Coronavirus disease has killed over 2.5 million people and infected more than 113 million globally. Here are the virus-related developments for February 25:

A health worker prepares a syringe before applying a Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine on an elderly citizen near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 18, 2021.
A health worker prepares a syringe before applying a Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine on an elderly citizen near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 18, 2021. (Reuters)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Brazil Covid-19 death toll passes a quarter million

Brazil's Covid-19 outbreak has killed 251,498 people, the Health Ministry reported, as it reported 1,541 deaths in the last 24 hours, the second highest daily death toll since the pandemic hit the country a year ago.

With 65,998 new cases of coronavirus, the South American country has now registered 10,390,461 cases, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

Brazil said it is facing a new stage of the coronavirus pandemic with mutated variants of the virus that are three times more contagious, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said, as the country hit a quarter of a million deaths.

Pazuello said the government has distributed between 13 million and 14 million vaccine doses and plans to have inoculated half of the country's 210 million population by midyear. 

Brazil is negotiating to buy all the vaccines it can, and Congress is looking at legislation to allow the government to buy shots from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen subsidiary.

Kenya says first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to arrive in March

Kenya's first batch of Covid-19 vaccines will arrive in the first week of March, the presidency said, with healthcare workers, frontline workers and vulnerable population groups to be given priority.

"Cabinet ratified the distribution framework for the vaccines; with first priority being given to Health Care Workers, Frontline Workers including Security Personnel and Teachers, vulnerable persons and groups and Hospitality Sector Workers," the presidency said in a press release.

EU regulator issues guidance on variant-modified Covid-19 vaccines

Europe's medicines regulator has said initial data indicated some coronavirus variants may have an impact on the level of protection by vaccines and issued guidance to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers planning to modify their shots.

CureVac says preliminary trials show vaccine effective against variants

CureVac chief Franz-Werner Haas has said that preliminary trials on animals of the company's Covid-19 vaccine candidate show it is effective against the UK and South African variants.

Haas told EU lawmakers that the results of the preliminary trials on the vaccine's effects on variants would be published soon.

He also said that the company expected its vaccine to be approved in the European Union by June. 

First vaccines arrive in Honduras from Israel

Honduras has received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from Israel, Honduran Health Minister Alba Consuelo Flores said. 

Britain reports 323 virus deaths

Britain has reported 323 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, a fall from the 442 reported a day earlier, according to government data.

It reported 9,985 new cases compared to 9,938 on Wednesday, while the number of people who had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine rose to 18,691,835. 

AstraZeneca CEO 'confident' virus vaccine yield will increase in Q2

AstraZeneca's Chief Executive Pascal Soriot has said he is "confident" yields in its Covid-19 vaccine will increase in the second quarter, as the company aims to boost European Union supplies after big cuts in the first three months of the year.

Soriot said the company aims to deliver doses from its international network, including the United States, so that it can meet volumes originally agreed in its deal with the European Union signed last year.

Lower-than-expected yields — the amount of vaccine that can be made from base ingredients — at its factories hurt output in the first three months, he said.

Long Covid should be 'clear priority' for authorities – WHO

The World Health Organization urged national authorities to make a priority of understanding the consequences of long-term coronavirus infections to help those suffering from worrying symptoms after many months.

"It's a clear priority for WHO, and of the utmost importance. It should be for every health authority," Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO Europe, told a press conference.

While some studies have begun to shed light on the illness, it is still unclear why some patients with Covid-19 continue to show symptoms for months, including tiredness, brain fog, and cardiac and neurological disorders.

"The burden is real and it is significant. About one in 10 Covid-19 sufferers remain unwell after 12 weeks, and many for much longer," Kluge said.

EU leaders seek ways to speed up vaccine rollout in race against variants

European Union leaders have met to find ways to speed up the production and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in a race against the emergence of new variants that some fear could bring a third wave of the pandemic to the continent.

They will seek to balance restrictions to stop the spread of infections and keeping borders open to ensure the smooth flow of goods and services across the single market.

The 27 national leaders will also discuss vaccine certificates, which the EU's southern members like Spain hope would unlock their vital tourism sectors this summer. But France, Germany and Belgium are concerned about the reactions of those who must wait longer or refuse their anti-Covid shots.

Bahrain first to approve Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use 

Bahrain has approved Johnson & Johnson's one-dose Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, the first country to do so, the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) said.

The small Gulf state already offers citizens and residents free of charge four vaccines: the Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccine, one manufactured by Chinese state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Russia's Sputnik V.

NHRA said the vaccine was for groups at greater risk of developing complications from the virus, including the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

Swedish vaccine coordinator says was told AstraZeneca will be able to deliver 150M doses to EU in Q2

Sweden's vaccine coordinator has said that according to current information, AstraZeneca will be able to deliver 150 million doses of vaccine to the European Union in the second quarter, as previously communicated.

"It's still lower than the original contract. We're not entirely happy but they are trying to find new volumes and we think that is very good," Swedish vaccine coordinator Richard Bergstrom told a news conference.

Swedes vaccinated with two Covid doses can start seeing relatives again

Swedes living at nursing homes can start seeing relatives again two weeks after having received two vaccine doses, the government has said.

"When they have, they can start hugging their grandchildren again," Lena Hallengren, minister for health and social affairs, told a news conference.

She said it was too early to say when broader restrictions could be lifted.

The spread of the virus in Sweden has accelerated in recent weeks and the Health Agency has warned of a possible third wave.

Japan govt to end state of emergency in 5 prefectures at end of month - Kyodo News

The Japanese government will end a state of emergency in five prefectures west of Tokyo at the end of this month, Kyodo news agency reported.

The five prefectures where the emergency virus pandemic measures will be lifted are Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi and Gifu, Kyodo said, citing government sources.

Hungary expects 1M doses of Sinopharm's vaccine in March and April in total

Hungary expects to get 1 million doses of Chinese Sinopharm's vaccine in March and April in total, with 3.5 million more doses arriving in May, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said.

Hungary started inoculating people with Sinopharm's vaccine on Wednesday after receiving its first shipment of 550,000 doses last week, making it the first country in the European Union to use a Chinese vaccine. 

Croatia reopens terraces of bars, restaurants, but calls for caution

Croatia has said bars and restaurants can reopen outdoor terraces next week after a more than three-month closure due to the pandemic, despite a small rise in the number of daily infections over the seven days.   

The small southeast European country reported some 4,500 new daily cases three months ago but that number has since fallen to several hundred a day. 

The country reported 544 new cases, somewhat more than the 365 of a week ago.

South Africa aims to vaccinate one million by end of March 

South Africa is targeting an ambitious plan to vaccinate one million people against Covid-19 by the end of March after a late start to its inoculation campaign, the country's health minister said.

So far around 32,000 healthcare workers have received vaccinations developed by US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson since February 17, when the rollout began with a first batch of 80,000 doses.

The country, which was slow to join in the global jostle for vaccines, hopes to take delivery of another 500,000 doses from Johnson & Johnson in the coming days.

UK lowers Covid-19 alert level 

Britain has lowered the country's virus alert level down one notch from the highest possible, saying a fall in cases had reduced the threat to the state-run National Health Service.

Since January, the country has been at the highest level 5, indicating a "material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed" and a need for "extremely strict" social distancing.

It is now moving to level 4, indicating a "high or rising level of transmission" with enforced social distancing.

Italian region asks for more vaccines

Italy’s northern Lombardy region has asked the national government to send more vaccines to help stem the surge of new cases that are taxing the hospital system in the province of Brescia.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday. Some of the clusters of cases are traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients has gone from an average of 200 to 300.

The region’s governor, Attilio Fontana, says he told the health minister during a call that Lombardy needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Yellen urges G20 to 'go big' with pandemic stimulus

The world's most advanced nations must work in unison both to continue spending to boost the pandemic recovery, and help poor nations acquire Covid-19 vaccines, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. 

"No one nation alone can declare victory over these crises," Yellen said in a letter to G20 finance officials meeting virtually. "This is a moment made for action and for multilateralism."

In the battle to help the global economy recover from the crisis, "our first task must be stopping the virus" with worldwide immunisation, she said.

Covid sparking 'oxygen emergency' – UN 

The Covid-19 pandemic has left an already strained medical oxygen supply gasping for breath, with the UN and its partners warning on Thursday that $1.6 billion was needed to address the global emergency.

Covid-19 has put massive pressure on health systems around the world, and in particular in poorer countries, where many hospitals have faced oxygen shortages.

China approves two more domestic virus vaccines 

China's drug authority has said it had approved two more virus vaccines made by domestic companies for public use.

The vaccines made by CanSino Biologics and a unit of Sinopharm were given conditional approvals after they were found protective against Covid-19, said the National Medical Products Administration.

Conditional approvals help to speed emergency drugs to market in cases when clinical trials are yet to meet normal standards but indicate therapies will work.

Syria health workers to get jabs from next week 

Syria will start giving coronavirus vaccines to its vital healthcare workers across the war-ravaged country from next week, a government minister said.

Health Minister Hasan al Ghabbash, who announced the Covid-19 vaccination drive at a news conference carried by state news agency SANA, did not specify the brand, source or quantity of the jabs.

"The vaccination of medical cadres will start next week ... to prevent them from getting infected," SANA said, citing the minister.

The pro-regime Al Watan newspaper said Syria had received 5,000 doses – enough to cover 2,500 healthcare workers – and that they were manufactured in China.

Czechs fear pandemic inactivity swells child obesity 

Dana Gavrinevova, a sports teacher at a Prague secondary school, has watched in horror as her students have piled on weight after coronavirus restrictions required them to adopt distance learning.

Experts in the Czech Republic as in many other countries are on alert over growing evidence that the practice may turn childhood obesity into a norm.

Czech schools have been closed since last autumn, and the country recently became the world's leader in terms of the rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 people.

Pfizer to test third dose, tweaked vaccine to target S African strain 

Pfizer and BioNTech has said they are studying adding a third dose to their vaccine regime and testing a new version targeting the South African variant of the coronavirus.

As countries around the world rush to vaccinate people, concerns have risen that more transmissible variants such as the one first detected in South Africa or another in Britain are more resistant to existing vaccines.

In one study, the US and German pharmaceutical firms said they would look at what happens when people are given a third dose of their two-shot vaccine, six to 12 months after the booster.

Finland tightens virus curbs as cases rise 

Finland plans to drastically tighten its restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, closing bars and restaurants for three weeks starting March 8 in areas where cases are rising, the government said.

Students in grades seven to nine will move to distance learning, joining upper secondary schools and universities already doing so, and gatherings will be limited to six people in affected areas, including the capital Helsinki.

"If we wait too long, the situation will get so bad that it will be too late to stop the disease from progressing," Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters.

Sierra Leone to receive 200,000 virus vaccine doses 

Sierra Leone will receive 200,000 doses of the Chinese-made virus vaccine Sinopharm, the health ministry said.

The West African nation's official infection rate is far below that of the West, having recorded 3,880 cases since March, and 79 deaths.

But the country is nonetheless in the middle of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, which forced the government to impose a nationwide curfew last month.

China denies that US diplomats were required to take anal swab tests 

China's foreign ministry denied that US diplomats in the country were asked to take anal swabs for the virus, following media reports that some US diplomats had complained about the procedure.

US media outlet Vice on Wednesday cited a US State Department official as saying that the test was given in error and that China had said it would stop using the swabs for testing of US diplomats.

"To my knowledge...China has never required US diplomatic staff stationed in China to conduct anal swab tests," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

India's health workers balk at taking homegrown vaccine

India is struggling to convince its health and front-line workers to take a homegrown vaccine controversially approved without late-stage efficacy data, government data showed, days ahead of a wider roll-out.

The country has the world's second-highest number of infections after the United States, with cases recently surging as mask wearing declines and states have eased social distancing measures. A lack of confidence in a homegrown vaccine country could prevent India from meeting its target of vaccinating 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August.

France v Scotland back in doubt after new case

France's Six Nations game against Scotland was in doubt again on Thursday after the French rugby federation (FFR) suspended training due to another player testing positive for the virus, bringing the total number infected to 11.

The entire squad was now isolating, FFR said.

After two days without a new case in the French squad, Six Nations organisers said on Wednesday the game would go ahead as planned at the Stade de France on Sunday.

However, organisers may have to reconsider should they feel the outbreak within the squad is not under control after France's sports minister asked FFR president Bernard Laporte to investigate the series of cases.

Bulgaria scraps vaccine priority lists after low take-up

Bulgarians of all ages, some as young as 20, joined long queues at hospitals this weekend after low uptake on priority lists led the government to open up vaccinations to everyone.

Fewer than a third of those designated as first in line for jabs have chosen to take up the offer since they became available in late December.

Many of those queueing this weekend were eager to be among the first non-priority Europeans to get vaccinated, after Bulgaria announced Friday that some hospitals would start administering AstraZeneca shots to anyone.

France, Germany to beef up controls at common border

France said it would bring in new restrictions for the area around its common border with Germany, as President Emmanuel Macron's government tries to contain a surge of virus variants in the French region of Moselle.

Cross-border workers, who had exemptions until now, will need to present negative PCR tests to get through if travelling for reasons unrelated to their jobs, France's European affairs and health ministers said in a joint statement.

Russia reports 11,198 new cases

Russia reported 11,198 new virus cases, including 1,406 in Moscow, pushing the national case tally to 4,212,100 since the pandemic began.

The coronavirus taskforce said that 446 people had died in the last 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 84,876.

Ukraine faces almost 40 percent jump in new daily cases

Ukraine has registered an almost 40 percent jump in new virus cases over the past 24 hours, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said, just as the country starts its inoculation.

A total of 8,147 cases were registered on Wednesday, the highest figure since mid-January when the number of new cases stood at 8,199, Stepanov said on Facebook. There were 5,850 new cases as of February 24.

The ministry's data show most of the new cases were registered in the western part of the country and in the capital Kyiv. The country has registered a total of 1,325,841 cases with 25,596 deaths from the virus as of February 25.

Rangers players who broke virus rules back in training

Three Rangers first-team players who were removed from the squad for breaching virus protocols have returned to training, the Scottish Premiership leaders said.

Midfielder Bongani Zungu, and defenders Nathan Patterson and Calvin Bassey apologised to fans on the club website on Wednesday.

The trio, as well as striker Dapo Mebude and goalkeeper Brian Kinnear, who are both out on loan, were ordered to self-isolate for 10 days after local media reported they had attended a party in Glasgow which was broken up by police.

Philippines to receive first vaccines, start inoculations next week

The Philippines will take delivery of its first vaccines at the weekend, allowing it to kick off its inoculation programme from next week, a senior official said.

Despite having among the highest number of virus cases and deaths in Asia, the Philippines will be the last Southeast Asian country to receive its initial set of vaccines.

The delivery of 600,000 doses Sinovac Biotech's vaccines, donated by China, will arrive on Sunday, said Harry Roque, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

Indonesia says to secure Sinopharm vaccine for private use

Indonesia will receive at least two million doses of a coronavirus vaccine produced by China's Sinopharm for use in a private vaccination scheme due to run alongside a national inoculation programme, a minister said.

Indonesia, which has faced one of the biggest outbreaks in Asia, aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people within about a year using vaccines made by companies such as Sinovac Biotech, Novavax and AstraZeneca.

Mass study confirms Pfizer vaccine's efficacy

The Pfizer vaccine proved 94 percent effective in a huge real world study published Wednesday that involved 1.2 million people in Israel, confirming the power of mass immunisation campaigns to end the coronavirus pandemic.

The good news came as Ghana became the first country to receive shots under the global Covax scheme, paving the way for poorer nations to catch up with wealthier parts of the world.

The Israeli study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also demonstrated there is likely a strong protective benefit against infection, a crucial element in breaking onward transmission.

South Korea preps vaccines after political scuffle over first shots

South Korean politicians won't be the first in line when the county kicks off its vaccination drive on Friday, despite calls from the opposition party for the president to roll up his sleeve and take a shot to reassure vaccine skeptics.

Leading political figures spent the week trading rhetorical shots over who should be the first to take a literal jab, but in the end, health authorities said widespread acceptance of vaccines in South Korea means they would stick to plans to vaccinate healthcare workers and other at-risk individuals first.

New Zealand's virus success unleashes runaway housing prices

New Zealand's success in battling the virus has unleashed an unanticipated problem: skyrocketing house prices.

When the pandemic first hit, most experts predicted house prices would fall. Instead, prices have risen by more than 19 percent over the past year, putting them out of reach for many people wanting to buy their first home.

The government, which has come under increasing criticism for its response to the housing squeeze, announced the first of what it says will be a series of moves to address the issue by ordering the nation's central bank to consider the impact on house prices when making decisions.

Tokyo 2020 organisers warn against big gatherings during torch relay

The Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee said they are asking spectators for the upcoming torch relay to support by clapping, and will broadcast the event live to avoid gatherings.

The torch relay, which will begin on March 25, could be temporarily suspended over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic if big gatherings are spotted on streets during the event, Yukihiko Nunomura, senior executive at Tokyo 2020, told a media briefing.

India reports 16,738 cases

India reported 16,738 new infections, health ministry data showed, for the highest daily jump since January 29, according to a Reuters tally.

More than half came from the western state of Maharashtra, India's richest and home to its financial capital of Mumbai, which reported a record high of 8,807 cases on Wednesday.

India's tally of 11.05 million infections is the world's second highest after the United States, and daily numbers are rising again after a lull in the last few months.

Germany reports 11,869 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 11,869 to 2,414,687, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 385 to 69,125, the tally showed. 

Czech government to debate tighter measures

The Czech government will debate possible tighter measures at an evening meeting, a government spokesman said after ministers did not reach a decision on new restrictions at an extraordinary sitting on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said earlier on Wednesday that tighter measures were needed to prevent a "catastrophe" in hospitals in the coming weeks as the country battles one of the world's highest infection and death rates.

English survey finds high antibody levels from Pfizer vaccine rollout

People in England who have received two doses of Pfizer vaccine are generating strong antibody responses as the shot is rolled out, researchers said, adding that confidence in vaccines was high.

An Imperial College London survey showed 87.9 percent of people over the age of 80 tested positive for antibodies after two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, rising to 95.5 percent for those under the age of 60 and 100 percent in those aged under 30.

"Although there is some fall-off in positivity with age, at all ages, we get that very good response to two doses of the vaccine," Paul Elliott, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine, Imperial College London, told reporters.

China reports 7 new cases 

Mainland China reported seven new virus cases on February 24, down from 12 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at nine, matching the total from a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 89,871, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Singapore's first vaccines arrive ahead of approval

Singapore received its first batch of the vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech on Tuesday, its health ministry said, although the shot is still awaiting approval for use in the city-state.

Sinovac has started submitting initial data but the Health Sciences Authority is currently awaiting all the necessary information to carry out a thorough assessment, the ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Singapore is the only wealthy country considering the use of Sinovac's vaccine, which has been found to have a n efficacy rate ranging from about 50 percent to 90 percent in studies.

Qantas expects to start international flights in October

Qantas Airways does not expect to resume international travel apart from New Zealand until late October after the Australian population was vaccinated for virus, the airline’s chief executive said on Thursday.

The Sydney-based airline had been selling seats on international flights from July 1.

But there has been a huge surge in virus cases around the world since those July flights went on sale in early January, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said. There were also new coronavirus variants emerging.

Brazil nears 250,000 Covid-19 deaths

Brazil has reported 66,588 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 1,428 deaths from Covid-19, the highest daily toll since January 7, the Health Ministry said.

The South American country has now registered 10,324,463 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 249,957, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

Mexico reports over 1,000 new deaths 

Mexico reported an additional 1,006 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total death count to 182,815, according to data from the country's Health Ministry.

The health ministry data showed Mexico also registered 8,642 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, for a total 2,060,908 since the pandemic began.

Moderna S. Africa variant-specific vaccine ready for testing

CUS biotech firm Moderna has said that doses of its new Covid-19 vaccine candidate aimed at the South African coronavirus variant had been shipped to the US National Institutes of Health for testing.

"We look forward to beginning the clinical study of our variant booster and are grateful for the NIH's continued collaboration to combat this pandemic," said CEO Stephane Bancel.

The South African variant is considered among the more dangerous of current mutations because it evades some of the blocking action of antibodies that target the older coronavirus strain.

While initial testing has shown that Moderna's original vaccine called mRNA-1273 remains effective against emerging variants, the company said it was pursuing development of the variant-specific vaccine as part of a number of strategies being considered.

Pfizer vaccine found 94% effective in real world

The first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing Covid-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.

The research in Israel - two months into one of the world's fastest rollouts, providing a rich source of data - showed two doses of the Pfizer shot cut symptomatic Covid-19 cases by 94 percent across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much.

The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57 percent effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks, according to the data published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results of the study for the Clalit Research Institute were close to those in clinical trials last year which found two doses were found to be 95 percent effective.

Toronto cancels outdoor events through July including Canada Day celebrations

Canada’s largest city Toronto is cancelling all large in-person, city-permitted outdoor events through July as the country seeks to stave off a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city of Toronto announced it is extending an existing cancellation of outdoor events, including the annual Pride Parade, which will be a virtual event, and July 1 Canada Day celebrations, which tend to cap off mid-summer festivities.

The announcement does not include professional sporting events, which need permission from provincial and federal governments in addition to Toronto Public Health.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies