Watch: Europe awaits AstraZeneca approval as virus variant worries grow
Britain’s supply of Pfizer vaccines from Belgium is under threat with the European Commission is expected to unveil an EU export ban on Friday.
The development comes amid a deepening row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccine supply shortages in the bloc.
Brussels has demanded doses be sent from British plants to make up for a shortfall, but Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government will not allow vaccines intended for the UK to go to the EU.
However, German MEP Dr Peter Liese warned the UK it would be acting like former US president Donald Trump if it pursued a “UK first” contract for the vaccines.
“If it’s true what some say that the UK had a “UK first” contract – that it’s guaranteed that they will get everything and everybody else has to suffer – then this is like Donald Trump. He did a US-first policy,” he told the BBC’s Newscast podcast.
“That’s why we have a huge problem. For the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, there are two plants. One in the EU and one in the US. And the US doesn’t export even to Canada. Everything comes from the European Union.
“We cannot be the only one who plays fair in this game. If others say, ‘UK first’, ‘US first’, then we have to say, ‘EU first’, but I hope – I really hope – this will be sorted out and everybody will get its fair share.”
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Today’s front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Friday, Jan 29.
Dangerous Liaison: New Zealand virus quarantine flaw exposed
The woman who took a flight back to New Zealand was supposed to avoid all physical contact with others for 14 days as she went into mandatory quarantine. The man working at the quarantine hotel was supposed to be the last line of defence.
But the two started passing notes to each other, including one written on the back of a face mask. Then she ordered a bottle of wine, which he delivered to her room. When he didn’t return 20 minutes later, a security manager sent to investigate found the pair together in what authorities are describing as an inappropriate encounter, one in which physical distancing wasn’t maintained.
“We’re dealing with human beings,” said Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. “We ask everybody to adhere to the standards that we put in place. I cannot control the actions of every individual.”
Mr Hipkins said the pair’s behavior was totally unacceptable and he’d asked for a thorough inquiry.
Read more: UK quarantine hotels – how will they work and what do new rules mean for holidays?
EU Commission head says AstraZeneca contract ‘crystal clear’
The European Union’s contract with AstraZeneca for its vaccine contains binding orders, EU Commision Head Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, demanding a plausible explanation from the drugmaker for delivery hold-ups.
Ms Von der Leyen told Deutschlandfunk radio the best-effort delivery cause in the contract was only valid as long as it was not clear whether AstraZeneca could develop a vaccine.
She said the contract contained very clear delivery amounts for December and the first three quarters of 2021, and also mentioned four production sites, two of which are in Britain.
“There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear,” she said.
Read more: German response to Oxford vaccine is unfair blow for UK scientists and will cause needless worry
UK mental health worsening as pandemic fatigue sets in
Britain’s first lockdown flew past in a flurry of banana bread, Zoom zumba classes and Instagrammable walks.
Roll forward nine months and people are ditching their mixing bowls and abandoning exercise plans in droves, as virus fatigue and the winter gloom take their toll.
University College London (UCL) has been following 70,000 Britons through the coronavirus pandemic and has found a marked change in behaviour since the March lockdown.
Four in 10 people say they are now exercising less than in the first lockdown, and a fifth say they are now watching more television, films and playing online games.
Hobbies have also been renounced, with around one third of people saying they have reduced their involvement in arts, crafts, gardening and DIY.
Read the full story
Watch: Doctor’s mental health tips during the pandemic
Fire kills virus patients in Romania
A fire killed four people at a Covid-19 hospital in Romanian capital Bucharest early on Friday and 102 other patients have been evacuated, officials said.
The fire, which has since been extinguished, broke out at around 0300 GMT in one of the buildings of the Matei Bals hospital in capital Bucharest.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
Australia considers resuming trans-Tasman bubble
Australia may resume its travel bubble with New Zealand in coming days, its health minister said on Friday, as the state of Victoria eased border controls ahead of hosting the first tennis Grand Slam on 2021, the Australian Open.
Health officials are reassessing daily a pause on Australia’s travel corridor with New Zealand after the Pacific nation’s strong response to an outbreak of a contagious strain, while borders between Australia’s two most populous states may next week open freely for the first time this year.
The trans-Tasman bubble, which has allowed New Zealand residents to travel to Australia without quarantining, was frozen after New Zealand confirmed its first case in months on Monday of a variant that emerged in South Africa.
South Korea delays easing restrictions amid schools outbreaks
South Korea has delayed until Sunday any easing of social distancing measures because outbreaks involving mission schools are threatening to undermine efforts to keep new infections under control ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.
The number of cases linked to Christian schools nationwide grew further on Friday, reaching 344 infections in total in seven facilities.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday that the government would not carelessly reduce social distancing rules, citing experts who view the recent surge in cases as a sign of another massive wave of infections.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 469 new coronavirus cases as of midnight on Thursday, bringing the national tally to 77,395 cases and 1,399 deaths.
Vietnam outbreak spreads to Hanoi
Vietnam reported nine more new infections early on Friday as the country’s first outbreak for nearly two months spread to Hanoi.
The new cases, including one in Hanoi and eight in nearby Haiphong city and Hai Duong, Quang Ninh and Bac Ninh provinces, brought the total number of cases in the outbreak that began on Thursday to 93, the Ministry of Health said.
One of the first two cases recorded on Thursday was exposed to an individual who had tested positive in Japan for the more contagious UK variant. The ministry said it was still analysing gene sequences to determine if the new patients had contracted the new variant.
The total number of cases recorded since the coronavirus was first detected in Vietnam a year ago stands at 1,651, including imported cases, with 35 deaths.
The ministry said the case in Hanoi is linked to an airport worker in Quang Ninh province who tested positive on Thursday along with 83 others, the first locally transmitted cases in the country for 55 days and the biggest single-day outbreak so far.
AstraZeneca to seek Japan’s approval of vaccine
AstraZeneca will file for Japanese approval of its Covid-19 vaccine as early as mid-February, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, making it the second vaccine maker to seek approval in Japan.
Although the British-Swedish company started domestic vaccine trials last summer, it fell behind its rival Pfizer in the schedule to inoculate the Japanese public after Pfizer sought government approval in December.
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Japan has secured 120 million AstraZeneca doses, and plans to procure at least 90 million of them from domestic drugmakers who will make and distribute the shots, the government said on Thursday.
Read more: Japan’s ailing vaccination programme could be nail in the coffin for Olympics
Watch: PM rejects Germany ruling AstraZeneca jab should not be recommended to over 65s
Cases in China drop to 3-week low
China reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases in three weeks, official data showed on Friday, as authorities in the regions hardest hit by the latest wave imposed robust curbs to contain the disease.
The total number of confirmed cases fell to 52 on Jan. 28 from 54 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement. This was the lowest single-day increase since 33 cases were reported on Jan 8.
Out of the 36 locally transmitted infections, 21 were reported in the northeastern Heilongjiang province while the neighbouring Jilin province reported 13 new ones. Beijing and Hebei province that surrounds the Chinese capital each reported one new case. The remaining 16 cases were overseas travellers.
South African variant detected in US for first time
A potent coronavirus variant originating in South Africa and found to be partly resistant to current vaccines and antibody treatments has been detected for the first time in the United States in two South Carolina patients, health officials said on Thursday.
Medical experts said arrival of the so-called South African variant presented an alarming new challenge in efforts to contain a raging pandemic that has claimed at least 430,000 American lives in 11 months, as authorities struggle to launch the largest mass-vaccination campaign in US history.
All viruses mutate frequently, and scientists have identified several variants of the novel coronavirus found to be more transmissible than the original strain.
But the presence of the South African variant, which has shown no evidence of causing more severe disease, is nonetheless especially concerning because several laboratory studies have found that it reduces vaccine and antibody therapy efficacy.
High Street crisis deepens
The retail sector’s recent turmoil worsened over the past three months as more shops shuttered in the face of coronavirus restrictions, according to new figures.
The latest BRC-LDC vacancy monitor revealed that 13.7 per cent of all shops were empty during the quarter to the end of December.
Vacancy levels jumped from 13.2 per cent in the previous three-month period, as the monitor reported the tenth consecutive quarter of rising vacancies.
The latest quarter saw shops impacted by lockdown measures across England in November and tighter tiered restrictions in December, before the latest national lockdown.
Shopping centres saw a particular surge in shuttered stores, as the vacancy rate jumped to 17.1 per cent from 16.3 per cent in the third quarter.
High street vacancies increased to 13.7 per cent from 13.3 percent in the previous period.
Read more: Fifth of private sector workers back on furlough