The Latest: Britain's quarantine hotels open for business
LONDON — Britain’s newly established quarantine hotels have received their first guests as the government tries to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from derailing its fast-moving vaccination drive.
Passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday morning were escorted by security guards to buses that took them to nearby hotels.
Britain has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of the population, but health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.
Under the new rules, people arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
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— Peru minister resigns amid uproar over government officials being vaccinated before country received 1M doses for health workers
— Britain reaches a vaccination goal: Giving first shots to 15 million most vulnerable
— Israel decides not to send a delegation of defense companies to a prestigious arms fair in the United Arab Emirates
— Italy won't open its ski slopes due to fears of virus variants
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Some 500 people have gathered in a theater in the central Dutch city of Utrecht for the first in a series of test events aimed at charting a path toward a post-pandemic normality for large-scale gatherings.
Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer says that, “returning to normal, whether it’s a conference with your colleagues, a sports match or a concert: everyone wants that.”
When that might be possible remains unclear. The Netherlands is in a tough lockdown until at least next month, with large-scale gatherings banned altogether, shops, bars, restaurants and museums closed and sports like professional soccer happening behind closed stadium doors.
Participants in Monday’s trial had to present a negative COVID-19 test result, had their temperatures taken on arrival and will have to undergo another test after attending the event.
The government says it will use data gathered at the event to help decide “how to work toward safe and responsible events” in the future.
The event came with Dutch infections on a gradual downward trend in recent weeks and vaccinations ramping up after a slow start that made the Netherlands become the last of the 27 European Union nations to begin its vaccination campaign.
BERLIN — German authorities say police have turned back some 5,000 people at the country’s borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region since tight controls were introduced on Sunday.
Germany imposed checks to slow the spread of the British coronavirus variant from the Czech Republic and the South African variant from Tyrol. It is restricting entry to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All have to show a negative coronavirus test.
Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said, by Monday morning, federal police had checked about 10,000 people and turned back some 5,000.
The checks have prompted strong criticism from Austria.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, defended the German measures. He said that “the German government had to act here” to prevent the rapid spread of more contagious virus variants.
BRUSSELS — The EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, is urging member states to be vigilant against scammers offering to sell fake COVID-19 vaccines as the 27-nation bloc faces delays in the supply of shots.
In a statement Monday, OLAF said it was made aware of a number of reports of scammers offering to sell vaccines in a bid to defraud EU governments trying to speed up the pace of vaccination.
The EU has been criticized for a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in comparison with other parts of the world, lagging behind the pace of countries like Britain or Israel. The EU commission has signed six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines, but only three of them have been approved for use so far and the delivery of shots has been disturbed by production delays.
MADRID — Police across Spain have wrapped a weekend of cracking down on parties and boozing in public contravening restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Large parties ignoring social distancing, mask wearing and existing curfews were closed down in Ibiza, northeastern Tarragona and many other parts of the country, which has only recently slowed down the sharp increase of contagion seen after the end-of-year celebrations.
In Madrid alone, police fined 450 people for street alcohol consumption in groups and busted 418 illegal parties in entertainment venues and private homes from Friday to Sunday, including a rave in a warehouse with 55 adults and 11 minors who were not wearing masks and were using drugs.
The National Police also found over 50 people in a small apartment rented for tourists in the center of the Spanish capital.
The parties are increasingly better organized to attract foreign visitors and avoid scrutiny, the local police say, with no cash exchanged and payments via phone. In contrast with much of Europe, where entertainment venues have been closed, bars and restaurants in Madrid are allowed to open until 9 p.m.
Spain has managed to lower its 14-day rate of infection per 100,000 residents, from nearly 900 cases in Jan. 27 to less than 500 on Friday, but experts are warning against relaxing restrictions too fast, given that COVID-19 wards in hospitals are still grappling with high occupation rates.
BERLIN — Officers trying to bust a clandestine Carnival celebration in eastern Germany were left red-faced when most of the revelers escaped police on skis.
German news agency dpa reported Monday that police in the town of Marienberg, near the border with the Czech Republic, received information that about 100 people were partying Sunday without abiding by the requirements to wear face masks or respect minimum social distancing.
Police were unable to determine how many people had broken the law, however, because their arrival prompted a hasty on-ski departure by most of the party-goers.
Saxony, where Marienberg is located, has the second-highest infection rate of Germany’s 16 states. Germany has restricted entry from the neighboring Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol state to prevent the spread of variant viruses from those countries.
Police across Germany have broken up numerous Carnival celebrations across the country in recent days.
LONDON — People arriving in Britain must quarantine in hotels starting Monday as the government tries to prevent new variants of the coronavirus derailing its fast-moving vaccination drive.
On Sunday the government reached its goal of giving the first of two doses of vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable people, including health care workers and over-70s.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccination drive is now being extended to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
Health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.
People arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in quarantine hotels for 10 days at their own expense. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.
Critics say the move comes too late, with the South African variant already circulating in the country.
HARARE — Zimbabwe has received its first COVID-19 vaccines with the arrival early Monday of an Air Zimbabwe jet carrying 200,000 Sinopharm doses from China.
It is one of China’s first shipments of vaccines to Africa, after deliveries to Egypt and Equatorial Guinea.
The first Sinopharm vaccines are a donation from China to the southern African country. President Emmerson Mnanagagwa’s government has purchased an additional 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine that are expected to arrive early next month, according to state media.
Mnangagwa, in a Twitter post, said the Chinese vaccines will be administered to Zimbabweans this week.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown on Monday, health officials said they’d found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived.
New Zealand’s largest city was hurriedly placed into a three-day lockdown Sunday after three unexplained virus cases were found. It’s the country’s first lockdown in six months and represents a setback in its largely successful efforts to control the virus.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the negative test results since the first three were found was an encouraging start, but cautioned a fuller picture of the outbreak wouldn’t emerge until Tuesday, when the results from an expanded testing regimen would be known.
New Zealand also announced its first batch of vaccine had arrived. Officials said the shipment of about 60,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech would initially be prioritized on border workers.
LISBON, Portugal — A French medical team is due to start work Monday at a hospital in Portugal, which for more than three weeks has been the country in the world with most COVID-19 deaths by size of population.
The French doctor and three nurses arrived amid signs that a month-long lockdown, which is being extended to at least March 1, is paying off.
On Sunday, just over 4,800 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, down from a Feb. 1 peak of close to 7,000. There were 795 virus patients in intensive care, a drop from a peak of 905 on Feb. 5.
Johns Hopkins University says the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Portugal has fallen from 2.82 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 31 to 1.63 deaths per 100,000.
JERUSALEM — A large-scale Israeli study has pointed to the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections with the coronavirus.
Clalit, the largest of Israel’s four health care providers, released a study Sunday that compared infections in 600,000 Israelis who had received the vaccine compared to 600,000 who were not immunized.
The study found a 94% drop in symptomatic infections and a 92% drop in serious cases of the disease among those vaccinated. It said “the efficacy of the vaccine is preserved in every age group,” particularly a week after the second dose of the vaccine.
The researchers said the preliminary findings of the ongoing research “is aimed at emphasizing to the population that has yet to vaccinate that the vaccine is highly effective and prevents serious illness.”
Israel launched its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December. Since then, over a quarter of the population — 2.5 million people — have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and over 42% have received the first shot, according to the Health Ministry.
BUDAPEST — The first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China will arrive Tuesday in Hungary, the first country in the European Union to approve the Chinese vacccine.
In a video on Facebook on Monday, State Secretary Tamas Menczer said 550,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm will be transported by jet from Beijing, enough to treat 275,000 people with two doses each. The first shipment will undergo testing by the National Public Health Center before inoculations begin, Menczer said.
Hungary earlier broke with the EU’s common vaccine procurement program by approving the vaccine on Jan. 29, and has purchased 5 million doses. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has said he would choose to take the Sinopharm jab himself.
The vaccine’s developer says it is nearly 80% effective, but has not yet released stage 3 clinical trial data. Around 30 million people worldwide have received the Sinopharm vaccine, including half a million ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, Hungary’s non-EU neighbor to the south, Menczer said. Hungary has also approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and began administering it in hospitals in the capital of Budapest last week.
PRAGUE — Long lines of trucks and other vehicles have formed on two major highways leading from the Czech Republic to Germany due to tight border controls on the German side.
Germany on Sunday implemented the controls on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province in an effort to stem the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.
The new restrictions limit entry from those areas to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others who have to register online and show a negative coronavirus test and be quarantined for at least 10 days on arrival. No one else is allowed to enter Germany.
Sunday was quiet on the roads but Monday was a different story.
The queue reached 23 kilometers (14 miles) on the D8 highway to the German state of Saxony while the line on the D5 highway to the state of Bavaria was about 15 kilometers (9 miles) long.
Three Czech counties on the border with Germany and Poland are in a complete lockdown after a surge in a more contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Britain.
MANILA, Philippines — The approval for many Philippine movie theaters, video game arcades and other leisure businesses to reopen has been postponed another two weeks after mayors expressed fear it will bring new coronavirus infections.
They’ve been closed since last year in most of the Philippines, which has suffered a pandemic-wrought recession since.
The government had announced it would allow them to reopen Monday, but the delay came after a meeting of local Manila and national officials.
Philippine officials said mayors and health officials should draw rules to ensure safety amid the easing of quarantine restrictions in more public areas, including museums, libraries, parks and historical sites.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque later said in a televised news briefing that the reopening of movie houses would be moved to March 1 to allow more time to craft safety guidelines.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Health officials are urging tougher coronavirus restrictions and a partial lockdown in parts of Sri Lanka after patients were confirmed to have a more contagious variant.
Patients in several parts of the Indian Ocean island nation have been confirmed to have a variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom, health officials said Saturday.
“There is a greater risk of spreading the new variant into others areas unless tough and effective measures including lockdowns are taken immediately as already the number of positive cases are rising,” President of the Public Health Inspectors Association Upul Rohana said Monday.
Sri Lanka had a one-month lockdown last March when the first positive case was detected. A lockdown in the capital and its suburbs was imposed again in October after two fresh outbreaks erupted.
Sri Lanka has now confirmed 75,653 cases with 397 fatalities.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will begin vaccinating its population against COVID-19 next week after its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine was delivered on Monday.
More than 142,000 doses had arrived at Sydney airport, the government said. Health care, aged care and quarantine workers will be among the first to be vaccinated from Feb. 22.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will also be among the first to receive a dose in a bid to raise public confidence in the program.
Australia decided against accelerating the vaccine regulator’s approval process in order to increase public confidence that the Pfizer product was safe.
So far, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use in Australia. But the regulator is expected to also approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine soon.
Australia is contracted to receive 20 million Pfizer doses and to receive or manufacture at home 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses.