The novel coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 96 million people around the world, with at least 2 million fatalities. Here are updates for January 20:

Police officers walk past a Covid-19 information board alongside the Clydeside Expressway in Glasgow on January 20, 2021.
Police officers walk past a Covid-19 information board alongside the Clydeside Expressway in Glasgow on January 20, 2021. (AFP)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021:

Turkey to vaccinate people aged above 85

Turkey’s health minister Fahrettin Koca has said that Covid-19 vaccinations for people aged above 85 years will start on Thursday.

In the first stage of the vaccination program, over one million citizens, including over 980,000 health care professionals, the elderly and personnel at nursing homes, have been vaccinated so far, Fahrettin Koca said following a meeting of the Science Board.

“I want you to know that vaccination capacity will increase every day,” Koca said.

He added that the Science Board prepared the supply and logistics in advance and that the appropriate number of doses are being supplied in accordance with the program.

“At every stage, the vaccine logistics will continue according to a plan that will make it possible to maintain the vaccination program ceaselessly,” said the statement.

Koca noted that vaccinations of citizens over the age of 90 started as of Tuesday. Medical teams provided the vaccines to these citizens in their homes.

Starting on Friday, citizens over the age of 85 will begin receiving vaccinations in their homes as well, the statement added.

“We are pushing the boundaries to provide as many citizens as possible access to the vaccine in the shortest amount of time possible,” Koca added.

UK virus surge leads to record daily deaths and hospitals like 'war zones'

Some British hospitals resemble a "war zone" due to the influx of patients in the country's latest wave of the disease, the government's chief scientific adviser said Wednesday.

The grim assessment by Patrick Vallance came as the UK announced another 1,820 fatalities from Covid-19, breaking Tuesday's record daily toll and taking the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test result to 93,290.

Britain's mortality rate has risen nearly 15 percent over the past week, as surging infection rates throughout December have now fed into increasing hospital ad missions and deaths.

The sobering situation follows the emergence of a new strain of the virus across the country in recent months, heaping fresh pressure on overstretched health services and overwrought medical staff.

Dubai orders hospitals to cancel surgeries amid virus surge

The government of Dubai on Wednesday ordered all hospitals to cancel nonessential surgeries for the next month as infections surge to unprecedented heights in the United Arab Emirates.

In a circular sent to government-run and private health centers across the emirate, Dubai’s Health Authority announced that starting Thursday medical operations “may be allowed to continue only per medical urgency” as the city tries to keep its hospitals from becoming overrun.

For the ninth consecutive day, the UAE shattered its record for new infections, reporting 3,509 cases.

The country does not release location data for infections, making it difficult to determine where in the federation of seven sheikhdoms has been hardest hit by the virus.

France reports highest daily infections since Nov. 18

The French health ministry reported 26,784 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, up from 23,608 on Tuesday and 23,852 last Wednesday.

Wednesday's tally was the highest since Nov. 18, when 28,383 infections were registered during France's second lockdown that month. A record 86,852 cases were recorded on Nov 7.

France also reported 310 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals in the past 24 hours, from 229 last Wednesday. The seven-day moving average of coronavirus deaths in hospitals and retirement homes rose to 374, from 363 on Tuesday.

Pfizer vaccine delivery issue stall Germany's pandemic fight

Germany's most populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia said on Wednesday it will delay the opening of new vaccination centres to Feb. 8 due to a temporary slowdown of deliveries of vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner Biotech.

Pfizer started delivering shots in the European Union at the end of December but announced on Friday there would be a temporary impact on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes to boost output.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he was annoyed by the short notice of the delays: "It is not easy for us ... we can only vaccinate with that which has been delivered."

Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany's 16 states agreed on Tuesday to extend for another two weeks a lockdown for most shops and schools until February 14.

The North-Rhine Westphalia health ministry said the delays were forcing it to push back by a week the opening of 53 vaccination centres which will start offering shots to the over 80s, with no more first shots possible for the coming week.

The region has already vaccinated around 350,000 people and will add another 30,000 by the end of the week, the ministry said.

Hospitals and care homes will resume vaccinations on February 1 with 80,000 doses planned for that week.

Foreigners without face masks punished with push-ups in Bali

Foreigners caught not wearing face masks on the Indonesian resort island of Bali are being subject to an unusual punishment: push-ups.

Video footage circulating on social media this week shows tourists in T-shirts and shorts being made to do the exercise in sweltering tropical heat as masked security officials stood over them.

Bali authorities made wearing a face mask in public mandatory last year as Indonesia battled a raging Covid-19 outbreak.

In recent days, however, scores of foreigners have been caught without face coverings, said security official Gusti Agung Ket ut Suryanegara.

More than 70 people paid a fine of 100,000 rupiah ($7), but about 30 others said they did not have the cash.

Instead, they were ordered to do push-ups.

Those not carrying a mask had to do up to 50, while those who were wearing one improperly were punished with 15.

"At first, they would claim that they didn't know the regulation," Suryanegara told AFP. "Then they said they forgot, or that the mask was wet or damaged."

Some Indonesians on the island, which is a pocket of Hinduism in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, have also b een hit with the unusual punishment.

Bali's authorities have also warned that foreigners who break virus regulations could be thrown out of the country, although so far there have no reports of anyone being deported for failing to wear a mask.

The island, which has been hammered by the epidemic, remains officially closed to overseas tourists but is home to many long-term residents from abroad.

Foreigners living elsewhere in Indonesia can still visit.

Partial lockdown in Beijing as UK virus variant detected

1.6 million residents were banned from leaving Beijing on Wednesday as two cases linked to a new UK virus variant were found in the Chinese capital.

China has lauded its response to the pandemic, which emerged in the central city of Wuhan just over a year ago but has been broadly brought to heel, officially killing fewer than 5,000 Chinese people.

Authorities have been swift to stamp out local clusters of cases with lockdowns, mass testing regimes and travel restrictions.

With the Lunar New Year Holiday looming, officials had been keen to avoid an outbreak in Beijing, the heart of political power.

But a handful of cases have been detected in the capital in recent days, with six more reported Wednesday in southern Daxing district.

Officials said that the two cases in Daxing were linked to a UK variant believed to be a more transmissible form of the virus and were first detected on Sunday.

The cases had "no genetic correlation with previously reported local cases and imported cases in Beijing", the head of the Beijing health authority Pang Xinghuo told reporters, but are "considered to be variants of the new coronavirus discovered in the UK".

India starts vaccine exports with shipments to Bhutan

India started exporting AstraZeneca vaccines with the first shipment to the neighbouring Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the foreign ministry said.

"First consignment takes off for Bhutan!" Anurag Srivastava, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Twitter. "India begins supply of Covid vaccines to its neighbouring and key partner countries."

Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles are also expected to get the shots from the world's biggest vaccine making country.

Turkey's vaccinations top 1M in first week - health ministry

Turkey has vaccinated more than 1 million people in the first week of its nationwide rollout of Covid-19 shots developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.

The programme was launched last Thursday, starting with health workers and then including the elderly. More than 600,000 people were vaccinated in the first two days but the pace has slowed since then to around 100,000 people per day. 

Chinese vaccine makers applied to join WHO's COVAX scheme

China said on Wednesday three drugmakers had submitted applications to supply their vaccines to global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX in the country's first formal move to provide locally developed shots to the initiative.

Sinovac Biotech, China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and CanSino Biologics have filed applications to join the scheme, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference.

The COVAX scheme, led by the World Health Organization and GAVI vaccine alliance, is due to start rolling out vaccines to poor and middle-income countries in February, with 2 of 3 billion doses expected to be delivered this year.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that vaccine nationalism had put the world on the brink of "catastrophic moral failure," and urged countries and manufacturers to spread doses more fairly around the world. 

Zimbabwe foreign minister dies spokesman

Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo has died after contracting Covid-19, presidential spokesman George Charamba said.

Moyo, a former army general who rose to national fame when he announced the military coup that led to the removal of the late long-serving leader Robert Mugabe in November 2017, died at a local hospital early on Wednesday, Charamba said.

Russia's foreign partners able to produce 350M Sputnik V doses per year - minister

Russia's Industry Minister Denis Manturov said that foreign manufacturers, with whom Russia has signed deals to produce its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, are capable of producing around 350 million doses per year.

He said production had already been launched in Kazakhstan, and that manufacturers in South Korea, China, India and Belarus were joining the process soon. 

Russian authorities have previously said that the majority of its deals to export Sputnik V abroad would be fulfilled using doses produced by foreign partners. 

Russia reports 21,152 new cases, 597 deaths

Russia reported 21,152 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 2,452 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 3,633,952.

Authorities said 597 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 67,220.

As UK's death toll approaches 100,000, minister says it's tragic

As the United Kingdom's death toll approaches 100,000, Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Wednesday that the numbers were tragic but that it was not the time to look back at the government's possible mismanagement of the crisis.

The United Kingdom's official death toll is 91,470 – Europe's worst death figure and the world's fifth worst after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

"The numbers are deeply tragic," Patel said. "We've seen just harrowing death tolls around the world."

Asked why the United Kingdom's death toll was the worst in Europe, Patel said: "There will be a range of reasons for that."

"I don't think this is the time to talk about mismanagement," she said when asked if the government had mismanaged the crisis. 

March will be 'very tough' in France as variant spreads - health expert

The situation in France will likely be "very tough" in the coming months, especially March, due to the emergence of a more contagious variant, the head of infectious diseases at Paris' Saint Antoine hospital said.

Karine Lacombe told BFM TV that more restrictive measures than the current national 6 pm curfew would likely be necessary in certain areas to contain the disease.

CDC says 15.7M doses of vaccines administered in United States

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 15,707,588 doses of vaccines in the country as of Tuesday morning and distributed 31,161,075 doses.

The tally of vaccine doses are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, as of 6:00 am ET, the agency said.

The agency said 13,595,803 people had received one or more doses, while 2,023,124 people have got the second dose as of Tuesday.

A total of 1,745,441 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

According to the tally posted on January 15, the agency had administered 12,279,180 doses of the vaccines and distributed 31,161,075 doses.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 15,974  RKI

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 15,974 to 2,068,002, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 1,148 to 48,770, the tally showed.

Thailand reports 59 new cases, 1 new death

Thailand confirmed 59 new cases and one additional death, taking its total infections to 12,653 and fatalities to 71.

Eight of the new infections were imported from abroad, the country's task force added at a briefing.

Taiwan cancels more events as local cases rise

Taiwan has cancelled or postponed more large-scale events after a rare outbreak of domestically transmitted cases connected to a hospital, where the military has been sent to help with disinfection.

Taiwan, which has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods, has been rattled by new domestic transmissions, first in December and now in a hospital in the northern city of Taoyuan.

Until December, the island had not reported any local transmissions since April; all reported cases during that time were imported, which account for the vast majority of Taiwan's 868 infections.

After the government's decision on Tuesday to call off main celebrations for the Taiwan Lantern Festival, an annual celebration to mark the Lunar New Year next month, more cities have followed suit, including Kaohsiung and Taipei.

Japan says vaccination schedule for broader population undecided

Japan's top government spokesman said that the timeline for vaccinating the broader population against the coronavirus would be decided and disclosed to the public after the approval of a vaccine.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato made the comment at a news conference in response to a question about media reports that the government was considering doing so as early as in May.

The government has so far said it would prioritise medical workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions in its vaccine programme expected to start by the end of February, but has not provided a timeline beyond that.

US fatalities cross 400,000 mark

The US coronavirus death toll has topped 400,000 as the country hardest hit by the pandemic struggled to meet the demand for vaccines to stem the spread of infection.

States including Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Vermont have shown signs of vaccine supply strain and are asking for more doses of both approved vaccines, one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna.

The number of deaths has spiked since Christmas.

During the past three weeks, US coronavirus fatalities have totaled 63,793 compared with 52,715 deaths in the three weeks prior to Christmas, an increase of 21 percent, according to a Reuters analysis.

The daily Covid-19 death numbers crossed 4,000 for the first time on January 6.

Eighteen US states, including California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington reported their highest daily death numbers in January, according to the Reuters tally.

The number of coronavirus cases has risen across all US regions and on Tuesday crossed 24 million since the pandemic started.

While seriously ill patients are straining healthcare systems in parts of the country, especially in California, the national rate of hospitalisations has leveled off in the past two weeks and was near 124,000 on Tuesday.

Chinese capital steps up curbs amid new outbreak

China's capital Beijing has said it will investigate all individuals who entered the city from abroad from December 10 and shut down a subway station after reporting the biggest daily jump in new Covid-19 cases in more than three weeks.

The measures come amid what has become the country's most severe outbreak since March 2020 ahead of the key Chinese Lunar New Year holiday season, when hundreds of millions travel, raising fears of another major Covid-19 wave that could bring the country back into a debilitating standstill.

The National Health Commission said in a separate statement that a total of 103 new cases were reported on January 19, down from 118 a day earlier. Northeastern Jilin province reported 46 new cases, however, setting another record in daily cases, while Hebei province surrounding Beijing reported 19 new cases. Beijing reported seven new cases, matching the total reported on December 28. 

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 58 from 91 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,557, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

Mexico probes vaccine theft from hospital

Mexican authorities are investigating the theft of several coronavirus vaccines from a public hospital, the army said, underscoring the challenges of distributing the shots across the crime-plagued country.

Mexico, which has one of the world's highest Covid-19 death tolls, has deployed the military to guard the vaccines and prevent them falling into criminals' hands.

The army said that the stolen vaccines were under the control of a public health institution in a hospital in central Morelos state whose security is overseen by a private company.

Meanwhile, Mexico has confirmed 18,894 new coronavirus cases and 1,584 fatalities, according to health ministry data, bringing its totals to 1,668,396 infections and 142,832 deaths.

The real number of infections and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the ministry has said, reflecting a lack of widespread testing.

Germany tightens shutdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany is extending its pandemic restrictions, including the closure of schools and stores, until mid-February amid concerns that new mutations of the coronavirus could trigger a fresh surge in cases.

Germany's infection rate has stabilized in recent days, indicating that existing restrictions may have been effective in bringing down the numbers. On Tuesday, the country's disease control center reported 11,369 newly confirmed infections and 989 deaths, for an overall death toll of 47,622.

“All our efforts to contain the spread of the virus face a serious threat,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, noting that experts have linked surging infections in Britain and Ireland to the appearance of a more contagious virus variant there.

“Now is the time to guard against the danger posed by this mutated virus,” she said.

While individual instances of new variants have been found in Germany, scientists have said it isn't dominant yet, she added.

“There's still time, so to speak, to contain the risk,” said Merkel.

In addition to extending the closure of restaurants, most stores and schools until February 14.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies