Novel coronavirus has infected over 83.9 million people globally and has claimed more than 1.8 million lives. Here are the updates for January 1:

People walk in Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul  a few hours before a four-day lockdown was set to begin in Turkey on New Year's Eve on December 31, 2020.
People walk in Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul a few hours before a four-day lockdown was set to begin in Turkey on New Year's Eve on December 31, 2020. (AP)

Friday, January 1, 2021

Turkey reports first cases of mutated Covid-19 strain

Turkey has detected 15 cases of mutated virus strain brought in by UK travellers, and suspended further entry from the UK, says Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

Koca said widespread contact screening has been done and the contact circles of the infected people have been quarantined, adding that the situation was under control.

Italy reports 462 deaths, 22,211 new cases

Italy has reported 462 deaths against 555 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 22,211 from 23,477.

There were 157,524 swab tests carried out in the past day, the ministry said, down from a previous 186,004.

Italy has seen an official total of 74,621 deaths since its outbreak came to light on February 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

UK reactivates emergency hospitals as cases surge

British health officials have reactivated emergency hospitals that were built at the start of the pandemic to handle a surge in cases that is putting existing wards under extreme pressure, particularly in London.

The UK recorded a further 53,285 cases, the fourth day running that it has topped 50,000, and 613 deaths, official data showed.

The rise in cases compares with the 55,892 that were reported on Thursday, while the death tally marks a fall from the 964 reported the day before.

Medics have warned they are struggling to cope, especially when so many colleagues are off sick or having to self isolate, and paramedics and nurses have had to treat patients in ambulances because of a shortage of available beds.

Ireland to replace British travel ban with stricter testing

Ireland has said it plans to end a ban on travel to the country from Britain on January 6 and replace it with stricter testing measures as it seeks to stop the spread of a highly infectious new variant of the virus.

Ireland banned passenger flights and ferries on December 21. Some 30,000 people had travelled to Ireland from Britain in the previous two weeks, during which time the new variant was spreading rapidly in parts of Britain.

Passengers flying on non-essential business from Britain after January 6 will need to produce a negative test taken three days before their flight, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told the Irish Independent newspaper.

Turkey sees 212 more virus deaths

Turkey's death toll has risen by 212 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed as a four-day curfew began to curb the pandemic that has killed a total of 21,093 in the country.

The number of new cases stood at 12,203 over the same period, including 1,908 patients, bringing Turkey's total cases to 2,220,855 since the outbreak struck early last year.

The current lockdown will lift at 0200GMT on January 4, though Ankara has also imposed weekday curfews. 

France tightens virus curfew in several regions

The French government has announced that it was bringing forward by two hours a the nighttime curfew in 15 regions to help combat high infections.

The 15 of France's 101 departments affected by the switch to a curfew beginning at 1700GMT rather than 1900GMT include the Les Alpes-Maritimes department where the Mediterranean city of Nice is located.

The other areas are concentrated in the east of the country and Paris has, for now, been spared the additional restriction.

"The virus is continuing to spread in France... but with a disparity between regions," said government spokesman Gabriel Attal as he announced the move.

AstraZeneca vaccine set to become first to get approval in India

 India's drug regulator is set to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for emergency use, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The decision would pave the way for the vaccine's rollout in the world's second-most populous country which, after the United States, has the highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world.

Britain and Argentina have already authorised the vaccine for urgent public use.

India's Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, whose experts were meeting for the second time this week, could also approve a vaccine locally developed by Bharat Biotech, two of the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Turkey, Germany mull joint vaccine production

Turkey is in discussions with Germany for joint production of a novel coronavirus vaccine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. 

"In our negotiations with Germany, there is also the matter of joint vaccine production. TUBITAK Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey continues its work on this issue," Erdogan said on Friday.

Some three million doses of CoronaVac vaccine from China have been received and these efforts would continue, Erdogan said.

Last week, Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said his country and German firm BioNTech struck a deal under which an initial 550,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be sent to the country in early 2021 at the latest. 

BioNTech founders warn of vaccine supply gaps 

BioNTech is working with partner Pfizer to boost production of their Covid-19 vaccine, its founders said, warning there would be gaps in supply until other vaccines were rolled out.

The German biotech startup has led the vaccine race but its shot has been slow to arrive in the European Union due to relatively slow approval from the bloc's health regulator and the small size of the order placed by Brussels.

The delays have caused consternation in Germany, where some regions had to temporarily close vaccination centres days after the launch of an inoculation drive on December 27.

"At the moment it doesn't look good - a hole is appearing because there's a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told news weekly Spiegel in an interview.

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 22,924

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 22,924 to 1,742,661, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 553 to 33,624, the tally showed. 

Russia reports 27,039 new cases, 536 deaths

Russia has reported 27,039 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,907 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 3,186,336.

Authorities said 536 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 57,555.

Singapore to block entry to visitors from South Africa

Singapore will stop allowing entry to visitors with a recent travel history to South Africa, its health ministry said, citing reports of a potentially more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus circulating in the country. 

The new border restrictions for travellers from South Africa will effectively be in place from January 4. 

Bangkok to close schools as cases rise

The Thai capital of Bangkok will close all schools for two weeks after the New Year holiday as it tightens measures to control a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the city said.

Thailand confirmed 279 new coronavirus cases, with the majority of them linked to a cluster among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province south of Bangkok, and another cluster linked to illegal gambling dens that started in the eastern province of Rayong.

These new clusters have started to spread into Bangkok, prompting the city's administrator to tighten measures to curb the spread of the virus.

EU reviews BioNTech request for 'extra dose' of virus shot

The European Union medicines watchdog has said that German company BioNTech has applied for clearance in the bloc to administer up to six doses of its vaccine from each vial, instead of the five doses currently approved.

In an email to The Associated Press, the European Medicines Agency said that BioNTech has “submitted a request for change” which will be reviewed by the agency's human medicines committee “in the shortest possible timeframe.”

It said that if the committee establishes that six doses can be consistently extracted from each vial of vaccine, it will recommend changing the authorisation that clears the vaccine for use in EU nations.

In a written statement, Pfizer said its vials contain enough vaccine for at least five doses and the amount remaining can vary depending on the type of needles and syringes used.

US pharmacist arrested on charges of sabotaging vaccine doses

A Wisconsin hospital pharmacist has been arrested on suspicion of sabotaging more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine by deliberately removing them from refrigeration to spoil, police and medical authorities said.

The pharmacist, an employee of Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, at the time that 57 vials of vaccine were found left out of cold storage earlier this week, has since been fired but has not been publicly identified, officials said.

Each vial contains 10 doses. Nearly 60 of the doses in question were administered before hospital officials determined the medication had been left unrefrigerated long enough to render the vaccine ineffective.

The remaining 500-plus doses were then discarded.

Moderna Inc, maker of the vaccine, has assured the hospital that receiving an injection of any of the doses removed from refrigeration poses no safety issue, other than leaving the recipient unprotected from Covid infection, said Dr Jeff Bahr, Aurora Health Care Medical Group president.

Neither Aurora Health nor law enforcement offered any possible motive for the sabotage.

Virus variant found in Florida

A more infectious variant of Covid-19 that has swept through the United Kingdom has been identified in Florida, state health officials said, marking the third known US state to identify such a case.

The Florida Department of Health said the case involved a male in his 20s in Martin County with no history of travel. Two other cases involving the UK variant have been identified in Colorado and California.

"The Department is working with the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on this investigation," it tweeted.

On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 had been identified in Southern California.

A day earlier, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said the variant had been identified there, while another state health official said a second possible case was being investigated.

Mexico's official death toll rises to 125,807

Mexico registered 12,159 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 910 additional fatalities on Thursday, bringing its total to 1,426,094 infections and 125,807 deaths, according to the health ministry's official count.

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

Daily cases top 1,000 as South Korea marks subdued New Year

South Korea reported 1,029 new coronavirus cases on Friday amid subdued New Year's celebrations.

The tally was up from 967 the day before, and brought total cases to 61,769, with 917 deaths, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

After initial success in subduing earlier waves of infections, South Korea has struggled to reduce this latest and largest surge, with daily cases hovering around 1,000 for weeks.

Amid the strictest social distancing restrictions yet, authorities shut down the beaches on the country's east coast where people traditionally gathered to watch the first sunrise of the New Year.

In Seoul, the Bosingak bell-ringing ceremony was cancelled for the first time since 1953, though it was streamed on the city's website.

China reports 19 new cases vs 25 a day earlier

China reported 19 new Covid-19 cases on December 31, down from 25 cases a day earlier, the national health authority said on Friday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 10 of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas.

The nine locally transmitted cases came from the northeastern province of Liaoning and the capital city of Beijing.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 19 from eight a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 87,071, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Chad locks down capital for first time as cases rise

Chad has locked down its capital N'djamena for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and has declared a dusk to dawn curfew due to a rise in infections, a decree signed by President Idriss Deby showed on Friday.

The West African nation has until now reported a relatively low number of cases compared with other countries in the region, with 2,113 Covid-19 cases since March, and 104 deaths.

New daily cases fell into the single digits in early December, according to Reuters data. It has risen to double digits in recent days, mostly in the capital, including 36 on Friday, health ministry data showed.

The decree said the lockdown that starts on New Year's Day will last for a week, and could be extended. The city's borders will close. Chad's airspace will also close, allowing only cargo flights.

Schools, universities, places of worship, bars, restaurants and non-essential public services will shut down.

Gatherings of over 10 people are banned.

Brazil reports more than 1,000 deaths for third straight day

Brazil reported 56,773 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 1,074 deaths from Covid-19, the health ministry said on Thursday.

It was the third day in a row with over 1,000 deaths in a resurgence of the pandemic in the South American country.

Brazil has registered 7,675,973 cases since the pandemic began in March, while the official death toll has risen to 194,949, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India. 

Browns cancel practice after positive Covid-19 tests

The Cleveland Browns' preparations for their pivotal regular-season finale took another hit as the team said they would not practice on Thursday after two more players tested positive for Covid-19.

The Browns, who can clinch their first playoff berth in 17 years with a win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, said they would instead work remotely for the rest of the day and hope to reopen on Friday.

"In light of today's positive test results and after consulting with the NFL, we've decided to keep our facility closed for the day," the Browns said in a statement.

"As we've previously stated, the health and well-being of our players, coaches and staff is our highest priority and this decision was made with that in-mind."

Cleveland had to close their facility on Wednesday after a coach and practice squad player tested positive for the virus but the team were cleared to reopen the site hours later after contract tracing was completed.

Canada to require air travellers to test negative for Covid-19

Canada will require air travellers aged 5 and up to test negative for Covid-19 before arrival, starting January 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Thursday, as the country tightens travel restrictions amid soaring cases of the coronavirus.

Passengers will need to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to their scheduled departure to Canada, the country said on Wednesday, after social media images of maskless Canadian tourists abroad prompted calls for stricter measures to curb the virus.

Documentation showing a negative result must be shown to the airline before boarding a flight to Canada, Garneau said in a statement that offers additional details about the requirement, like the starting date.

Pre-departure testing will not eliminate a mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals, in a blow to Canada's battered airlines, which had been pushing for a negative result to be accepted as an alternative to such restrictions.

"The announcement only addresses one element of the path forward: the utilisation of testing to help further protect public health," said Mike McNaney, president of National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents large carriers like Air Canada.

"We strongly believe it must also be utilised in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new measures add to Canada’s existing restrictions, which normally deny non-essential foreigners entry and where citizens returning from abroad are required to quarantine.

Canada will also increase surveillance to ensure travellers entering Canada complete their quarantine, Garneau said.

Canada reported on Thursday a total of 572,982 cases of Covid-19, as new cases surged in its most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

WHO emergency Covid-19 vaccine listing aims to lift access in poor countries

The World Health Organization on Thursday listed Pfizer and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, in a move seeking to speed access in the developing world.

The United Nations health agency said it will work with regional partners to tell national health authorities about the two-dose shot and its anticipated benefits.

The WHO established its emergency use listing (EUL) process to help poorer countries without their own regulatory resources quickly approve medicines new diseases like Covid-19, which otherwise could lead to delays.

The WHO's review found Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine met the "must-have" criteria for safety and efficacy benefits outweigh its risks.

"This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to Covid-19 vaccines,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO's access to medicines program leader.

"But I want to emphasise the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere."

US Senator Perdue quarantining after coronavirus contact days before Georgia runoff vote

David Perdue, one of two Republican US senators facing a run-off election next week, is quarantining after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his campaign said in a statement on Thursday.

Perdue was notified on Thursday he was in "close contact" with someone on his campaign who was infected with the virus, the statement said, adding that Perdue and his wife tested negative.

The quarantine threatens to disrupt the final days of campaigning ahead of the January 5 contest that will determine whether President-elect Joe Biden's Democrats control both chambers of Congress and can more easily advance his agenda.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies