Health workers in suits walk in the international arrivals area, where arriving travellers are to be taken into quarantine, at the international airport in Wuhan on 14 January 2021, ahead of the expected arrival of a World Health Organisation (WHO) team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) - Sputnik International

Live Updates: WHO Says Number of New COVID-19 Cases Falling Worldwide

The global death toll from the coronavirus infection has topped 2.418 million; over 109.4 million cases of the infection have been detected, according to Baltimore, Maryland's Johns Hopkins University, which tracks and compiles data from national and local authorities, the media and other sources.

Currently, among the most affected nations are the US (27.7 million infected, 487,000 deaths), India (10.9 million cases, 155,000 fatalities), and Brazil (9.9 million cases, and a death toll of over 240,000).

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03:29 GMT 18.02.2021

HELSINKI (Sputnik) - The first carrier of the South African strain of coronavirus has been found in Estonia, and 45 cases of the UK mutation of the virus have been reported, the Postimees newspaper reported.

The strain was first identified in South Africa in October 2020. It is now the dominant form of the virus in South Africa. Preliminary research has shown that this strain, like the one found in the UK, is more contagious.

The strain from South Africa was brought into Estonia from Tanzania, the newspaper said.

03:00 GMT 18.02.2021

BELGRADE (Sputnik) - Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic personally handed over to the Montenegrin authorities on Wednesday 2,000 doses of Sputnik V, a Russian-made coronavirus vaccine.

Montenegro's Ministry of Health on Tuesday told Sputnik it was negotiating with the Russian government and the Gamaleya center the supply of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine from Russia.

02:46 GMT 18.02.2021
Eija Korolainen-Koivisto leaves after getting her voluntary Covid-19 test at the border at the border between Finland and Sweden in Tornio, Northern Finland on January 27, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920
New COVID-19 Strain Pops Up in Finland, May Be Difficult to Detect, Study Says
01:38 GMT 18.02.2021

CAIRO (Sputnik) - A nationwide coronavirus vaccination campaign in Morocco, which started at the end of January, has covered more than 2 million people, the kingdom's Health Ministry said.

According to the latest statistics from the ministry, 2,081,013 people were vaccinated by Wednesday.

00:35 GMT 18.02.2021
A man shops, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on 5th Avenue in New York, U.S., February 17, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920
Slim Majority of Americans Expect COVID-19 Disruption Well Into 2021, Poll Shows
21:05 GMT 17.02.2021

CAIRO (Sputnik) - Tunisia expects the belated first batch of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive in March, a member of the national vaccine commission told parliament on Wednesday.

"The first batch of the vaccine against the coronavirus will arrive in Tunisia in March," Ahlem Gzara said, adding the shipment of 93,600 Pfizer doses will be used to inoculate 46,800 health workers.

These doses will be delivered through the UN vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX. Additionally, the country will receive between 150,000 and 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX, and an extra 100,000 doses of Pfizer shots that it has contracted from the drugmaker.

19:57 GMT 17.02.2021
A parked Jeep is covered in snow Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Temperatures dropped into the single digits as snow shut down air travel and grocery stores. - Sputnik International, 1920
White House Says Bad Weather Slowing Vaccination Rollout in US
19:52 GMT 17.02.2021
18:29 GMT 17.02.2021

The United States is seeing a steady decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations with a death rate almost steady and new variants of the virus that are jeopardizing the progress, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing at White House on Wednesday.

Walensky reported that the number new coronavirus cases and hospital admissions have been decreasing since January to reach 86,000 and 7,700 per day, respectively. Over the past, week both seven-day averages decreased by more than 20 percent.

“While cases and hospitalizations continue to move in the right direction, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic and we continue to have more cases than we did even during last summer’s peak. And a continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month,” Walensky said.

The latest CDC data indicate that deaths decline by 0.6 percent to an average of 3.076 per day from February 9 to February 15.

Walensky estimated that the total number of coronavirus-related deaths may grow between  515,000 and 540,000 by March 6 from the current 488,352 deaths.

17:59 GMT 17.02.2021

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already appointed a rapporteur for a rolling review of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the developers expect it to begin soon, according to the vaccine's Twitter account.

Earlier on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the developer of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V had not requested authorization from the EMA in the EU market.

17:28 GMT 17.02.2021
17:08 GMT 17.02.2021

South Africa on Wednesday launched its vaccination campaign, with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize being among the first to get inoculated, a Sputnik correspondent reported.

The politicians received their jabs of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at Khayelitsha Hospital in the Western Cape. The country will be conducting vaccination of frontline medical workers as 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been checked, packed and sent to the country's nine provinces.

"Vaccines are here and are administered. I was pleased to hear that five people received vaccinations before me. It is a straightforward process. I invite all South Africans to come forward and vaccinate ... I think our vaccination campaign will be run effectively and as we get more and more, I'm sure we will vaccinate many more people and restore our health system," Ramaphosa told a crowd.

Mkhize thanked health care workers for having gone through a gruelling fight in the months since the global pandemic hit South Africa.

"You are what we call frontline warriors. We need you protected and safe. Our country is being saved because of your hard work. Today I felt a sense of pride. Everyone here has been helpful and offering to help us. As from now onwards our health workers can say yes I have protected myself against the virus. Continue to show humility and do not give up," Mkhize stated.

The health minister said South Africa would run an experimental study to monitor and evaluate those who have received the vaccines and assured that the government was not anxious about possible problems with the vaccine's effectiveness.

Chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) Angelique Coetzee told Sputnik that at SAMA they were extremely happy that the vaccination rollout has started today.

"We are happy that the first healthcare workers have received their immunizations. We hope that this will receive the momentum it deserves. We are also encouraged that health care workers in the public or private sector will receive their vaccinations for their protection, regardless of association," Coetzee said.

Meanwhile, approximately 400,000 healthcare workers have registered for vaccination.

16:55 GMT 17.02.2021

French Agency for the Safety of Health Products (ANSM) on Wednesday suspended the sale of COVID-19 tests claimed to determine the presence of antibodies in urine due to the lack of scientific evidence and a ban on self-tests to detect the virus.

ANSM explained that generally coronavirus antibodies are absent in the urine and therefore there is no understanding on how suspended tests work. Besides, the manufactures of such tests have failed to provide certificates of conformity for their products when entering the French market. In addition, the watchdog recalled that under a governmental decree of July 10, 2020 tests for self-use to detect the virus and the antibodies are prohibited.

"We have therefore taken a health policy which notably suspends the marketing and use of this test," the regulator said in a statement.

It also asked the French nationals who are in disposal of such tests to refrain from using them and refer to tests validated by the health authorities. 

16:37 GMT 17.02.2021

Russia has sent 20 medical missions to more than a dozen countries as part of its efforts to assist in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said on Wednesday.

"Russia has been extending in fighting the pandemic. We sent 20 medical missions into 15 countries," Nebenzia said.

Nebenzia pointed out that Russia has also supplied testing systems to 50 countries and provided thousands of medical equipment units and millions of personal protective equipment free of charge.

"We continue our contacts with the COVID-19 ACT acceleration initiative," he said.

Russia remains open to cooperate with interested partners to increase the access to vaccines, medication and personal protective equipment by local manufacturers and stands ready for other kinds of international cooperation to jointly combat the pandemic.

16:13 GMT 17.02.2021
16:07 GMT 17.02.2021

Measures adopted by Switzerland's Geneva administration to tackle the coronavirus pandemic are likely to remain in force beyond this month, with the possible easing of restrictions in the fields of sports and culture, the canton's Health Minister Mauro Poggia said in an interview to Sputnik on Wednesday.

"Today it is necessary to preserve the health of people because this is mental health. When good weather comes, it will become increasingly difficult to tell people: stay as you are, without sports and fitness. So if something is to be eased, then to my mind, this direction should be a priority," Poggia said.

He added that if health measures are followed, cultural events are also among the first likely to return, as they impact the population's mental health. Shops are next in line for reopening, the official went on, specifying, however, that the authorities would take into account the decisions of the federal administration in Bern on the matter.

At the same time, Poggia explained that city restaurants and bars were unlikely to resume soon, as the experts claim that non-compliance with the requirement to wear a mask while in a restaurant increases COVID-19 virus circulation in the air.

The official noted that while the Geneva canton - one of the 26 member states comprising the Swiss Confederation - will comply with the decisions on the COVID-19 measures of the federal government, but the latter should allow the canton authorities to determine the scale of the restrictions to prevent the third coronavirus outbreak and the harm to the population's mental health at the same time. 

Poggia said that at the moment the infection rates in Geneva are high but not catastrophic, adding that one of the reasons behind a surge in COVID-19 cases is linked to the increasing numbers of tests conducted per day. He also explained that the infections are underway as people continue to meet and visit each other despite the restrictions. Besides, Geneva cannot completely halt the influx of people coming from neighbouring France, as these arrivals benefit the economy.

16:04 GMT 17.02.2021

A study in the United States will examine the impact of the medication remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment for pregnant and lactating women, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said on Wednesday.

"The study, which will be conducted at 17 sites in the continental United States and Puerto Rico, aims to determine how pregnant women metabolize the drug and whether there are any potential side effects," NIH said in a press release

Remdesivir has not been approved for use during pregnancy, but physicians can still prescribe the drug for pregnant woman if they believe it will help.

"Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at high risk for hospitalization, for intensive care admission and for needing ventilator support," NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Director Diana Bianchi said in the release.

The study will evaluate remdesivir’s pharmacokinetics - how a drug is absorbed, moves through the body and is broken down and eliminated in pregnant women and nonpregnant women of childbearing potential who receive it as part of clinical care, the release said.

For women who received the drug within five days of delivery, samples from the plasma and umbilical cord will be analyzed for insight into remdesivir’s pharmacokinetics in the placenta, and breast milk will also be tested for remdesivir among women who are lactating, the release added.

Researchers will also document potential side effects and adverse events that could occur with use of the drug, according to the release.

15:53 GMT 17.02.2021

Prospects for vaccinating every teacher for the novel coronavirus before public schools reopen are unrealistic due to a limited supply of vaccines, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said in an interview on Wednesday.

“If you are going to say that every single teacher needs to be vaccinated before you get back to school, I believe quite frankly… that that’s a non-workable situation,” Fauci told CBS News.

Fauci’s remarks come amid a national outcry regarding reopening public schools, a process that has been hampered by objections from teachers’ unions that have close ties to the Democratic Party.

Republicans, on the other hand, advocate reopening schools, citing the success of Catholic and other private schools in resuming classroom teaching months ago.

“You want to put a good effort to get as many [teachers vaccinated] as you can as quickly as you can, but you don’t want to essentially have nobody in school until all the teachers get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Schools can be safely opened with the widespread use of protective gear such as masks and other mitigation measures such as smaller classrooms, Fauci added.

When asked when the vaccine would be broadly available to the general public, Fauci said the target is July, and not April as once anticipated - due to delays in the production of the third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson in addition to those from Pfizer and Moderna.

15:48 GMT 17.02.2021

European manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines need to stop shipments to other countries outside of the European Union, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis stated during the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) summit.

"Manufacturers need to stop shipping vaccines outside the EU. We have to speed up vaccinations if we want to save the lives of our citizens," Babis said.

Vaccine delivery shortages have slowed down inoculation campaigns across the EU, forcing some countries to halt their programs.

"Vaccines are now of utmost importance. We have paid manufacturers in advance. Unfortunately, the shipments are delayed," Czech prime minister added.

The situation with delays and curbs in vaccine deliveries has raised a wave of criticism and prompted European countries to have a closer look at alternatives. Hungary became first in the EU to approve the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines, neither of which are registered by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The first shipment of Sputnik V arrived in the country on 2 February.

14:57 GMT 17.02.2021

India is ready to provide 200,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to all United Nations peacekeeping personnel, Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday.

"Keeping in mind the UN peacekeepers, who operate in such difficult circumstances, we would like to announce today a gift of 200,000 doses for them," Jaishankar said during a discussion on access to coronavirus vaccines in conflict zones.

The United Nations has more than 97,000 peacekeepers from over 120 countries serving in 12 active missions across the globe.

13:45 GMT 17.02.2021
Russian vaccine against COVID-19 Sputnik-V (Gam-COVID-Vac) at the primary health care center No. 11 in Donetsk. - Sputnik International, 1920
Gabonese Health Ministry Registers Russian Coronavirus Vaccine Sputnik V, RDIF Says
12:22 GMT 17.02.2021

The European Commission agreed a deal with Moderna for additional 300 million doses of the company's COVID-19 vaccine, the president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Wednesday.

"I'm glad to announce that today, the Commission has approved a second contract with Moderna to purchase 300 million additional doses of their vaccine against COVID-19. This is good news," von der Leyen said at a European Commission press briefing.

12:15 GMT 17.02.2021

The European Commission will launch a new public/private corporation to research and combat new COVID-19 variants, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday, pointing to a surge in the proportion of coronavirus cases caused by the new strains.

"Over the past weeks, EU countries have observed a substantial increase in the number and proportion of COVID-19 cases caused by these variants. Looking at the evolving situation we just know how much time and structures are of the essence, and this is why we are today presenting the HERA Incubator. It is a new public/private corporation pooling the knowledge and the resources of industry, of the research and science community, of the whole health sector, and public authorities and regulators. The aim is to use our combined strength to get ahead of the curve for the next phase of this virus, from the early detection of the new variants all along the whole chain up to the rapid mass production that is necessary if we have adapted second-generation vaccines," von der Leyen said at a briefing.

12:06 GMT 17.02.2021
11:36 GMT 17.02.2021

Brazil's Salvador and Cuiaba cities followed the suit of Rio de Janeiro and paused their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns due to the shortage of available vaccine doses, Brazilian news outlet G1 reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the halt applies to the first-dose vaccination phase only, while people who have already received one dose will be guaranteed the second one.

Rio de Janeiro suspended its vaccine rollout on Monday, as announced by Mayor Eduardo Paes, citing the same reason.

Brazil's national mass vaccination campaign started on 18 January. Currently in use are the vaccines by China's Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

To date, the Brazilian vaccination campaign covered 2.6 percent of the population — exceeding 5.5 million people — with at least one dose. Around 300,000 people have received both doses.

11:14 GMT 17.02.2021
10:34 GMT 17.02.2021
10:28 GMT 17.02.2021

Uzbekistan has certified Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for nationwide use, seeking to procure 1 million doses, the country's COVID-19 task force said on Wednesday.

Last week, Botir Kurbanov, a senior official in the Uzbek health and sanitary watchdog, told Sputnik that Tashkent began a fast-track certification of the Russian vaccine, which would likely take from 15-20 days.

"The Sputnik V vaccine, which was developed by Russia's Gamaleya science centre, has been certified and approved for mass use in Uzbekistan," the task force said in a statement, published by state-run news agency UzA.

According to the press release, the task force is currently making efforts to procure 1 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

On Tuesday, the Uzbek health and sanitary authority said that the national vaccination campaign has been set to launch by mid-March and cover 7 million people — 20 percent of Uzbekistan's population — by the year-end. The initial plan was to vaccinate up to 60 percent of the population by June of this year.

The country has already ordered 15 million vaccine doses from available suppliers globally, including via the COVAX facility.

10:07 GMT 17.02.2021
09:59 GMT 17.02.2021

Pfizer and BioNTech pharmaceutical companies will deliver extra 200 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine to the European Union in 2021, according to their press release.

"Pfizer Inc. and BioNech SE today announced an agreement with the European Commission (EC) to supply an additional 200 million doses of COMIRNATY, the companies’ COVID-19 Vaccine, to the 27 European Union member states. The EC has the option to request supply of an additional 100 million doses," the press release, published on Pfizer website, read.

This agreement is signed in addition to the 300 million vaccine doses already committed under the supply deal inked in 2020.

"The additional 200 million doses are expected to be delivered in 2021, with an estimated 75 million to be supplied in the second quarter," the companies specified.

09:42 GMT 17.02.2021

The Bahraini authorities will start issuing electronic passports to people who underwent COVID-19 vaccination, Al Arabiya broadcaster reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, vaccinated people will get individual digital passports reflecting their personal information and which vaccine they were administered.

Bahrain began its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on December 25, covering both citizens and foreign residents. The three vaccines approved by the kingdom's health authorities to date include Russia's Sputnik V, the one by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and the one by China's Sinopharm.

As of Wednesday, Bahrain has registered 114,361 COVID-19 cases, including 410 deaths and 106,412 recoveries.

08:00 GMT 17.02.2021

Russia registered 12,828 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, down from 13,233 the day before, taking the overall tally to 4,112,151, the coronavirus response centre said on Wednesday.

This is the lowest single-day increase since 9 October, when 12,126 new cases were confirmed.

"Over the past day, 12,828 coronavirus cases were confirmed across 85 regions, including 1,302 cases (10.1 percent) that were detected actively, with people showing no clinical symptoms," the centre said, adding that the cumulative case count has now reached 4,112,151, with the rate of increase at 0.31 percent.

Moscow confirmed 1,282 new coronavirus cases over the given period, down from 1,409 the day before. The Russian capital was followed by St. Petersburg with 1,103 new cases, up from 1,082 the day before, and the Moscow Region with 470 new cases, down from 643 on Tuesday.

The response centre reported 467 COVID-19 fatalities, up from 459 the day before, raising the country's death toll to 81,446.

Total recoveries increased by 17,919 over the given period, up from 17,627 the day before, and totaled 3,642,582.

07:59 GMT 17.02.2021

Russia welcomes the United States' readiness to jointly counter the coronavirus pandemic and is not ruling out the possibility to submit an application to register Russian vaccines in the country, deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov said in an interview with Sputnik.

"I do not rule anything out, why not. This is a common problem. The more efficient the common effort is, the better for everyone," Ryabkov said, when asked if Russia could apply to register its vaccines in the US.

Moscow said, following the first phone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier in February, that the officials spoke in favor of joint response to the pandemic, including through cooperation in vaccine development.

"We can only welcome the US side's readiness to do it. If there are no changes for the worth under the current administration, we will be certainly ready to cooperate," Ryabkov noted.

Russia's ministries, agencies and the Russian Direct Investment Fund are "deeply immersed" in international cooperation against COVID-19, the diplomat assured.

07:02 GMT 17.02.2021

Japan's southern prefecture of Shimane is considering canceling Olympic Torch Relay events on its soil until adequate safeguards can be put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus, governor Tatsuya Maruyama said on Wednesday.

"There has been dissatisfaction with the measures taken by the Japanese government and the Tokyo municipality to combat the coronavirus," the governor said, as quoted by the Kyodo news agency.

The official deems it unjustified to hold such a high-risk event amid "such a low ability to take measures."

In addition, the governor of the scarcely populated province slammed what he says is unfair distribution of state aid among regions, namely, the difference between the amount of assistance provided to hard-hit regions and those with a low virus incidence.

Maruyama, however, has not made a final decision on the relay ceremony.

"As of today, I am not asking to cancel [the torch relay]. We will make the decision based on the situation and whether the measures taken by the government and Tokyo will improve," he later told a meeting of the relay's executive committee, as quoted in the report.

The Tokyo Olympics torch relay is scheduled to pass through Shimane prefecture from May 15-16. The date of the Paralympic torch relay has yet to be set.

06:30 GMT 17.02.2021
04:52 GMT 17.02.2021

Nationwide vaccination against coronavirus infection has begun in Japan, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The campaign is taking place in 100 medical institutions throughout the country, the first phase will cover 40,000 medical workers.

The next phase is due to start in March and will cover 3.7 million healthcare workers. Then, from April, 36 million elderly people over 65 years old will be vaccinated. The mass vaccinations are expected to take place with the active participation of local administrations.

Currently, the only vaccine approved in Japan is the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which was approved on 14 February. The first batch of the vaccine arrived in the country last week, the second is expected next week.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Japan has registered 419,700 cases, with more than 7,100 deaths.

04:37 GMT 17.02.2021

Ranvir Shorey took to Twitter to inform followers that he has tested positive for coronavirus and has mild symptoms.


04:16 GMT 17.02.2021

The number of new global cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is decreasing, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.

"The number of global new cases reported has continued to fall, with 2.7 million new cases last week, a 16% decline over 500,000 fewer new cases compared to the previous week. The number of new deaths reported also fell, with 81,000 new deaths reported last week, a 10% decline as compared to the previous week," the WHO said.

"A total of five out of six WHO regions reported a double-digit percentage decline in new cases, with only the Eastern Mediterranean Region showing a 7% rise. Europe and the Americas continue to see the greatest drops in absolute numbers of cases. Meanwhile, the number of new deaths declined in all regions," it said.

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