Live Updates

January 7 coronavirus news

Vaccination rate will take 3 years to reach herd immunity

What you need to know

  • More than half of Covid-19 cases might have been transmitted by people not showing symptoms, according to a new study by US CDC researchers.
  • The UK has introduced mandatory coronavirus testing for all international arrivals and extended a southern Africa travel ban to curb a new Covid-19 variant.
  • Israel’s PM said every citizen aged over 16 would be vaccinated by the end of March after the country reached a deal with Pfizer to speed up deliveries.
  • Japan declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures after the country reported a record rise in Covid-19 cases.

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US reports more than 4,000 new Covid-19 deaths for first time during the pandemic

More than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths were recorded in a single day in the United States for the first time on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

At least 4,051 deaths tied to Covid-19 have been reported, according to the university.

Note: The number is part of an ongoing tally, so it could rise before the end of the day.

Australia to begin Covid-19 vaccine rollout in February

Australia will begin its Covid-19 vaccine rollout in February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday. 

The first doses will be administered in mid-to-late February to priority groups, including quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers and residents in aged and disability care, Morrison said in a news conference. 

“We anticipate optimistically that we would hope to start the vaccination with around 80,000 vaccinations a week,” Morrison said. “And then seeing that build up over the next four to six weeks.”

He said according to that timetable, 4 million Australians should be vaccinated by the end of March. 

Thursday’s announcement brings forward the rollout for a second time this week. On Wednesday, health officials announced the first doses would be administered in early March. The original plan was for a rollout in mid-March.

On Tuesday, Morrison said the distribution of vaccines wouldn’t be rushed and the country’s regulators wouldn’t “cut corners.”

“I don’t think Australians just want us sending out, willy-nilly, vials of vaccines that haven’t been tested, which is the normal process that happens with any TGA-approved vaccine.”

US officials renew public health emergency declaration for coronavirus pandemic

The US Health and Human Services Department will renew the public health emergency declared almost a year ago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday. 

“I just renewed the Covid-19 national public health emergency declaration, effective January 21, 2020. Our work to combat the virus will continue, as will our work to ensure a peaceful and orderly transition,” Azar said via Twitter. 

HHS said an emergency declaration gives state, tribal, and local health departments more flexibility to request that HHS authorize them to temporarily reassign state, local, and tribal personnel.

Azar first declared the emergency on January 31, 2020 and has renewed it regularly since.

State governors have also been declaring public health emergencies due to the pandemic.

Australia's Greater Brisbane to go under 3-day lockdown to stop spread of UK Covid-19 strain

Australia’s Greater Brisbane will enter a three-day lockdown to stop the spread of the United Kingdom strain of Covid-19 after a cleaner from a quarantine hotel tested positive for the UK variant, according to a statement from the Queensland government.

The cleaner was unknowingly infectious from last Saturday and tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, according to a media release from Queensland’s Department of Health.

From 6 p.m. Friday, January 8, until 6 p.m. Monday, January 11, people in areas of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Ipswich, Redlands and Logan will be required to stay at home, with some exceptions. More than 2.2 million people live in Greater Brisbane, with many of them living in Brisbane city, one of the country’s most populous cities.

Exceptions include essential education and work, providing care to an immediate family member, essential shopping and exercising with no more than one other person. Masks will also need to be worn in those areas except if people are at home.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there are no second chances with this pandemic.

“I’m asking people to have a long weekend at home,” she said. “We have learned from Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales that a short, sharp lockdown is better than a long one.” She added “Three days is better than 30.”

Changes to Covid-19 vaccine dosing won't solve US' problem with rollout, Fauci says

A nurse administers the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to a health care worker at the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Monday, January 4.

The United States doesn’t have a problem with the supply of Covid-19 vaccines – the issue is with the administration of them, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

Changes to vaccine dosing won’t solve that, according to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Right now, we don’t have a problem that we need more vaccines,” Fauci said at an event hosted by, an online health resource dedicated to African Americans. He said the problem lies in the effort to “logistically get the vaccine in the arm of people.”

With an eye to speeding up vaccine rollout in the US, some have suggested using half-doses of vaccines or delaying the time between first and second doses. 

Second dose: The science shows optimal protection is provided by administering a second dose 21 days after the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine and 28 days after the first shot of the Moderna vaccine, said Fauci.

Second doses are on hold for people to complete their vaccinations, and some governors have asked the federal government to release those doses so more people can receive a first shot, potentially delaying the second one. Fauci dismissed the idea of letting people wait longer between doses.

“To stretch out, and you don’t get your second dose for maybe three or four months – there’s no scientific data that proves that,” Fauci said. “Since we want to maintain our credibility and do things right, according to the science, we want to do it exactly the way it was shown in the clinical trial.”

Some have also suggested using a half dose of the vaccines, to vaccinate more people with some degree of protection. Fauci said this wouldn’t solve the problem either. The US Food and Drug Administration has also rejected that idea.

“You hear a lot about half dose. You hear a lot about extending one dose. Don’t be concerned about that,” Fauci added. “Do what’s recommended by the FDA.”

Colombia reports record number of new Covid-19 cases

A health worker places a tube with a swab sample for a Covid-19 coronavirus test among others in Bogota on December 21, 2020.

Colombia reported a record 17,576 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the Andean nation to 1,737,347, the country’s Health Minister announced Thursday on Twitter. 

The total death toll is now 45,067. 

The announcement came as Colombia’s two largest cities, Bogota and Medellin, both issued total lockdown measures for the next four days due to a resurgence of the pandemic. 

US reports more than 130,000 coronavirus hospitalizations

The United States reported 132,370 current Covid-19 hospitalizations on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the second highest number of current hospitalizations reported in a single day and the 37th consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations. 

The highest hospitalization numbers according to CTP data are: 

Jan. 6, 2021: 132,464 Jan. 7, 2021: 132,370 Jan. 5, 2021: 131,215 Jan. 4, 2021: 128,206 Jan. 3, 2021: 125,562

UK introduces mandatory Covid-19 testing for all arrivals

Signage leading to one of the testing centers at Heathrow Airport is seen on December 22, 2020 in London.

The United Kingdom has introduced mandatory Covid-19 testing for all international arrivals into the country, including British nationals, according to a statement by the UK’s Department of Transport on Friday.

In the statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes would take place from “next week.” Passengers will be required to present a negative Covid-19 test result 72 hours prior to departure for entry into the UK, along with a “passenger locator form.”

Passengers who fail to comply with pre-departure testing will be subject to a £500 ($680) fine and those arrivals not from countries on the government’s travel corridor list will still have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of test result.

The measures are intended to protect the country against emerging new variants of the coronavirus.

One new variant first identified in the UK prompted a wave of travel restrictions from other countries in December, and has been linked to a recent surge in cases in England.

US governors urge federal government to release "reserved doses" of Covid-19 vaccine

A coalition of governors sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer General Gustave Perna urging the federal government to distribute “reserved doses” of the Covid-19 vaccine to states that need them.

The coalition included Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Gov. Gavin Newson (CA), Gov. Laura Kelly (KS), Gov. J.B. Pritzker (IL), Gov. Tim Walz (MN), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (NY), Gov. Tony Evers (WI) and Gov. Jay Inslee (WA).

“According to publicly reported information, the federal government currently has upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back by the administration for reasons unknown,” reads the letter released Thursday evening. “The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable. We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately.”

UK extends travel ban to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, and Mozambique

The UK government announced on Thursday it will extend its travel ban to include southern African countries, in an attempt to protect itself against the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

In a statement, the government said from 4am GMT on Saturday January 9, entry into England will be banned from countries including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Mauritius.

“The government has responded swiftly to new evidence showing an urgent need to halt travel from all southern African countries to help prevent the spread of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant identified in South Africa,” the statement said.

The ban does not apply to British and Irish nationals, long term visa holders or permanent residents, who will be able to enter but will have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.

The restriction adds to an ongoing travel ban on visitors who have been in or transited through South Africa in the past 10 days. 

Brazil surpasses 200,000 Covid-19 deaths

A burial takes place in an area reserved for COVID-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, on January 5.

Amid a surging second wave, Brazil registered a record number of new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday and the second-highest number of daily deaths since the pandemic began, pushing the total death toll over 200,000, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry.

The number of new daily infections was 87,843 while the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours stood at 1,524.

American Hospital Association asks for help to "eliminate the barriers and expedite vaccination"

A pharmacist prepares the Pfizer/BioNTech administering it at the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut on January 4.

In a letter addressed to US Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar, the American Hospital Association asked for help in eliminating barriers that are hindering the vaccine rollout. 

The letter says that the slow pace of the vaccine rollout in the country “has led to concern about whether the task of vaccinating all who are able to take the vaccine will happen as quickly as federal leaders have suggested it would.”

“In the first few weeks of administering vaccines, hospitals have seen a number of barriers to smooth and effective vaccinations,” said the letter. “We raise these to your attention so that you and your team can begin to eliminate the barriers and expedite vaccination.”

The letter also outlined the need for more transparency about the goals and expectations of the rollout, how to make data more accessible, improve communication and offer support to medical centers throughout the country:

We urge you to establish a process within HHS with the ability to be able to coordinate the national efforts among all of the states and jurisdictions and the many stakeholders; answer all of the questions expeditiously; establish and maintain effective communication among all involved; and identify and resolve barriers to the rapid deployment of millions of doses of vaccines.

More than half of Covid-19 transmission comes from people with no symptoms, study suggests

More than half of Covid-19 cases might have been transmitted by people not showing symptoms, according to a new study from researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s a model, not a real-life study, but based on data from eight studies done in China, about 59% of all transmission came from people without symptoms, the CDC team found.

“Across a range of plausible scenarios, at least 50% of transmission was estimated to have occurred from persons without symptoms,” the team wrote in the journal JAMA Network Open on Thursday.

The model showed that about 59% of all transmission came from people without symptoms, which broke down to 35% from those who have not developed symptoms yet – are presymptomatic – and 24% from people who never develop symptoms.

Of course, the model provides only estimates about the spread of Covid-19 and more research is needed to determine whether the findings would be similar in the real world.

In the real world, the researchers wrote, “Measures such as mask wearing and social distancing empower individuals to protect themselves and, if infected, to reduce risk to their communities.”

Spain tops 2 million Covid-19 cases

A health worker takes a blood sample during a massive coronavirus antigen testing on January 4 in Granada, Spain. 

Spain has topped 2 million Covid-19 cases, with the country’s health ministry announcing a total of 2,024,904 cases on Thursday.

The number of cases has more than doubled since October 21, when Spain’s overall coronavirus case count was 1,005,295.  

“The trend is still, clearly upward. The total amount of cases has topped 2 million,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Maria Jose Sierra said during a televised press conference in Madrid on Thursday. 

Nevertheless, Sierra said a return to “hard lockdown” is not on the cards, and the Health Ministry is focused on tracking and confining emerging cases rather than impose harsh general measures. 

Incoming CDC director receives Covid-19 vaccine

Incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky looks on at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.

Incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, received her first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“I’ve never had more faith in the promise of science and the power of hope to get us through this,” Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General, wrote on Twitter.

President-elect Joe Biden has appointed Walensky to be his CDC chief when he takes office later this month.

“I urge all Americans to get vaccinated as soon as you’re able, wear a mask, and stop the spread,” Walensky add

CDC: Nearly 6 million people in the US have received their first dose of coronavirus vaccine

A healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community on January 6 in Pompano Beach, Florida. 

Close to 6 million people have gotten the first dose of coronavirus vaccines, and 21.4 million doses have been distributed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The CDC says 5,919,418 people had received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine as of 9 a.m. (ET) Thursday. It says 21,419,800 doses have been distributed. This indicates the ratio of doses administered to doses delivered is falling – from 33% over the weekend to 27.6% Thursday. It varies greatly from state to state, CDC statistics indicate.

Federal and state health officials are struggling to get people vaccinated. The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed officials repeatedly promised that 40 million doses would have been distributed by the end of December, and 20 million people vaccinated. 

State health officials say the federal government overpromised what they would be allocated, and say they lack the money, staff and other resources to get vaccines out to people. Federal health officials blame the holidays and paperwork, among other things, for the slow rollout.

UK Health Minister says patients may need to be re-vaccinated every 6-12 months 

British Health Minister Matt Hancock speaks to the House of Commons Health Committee on January 7.

British Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday that people may need to be re-vaccinated for Covid-19, every 6-12 months. 

Speaking to the House of Commons Health Committee, Hancock said there was uncertainty over how long the vaccines would last.

“We don’t know how frequently it will be, but it might need to be every six months, it might need to be every year.”

Hancock also addressed the government’s decision to delay the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine for up to 12 weeks and said the reason was to ensure that people get the first dose in order to “save more lives.”

“The justification is really clear and straightforward, which is that it saves more lives, and ultimately, that is the public health justification,” he said. “The data show that there is a significant protection from both the Oxford and the Pfizer jabs after the first dose.”

Earlier on Thursday, WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said they had taken note of the recommendation of spacing out vaccine doses, but said it is important that the decision represents a “safe compromise” between limited global production capacity and government’s imperative to save lives. 

Every Israeli citizen over age 16 will be vaccinated by the end of March, says PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a coronavirus vaccination facility in Jerusalem on January 6.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he needs just twelve more weeks to vaccinate the entire country, after reaching an agreement with Pfizer that will speed up deliveries into Israel of the US company’s coronavirus vaccine.

Netanyahu, who is due in court Wednesday, where he is expected to enter a plea in his trial on corruption charges, is quickly making Israel’s vaccination program the key plank of his re-election campaign. He faces the voters on March 23 – just four days before the Passover Seder, one of the most important nights in the Jewish calendar.

“We can do this because our health care system is one of the most advanced in the world, a real light to the Gentiles. On the upcoming Seder night, with the help of the God, we will be able to gather around the holiday table with grandparents, with father and mother, children and grandchildren. When we ask what has changed this night, the answer will be: everything has changed, this night we are all together.”

New tougher regulations come into effect across the country at midnight tonight (5pET) in an effort to bring down what have been rapidly rising numbers of new cases. Netanyahu called on Israelis to make “one last big effort” and stick to the stricter closure rules.

France detects two clusters of the UK Covid-19 variant

Two clusters of the coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK have been detected in France, the Health Ministry said on Thursday. The discovery comes as Prime Minister Jean Castex announced an extension of border closures between the UK and France. 

A total of 19 cases of the variant have been identified in the country, including one cluster in the central French region of Ile-de-France, and the other in Brittany, west of the country, the ministry said in a statement.

The border between Britain and France will remain closed “until further notice,” with only specific categories of people able to travel – provided they meet a negative coronavirus test before entering the country – Castex said in a press conference.

“We are now a little above 15,000 new daily cases, or three times more than the target of 5,000,” Castex said. The rise in infections is getting worse than it was in mid-December, he warned.

On December 20, France closed its border with Britain after a new Covid-19 variant was found in the UK. Two days later, Castex said French citizens, residents and those with a “legitimate reason” can enter as long as they can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test.

Coronavirus has claimed the lives of 66,841 people in France, according to the latest figures released by the Health Authority on Thursday. A total of 2,727,321 people have been infected by the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Mexican president says Mexico would vaccinate undocumented citizens in US

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico speaks during a press conference from the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico on Thursday, January 7.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday that Mexico is willing to vaccinate its undocumented citizens in the US – though he didn’t elaborate on how it would be carried out. 

His comments come after Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts answered a reporter’s question Monday about whether undocumented immigrants working in meat processing plants would be vaccinated: “You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants so I do not expect any illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program,” Ricketts said.

A member of Ricketts’ communications team added in a tweet Monday that “while the federal government is expected to eventually make enough vaccine available for everyone in the country, Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants.”

Robert Velasco, a senior Mexican diplomat for North America, tweeted a letter from the Mexican consul to the Governor of Nebraska Thursday. The letter stressed that many Mexican nationals were an “essential” part of Nebraska’s meatpacking industry and that a high percentage were undocumented with limited access to healthcare, making them very vulnerable.

The letter also stated:

During the 75th United Nations General Assembly held on September 20, 2020, the Governor of Mexico called for universal access to COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and medical equipment and for the prevention of eventual hoard ups and shortages of these vital items which goes against basic human rights, in this case of undocumented Mexican essential workers.
I would also like to emphasize that the Mexican government will apply the COVID-19 vaccine to all people living in Mexico regardless of their nationality and immigration status.

At least eight US states have now confirmed a case of the UK Covid-19 variant

A healthcare worker administers a test at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, November 30, 2020.

Officials in Texas and Connecticut have announced that the UK variant of Covid-19 has been identified in their states.

The variant appears to spread more easily, although there’s no evidence that it’s any more deadly or causes more severe disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Harris County Public Health in Texas said in a statement Thursday the first patient was a male between 30 and 40 with no travel history, which implies the variant has been transmitted locally. 

He is “stable, in isolation, and will remain there until cleared by public health officials.” The health department said it is finding close contacts, quarantining them, and conducting a “thorough investigation” with state health authorities.

Later, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said health officials in his state had identified two cases of the variant, which would bring the count for the US to at least 56 cases.

“The two individuals are between the ages of 15 and 25 and both reside in New Haven County. Both individuals recently traveled outside Connecticut – one to Ireland and the other to New York State – and both developed symptoms within 3 to 4 days of their return,” Lamont’s office said in a statement.

“Genetic sequencing of the virus has confirmed that the two cases are unrelated. The individuals’ specimens were collected earlier this month and subsequently tested positive.”

The new variant can only be identified with genomic sequencing, an extra step to the testing that diagnosis infection in people.

 But experts say there may be many more cases that have been circulating unidentified.

At least eight states have now confirmed a case of the variant. The others are California, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.

Los Angeles is reporting one Covid death every eight minutes

Refrigerated overflow morgue containers outside the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner in Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, January 6.

One person is dying from Covid-19 in Los Angeles every eight minutes, according to a new tweet from the county.

Over 11,000 Los Angeles County residents have died of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 5,000 of those deaths have occurred in the past two months, data from the LA County Department of Public Health shows. 

“People who were otherwise leading healthy, productive lives are now passing away because of a chance encounter with the COVID-19 virus,” LA County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday, adding that the county is seeing more than 200 deaths each day.

Cases have increased 941% since November 1 and so far, the rate of new cases in January is double what it was in December, according to Ferrer. In the past two months, the positivity rate in LA County has jumped from 3.8% to 21.8%.

Hospitalizations are 10 times higher than they were on November 1, and Health Services Director Christina Ghaly warns that yet another surge is expected within the next two weeks. More than 8,000 people are currently hospitalized, with 20% in intensive care units and 19% on ventilators.

Los Angeles County hospitals are still operating in contingency care, but given the overwhelming demand, could venture into crisis care mode. Should that occur, patients could be transferred to other areas and all hospitals will be required to halt elective surgeries.

Patients in intensive care in the UK to receive arthritis drugs as trial shows reduction in mortality

Britain's Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in London, on December 2, 2020.

Patients in intensive care units in the United Kingdom could soon receive drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis after clinical trials found they can help save lives and reduce time in hospital by 10 days, the Department of Health said Thursday. 

Results from the government-funded clinical trial — published online on Thursday, but not yet peer-reviewed — showed the drugs, Tocilizumab and Sarilumab, reduced the relative risk of death by 24%, when either were administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care, the Department of Health said in a press release. They also reduced time in hospital by an average of seven to 10 days.

“This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with Covid-19. The data shows that tocilizumab, and likely sarilumab, speed up and improve the odds of recovery in intensive care, which is crucial for helping to relieve pressure on intensive care and hospitals and saving lives,” England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said.

The government will update its guidance on Friday to encourage the use of these drugs for Covid-19 patients in intensive care. The drugs are typically available in UK hospitals.

During the trial, the drugs were administered in addition to a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone, which is already provided in the standard of care, the press release said.  

Patients receiving the current standard of care alone experienced a mortality rate of 35.8%. This was reduced to 27.3% using tocilizumab or sarilumab, a 24% relative reduction in risk of mortality.

US vaccine rollout needs time to catch up to distribution goals, Fauci says

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 22, 2020.

The US Covid-19 vaccine rollout needs a couple of weeks to catch up, and if that doesn’t happen, it’s time to make changes, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Thursday. 

The rollout has been slow, with just 5.3 million doses administered of the 17.3 million doses distributed in the United States, as of Wednesday.

Speaking on NPR’s Morning Edition on Thursday. Fauci noted that it’s early in the distribution process. and hiccups were always expected. 

 The other unfortunate thing, he said, was that the rollout began during the holiday season, “and that’s the reason why things start slow,” he added. 

“I think it would be fair to just observe what happens in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “If we don’t catch up on what the original goal was, then we really need to make some changes about what we’re doing.

“We just need to give a little bit (of) slack – not a lot – but enough to say, well, we’re past the holiday season, now let’s really turn the afterburners on.” 

The US has the highest number of Covid-19 cases worldwide, with a total of 21.3 million cases reported, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

WHO calls for more intensified measures to fight UK variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on European countries to intensify coronavirus measures as the region deals with a new variant that was first detected in the UK.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said Thursday that further measures were needed to “flatten the steep vertical line” of rising cases in some countries.

While the variant appears to spread more easily than others, there’s no evidence that it’s any more deadly or causes more severe disease.

Health officials have also downplayed the possibility that coronavirus vaccines won’t work against the variant.

But in the UK, health workers are struggling with a steep rise in cases and deaths. The country recorded a total of 1,041 further deaths on Wednesday, as well as 62,322 new cases.

“This is an alarming situation, which means that for a short period of time we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain we can flatten the steep vertical line in some countries,” Kluge said.

Read more:

World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge in September 2020 in Moscow, Russia.

WHO calls for more intensified measures to fight UK coronavirus variant

London "may run out of [hospital] beds" in next few days, mayor says

Nurses work on patients in the ICU at St George's Hospital in London on January 7.

London “may run out of [hospital] beds” in the “next few days” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in the capital, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Thursday.

Khan, when asked by LBC Radio if Covid-19 was “out of control” in London, said: “Yes. This virus is out of control.”
He added: “The NHS is on the cusp of being overwhelmed. There has been no time during this pandemic where I’ve been more concerned than I am today.”
Khan implored Londoners to “stay home” and said National Health Service (NHS) workers “are stretched, they are overworked, many of them are suffering trauma that may take years to recover from.” 

The UK is currently grappling with a devastating wave of the pandemic. On Wednesday, it recorded its highest daily increase in coronavirus-related deaths since April, with a total of 1,041 fatalities registered. The country is currently under lockdown, with restrictions imposed across all four nations.

According to data from the Greater London Authority, 14,892 people tested positive in the capital on Wednesday, compared to 62,322 that same day for the entire United Kingdom.

English city set to run out of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses by Friday

The English city of Birmingham will run out of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses on Friday with “no clarity on when further supplies will arrive,” local officials warned on Thursday in a letter sent to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The letter, signed by the leader of Birmingham City Council Ian Ward and local members of parliament Liam Byrne and Andrew Mitchell, also points out that Birmingham “has not yet been supplied with any AstraZeneca [vaccine] stock.”

“In addition, it remains unclear who is responsible for overseeing the vaccination programme in Birmingham and whom we should hold to account for progress and delivery,” the letter reads.

The letter comes after NHS England began rolling out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in primary care centers on Thursday.

The UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 2 and the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab on December 30.

NHS England said this week that hundreds of new vaccination sites are opening at hospitals and in the community, “on top of the 700 which were already open and vaccinating.”

But Britain finds itself in a race to vaccinate people as a new variant circulates among residents and cases surge to record winter highs.

More than 1.3 million people have so far been vaccinated in the UK but the British government plans to inoculate 13 million people by mid-February.

On Wednesday the UK recorded its highest daily increase in coronavirus-related deaths since 21 April, with a total of 1,041 further deaths registered.

Health officials also reported a further 62,322 cases, bringing the total number of UK infections confirmed since the pandemic began to 2,836,801.

India to conduct trial nationwide vaccine rollout on Friday

A staff member talks with security personnel outside of a storage room at a Covid-19 vaccination unit in Mumbai on January 7.

India will roll out a nationwide vaccination trial across 33 states and union territories on Friday.

“We are at the final stages of embarking on vaccine distribution,” Union Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday, adding that two vaccines “are at the stage where they can be made available to the public.”

Feedback from an earlier “mock” exercise across four states in December will be used in the trial rollout, Vardhan said. 

India plans to vaccinate 20 million health care and frontline workers in Phase One of the roll out and 270 million people over 50 and people with comorbidities in Phase Two.

The country has the second-highest toll of coronavirus cases in the world, with more than 10.3 million cases recorded, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“We have a rich experience of conducting elections and universal immunization [programs] … so we have to take the experience from both these strategies,” said Dr. Manohar Agnani, a health ministry officer monitoring vaccine distribution. 

India’s Health Ministry has trained 330,000 people to take part in administering the vaccine. 

“I want to give confidence to the entire team here that we have adequate cold storage facilities available … and sufficient quantity of syringes … which have already been provided to states and UTs (union territories) for the first phase of the drive,” Agnani said.

For the trial, the central government has asked states to carry out sessions at district hospitals or other government health facilities and private hospitals. States will also carry out urban and rural outreach to test all aspects of distribution.

China bans 11 million people from leaving city in Hebei province as health officials try to contain virus outbreak

Police officers wearing protective suits stand guard at the entrance of an expressway on January 6 in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China.

China has banned 11 million people from leaving the city of Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province in the country’s north. The ban came into effect Thursday.

Over 100 new cases were reported Wednesday in the province, which neighbors China’s capital Beijing. 

​At a press conference Thursday, Meng Xianghong, deputy mayor of Shijiazhuang, announced a ban on outbound travel for all people and vehicles in the city, except for emergencies.

Gaocheng district in Shijiazhuang had been declared a high-risk area on Wednesday. 

As of noon on Thursday, samples had been collected from a total of 6,109,685 people for mass testing in the city.

Shijiazhuang reported 50 confirmed cases and 67 asymptomatic cases on Wednesday, according to a Thursday update.

South Africa will receive 1.5 million vaccines from January

South Africa will receive 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, the country’s health minister Zweli Mkhize announced Thursday.

Mkhize said the first million doses will arrive this month, with the remainder delivered in February.

Vaccination priority in the first round of inoculations will be given to the nation’s more than 1 million health care workers, in both the public and private sector.

The Serum Institute is under contract to produce the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The deal comes after considerable public pressure in South Africa for the government to speed up its vaccine rollout plan as the country suffers through a dramatic second wave of infection driven, in part, by a more infectious variant of the virus.