Colombia raises deficit target due to pandemic: COVID-19 news

A sustained rise in coronavirus cases is pushing governments to adopt strict new measures to fight the pandemic.

Residents line up to take a nasal swab sample for COVID-19 tests, provided for free by the municipal government in Bogota, Colombia [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]
  • More than 52 million people had contracted COVID-19 globally and at least 1,290,000 had died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • News about a successful Pfizer vaccine gave people hope, though its price and availability were in discussion as US states rushed to buy ultra-cold freezers for storage.
  • US President Donald Trump spoke publicly for first time in eight days on vaccine efforts.
  • Governments in the Americas and Europe continued to report alarming infection numbers as lockdown measures increase.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. This is Creede Newton.

Brazil numbers continue to rise

Brazil registered 29,070 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the Health Ministry said, bringing the total to 5,810,652.

Deaths rose in the largest South American country by 456 to 164,737.

Brazil is among the hardest-hit countries in the world, trailing only the US, which has over 10,700,000 cases, and India’s nearly 8,728,800 cases.

Colombia raises 2020 deficit target due to pandemic effects on economy

Colombia raised its fiscal deficit target for 2020 to 8.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and said it expects the economy to contract 6.8 percent due to the pandemic.

The government had previously sought to maintain its fiscal deficit at 8.2 percent for 2020.

“This update, compared to what was forecast in June, is mainly due to the longer duration of the pandemic’s effects, which has led to unfavorable revisions to economic forecasts both nationally and internationally,” Colombia’s Fiscal Rule Advisory Committee said in a statement.

Colombia reached over one million COVID-19 cases last month, and the virus has hit the country’s economy hard.


China finds coronavirus on packaging of Brazilian beef

The health commission in Wuhan, China said on Friday it had detected the novel coronavirus on the packaging of a batch of Brazilian beef, as it ramped up testing of frozen foods this week as part of a nationwide campaign.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement on its website it had found three positive samples on the outer packaging of frozen, boneless beef from Brazil.

The beef had entered the country at Qingdao port on August 7 and it reached Wuhan on August 17, where it remained in a cold storage facility until recently.

The Brazilian government told Reuters the Chinese government had not notified them of the findings.

Chinese authorities also found the coronavirus on the packaging of Argentinian beef this week, and another imported beef sample was found to be positive in Shandong, that province said on Friday.

Must-know numbers this week: Vaccines, mink, taxes and kiwi fraud

Al Jazeera rounded up the must-know numbers this week to keep you informed and up-to-date on major business and economic stories as well as the ones you might have missed.

On Monday, drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech announced that the preliminary data for a phase-three clinical trial of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate had shown it to be more than 90 percent effective.

That’s just one of the numbers to know this week – and the others involve mink, a work-from-home tax and kiwi voter fraud. Read more here.

Fed leaders differ on how to boost virus-ravaged US economy

The leaders of the US Federal Reserve banks differ in their views on what it will take to get the country’s virus-ravaged economy back on track amid a troubling surge in coronavirus infections.

Across what is one of the country’s most technocratic and PhD-heavy institutions, months of singular focus on the path of the pandemic and its effects on the US economy has yielded this: Who the heck knows?

Separate comments by Williams and Bullard on Friday laid out the competing ideas circulating at the US central bank about where things stand and what might happen in coming months.

Read more here.

Trump touts Warp Speed progress, implies NY could receive vaccine later

Trump touted the fast progress in getting a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 240,000 people in the US.

Trump said vaccine efforts were the “greatest” in US history, with development coming “five times faster” than the normal amount of time.

Pfizer has said its vaccine is over 90 percent effective, but it requires two injections and has yet to be officially approved. Trump said it could be available to the general public by April.

But Trump implied New York may not receive the vaccine after Governor Andrew Cuomo made what the president viewed as disparaging remarks about the treatment.

Trump says his administration ‘won’t go into lockdown’

During an address on Operation Warp Speed at the White House, Trump promised that his administration would not impose strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 as the US sets records for infections.

“Ideally, we won’t go to a lockdown. I will not go – this administration will not be going to a lockdown.”

Trump, who still contests the results of the November 3 presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won, also made an unclear reference to a future administration.

“Hopefully … whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”

Chile hopes Biden administration will ease tensions over medical supplies

Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris told Reuters on Friday that he believed Biden’s leadership would allow countries to present a more “united” front against the COVID-19 pandemic as vaccines are made available.

That could also allow nations to avoid the commercial battles over ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment seen earlier this year.

“There was a trade war in which those who could pay more got more and those who could take things out of or even rupture distribution chains did so,” Paris told the news agency.

He said Chile had to charter or send military planes to pick up supplies and keep flight plans secret.

“It was horrible and I hope it doesn’t happen again,” Paris said. “I believe that Mr Biden has another vision of what is diplomacy and global understanding between countries.”

Dozens of US Secret Service officers affected by COVID-19

More than 130 US Secret Service officers assigned to protect President Donald Trump have been sidelined by COVID-19, The Washington Post reported on Friday, the latest evidence of a White House outbreak.

The Post did not say how many officers tested positive for the disease versus those who had to isolate because of close contact with an infected co-worker. It said, however, that about 10 percent of the core security team had been sidelined.

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early October and received experimental treatments in government-provided care.

Read more here.

Biden: ‘Urgent action needed today’ to stop pandemic’s spread

Biden met with his transition team’s advisory board on the pandemic, and said the current administration must work to address the issue now.

“This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking,” Biden, who will not ascend to the presidency until January 2021, said in a statement, released shortly before Trump’s address on Operation Warp Speed vaccine efforts.

“The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration – starting with an acknowledgement of how serious the current situation is.”

Biden also called on US citizens to increase hand-washing, social-distancing and mask-wearing.

Italy extends lockdown as Naples, Florence enter ‘red zone’

The regions of Italy that include Naples and Florence are now considered “red zones”, the most serious designation in a three-tiered, colour-coded system the Italian government has created as to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Red is the most restrictive of the three zones, while orange signals “medium-high risk” and yellow is the least restrictive of the three designations.

Regions declared red zones are subjected to partial lockdowns under which only grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands and other shops deemed necessities may remain open.

The director of the country’s National Health Institute, Gianni Rezza, said the stricter measures were justified by a “worrisome increase in hospitalisations” as Italy’s rate of new confirmed cases reached 650 per 100,000 people.

The situation has intensified in the Campania region, where Naples is located. Hospitalisations went from 421 on October 1 to 2,153 on Friday and 183 people currently are in intensive care, up from 38 six weeks ago.


US states rush to buy ultra-low temperature freezers for vaccine storage

US states, cities, and hospitals are scrambling to buy ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers that can safely store Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, even as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises them to wait.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which has shown promising results, must be stored at temperatures of -70C (-94F).

The push reveals a lack of infrastructure to support a super cold vaccine campaign. Some specialty freezer makers warn of months-long waits for units.

It also marks widespread wariness of the advice from the CDC, which on August 26 urged healthcare providers not purchase ULTs, saying it was working on solutions for Pfizer’s “very complex storage and handling requirements”.


Biden team pushes for intel, COVID info access

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has requested access to intelligence and information regarding current efforts against the coronavirus pandemics.

“There are areas where as much as President-elect Biden has been working on policy issues from national security to health for decades, you need real-time information to deal with crises of the moment”, Jen Psaki, adviser to Biden Harris Transition, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theatre, Tuesday, November 10, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware, US [Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]

The administration of President Donald Trump has kept Biden out of the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), the ultra-secret daily briefing of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence, is a key part of keeping the president fully informed and, in recent years, the president-elect fully prepared.

“So there are areas, so on the COVID front, like access to ongoing work on distribution plans, vaccine development, that engagement directly with the agencies would significantly help our preparations to govern,” Psaki said.

Russia begins overnight closure of bars, restaurants as cases grow at record pace

Russia reported a record 21,983 new coronavirus infections on Friday, as Moscow prepared to close restaurants and bars overnight in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite a recent surge, Russian authorities have resisted imposing lockdown restrictions as they did earlier this year, stressing instead the importance of hygiene, social distancing and bringing in targeted measures in certain regions.

Moscow, which reported 5,974 new cases in the past 24 hours, has ordered bars, restaurants and nightclubs to close between 11pm and 6am from Friday until mid-January. Officials warned of raids and fines for establishments that do not comply.

Israel signs deal with Pfizer for potential COVID-19 vaccine

Israel signed a deal with Pfizer to receive eight million doses of the drugmaker’s potential COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, enough to cover close to half of Israel’s population.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE’s potential vaccine is likely to be a two-dose course of treatment, meaning that eight million doses would cover four million of Israel’s nearly nine million population.

Italian construction industry suffers from virus slowdown

Italian infrastructure group Atlantia worsened its outlook on Friday, saying the coronavirus would reduce its 2020 revenue by 3.5 billion euros ($4.1bn) compared with last year.

In August the group had indicated a possible drop in sales due to the pandemic of three billion euros.

The group also said that operating cash flow, after capital expenditure, would fall by 2.2 billion euros.

Schools around the world revert to remote learning

Facing grim figures on infection and hospitalisation resulting from COVID-19, school systems around the US and abroad begin to cancel in-person instruction in favour of remote learning.

Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis and Philadelphia are among those closing classrooms or abandoning plans to offer in-person classes later in the school year, and New York City may be next.

Patrons enjoy food and drink at The Brass Rail in Hoboken, New Jersey, as school systems in several states are giving up in-person classes, and some governors are reimposing restrictions on bars and restaurants [File: Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

Virus transmission does not appear to be rampant within schools themselves. Instead, many of the infections that are proving so disruptive are believed to be occurring in the community.

Educators fear things could get worse during upcoming holiday breaks, when students and staff gather with family and friends, or travel to other hot spots.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies