The coronavirus has killed over 2.52 million people and infected more than 113.9 million globally. Here are the virus-related developments for February 27:

A man enter in a hub for Covid-19 vaccinations located at the
A man enter in a hub for Covid-19 vaccinations located at the " Auditorium Parco della Musica" in Rome on on February 18, 2021. (AFP)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Italy tightens curbs in several regions as cases pick up

Italy's government has ramped up restrictions in five of the country's 20 regions in an effort to head off a rise in Covid-19 cases as scientists warned of a growing prevalence of highly contagious new variants.

Italy has established a four-tier colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) which allows for measures to be calibrated according to infection levels, with assessments revised every week.

For the first time since the end of January, two regions – Basilicata and Molise – were shunted into the strictest red zone.

This means bars and restaurants must be shuttered, movement severely restricted and all but essential shops closed.

Three regions moved from yellow to orange zones: Lombardy and Piedmont, which are centred on the wealthy northern cities of Milan and Turin respectively, and the central coastal region of Marche.

Italy reported 280 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday against 253 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections declined to 18,916 from Friday's 20,499.

Some 323,047 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with 325,404 previously, the ministry said.

Italy has registered 97,507 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world.

The country has reported 2.91 million cases to date.

Mexico posts 783 more deaths, 7,246 new cases

Mexico has registered another 783 coronavirus fatalities, bringing the overall death toll in the country to 185,257, according to health ministry data.

The ministry's data also showed an additional 7,246 confirmed cases, for a total of 2,084,128 cases.

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Turkey reports over 9,000 new cases 

Turkey has reported over 9,000 new coronavirus cases, according to the Health Ministry data. 

A total of 9,193 cases, including 621 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed on Saturday.

Turkey's overall case tally is over 2.7 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 28,503, with 71 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 8,938 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.6 million. 

Belgian prison in lockdown after major outbreak

A Belgian prison has been placed under quarantine and inmates have been confined to their cells after more than half of them tested positive for Covid-19, authorities said.

In addition to the more than half of the 132 inmates who tested positive, around 60 out of 115 staff at the Namur prison in southeastern Belgium have also been infected since a first case was discovered early last week.

Hygiene products are being distributed to inmates and they receive one hot meal per day, but walks and visits are not permitted and they can no longer access the shower rooms.

The more contagious British variant of the coronavirus is now dominant in Belgium, where authorities called on Friday for "very great caution" as signs of a rebound in the pandemic emerged.

Sputnik V performs well against mutations: scientists

A Russian trial testing the effectiveness of revaccination with the Sputnik V shot to protect against new mutations of the coronavirus is producing strong results, researchers have said.

Last month President Vladimir Putin ordered a review by March 15 of Russian-produced vaccines for their effectiveness against new variants spreading in different parts of the world.

"(A) recent study carried out by the Gamaleya Centre in Russia showed that revaccination with Sputnik V vaccine is working very well against new coronavirus mutations, including the UK and South African strains of coronavirus," said Denis Logunov, a deputy director of the centre, which developed the Sputnik V shot.

Results of the trial are expected to be published soon, but this was the first indication of how the tests are going. No further details were available yet.

New Zealand's largest city back in lockdown as Covid lingers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ordered New Zealand's largest city back into lockdown as Covid-19 cases continued to be detected in the community.

The latest restrictions in Auckland will last at least seven days and come less than two weeks after a three-day shutdown in the city.

Ardern said a new virus case confirmed on Saturday could not be directly connected to other positive tests over the last two weeks, although a school in South Auckland was a common link.

Philippines extends curbs in capital ahead of vaccine arrivals

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended curbs in the capital until the end of March, as the country awaits the arrival of vaccines made by China's Sinovac Biotech and Britain's AstraZeneca, the presidential spokesman said.

The Philippines will be last South east Asian nation to get its initial shipment of vaccines, made up of 600,000 Sinovac doses donated by China, arriving on Sunday, while the COVAX facility bringing in 525,600 AstraZeneca shots on Monday.

With Southeast Asia's second-highest tally of infections and deaths, the Philippines has suffered lengthy lockdowns, hitting an economy that was among Asia's fastest growing before the pandemic.

Tokyo Olympics should have fans in stands – president

The Tokyo Olympics should take place before a live audience, Japan's new Olympics chief has said, despite concerns about hosting the Games during a global pandemic.

