International update: Global Covid cases pass 91.6 million – concerns raised over vaccine efficacy

13th January 2021 (Last Updated January 13th, 2021 09:15)

13 January

Global: Covid-19 has claimed 1.96 million lives worldwide as coronavirus infections pass 91.6 million according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 22.8 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 380,796 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

UK: More coronavirus patients are on mechanical ventilation in the UK than at any point in the pandemic. There are now 3,363 people on ventilation, compared with a previous peak of 3,301 set on 12 April last year, the latest data shows. The figure indicates that despite treatments that reduce the likelihood that a patient will be moved onto ventilation, the new strain of the disease has affected many more people than the April outbreak. More than 35,000 people are hospitalized with the disease, as of 10 January, significantly higher than the April peak of 21,600.

Private companies have been accused of cashing in on the coronavirus pandemic by offering expensive Covid tests to customers with urgent travel plans, then failing to deliver.

China: China reported 107 local coronavirus infections on 12 January, including 90 in the northern province of Hebei and 16 in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, the National Health Commission said in a statement. Hebei, which is near Beijing, now has more than 600 cases in the recent flareup as the province imposes lockdowns in multiple cities. Authorities in Heilongjiang have put the province in emergency status.

Japan: Japan is set to expand the area under the coronavirus state of emergency beyond the Tokyo region, encompassing the country’s three largest economic hubs as a surge in virus cases continues to grow. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will announce the expansion of the emergency area to seven more prefectures later on Wednesday, according to media reports.

France: France reported 19,753 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Tuesday, while the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units continued to rise.

Mexico: Mexico reported the highest daily increase in Covid-19 deaths as the government struggles to contain the outbreak. Deaths reached 1,314 on Tuesday, the single highest increase apart from Oct. 5, when health authorities adjusted their way of calculating fatalities from the novel coronavirus. The Latin America nation, which has the fourth-highest death toll from the virus, now counts 135,682 fatalities and 1,556,028 cases. The nation’s capital, Mexico City, has seen a surge in hospitalizations.

Vaccination updates

Philippines: The Philippines will sign a deal with AstraZeneca Plc on Thursday for up to 20 million additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine. Private companies and local officials are helping the government secure the shots, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a televised briefing. Talks are ongoing with the company for first shipments to arrive this quarter, he said.

Indonesia: Indonesia has kicked off what is set to be Southeast Asia’s largest inoculation program against Covid-19 to curb its record increase in infections. President Joko Widodo received the first jab in a televised ceremony on Wednesday, to be followed by some social media influencers and religious leaders.

Indonesia also becomes a test case for the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shots, being the first country to administer CoronaVac for mass vaccination outside of China. Questions have been raised about the vaccine’s efficacy rate amid scarce research data and varying levels of effectiveness reported in clinical trials in Brazil and Turkey.

Australia: The Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology said the Australian federal government should immediately pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it may not be effectively enough to generate herd immunity, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald. Phase-three trials show it’s only 62% effective in preventing Covid-19 when given in the recommended dose, the newspaper said. Immunology society President Stephen Turner said the efficacy rate meant it should not be widely rolled out, the herald reported.

India: India has kicked off one of the world’s biggest inoculation programs, which will be a crucial test of how quickly developing countries with limited health and transportation infrastructure can protect their populations. Refrigerated trucks and private planes, accompanied by police officers, fanned out from the western city of Pune on Tuesday to around 60 different locations as medical workers are on standby to start vaccinations this weekend.

Singapore: Some Singapore Airlines employees have been offered the Covid-19 vaccine as part of the country’s latest nationwide vaccination exercise, the Straits Times reported Tuesday. The vaccine is available to staff based in Singapore who are currently on a program that requires them to be tested regularly for the virus, the Straits Times said, citing a Singapore Airlines spokesman.

New Zealand: New Zealand wants access to Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible but accepts that other nations where the death toll is rising have a higher priority, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said. “We’re doing every single thing that is possible to get the vaccines here as soon as we can, but I don’t think it will be a surprise to anybody that countries where there are literally thousands of people dying every day, that those are countries where the vaccines are going out right now,” Robertson told NewstalkZB Wednesday.

Lockdown updates

Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested Germany’s hard lockdown may last a further eight to 10 weeks. Health officials are particularly concerned about the spread of the new, far more contagious variant from the UK, which is thought to have been in Germany for several weeks.

Netherlands: The Netherlands is extending coronavirus restrictions until 9 February as infections are still high and the government is “very concerned” about the UK variant of the disease, prime minister Mark Rutte said.

Sweden: After taking arguably the world’s softest approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden is tightening the screws. As of Sunday, the government of Premier Stefan Lofven can fine and shutter businesses that fail to follow restrictions such as caps on visitors, as well as restrict private gatherings, under a new law that runs through September. It’s a departure from relying mainly on recommendations and trusting people to follow them. With the health-care system under increasing duress and deaths surging, some say it was too little too late.

Economy updates

Global: World Bank Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart is worried that the protracted nature of the Covid-19 pandemic may overwhelm household and business balance sheets and develop into a financial crisis. “It’s a cumulative toll,” Reinhart said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “This did not start as a financial problem. This started and continues to be, first and foremost, a health crisis. But it has elements that have morphed into your classic balance sheet problems.”

US: President-elect Joe Biden will seek a deal with Republicans on another round of Covid-19 relief, rather than attempting to ram a package through without their support, according to two people familiar with the matter. The approach could mean a smaller initial package that features some priorities favored by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The idea is to forgo using a special budget process that would remove the need to get the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate, which will be split 50-50 and under Democratic control only thanks to the vice president’s vote.

South Korea: South Korea’s jobless rate hit a 10-year high in December as the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak forced businesses to slash hiring. The unemployment rate jumped to 4.6% last month, the highest since January 2010, the statistical office reported Wednesday. Economists had forecast a reading unchanged from November’s 4.1%.

Greece: Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged the EU to adopt a “standardised” vaccination certificate to boost travel this year.