Covid-19: Hong Kong locks down thousands for compulsory testing

World round-up: Netherlands to impose first night-time curfew since WWII from tonight

Elderly men exercise in a park in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on Saturday, one year after the city went into lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photograph: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Elderly men exercise in a park in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on Saturday, one year after the city went into lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photograph: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

 

More than 98 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 2.1 million deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s government locked down an area of Kowloon peninsula on Saturday, saying its 10,000 residents must stay home until all of them have been tested for the new coronavirus and results largely determined. The government said there are 70 buildings in the “restricted area” of Jordan and that it aims to finish the process within about 48 hours, so that people can start getting to work on Monday.

Hong Kong authorities have taken aggressive measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in the Asian financial and airline hub, but Saturday’s move is the first lockdown in the Chinese-ruled city. Many buildings are old and poorly maintained in the small, densely populated area, where subdivided units are common, said health secretary Sophia Chan. “The infection risk in the community is quite high,” she told a news conference.

“After assessment, we think it’s necessary to make a restriction-testing declaration in the restricted area to achieve the goal of zero cases.” The restricted area has confirmed 162 confirmed cases of Covid-19 this month, and the ratio of virus detected in sewage samples from buildings there was higher than that of other areasHong Kong has seen a total of 9,929 infections, with 168 deaths recorded as of Friday.

UK

British prime minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new English variant of Covid-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortalityalthough he said evidence showed that both vaccines being used in the country are effective against it. Johnson said that the impact of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissable, was putting the health service under “intense pressure”.

Belgium

Belgium is to ban all non-essential tripsto and from the country as the European Union prepares tighter rules on travel in response to alarm over new variants of Covid-19.

An appeal to Belgians not to travel over the Christmas and new year holiday period failed to prevent tens of thousands of people from going on ski trips and sun holidays, according to the government.

With the traditional mid-February half-term holiday approaching, authorities are determined to avoid a repeat of last year, when tourists caught Covid-19 at Alpine ski resorts and at carnival parties and brought the virus home, fuelling the first wave of transmissions.

Denmark

The United Arab Emirates said on Friday it was in talks with Denmark after the Nordic country temporarily halted all flights arriving from the Gulf Arab state, a major travel hub, due to potentially unreliable coronavirus tests in Dubai.

Denmark’s transport ministry said the five-day travel restrictions, comes after concerns were raised about the coronavirus tests administered in Dubai before departure. It added it had taken the decision after a detailed tip-off, without elaborating.Denmark earlier this month made it mandatory for travellers to show a negative test from the previous 24 hours before departure towards Denmark from all countries.

Late on Friday, Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Twitter 50 persons with Covid-19 had flown in from Dubai in January alone.Thirty-three of those arrived after Denmark made it mandatory to test negative for Covid-19 before departure.

Elderly men exercise in a park in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on Saturday, one year after the city went into lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photograph: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images
Elderly men exercise in a park in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on Saturday, one year after the city went into lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photograph: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Netherlands

The Netherlands will impose its first night-time curfew since the second World Warfrom Saturday onwards in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19 after a majority of lawmakers supported the emergency measure during a debate on Thursday.

The curfew will allow only people with pressing needs to leave their homes between 9.00pm and 4.30am local time and is expected to last until at least February 9th. Exceptions include medical emergencies, people who need to be outdoors to carry out essential jobs and walking of pets on a leash. Violators can be fined €95.

Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have already been shut since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier. Infections in the Netherlands have decreased steadily in the past three weeks, but health authorities say new variants of the novel coronavirus will lead to a fresh surge of cases by next month if social distancing measures are not tightened.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,417 to 2,122,679, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 879 to 51,521, the tally showed.

The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Friday that, despite a slowdown in infections, an extension and intensification of lockdown until late February or early March was essential to prevent a “considerable worsening” of the situation. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state leaders agreed on Tuesday to keep schools, restaurants and all non-essential businesses shut until at least February 14th.

Germany expects British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc to deliver 3 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in February despite the company’s latest production problems, health minister Jens Spahn told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

AstraZeneca informed European Union officials on Friday it would cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems, a senior official told Reuters.

The decrease deals another blow to Europe’s Covid-19 vaccination drive after Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine to the bloc this week, saying the move was needed because of work to ramp up production.

France

France passed the threshold of 3 million Covid-19 cases on Friday, as an acceleration in the spread of the virus prompted warnings from the government that a third lockdown is possible. France’s second lockdown that began in late October reversed a spike in Covid-19 cases, but hospitalisation and intensive-care patients remain more than five times higher than in August, keeping pressure on the health system.

As more contagious variants of the virus spread, health minister Olivier Veran has said a decision on another lockdown or tighter curbs could be made within days or weeks.

Portugal

Portugal, which has this week been breaking daily death toll records and on Wednesday hit a record 14,647 new cases in one day, mainly as a result of the UK strain, ordered all schools to close for 15 days from Friday. “Lots of people are cracking, lots of people are burning out and it gets harder and harder,” one intensive care doctor, Gustavo Carona, said. “Everyone is very tired.”

Bulgaria

Bulgaria reported its first eight cases of the UK coronavirus variant, some with patients who recently returned from Britain, Todor Kantardzhiev, the head of the National Center of Infections and Parasitic Diseases, said in an interview with the public BNT TV channel.

EU vaccines

AstraZeneca Plc has informed European Union officials on Friday it would cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems, a senior official told Reuters.

The decrease deals another blow to Europe’s Covid-19 vaccination drive after Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE slowed supplies of their vaccine to the bloc this week, saying the move was needed because of work to ramp up production.

Norway

Norway is imposing the strictest measures since March 12th in the area around the capital, Oslo, in an attempt to suppress infections of the more contagious coronavirus variant. All shops, cinemas, restaurants and churches will be closed and the service of alcohol banned until January 31st, health minister Bent Hoie announced in a webcast speech on Saturday. Amateur sports and leisure activities won’t be allowed.

Australia

Australia’s Victoria state recorded its 17th straight day without any new local coronavirus cases on Saturday as officials focus on keeping the community separated from staff and players there for next month’s Australia Open. As many as 72 players have been confined to their hotel rooms for two weeks upon arrival and unable to train for the February 8th to 21st Grand Slam after passengers on three charter flights tested positive.

US

The number of people currently hospitalised in the US with Covid-19 dropped by 2,773 in a single day to 119,927, according to Covid Tracking Project data. The one-week drop of 9,020 was also a record, the data show. And the decrease is accelerating on a percentage basis.

The absolute number of people with Covid-19 in hospitals is still extraordinarily high: The virus remains dangerously prevalent in much of the country, and it’s still unclear how new variants will affect the arc of the pandemic. Deaths, a lagging indicator, are likely to continue mounting at a rapid pace for weeks to come. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state will on Friday run out of all the vaccines that have been delivered.

The state is beginning to receive deliveries of the 250,400 doses it will have for the next week. Providers should only schedule appointments for allocations they know they will receive, Mr Cuomo said Friday during a press briefing. New York is administering 80,000 doses a day and could easily ramp up to more than 100,000, Mr Cuomo said.

China

China on Saturday reported a slight increase in new cases of Covid-19 as it marks the anniversary of the world’s first coronavirus lockdown, in the city of Wuhan where the disease emerged in late 2019. The National Health Commission said 107 new Covid-19 cases had been identified on Saturday, up from 103 cases the day before.

The commission said in a statement that 90 of the new cases were local infections. The northeastern province of Heilongjiang recorded 56 new cases and neighbouring Jilin province had 13. Both Beijing and Shanghai recorded three new cases each, and the province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, recorded 15 new cases. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 99 from 119 cases a day earlier. Beijing launched mass Covid-19 testing in some areas on Friday and Shanghai was testing all hospital staff as China faced its worst novel coronavirus outbreak since March, with families fretting over Lunar New Year reunion plans.

Also on Friday, China reported its first cluster of cases among workers in a meat processing plant in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, raising consumer concerns. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China stands at 88,911, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

Wuhan shut down transport networks and suspended outgoing flights on January 23rd, 2020, in an attempt to cut off transmission of the virus. China on Friday premiered a documentary film to mark the anniversary of the lockdown, part of a broader effort to cast China’s early response to Covid-19 in a positive light after some suggestions, which authorities reject, of an initial delay.

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry on Friday reported 21,007 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 1,440 additional fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 1,732,290 cases and 147,614 deaths. The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

South Africa

Almost 10 months after the first coronavirus case was detected in South Africa, the official death toll of those diagnosed with the disease has breached the 40,000 mark. The country now has almost 1.4 million confirmed cases – more than triple the number of any other African nation.

That may in part be due to the fact that it has conducted almost 7.9 million tests, way more than its continental peers. A second wave of infections has largely been driven by a new strain of the virus that studies show is about 50 per cent more transmissible than earlier versions.

Japan

Tokyo found 1,070 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the smallest daily increase since January 12th. The drop comes as Japanese officials next week are set to examine the effectiveness of the nation’s strategy to contain the spread of the

coronavirus. Japan is halfway through its second state of emergency, with officials set to examine the effectiveness of the measure in the coming week. Experts will look to determine if the country can quickly return to normal like it did following a similar emergency last spring, or risk being dragged into a lengthy and punishing battle against the coronavirus.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga declared the emergency for Tokyo and adjacent areas on January 7th, with residents requested to avoid going out after 8pm and bars and restaurants to be instructed to close at that time, to address an alarming surge in cases.

While the areas under the emergency that is set to run until February 7th have already been expanded once, there are chances it may be extended, and the areas under its purview could be broadened yet again. – PA, Bloomberg, Reuters