Coronavirus has killed more than 2.47 million people and infected over 111.9 million globally. Here are virus-related developments for February 22:

A woman wears a protective mask as she walks on a street amid the Covid-19 outbreak, in London, Britain on February 22, 2021.
A woman wears a protective mask as she walks on a street amid the Covid-19 outbreak, in London, Britain on February 22, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday, February 22, 2021

UK govt sets out roadmap to ease curbs

The UK government has set out a four-step plan to ease coronavirus restrictions, expressing hope that life could get back to normal by the end of June.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a "gradual and cautious" approach to lifting curbs in England, starting with the return of pupils to schools from March 8, and non-essential retail from April 12.

Some fans could be able to attend sporting fixtures from May 17, with all social distancing restrictions removed from June 21, all subject to change and depending on scientific data.

Italy reports 274 deaths, 9,630 new cases

Italy has reported 274 coronavirus-related deaths against 232 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 9,630 from 13,452 the day before.

Some 170,672 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with 250,986 previously, the ministry said.

Turkey reports over 8,100 new infections

Turkey has reported 8,104 additional coronavirus cases, including 623 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case tally passed 2.64 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 28,138, with 78 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 5,690 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.52 million.

More than 32.43 million coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey to date, with 118,816 since Sunday.

Thailand allows emergency use of Sinovac's vaccine

Thailand Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency use authorisation for the Covid-19 vaccine of Sinovac Biotech, paving the way for the country's first coronavirus inoculations.

The authorisation came just days before Thailand is set to receive the first 200,000 of two million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac, its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, which will be given primarily to health workers.

"The FDA has registered Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine for conditional emergency use, effective February 22," FDA deputy secretary general Surachok Tangwiwat told Reuters.

Thailand has recorded just 25,504 coronavirus cases in total, more than four-fifths of those since December, with 89 deaths overall.

UN to rich nations: Don't undermine Covax vaccine program

The head of the World Health Organization has pleaded with rich countries to check before ordering additional Covid-19 vaccine shots for themselves whether that undermines efforts to get vaccine shots to poorer nations.

Wealthy nations have snapped up several billion vaccine doses while some countries in the developing world have little or none. 

European nations have given financial support to the UN-backed Covax effort to get vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people and are considering sharing some of their own doses — though they haven't specified when.

On Friday, leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers said they would accelerate global vaccine development and deployment and support “affordable and equitable access to vaccines” and treatments for Covid-19.

They cited a collective $7.5 billion from the G7 to UN-backed efforts.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thanked the G7 countries for their “significant” pledges. 

But he said after talks on Monday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything.”

He said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers to secure more vaccines are “affecting the deals with Covax, and even the amount that was allocated for Covax was reduced because of this.” 

He didn’t name those countries or give other details.

India sees new lockdowns as cases rise again

Cases of Covid-19 are increasing in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline, prompting authorities to impose lockdowns and other virus restrictions.

Infections have been plummeting in India since September, and life has already returned to normal in large parts of the country. In many cities, markets are bustling, roads are crowded and restaurants are nearly full.

But experts have been warning that the reasons behind India's success aren't really understood, and that the country of nearly 1.4 billion people can't afford to let its guard down. Public health officials are now investigating potential mutations in the virus that could make it more contagious and render some treatments and vaccines less effective.

More rugby players contract virus in France

Five more France rugby players have tested positive for the virus and will miss the Six Nations match against Scotland, the team said Monday.

It takes the total number of players in the squad to have contracted virus to 10, massively depleting France coach Fabien Galthie’s options as Les Tricolores go for a third straight win to open the competition.

Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Romain Taofifenua, Charles Ollivon and Brice Dulin are the latest players to have tested positive following checks carried out on Sunday.

English schools will reopen March 8, outdoor sport starts again on March 29

Schools in England will re-open on March 8, while two families or six people will be able to meet outside from March 29 as the country's restrictions are eased, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said.

"The view is very much that this is about a gradual reopening of the whole of England, not regional," he told LBC Radio.

"Children first, then the priority is schools, two people able to meet outdoors and maybe have a coffee together, that is also on the 8th of March. Then (on the) 29th, two families, or rule of six, and outdoor sports (will be allowed to start again)."

Ukraine expects 15 million Novavax doses from July 

Ukraine has agreed to increase the number of vaccine doses with US maker Novavax to 15 million, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said.

The first batches of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Ukraine starting July, Stepanov said on Facebook. Ukraine lags behind most European countries in securing vaccines and has yet to start mass vaccinations.

"We have been confirmed (by manufacturer India's Serum Institute) that it is possible to supply additional 5 million doses of the vaccine...The total amount of Novavax vaccines that we expect in Ukraine is 15 million," Stepanov said.

Vietnam to start vaccinations in March 

Vietnam will begin its vaccination programme next month with frontline healthcare staff and the elderly in line for the first doses as the country tackles a new wave of infections, state media reported.

The Southeast Asian country expects to receive 60 million doses this year, including 30 million under the WHO-led COVAX scheme, with a first batch of 204,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive on February 28.

Sri Lanka's Kumara tests positive for ahead of Windies tour

Sri Lanka pacer Lahiru Kumara has tested positive for virus ahead of the team's tour of the West Indies, the country's cricket board (SLC) said.

Kumar, 24, is likely to miss the limited-overs leg of the tour, which begins on March 3.

"Following PCR Tests carried out on the squad...Lahiru Kumara has tested positive for Covid-19. He was detected during PCR Tests carried out yesterday," the SLC said in a statement.

Young children return to school in Germany

Elementary schools and kindergartens in more than half of Germany’s 16 states reopened after two months of closure due to the pandemic.

The move comes despite growing signs that the decline in case numbers in Germany is flattening out again and even rising in some areas.

Germany’s education minister, Anja Karliczek, has defended the decision to reopen schools, saying younger children in particular benefit from learning together in groups.

Air New Zealand to trial digital 'vaccination passport'

Air New Zealand will trial a digital travel pass to give airlines and border authorities access to passenger health information, including their vaccination status, the carrier said.

The scheme, dubbed a "vaccination passport" by industry observers, is intended to streamline travel once borders reopen by allowing passengers to store their health credentials in one place.

Russia logs 12,604 new cases

Russia reported 12,604 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,723 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,177,330.

The country also reported another 337 deaths, raising the official toll to 83,630.

Biden to mark 500,000 lives lost with ceremony

US President Joe Biden will mark the US crossing 500,000 lives lost from Covid-19 with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House.

The US is passing the grim milestone, just over a year after the country's first confirmed fatality due to the virus.

The White House said Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honour those who lost their lives. He will be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. They will participate in the moment of silence and lighting ceremony.

Germany reports 4,369 cases

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 4,369 to 2,390,928, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 62 to 67,903, the tally showed.

Tanzania’s president admits country has problem with virus

Tanzania’s president is finally acknowledging that his country has a virus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer.

Populist President John Magufuli urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks – but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic he has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including vaccines.

New Zealand to remove remaining restrictions from Auckland 

New Zealand will remove remaining virus restrictions from Auckland after an outbreak discovered in the largest city fades away.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 72,000 tests had found no evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

Auckland was placed into a three-day lockdown this month after a mother, father and daughter tested positive. Another five contacts later tested positive. After the lockdown ended, Auckland continued to have restrictions including on gatherings.

UK's PM eyes end to lockdown as vaccines reach one-third of adults

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to start unwinding England's third and – he hopes – final virus lockdown, as a quickening UK-wide inoculation drive relieves pressure on hard-hit hospitals.

In a statement to parliament, Johnson is expected to confirm the reopening of all English schools on March 8 in the first big step towards restoring normal life, nearly a year after he imposed the first stay-at-home order.

The Conservative prime minister, who was accused of acting too late and relaxing curbs too early last year, says he will lay out a "cautious but irreversible" plan to ensure no more lockdowns.

Japan vaccine supplies to be limited, delaying shots for elderly – minister

Japan will only receive limited doses of vaccines for the first months of the rollout and shots for the elderly will be distributed gradually, the country's inoculation chief said.

Pfizer Inc, the maker of Japan's only approved vaccine, is ramping up production in Europe, but those increased supplies are not likely to reach Japan until May, Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono cautioned in an interview with national broadcaster NHK.

Philippines approves Sinovac's vaccine for emergency use

The Philippines has approved Sinovac Biotech's vaccine for emergency use, the chief of the food and drugs agency Rolando Enrique Domingo told a briefing.

The Chinese company's vaccines are the third candidate to get Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the Southeast Asian nation of over 108 million.

China reports 11 new cases in mainland vs 7 a day earlier

China on Monday reported 11 new Covid-19 cases in the mainland for February 21, compared with seven a day earlier, the country's health authority said on Monday.

All the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement.

There were also eight new asymptomatic patients, compared with six a day earlier. China does not classify asymptomatic cases as confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The total confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 89,842, while the death toll is unchanged at 4,636 . 

Mexico posts 310 more deaths, 3,104 new cases

Mexico on Sunday registered 310 additional fatalities due to the novel coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 180,107 deaths.

According to health ministry data, Mexico also registered 3,104 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, for a total of 2,041,380 cases.

Texas to get one million vaccine doses in coming week, governor says

Texas will receive almost one million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the coming week, Governor Greg Abbott said on Twitter, adding that the state will catch up for delays during the winter storm.

US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said on Thursday that the storm and power outages in Texas posed a significant problem for coronavirus vaccine distribution.

Palestinian vaccine plan faces large funding gap: World Bank

The Palestinians' Covid-19 vaccination plan faces a $30 million funding shortfall, even after factoring in support from a global vaccine scheme for poorer economies, the World Bank said in a report on Monday.

Israel, a world leader in terms of vaccination speed, could perhaps consider donating surplus doses to the Palestinians to help accelerate a vaccine roll-out in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the bank said.

"In order to ensure there is an effective vaccination campaign, Palestinian and Israeli authorities should coordinate in the financing, purchase and distribution of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines," it said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) plans to cover 20% of Palestinians through the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme. PA officials hope to procure additional vaccines to achieve 60% coverage.

Cost estimates suggest that "a total of about $55 million would be needed to cover 60 percent of the population, of which there is an existing gap of $30 million," the World Bank said, calling for additional donor help.

Australia starts vaccine rollout amid controversy

Australia launched its public rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday amid protests over the campaign, including a vocal show of opposition by crowds at the final of the Australian Open.

Some 60,000 doses are set to be given this week, starting with frontline workers -- from healthcare staff to hotel quarantine employees and police -- and residents of aged care homes.

Morning television news programmes showed the first shots being administered to medical and quarantine staff in Melbourne and Sydney, a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison received his jab in a "curtain-raiser" event aimed at convincing Australians the vaccine was safe.

The launch was overshadowed by scattered but vocal anti-vaccine protests in major cities, capped by an outburst by tennis fans at the men's final of the Australian Open on Sunday night.

During the awards ceremony after Novak Djokovic won his ninth Australian Open title, Tennis Australia chair Jayne Hrdlicka sparked a loud chorus of boos from the crowd of 7,500 when she mentioned hopes the vaccine rollout would help end the disruption of professional sports caused by the pandemic.

California death toll tops 9,000

California’s death toll during the coronavirus pandemic has topped 49,000, even as the rates of new infections and hospitalisations continue to plummet across the state.

California reported another 408 deaths on Sunday, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 49,105 — the highest in the nation.

Health officials said on Sunday that the number of patients in California hospitals with Covid-19 has slipped below 7,000, a drop of more than a third over two weeks.

The 6,760 new confirmed cases reported Sunday are more than 85% below the mid-December peak of about 54,000 in one day.

Total cases are approaching 3.45 million.

The positivity rate for people being tested has been falling for weeks, which means fewer people will end up in hospitals.

Brazil reports 527 new deaths

Brazil registered 527 additional Covid-19 deaths and 29,026 new cases of the virus on Sunday, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

The South American nation has now recorded 246,504 total coronavirus deaths and 10,168,174 confirmed cases. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies