The Covid-19 pandemic has infected more than 103 million people around the world, with over 2.2 million fatalities. Here are developments for February 1:

Security personnel check people's temperature during the visit by members of WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of Covid-19, in Wuhan on February 1, 2021.
Security personnel check people's temperature during the visit by members of WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of Covid-19, in Wuhan on February 1, 2021. (Reuters)

Monday, February 1, 2021:

WHO team in Wuhan visits disease control centres

A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centres that had an early hand in managing the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The WHO investigators arrived in Wuhan, the provincial capital, last month to look for clues and have visited hospitals and a seafood market where early cases were detected.

The team visited both the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and its Wuhan city office, amid tight Chinese controls on access to information about the virus.

Turkey reports over 7,700 infections

Turkey has reported 7,719 additional virus cases, including 636 symptomatic patients, according to the Health Ministry.

The country's case tally passed 2.48 million, while the nationwide death toll reached 26,117, with 124 fatalities over the past day.

As many as 8,016 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 2.37 million.

More than 29.77 million virus tests have been conducted in Turkey to date, with 141,703 since Sunday.

British deaths and cases drop to lowest since December

The number of people in Britain who were newly recorded dying within 28 days of a positive virus test dropped to 406 on Monday from 587 on Sunday, the lowest daily number since December 28, government figures showed.

The number of people who tested positive for the disease dropped to 18,607, the lowest since December 15.

Both deaths and positive test results are typically lower on Mondays than other days of the week.

BioNTech says back on schedule to deliver Covid vaccine doses to EU

BioNTech and Pfizer Inc are on-track to meet the delivery deadline for their virus vaccine to the European Union, the Germany-based company said.

European countries are grappling with broad vaccine delays, at least temporarily, as all Western vaccine makers with approved shots – Moderna, Pfizer and partner BioNTech and AstraZeneca – fall behind their initial delivery targets.

Biden to meet Republicans on Covid plan in test of bipartisan approach

President Joe Biden will meet 10 moderate Republican senators to discuss their proposal to shrink his sweeping $1.9 trillion US Covid relief package, even as Democrats prepare to push legislation through Congress without Republican support.

The meeting, set for 5 pm EDT (2200 GMT) at the White House, will allow the Democratic president to explore a bipartisan response to the pandemic that has killed nearly 442 ,000 Americans and battered the US economy.

Austria to tighten border controls to stop importing variants

Austria will significantly tighten its border controls to prevent arrivals from importing new variants of the virus, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

Speaking at a news conference on the loosening of the country's lockdown, Kurz did not say specifically what steps would be taken but mentioned the so-called Brazilian variant, which has not been identified in Austria yet.

Italy slowly reopens after pre-holiday closures

Italy has reported 329 virus-related deaths against 237 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 7,925 from 11,252.

Much of Italy is gingerly reopening from pre-Christmas virus closures, with the Vatican Museums welcoming a trickle of visitors to the Sistine Chapel and locals ordering their cappuccinos at outdoor tables.

While many European countries remain in hard lockdowns amid surging infections and variants, most Italian regions graduated to the coveted “yellow” category of risk starting Monday. That has allowed museums to reopen, sit-down restaurant and bar service to resume and many high-schoolers to return to class.

In Rome, that meant that the Vatican Museums reopened for the first time in 88 days – it’s longest closure ever.

Some 142,419 tests for virus were carried out in the past day, against a previous 213,364, the Health Ministry said, reflecting the usual decline in testing at the weekend.

Italy has registered 88,845 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.561 million cases to date.

Tajik mosques reopen as government claims virus win

Religious believers in Tajikistan streamed back into mosques on the back of a government order opening religious buildings and official claims that there had been no new virus cases in the country for three weeks.

The poorest country in the former Soviet Union has officially recorded just over a dozen new virus cases and no deaths since the start of the year, even if health experts have cast doubt over the statistics and testing is not widespread.

AFP correspondents witnessed hundreds of mask-wearing residents of the capital Dushanbe walk through the ornate wooden doors of the city's main mosque for the first time since it was closed due to the virus last April.

French President Macron urges to help its European neighbours

French President Emmanuel Macron urged the EU to better help its European neighbours in the race to get vaccines, ahead of a meeting in Paris with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic.

Macron, speaking from the Elysee presidential palace, acknowledged France and Europe “could have been more present” by Serbia’s side, in an apparent response to earlier criticism from Vucic, who said last week he had been counting on a lot more support from the EU.

Serbia, which sits at the heart of the Balkans region, received doses of China’s Sinopharm that enabled the country to launch its vaccination campaign earlier this month.

Israel supplies first vaccines to Palestinians 

Israel has said it had shipped the first batch of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinians.

The unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, said that it coordinated a first shipment of 2,000 doses out of 5,000 doses for use by medical teams under the Palestinian Authority.

The transfer at Beituniya Crossing took place a day after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced the vaccinations had been approved for Palestinians. Israel is leading one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns after securing millions of doses from major drug makers Pfizer and Moderna.

Portugal logs 5,805 cases

A sharp virus surge in Portugal in January is showing signs of slowing down but the high number of hospitalisations continue to strain a health system already operating beyond capacity.

Portuguese authorities reported 5,805 new cases – an improvement from the record figures of over 16,000 just over a week ago – and 275 more deaths for virus.

That brought the pandemic’s total tallies to 726,000 confirmed infections and more than 12,700 fatalities.

EU disease agency launches Covid vaccine tracker

The EU's disease agency has launched a Covid-19 vaccine tracking tool, providing an overview of countries' efforts in the rollout of inoculations across Europe.

The first set of data was available on the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), covering the 27-nation bloc plus the UK, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

However it was still incomplete on Monday, as some countries had yet to report their national data. Member states are expected to report their numbers twice a week.

As a result, the tracker indicated the number of vaccine doses administered in its member states as of Monday was 8.23 million, though in reality the number is much higher.

Vietnam reports 32 more cases

Vietnam has reported 32 more virus cases, all from capital Hanoi, and has shut schools in at least 22 cities and provinces since a new outbreak began in the country on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said.

UK to push surge testing after finding S African variants

Britain will step up mass testing in a number of areas across the country, including London, after it found an increasing number of novel virus cases linked to the South African variant.

The Health Ministry said it urged every person over the age of 16 in parts of London, the central, eastern, southeast and northwest England to get a test this week regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.

It said Public Health England had identified 105 cases of the variant first identified in South Africa since December 22. All cases and contacts have been reached.

French police block passengers as new rules kick in

French border police has turned away some passengers bound for non-EU destinations as new rules came into force banning flights to and from countries outside the bloc.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the measure on Friday as part of new efforts to contain infections and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

Travellers must also present proof of a recent negative test.

Only urgent reasons for travel are accepted and border police require written proof before allowing passengers to board, as Toure, a Malian national, found out when he tried to leave France for Bamako without the necessary document.

India spends big to revive pandemic-hit economy

India unveiled a massive spending plan focused on health care and infrastructure, as the government sought to boost a virus-ravaged economy on course for its biggest annual contraction on record.

The nation of 1.3 billion was badly hit by one of the world's strictest virus lockdowns, with growth slumping by a historic 23.9 percent in April-June, and the economy expected to contract 7.7 percent in 2020-21.

"This budget provides every opportunity for our economy to raise and capture the pace that it needs for a sustainable growth," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told parliament in her annual budget speech.

 Madrid region relaxes restrictions despite sky-high caseload

The Madrid region will start relaxing its virus restrictions this week, officials said, even as the rest of Spain is toughening up measures to tame a third wave of infection.

From Friday, groups of up to six people will be allowed to gather at outdoor restaurant terraces, up from the current limit of four, while a 10 pm curfew might be pushed to midnight.

"In Madrid, we are doing everything in our power to keep our bars and restaurants and our cultural space open despite political pressure," said conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who has repeatedly clashed with the left-wing central government on how to tackle the pandemic.

Italians flock back to coffee bars as restrictions eased

The familiar tinkling of ceramic cups and chatter returned to coffee bars across most of Italy on Monday, as rigid virus restrictions were eased.

After severe curbs over the Christmas and New Year period, two-thirds of Italy was declared a "yellow zone" allowing bars in those less risky areas to serve customers at counters and tables again instead of offering only take-away in plastic cups.

"We felt dead without bars," said Rome resident Tiziana Baldo after a barista poured her drink in a bar in central Rome.

Spain to receive 2.3M vaccine doses in February

Spain will receive a combined total of 2.3 million doses of vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna in February, Health Minister Carolina Darias told a news conference.

Last week some Spanish regions had to suspend vaccinating new people amid supply shortfalls.

Germany expects 40.2M doses of BioNtech vaccine in Q2

The German government expects 40.2 million doses of BioNtech/Pfizer's vaccine in the second quarter, a government document seen by Reuters showed.

The document, which was prepared for a virtual meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel with the 16 state premiers and representatives of pharmaceutical companies and the European Union later on Monday, also said that the government sees potential delivery and production risks.

 EU says discussions will continue with AstraZeneca to get more vaccines in Q1

The European Commission will continue discussions with AstraZeneca with the purpose of receiving more doses of its vaccine than the company has so far pledged in the first quarter of the year, a spokesperson said.

On Sunday, the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca had raised its target of supplies to the EU to 40 million doses from 31 million until the end of March, after a large cut last week.

Its original commitment was of at least 80 million doses, and possibly up to 120 million in the first quarter, EU sources told Reuters last week.

South Africa receives first batch of Covid vaccine

South Africa took delivery of its first shipment of virus vaccines, a move paving the way to mass inoculation, initially targeting health workers, in Africa's worst-hit country.

Public broadcaster SABC showed President Cyril Ramaphosa at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International airport receiving one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India.

Russia supplies Sputnik V vaccine to self-proclaimed Luhansk republic

Russia has supplied its Sputnik V vaccine to the rebel-controlled Luhansk self-proclaimed republic in eastern Ukraine, local news outlet Lug-Info reported.

The report did not specify how many doses were shipped, but said the first batch had arrived at the weekend.

On Saturday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad, said it does not supply Sputnik V to the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway regions. 

One Covid-19 case puts 2M Australians under lockdown

About 2 million Australians have begun their first full day of a strict lockdown following the discovery of one case in the community in Perth, capital of Western Australia state, but no new cases have since been found.

Authorities ordered a five-day lockdown of Perth after a security guard at a hotel used to quarantine people returning from overseas was found to have contracted the virus.

The state government said 66 people have been deemed close contacts of the unidentified guard and none of those already tested were infected.

Tests on the rest of the close contacts were expected to be completed on Monday, McGowan said.

Australia has managed to largely contain its novel coronavirus epidemic, limiting cases to nearly 29,000 and deaths to 909, with the sort of decisive action seen in Perth, and tight border controls.

Britain raises order to 100M Valneva vaccine doses

The British government has ordered 40 million further doses of Valneva's vaccine candidate for 2022, bringing its total orders to 100 million, the French drugmaker said.

Britain could still order a further 90 million doses between 2023 and 2025, the company said.

The firm, which expects a read-out of its Phase I/II clinical trial within three months, said it had already started commercial production in Scotland.

The Scottish site is ready to supply the vaccine as soon as it is proven to be safe, and effective and has been approved by the British healthcare watchdog, the interim chair of government's vaccines task-force, Clive Dix, said in a statement.

Britain's trade minister said on Sunday she was confident the country's vaccination programme was secure following a row with the European Union about vaccine supplies after receiving guarantees from Brussels.

Valneva hopes its vaccine can start to be used in Britain between July and September, its chief executive was quoted as saying in January. 

Number of people vaccinated tops 2M in Turkey

The number of people in Turkey who have received their first dose of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus crossed the 2 million mark, according to official figures.

In Turkey's mass vaccination campaign, under which health professionals are administering jabs of CoronaVac purchased from Chinese company Sinovac, immunization efforts are running smoothly.

According to data from the Turkish Health Ministry, over 2 million people to date in the country have been vaccinated.

Turkey began its mass vaccination campaign on January 14, starting with healthcare workers along with top officials to encourage public confidence in the vaccines, then moving on to older individuals.

Since last month Turkey has also been implementing curfew on nights and weekends to curb the spread of the virus.

French Finance Minister: new lockdown can only be last resort

A new lockdown to curb the Covid-19 virus in France can only be a last resort, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who added that the country's current curfew measures were delivering results in terms of trying to contain the virus.

Le Maire told RTL radio that France's current curfew from 6 pm to 6 am cost the economy around 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) a month whereas a full lockdown would cost it around 15 billion euros a month.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved by the European Commission last week, will start arriving in France next week at the latest, French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said.

"From the end of this week, latest early next week, AstraZeneca vaccine doses will start arriving in France ... we will be able to start vaccinating (with it)," Beaune said on France Inter radio. 

France decided against imposing a third nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Friday.

WHO team in China's Wuhan visits provincial CDC

A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China's central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.

The group of independent experts spent about 4-1/2 hours on its longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday, and did not speak to waiting journalists.

The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.

The group has so far also visited hospitals where early cases were detected, markets, and an exhibition on the battle with the outbreak in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that the coronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.

That hypothesis figured again on Sunday in the Global Times tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily.

On Sunday, the experts visited the Huanan seafood market linked to initial infections, and the Baishazhou wholesale food market, where a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the sale of imported cold chain products was banned at the market.

Kazakhstan begins using Russian vaccine

Kazakhstan began its coronavirus vaccination campaign with top health officials receiving Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

The ministry said that the first delivery of 22,000 doses of Sputnik V had arrived and would be distributed across the country of around 18.5 million.

Deputy health minister Erlan Kiyasov said he didn't "feel any sort of discomfort" after the Monday morning injection, witnessed by a pack of journalists.

"If we can get more than 50 percent of the population to immunity, we can finally return to a normal society without restrictions, without lockdowns," he said.

Kiyasov and fellow Deputy Health Minister Azhar Giniyat will receive follow-up shots of the vaccine in 21 days, the ministry said on Sunday.

Vaccinations with Kazakhstan's national vaccine, known as QazCovid-in and currently in third stage trials, are expected to begin sometime in March.

Kazakhstan is the first country in former Soviet Central Asia to roll out Sputnik V.

Japan expected to extend state of emergency

Japan is expected to extend a state of emergency on Tuesday to fight the spread of Covid-19 for Tokyo and other areas, three sources with knowledge of the legal procedures said.

The government will decide on the extension after a meeting of its experts panel on Tuesday, with the emergency period in prefectures including the Tokyo area expected to run for another month, the sources said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to hold a news conference on Tuesday, one source told Reuters.

The government last month declared a one-month state of emergency, due to end on Sunday, for 11 areas, including Tokyo and its neighbouring prefectures, as part of measures to rein in the pandemic.

Suga has launched a raft of measures to contain a third wave of infections as his government remains determined that the Olympics go ahead as planned on July 23.

Pakistan receives 500,000 doses of Sinopharm's vaccine

Pakistan received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccine doses, 500,000 from China's Sinopharm, Health Adviser Faisal Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter.

"Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen," he said. "I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they'll be first to get vaccinated."

Pakistan is starting its vaccine drive this week. 

Chicago mayor says schools safe to reopen

The mayor of Chicago has said the US city's public schools are "safe" and will reopen, despite teachers union calls for them to continue remote work due to the pandemic.

The state of Illinois, where Chicago is located, listed 2,428 new cases Sunday, officials said, with 40 deaths.

Chicago's public schools serve more than 355,000 students, the third-largest school district in the United States after New York and Los Angeles.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has clashed with the city's main teachers union, which has told members to continue remote work out of safety concerns during the pandemic.

The plan is also backed by health experts, including top government scientist Anthony Fauci.

CPS chief Janice Jackson warned Sunday that without an agreement, access to the remote-learning programs would be cut off after Monday.

The union has threatened to strike if the district locks teachers out of the programs.

Reopening schools has been a source of major debate in the United States, by far the hardest-hit country by the pandemic with 26,180,411 cases and 441,302 deaths.

Richmond pauses men's hoops for 3rd time

Richmond is pausing all men’s basketball activities in response to the results of Sunday’s Covid-19 testing and contact tracing in the Spiders’ program.

The decision comes two days after No. 22 Saint Louis, which had traveled to Richmond for a Friday night game against the Spiders, instead opted to return home without elaboration, but without playing because of concerns raised by its medical staff.

The Spiders (10-4, 4-2 Atlantic 10) have now paused three times for Covid-related concerns. They paused for Covid reasons in early December, missing approximately a week of basketball activity.

They experienced a two-week virus pause in mid-January.

Richmond says it's Tuesday night game against George Moason has been postponed and no decisions have been made related to future games for the Spiders.

The school says it continues to follow the guidance of University health officials and the protocols as set by the Virginia Department of Health.

AstraZeneca to supply 9 million more vaccine doses – EU

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has agreed to supply 9 million additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine to the European Union during the first quarter, the bloc's executive arm said.

The new target of 40 million doses by the end of March is still only half what the British-Swedish company had originally aimed for before it announced a shortfall due to production problems, triggering a spat between AstraZeneca and the EU last week.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after a call with seven vaccine makers that AstraZeneca will also begin deliveries one week sooner than scheduled and expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.

“Step forward on vaccines,” tweeted Von der Leyen, who has come under intense pressure over the European Commission's handling of the vaccine orders in recent days.

The EU is far behind Britain and the United States in getting its population of 450 million vaccinated against the virus. The slow rollout has been blamed on a range of national problems as well as slower authorisation of the vaccines and an initial shortage of supply.

Israel extends lockdown for five more days

The Israeli Cabinet has voted to extend a nationwide lockdown for at least five more days as it struggles to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the restrictions, which have forced nonessential businesses and most schools to remain closed for the past month, will remain in effect until at least Friday. A ban on nearly all incoming and outgoing flights will remain in effect for another week.

The Cabinet is to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to extend the restrictions even longer.

China sees new cases fall in three-week low

China has reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases in more than three weeks, official data showed, reversing a sharp uptick a day earlier, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of a major holiday break.

New confirmed reported cases more than halved to 42, the National Health Commission said in a statement, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since 33 reported on January 8.

Of the 33 new locally transmitted infections, northeastern Heilongjiang reported 22 new cases while new patients reported in neighbouring Jilin province fell to 10 from 63 a day earlier. The remaining nine cases were imported infections involving travellers arriving from overseas.

Ghana aims to get 17.6 million doses of vaccine by June

Ghana plans to procure 17.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by the end of June with the first doses arriving in March, President Nana Akufo-Addo said.

Like other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana is battling a second wave of the novel coronavirus. Its daily infection rate is rising and is close to record levels, data compiled by Reuters shows. So far it has recorded over 63,000 cases and 416 deaths.

"Our aim is to vaccinate the entire population, with an initial target of twenty million people," Akufo-Addo said in a speech to the West African nation of around 30 million.

He did not say which vaccines they planned to acquire.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies