6 January

Global: Global coronavirus infections pass 86.4 million. Meanwhile, the global coronavirus death toll has passed 1,868,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The WHO team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 virus has been temporarily prevented from entering China because of visa issues, according to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Tedros said he has been in contact with senior Chinese officials, who assured him that China is speeding up the procedure. The delay comes as Beijing faces criticism for stonewalling efforts to trace the virus’s origins. WHO experts were kept out of Wuhan in 2020 and an independent probe was rebuffed.

 US: Covid-19 infections have passed 21 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 357,377 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Singapore: The government defended the use of its widely-adopted TraceTogether contact-tracing data for police investigations, including a murder case. The disclosure could fuel concerns about privacy issues in contact tracing programs designed to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. Efforts by many countries to use mobile apps have mostly stalled or have been abandoned amid dismal take-up rates and worries that the technology poses a threat to privacy rights.

Separately, Singapore is requiring an additional seven day testing routine for newly arrived foreign workers, adding to the 14-day stay-home notice currently mandated, to minimize risk of Covid-19 cases in dormitories. The rule takes effect on 6 Janbuary.

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UK: Total Covid cases have passed 2.78 million with more than 76,000 deaths – the highest in Europe. The UK has recorded a further 60,916 lab-confirmed cases – the highest daily total reported so far.

One person in every 50 now has coronavirus in England, the British government said, as medics raced to vaccinate millions of people against the disease.

France: The more transmissible Covid variant discovered in the UK has been found in a patient in the Paris region, Paris hospitals head Martin Hirsch said on France 2 TV. Health authorities have completed contact tracing on the patient and the case “is under control,” Hirsch said.

South Africa: There is no indication that the coronavirus variant identified in South Africa is more transmissible than the one spreading fast in Britain, the World Health Organization’s technical chief on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said.

Australia: Authorities are urging thousands of cricket fans to self-isolate after a man who attended the second day of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground later tested positive for Covid-19. As many as 8,000 people were in the affected zone of the iconic stadium on 27 December, and they should isolate until they receive a negative result, the Victoria state government said Wednesday.

China: China’s northeastern Covid-19 cluster continues to grow, with 23 confirmed local cases reported on Wednesday. All but three were detected in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Shijiazhuang city was recently ordered to roll out a mass testing campaign covering a population of 11 million, according to a press briefing late Tuesday. The city will also suspend in-person classes for young children.

South Korea: South Korea reported 840 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, versus 715 the previous day, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. Of the total, 809 were locally infected with 263 new cases in Seoul.

Japan: An expert panel tasked with advising the Japanese government on virus measures said the outbreak in Tokyo and surrounding areas has been “explosive” and strident measures need to be taken, including declaring a state of emergency, according to findings published late Tuesday.

Indonesia: The Indonesia government called for people to become donors for a convalescent plasma bank to boost the Covid-19 recovery rate, Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman for pandemic task force, said in a Tuesday briefing.

Vaccine news

Global: Experts advising the World Health Organization on vaccine policies recommended against spreading the interval between two doses beyond 28 days, following a move by the UK to extend the period between shots to as much as 12 weeks in an effort to maximize coverage. Countries facing “exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints” can delay administration of the second dose of two-shot vaccines for a few weeks, according to a statement from Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, but data on safety and efficacy after only one dose is lacking.

India: Tens of millions of vaccine doses prepared for India are sitting in storage despite having been authorized for use. While distribution in other nations started soon after approval with pricing deals signed ahead of time, New Delhi and Serum Institute of India Ltd. – the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume and AstraZeneca Plc’s local partner – have engaged in months of haggling behind closed doors and are yet to sign a formal supply agreement. That has left at least 70 million vaccine doses in limbo despite the urgent need in a country facing the world’s second-largest outbreak.

A survey of Indian citizens conducted after their country granted emergency approval to two coronavirus vaccines over the weekend found that 69% remained hesitant around getting Covid-19 jabs and wouldn’t rush to get them immediately – the same level as last month before the regulatory nods.

US: US Republican Representative Kevin Brady said he tested positive for Covid-19 despite having received his first dose of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine on Dec. 18. Brady said he had tested negative for the virus as recently as the beginning of the month. Data from Pfizer has shown the vaccine to be about 95% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 – figures that were echoed in a US Food and Drug Administration report issued last month – but the FDA study found the efficacy ratio to be only about 52% after just one dose.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s threat to levy fines on hospitals that don’t administer vaccines quickly enough. “Why don’t we stop talking about fines and start talking about the freedom to vaccinate?” de Blasio said during a Tuesday briefing. New York City has administered only about 119,000 doses out of the 480,550 vaccines delivered. The city began inoculations in mid-December. “I take full responsibility” for speeding up the vaccinations, the mayor said.

Chile: Chilean lawmakers are considering making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory as the country’s centre-right government pushes to inoculate most of its population by mid-year.

Lockdown updates

Germany: Germany is extending its nationwide lockdown until the end of the month and is introducing new tougher restrictions in order to get control of surging coronavirus infections, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, said. Merkel and state leaders agreed on Tuesday to limit non-essential travel to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) for people living in areas with more than 200 cases per 100,000 people, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

UK: Students in England will not be asked to sit GCSE and A-level exams this summer, the Department for Education has said.

Pupils in Northern Ireland will learn remotely until the half-term break, the executive has agreed, but it remains unclear whether A-level and GCSE exams will take place this summer.

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe recorded 1,365 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on Tuesday – its single biggest daily rise for both as it began a month-long lockdown to curb surging infections.

Israel: Israel’s cabinet has agreed to impose a “full lockdown” that will see current restrictions increased to shutter virtually the entire education system, including nurseries, and ban non-essential international travel, according to local media.

Ireland: People travelling to Ireland from any country will have to show a negative PCR test from the last 72 hours, the Irish Times reports.