Here the latest key developments at a glance:
- UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said he is “optimistic” he will be able to begin announcing the easing of restrictions when he sets out his “roadmap” out of lockdown in England on 22 February.
- Australia’s Victoria state is gearing up to rethink its hotel quarantine programme, as the state enters its second day of a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown in response to an outbreak of the infectious variant at a Melbourne airport quarantine hotel, and two new locally acquired cases of Covid-19 and one in hotel quarantine were reported.
- Iran is heading towards a “fourth wave” as cases rise in certain areas, its president has warned.
- Talking about UK pubs reopening in April is “premature” and pub bosses need to realise there is a danger of going “back to square one”, an expert has said.
- Uptake of the coronavirus vaccine among care home staff in the UK remains “far too low”, according to the deputy chair of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, who said only 66% of care home staff had taken up the offer of the jab.
- A coronavirus strain found on a Polish mink farm can be directly transmitted from the animals to humans and vice versa, the country’s agriculture ministry said on Saturday.
- Venezuela has received the first 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine on Saturday.
- Lebanon on Saturday received its first coronavirus vaccines, a day before an inoculation drive is set to launch.
- Infections in Germany continue to fall nationwide, as the country reported 8,354 new infections on Saturday, about 2,100 fewer than a week earlier.
- South Africa will reopen 20 of its land borders to allow normal travel after restrictions were implemented to control rising Covid-19 infections last month, the Home Affairs ministry said on Saturday.
- China refused to hand over data on early Covid cases to the investigation into the origins of the pandemic, a member of the member of the World Health Organization-led team has said.
That’s all from me, this blog will close shortly. My colleagues in Australia will launch a new blog shortly. Thanks for following our coverage.
Victoria reports two new local cases
The Australian state of Victoria has reported two new locally-acquired cases of Covid-19 and one in hotel quarantine, on the second day of a five-day snap lockdown.
It takes the total number of cases associated with an outbreak from the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel to 16.
Victoria wants Australia to rethink quarantine programme
Victoria is gearing up to lead a rethink of Australia’s hotel quarantine programme in light of the UK strain of coronavirus which now has its contact tracers in a frenzy.
The state is on day two of a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown in response to an outbreak of the infectious variant at a Melbourne airport quarantine hotel.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, on Saturday said he had asked his health experts to do a risk assessment of the “fast-moving” disease, which would form his position in a national discussion about hotel quarantine now and when the vaccine is rolled out.
Andrews earlier said there needed to be a “cold, hard discussion” about reducing the number of travellers returning to Australia from overseas.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, on Saturday said he and his state-based counterparts were constantly looking at quarantine protocols and safeguards.
He said the federal government could not ignore Australians stuck overseas for months on end, many of whom were already unable to secure flights home.
“The states and territories themselves at a national cabinet meeting very early on said it should be the states and territories – that is where the public health system is run; [they] have the various staff that are needed for this type of exercise,” Kelly told reporters.
“[As to] whether we should be taking fewer people home ... the Australian government does have a responsibility to Australians overseas and for those who are vulnerable and really desperate to come home, we need to factor that in.”
Victoria paused all international passenger flights from Saturday, excluding those already in transit until at least Thursday. The Victorian weekly cap of arrivals had been set to lift from 1,210 to 1,310 overseas arrivals.
Prime minister Scott Morrison this week defended Australia’s state-led hotel quarantine program, arguing Covid-19 leaks – as have recently occurred in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide – were inevitable.
Kelly said quarantine systems were complex but mostly effective. “We have had a very small number of breaches but of course we can always learn from what happens,” he said. “That continuous quality improvement approach is what we are taking.”
The Melbourne outbreak can be traced back to a family of three who quarantined at the Holiday Inn, one of whom used a nebuliser device for his asthma, which is believed to have caused airborne virus transmission in the hotel.
Victoria adds four new locations to list of Covid exposure sites
The Australian state of Victoria, which is on day two of a five-day Covid lockdown to contain the spread of the UK variant, has added four new hotspot locations to its list of coronavirus exposure sites.
Monday 8 February
• Elite Swimming, Pascoe Vale, 5pm-6pm
Tuesday 9 February
• Woolworths Broadmeadows Central, Broadmeadows, 12.15pm-12.30pm
• Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses, Broadmeadows, 12.30pm-12.45pm
Wednesday 10 February
• Oak Park Sports and Aquatic Centre, Pascoe Vale, 4pm-7.30pm
Anyone who visited these locations must isolate, test and remain isolated for 14 days. For a full list of exposure sites and locations where you can get a Covid test, visit: http://dhhs.vic.gov.au/case-locations.
Brazil registered 44,299 new infections and 1,043 further deaths on Saturday.
This compares with 51,546 new cases on Friday and 50,872 eight days ago.
On Friday, 1,288 Covid-19 related deaths were recorded, and 1,239 eight days ago.
Brazil has registered more than 9.8 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 238,532, according to ministry data.
Talking about UK pubs reopening in April is “premature” and pub bosses need to realise there is a danger of going “back to square one”, an expert has said.
The warning comes after pub giant Young’s said there is no reason pubs cannot open in April, as its boss expressed exasperation at the government’s “lack of interest”.
The chain has called on Boris Johnson to “do the right thing” and show strong leadership when the industry “needs it most”.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the chief executive of Young’s said the government is basing its decision to keep pubs closed on “unfounded and unproven statistics”.
But Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, told the PA news agency: “It’s premature because we don’t know what the state of cases will be in the country at that point in time.
“It may be that the cases are low and that we have regained control because we are now managing to keep the case numbers down and our immunisation levels have been sufficiently high to have a majority of the vulnerable population immunised and therefore protected,” he said, highlighting the “criteria” required.
Dr Pankhania, who has widespread experience of advising on national communicable disease control action plans at national and international level, added: “What the executives of pubs etc etc need to know is that failure to get it right equals back to square one.
“And back to square one equals much more pain economically, much more hardship.
“It is better to get it right than to prematurely bow to pressure and open up when you’re not ready to open up,” he said.
Bangladesh has so far inoculated more than 730,000 people, according to authorities.
A total of 194,371 people in the country were given a Covid-19 vaccine on 13 February.
The Dhaka Tribune reports:
Among the vaccine receivers, 127,043 were male and 67,328 females, according to figures by the Management Information System of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The number of people who got the vaccine [so far] stands at 736,680 as of Saturday. 513,621 of these people are male and 223,059 female.
People aged 40 years and above now can get registered to receive Covid-19 vaccines, the health ministry [said].
According to [...] the government, [only] people aged 55 years and above were eligible for vaccines but the decision has been revised a day after the countrywide Covid-19 vaccination campaign [was launched] on February 7.
A coronavirus strain found on a Polish mink farm can be directly transmitted from the animals to humans and vice versa, the country’s agriculture ministry has said.
First News reports:
The mink virus variant, the first detected in farm animals in Poland is, up to now, not identical to any of the new strains found recently in humans, but belongs to an animal strain well-known to epidemiologists, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
It also differs from the strain detected in Danish minks, the ministry added.
Denmark has culled its entire farm mink population.
“Past experience from Denmark and the Netherlands clearly indicates that the virus can pass to humans and vice versa,” the ministry also said.
The infection on the Polish mink farm in the northern county of Kartuzy was detected in late January. All 5,800 minks have been culled.
The coronavirus has already been detected in minks in a number of European countries, including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
Poland reported a further 6,586 new cases on Saturday, as well as 284 new deaths, bringing the overall official death toll to 40,709.
The health ministry said that 12,163 people with confirmed coronavirus infection had been hospitalised, and that 147,961 people were currently under quarantine.
2,071,009 people have already been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Poland, according to government data.
The UK government has been accused of repeatedly ignoring concerns that the quarantine rules for incoming passengers will fail to halt the spread of new coronavirus variants in the country, unions revealed two days before the measures become law.
The GMB Union has said its members and airport staff had been telling the Home Office for the past fortnight that they were concerned that passengers from 33 designated high-risk countries were still being allowed to mix with other travellers and staff before entering hotel quarantine for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
Speaking ahead of the long-awaited quarantine measures in government-designated accommodation, which come into force on Monday, Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, told the Observer: “If you’ve got people getting off planes from the red list countries, then being crammed into areas with passengers who aren’t going into quarantine – and staff as well - you’ve failed at the first hurdle.
My colleague Mark Townsend reports.
More than 800,00 people have died from coronavirus across Europe since the pandemic began in December 2019, according to an AFP tally Saturday based on official sources.
As of Saturday, 1630 GMT, there were 800,361 deaths recorded in the 52 countries and territories that make up the continent - including Russia and Turkey - for 35,395,270 declared cases.
That puts the continent’s death toll ahead of Latin America and the Caribbean, which has 635,834 dead for 20,021,361 cases; of the United States and Canada’s 502,064 deaths for 28,312,719 cases; and Asia’s 247,730 deaths for 15,641,940 cases.
Europe as a whole recorded an average 4,478 deaths a day from the virus last week, 14 percent lower than the previous week.
But since November 11, the region has recorded at least 4,000 deaths a day on average - peaking at a record 5,700 daily deaths at the end of January.
For a month though, the figures for infections have been falling in Europe.
But if the curve of average daily deaths has dropped, the tendency remains constant over the long term - for since the beginning of November, 100,000 deaths have been recorded about every 20 days.
Thus Europe passed 500,000 deaths on December 17; 600,000 on January 7; and 700,000 on January 25.
The worst-hit countries in Europe are the United Kingdom with 116,908 deaths; Italy with 93,045; France with 81,488; Russia, with 79,696; and Spain with 64,747 deaths.
The worst death rates in Europe are Belgium with 186 deaths per 100,000 population; Slovenia, with 178 deaths; the UK with 171; the Czech Republic with 169; and Italy with 154 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
Venezuela receives first delivery of Sputnik V vaccine
The first 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine arrived in Venezuela on Saturday.
In a tweet, president Nicolas Maduro said medical and health personnel would be the first to receive the vaccine, “given their exposure to Covid-19.”
The vaccines arrived at Caracas’ international airport on a special flight from Moscow on Conviasa airlines, Venezuela’s state carrier, according to Reuters witnesses and images shown by state television VTV.
“Here is the vaccine to serve the most vulnerable sectors with the highest priority, health personnel, for example; it is a vaccine that addresses the most grave cases of patients with morbidities,” said vice president Delcy Rodriguez.
“It is a vaccine that seeks to reduce community transmission,” she added.
Maduro has previously said after healthcare workers, “vulnerable sectors” would be next in line, followed by teachers.
On Friday, Venezuela reported 132,259 coronavirus cases and 1,267 deaths, but medical unions and opponents have said the figure is likely higher.
The government has authorised a relaxation of the national quarantine for two weeks during the carnival holiday.
For months Venezuela’s government has said the South American country would receive 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, although the vaccine’s maker has not confirmed that figure.
In addition to Sputnik V, the Pan American Health Organization’s chief of mission said last week that between 1.4 million and 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine had been reserved for Venezuela. At $10 per dose, those vaccines would cost between $140 million and $240 million.
The French health ministry has reported 10,037 new patients had been taken to hospital with coronavirus over the past seven days and there had been 1,795 admissions to intensive care units over the period.
The total cumulative number of cases in France increased to 3,448,617, the sixth-highest in the world.
The president, Emmanuel Macron, has resisted resorting to a new lockdown, hoping that a national curfew from 6pm – in place since 15 December – will be enough to keep infections down.
The finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, told BFM television on Saturday that the French population was at the end of its patience and that a new lockdown could only be “the very last options when all others have been tried”.
Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council that advises the government on Covid-19 policy, told Europe 1 radio on Saturday he feared the variant first detected in the UK could account for the majority of the cases in March.
In the Moselle region in eastern France, where variant cases have surged, the prefecture ruled out at least for now closing the schools or implementing a local lockdown, which had been requested by some regional officials, Reuters reported.
Parents of unaccompanied minors travelling back to school in the UK have pleaded with the government to rethink hotel quarantine rules, with one father demanding: “Don’t lock my children up.”
Hundreds of children whose parents live and work overseas but who attend boarding schools in the UK are keen to return when the government allows educational establishments to reopen.
But those arriving from countries on the government’s red list will be required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days once new rules are introduced on Monday and, with no date set for schools to reopen, parents have been left with a difficult choice.
Karl Feilder, 55, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, has three daughters, two of whom, aged 15 and 17, attend a boarding school near Reading, England and are hoping to be back in the country once it reopens for on-site learning.
Feilder said he would not allow his children to return if it meant quarantining in a hotel alone, telling the PA:
To be perfectly honest, I think anyone in their right mind would not do that with their children and indeed it’s completely mad, completely unnecessary.
The fact that they haven’t told us when schools are going back means we can’t take the decision now to put them on a plane today or tomorrow to beat the Monday morning deadline.
They’ve got nowhere to stay in the UK – are they going back to an empty school, or a school that’s closed, or is the school going to be open? We don’t know.
We’re quite happy to do the Covid tests, we’re quite happy to do the home quarantine, whatever – just don’t lock my children up.
A spokesperson from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said:
Children are not exempt from quarantine if they have been in a red-list country in the 10 days before their arrival in the UK.
Schools are currently closed and we urge parents to carefully consider whether it is essential for children who have been in red-list countries to travel unaccompanied into the UK at this time.
Where this is unavoidable, we would strongly advise parents put in place arrangements to ensure their children are accompanied by an appropriate adult to carry out the quarantine.
France on Saturday reported a further 199 Covid-19 related deaths, taking the country’s total official death toll from the virus to 81,647.
This compares to 191 deaths reported last week Friday.
France also recorded 21,231 over the 24 hours to Saturday, versus Friday’s 20,701.
Public Health Wales has said a total of 749,445 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, adding that 4,224 second doses had also been administered.
In total, 89.1% of over-80s in Wales have received their first jab, along with 88.4% of those aged 75-79 and 84.8% of those aged 70-74.
For care homes, 81.2% of residents and 84% of staff have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Infections in Germany continue to fall nationwide, as the country reported 8,354 new infections on Saturday, around 2,100 fewer than a week earlier.
551 more deaths were also reported, 138 fewer than last Saturday.
The nationwide seven-day incidence fell to 60.1. It indicates how many infections were recorded per 100,000 inhabitants.
According to data from the Robert Koch Institute, the number of reported new corona infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week is lowest in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate with 51 each.
In Thuringia, which had been heavily affected until recently, the state government reacted with relief to the news that the value has sunk to 99, public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reports.
Lebanon on Saturday received its first coronavirus vaccines, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country.
A plane carrying 28,500 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine flown in from Belgium landed at Beirut airport.
The shipment was the first after the World Bank allocated $34 million to inoculate two million of Lebanon’s six million inhabitants.
Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan was on the tarmac to welcome the plane and expressed great “relief”.
“It’s a dream being realised today thanks to the support of our UN and international partners,” he told reporters,
“The vaccine will reach all Lebanese citizens across the country,” as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees and other residents, he promised.
Lebanon has been under strict lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients.
Vaccination rollout is set to start on Sunday.
Health workers will receive their first dose at the Rafik Hariri Hospital, the country’s main public hospital tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, the American University of Beirut Medical Centre and Saint George Orthodox Hospital.