Coronavirus live news: pharmacies in England begin vaccine rollout as WHO team arrives in Wuhan

1 week ago

Recovering from Covid gives similar level of protection to vaccine

Ian Sample

People who recover from coronavirus have a similar level of protection against future infection as those who receive a Covid vaccine – at least for the first five months, research suggests.

A Public Health England (PHE) study of more than 20,000 healthcare workers found that immunity acquired from an earlier Covid infection provided 83% protection against reinfection for at least 20 weeks.

The findings show that while people are unlikely to become reinfected soon after their first infection, it is possible to catch the virus again and potentially spread it to others.

Summary

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

China records first local coronavirus death in eight months, highest cases in ten months. China reported its biggest jump in cases in more than 10 months as infections in northeastern Heilongjiang province nearly tripled, underscoring the growing threat ahead of a major national holiday when hundreds of millions of people usually travel. The National Health Commission said in a statement that 138 new Covid-19 cases were reported on 13 January, up from 115 cases a day earlier and marking the highest jump since 5 March. China also reported one new death, the first increase in the death toll since mid-May. The WHO’s global team of researchers have Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected, to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.
Pharmacies in England begin vaccine rollout. England’s high street pharmacies will begin rolling out Covid vaccines, as the virus death toll across the UK climbed above 100,000. Boots and Superdrug branches will be among the six stores across England which will be able to administer the jabs from Thursday while the Government aims to hit its target of vaccinating all people in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month. Joe Biden released a statement in which he called for the Senate to address the coronavirus pandemic while dealing with the impeachment trial. “Today, the members of the House of representatives exercised the power granted to them under our constitution and voted to impeach and hold the president accountable,” Biden said. “This nation also remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a reeling economy. I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.”
Brazil said Wednesday it would import two million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covishield jab from India. The inventory would add to some 10 million doses of China’s CoronaVac as Brazil gears to start its vaccination campaign this month. The biggest country in Latin America is the second-hardest hit globally by the pandemic, as the novel coronavirus has killed more than 204,000 people out of Brazil’s population of 212 million. New York called for more Covid vaccine. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said the city would fall short of its inoculation goals unless it could get more vaccine. The mayor said short supplies were hampering New York City’s efforts to increase its immunisation campaign. His appeal comes as the country as a whole struggles to meet an overall goal, with vaccinations now running far behind a target of 20 million people by now. Japan is set to expand its state of emergency in greater Tokyo from Thursday to seven more regions including major cities Osaka and Kyoto and also to tighten border restrictions as cases surge. “We continue to see a serious situation,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, adding the measures were “indispensable”. “We must overcome this challenge that we face.”
Colombia will extend a so-called selective quarantine until the end of February, President Ivan Duque said in a nightly address on Wednesday. The Andean country began more than five months of lockdown in March to control the spread of coronavirus. It moved to a much-looser “selective” quarantine at the start of September, allowing dining at restaurants and international flights. Indonesia started vaccinating health workers and public servants for Covid-19 on Thursday, a day after President Joko Widodo received the first shot of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine. The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, its head said on Thursday. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has shown a 95% success rate, is the first vaccine the Philippines has approved. FDA head Rolando Enrique Domingo told a media briefing China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd on Wednesday submitted to regulators its emergency use authorization application.

Robert Booth

Pre-prepared disaster plans for handling pandemics, natural disasters and terrorist attacks show London had 3,500 mortuary spaces. But the capital braced for the virus with an additional 12,000 mortuary spaces.

If cemeteries could not cope, bodies would be frozen to await their final committal. There were plans to transport scores of bodies at a time between storage locations in trucks, the official said, a practice that risks misidentifying or even losing the dead:

Pharmacies in England begin vaccine rollout

England’s high street pharmacies will begin rolling out Covid vaccines, as the virus death toll across the UK climbed above 100,000.

Boots and Superdrug branches will be among the six stores across England which will be able to administer the jabs from Thursday while the Government aims to hit its target of vaccinating all people in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.

Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, north London, Woodside Pharmacy in Telford and Appleton Village pharmacy in Widnes will be in the first group to hand out the injections, alongside Boots in Halifax, and Superdrug in Guildford.

Boris Johnson also told MPs that distribution “will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can” but said supply of doses remained the main barrier.

The Scottish Government published its vaccine delivery plan on Wednesday evening, including details of how many doses it expects to receive for each week until the end of May, prompting a row with London, which has declined to publish its numbers.

The six pharmacies have been picked because they can deliver large volumes of the vaccine and allow for social distancing, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “fantastic” that jabs would be available on the high street.

“Pharmacies sit at the heart of local communities and will make a big difference to our rollout programme by providing even more local, convenient places for those that are eligible to get their jab,” he said.

By the end of the month more than 200 community chemists will be able to give vaccines, according to NHS England.

The pharmacies join the 200 hospitals, around 800 GP clinics and seven mass vaccination centres where jabs are already being handed out.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged ministers to go further and use England’s 11,500 pharmacies to deliver round-the-clock vaccinations by the end of next month.

The expanded vaccination service in England comes as the daily reported UK death toll reached a new high on Wednesday, with 1,564 fatalities recorded within 28 days of a positive test.

The latest figures meant the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus has now been passed in the UK, according to official data.

Thailand on Thursday confirmed 271 new coronavirus cases bringing the total number of reported infections to 11,262 since it detected its first case a year ago.

There were two additional deaths, taking total fatalities to 69. Twelve of the new infections were imported, the Covid-19 taskforce said.

Market workers and volunteers clean up around Klong Toey fresh market after it was temporarily shut down due to several vendors testing positive for the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, in Bangkok on 14 January 2021.
Market workers and volunteers clean up around Klong Toey fresh market after it was temporarily shut down due to several vendors testing positive for the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, in Bangkok on 14 January 2021. Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

China’s exports grew more than expected in December, albeit at a slower pace than the month before, as global demand for Chinese goods remained solid, while import growth quickened, customs data showed on Thursday.

Exports rose 18.1% in December from a year earlier, slowing from a 21.1% jump in November. Analysts in a Reuters poll had expected exports to grow 15% year-on-year last month.

Imports meanwhile rose 6.5% in December from a year earlier, quickening from 4.5% growth in November and beating expectations for a 5% increase in the Reuters poll.

A container ship leaves a port in Nantong in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province on 20 December 2020.
A container ship leaves a port in Nantong in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province on 20 December 2020. Photograph: AP

Analysts have said Chinese exports will continue to be supported by demand for medical supplies and work-from-home products in major trading partners struggling with fresh waves of coronavirus infections.

But there are some concerns that a rise in raw material prices and a recent rally in the local currency could squeeze exporters’ profits. The onshore yuan strengthened 6.7% in 2020 - its first annual rise in three years.

China posted a trade surplus of $78.17bn in December. Analysts in the poll had expected the trade surplus to narrow to $72.35bn from $75.40bn in November.

Its trade surplus with the United States narrowed to $29.92bn in December from $37.42bn in November.

The Mexican government said Wednesday that it and 10 other countries in North and Central America are worried about the health risks of Covid-19 among migrants without proper documents.

AP: The statement by the 11-member Regional Conference on Migration suggests that Mexico and Central America could continue to turn back migrants on the basis of the perceived risks of the pandemic.

The group “expressed concern over the exposure of irregular migrants to situations of high risk to their health and their lives, primarily during the health emergency.”
Over the last year, authorities in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have turned back or stopped migrant caravans seeking to reach the US border, in some cases demanding they show visas or negative coronavirus tests.

The group expressed its support for “safe, orderly and regulated” migration.

The group has also stressed the need to improve conditions in southern Mexico and Central America, so people won’t feel forced to emigrate.

The regional conference includes the United States, Canada, Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Philippines approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, its head said on Thursday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has shown a 95% success rate, is the first vaccine the Philippines has approved.

FDA head Rolando Enrique Domingo told a media briefing China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd on Wednesday submitted to regulators its emergency use authorization application.

WHO team touches down in Wuhan

The WHO’s global team of researchers have Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected, to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries, AP reports.

The 10-member team sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of the WHO.

Scientists suspect the virus that has killed 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. The ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, says the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood, but scientists reject that.

Global Times (@globaltimesnews)

The @WHO team will receive both throat swabs and antibody tests at #Wuhan airport, and will be quarantined for 14 days in accordance with regulations. https://t.co/NzQybIKuyo

January 14, 2021

CGTN, the English-language channel of state broadcaster CCTV, reported the WHO team’s arrival. The members include virus and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.
A government spokesman said this week they will “exchange views” with Chinese scientists but gave no indication whether they would be allowed to gather evidence.
They will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for Covid-19, according to a post on CGTN’s official Weibo account. They are to start working with Chinese experts via video conference while in quarantine.

The Hebei death comes as China readies for the arrival of an expert team of scientists from the World Health Organization, who will start a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 10-strong team is expected to arrive shortly in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first detected in late 2019.

Peter Ben Embarek, team lead for the mission, said the group would start with a two-week quarantine at a hotel due to China’s border requirements.

“And then after the two weeks, we would be able to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we will want to visit,” he said.

He warned it “could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened”.

Beijing has argued that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated.

