The Latest: German health chief warns of 10 hard weeks ahead
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says there are at least “10 hard weeks” ahead amid difficulties in getting large quantities of vaccines.
Health Minister Jens Spahn, who faces political pressure over the slow start to Germany’s vaccination campaign, wrote on Twitter Thursday that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors should hold a special meeting to discuss vaccine strategy.
Spahn said vaccine manufacturers also should be invited to “explain how complex production is.” He stressed that “the quality must be very good” in order to protect people.
Spahn wrote that “we will go through at least another 10 hard weeks with the scarcity of vaccine.”
Germany’s current lockdown, its second, was recently extended until Feb. 14. Infection figures are falling, but officials are worried about the potential impact of coronavirus variants such as the one first detected in Britain.
Some 1.67 million people in Germany had received the first dose of the vaccine and over 318,000 the second by Tuesday, about a month into the vaccination campaign.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— WHO team in Wuhan departs quarantine for COVID origins study
— ‘Take every shift as it comes:’ No respite for UK hospitals
— EXPLAINER: Why it’s hard to make vaccines and boost supplies
— With a coronavirus-enforced quarantine coming to an end, the world’s elite tennis players will go from two of the quietest weeks of their lives in Australia to three of the busiest.
— $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is a test of the strength of Biden’s new administration and Democratic control of Congress
— Pandemic brings drama on and off screen at the Sundance film festival
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says another 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the continent through the Serum Institute of India.
Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told reporters that with the new doses, on top of the 270 million doses announced earlier, “I think we’re beginning to make very good progress.”
As with many vaccine deals, there are no immediate details on cost or how much people might pay per dose.
Parts of the African continent are now seeing a strong second surge in coronavirus infections, which Nkengasong calls “very aggressive now.”
He warns that the wave has not yet peaked. Africa’s case fatality rate of 2.5% remains above the global one of 2.2%, and 14 of Africa’s 54 countries have case fatality rates above 3%.
The continent of 1.3 billion people is racing to obtain enough vaccines for the goal of vaccinating 60% of its population to achieve herd immunity, and officials have repeatedly urged rich countries that have stockpiled vaccine doses to take an equitable approach and share.
Africa has more than 3.4 million confirmed virus cases including more than 87,000 deaths.
HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam reported 82 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, hours after confirming the first two infections in nearly two months.
Seventy-two of the cases came from an electronic company in Hai Duong province, where a 34-year-old female employee tested positive after her colleague was found to carry the virus from Osaka, Japan, several days earlier, the Health Ministry said.
It said the woman who was tested in Japan carried the U.K. variant, which could spread faster.
The company with over 2,200 workers was closed for disinfection and the provincial authority locked down surrounding communities to curb the outbreak.
The ministry said over 3,000 people in the area will be tested.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Quang Ninh province, 10 people tested positive after a man working at Van Don International Airport was confirmed to be infected.
There has been no report of connection between the two clusters.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities are planning to start the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign next week.
Asad Umar, the minister in charge of Pakistan's virus response, said frontline health workers will be the initial recipients.
Umar did not say which vaccine will be used, but the announcement comes days after Beijing promised to give Pakistan 500,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine before Jan. 31. It was expected to get the vaccine made by the Chinese firm SinoPharm.
Pakistan is negotiating with different vaccine manufacturers to get enough doses to protect its population.
Pakistan also Thursday reported another 64 deaths from COVID-19, increasing its total fatalities to 11,514 since February. It has reported more than 539,000 cases.
BEIJING — Efforts to dissuade Chinese from traveling for Lunar New Year appeared to be working as Beijing’s main train station was largely quiet and estimates of passenger totals were smaller than in past years.
Thursday started the roughly two-week travel rush ahead of the holiday that falls this year on Feb. 12.
At the Beijing station, only about a third of the security gates were open, ticket windows had no lines and no passengers were camped on the central plaza. Authorities have offered free refunds on plane tickets and extra pay for workers who stay put. People who do travel must have a negative coronavirus test and may still face local quarantines.
Failure to restrict Lunar New Year travel last year was blamed for fueling the spread of the virus, especially since Wuhan, the city where the illness was first detected, is a key travel hub.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Travelers returning to New Zealand will face stricter rules at quarantine hotels as health authorities investigate how up to three people got infected with the coronavirus while isolating at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.
The people were released before testing positive and were potentially contagious, but so far testing has shown no evidence the virus has spread in the community. Health authorities believe they caught the virus from another quarantined traveler. New Zealand has managed to stamp out community transmission of the virus.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Thursday that as an interim measure, travelers would need to stay in their hotel rooms for the final days of their 14-day mandatory quarantine, and would also face stricter controls around leaving their rooms at other times.
Meanwhile, Australia has extended its suspension on quarantine-free travel from New Zealand for another three days. Australia is requiring New Zealanders to quarantine for 14 days in hotels upon arrival.
BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia will ban flights from Brazil effective Friday over concerns of a variant of the coronavirus that is circulating in that country.
Colombia President Ivan Duque on Wednesday announced the 30-day measure. No flights will take off from Colombia to Brazil either.
In addition, anyone who arrived from Brazil to Colombia between Jan. 18 and Wednesday will have to quarantine for 14 days.
The Brazil variant was first identified in four travelers who were tested at an airport outside Tokyo. It contains mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.
Colombia has recorded more than 2 million cases and over 52,100 deaths of COVID-19.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the president of the European Commission has reassured him any vaccine export controls the EU enacts won’t impact shipments of Canada’s doses from Europe.
Trudeau says EU President Ursula von der Leyen told him transparency measures taken by the EU will not affect Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccine deliveries from Europe.
The EU has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, and warned pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule. All of Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come from Europe.
Canada isn’t getting any deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine made in Europe this week, shipments are set to resume next week.