Novel coronavirus has infected over 84.6 million people globally and claimed more than 1.8 million lives. Here are the updates for January 2:

A person sits next to the Barcaccia fountain with Spanish steps in the background amid Covid-19, in Rome, Italy December 31, 2020.
A person sits next to the Barcaccia fountain with Spanish steps in the background amid Covid-19, in Rome, Italy December 31, 2020. (Reuters)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Italy sees 364 deaths 

Italy reported 364 virus-related deaths against 462 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections plunged to 11,831 from 22,211, with far less testing than normal carried out on New Year's day.

Just 67,174 swab tests were carried out in the past day, the ministry said, down from a previous 157,524.

Italy has registered 74,985 virus deaths since its outbreak came to light on February 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.141 million cases to date, the health ministry said.

France reports another 157 deaths

France has recorded 3,466new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, below the 19,348 reported a day earlier, data from the Health Ministry showed.

The increase was within the government's target of 5,000 or less per day and brought the cumulative total to 2,643,239.

The Covid-19 death toll was up by 157 to 64,921, the ministry said in a daily update.

Turkey adds over 11,100 more cases

Turkey reported 11,180 new virus cases and 202 more fatalities.

According to the Health Ministry’s latest data, the new cases include 1,713 symptomatic patients.

Turkey’s overall case count is now over 2.23 million, while the death toll stands at 21,295.

As many as 11,672 more patients recovered over the past 24 hours, raising the total to over 2.12 million.

UK reports 57,725 cases

The United Kingdom recorded a further 57,725 cases of virus, the fifth day running that it has topped 50,000, and another 445 deaths, official data showed.

Friday’s data had shown 53,285 new infections and 613 deaths.

Medics warn of 'catastrophe' in Lebanon

Lebanon's hospitals are being overwhelmed by virus cases, medics warned, as infection rates surge in the wake of end of year holidays.

The national Covid-19 task force met Saturday and recommended a three-week lockdown, its head Petra Khoury said, a decision supported by the parliamentary health committee.

Lebanon, with a population of around six million, has recorded 183,888 virus cases, including 1,466 deaths, since February.

On Thursday, it hit a daily record of more than 3,500 new cases.

Irish virus surge driven by socialising, not new variant

Increased socialising around Christmas – and not a new virus variant – has driven Ireland's rapid transformation from having the lowest infection rate in the European Union to the fastest rate of deterioration, health officials said.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Wednesday the highly infectious new variant discovered in neighbouring Britain was spreading in Ireland at a rate that has surpassed the most pessimistic models available to the government.

Ireland's top virologist, Cillian De Gascun , said late on Friday laboratories had found 16 instances of the variant from a sample of 169 positive cases.

Vatican City plans swift vaccination drive for residents

Vatican City, the world's smallest sovereign state, expects to receive enough vaccine doses in the coming days to inoculate all of its workers and residents, a statement said.

The Vatican is home to about 450 people, including Pope Francis, while several hundred of its employees live in Rome, which surrounds the city state.

"It is likely that the vaccines could arrive in the state in the second week of January in sufficient quantity to cover the needs of the Holy See and the Vatican City State," the statement said.

Greece tightens lockdown for next week

Greece has tightened its lockdown for the next week, closing retail shops, hairdressers and bookshops.

The restrictions come as the government plans to open all schools, from kindergarten to universities, on January 11.

Churches will remain closed and won’t celebrate the annual Epiphany holiday on January 6, nor will priests conduct the traditional blessing of the waters. Also, the nightly curfew will start at 1900GMT. 

The new rules take effect Sunday and run until January 11. 

Greece announced 40 deaths and 262 new virus infections.

India holds vaccine drills ahead of mass innoculation drive

India has staged nationwide drills to start one of the world's biggest coronavirus vaccination programmes as the drug regulator prepared to approve the first vaccine.

A government panel on Friday recommended emergency use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot and the first injections could be given in the coming week after the Drugs Control Authority of India gives final approval.

India, which has the world's second highest number of pandemic cases – more than 10.2 million – has set an ambitious target of inoculating 300 million of its 1.3 billion people by mid -2021.

Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine producer, has already stockpiled tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca's Covishield ready for the campaign and 96,000 health workers have been trained for the inoculation drive.

The drills saw 25 health workers receive dummy vaccines at each of the centres to be used across the country in a test run ahead of the launch.

Tokyo governor urges Japan's government to declare emergency

The governors of Tokyo and three other Japanese prefectures have urged the government to declare a state of emergency following a resurgence of virus cases.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters at a briefing after meeting the governors that the government would need to hear from experts before deciding on whether to make an emergency declaration.

New Covid-19 infections in Tokyo hit a record 1,337 on December 31, and on Friday numbered 783. A nationwide record was also set on December 31 with 4,520 new cases.

Bangkok imposes partial lockdown

Bangkok's nightlife will go quiet as a ban on bars, nightclubs and restaurant alcohol sales goes into effect among a raft of Covid-19 restrictions.

Thailand initially appeared to have escaped the worst of the virus, registering just under 4,000 total cases in November despite being the second country to detect an infection in January.

But an outbreak last month at a massive seafood market has spiralled into a resurgence, with infections now detected in 53 of the kingdom's 73 provinces. The caseload has now jumped to over 7,300.

In Bangkok, where more than 2,600 active cases have been detected, city authorities acted swiftly and announced a partial lockdown to go into effect.

Russia reports 26,301 more cases

Russia has reported 26,301 new coronavirus cases, including 5,452 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 3,212,637.

Authorities said 447 people had died in the past 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 58,002.

Different efficacy data for Chinese vaccine "real and valid"

Different efficacy results for a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine released separately in China and in United Arab Emirates are both real and valid, an executive at China National Biotec Group (CNBG) told state media.

China approved its first Covid-19 vaccine for general public use on Thursday, a shot developed by an affiliate to state-backed Sinopharm, after the developer said the vaccine showed 79.34 percent efficacy based on an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials.

That rate is lower than the 86 percent rate for the same vaccine reported by the United Arab Emirates on December 9.

Countries have certain differences in their standards and procedures in diagnosing patients, and the final results of Covid-19 case identification were different, Yang Xiaoming, chairman at Sinopharm unit's CNBG, told Global Times, a tabloid published by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party.

"Therefore, there were differences between the comprehensive multi-country data we reviewed and the protection rate data previously evaluated by the UAE and Bahrain," Global Times quoted Yang as saying in a report published on Thursday.

"But these two results are both real and valid," Yang said, without offering further details for the data.

Vietnam reports first case of new variant

Vietnam has detected its first imported case of the new coronavirus variant that is spreading rapidly around Britain.

The variant was detected in a 44-year-old woman returning to Vietnam from Britain, who was quarantined upon arrival and was confirmed positive for the virus on December 24, the health ministry said in a statement.

"Researchers ran gene-sequencing on the patient's sample and found the strain is a variant known as "VOC 202012/01"", it said.

The variant includes a genetic mutation that, in theory, could result in the virus spreading more easily between people.

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 12,690

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 12,690 to 1,755,351, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 336 to 33,960, the tally showed. 

Tokyo to request new emergency declaration

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will ask the central government to declare a state of emergency following a resurgence of virus cases, local media reported.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike will make the request in a meeting with Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who coordinates government measures to fight the pandemic, the Nikkei newspaper said, citing multiple sources.

Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo, will make a similar request of the government, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Mexico reports 11,091 new cases, 700 deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry reported 11,091 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 700 additional fatalities on Friday, bringing its total to 1,437,185 infections and 126,507 deaths.

The real number of infected people and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the health ministry has said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that he had spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and both decided to deepen their strategic relationship in the fight against the pandemic. He gave no further details.

South Korea extends coronavirus social distancing in Seoul region

South Korea will extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until January 17, a health official said on Saturday, including a ban on gatherings larger than four people.

Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing that the measures were necessary to reduce a prolonged surge in infections that has led to a spike in deaths.

The country reported 824 new cases as of midnight on Friday, down from 1,029 a day before. 

Australia's virus cluster expands as Victoria, NSW clock new cases

Australia's Victoria state on Saturday recorded 10 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases as authorities confirmed the outbreak in the south eastern state was "directly linked" to a growing cluster in neighbouring New South Wales.

The growing numbers have sparked virus alerts for regional holiday towns in both Victoria and NSW where the cases travelled before testing positive.

Victoria, which now has 29 active cases, this week made masks mandatory across the state while limiting gatherings and shutting its border to NSW prompting lengthy delays at border checkpoints on New Year's Day.

NSW, the epicentre of the outbreak, made masks mandatory from midnight after reporting seven new cases on Saturday.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian also announced restrictions on numbers for gym classes, weddings, funerals and places of worship to prevent any super-spreader events.

"We will be making sure that compliance or enforcement occurs from Monday so we will not fine you until Monday. The fine would be A$200 for not wearing a mask," in certain indoor settings such as shopping centres, entertainment venues and on public transport, Berejiklian said.

Saints' Kamara placed on reserve/Covid-19 list

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has tested positive for coronavirus and has been placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list, the team announced on Friday.

Kamara will be out for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers and his postseason eligibility – at least for the wild-card round – is now in question.

The star running back, who was coming off a six-touchdown performance on Christmas Day against the Minnesota Vikings, had mixed results on tests Friday afternoon, but a later test confirmed he is positive for Covid-19, ESPN reported.

The Saints have clinched the NFC South title and will likely host a playoff game next weekend if it doesn't ascend to the conference's top seed.

Pfizer and BioNTech to offer Covid vaccine to volunteers who got placebo

Pfizer Inc and its partner BioNTech Se plan to give volunteers who received a placebo in its Covid-19 vaccine trial an option to receive a first dose of the vaccine by March 1, 2021, while staying within the study.

The trial's Vaccine Transition Option allows all participants aged 16 or older the choice to discover whether they were given the placebo, "and for participants who learn they received the placebo, to have the option to receive the investigational vaccine while staying in the study," the companies said on their website for trial participants.

The US Food and Drug Administration and a panel of its outside advisers have expressed concerns over Pfizer's "unblinding" plan, saying it could make it harder to continue collecting data on safety and effectiveness needed to win full FDA approval of the vaccine.

Trial participants who received the placebo will have two doses of the investigational vaccine reserved for them within the study, the companies said on the website.

"The study doctor will follow the latest guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their local health authorities to offer the Vaccine Transition Option to participants in a prioritised manner," the companies said.

Brazil's death toll passes 195,000: ministry

Brazil reported 24,605 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 462 deaths from Covid-19, the health ministry said on Friday.

The South American country has now registered 7,700,578 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 195,411, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India.

AstraZeneca expects to supply 2 mln doses of vaccine every week in UK  The Times

About two million doses of vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca are set to be supplied every week by the middle of January in the United Kingdom, The Times reported.

There would be two million doses of vaccine ready in total next week and then the plan is to build up fairly rapidly, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed member of the Oxford/AstraZeneca team.

US cases surpass 20 million as deaths mount

US coronavirus cases crossed the 20 million mark on Friday as officials seek to speed up vaccinations and a more infectious variant surfaces in Colorado, California and Florida.

The US has seen a spike in number of daily Covid-19 fatalities since Thanksgiving with 78,000 lives lost in December. A total of 345,000 have died of Covid-19, or one out of every 950 US residents, since the virus first emerged in China late in 2019. 

To slow the death toll, Senator Mitt Romney on Friday urged the US government to enlist veterinarians and combat medics to give out coronavirus vaccinations.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies