First cases of South Africa COVID variant found in US: Live news

Coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa reaches the United States with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina.

The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a history of recent travel, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said [File: Mic Smith/AP]
The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a history of recent travel, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said [File: Mic Smith/AP]
  • The new South Africa coronavirus variant has been found in the United States for the first time in the state of South Carolina.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said one-third of the African continent will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
  • The US economy shrunk by 3.5 percent last year, the sharpest it has fallen since 1946, according to official data.
  • Nearly 101 million people around the world have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 2.17 million have died, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University. More than 55.7 million patients have recovered.

This is Usaid Siddiqui in Toronto, Canada. Here are the latest updates for Thursday, January 28:


Africa ramps up vaccine procurement tactics

After a slow start, Africa has shifted up a gear in coronavirus vaccine procurement, securing hundreds of millions of jabs from pooling initiatives amid efforts to gain ground in the global inoculation race.

Most African countries are relying on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union (AU) to shoulder at least part of their inoculation campaigns by providing vaccines and helping to finance their rollout.

The AU announced Thursday that it had secured 400 million doses of COVID-19 jabs for its members in addition to 270 million doses trailed earlier this month.

So far only a small handful of African countries have started immunising their populations against COVID-19, starting with the Seychelles and more recently Mauritius [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

Spain detects first case of South Africa virus variant

Spanish officials confirmed the South African variant of the coronavirus was detected in Spain as the Health Ministry reported a drop in new infections.

Galician health officials said they detected the variant in a male who had recently travelled to South Africa for work.

The variant has been found in at least 30 other countries.

Spain rallies behind EU vaccine strategy

Spain made clear it supported the European Union’s handling of a shortfall in COVID-19 vaccines after a leaked document suggested the health ministry was blaming Brussels.

In a draft agenda for a summit of regional health chiefs after cases ballooned due to holiday gatherings, the central government was critical of the EU, El Mundo reported earlier in the day, quoting the leaked document.

However, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya later told reporters: “Spain fully trusts that the European Commission will know how to defend the interests of all member states, in terms of both vaccine acquisition and handling of contracts with pharmaceutical [companies].”

The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.

Spain along with the rest of the European Union has suffered delays since Pfizer announced two weeks ago that it would reduce deliveries temporarily during a plant upgrade [Bernat Armangue/AP]

White House says no intention of splitting coronavirus relief package

President Joe Biden is having calls with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to garner support for his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, the White House said, adding it is not looking to split the aid package.

“We’re not looking to split the package. That is not a proposal from the White House,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said they do not want to put themselves in a place where they have to choose between helping Americans get food on the table or get a vaccine

Canada provinces fume over Pfizer vaccine shortfall

Canadian provinces protested about a likely shortfall in deliveries of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, but the federal government insisted the US drugmaker would live up to its commitments.

The exchanges underscored growing tensions about the slow rollout of Canada’s vaccination programme caused in part by Pfizer cutting its promised deliveries for January and February.


Football: Cristiano Ronaldo under investigation over trip to Alps

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo is being investigated by police for a potential breach of Italy’s coronavirus regulations after he allegedly travelled between Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta regions.

Valle d’Aosta police confirmed to the Reuters news agency on Thursday that a trip to the Alpine town of Courmayeur by Ronaldo and his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez on Tuesday and Wednesday was under investigation.

Read more here.


Portugal to reintroduce border controls with Spain as cases surge

Portugal’s government announced it would reintroduce controls along its 1,200-km (750-mile) border with Spain as authorities scramble to control a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

Cabinet Affairs Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva also said Portuguese nationals would be banned from travelling to other countries by air, land or sea over the next 15 days, confirming an earlier announcement by the interior minister.

Health professionals during the covid-19 testing in the parish of Ponta Garça, Ponta Delgada, island of Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal [File: Eduardo Costa/EPA]

Pentagon evaluating request for help in administering COVID-19 vaccines

The Pentagon is evaluating a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide help in administering COVID-19 vaccines, a spokesman said.

On Monday, President Joe Biden said he believed it was possible to have 150 million doses of vaccine administered in his first 100 days in office.

“Given the significance of the request, it will be reviewed urgently but carefully to determine what DoD assets can safely be made available to support the effort,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.


Algeria to start COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday

Algeria will receive its first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine on Friday and plans to start its vaccination campaign the following day, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer said.

The vaccine will be given first to healthcare workers, the elderly and people with chronic diseases, state media cited him as saying, without giving details on the number of doses.

“More shipments will arrive from China, India and other countries,” he said on Thursday.

The North African country has 106,610 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 2,881 deaths [File: Anis Belghoul/AP]

Morocco starts coronavirus vaccination campaign

Morocco started a national coronavirus vaccination campaign after receiving vaccine shipments from AstraZeneca and Sinopharm, state media said.

Inaugurating the campaign, King Mohammed was given the vaccine at his palace in Fez, the state news agency MAP said.

Morocco has received two million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and 500,000 doses of a vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm.


Virus variant from South Africa detected in US for first time

A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, state health officials said.

The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a history of recent travel, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

Read more here.


UK adds United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda to travel ban list

The United Kingdom has added the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda to its coronavirus travel ban list starting from 13:00 GMT on Friday, transport minister Grant Shapps said.

“This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at HOME,” he said on Twitter.


Virus cost global tourism $1.3 trillion in 2020: UN

The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $1.3 trillion in lost revenue in 2020 as the number of people travelling plunged, the UN said, calling it “the worst year in tourism history”.

Revenue lost last year amounted to “more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis,” the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization said in a statement, warning that between 100 million and 120 million direct tourism jobs were at risk.


WHO team to visit Wuhan hospitals, labs and market

Scientists led by the World Health Organization (WHO) plan to visit hospitals, labs and markets in the Chinese central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the WHO said.

“Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, Wuhan CDC laboratory,” the Geneva-based agency said in a tweet, adding that they would speak with some of the first COVID-19 patients in the outbreak that began in December 2019.


Switzerland says Moderna COVID-19 vaccine deliveries will be delayed

Moderna has warned Switzerland that its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries would be delayed, the Swiss health ministry said, leading to February shortfalls that the country expects the US company to make up in March.

The delays follow European supply issues with vaccine maker AstraZeneca, as well as Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as demand for COVID-19 shots is sky high but supplies remain tight and production limited.


New York undercounted nursing home deaths by 50 percent – AG

New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50 percent, the state’s attorney general said in a report.

Attorney General Letitia James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey reporting from New York said the report found that infection controls at nursing homes “did put residents at risk”.

“A lot of these homes reported that they did not the proper testing capabilities. The did not have enough PPE to protect residents,” she added.

A patient is loaded into the back of an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York [File: John Minchillo/AP]

Tampa’s mayor issues outdoor mask order for Super Bowl

Anyone visiting Tampa’s popular outdoor destinations for the Super Bowl will be required to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor signed an executive order Wednesday saying masks must be worn outside while downtown, in neighbourhoods around Raymond James Stadium – where the Super Bowl will be held – and in other tourist hotspots.


Some 20-25 percent of Russians have virus antibodies – TASS

The head of Russia’s consumer safety watchdog said around 20-25 percent of Russians have COVID-19 antibodies, TASS news agency reported.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported 19,138 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, including 2,897 in Moscow, taking the total national tally to 3,793,810 since the pandemic began.


AstraZeneca, UK PM defend COVID vaccine effectiveness

AstraZeneca and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the effectiveness of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine after regulators in Germany said it should not be given to over-65s.

A spokesperson for the UK-based company said the latest clinical trial data for its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, “support efficacy in the over 65 years age group”.

The company is awaiting a decision from the EU’s medicines regulator, the spokesperson added.


Mutations in France spreading rapidly: health minister

French Health Minister Olivier Veran warned the public that mutations of the coronavirus were spreading rapidly on Thursday, as the country weighs introducing further measures to contain the pandemic.

“What we want to avoid is an epidemic within the epidemic,” Veran told the press, as France continued to report more than 20,000 new cases of the virus each day.


German jabs board not recommending AstraZeneca for older people

Germany’s vaccine commission said it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for older people, the latest twist in a row over the jab that has put the UK and the EU on a collision course.

The panel of scientific experts, called STIKO, said the vaccine should only be used for “persons aged 18 to 65 years old based on available data”.

“There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older,” said the panel.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which was jointly developed with the University of Oxford, has not been granted approval yet for general use in the European Union [File: Monirul Alam/EPA]

Germany to ban certain travellers amid fears of virus variants

Germany is preparing entry bans for travellers from the UK, Portugal, Brazil and South Africa to limit the spread of the more contagious variants of the coronavirus raging in these countries, interior minister Horst Seehofer said on Thursday.

“To protect our population, there should be no entry from regions where these variants of the virus are rampant,” he said on the fringes of a virtual meeting with his EU counterparts.


One-third of Africa will be vaccinated this year: WHO

Africa can expect to see at least 30 percent of its population immunised against COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the WHO said on Thursday, as vaccines begin trickling into the continent.

It is estimated Africa will need 1.5 billion vaccine doses to immunise 60 percent of its 1.3 billion inhabitants, the threshold for herd immunity against COVID-19.

Funeral workers wearing personal protective equipment carry a coffin during the burial of a COVID-19 victim, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, at the Olifantsvlei cemetery, southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

US economy in 2020 has worst year since 1946

The US economy has shrunk by 3.5 percent as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large sectors of business and daily life, according to government data released.

It was the biggest contraction of the world’s largest economy since 1946, the Commerce Department said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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