New Zealand orders largest city Auckland into snap lockdown

After a sharp rise in COVID infections, Lebanon starts vaccine drive as PM Hassan Diab says he will wait his ‘turn’.

New Zealand has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths in a population of five million [File: Fiona Goodall/Reuters]
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the country’s biggest city Auckland into a snap lockdown after three coronavirus cases emerged in the community.
  • Lebanon started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, shortly after it received 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – the first of incoming batches.
  • Lebanon has been under a 24-hour curfew for nearly a month after a sharp rise in infections, although the government began lifting some restrictions this week.
  • Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases globally surpassed 108 million, with deaths exceeding 2.3 million. More than 60 million people have recovered, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

This blog is now closed. These were Sunday’s updates:

Saudi Arabia extends entertainment, dine-in restrictions

Saudi Arabia has extended by 20 days restrictions on entertainment activities, gatherings, and dine-in restaurant services to curb the spread of coronavirus, state news agency SPA said, citing an interior ministry statement.

The announcement extends a set of measures brought in 10 days ago and includes cinema and indoor sports centre closures. The restrictions, which come into effect from 10pm local time on Sunday evening, could be extended again, the ministry statement said.

Two weeks ago Saudi suspended entry to the kingdom from 20 countries, with the exception of Saudi citizens, diplomats and medical practitioners and their families.

The kingdom, the largest among the six Gulf states and the Arab world’s biggest economy, on Saturday recorded 337 new coronavirus cases and four deaths. It saw daily infections fall from a peak above 4,000 in June to dip below the 100 mark in early January.


Iran warns of a fourth wave as cases rise

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of a “fourth wave” of the virus as cases rise in certain areas of the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic.

He said some cities in the southwestern province of Khuzestan were now “red” – the highest on Iran’s colour-coded risk level – after weeks of low alert levels across the country.

Iran has lost close to 59,000 lives out of more than 1.5 million cases of infection.

An Iranian woman wearing a face mask walks on a street after Iranian authorities made it mandatory for all to wear face mask in public following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID19), in Tehran [File: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

UK says it shares US concerns over WHO mission to China

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said he shared concerns about the level of access given to a World Health Organization COVID-19 fact-finding mission to China, echoing criticism from the United States.

The White House on Saturday called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the novel coronavirus outbreak, saying it had “deep concerns” about the way the findings of the WHO’s COVID-19 report were communicated.

Asked about the US reaction, Raab told the BBC: “We do share concerns that they get full cooperation and they get the answers they need, and so we’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak.”

In a separate BBC interview, John Watson, an epidemiologist who travelled to China as part of the WHO team, said that while Chinese authorities had not given them all raw data, they had seen a lot of information and discussed analysis of the first cases.


Russia reports new cases, deaths in past 24 hours

Russia reported 14,185 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,559 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 4,071,883 since the pandemic began.

Authorities said 430 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 80,126.

People queue to receive an injection of Russia’s Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease at a vaccination point at the GUM department store in Moscow [File: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP]

Pakistan lab expects Sputnik V doses for commercial sale in a week

A Pakistani lab will soon receive Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine for commercial sale, a company official said, making Pakistan one of the first countries to market shots privately as it scrambles to secure supplies.

Despite concerns over fairness and higher prices, Islamabad agreed this week to allow the commercial import and sale of vaccines without price caps, in contrast to most countries, which are importing and administering vaccines through government channels.

“We are told the first shipment is expected within the next week,” Chughtai Lab director Omar Chughtai told Reuters news agency, adding it would be receiving several thousand doses.

The government launched a vaccination drive this month with 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by longtime ally China. But aside from the donated Chinese doses, Islamabad has not completed any deals to buy vaccines.


New Zealand orders largest city Auckland into snap lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the country’s biggest city Auckland into a snap lockdown for the first time in nearly six months after three coronavirus cases emerged in the community.

The Pacific island nation has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths in a population of five million.

But almost two million residents were told on Sunday to stay at home from midnight, when the level-three lockdown begins, with schools and businesses to close except for essential services.

“The main thing we are asking people in Auckland to do is stay at home to avoid any risk of spread,” Ardern said.

She added that the restrictions were “just in case it could be one of the more transmissible strains of COVID that we need to act with a high degree of caution around”.

People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand’s new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure that mandates wearing of a mask on public transport [File: Fiona Goodall/Reuters]

Israel sees reopening of restaurants on March 9 amid vaccination drive

Israel plans to reopen restaurants around March 9 as part of its gradual return to normality as a COVID-19 vaccination campaign gathers pace, an official said.

With more than 41 percent of Israelis having received at least one shot of Pfizer Inc’s vaccine, Israel plans to partially reopen hotels and gyms on February 23 to those deemed fully inoculated, or immune after recovering from COVID-19.

Nachman Ash, the national pandemic-response coordinator, said the reopening of hotel dining rooms, restaurants and cafes would follow two weeks later.

“That would be around March 9,” he told Ynet TV. “We want to open gradually, carefully so we don’t have another breakout of another wave, and another lockdown.”


Japan approves first vaccine with Olympics in sight

Japan approved its first coronavirus vaccine, clearing the way for mass inoculations as the nation prepares to host the postponed 2020 Olympics.

“The health minister today gave a special approval to the Pfizer vaccine,” the prime minister’s office said in a tweet.

Japan is now expected to put the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the arms of 10,000 to 20,000 medical workers from as early as Wednesday, before making it and other coronavirus vaccines available for more medical workers and the elderly from April.

The government is yet to outline the exact rollout schedule for the rest of its population of 126 million people.

Olympics officials have insisted that the Tokyo Games will take place even though COVID-19 continues to affect the entire world.


Lebanon starts its vaccination drive

Lebanon has started its COVID-19 vaccination drive by inoculating the head of critical care at its biggest public hospital, followed by 93-year-old celebrated Lebanese actor and comedian Salah Tizani.

Battling a sharp spike in infections in recent weeks which has overwhelmed its healthcare system, Lebanon received delivery of 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Saturday, the first batch of 2.1 million doses set to arrive in stages throughout the year.

“I will not be receiving the vaccine today, for today is not my turn and the priority is for the medical sector that has done its duty and presented big sacrifices,” caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab told reporters at the Rafik Hariri hospital, where Lebanon’s first coronavirus case was quarantined about a year ago.


EU to speed up approval of variant-modified vaccines

The European Union will fast track approvals of coronavirus vaccines adapted to combat mutations, the bloc’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a newspaper interview.

“We have now decided that a vaccine that has been improved by the manufacturer on the basis of the previous vaccine to combat new mutations no longer has to go through the entire approval process,” she told Bavaria’s Augsburger Allgemeine.

“So it will be faster to have suitable vaccines available without compromising on safety.”

The European Commission has come under fire from EU member states over delays to deliveries of vaccines which has seen the bloc lag behind countries such as the United Kingdom, a former member, and the United States.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies