Summary of recent events
- Israel is set to ban passenger flights in attempt to prevent Covid variant imports, coming into effect from Monday 10pm for two weeks
- Greek health authorities have reported a jump in the number of cases of the coronavirus variant first spotted in the UK, with 32 infections detected.
- The UK has reported a further 30,004 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases, according to government data. This compares with 38,598 cases registered last Sunday.
- Jeremy Hunt, the former UK health secretary, has echoed calls from epidemiologists urging the use of medical-grade masks to be compulsory on public transport and in shops.
- Serbia has detected its first case of the UK coronavirus variant, in a woman who travelled from London but no new lockdown is planned in the country, President Aleksandar Vučić said.
- Airbus has announced that some 500 employees have entered quarantine following an outbreak at its aircraft factory in Hamburg in which 21 workers have tested positive, according to Reuters.
- Police used water cannon and dogs against protesters after hundreds gathered in a square in central Amsterdam on Sunday to protest against a new coronavirus curfew.
- France probably needs to enter into a third lockdown because of the spread of new coronavirus variants in the country, the government’s top medical adviser on Covid-19 policy has said.
- Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will telephone Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss Mexico’s procurement of the Sputnik V vaccine, the Mexican government said on Sunday.
- France has reported 18,436 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, down from 23,924 on Saturday. However, today’s figure is higher than last Sunday’s, when 16,642 infections were registered.
- President Joe Biden will ban most non-US citizens who have recently been in South Africa from entering the US from Saturday in an effort to stem the spread of a new coronavirus variant, public health officials told Reuters.
- Ecuador has approved the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, the country’s health ministry said on Sunday.
That’s all from me for today – I’m handing over to my colleagues in Sydney. Thanks for reading along.
Brazil recorded 592 new Covid-19 deaths, the health ministry has said, bringing the death toll to 217,037.
The country saw 28,323 new cases of coronavirus, with nearly 8.9 million people infected since the outbreak began, the official data showed.
Experts have warned that the country faces running out of doses as well as vital medical kit such syringes, according to AFP, which adds that there are concerns that “vaccine-sceptic president Jair Bolsonaro could be endangering supply chains with criticism of the China-made CoronaVac shot”.
The Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) has announced that a clinical trial has provided persuasive results that a widely used anti-inflammatory drug may be effective in treating Covid-19.
The study, which had nearly 4,500 participants, suggested that colchicine, an anti-inflammatory often used to treat gout, cuts the risk of death or hospitalisations by 21% compared with patients who were given a placebo.
In patients with a proven diagnosis of Covid-19, colchicine reduced hospitalisations by 25%, the need for mechanical ventilation by 50%, and fatalities by 44%, CBC reported.
“These results are substantial, they are robust, and we believe are compelling to justify the use of the colchicine,” Dr Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the MHI’s research centre told the outlet.
“I believe this will have a fairly swift impact on how we practice medicine for patients that have Covid and are not yet hospitalized.”
Jeremy Hunt calls for medical-grade masks to be compulsory in shops and transport
Jeremy Hunt, the former UK health secretary, has echoed calls from epidemiologists urging the use of medical-grade masks to be compulsory on public transport and in shops.
Some disease experts are concerned that cloth masks, which are often homemade, are not enough to deal with the new, more transmissible variants.
Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care at the University of Oxford, said “the context has changed” since the pandemic began and everyone should be wearing medical-grade masks.
Prof Greenhalgh tweeted on Sunday: “Double-layer cloth masks seemed OK when a) supplies of PPE were very low, b) virus was less contagious, c) incidence was lower. “The context has changed. We need to be wearing medical-grade.”
Hunt shared the post, adding: “I agree.”
In an interview with the Observer, Hunt said: “Current lockdown measures are just not working fast enough.”
He is calling for FFP2 respirator masks – which, unlike surgical or cloth masks, protect the wearer by filtering both the inflow and outflow of air – to be made compulsory on public transport and in shops. This would follow Austria and parts of Germany, where higher-grade masks have been made compulsory.
“Last time we waited too long before requiring masks,” Hunt says, “let’s not make the same mistake again.” He also thinks government must review whether the two-metre social distancing rule is sufficient.
Ecuador has approved the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, the country’s health ministry said on Sunday.
The vaccine, developed with Oxford University, is the second that the country’s regulator has registered for use. The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out through a pilot programme to medical personnel and in nursing homes since last week.
“The agency authorized imports of approximately five million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which will be applied to 2.5 million Ecuadoreans,” the ministry added in a statement. “It will allow Ecuador to strengthen the process of containing the disease to achieve herd immunity.”
The health ministry said mass vaccination will start in March.
France imposed new border restrictions on Sunday as part of its bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours. The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.
EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.
Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.
Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday reported 24,876,261 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 171,844 from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 3,414 to 416,010.
The CDC figures are not always in line with cases reported by individual states.
US to ban entry on travellers from South Africa, UK and 28 other countries
President Joe Biden will ban most non-US citizens who have recently been in South Africa from entering the US from Saturday in an effort to stem the spread of a new coronavirus variant, public health officials told Reuters.
Biden will also reintroduce a travel ban on nearly all non-US passengers who have been in Brazil, the UK, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.
A number of other travel restrictions are also set to come into force this week, with an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director (CDC) requiring masks on all planes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-share vehicles, officials said.
On Tuesday, new CDC rules come into force requiring “all international air travellers aged two and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of recovery from Covid-19 to enter the United States”, Reuters said.
CDC officials said they would consider any humanitarian exemptions for some travellers on a case-by-case basis, if required.
The CDC order says travellers should quarantine for seven days after arriving in the US and consider getting a new Covid test within three to five days of returning.
France sees biggest rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations since November
France has reported 18,436 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, down from 23,924 on Saturday. However, today’s figure is higher than last Sunday’s, when 16,642 infections were registered.
There were 72 new deaths in past 24 hours, down from 230 the previous day.
Hospitalisations rose by 493 to 26,393 on Sunday - the highest increase in hospital admissions since mid-November.
The number of people in intensive care also increased again, by 69 to 2,965, also the biggest one-day rise since early November.