Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 from around the world - Thursday, January 14

The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic may be tougher than the first given how the new coronavirus is spreading, especially in the northern hemisphere as more-infectious variants circulate, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

So far there have been 92.3 million confirmed infections and 1.97 million deaths. 

Here's the latest from around the world overnight.

Americas

United States

Nearly all air travelers will need to present a negative coronavirus test to enter the United States under expanded test testing requirements announced on Tuesday.

From January 26, nearly all travelers including US citizens must show a negative test within three days of departure or documentation of recovery from COVID-19. All travelers aged two and older must comply except passengers who are only transiting through the United States. 

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday he was right to criticize the credibility of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech that posted disappointing efficacy results in local trials.

On Tuesday, researchers in Sao Paulo state announced that the Chinese vaccine was 50.4 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in a local trial - barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the rate announced last week.

"This 50 percent is good, is it? All the [criticism] I got for my comments, and now they are seeing the truth. Four months of being lambasted because of the vaccine," he said.

Nonetheless, Bolsonaro said he had no role in greenlighting the Sinovac shot as it was up to federal health regulator Anvisa.

Europe

Governments across Europe announced tighter and longer coronavirus lockdowns and curbs on Wednesday amid fears of a fast-spreading variant first detected in Britain, with vaccinations not expected to help much until the spring.

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday tougher restrictions brought in last week were starting to have an effect on the spread of COVID in some parts of the country, cautioning that it was still early days.

Britain reported a record daily death toll of 1564 on Wednesday, a new record. More have died in the second wave of the pandemic than the first wave. There have now been almost 85,000 deaths in Britain - the fifth highest figure globally - and 3.2 million have tested positive for COVID-19.

Italy

Italy will extend its COVID-19 state of emergency to the end of April, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said as infections show no sign of abating.

Switzerland

Switzerland announced tighter measures to tackle new variants of the COVID-19 virus and extended the closure of restaurants, cultural and sport sites by five weeks to run until the end of February.

Spain

The Spanish regions of Galicia, La Rioja and Cantabria became the latest to tighten coronavirus restrictions. After a lull in contagion in late November, cases skyrocketed through December and into early January, doubling the incidence of the virus as measured over the past 14 days in just three weeks, to 454 cases per 100,000 people.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered officials to begin mass coronavirus inoculations next week and to open up the vaccination programme to all Russians.

Germany

Germany is likely to have to extend COVID-19 curbs into February, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, stressing the need to further reduce contacts to fend off the more infectious variant first identified in Britain. The German cabinet approved stricter entry controls to require people arriving from countries with high caseloads or where the more virulent variant is circulating to take coronavirus tests.

The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported 19,600 new COVID infections on Wednesday. The death toll rose by 1060 to 42,637.

Netherlands

The Dutch government said late on Tuesday it would extend the lockdown, including the closure of schools and shops, by at least three weeks until February 9.

France

The French government's top scientific adviser said new restrictions were needed in light of the variant first detected in Britain, adding that if vaccines were more widely accepted the crisis could be over by September.

Poland

There was more optimistic news from Poland, where COVID-19 case numbers have stabilised after surging in the autumn.

"I hope that in two to three weeks the restrictions will be a little smaller, the vaccine will work," Poland's Finance Minister Tadeusz Koscinski said in an interview.

"Some restrictions will remain for quite a long time, but I think that 80 percent of these restrictions will start to disappear at the turn of the first and second quarter."

Czechia

A Prague clinic has launched a mobile team to give COVID-19 shots in senior and social care homes, where hundreds of residents will be among the first in the Czech Republic to escape the fear of infection.

Asia-Pacific

China

China posted its biggest daily jump in COVID cases in more than five months on Wednesday, stepping up containment measures that have seen four cities put under lockdown, as the world's second biggest economy scrambles to head off a new wave of infections.

On Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported a total of 115 new confirmed cases on the mainland, compared with 55 a day earlier, the highest daily increase since July 30. Most of the new cases were reported near the capital Beijing, but a province in far northeast China also saw a rise in infections.

Japan

Japan expanded a state of emergency in the Tokyo area to seven more prefectures amid a steady rise in cases, as a survey by public broadcaster NHK showed most people want to cancel or postpone the already delayed Summer Olympics.

Australia

Some Australian scientists have proposed delaying mass inoculation using AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine with a view to considering a different shot instead.

Questions surrounding the vaccine in Australia, which recorded just one new local case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, have cast a cloud over its immunisation plans, with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine already on order.

Experts cited data showing the AstraZeneca shot, co-developed with Oxford University, had 62 percent efficacy compared with more than 90 percent for a vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.

"The question is really whether [AstraZeneca] is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don't know how long that will take," said professor Stephen Turner, president of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI).

Economic impact

Vaccines and fresh economic stimulus promised by US President-elect Joe Biden will give the global economy a chance to put the coronavirus pandemic behind it in 2021, policymakers and industry leaders told the Reuters Next conference.

Their optimism came despite a resurgence in COVID-19 cases that has prompted the World Bank to downgrade its growth forecast for this year and warn that delays in vaccination programmes could pinch recovery even further.

Vaccines

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson is on track to roll out its single-shot coronavirus vaccine in March, and plans to have clear data on how effective it is by the end of this month or early  February, the US healthcare company's chief science officer said.

Sinovac

China's Sinovac Biotech defended the safety and efficacy of its experimental coronavirus vaccine after disappointing data from Brazil. 

World Health Organization reform

A global team of scientists led by the WHO to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus will spend around a month in the Chinese city of Wuhan, including two weeks in quarantine, a team member said on Wednesday.

"My understanding is in fact there is no limit in accessing information we might need for the team," Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist, said, speaking via video-call from a Singapore airport hotel ahead of his early morning flight.

The role and remit of the WHO should be examined in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reforms will likely be needed to free it from politics and give it more independence, public health experts said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Reuters Next conference, British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and Chikwe Ihekweazu, the head of Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control, said the United Nations health agency had faced difficulties in leading a global response to the pandemic.

"We need to reflect on how the global architecture can be improved," Ferguson said, including a need to rethink "the governance of organisations such as the WHO".

Reuters / Newshub.