Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 from around the world - Wednesday, February 24

There have been 112.4 million confirmed infections (likely to be a vast underestimate) and 2.49 million deaths from COVID-19 to date.

Here's the latest from around the world overnight.

Asia

India

India said on Tuesday mutated versions of coronavirus were not responsible for an upsurge in cases in two states, a potential relief for a country where mask-wearing and social distancing have largely disappeared.

A top government health official confirmed the long-time presence of two mutants - N440K and E484Q. Authorities have also found the UK variant in 187 people in India, the South African one in six and one case of the Brazilian mutation.

"There is no reason today for us to believe, on the basis of scientific information, that these are responsible for the upsurge of the outbreak," Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan began its first COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from a sharp rise in violence.

The war-damaged country received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the vaccine for mid- and low-income countries, earlier this month.

Europe

The European Commission on Tuesday said travel and border curbs set up by six EU nations to combat COVID-19 variants were too tight, as it sought to push through a coordinated approach to managing the movement of goods and people within the bloc.

AstraZeneca expects to deliver less than half the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply the European Union in the second quarter, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Sweden

Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as the coronavirus strain first detected in Britain spreads rapidly, the architect of Sweden's pandemic strategy said on Tuesday.

Sweden has avoided lockdowns throughout the pandemic. But health statistics agency figures on Tuesday showed 10,933 new coronavirus cases had been registered since Friday, a rise from 9,458 in the corresponding period the previous week.

"The British variant is increasing very fast," chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference. "This variant will with fairly high probability be the dominant one within a few weeks or a month."

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he was very optimistic that all COVID-19 restrictions in England would end on June 21, and added that the government would hold a review into the use of vaccine certificates.

Johnson unveiled a map out of lockdown for England on Monday that would keep some businesses shuttered until the summer, saying caution was necessary to ensure there were no reversals on a "one-way road to freedom".

"I'm hopeful, but obviously nothing can be guaranteed ... I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to get there," Johnson told broadcasters when asked about the June 21 date earmarked to end restrictions.

With almost 130,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its economy has seen its biggest crash in more than 300 years.

A total of 17,916,181 people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Britain, according to official data released on Tuesday, which also showed a further 8489 cases and 548 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

Italy

Italy reported 356 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday against 274 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 13,314 from 9,630 the day before.

Germany

Germany is in a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in her conservative party, two sources at the meeting told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We are now in the third wave," they quoted her as saying and said she warned that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until March 7 would have to be done carefully and gradually.

Portugal

While the number of COVID-19 cases in Portugal is falling, the far slower decline in hospitalisations and intensive care patients has left Lisbon residents resigned to the nationwide lockdown lasting for many more weeks.

Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people, faced its toughest battle against the coronavirus pandemic last month. For weeks it had the world's worst surge.

The nightmare has eased with the lockdown, with daily case and death tolls falling rapidly to just 63 deaths and 1032 new cases on Tuesday - levels last seen in October when businesses were still open.

Americas

Brazil

Brazil has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, its health regulator said on Tuesday, though a dispute over a supply deal means it has none to start an immunisation program with.

Mexico

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday urged the United Nations to do more to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly among poorer countries.

United States

The US' confirmed death toll, the worst in the world, passed 500,000. 

Middle East and Africa

Israel

Homophobia and transphobia surged by 27 percent in Israel during the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns trapped gay and transgender people at home with abusive families, one of the country's oldest LGBT+ rights groups said.

Israel said on Tuesday it was giving small amounts of surplus COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinian-run territories as well as to several countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not name which countries.

South Africa

South Africa's health minister said on Tuesday that government advisers had organised COVID-19 vaccines into three groups and those considered for "immediate use" were the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna shots.

South Africa has recorded almost half of the COVID-19 deaths and over a third of confirmed infections in all of Africa, but has lagged wealthier nations in its immunisation drive.

Lebanon

The World Bank threatened on Tuesday to suspend its multi-million dollar financing for Lebanon's COVID-19 vaccination drive over politicians jumping the line.

The controversy, which echoed favouritism by elites in other countries as the world rushes to inoculate against the coronavirus, added to frustration among Lebanese over delays and violations in the vaccination campaign.

Local media and politicians said that some lawmakers got shots in Parliament on Tuesday - despite not necessarily being in priority groups.

Reuters / Newshub.