J&J files vaccince application in US as Perth exits five-day lockdown

World round-up: South Korean advisers urge caution over use of AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s

 A medical worker takes a sample at an outdoor Covid-19 testing station in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. Photograph: EPA/Yonhap

A medical worker takes a sample at an outdoor Covid-19 testing station in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. Photograph: EPA/Yonhap

 

More than 104.8 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 2.28 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:

US

Johnson & Johnson has asked US regulators to clear the world’s first single-dose coronavirus vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies. Preliminary results from a massive study of 44,000 people in the US, Latin America and South Africa showed the jab was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe Covid-19. It did not appear quite as strong as two-dose competitors made by Pfizer and Moderna. Overall, the single-dose vaccine was 66 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe Covid-19 but it was 85 per cent protective against the most serious symptoms — and starting 28 days after their shot, researchers found no one who got the vaccine needed hospitalisation or died. Johnson & Johnson filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday. An FDA panel will meet later this month and pore over the results.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers renewed his Covid-19 emergency health order and statewide mask mandate on Thursday, shortly after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to repeal his earlier order requiring face coverings in public places.

Australia

Australia’s biggest state will exit a snap five-day Covid-19 lockdown after reporting no cases for five straight days, as the national cabinet decided to lift the temporary caps on citizens returning from overseas from the middle of this month.

Western Australia’s state capital Perth and southwest region, home to some two million people, will exit lockdown from 6pm local time on Friday, state premier Mark McGowan said, adding the only reason that could change was if local cases were recorded before that time.

With community infections in the country remaining low over the last several days, Australia will relax caps on international arrivals.

Australia will reinstate prior limits on international travellers allowed back each week to some states, after cutting the number by nearly half to around 3,000 in early January after the discovery of virulent new variants of the coronavirus.

Since last March, the country’s international border has been shut to all but non-citizens and permanent residents who have to go through a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival at their expense.

Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria on Friday reported no new cases bringing relief to organisers of the Australian Open tennis, due to start February 8th, after a worker at a hotel where some players were staying had contracted the virus.

The quarantine hotel worker infection, reported late on Wednesday, put 500 players and staff into isolation while they were tested. Tournament officials on Friday said nearly all of them have so far tested negative for the virus.

Australia has reported just under 29,000 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths, far fewer than many other developed countries, because of strict border controls, widespread testing, social distancing rules and lockdowns.

France

France has registered four cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Brazil, although its prime minister dismissed the possibility of a new national lockdown for now. France reported 23,448 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, down from 26,362 on Wednesday while hospitalisations continued to decline. The health ministry reported 360 Covid-19 deaths versus 357 on Wednesday, taking the total during the nearly year-long pandemic to 77,952.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 12,908 to 2,264,909, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Friday. The reported death toll rose by 855 to 60,597, the tally showed.

UK

National Health Service leaders have warned the service remains at “full stretch”, despite a declaration by the chief medical officer for England Prof Chris Whitty that the current wave of the pandemic was “past its peak”. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents trusts in England, said numbers in intensive care were only coming down “very slowly” while staff were “deeply exhausted” after working for weeks at “fever pitch”.

South Korea

South Korea’s total Covid-19 infection cases surpassed 80,000 mark on Friday as it granted conditional approval to Celltrion Inc’s Covid-19 antibody treatment, drug safety minister Kim Gang-lip said.

Meanwhile, a panel of South Korean advisers has urged caution over the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for people older than 65, citing a lack of data, the food and drug safety ministry said on Friday.

New Zealand

New Zealand said on Friday it will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with about 210 refugees expected to enter the country by June 30th, Immigration New Zealand and officials said. “With health protocols in place and safe travel routes, we are ready to welcome small groups of refugee families as New Zealand residents to this country, to begin their new lives,” Fiona Whiteridge, general manager for refugee and migrant services at Immigration New Zealand, said in a statement. All arrivals will have to complete a 14-day stay in government managed isolation facilities.

Panama

Panama’s government is seeking 3 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 for 1.5 million people, hoping to receive them by March, a letter of intent signed by the country’s health ministry showed.

Brazil

Brazil’s prosecutor-general has opened a preliminary investigation into its president and health minister for possible negligence in response to a Covid-19 outbreak in Manaus city.

Meanwhile, the country is in talks to buy an additional 20 million doses of the

coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, the governor of Sao Paulo told Reuters in a Thursday interview, in a show of confidence in the Chinese shot.

China

China reported the fewest new Covid-19 cases in over a month, official data showed, suggesting that the latest wave of the disease is subsiding ahead of the key Lunar New Year holiday period set to begin next week.

Israel

Israel has extended its third Covid -19 lockdown to Sunday, at which point nationwide curbs will be eased slowly.

Medical developments

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning a rapid review process for quick turnaround of new Covid-19 booster shots if variants of the coronavirus emerge against which the vaccines do not provide protection, the agency’s top official said on Thursday.

Pfizer Inc has withdrawn an application for emergency-use authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine in India that it has developed with Germany’s BioNTech.

* The World Health Organisation’s Covaz initiative aims to start shipping nearly 90 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa in February, while China said it would donate 100,000 doses to the Congo Republic and forgive $13 million in public debt. – Reuters, PA, Bloomberg