Covid-19: Brisbane in lockdown, emergency declared in Tokyo

World updates: Travellers to Australia must show negative dest before departure

A Covid-19 test is carried out at the Merrylands drive-through clinic on Thursday, in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

A Covid-19 test is carried out at the Merrylands drive-through clinic on Thursday, in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

 

More than 87.42 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1,888,982 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Here are the latest updates from around the world:

Australia

Travellers to Australia will have to show a negative Covid-19 test before they can get on their plane, the prime minister said on Friday, as the city of Brisbane went into lockdown after the discovery of a case of the new coronavirus variant.

The more than 2 million residents of Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, will be barred from leaving their homes for anything but essential business for three days from Friday evening after a worker at a quarantine hotel tested positive for the new variant, which was first detected in Britain.

Australia has found several cases of the variant but this was the first one to appear outside the quarantine system. Australia has also found a variant that emerged in South Africa in hotel quarantine.

It was not known if the hotel worker, a cleaner, was infected by someone who arrived from Britain but everyone would now need to show a negative test to travel to Australia, prime minister Scott Morrison announced.

“A negative test is not foolproof, but a positive test - they’re not coming,” Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

Mr Morrison justified the Brisbane lockdown, given the danger that the new variant could quickly become the dominant strain of the virus.

“I know they will be some in Brisbane today asking ‘why is this necessary? There is only one case’. Well, this isn’t any ordinary case. This is a very special case and one that requires us to treat things quite differently,” Mr Morrison told reporters.

Australia has had about 28,500 cases of the novel coronavirus and some 900 deaths, far fewer than many other countries, partly because of strict border controls from the outset of the pandemic.

Since March, the border has been shut to all non-citizens and permanent residents and the number of people allowed back each week has been capped at just over 6,000 people, with everyone going into mandatory hotel quarantine at their expense.

China

Chinese authorities have shut down some entry and exit ramps of a highway connecting Beijing and Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province, which is fighting a cluster of coronavirus infections.

The closings were implemented to help stem a new Covid-19 wave, Beijing Daily newspaper reported on Friday.

Tongzhou district in Beijing, which borders Hebei province, also declared that it was entering a “wartime state” to prevent infections. Such a measure is usually followed by contact tracing and testing to track down any infections at the local level.

Shijiazhuang on Thursday barred people from leaving. The city of 11 million people accounted for 31 of the 37 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases and 35 of the 57 asymptomatic cases reported in mainland China on January 7th.

Though the number of new cases remains a small fraction of what China saw early last year at the height of the outbreak, which first emerged from the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, authorities have taken aggressive measures whenever new clusters emerge in order to prevent another national outbreak.

Shijiazhuang has already launched a citywide mass Covid-19 testing drive, banned gatherings and ordered vehicles and people in high-risk Covid-19 areas to remain in their districts to keep the infections from growing.

The northern Liaoning province, which reported two new local infections and one new imported infection on Thursday, also said on Friday it had extended the quarantine period for those arriving from overseas to 21 days from 14 days.

For all of mainland China, new Covid-19 cases fell to 53 from 63 a day earlier. The total number of confirmed cases to date now stands at 87,331, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Japan

Japan declared a limited state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and three neighbouring prefectures on Thursday to stem the spread of the coronavirus, resisting calls from some medics for wider curbs due to the economic damage they would cause.

The government said the one-month emergency would run from Friday to February 7th in Tokyo and Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, covering about 30 per cent of the country’s population. Restrictions would centre on combating transmission in bars and restaurants, which the government says are main risk areas.

The curbs are narrower in scope than those imposed in April under an emergency that ran to late May. At that time, the curbs were nationwide and schools and non-essential businesses were mostly shuttered. This time, schools are not being closed.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s government is seeking to limit damage to the world’s third-biggest economy while striving to defeat the virus once and for all as it looks ahead to staging the postponed summer Olympics.

Suga said damage to the economy was inevitable but he would aim to protect jobs and businesses with a 70 trillion yen (€550 billion) stimulus package, which is being rolled out.

Japan, though less seriously hit by the pandemic than many places, has been unable to rein in the virus to the extent some countries in the region have, with recorded daily infections at more than 7,000 for the first time on Thursday, media reported.

Tokyo in particular has been a constant worry with its tally of positive tests jumping to 2,447 on Thursday, from a record of 1,591 the previous day.

In all, Japan has seen 267,000 cases and nearly 3,900 deaths.

Authorities aim to start a vaccination campaign by the end of February.

United States

US health officials sought to speed up the sluggish pace of Covid-19 vaccinations on Thursday, as the coronavirus claimed over 4,000 American lives for a second straight day and employment data showed the pandemic further stifling the job market.

As of Thursday, roughly 6 million people across the United States had received a first injection of the two-shot vaccines, accounting for less than one-third of more than 21 million doses shipped to date, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That number falls far short of the 20 million vaccinations the US government had vowed to administer by the end of 2020 as the pandemic raged largely unchecked with ever-increasing record numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

The contagion and strict public health measures imposed to contain it have also wreaked havoc on business activity.

A closely watched US labour department report set for release on Friday was expected to show that the US economy in December created the fewest jobs since the outbreak of the pandemic in March and may have even shed workers.

More than 270,000 new US infections were reported on Thursday and Covid-19 hospitalisations stood at 132,046 patients, down slightly from Wednesday’s record tally. The virus killed 4,002 Americans on Thursday alone, just under Wednesday’s record 24-hour toll of 4,008 deaths.

The latest surge has been compounded by the spread of a new, more infectious coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom that has now been found in at least eight US states, including California, Colorado, Florida and New York.

Pennsylvania and Texas became the latest two states added to the list on Thursday, but health officials say spread of the UK variant will likely accelerate across the country in the weeks and months to come. – Reuters