Germany is introducing tighter rules for travelers returning to the country, due to the risk of new coronavirus mutations currently spreading in some parts of the world.
According to the German health ministry, starting January 14, anyone entering the country from an area of risk must be able to prove that they are not infected with the coronavirus no later than 48 hours after entering the country.
Those arriving from the worst affected countries must also present a negative test result prior to entering Germany. These include the UK and South Africa, two places where highly transmissible variants of the virus were first detected.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that “traveling abroad to risk areas is not in keeping with the pandemic situation. Those who nevertheless do not want to forego this must in future be tested on their return. Virus mutations are an additional danger to our health. We must prevent a spread in Germany as much as possible.”
Germany will continue its existing quarantine rules for travelers. After entering the country all travelers must stay in quarantine for ten days unless they can provide a negative test, in which case quarantine is shortened to five days.
A leading Chinese Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech was just 50.38% effective in late-stage trials in Brazil, significantly lower than earlier results showed, according to a statement published by the government of Sao Paulo Tuesday.
While the number just exceeds the threshold required for regulatory approval, it falls far below the 78% previously announced, raising questions as to the veracity of the data and fueling skepticism over the apparent lack of transparency regarding Chinese vaccines.
“The Butantan Institute and the Government of Sao Paulo report that the coronavirus vaccine achieved a 50.38% overall efficacy rate in the clinical study conducted in Brazil, in addition to (an efficacy rate of) 78% for mild cases and 100% for moderate and severe cases of Covid-19. All rates are higher than the 50% level required by the WHO (World Health Organization),” the statement released Tuesday said.
The Brazilian state body financed the phase 3 trials of the vaccine — known as CoronaVac — which involved 13,000 health workers across eight Brazilian states.
On Tuesday, high-ranking members of the Brazilian Health Ministry told Bioreports affiliate Bioreports Brasil that “the effectiveness is borderline,” and that because it was “at the limit,” they would need to wait for the evaluation by the country’s health regulatory agency ANVISA.
Sinovac Biotech has confidence in its vaccine, it told Bioreports in a statement on Wednesday.
In response to a question about why there are so many different efficacy rates reported, the company said: “The results are from different populations, in different places with different morbidity rates, and therefore they span a relatively large range.”
The final efficacy rate of the vaccine will be determined by China’s drug regulator, the National Medical Production Administration, according to the representative.
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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency in seven additional areas across the nation at the government Covid-19 task force meeting Wednesday.
The state of emergency will be implemented for Osaka, Hyogo Kyoto, Aichi, Gifu, Fukuoka and Tochigi prefectures until February 7.
Last week, the prime minister declared a state of emergency for the capital Tokyo and three neighboring areas due to rising infections. It brings with it a number of restrictions on daily life.
The state of emergency orders companies to encourage their staff to work from home and reduce office populations by 70%. Residents of the affected areas are also urged to avoid non-essential outings and restaurants are ordered to close by 8pm. Sports and entertainment events are also requested to limit the number of attendees.
Suga also said the country will temporarily ban the entry of all foreign nationals into the country, but did not give details as to when the ban would take effect.
This comes as Japan’s Covid-19 cases have continued to increase. Japan’s Health Ministry reported 4,527 new Covid-19 cases from Tuesday and 51 new deaths. The ministry data showed the number of patients in serious condition across the country rose to 881, up 17 from the previous day.
On Tuesday the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee insisted preparations would continue for the games, which are due to be held in July and August this year after being postponed from 2020. Meanwhile a poll conducted by Japanese public broadcaster NHK found that 77% of respondents believe the they should be cancelled or postponed further.
The head of the scientific council that advises the French government warned Wednesday of the spread of the new variant first discovered in the UK.
Speaking to France Info radio on Wednesday morning, Delfraissy said, “the variant is going to spread and we cannot stop it, we can slow it down by taking a number of restrictive measures.”
However, he recommended keeping schools open with stricter rules in place such as faster testing. Delfraissy said it would be a good thing if some university students were able to physically attend classes at the end of February as depression is “a real issue”.
Delfraissy added that according to a recent study the British variant accounted for 1% of the new Covid-19 infections in France.
French President Emmanuel Macron will chair a Defence Council meeting Wednesday to decide on new restrictions.
This comes as the government in neighboring Italy has extended its state of emergency until the end of April. The health minister there told members of parliament that the current tiered lockdown system will be kept in place and that Italians need to “learn to live with the virus for a while because it is still circulating with growing strength.”
The president of Armenia is in the hospital with a severe case of Covid-19, his assistant has told Bioreports.
Hasmik Petrosyan says that President Armen Sarkissian, who was in London over the New Year to visit his grandchildren, was hospitalized on Monday in the British capital.
Sarkissian is “very weak” and also suffering from pneumonia, Petroysan said.
“The President has the symptoms characteristic to this condition, including high fever.”
London has been experiencing some of the highest infection rates in the United Kingdom and was placed under the country’s top level of restrictions before Christmas.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that authorities were considering putting Covid-19 patients in hotels as a “backup plan.”
It comes as the National Health Service (NHS) is facing intense pressure from a high number of Covid-19 cases.
“We are considering all the options, it isn’t something that we’re actively putting in place. But I would say that it would only ever happen if that was clinically right for any individual patient,” Hancock told BBC Breakfast.
“There is a lag from the number of cases, through to the number of people turning up in hospital. So we know that those pressures on the NHS are going to continue to build over the next couple of weeks because that lag from people catching coronavirus to ending up in hospital is between a weekend or two,” he added.
On hotels, Hancock said that, “It’s obviously not what I want to do. And the NHS Nightingale hospitals are there as the backup,” referring to temporary hospitals established by NHS England as part of the response to the pandemic.
Asked which patients would be sent to hotels, the health secretary said it, “would be for step-down patients or patients who have been in hospital, who no longer need the full hospital treatment but aren’t quite ready to go home.”
Starting next Monday, people in the German state of Bavaria will be required to wear an “FFP2” mask on public transport and while shopping.
The FFP2 filtering mask is standardized in Europe. It differs from surgical masks in that it usually has four layers and is meant to provide a high degree of protection. FFP2 masks are often used in construction, agriculture and by healthcare workers. An equivalent is the N95 mask.
“We want to make everyday life safer,” Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder said Tuesday. The southern German state, which borders Switzerland and Austria, is especially hard-hit by the virus.
The Covid-19 situation in Germany remains serious. Last week, Germany’s government announced an extension of the country’s national lockdown until the end of the month and will further tighten restrictions on movement and contact in order to curb the spread of the virus.
“It is not said that the tighter lockdown by the end of January has pushed Covid-19 back so far that we can relax again,” said vice chancellor and finance minister Olaf Scholz in an interview with Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper. “Anyone who promises that now is acting recklessly and destroying trust.”
South Africa variant: Meanwhile, the southwest state of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced Tuesday that it had identified its first cases of the coronavirus variant first spotted in South Africa, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.
“These persons are all in surveillance, so we do not assume that beyond that, we have more infections,” Stefan Brockmann, Health Ministry spokesman in Baden-Wuerttemberg, said in an interview on public broadcaster SWR.
New cases: On Wednesday, the national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 19,600 Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 1,953,426.
The death toll increased by 1,060, and now stands at 42,637.
The leader of a South Korean religious group has been found not guilty of violating the country’s Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Law, a news release from Suwon district court said Wednesday.
Lee Man-hee, the leader of the religious group Shincheonji, was accused of intentionally submitting incomplete lists of his congregation to authorities as they were trying to track Covid-19 patients.
One member had tested positive shortly after attending one of the group’s mass gatherings and Shincheonji was believed to be at the center of the largest coronavirus outbreak in the country in February 2020.
Though Lee, 89, was found not guilty of violating the virus law, he was convicted of embezzlement charges and handed a suspended sentence, meaning he won’t serve any time in prison. Lee was found guilty of embezzling 5.7 billion Korean won (US$5.2 million).
Lee was also found partially guilty of obstruction of justice over charges he told the religious group to submit false information about their gatherings. The court said that he instructed the group to indicate the event as a volunteer group gathering, not as a religious one.
The religious group’s response: In a statement, Shincheonji said it welcomed the court finding the group leader not guilty of breaking the virus law, but expressed “deep regret” over the guilty ruling on the other charges.
Shincheonji said that it’ll appeal to get “a fair judgement from the court,” but added that the group will maintain its efforts to cooperate with [the authorities] for the end of Covid-19.
Lee issued a public apology in March, but denied accusations that he and his group had been hampering health authorities’ efforts to contain and prevent infections. At the time, South Korea had identified more than 4,200 cases of Covid-19, more than any country except mainland China. More than half of those cases were tied to Shincheonji.
The European Union kicked off its coronavirus vaccination campaign at the end of last month, and the number of people receiving shots is increasing, though some countries are faring better than others.
Here’s where Italy, Germany and France stand:
- Italy has so far vaccinated 791,734 people, according to the government’s vaccine administration.
- Germany has given shots to 688,782 people, according to the national agency for disease control and vaccination, the Robert Koch Institute.
- France has administered vaccines to 189,834 people, according to the country’s Health Ministry.
- Spain has administered a total of 488,142 doses, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Progress was interrupted by heavy snowfall across much of northern and central Spain at the weekend.