The number of coronavirus fatalities in Germany is “very worrying,” the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI) said Thursday, as the country reported its highest single-day pandemic death toll of 1,244.
New Covid-19 infections ”must reduce massively,” Lothar Wieler told journalists in Berlin, adding that ”intensive care units have never been as exhausted as in recent days.” There are now 5,200 patients being treated in German ICUs with 90% on ventilation.
The average age of patients in intensive care units is around 60 years, the RKI chief said.
Germany is on high alert for new, more contagious mutations of the virus, Wieler said. Sixteen new coronavirus cases associated with the variant from the UK and four new coronavirus cases associated with the variant from South Africa have been detected in the country.
On Thursday, Germany recorded 25,164 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total tally to 1,978,590, according to the latest RKI data.
The RKI chief said the current lockdown in place is “not as effective as in spring,” calling on German citizens to ”stay at home whenever possible,” and urging employers to also allow employees to work from home.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn dashed hopes that Germany would be able to lift all coronavirus lockdown measures at the beginning of February.
A recent Covid-19 cluster in South Korea has been linked to a religious group gathering in North Gyeongsang Province, according to the country’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
KDCA Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said a total of 713 people linked to the gathering at the BTJ Center for All Nations have tested positive for Covid-19. The agency added that more than 1,300 people who attended the event have not yet been tested.
The KDCA has urged people who visited the center after November 27 to get tested immediately.
South Korean churches have become a battleground in the country’s fight against the coronavirus, with several outbreaks last year being traced back to religious gatherings.
The Shincheonji religious group, an offshoot of Christianity, has been held responsible for thousands of infections during the pandemic. It was at the heart of South Korea’s outbreak in February and March last year, when that was one of the worst epidemics outside China.
The government of President Moon Jae-in has faced criticism for curbing religious freedoms after they banned religious gatherings in churches in Seoul last year and encouraged worshippers to move online. Thousands took to the streets in protest.
South Korea has recorded a total of 70,728 Covid-19 cases as of Thursday, according to the KDCA.
Pope Francis has received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Thursday.
In a statement, Bruni said that he was “able to confirm that within the vaccine program of the Vatican City State, to this date the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus.”
Pope Francis recently turned 84 and Pope Emeritus, the retired Pope Benedict XVI, is 93 years old.
The Vatican statement did not say when Francis was inoculated but the city began its vaccine program on Wednesday.
The Holy See has had just 27 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The pontiff used his recent Christmas message to say that coronavirus vaccines must be available for all, and pleaded with states to cooperate in the race to emerge from the pandemic.
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Three-time Grand Slam tennis champion Andy Murray has tested positive for Covid-19.
The news comes just days before he was due to fly to Melbourne for next month’s Australian Open which is scheduled to begin on February 8.
It’s unclear when the 33-year-old tested positive.
The former World No.1 is currently quarantining and isolating at his home in Surrey, England.
Bioreports understands that the Scot still hopes to compete in Australia but only when it is completely safe to do so and the appropriate permission is granted.
Murray, a five-time runner-up at the tournament, has been awarded a wildcard by tournament organisers.
People who have recovered from Covid-19 may have immunity to the virus for around five months, according to preliminary findings in a new study led by Public Health England (PHE).
The SIREN research examined the impact of infection on more than 20,000 health workers from across the UK and a pre-print of the study found only 44 cases among 6,614 people who were thought to have been previously infected.
The study — which has not yet been peer reviewed — concluded that past infection reduces the chances of catching the virus again by 83% for at least five months.
“About 6,000 of the healthcare workers were people who had evidence of having had SARS-CoV-2 infection… and about 14,000 of the healthcare workers were people who had no evidence of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Tom Wingfield, senior clinical lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, told the UK’s Science Media Centre.
“The findings suggest that re-infection rates in the positive cohort were 83% lower than the negative cohort during the follow-up period.”
But researchers warned that the protection was not total and that it was unclear how long any immunity lasts. They also said it’s possible people who have a degree of immunity against the virus will still be able to transmit it to others.
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More than 38,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 in the first two weeks of the new year.
Another 92,000 are projected to die from the virus over roughly the next three weeks, according to an ensemble forecast published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers are scary and reflect what public health experts have repeatedly warned: While the end is in sight — with the help of ongoing Covid-19 vaccinations — the nation is still facing challenging times ahead.
Currently, more than 130,300 people are hospitalized with the virus, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
In Pennsylvania, officials said the number of hospitalizations are nearing double the peak experienced during spring. Louisiana’s governor said earlier this week the state was seeing a “huge spike” in infections and hospitalizations. And in Arizona, officials reported Tuesday record-high Covid-19 hospitalization and ICU numbers.
Hundreds of thousands of infections are added to the country’s tally every single day, with the US adding more than 3 million new reported infections since the start of the month.
In Los Angeles County, about one in three residents has been infected with the virus since the pandemic’s start, according to data published by county officials. Outbreaks have increased across workplaces as well as schools and daycare settings, they said.
Echoing other leaders’ warnings, the LA officials added they have “not yet fully seen the effect of transmission in the period from around Christmas to New Years.”
And with all eyes now turned to the nation’s capital ahead of Inauguration Day, cases in Washington DC have never been higher. Right now, it’s averaging more than 320 new cases every day — about a 38% jump from the previous week. DC has reported a total of more than 32,600 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic’s start, about 10% of which have been added in 2021.
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The United States may be struggling to vaccinate citizens against coronavirus, but pharmacy chains say they can help speed up the balky rollout.
Pharmacists nationwide will have the capacity to administer 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine once supply is available, Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said Wednesday.
“Based on conservative assumptions, pharmacies have the capacity to meet the demand for 100 million vaccine doses in one month when that level of the vaccine supply is available,” Anderson told reporters on a phone call Wednesday.
So far, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has vaccinated only about 10 million people, and distributed just over 29 million doses of vaccine. States say they are struggling to vaccinate people, in part because of lack of public health infrastructure.
Pharmacy chains say they can help fill that gap.
NACDS represents 40,000 pharmacies and 155,000 pharmacists, according to Anderson. The group says 90% of Americans live within five miles of a retail drug store and the “dormant” Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program could open the door to harnessing the capacity of chain pharmacies.
“America’s retail pharmacies can easily administer 100 million vaccine doses in 30 days,” the group said in a statement. “This solution could easily be ramped up even further as stores deploy more vaccinators — pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy interns, nurses, clinic physicians, EMTs and others.”
Two World Health Organization scientists en route to China to investigate the origins of the pandemic are stuck in Singapore after testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies, the UN agency said in a series of tweets Thursday.
The two members are part of the team of scientists traveling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan to conduct field research.
“Two scientists are still in Singapore completing tests for Covid-19. All team members had multiple negative PCR and antibody tests for Covid-19 in their home countries prior to traveling,” the WHO said in a tweet Thursday.
The two scientists in Singapore will be retested for antibodies, WHO said.
The other 13 scientists arrived in Wuhan Thursday, WHO said.
When asked about the two scientists in a briefing Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not directly comment but said, “China will strictly follow the relevant epidemic prevention regulations and requirements, and provide corresponding support and facilities for WHO experts who come to China to carry out international cooperation on tracing the origin of the virus.”
Bioreports has reached out to China’s National Health Commission for comment.
A total of 270 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been secured for African countries, with at least 50 million shots available from April to June, a task force established by the African Union announced Wednesday.
The vaccines will be from Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson, according to a African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) news release.
“From the onset of this pandemic, our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort. We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind,” said Chair of the African Union and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
All 270 million vaccine doses will be made available this year, he added.
These vaccines have been secured alongside a vaccine program from COVAX, a World Health Organization and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative that aims to provide worldwide access to effective Covid-19 vaccines.
Ramaphosa said that while the initiative was “vital” it may “not extend beyond the needs of frontline health care workers, and may thus not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa.”