Coronavirus: Latest from around the world - Tuesday, February 23

The number of deaths and new cases daily have both fallen in recent weeks, to lows not seen since October and November last year. That's still about 12,000 dying every day and hundreds of thousand being infected, however.

There have been 112 million cases and 2.48 million confirmed deaths to date

Here's the latest from around the world overnight. 

Americas

United States

The United States has passed the staggering milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, just over a year to the day since the coronavirus pandemic claimed its first known US victims in Santa Clara County, California.

Worldometer's tally has the world's worst outbreak at 511,000 deaths, while others such as Reuters and Johns Hopkins University report the grim milestone is still yet to be passed. 

About 19 percent of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just 4 percent of the world's population.

The country's poor performance reflects the lack of a unified, national response last year, when the administration of former President Donald Trump mostly left states to their own devices in tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, with the president often in conflict with his own health experts.

Europe

England

England's coronavirus vaccine campaign is significantly reducing cases of COVID-19, with a drop of around 70 percent in infections among healthcare workers who have had a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, British health officials said on Monday.

Data analysed by Public Health England (PHE) showed the Pfizer provided high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease from a single dose, and that hospitalisation and death from COVID-19 will be reduced by more 75 percent in elderly people who have had a first dose.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a four-stage easing of England's latest lockdown on Monday (UK time), saying "cautious" steps out of restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 would mean no return of a nationwide shutdown. There will be at least five weeks between each step to ease lockdown measures, the government said on Monday, as it set out key dates to reopen schools, shops, restaurants and other parts of the economy.

The ban on non-essential international travel to and from England will stay until at least May 17, prolonging the pain for airlines, airports and holiday companies hit by the pandemic travel slump.

Photographs and memorials for those who died during the pandemic sit outside Riverside Church in Burton, England.
Photographs and memorials for those who died during the pandemic sit outside Riverside Church in Burton, England. Photo credit: Getty

Scotland

Scotland's vaccination drive appears to be markedly reducing the risk of hospitalisation for COVID-19, suggesting that both the Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots are highly effective in preventing severe infections, preliminary study findings showed on Monday.

Results of the study, which covered the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million people, showed that by the fourth week after the initial dose, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation by up to 85 percent and 94 percent respectively.

France

Five more France rugby players have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the number of infected players to 10, with Six Nations officials set to meet on Wednesday to decide if the team's match with Scotland on Sunday can go ahead as planned.

Italy

Italy reported 274 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday against 232 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 9630 from 13,452 the day before.

Slovakia

Slovakia's foreign minister called on EU partners on Monday to send an advance vaccine shipment to the central European country which he said was in a "tragic" coronavirus situation with record numbers of cases.

The country of 5.5 million has suffered about 100 deaths per day recently, the highest in the world relative to population on a one-week basis and ahead of neighbouring Czech Republic, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a staggered, three-stage plan to lift coronavirus restrictions linked to increased testing, she told a meeting of her Christian Democrats' leadership committee, according to two participants.

Germany is considering deploying the armed forces to give thousands of government officials the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, Der Spiegel reported, after many essential workers refused the British-Swedish shot. Vaccination efforts in Germany have faced widespread reluctance to take the AstraZeneca vaccine after clinical trials showed it to be less effective than an alternative shot from Pfizer vaccine, developed by Germany's BioNTech , that accounts for most doses administered so far in the country.

Italy

The Italian government on Monday extended a ban on non-essential travel between the country's 20 regions until March 27 as it looks to slow the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants.

Middle East

Israel

Israel reopened swathes of its economy on Sunday, with the government saying the start of a return to routine was enabled by a COVID-19 vaccination drive that has reached almost half the population.

Vaccines

GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi on Monday said they had started a new clinical trial of their protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, reviving their efforts against the pandemic after a setback in December delayed the shot's launch.

Indian pharmaceutical companies Bharat Biotech and Biological E. Ltd said on Monday they could quickly rework their COVID-19 vaccine products to fight new variants once their genetic sequence is known.

The World Health Organization has agreed a no-fault compensation plan for claims of serious side effects in people in 92 poorer countries due to get COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX sharing scheme, resolving a big concern among recipient governments.

Economic impact

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to widen wealth gaps in Europe unless policymakers help end the health crisis globally, support economies until the pandemic is over and invest in making economies greener, the International Monetary Fund said.

Reuters / Newshub.