“I don’t think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on the way,” Embarek added.

“The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided upon some months ago to get us a better understanding of what happened,” he said.

The long-delayed WHO trip comes more than a year after the pandemic began and has sparked political tensions over allegations that Beijing tried to thwart the project.

Updated at 11.31pm EST

China records first local coronavirus death in eight months, highest cases in ten months

China reported its biggest jump in Covid-19 cases in more than 10 months as infections in northeastern Heilongjiang province nearly tripled, underscoring the growing threat ahead of a major national holiday when hundreds of millions of people usually travel.

Reuters: The National Health Commission (NHC) said in a statement that 138 new Covid-19 cases were reported on 13 January, up from 115 cases a day earlier and marking the highest jump since 5 March. China also reported one new death, the first increase in the death toll since mid-May.

Hebei accounted for 81 of the 124 local infections, while Heilongjiang reported 43 such cases a day after it declared a state of emergency. More than 28 million people are already in lockdown as the two provinces try to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The exact origin of this new outbreak is unclear.

As news of the latest death emerged on Thursday, the hashtag “New virus death in Hebei” quickly ratcheted up 100 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo, AFP reports.

People line up outside a hospital to get coronavirus tests in Beijing on 14 January 2021, on the same day China reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months.
People line up outside a hospital to get coronavirus tests in Beijing on 14 January 2021, on the same day China reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

More than 20 million people are under lockdown in the north of China and one province has declared an emergency, as Covid-19 numbers climb after several months of the country reporting only a handful of daily cases.

China had largely brought the virus outbreak under control through a series of strict lockdowns and mass testing. But another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday - the highest single-day tally since March last year.

Infections are still small compared with many other countries that are seeing record numbers of infections, but Beijing is anxious to stamp out local clusters ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year festival when hundreds of millions of people will be on the move across the country.

Authorities last week launched a mass testing drive and closed transport links, schools and shops in Hebei’s capital city Shijiazhuang - the epicentre of the latest outbreak.

Neighbouring Xingtai, home to seven million people, has also been locked down since last Friday, as have the five million people of Langfang city.

As infections have spread, northeastern Heilongjiang declared an “emergency state” on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million residents not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary.

Updated at 12.35am EST

Indonesian health workers receive vaccination

Indonesia started vaccinating health workers and public servants for Covid-19 on Thursday, a day after President Joko Widodo received the first shot of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine.

The Health Ministry is planning to vaccinate more than 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million public officials in the first stage.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, plans to vaccinate two-thirds of its population of about 270 million people — or just over 180 million people.

“The pandemic is still going on and health care workers are the front-liners in caring for COVID-19 patients,” Deputy Health Minister Dante Saksono said.

The first 25 health workers to get the jab were employees of Jakarta’s Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital.

Hospital Director Lies Dina Liastuti said a total of 6,000 will be vaccinated at a rate of 275 a day.

Japan set to expand state of emergency

Japan is set to expand its state of emergency in greater Tokyo from today to seven more regions including major cities Osaka and Kyoto and also to tighten border restrictions as cases surge.

“We continue to see a serious situation,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, adding the measures were “indispensable”.

“We must overcome this challenge that we face.”

While Japan’s outbreak remains comparatively small, with around 4,100 deaths overall, medics say hospitals are under heavy strain from spikes in the worst-affected areas.

Visitors look for a place for drinks at a tiny Shinjuku drinking street in Tokyo, Japan, 13 January 2021.
Visitors look for a place for drinks at a tiny Shinjuku drinking street in Tokyo, Japan, 13 January 2021. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Now for a break from pandemic news:

Colombia extends selective quarantine until the end of February

Colombia will extend a so-called selective quarantine until the end of February, President Ivan Duque said in a nightly address on Wednesday.

Reuters: The Andean country began more than five months of lockdown in March to control the spread of coronavirus. It moved to a much-looser “selective” quarantine at the start of September, allowing dining at restaurants and international flights.

The selective quarantine was due to lift on Jan. 16, but will now run until 28 February, Duque said. A health state of emergency declared by the government is due to lift on the same day.

A health worker collects a swab sample for a Covid-19 test from a man in Bogota on 13 January 2021.
A health worker collects a swab sample for a Covid-19 test from a man in Bogota on 13 January 2021. Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Colombia has reported more than 1.83 million coronavirus infections, as well as 47,124 deaths from Covid-19, the disease it causes.

Mayors and governors will be able to impose restrictions on mobility as needed, Duque said, such as when occupation levels of intensive care units increases.

Following an increase in coronavirus infections, Colombia’s capital Bogota has imposed a range of restrictions on mobility in the city, including strict two-week quarantines in many of its neighborhoods.

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