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Live map: Global spread of coronavirus
Britain’s public health authorities have announced that the variant first detected in India and reported to be spreading fast there, has been identified in 77 cases across the United Kingdom (UK), designating it as a "variant under investigation".
Public Health England (PHE), the executive body under the Department of Health and Social Care, said on Thursday evening that the India variant, known as B.1.617, includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R.
“PHE has identified 77 cases of this variant in the UK and all appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing. This variant has been designated VUI-21APR-01. PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely,” it said in a statement.
If investigations reveal that the variant is more infectious or more resistant to anti-bodies, it will be designated a ‘variant of concern’, similar to the ones detected in South Africa, Brazil, and Kent (the UK variant).
Currently, ‘surge testing’, which includes door-to-door testing, is being conducted in London neighbourhoods such as Barnet, Lambeth, and Southwark for the South African variant, amidst an overall decline in the number of new infections, hospitalisation, and deaths in the UK in the past few weeks.
Curfews vital to break Germany’s third wave
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged lawmakers on Friday to approve new powers that would allow her to force coronavirus lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates, saying a majority of Germans were in favour of stricter measures.
“The third wave of the pandemic has our country firmly in its grip,” said Merkel, whose speech was interrupted by heckles from lawmakers of the far-right Alternative for Germany party opposed to lockdowns.
“Intensive care workers are sending one distress call after the other. Who are we to ignore their pleas?” Merkel said.
Covid: India extends record rise in cases, election rallies continue
India extended a record daily run of new Covid-19 infections on Friday, spurred by hundreds of positive tests at a major religious gathering, as politicians pushed ahead with election rallies against advice they could worsen the outbreak.
India is battling a massive second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with new restrictions imposed in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities. There are also growing calls for officials to speed up the country’s vaccination programme as hospitals are swamped with patients.
The 217,353 new cases reported by the health ministry on Friday marked the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days and took total cases to nearly 14.3 million. India’s case count is second only to the United States, which has reported more than 31 million infections.
Deaths in India rose by 1,185 over the past 24 hours, the highest single-day rise in seven months, to reach a total of 174,308, the health ministry reported.
Experts have raised concerns about the spread of more contagious and deadlier variants of the disease, particularly given widespread participation in religious festivals and political rallies. A Lancet study this month estimated that India’s fatalities could double by June.
Brazil and India running out of sedatives and hospital beds
India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday. Hospitals in the capital New Delhi have been hit hard, and at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of India’s largest Covid-only facilities with more than 1,500 beds, unrelated patients are sharing beds, while bodies of the recently deceased lie outside the ward before being taken to the mortuary.
In a similar vein, Brazil’s hospitals were running out of drugs needed to sedate Covid-19 patients on Thursday, with the government urgently seeking to import supplies amid reports of the seriously ill being tied down and intubated without effective sedatives. More Brazilians are dying of the virus each day than anywhere else in the world, with South America’s largest country reporting another 3,560 deaths on Thursday.
India shifts from mass vaccine exporter to importer
After gifting and selling tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses abroad, India suddenly finds itself short of shots as new infections surge in the world’s second-most populous country.
Four sources involved in discussions on vaccine supplies and procurement said factors including delays by India and Covax in placing firm orders, a lack of investment in production, raw material shortages and underestimating the coronavirus surge at home had contributed to vaccine shortages.
Need for 1-year booster shots explored
The United States is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between nine to 12 months after people are initially vaccinated against Covid-19, a White House official said on Thursday.
It is also tracking infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, told the House subcommittee hearing. Walensky said some of these infections occurred because the vaccinated person did not mount a strong immune response. But the concern is that in some cases, they are occurring in people infected by more contagious virus variants.
How New Zealand’s response helped fuel a housing crisis
The number of people seeking emergency housing in New Zealand’s capital Wellington has tripled in the last 12 months, as rents hit record highs and the pandemic disproportionately impacted lower earning jobs.
New Zealand is experiencing what economists call a ‘K-shaped’ recovery, in which those on top benefit while those at the bottom see their prospects deteriorate.
Pandemic-inspired policies have translated into cheaper mortgages, allowing affluent “kiwis” to upsize their homes and build up portfolios of rental investment properties, fuelling a further surge in house prices. The 24% year-on-year increase, on top of a 90% rise in the preceding decade, has locked out first home buyers and low income earners.
Staggered reopening of borders considered in Australia
Australia will consider a staggered reopening of its international borders to allow residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel abroad first, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
Australian citizens and permanent residents cannot leave the country due to coronavirus restrictions unless they have an exemption, while returning international travellers have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks at their own expense.
Israel to lift outdoor mask mandate
The rules to enforce wearing of masks outdoors in Israel will be lifted starting Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said.
Edelstein said in a statement on Thursday that he had instructed the Ministry's Director-General, Hezi Levi, to sign an order to cancel the restriction, reports Xinhua news agency.
The decision was made on the recommendation by the professionals in the ministry, who said that, due to the low Covid-19 morbidity, there is no longer a need for wearing face masks outdoors in Israel.
In closed places, however, the mask-wearing rules will still apply, the statement noted.
Global Covid-19 caseload tops 138.8 million
The overall global Covid-19 caseload has topped 138.8 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 2.98 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
In its latest update on Friday morning, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed that the current global caseload and death toll stood at 138,827,781 and 2,984,236, respectively.
The US is the worst-hit country with the world's highest number of cases and deaths at 31,495,164 and 565,283, respectively, according to the CSSE.
In terms of infections, India follows in the second place with 14,074,564 cases.
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