” he said during a visit to Moscow.
Experts have warned that vaccines will only control the contagion – which has killed more than 2 million people since emerging in late 2019 – if the whole world is covered.
Although more than 115m shots have so far been administered, most have been in high-income countries.
Kluge reiterated the WHO’s call for rich countries to help poorer parts of the world, urging them to donate spare doses after inoculating the most vulnerable parts of their populations.
AstraZeneca expects results from the US clinical trial of its Covid-19 vaccine in the next four to six weeks, the firm’s research chief Mene Pangalos has said.
Reuters reports that asked about when the trial results would be ready, given high transmission rates during the trial, Pangalos said that they had been high during “the latter period of the trial”.
I think we’re getting very close to getting data. I would say in the next four to six weeks we should have the results for that study reading out.
Some experts had expected the data sooner than that, given the high infection rates in the US during the period of testing.
The US recorded more than 5,000 Covid-19 deaths today. The surge, the highest number to date, seems to be largely due to a backlog of data that was just released from Indiana, adding 1,500 deaths to the countrywide number, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Though cases have otherwise been slowing down, the death toll is often a reflection of what happened in the weeks prior, since it’s usually a lagging indicator of the virus spread. Yesterday, there were 5,077 US deaths in total, according to John Hopkins University data, and 122,473 new cases.
South Africa, hardest hit by Covid across Africa, has secured enough Covid vaccines for at least 26 million people and knows where it will source the other doses it needs, the health minister has said, Reuters reports.
Africa’s most industrialised economy has recorded the most COVID-19 infections and deaths on the continent, at more than 1.4 million cases and more than 45,000 deaths to date.
It plans to start inoculations soon, after receiving its first million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) this week. It aims to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, to reach herd immunity.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize told a parliamentary committee it would take roughly three months to complete the first phase of the vaccination plan focused on healthcare workers. The next phase, which includes those aged over 60, those deemed essential workers and those with co-morbidities, could take six months.
“We don’t expect this plan to be smooth in its implementation,” Mkhize said, after some scientists and opposition politicians criticised the government for not procuring vaccines more swiftly. “It’s a new programme, it’s a huge programme, to think that everything is going to be smooth according to the letter of the plan I think we would be misleading you.”
South Africa expects to get another 500,000 doses from SII in the coming weeks, as well as 12 million from the Covax facility co-led by the World Health Organization, 20 million from Pfizer and 9 million from Johnson & Johnson.
A Florida, US, police officer has been fired following a coworker’s complaint that he mocked her concerns about the coronavirus, hugged her against her wishes and misled investigators who probed the allegations against him, according to records reported by AP.
An internal investigation by the Longwood police department found Cpl. David Hernandez was “not fully forthcoming and not truthful” when questioned about the interaction in July with the woman, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The co-worker “told you not to touch her and physically backed away from you and crossed her arms,” police chief David Dowda wrote in his review of the case, which the newspaper obtained through a public records request.
“This was more than sufficient indication for you to know to stop trying to embrace her; however you ignored her comments and moments later embraced her,” the chief wrote.
The woman said she made it clear that she feared contracting COVID-19. Hernandez ignored her and followed her into her work space, the report said. There he kept “taunting her with comments about her being afraid of contracting Covid-19,” while sitting at her desk and “touching items on her desk,” the report said.
Hernandez, an officer with the department since 2005, only left when the woman went to a supervisor, the report said. The woman said she cut her finger and hurt her back while pushing Hernandez away, the report said.
Italy has fully vaccinated most people in Europe, official claims
Seven million Italians could be fully vaccinated against Covid by the end of March, if vaccine supplies are confirmed, the government’s special commissioner Domenico Arcuri has said.
Arcuri said the first 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would arrive in Italy tomorrow and would be administered from next week, to people up to the age of 55, Reuters reports. Pfizer and Moderna doses will be administered in parallel, to those over 80 and most exposed to risks, such as health workers.
Meanwhile, the number of Italians that are fully vaccinated will top 1 million today … We have about one million people who have received both the first and second dose, ahead of Germany with 756,000.
Asked about recent production disruptions and supply cuts, the commissioner said he was waiting for the EU and the vaccine manufacturers to agree over the proposal to transfer part of their production to local sites to increase capacity.
“We believe Italy has the facilities and the characteristics to contribute to an increase in production,” he added.
Arcuri added that the average daily number of doses administered had returned to 83,000 per day after falling by more than half in the last two weeks of January.
On the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is recommended for use in people up to 55 years old, he said he was confident that “further trials may allow it to be used within a wider share of the population.”
Ghanaian MPs who had contracted Covid continued to attend parliament, according to the speaker, Alban Bagbin.
Bagbin threatened to expose MPs that continued to attend while announcing that parliament would reduce sittings to just twice just a week. According to local reports, parliamentary leaders are likely to bar MPs from attending.
An outbreak of coronavirus in Ghana’s parliament has seen 15 MPs and over 50 legislative test positive, as cases rise sharply across the country.
Many in Ghana are angry at the lax attitude to covid among some of the country’s legislators while stricter measures affecting ordinary citizens have been adopted to curb a second wave of infections, now seen in many West African countries.
The country is seeing about 700 infections a day, with 7,000 active cases, more than tripling over the last fortnight. There has been an estimated total of 440 deaths.
On Sunday, president Nana Akufo-Addo placed an indefinite ban on weddings, parties and limited private funerals to 25 people. He also added beaches, nightclubs, cinemas and pubs will continue to be shut whiles the country’s domestic land and sea borders remain closed.
Like many countries in the region struggling to procure vaccines amid global competition, prospects are slowly rising but remain a challenge. Ghana plans to procure 17 million doses by the end of June for its population of 30 million people. The first batches would arrive in March, Akufo-Addo said, without specifying which vaccines they would be.
The leaders of Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and Greece have urged the European Commission to act quickly to secure supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, Reuters reports.
In the letter, addressed to commission President Ursula von der Leyen, they said they had been informed that the new vaccine needed to be shipped to the United States for filling and finishing.
If this could risk EU access to the vaccines, we should consider addressing the issue already now with a view to finding solutions with the company in order to safeguard European supply.
It was signed by Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
A member of the World Health Organization-led team visiting the central Chinese city of Wuhan said he has been surprised by the complexity of getting to the origins of the pandemic and that years of research lay ahead, Reuters reports.
Dominic Dwyer, a microbiologist and infectious diseases expert, said:
Everybody knows how it really exploded out of Huanan market in Wuhan, but the key is what was happening around that time and before.
Dwyer, an Australian specialist in HIV/AIDS who previously worked with the WHO during the SARS and avian flu outbreaks, said the “conundrum” of Covid-19 was that early asymptomatic carriers may not have known they had it.
“It would be naive to think that we’re going to get virus zero,” Dwyer said. The early cases were identified in November, “but it’s just the bit beforehand that’s the very interesting part and the tricky part and the difficult part”.
Dwyer echoed his teammate Peter Daszak, a zoologist and animal disease expert, in his emphasis on the difficulty of understanding the disease. “Even SARS, even Ebola, we have some good ideas, but no one knows,” Daszak said yesterday. “HIV: we don’t know the exact circumstances.”
Serbia will invest as much as necessary to start domestic production of Russia’s Sputnik V by the end of the year, president Aleksandar Vucic has said.
A group of Russian experts is expected to visit Serbia next week for talks about local production of the Sputnik V vaccine by the end of the year, Reuters reports. Vucic said he and Russian president Vladimir Putin made an initial agreement about the launch of the production procedure which he described as “complicated and difficult.”
With over 530,000 people, or around 7.5% of its population, inoculated against Covid-19, Serbia globally holds the fourth highest vaccination rate per 100 people, behind Israel, Britain and the US.
AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine has similar efficacy against the “Kent” coronavirus variant currently circulating in the UK as it does to the previously circulating variants, the university has said.
Reuters reports that the findings, released in a preprint paper and not peer-reviewed, also detailed recent analysis showing that vaccination with the shot results in a reduction in the duration of shedding and viral load, which may translate into a reduced transmission of the disease, Oxford University said.
Burundi is latest African country to express no need for Covid vaccine
Burundi has become at least the second African country to say it does not need Covid-19 vaccines, even as doses finally begin to arrive on the continent that’s seeing a deadly resurgence in cases, AP reports.
The health minister of the East African nation, Thaddee Ndikumana, told reporters last night that prevention is more important, and “since more than 95% of patients are recovering, we estimate that the vaccines are not yet necessary.”
The minister spoke while announcing new measures against the pandemic. The country closed its land and water borders last month. It now has well over 1,600 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Neighbouring Tanzania this week said it had no plans to accept Covid-19 vaccines after president John Magufuli expressed doubt about them, without giving evidence. He insists the country has long defeated the virus with God’s help but faces growing pushback from fellow citizens, and officials with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have urged Tanzania to cooperate.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ quarterly profit surged past estimates today, benefitting from a recovery in demand for its flagship eye drug and a jump in sales of its eczema drug, sending the drugmaker’s shares up 3% before the bell, Reuters reports.
However, Regeneron recorded tepid sales from its dual antibody cocktail, REGEN-COV, which won US emergency use authorisation in November for non-hospitalised Covid-19 patients at high risk of becoming severely ill.
Regeneron and rival Eli Lilly’s antibody therapies have so far seen lacklustre demand as patients need to be isolated for administering the drug through one-time intravenous infusion.
The EU’s top diplomat has expressed a hope that the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Russia will soon be used across the 27-nation bloc, AP reports.
During a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the country’s Sputnik V vaccine is “good news for the whole mankind.” The vaccine was approved by the Russian government in August and many foreign governments have expressed interest in buying doses.
Russian scientists said it appears safe and effective against Covid-19, according to early results of an advanced study published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
The EU has signed six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of various vaccines, but only three of them have been approved for use so far and the delivery of shots has been disturbed by production delays.
“Now I’m hoping that the European Medical Agency will be able to certify the efficiency of this vaccine in order to be used also in the European Union states,” Borrell said. “It will be good news because we are facing a shortage of vaccines.”
The EU’s medical agency has not yet received a request for marketing authorisation for the Sputnik V vaccine. It said this week that the developer has submitted a request for scientific advice to the agency and a meeting has been held “to discuss their development plan and their further engagement with the agency.”
An inquiry into public spending on coronavirus in South Africa has found evidence of political pressure, price inflation, and fraud in many of the contracts, fuelled by an “insatiable pursuit of self-enrichment”, Reuters reports.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) launched the probe in July after a number of whistleblowers alleged irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment and hospital supplies.
The investigation found evidence of tax fraud, the use of shell companies to win multiple contracts, instances of price inflation of up to 500%, and political pressure put on managers to break procurement laws, SIU head Andy Mothibi told reporters.
It appears that persons in positions of authority in some state institutions believed that the declaration of the state of emergency meant that all procurement is automatically conducted on an emergency basis.
The SIU investigations have revealed a flagrant and wanton disregard of the applicable law, policies and procedures. My observation is that the flagrant and wanton disregard is underpinned by insatiable pursuit of self-enrichment.
Already in recession before the pandemic struck, the country has also struggled to fund vaccine purchases, partly due to years of government corruption. President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to deal harshly with graft.
Climate change may have played a “key role” in coronavirus transmission to humans by driving several species of pathogen-carrying bats into closer contact, new research suggests, AFP reports..
The virus, which has killed more than two million people and caused unprecedented global disruption, is thought to have originated in bats in Southeast Asia. Researchers from the University of Cambridge used temperature and rainfall data over the last 100 years to model populations of dozens of bat species based on their habitat requirements.
They found that over the last century, 40 species had relocated to southern China, Laos and Myanmar – the area where genetic analysis suggests the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 first appeared. Since each bat species carries an average of 2.7 coronaviruses, the researchers said 100 strains of coronavirus were now concentrated in this “hotspot” area.
“Our paper is a long way away from saying the pandemic would not have happened without climate change,” lead author Robert Meyer of Cambridge’s zoology department told AFP. “But I find it difficult to see that this climate-driven increase in bats and bat-borne coronaviruses make something like this less likely to happen.”
While the precise chain of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from animals to humans is yet to be determined, Beyer said the changing climate and habitat destruction in Asia had driven virus-carrying species into ever closer contact with human populations. “It’s two sides of a similar coin: we penetrate deeper into their habitat but at the same time climate change can have the effect that it pushes the pathogen in our direction,” he said.
Zambia, Africa’s first economy to default during the coronavirus pandemic, announced Friday that it had officially applied for restructuring under the G20 debt suspension initiative for the world’s poorest countries, AFP reports.
The copper-rich country, which saw its external debt bulge to nearly $12 billion last year, has missed two interest payments over the past three months. Late last year, it failed to pay $42.5 million in interest due on a Eurobond and on January 30 it skipped a $56.1-million payment on another bond.
“Zambia is committed to transparency and equal treatment of all creditors in the restructuring process and our application to benefit from the G20 common framework will hopefully reassure all creditors of our commitment to such treatment,” finance minister Bwalya Ng’andu said in a statement.
The leaders of the world’s 20 richest nations last year agreed on a moratorium allowing poorer countries to temporarily stop servicing eligible debt to focus resources on combatting the coronavirus crisis under the so-called Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
Zambian government officials are also due to hold talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 11 February to negotiate an extended credit facility.
Yemen expects a first batch of 2.3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by next month through the Covax vaccine-sharing facility, Reuters reports.
Six years of war in Yemen have created what the United Nations describes as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis; and what little remains of its health system relies on foreign aid.
“The government of Yemen has applied to the COVAX initiative to cover the initial needs of 23% of the population of Yemen, about 14 million doses,” Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen said. “A first allocation of 2.3 million doses has been confirmed and should be available by end-February, beginning of March, depending on the suppliers’ availability of vaccines.”
Yemen will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX as this can be used in the existing cold chain infrastructure, Duamelle said.
Yemen’s government has reported 2,122 coronavirus cases, including 615 deaths. Houthi authorities, who control most large urban centres, have not provided figures since May when they said there were four cases and one death. However, it is believed the official figures are underestimates.
Nine Britons could face jail in Singapore after being charged earlier today with breaking coronavirus rules over a yacht party where revellers danced in swimwear and Santa hats, AFP reports.
Images of the Boxing Day festivities on the vessel went viral on social media, sparking fury from Singaporeans and prompting authorities to launch an investigation. At that time, gatherings outside the home were limited to only five people under curbs to prevent the spread of the virus.
Anyone found to have breached the rules may be fined up to Sg$10,000 (US$7,500) or jailed for up to six months, or both. Singapore maritime authorities last month suspended the licence of the vessel chartered for the party for 30 days, after their investigations found the number of passengers onboard breached Covid-19 rules.
The city-state – which has had a mild outbreak, reporting around 60,000 coronavirus cases and 29 deaths – has taken a tough stand against violations of virus restrictions.
Israel to ease strict lockdown but keep borders closed
Israel has announced that it will ease lockdown measures but keep its international airport and land borders closed following a slight fall in the spread of coronavirus cases, AFP reports.
“The government has accepted a proposal from the prime minister and the health minister to ease lockdown measures from 7am on Sunday,” their offices said in a joint statement.
Under the easing, Israelis will no longer be restricted to within 1km of their homes and services such as hairdresser’s and beauty salons will be allowed to operate, and nature reserves and national parks reopened.
Despite what has been termed the world’s fastest vaccination campaign per capita, Israel has still been registering a daily average of 6,500 new Covid-19 cases, down from around 7,000 last week, official figures show.
A strict nationwide lockdown in force since 27 December has been extended four times to combat the infection rate, but January was the deadliest month with more than 1,000 Covid fatalities. According to latest figures from the health ministry, Israel has registered a total of more than 675,000 cases of Covid-19, including 5,019 deaths.
Hotels remain shuttered and restaurants will be allowed to cater only for takeaways, while Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, where international flights have been suspended since 24 January, and borders are to remain closed.
Scott Morrison has ordered a review of the way Australia deals with Covid-19 outbreaks once vaccinations are under way, suggesting the jabs will change the “risk environment” and pave the way for less concern about raw case numbers.
The prime minister flagged the rethink after a meeting with state and territory leaders today, while announcing that the caps on the number of people allowed to enter Australia would start to increase again next week.
Morrison hinted that Australians could expect a return to a greater level of normality in the months ahead, as vaccinations would reduce the incidence of severe disease and fatalities, while cautioning that “we’re not there yet”.
“The vaccination programme, over months, as it’s rolled out, can change the nature of how Australia then manages the virus,” Morrison said after a national cabinet meeting where the issue was discussed.
The point was made: it’s less, then, about cases as it is about presentations at ICU or seeking significant treatment, and that we can potentially move to a situation where we manage the virus potentially like other conditions that are in the community.
The UK’s physical isolation sets it apart from its continental neighbours, but could its island status have protected it from the full horror of Covid-19, had it closed borders in early 2020, as New Zealand and Taiwan did?
Last April, Dr Clarence Kelley Sr, 64, a pastor in Chicago’s West Side, in the US, contracted Covid-19. The disease nearly claimed his life, forcing him into the hospital for almost two weeks and on a breathing machine.
“I was afraid that I would never ever see my wife again … it was devastating to me. I would not wish this on anyone,” Kelley told the Guardian.
Now, out on the other side of this near-death experience, Kelley wants the Covid-19 vaccine. And as an older individual with multiple serious health issues including a previous stroke and congestive heart failure, Kelley should be a perfect candidate. But he hasn’t been able to get vaccinated.
Like other non-white Chicagoans, Kelley has struggled to get the vaccine despite Chicago’s reported efforts to deliver the vaccine equitably. Early statistics of vaccine distribution show worrying trends about which communities and demographics are getting vaccinated. As of 30 January, only 19% of vaccinated Chicagoans are Black and just 19% are Latinos v almost 50% being white.
Desperate French museums have been demanding a chance to reopen – even if only partially – with two petitions this week to the government signed by hundreds within the industry and wider art community.
“For an hour, a day, a week or a month – let us reopen our doors, even if we have to shut them again in the case of another lockdown,” says one.
Museums had hoped to reopen in December when the last lockdown ended, but as with restaurants, theatres and cinemas, they have remained shut as infection rates remain stubbornly high.
Some exhibitions – such as a photo exhibition at the Grand Palais featuring Man Ray, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank – have been and gone without anyone getting to see them.
The AFP news agency reports that many shows are unable to prolong or postpone their dates, because the paintings are booked in elsewhere around the world or must make room for the next exhibition – always planned years in advance.
“It’s a nightmare. The dates (for opening and closing) change endlessly,” said Christophe Leribault of the Petit Palais, where an ambitious exhibition of Danish art was delayed and ultimately managed just four weeks of public viewings.
At the Pompidou Centre, 230 works by impressionist master Henri Matisse gathered to mark 150 years since his birth was to be the highlight of the arts calendar.
But thanks to the pandemic, the show at France’s leading modern art museum stayed open for only 10 days after it began in October, and it looks highly unlikely to resume before the paintings are packed away again at the end of February.
Hotels will reopen in Poland from mid-February, as well as cinemas and theatres with half of the seats available, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said.
Morawiecki said restaurants and fitness clubs would remain closed.
While officials still urge caution over Covid, many older people in Israel are going out to see their families amid the success of the state’s vaccination roll-out.
More and more, in playgrounds across Jerusalem, a grandparent can be seen strolling along while a grandchild rushes ahead to slides and climbing frames.
In this city, most older people are vaccinated against Covid-19 and are slowly emerging from nearly a year of strict isolation. While still not advised by authorities, some are cautiously returning to the thing they missed the most.
“The feeling is extraordinary,” said Yoel Silver, a 67-year-old lawyer, as he pushed his granddaughter on a swing. Twelve days before, Silver had received his second shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which initial data suggests gives a high level of resistance to the disease. For months he had mostly seen his 11 grandchildren on video calls.
Local elections in England and Wales look set to go ahead in May – but voters will have to bring their own pencil to mark their ballot paper under new coronavirus safety rules.
There had been fears that the pandemic would lead to the polls being postponed again, but they are reportedly set to take place as planned.
However, voters will have to wear masks inside polling stations, and will have to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot, according to the BBC.
An announcement is expected to be made by the government later on Friday.
A Canadian protest group says hundreds of small businesses will defy pandemic rules and reopen next week, the Toronto star reports.
An anti-lockdown group called “We Are All Essential” is calling on businesses to reopen on 11 February — the day after a 28-day stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire in the province of Ontario — in defiance of any orders to stay closed.
The group is led by anti-mask activist who told the Star that there are 400 businesses across the country ready to take part.
Health authorities in Serbia have been pressing ahead with an efficiency that has turned the state into continental Europe’s fastest vaccinator, according to a report by the AFP news agency.
The small Balkan country has inoculated more than 450,000 of its population of seven million in almost two weeks, a rate that exceeds all other states in Europe apart from Britain, according to the scientific publication Our World in Data.
One key difference is that most of the vials are filled with a vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm.
As the European Union’s rollout is snagged by delays and controversies, Serbia – which lies outside the bloc’s borders – has raced ahead by turning its gaze to the East, securing deals with Chinese and Russian producers.
When registering for an appointment, Serbs can tick off their vaccine of choice – the Pfizer/BioNtech, Sputnik V and Sinopharm jabs are currently on the menu.
New ‘British’ variant accounts for just under 6% of German cases – official
A more contagious coronavirus variant that was first detected in Britain currently accounts for just under 6% of cases in Germany, a senior health official has said.
However, Lothar Wieler, chief of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, warned that it was to be expected that the variant will spread further.
The situation is still not under control, he said at a news conference.
People over the age of 70 in Ireland will be given Covid-19 vaccinations at large doctors’ practices, primary care centres and dedicated facilities from the middle of this month under revised plans, the Irish Times reports.
The new plans, which are being finalised by government and health service officials, follows a decision that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should be given to those aged over 70 where possible, rather than the more easily stored AstraZeneca product.
The Irish Times reported that Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) has been working on what one source described as a “total re-tooling” of the approach towards the vaccination of older people.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent reports that the more infectious Covid-19 variant which was first identified in the south east of England now accounts for two-thirds of Irish cases, amid little hope of any significant easing of restrictions early next month.
Pfizer has said it had withdrawn an application for emergency-use authorisation of its Covid-19 vaccine in India, after failing to meet the drug regulator’s demand for a local safety and immunogenicity study.
The decision means the vaccine will not be available for sale in the world’s two most populous countries, India and China, in the near future. Both countries are running their immunisation campaigns using other products.
Unlike other companies conducting small studies in India for foreign-developed vaccines, Pfizer had sought an exception citing approvals it had received elsewhere based on trials done in countries such as the United States and Germany.
Indian health officials say they generally ask for so-called bridging trials to determine if a vaccine is safe and generates an immune response in its citizens.
There are, however, provisions under India’s rules to waive such trials in certain conditions.
Development experts and critics who spoke to the Guardian have called for a “global reset” of an aid industry they say is outdated and already facing pressure to reform.
This year one in every 33 people across the world will need humanitarian assistance. That is a rise of 40% from last year, according to the UN. More than half of the countries requiring aid to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic are already in protracted crises, coping with conflict or natural disasters.
Even before Covid-19 threw decades of progress on extreme poverty, healthcare and education into reverse, aid budgets were heading in the wrong direction. In 2020, the UN had just 48% of its $38.5bn (£28bn) in funding appeals met, compared with 63% of $29bn sought in 2019.
The UK’s cuts to aid alone, from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, are projected by aid groups and MPs to result in 100,000 deaths, 1 million girls leaving school and 5.6 million children going unvaccinated.
“Need is outstripping funding,” said Angus Urquhart, crisis and humanitarian lead at Development Initiatives. “We’re seeing a perfect storm gathering.”
Britiain’s prime minister has been urged to act after two more MPs in his party have been linked to figures spreading Covid conspiracy theories or making discredited claims.
Last week, it emerged that Desmond Swayne, a former Conservative minister, encouraged anti-lockdown street protesters to “persist” and suggested NHS capacity figures were being “manipulated” to exaggerate the impact of the virus.
Questions are now being asked about the judgment of a further two MPs: Andrew Bridgen – who defended Swayne during an interview on YouTube of a controversial former BBC journalist whose posts have been taken down for spreading false information about Covid – and Adam Afriyie, the MP for Windsor.
It comes as the government is battling against baseless online conspiracy theories and misinformation.
The latest cases prompted the deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, Angela Rayner, to call on the prime minister to “wake up” to the threat of disinformation and conspiracy theories being legitimised or perpetuated from within his party’s ranks.
Von der Leyen: EU should have “thought more” about vaccine production
The UK is a “speedboat” while the European Union is a more of a “tanker”, Ursula von der Leyen has said in defence of the vaccine shortages in the bloc.
In an interview with various newspapers, the European commission president said the bloc should also prepare itself for further “obstacles” and “production problems” and even “shortages” of components.
She said: “In Europe, we aim for 70% of the adult population to be vaccinated before the end of the summer. It’s not nothing … there will certainly be other obstacles, other problems in production. We must also be prepared for possible shortages of raw materials or of certain components of the vaccines.”
She added that “looking in the rearview mirror”, the EU should have thought more about mass production and the challenges it poses. “We should have warned, explaining that at the beginning, the process would not be smooth, that there would be ups and downs,” she said.
She continued: “Alone, a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a tanker. Before concluding a contract … the 27 member states had five full days to say whether they agreed or not. This naturally delays the process … The United Kingdom has chosen the path of emergency marketing authorisations, we have chosen another.”
Decisions to re-open sectors of British society again will be based on “what is safe” and will be guided by the science, needs of the economy and mental health, according to a Foreign Office minister.
James Cleverly was speaking as Tory MPs in the governing Conservative Party have been complaining that the goalposts appear to be moving in terms of the criteria for re-opening the economy.
The Times cited government sources saying that there were “tentative” plans to prioritise outdoor activities such as golf and tennis and limited social gatherings outside.
It was also reported that a new set of indicators to be used to judge whether England can move to the next stage of the release was being drawn up. The Prime Minister has said that he does not want a return a system of different ‘tiers’ for areas.
Russia reported 16,688 new Covid-19 cases across the country on Friday, including 2,032 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,934,606 since the pandemic began.
Authorities confirmed 527 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 75,732.
Hoteliers are still waiting for details of how the system of quarantining travellers coming into England from abroad.
Plans to detain arrivals to the UK from high-risk countries in quarantine hotels will not come into force until 15 February, the government has announced.
Adrian Ellis, chair of the Manchester Hospitality Association and general manager of the city’s Lowry Hotel said today that the opportunity to open up for guests for quarantine purposes would be “welcomed” by some owners but that details about plans were still scarce.
“We had a meeting yesterday… we were waiting to hear the guidelines but unfortunately nothing has been received (from the Government) as of now,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
“We understand what we can read in the media… but as of now we don’t know which hotels are assigned and we don’t know how the rules will work.”
New measures to rein in the spread of the coronavirus in France are “inevitable”, the head of infectious diseases at Paris’ Saint Antoine hospital has told France Inter radio.
“We’re still at a high plateau in France. And to bring it down, new restrictive measures will be inevitable,” Karine Lacombe said.
Lacombe spoke the day after Prime Minister Jean Castex said there was no need for now for a third national lockdown even though he added the situation in France remained fragile.
She also said that Frances was “at the beginning of the ascent” in terms of the spread of a new variant which as first identified in the south east of England. In relation to that strain, France was currently at the point where England was between September and December.
A minister at Britain’s Foreign Office has defended the delay in implementing quarantine hotels, because the hotel industry needed to be given “notice” of the plans.
“We’ve been working with international partners who put a similar package in place – New Zealand, Australia, for example – see how that works,” James Cleverly told Sky News.
“It’s very easy for you to say, oh, all you have to do is… but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“This is adding to an existing package of measures which requires a test before departure, requires a notification form on departure, already requires 10 days of quarantine.
“So this is adding to existing measures, and we want to make sure that this works, that we give the hotel industry notice.”
He added: “Obviously not every hotel will be doing this and so it’s unsurprising that some hotel chains haven’t been contacted about this.”
Hungary may start inoculating people with Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine next week after it granted the shot emergency use approval, making it the first European Union country to do so, prime minister Viktor Orbán has told state radio.
EU countries so far are relying almost entirely on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but Hungary’s drug regulator approved Sputnik V for use last month.
Under a deal also signed last month, Russia will ship 2m vaccine doses to Hungary in the next three months, enough for 1 million people. Hungary received the first 40,000 doses last week.
Orbán said so far 264,530 Hungarians – healthcare workers and the most vulnerable older people – have received at least one shot from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. He said by mid-March all those over 60 who have registered for a vaccine would be inoculated.
“By early April we could be close to 2 million vaccinated and if we can also use the Chinese vaccine, then the number of those vaccinated and those who have had Covid (and gained immunity) would exceed … 2 million, that’s good,” he said.
An intervention by former UK health minister Jeremy Hunt in the debate about which sectors of the economy to reopen comes as test-confirmed Covid cases running at more than 20,000 a day.
His approach would suggest some restrictions remaining in place for an extended period of time. The last time new infections were consistently below 1,000 was August.
Allies of Rishi Sunak, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, denied reports on Thursday that he has become exasperated with the government’s scientific advisers, believing them to have “moved the goalposts” on when businesses can be reopened by saying cases must fall sharply.
Speaking to the Guardian in a personal capacity, rather than as head of parliament’s influential health committee, Hunt said the emergence of potentially dangerous new variants made it risky to rush ahead.
I think we have to recognise that the game has changed massively over Christmas with these new variants, and that we mustn’t make the mistake that we made last year of thinking that we’re not going to have another resurgence of the virus.
Good morning from London, on a day when new battles are looming over when the UK’s lockdown should be lifted amid some indications that the rate of Covid-19 has been dropping.
This is Ben Quinn picking up the blog now as a focus also continues to fall on the question of restrictions on incoming travel after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels intended for quarantine will not come into force until mid-February.
As cases fall, a former minister for Britain’s health system has meanwhile told the Guardian that the government should take a cautious approach to lifting lockdown in England so that new coronavirus cases can be driven down to a manageable level of 1,000 a day.
Jeremy Hunt, who is the chair of the health select committee, said the government should aim at suppressing Covid sufficiently to make a South Korean-style approach of intensive contact tracing possible.
Looking at some of the events in the hours ahead, they include:
- The results of a weekly Covid-19 “social impact survey” by Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) at 9.30pm (local time).
- The results of an ONS infection survey at noon.
- French president Emmanuel Macron and the German chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a virtual news conference after meeting.
I will be handing over to my colleagues in London shortly, but here’s a summary of the day’s news so far:
- Johnson & Johnson has applied in the US for emergency use authorisation for its single-dose vaccine. The drugmaker’s application to the Food and Drug Administration follows its 29 January report in which it said the vaccine had a 66% rate of preventing infections in its large global trial.
- British ministers have been accused of being too slow to act after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels will not come into force until mid-February. From 15 February, travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days. Labour said it was “beyond comprehension” that it was taking so long to get the scheme up and running.
- South Korea has passed 80,000 infections as the government weighs whether to tighten coronavirus restrictions ahead of next week’s lunar new year celebrations.
- The US has recorded more than 40,000 deaths from Covid in the past two weeks, with concerns growing that parties linked to this Sunday’s culmination of the football season – the Super Bowl – may lead to another spike in infections.
- Mexico is reported to be running out of vaccines, as the government vaccine registration website crashed for a third day in a row. Mexico has received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has only about 89,000 of those left, many of which are earmarked for second shots. It expects to get more Pfizer doses by mid-month, and as many as 400,000 Sputnik shots by the end of February, but they won’t be enough to vaccinate even the country’s 750,000 frontline health workers and represent a drop in the bucket for Mexico’s population of 126 million.
- China has reported the fewest new Covid cases in over a month, official data showed on Friday, suggesting that the latest wave of the disease is subsiding ahead of the key Lunar New Year holiday period set to begin next week.
- New Zealand said on Friday it will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of Covid-19. A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with about 210 refugees expected to enter the country by 30 June, Immigration New Zealand officials said.
- The number of Covid infections in Tokyo may have jumped ninefold since last summer, coronavirus antibody tests showed. Random testing in Japan’s capital in December showed that 0.91% of people had antibodies, compared with about 0.1% in a similar study in June, the health ministry said in a report on Friday.
- The French prime minister Jean Castex said that the coronavirus situation in France remained fragile but that for the moment ruled out a new national lockdown. Castex said the rate of infection had not significantly increased over the past two weeks, even if the pressure on French hospitals remained strong, and the country must stick with the current restrictions.
- China will donate 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Congo Republic and forgive $13m in public debt, its ambassador to the country said. The ambassador, Ma Fulin, announced the measures after a meeting with Congo’s president, Denis Sassou Nguesso. He did not say which Chinese-developed vaccine would be provided, but the doses are enough to vaccinate 50,000 of Congo’s 5.1 million people. Ma said the Chinese government would also forgive all public Congolese debt that came due before the end of 2020, an estimated $13m.
The Covid crisis dominates the British press this morning, with some signs of optimism coming through. “Return of sport and socialising outdoors,” says the Times, while the Mail reckons “Most Covid curbs ‘to end in May’”. In Scotland, the Press & Journal reports on lower case rates: “At last there’s a ray of sunshine in Covid battle.” The Express sees optimism in the economy – “Shot in the arm for Britain plc” – and the Mirror has “Delivery of hope” about its campaign for school supplies. The Guardian leads with our exclusive on Jeremy Hunt’s warning about lockdown: “Hunt: Don’t end lockdown until Covid cases fall to 1,000 a day,” while the Telegraph says “Ministers requisition 28,000 quarantine hotel rooms.”
Former British minister warns over lifting lockdown too early
In the UK, ministers are under fire for delays over implementing hotel quarantine for arrivals from high-risk countries. From 15 February, travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days. Labour has accused the government of “putting people at risk”.
Meanwhile, the former health minister and current chair of the health select committee, Jeremy Hunt, has said England’s lockdown should not be lifted until new infections are down to 1,000 a day. He favoured suppressing Covid sufficiently to make a South Korean-style approach of intensive contact tracing possible.
Confirmed cases are running at around 20,000 a day at the moment. The last time new infections were consistently below 1,000 was August.
Hunt’s intervention, made in a personal capacity, came as debate raged in cabinet about which sectors of the economy to reopen and when. You can read our full story on it by Heather Stewart and Peter Walker, below.
Pfizer withdraws vaccine application in India
Pfizer has withdrawn an application for emergency-use authorisation of its Covid vaccine in India that it has developed with Germany’s BioNTech, the company told Reuters on Friday.
The company had a meeting with India’s drugs regulator on Wednesday and the decision was made after that, the company said.
“Based on the deliberations at the meeting and our understanding of additional information that the regulator may need, the company has decided to withdraw its application at this time,” it said in a statement, adding it will in the future look to resubmit its application with the additional information that the regulator requires.
Tokyo infections may have jumped nine fold since last summer, antibody tests suggest
The number of Covid infections in Tokyo may have jumped ninefold since last summer, coronavirus antibody tests showed, Reuters reports.
Random testing in Japan’s capital in December showed that 0.91% of people had antibodies, compared with about 0.1% in a similar study in June, the health ministry said in a report on Friday
The study sampled more than 15,000 people and also showed increases in antibody rates in Osaka and Miyagi prefecture.
Reported infections in Japan have trended down in recent days but the government has signalled it would remain cautious.
Japan last month imposed a one-month state of emergency for 11 areas, including Tokyo, neighbouring prefectures and the western city of Osaka.
It had decided to extend the emergency in 10 of the 11 prefectures until 7 March, as the medical system remained under pressure despite a decline in the number of cases.
The country has had more than 390,000 cases of the coronavirus and 5,832 deaths, and is desperate to stamp out flare-ups of infection as it prepares for the summer O;ympic Games, due to begin on 23 July.
New Zealand to resume taking refugees, a year after border closures
New Zealand said on Friday it will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with about 210 refugees expected to enter the country by 30 June, Immigration New Zealand and officials said.
“With health protocols in place and safe travel routes, we are ready to welcome small groups of refugee families as New Zealand residents to this country, to begin their new lives,” Fiona Whiteridge, general manager for refugee and migrant services at Immigration New Zealand, said in a statement.
All arrivals will have to complete a 14-day stay in government managed isolation facilities.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government increased the country’s refugee intake during its first term from 1,000 people a year to 1,500, starting from July 2020. But arrivals were put on hold in March last year after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, except for a small number of priority emergency cases.
New Zealand’s early response to the pandemic has allowed the country to virtually eliminate Covid-19 domestically and avoid the high numbers of infections and deaths seen in many other nations.
It reported one new case at a quarantine facility on Friday, and no new cases in the community, taking the total number of active cases in the country to 62.
New Zealand has reported just 1,959 confirmed cases and 25 deaths from the coronavirus to date. It was ranked at the top of a recent COVID Performance Index of nearly 100 countries for its handling of the pandemic.
Panama’s government is seeking 3m doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for 1.5 million people, hoping to receive them by March, a letter of intent signed by the country’s health ministry showed.
The central American nation has one of the highest numbers of confirmed infections in the region and said recently it had allocated $56m to purchase a total of 5.5m doses for about 80% of its population. It was not immediately clear if Sputnik V was part of that allocation.
“Our geographical position makes us one of the most important centres for connectivity by air, land and sea in our region, and has exposed us to greater risk than other countries,” said the letter seen by Reuters.
“The government of Panama through its pharmacy and drug regulatory authority is ready to issue an emergency use license for the Sputnik V vaccine.”
The letter, dated Wednesday, is signed by health minister Luis Francisco Sucre and addressed to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad.
A source in the ministry confirmed its authenticity.
Panama had 324,489 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 5,391 deaths as of Thursday
British Ministers have been accused of being too slow to act after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels will not come into force until mid-February, Press Association writes.
From 15 February, travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days.
The government originally announced last week it would be tightening the rules following the emergence of mutant new strains of the virus in South Africa and Brazil.
Labour said it was “beyond comprehension” that it was taking so long to get the scheme up and running.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was working “at pace” to ensure designated quarantine hotels would be ready for British nationals returning from high-risk countries on the UK travel ban list from the middle of the month.
Officials said a commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of quarantine facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the government was again doing “too little, too late”.
“It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15,” he said.
“We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains.
“Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.
“Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go anywhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants.”
South Korea’s total infections have passed 80,000, the Yonhap news agency reports.
The country added 370 more cases on Friday, including 351 local infections, raising the total caseload to 80,131, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) figures showed.
The agency will decide tomorrow whether social distancing rules should be adjusted ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday starting next week.
The new high in figures came as the country’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha warned against vaccine nationalism, saying it would prolong the pandemic. She called for an equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.
“Of particular importance at this point is to keep the so-called vaccine nationalism at bay and ensure equitable and affordable COVID-19 vaccines to all,” she said during the Global Engagement and Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development, hosted by Yonsei University.
US vaccinates 8.5% of population
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 35,203,710 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Thursday morning and distributed 57,489,675 doses.
The tally of vaccine doses are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccines as of 6am on Thursday, the agency said.
The agency said 27,905,197 people had received one or more doses (around 8.5% of the population) while 6,926,050 people have got the second dose as of Thursday.
A total of 4,210,027 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.
China new cases dip to lowest point in over a month
China has reported its fewest new Covid cases in over a month, official data showed on Friday, suggesting that the latest wave of the disease is subsiding ahead of the key Lunar New Year holiday period set to begin next week.
The National Health Commission said in a statement that a total of 20 new mainland cases were reported on Thursday, down from 30 cases a day earlier and marking the fewest cases since 19 patients were reported on 31 December.
Only six of the new cases were locally transmitted infections, with five reported in northeastern Heilongjiang province and one in Shanghai.
New asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed Covid cases, rose to 28 from 12 a day earlier, however.
Even though the number of new cases have trended lower in recent days, authorities still continue to urge caution and discourage travel during the Lunar New Year break that begins on 11 February. Travel during the period is expected to be down sharply, but still see tens of thousands on the move, according to official forecasts, reflecting heightened caution.
The total number of confirmed mainland Covid-19 cases now stands at 89,669, while the death toll is unchanged at 4,636.
Catalonia removed some pandemic restrictions on Thursday, allowing gyms to reopen and people to move outside their municipalities after infections and hospital admissions started to edge down.
The average number of cases per 100,000 people in the region fell to 494 on Wednesday, down from 589 a week ago and a peak of over 620 in mid-January.
“We believe we are leaving behind the maximum peak of the third wave,” Catalan health secretary general Marc Ramentol told a news conference. But he warned there were still serious threats from new virus variants, intense pressure on hospitals and a slow vaccination roll-out.
Starting on Monday for an initial 14-day period, bars and restaurants will be able to serve customers for one more hour during breakfast and lunch, while for the rest of the day they will still have to offer take-away only.
A lockdown that stopped people from leaving their municipalities, except for work or health reasons, will be eased slightly.
Gyms, which had been shut for a month, will be allowed to open at 30% capacity, and some first-year university courses will be done in-person.
But Catalonia is still the second worst-hit region in Spain, and many other restrictions in place since early January will remain.
Large shops and malls will remain closed while most non-essential small shops will only be allowed to open from Monday to Friday. A 10 pm-6 am curfew remains in place.
Johnson & Johnson applies for emergency authorisation of vaccine in US
Johnson & Johnson said on Thursday it has asked US health regulators to authorise its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, and it will apply to European authorities in coming weeks.
The drugmaker’s application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) follows its 29 January report in which it said the vaccine had a 66% rate of preventing infections in its large global trial.
The FDA said on Thursday evening that it has scheduled a meeting of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on 26 February to discuss the company’s request for emergency use authorisation.
Vaccines from Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc were authorised a day after such a meeting, Reuters reports.
J&J’s single-shot vaccine could help boost supply and simplify the vaccube campaign, amid concerns of fresh surges due to the more contagious UK coronavirus variant and the potential of lower vaccine efficacy against a variant that first emerged in South Africa.
Unlike the two currently authorised vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech SE and Moderna, J&J’s does not require a second shot or need to be shipped frozen.
The United States has agreed to pay $1bn for 100 million doses, which J&J said it expected to supply in the first half of the year. The United States also has the option of purchasing an additional 200 million doses.
The company said it has doses ready for delivery upon emergency approval. It aims to deliver 1bn doses in 2021 with production in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India.
You can read our full story below:
Sweden plans to launch a digital ‘vaccine passport’
Sweden plans to launch a digital coronavirus “vaccine passport” by summer, assuming there is an international standard in place for the document by then, the government said on Thursday.
“When Sweden and countries around us start to open up our societies again, vaccination certificates are likely to be required for travel and possibly for taking part in other activities,” Swedish digitalisation minister Anders Ygeman told a news conference.
According to Johns Hopkins, Sweden has recorded 580,916 infections and 11,939 deaths from Covid. It has administered 190,096 vaccines, with 8.437 people fully vaccinated (that amounts to 0.08.% of the population).
Denmark said on Wednesday that it would launch a first version of a coronavirus vaccination passport by the end of February. The country planned a registry online that could be accessed to check someone’s vaccination status, which it hopes to have in place in late February, while it develops a long-term technical solution.
“It is absolutely crucial, for us to be able to restart Danish society, that companies can get back on track,” the acting finance minister, Morten Bødskov, said in a statement.
You can read our full story on Sweden and Denmark’s plans below.
Mexico runs out of vaccine
Frustration is mounting in Mexico, as the government vaccine registration website crashed for a third day in a row and concerns grew about the vaccine rollout.
Even as Mexico scrambles to line up shipments of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, no new doses are expected to arrive until mid-month, the Associated Press reports. Hospitals are over 80% full.
Mexico has received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has only about 89,000 of those left, many of which are earmarked for second shots.
It expects to get more Pfizer doses by mid-month, and as many as 400,000 Sputnik shots by the end of February, but they won’t be enough to vaccinate even the country’s 750,000 frontline health workers and represent a drop in the bucket for Mexico’s population of 126 million.
Authorities say said they are still working on getting enough server capacity to handle the number of people attempting to register.
According to Johns Hopkins figures, Mexico has recorded 1.9m cases of Covid and 161,000 deaths.
US records 40,000 deaths in two weeks
After Covid deaths surged past 450,000 in the US on Thursday, there are concerns over a potential spike from families getting together to watch this weekend’s Superbowl.
Daily deaths in the Us have remained stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines. There have been more than 40,000 deaths recorded in the past two weeks.
And while infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, there’s also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalisations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — including for this Sunday’s big game between Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky told The Associated Press, adding that one reason cases and hospitalisations were not rising as dramatically as they were weeks ago is because the effect of holiday gatherings has faded.
“We’re still in quite a bad place,” she said.
The biggest driver to the U.S. death toll over the past month has been California, which has averaged more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks.
Public health experts are watching Florida closely this week, where the Super Bowl will be played in Tampa. City leaders and the NFL are trying to ensure social distancing by capping attendance at a third of the stadium’s capacity – 22,000 people.
But there will still be plenty of parties, events at bars and clubs, and other activities that draw people together.
Florida recorded its highest number of daily deaths of the pandemic two weeks ago, with 272 fatalities on 22 January, according to the CDC.
On 2 January, just over a week after the Christmas holiday, the state recorded its highest daily caseload of 30,531. On Wednesday that was down to just under 7,000 new cases, according to CDC figures.
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, with me, Alison Rourke.
There are concerns in the US that the Superbowl – the culmination of the football season – which takes place on Sunday, could lead to a rise in Covid cases. Traditionally a time that families get together, there are fears another spike could follow the event. It comes as the country recorded more than 40,000 deaths in a two-week period.
Mexico meanwhile has reportedly run out of vaccines. According to the Associated Press, the country is scrambling to line up shipments of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, but no new doses are expected to arrive until mid month. The website for people to register for the vaccine crashed for the third day running. AP says Mexico has received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has only about 89,000 of those left, many of which are earmarked for second shots.
In other developments:
- China will donate 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Congo Republic and forgive $13 million in public debt, its ambassador to the country said. The ambassador Ma Fulin announced the measures after a meeting with Congo’s president Denis Sassou Nguesso. He did not say which Chinese-developed vaccine would be provided, but the doses are enough to vaccinate 50,000 of Congo’s 5.1 million people. Ma said the Chinese government would also forgive all public Congolese debt that came due before the end of 2020, an estimated $13 million.
- Brazil reported more than 1,200 deaths for the third day in a row. A further 1,232 deaths were registered on Thursday, according to data released by the nation’s health ministry, taking its death toll to 228,795, the second highest in the world after the US.
- Paraguay signed a contract with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to purchase the Sputnik V vaccine. The Paraguayan health minister Julio Mazzoleni said the number of doses and schedule for distribution would be reported later. The country will also receive some 300,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the second half of February through the COVAX program promoted by the World Health Organization.
- The World Health Organization said its COVAX initiative aims to start shipping nearly 90 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa in February. About 320,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries – Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia, the WHO said in a statement.
- Peru’s interim president, Francisco Sagasti, said his administration had locked in a deal with Pfizer to purchase 20 million doses of its vaccine. Sagasti said that by April, Peru would receive at least 500,000 doses of the vaccine. The first 250,000 doses are slated for arrival in March, he said.
- Iran received its first batch of foreign-made coronavirus vaccines – Russia’s Sputnik V – as the country struggles to stem the worst outbreak of the pandemic in the Middle East.
- Ghana’s parliament will restrict its sessions to twice a week after 15 lawmakers and dozens of legislative staff tested positive for coronavirus, the house speaker Alban Bagbin announced. He said 56 staffers had also tested positive, forcing him to decide the parliament would only sit on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a measure to control the spread.
- Portugal, hit by the world’s highest per capita Covid-19 death rates and infections in recent weeks, is now seeing a decline in cases, the health minister Marta Temido said. Temido warned there were “nevertheless…difficult weeks ahead of us”.
- The French prime minister Jean Castex said that the coronavirus situation in France remained fragile but that for the moment ruled out a new national lockdown. Castex said that the rate of infection had not significantly strengthened over the past two weeks, even if the pressure on French hospitals remained strong, and the country must stick with the current restrictions.
- The Netherlands became the latest European country to limit AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to people aged under 65, despite the EU approving it for all ages. It comes after Switzerland’s medical regulator said it couldn’t authorise use of the vaccine based on the available trial data.
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