New Zealand’s policy of placing new arrivals in hotels to complete their quarantine is being looked at by UK officials as an option to control the spread of new coronavirus variants.
Ministers have instructed staff to study a wide range of policies to crackdown on quarantine, reports on Saturday night suggested, with facial-recognition technology and GPS to check that people are staying in isolation may also under consideration.
The Government has already issued travel bans on arrivals from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde due to the emergence of a new coronavirus variant in Brazil.
According to The Sunday Times officials were last week ordered to study New Zealand’s policy of “directed isolation”, where everyone arriving is charged for a stay at an airport hotel and forced to remain in isolation for two weeks.
Follow the latest updates below.
Austria to extend third lockdown until February 8
Austria will extend its Covid-19 lockdown until February 8, the APA news agency reported, citing sources familiar with negotiations between the federal and regional government.
The curbs on public life were supposed to end on January 24, but health officials have warned that infection rates remain too high to start easing restrictions at this stage.
The government has scheduled a news conference for 10:00 GMT to discuss its latest measures.
Austria, a country of 8.9 million people, is in its third lockdown, with only essential shops open. The country has reported nearly 390,00 coronavirus cases and almost 7,000 Covid-19-linked deaths since the pandemic began last year.
UK can see way out of the pandemic, Health Secretary says
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the UK is “nearly on the home straight” as 324,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines were administered in the space of 24 hours.
More than 3.5 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of a vaccine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, as he hailed those helping the “fantastic national effort”.
Two vaccines have been rolled out in the UK, with a third – developed by Moderna – also approved for use.
Mr Hancock, writing in the Sunday Express, said: “We can see the way out of this pandemic. We are nearly on the home straight.
“After months of detailed preparations, rigorous scientific scrutiny and an extraordinary amount of patience, we are rolling out two highly effective vaccines, with a third coming in spring and others progressing through clinical trials.
“We’re rolling it out to as many vulnerable people as possible and we expect tens of millions of people to be vaccinated by the spring.”
Tokyo reports 1,593 new infections
Tokyo reported 1,592 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, its government said.
Japan expanded a state of emergency in the capital area to seven more prefectures on Wednesday to stem a surge in Covid-19 infections.
India reports successful start to vaccination drive
India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive had a successful start with more than 190,000 people receiving their first jabs and no one hospitalised for major side effects, the health ministry said, but reports emerged about concerns over the homegrown vaccine.
Authorities have given emergency-use approval for two vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca and the homegrown “Covaxin”, which has yet to complete its Phase 3 trials – and plans to immunise some 300 million people in the country of 1.3 billion by July.
A doctors’ representative body at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi wrote a letter asking for the Oxford-AstraZeneca “Covishield” vaccine to be supplied instead of Covaxin to allay any fears.
“The residents are a bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial in case of Covaxin and might not participate in huge numbers thus defeating the purpose of vaccination,” said the letter addressing the hospital’s medical superintendent.
Read more: From crowded Delhi to the remote Himalayas – the world’s most complex vaccine drive begins
Pfizer reassures Europe over vaccines
Pharma giant Pfizer tried to ease concerns in Europe about deliveries of its coronavirus vaccine as nations across the world doubled down on restrictions to fight the rampaging pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down, with infections surging past 94 million and more than two million deaths, and Europe among the hardest-hit parts of the world.
Worries have grown that delays in the delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech shots could hamper a European vaccine rollout which has already faced heavy criticism across the continent.
Work is ongoing at the plant in Belgium to increase capacity, and the firm and its German partner BioNTech said on Saturday it would allow them to “significantly” scale up vaccine production in the second quarter.
Deliveries would be back to the original schedule to the EU from January 25, they pledged.
Read more: UK faces delays in delivery of Pfizer vaccine
Pakistan approves Oxford vaccine
Pakistan’s planning minister says the country’s drug regulatory authority has approved the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the government is trying to make it available by the first quarter of the year.
Asad Umar, who is also the head of the national agency for Covid-19, told Geo TV that the vaccine in the first phase will be administered to health workers and those aged 65 and above.
Umar said the Chinese company CanSino is also holding clinical trials in Pakistan and hoped its vaccine would also be registered next month.
He said Pakistan will get the vaccines through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI, and other alternative international sources. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being prepared in India, which has strained relations with rival Pakistan and says it will prioritise its own population.
Pakistan reported 2,521 new cases and 43 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Read more: Tracking UK Covid vaccinations: Are we on target to end lockdown?
French minister criticised over memoirs written while crisis raged
France’s finance minister has come under fire for writing his “provisional memoirs” between two nationwide lockdowns and while overseeing the worst economic shock since the Second World War.
L’Ange et la Bête, published on Thursday, is Bruno Le Maire’s ninth book and the third he has written since President Macron handed him the powerful ministerial post in 2017. But its creation while France faced economic meltdown has been frowned on by some of his peers.
Read the full story
China reports virus found on ice cream
The coronavirus was found on ice cream produced in eastern China, prompting a recall of cartons from the same batch, according to the government.
The Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd. in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus, a city government statement said. There was no indication anyone had contracted the virus from the ice cream.
Most of the 29,000 cartons in the batch had yet to be sold, the government said. It said 390 sold in Tianjin were being tracked down and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas.
The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said.
Read the full story
Read more: Wuhan lab staff were first virus victims, says US
Read more: China blames steamed buns for latest wave of infections
Mexico records second day of more than 20,000 cases
Mexico posted its second straight day of more than 20,000 coronavirus cases on Saturday, suggesting a surge in a country already struggling in many areas with overflowing hospitals.
There were 20,523 newly confirmed cases Saturday after 21,366 infections were reported on Friday. That was about double the daily rate of increase just a week ago. Reporting normally declines on weekends, suggesting next week may bring even higher numbers.
The country also recorded 1,219 more deaths, a near-record. The country has now seen almost 1.63 million total infections and has registered over 140,000 deaths so far in the pandemic.
In Mexico City, the current center of the pandemic in Mexico, 88 per cent of hospital beds are full.
Australian Open to go ahead despite Covid flight
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has confirmed the year’s first Grand Slam will go ahead from Feb. 8 despite anger from players forced into hard quarantine in Melbourne due to positive Covid-19 cases on their charter planes.
Forty-seven players and their entourages have to isolate for two weeks in Melbourne in their hotel rooms and no longer be able to leave them to train after three infections were reported on two chartered flights carrying them to Melbourne.
Other players who have landed in Australia are also undertaking mandatory 14-day quarantine but are permitted to leave their hotels for five hours a day to train, raising questions about the integrity of the Grand Slam.
Tiley said the tournament would start as scheduled but governing body Tennis Australia would look at altering the leadup tournaments to help the affected players.
Read more: Australian Open quarantine – 47 players isolating after positive tests
Amazonas gets emergency supplies of respirators, oxygen
The Brazilian jungle state of Amazonas received more emergency supplies of oxygen and respirators on Saturday, as the military and neighbouring Venezuela scrambled to alleviate an unfolding humanitarian crisis caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Air Force also said it had evacuated 12 patients from hospitals in the state capital Manaus to the northern city of Sao Luis overnight, with hospitals at breaking point with no oxygen supplies and overflowing intensive care wards.
Brazil’s Air Force said on Saturday a second flight had landed in Manaus with eight tanks of liquid oxygen, following an earlier emergency delivery of five tanks, and the Navy said in a statement that it is sending 40 respirators.
Venezuela, meanwhile, said it has sent the first batch of oxygen supplies on the 1,500-km (930-mile) road trip to Amazonas, which should arrive in Manaus on Sunday.
Read more: Brazil hospitals ‘run out of oxygen’ for patients in Manaus as hundreds wait for beds