You can keep reading along on our new blog, run by Graham Readfearn in Australia. Here it is:
- The UK government is exploring the idea of documentation that would allow travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against coronavirus, the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has said.
- Spain has approved AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use in 18-55 year olds, El Pais newspaper has reported. France, Germany, Italy and Austria have also imposed restrictions on the use of the vaccine, amid a lack of data on the recently-approved shot’s use in the elderly.
- Lebanon has announced a gradual relaxation of its lockdown, after three weeks of strict restrictions introduced to rein in surging infections that threatened to overwhelm the country’s hospitals.
- More than 80% of people in some developing countries have seen their incomes fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, economists have found, warning that rising poverty could mean poorer countries struggle to curb infections – especially with mass vaccination potentially years away.
- Slovak regional authorities have quarantined a Roma settlement after a quarter of its residents tested positive for the coronavirus.
- Greece has become the latest EU country to limit its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 65, with the health ministry saying it is awaiting more data on the jab’s efficacy on older people.
- Israel announced that it would ease lockdown measures but keep its international airport and land borders closed following a slight fall in the spread of coronavirus cases.
- The US will deploy 1,100 troops to help get Americans get Covid jabs at state vaccination centres.
We’re shutting down this blog now, but you can follow along for all the latest developments on our new blog. I’ll post a link when it’s up and running.
Lebanon to begin easing lockdown
Lebanon has announced a gradual relaxation of its lockdown, after three weeks of strict restrictions introduced to rein in surging infections that threatened to overwhelm the country’s hospitals.
The country will slowly reopen, with a series of phases announced to unlock different sectors. Lebanon has been in total shutdown since 14 January, with residents only allowed to leave the house for very limited exceptions and food shopping operating through deliveries, AFP wrote.
“Sectors will reopen progressively, in four phases,” caretaker interior minister Mohamed Fahmi told a press conference Friday. “The first phase, starting 8 February, will last two weeks.”
He said the requirement for authorisations to leave home would remain in place.
“The criteria for evaluating the epidemiological situation remain worrying, in particular the increase in deaths,” caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan said at the press conference, adding that the aim was to lift measures gradually.
Authorities have increased the number of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, but facilities are almost full.
Intensive care occupancy rates are almost 90% across the country and 100% in Beirut, according to figures published Friday by the WHO.
Lebanon is expecting its first delivery of two million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses mid-February, with priority for inoculations to be given to medical personnel and people aged over 75.
Talks between Chicago’s mayor and the city’s teachers’ union on reopening the school district have broken up after the group rejected her “last, best and final offer”.
The teachers union, which represents 28,000 educators in the US’s third-largest district, said the mayor’s plan would require a suspension of in-person learning district-wide only if there were outbreaks in half of Chicago’s schools simultaneously.
This would mean that outbreaks in more than 200 schools “would not be cause to consider reinstitution of remote learning” for the district’s 335,000 students, the union said, according to Reuters.
Moreover, the union said the mayor’s proposal denies remote-work accommodations to 75% of educators with household members at high risk for Covid-19.
The two sides have been locked in negotiations over schools reopening for months, with teachers demanding stronger safety coronavirus measures in classrooms.
Greece limits AstraZeneca jab to under-65s
Greece has become the latest EU country to limit its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 65, with the health ministry saying it is awaiting more data on the jab’s efficacy on older people.
“In Greece, as in other European Union countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be used on ages 18-64,” health ministry general secretary Marios Themistokleous said, in comments reported by Reuters.
There is “insufficient evidence” regarding its use on older people, he added.
France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and other countries have so far put age limits on the vaccine, which was developed by the British-Swedish firm with Oxford University.
Fewer than 360,000 vaccinations have been carried out in the country of 11 million.
Germany has not yet decided whether to extend its Covid-19 lockdown, a state source told Reuters amid reports that the country was likely to keep the measures in place for a further two weeks.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders are due to meet next Wednesday to take a decision on the matter. Germany is under a national lockdown, with schools and kindergartens shut until mid-February, though factories and offices remain open.
“Nothing has been decided or discussed at – everything is open,” said the state source.
Most shops and non-essential services have been shut since mid-December after a partial lockdown covering the hospitality sector brought in early November failed to bring down infections.
France’s case count has remained steady, with 22,139 new confirmed Covid-19 infections reported on Friday, taking the cumulative total to 3.29 million.
Friday’s figure compares to 23,448 on Thursday and 22,858 last Friday, Reuters reported.
Hospital figures fell for the third day in a row, with the number of people in hospital with the virus decreasing by 194 to 27,614. Five fewer people were in ICU, leaving a total of 3,245.
Slovak regional authorities have quarantined a Roma settlement after a quarter of its residents tested positive for the coronavirus.
The settlement of Sacurov near Vranov nad Toplou in the east of the country, made up of two three-storey apartment blocks and around 70 shacks, is to be closed off for 10 days.
Residents will be able to shop for food, Sacurov mayor Peter Barat said, adding that assistants will help them with other services.Footage by TA3 television showed a police car blocking the entry road to the settlement.
“In a week-and-a-half it grew [from five] to the unreal number of 113, due to a failure to maintain quarantine and isolation,” he said.
There are about 750 people living in the settlement, Slovak newspaper dennikn.sk reported, and about 400 were tested. Most of the positive cases were among children, it said, with no or mild symptoms.
The country has a Roma population about 440,000-strong, with many living in settlements on the outskirts of towns, although most declare themselves as Slovaks or Hungarians, according to Reuters.
Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic said on Friday that more than 70% of positive tests on Wednesday were with the more infectious UK variant of the virus.
More than 80% of people in some developing countries have seen their incomes fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, economists have found, warning that rising poverty could mean poorer countries struggle to curb infections – especially with mass vaccination potentially years away.
“Economic help is part and parcel of fighting the virus,” co-author of the study Shana Warren told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If you want people to stay home to stop the virus spreading while they wait for vaccines you need to provide them with the economic support to do so.”
Without financial aid, people are likely to risk contracting and spreading the virus if they need to work, economists said in a major study spanning three continents.
The study, which surveyed 30,000 households, is one of the largest of its kind, tracking the “unprecedented” rise in global poverty in 2020. It was carried out by 18 organisations, including Ivy League universities, European universities and the World Bank.
It comes amid fears that some poorer countries may not get vaccines until 2024, while the UN has warned that the pandemic could push a billion people into extreme poverty by 2030.
- In Colombia, 87% of respondents reported a fall in income.
- In Ghana, it was 84%.
- A total of 81% reported a fall in Rwanda.
- Nearly nine in 10 rural households surveyed in Sierra Leone said they had cut meals due to the pandemic.
- Food insecurity levels in Bangladesh in April 2020 doubled compared to previous years.
The report recommended providing help in the form of mobile phone cash transfers, subsidising utilities like water and electricity and removing penalties for unpaid bills.
China will provide Nepal with an initial batch of vaccines, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday, citing Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks during a telephone conversation with his Nepali counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Reuters reported.