Seiko Hashimoto, who became the Tokyo 2020 president last week, told Japanese media the Games should have spectators just like other major sports hosting events before fans, although in limited numbers.

Any final decision will depend on the pandemic, she said in an interview conducted Friday and published a day later.

New Mexico sees its most new cases in weeks

New Mexico health officials have confirmed an additional 659 infections, the highest daily case count in more than three weeks.

Nearly 30 percent of the new cases involved state inmates.

Officials earlier this week expressed optimism about downward trends in the overall spread of the virus, with all of the state’s counties reporting positivity rates below 10 percent. However, they acknowledged that the seven-day rolling average of daily cases remained above targets.

Hong Kong gets Pfizer vaccines as 2nd option

Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have arrived in Hong Kong following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city.

The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers.

About 70,000 residents who have registered for the vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week.

Russia reports 11,534 cases

Russia has reported 11,534 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,825 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,234,720 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus task force also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 85,743.

Biden's $1.9 trillion bill clears hurdle toward passage in US House

US President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion plan to address the human and economic toll of the pandemic has cleared a procedural hurdle in the House of Representatives, advancing to a final debate and vote.

It comes despite a Senate ruling that the final version will not include a minimum wage hike.

Biden had campaigned extensively on raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, from a rate of $7.25 that has stood since 2009.

The bill – on track to be the second largest US stimulus ever after the $2 trillion package Donald Trump signed last March to fight the pandemic's devastating spread – also extends unemployment benefits, set to expire mid-March.

But the minimum wage portion of the latest effort ran aground when the Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that it can not be included in the sprawling aid plan as written under certain rules.

South Korea vaccinates 18,000 to start ambitious campaign

South Korea has said 18,489 people received their first doses of AstraZeneca PLC's vaccine by midnight on Friday as it launched an ambitious inoculation campaign, and will begin using Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.

The first to receive the shots are healthcare workers, staffers at assisted care facilities and other high-risk people, with a goal of vaccinating 32 million to 36 million people – some 60 percent to 70 percent of the population – by September.

The government hopes to reach herd immunity, defined as at least a 70 percent vaccine take-up, by November, as health authorities remain on alert for signs of sporadic infections.

Germany reports 9,762 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 9,762 to 2,434,446, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 369 to 69,888, the tally showed.

Vanuatu looks to reopen borders with some countries

Coronavirus-free Vanuatu has announced plans to cautiously reopen its borders, starting with a safe travel bubble with its Southwest Pacific neighbour New Caledonia.

From April, the so-called "Tamtam Bubble" will allow access to Efate Island, Vanuatu's largest island and home to the capital Port Vila.

A government spokesman said that leaders would meet next week "to formalise the Tamtam Travel Bubble between Port Vila and Noumea", the capital of New Caledonia.

China reports 10 new cases

Mainland China has reported 10 new virus cases on February 26, up from six cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement 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, rose to eight from six cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed virus cases in Mainland China now stands at 89,887, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,635.

Australia moves closer to pre-pandemic life

Life across Australia has inched toward pre-pandemic normal, with New South Wales and South Australia states allowing some dancing and Victoria permitting larger crowds at sporting events.

The three states, home to nearly two-thirds of Australia's 25 million people, recorded no community transmissions of the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19. For New South Wales, the most populous state, it was 41st straight day without a local case.

The state, in addition to allowing up to 30 people to dance at weddings, eased further restrictions on the number of visitors at home.

South Korea launches review of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine

South Korean has begun a review of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after the US pharmaceutical firm submitted an application for approval, the government said.

The food and drug safety ministry said it would study the one-shot vaccine with private advisory panels before it authorises the vaccine.

Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid bill advances to House floor

The US House of Representatives Rules Committee on Friday approved rules for debating legislation containing President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion plan to address the human and economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic, advancing the bill to the House floor. 

Brazil's capital goes into lockdown to quell Covid-19 surge

The governor of Brazil's capital city, Brasilia, decreed a 24-hour lockdown for all but essential services on Friday to curb a worsening Covid-19 outbreak that has filled its intensive care wards to the brim.

The drastic step came as right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the pandemic that has killed 250,000 Brazilians, renewed his attacks on state governors for destroying jobs with lockdowns.

"The lockdown will start today and be total, it will be 24-hours a day," said a press aide for the federal district's Governor Ibaneis Rocha.

A decree published at the end of the day said the lockdown would start right after midnight Saturday.

Shops, pharmacies, gas stations, churches and funeral parlours will remain open, the aide said, but everything else will shut down, especially bars and restaurants, which were blamed for increased spread during the end of last year and Carnival holidays.

Intensive care wards in Brasilia, the third-largest city in Brazil with 3 million inhabitants, are as full as they were at the peak of the pandemic last year, with more than 80% of the beds occupied, the health department said.

The situation is as bad or worse in cities across Brazil, with intensive care beds in the capitals of 17 of Brazil's 26 states this week reaching the most critical level since the pandemic began a year ago, according to a report by biomedical centre Fiocruz.

Bolsonaro, who lives and works in Brasilia, said governors imposing restrictions were doing Brazilians a disservice.

"What the people most want is to work," he said on a visit to northeastern Brazil on Friday, one day after Brazil recorded its second-worst daily death toll.

He threatened to cut off federal emergency pandemic assistance to states resorting to lockdowns.

"From now on, governors who close down their states will have to provide for their own emergency aid," Bolsonaro said.

South Africa reports 1,654 new cases, 117 deaths

South Africa recorded 1,654 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the number of confirmed infections to 1,510,778, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

“Regrettably, 117 deaths have been reported. We convey our condolences to the loved ones of the departed and thank the health care workers who treated the deceased patients,” said Mkhize.

He said fatalities recorded Friday’s pushed the number of fatalities to 49,784.

US expert panel recommends authorising J&J Covid vaccine

A US panel of independent experts voted unanimously on Friday in favour of recommending Johnson & Johnson's one-dose Covid-19 shot for emergency approval, clearing the way for a third vaccine to soon begin shipping in the world's hardest hit country.

The committee's 22 members were convened by the Food and Drug Administration and included leading scientists as well as consumer and industry representatives.

Although their recommendations aren't binding, they are usually followed.

An emergency use authorisation (EUA) will likely follow, probably in the coming days, making the J&J vaccine the third to be green lighted in the United States after Pfizer's and Moderna's were provisionally approved in December.

Argentina's health minister tests positive for Covid-19 one week into job

Argentina's newly appointed health minister Carla Vizzotti said on Friday she had tested positive for Covid-19, one week after her predecessor resigned following reports that VIPs in the South American nation had jumped the line to receive vaccination shots early.

Vizzotti, who replaced former minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia, said on social media she would quarantine for several days as she recovers from the illness. President Alberto Fernandez's chief of staff Santiago Cafiero said he too would quarantine as a precaution after recent meetings with Vizzotti.

Biden says cases, hospitalisations could go back up 

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations could go back up as new variants emerge, while traveling to survey the damage from a severe winter storm in Texas.

"It's not the time to relax," he said, at a visit to a vaccination centre where Covid-19 vaccines are being distributed.

Pelosi says coronavirus relief bill will 'absolutely' pass with or without minimum wage raise

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday the coronavirus relief bill will "absolutely" pass, with or without a provision raising the minimum wage. 

Czechs confined to their districts as infections soar

The Czech government said on Friday it would ban people from leaving their districts from March 1 as coronavirus infections kept soaring in the world's worst-hit country.

It also ordered people to wear face masks in busy workplaces and outdoors in inhabited areas, and closed all schools and shops selling non-essential goods.

To leave their district, people must prove they are going to work, to a doctor or to take care of their relatives.

Shopping is possible only within districts, while sports and walks will only be allowed within the home town or city.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said the measures would be in force for three weeks, adding the police would carry out random checks.

"The only goal is to reverse the rising curve of new infections and patients in intensive care before it's too late," he told reporters.

The cabinet also declared a new, month-long state of emergency to legally underpin the moves, starting on February 28.

A curfew, a limit on gatherings, and restaurant closures have been in place since last year.

The country tops the world in terms of new infections per 100,000 people over the last 14 days and is second only to neighbouring Slovakia in deaths, according to an AFP tally.

Brazil registers 65,169 new cases and 1,337 deaths

Brazil had 65,169 new cases of coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 1,337 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said on Friday, one day after registering the second highest daily toll since the pandemic began a year ago.

The South American country has now registered 10,455,630 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 252,835, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies