LONDON — People arriving in Britain must quarantine in hotels starting Monday as the government tries to prevent new variants of the coronavirus derailing its fast-moving vaccination drive.
On Sunday the government reached its goal of giving the first of two doses of vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable people, including health care workers and over-70s.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccination drive is now being extended to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
Health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.
People arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in quarantine hotels for 10 days at their own expense. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.
Critics say the move comes too late, with the South African variant already circulating in the country.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— COVID-19 conspiracy shows the reach of Chinese disinformation around the world
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— Peru minister resigns amid uproar over government officials being vaccinated before country received 1M doses for health workers
— Britain reaches a vaccination goal: Giving first shots to 15 million most vulnerable
— Italy won’t open its ski slopes due to fears of virus variants
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LISBON, Portugal — A French medical team is due to start work Monday at a hospital in Portugal, which for more than three weeks has been the country in the world with most COVID-19 deaths by size of population.
The French doctor and three nurses arrived amid signs that a month-long lockdown, which is being extended to at least March 1, is paying off.
On Sunday, just over 4,800 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, down from a Feb. 1 peak of close to 7,000. There were 795 virus patients in intensive care, a drop from a peak of 905 on Feb. 5.
Johns Hopkins University says the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Portugal has fallen from 2.82 deaths per 100,000 people on Jan. 31 to 1.63 deaths per 100,000.
JERUSALEM — A large-scale Israeli study has pointed to the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections with the coronavirus.
Clalit, the largest of Israel’s four health care providers, released a study Sunday that compared infections in 600,000 Israelis who had received the vaccine compared to 600,000 who were not immunized.
The study found a 94% drop in symptomatic infections and a 92% drop in serious cases of the disease among those vaccinated. It said “the efficacy of the vaccine is preserved in every age group,” particularly a week after the second dose of the vaccine.
The researchers said the preliminary findings of the ongoing research “is aimed at emphasizing to the population that has yet to vaccinate that the vaccine is highly effective and prevents serious illness.”
Israel launched its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December. Since then, over a quarter of the population — 2.5 million people — have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and over 42% have received the first shot, according to the Health Ministry.
BUDAPEST — The first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China will arrive Tuesday in Hungary, the first country in the European Union to approve the Chinese vacccine.
In a video on Facebook on Monday, State Secretary Tamas Menczer said 550,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm will be transported by jet from Beijing, enough to treat 275,000 people with two doses each. The first shipment will undergo testing by the National Public Health Center before inoculations begin, Menczer said.
Hungary earlier broke with the EU’s common vaccine procurement program by approving the vaccine on Jan. 29, and has purchased 5 million doses. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has said he would choose to take the Sinopharm jab himself.
The vaccine’s developer says it is nearly 80% effective, but has not yet released stage 3 clinical trial data. Around 30 million people worldwide have received the Sinopharm vaccine, including half a million ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, Hungary’s non-EU neighbor to the south, Menczer said. Hungary has also approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and began administering it in hospitals in the capital of Budapest last week.
PRAGUE — Long lines of trucks and other vehicles have formed on two major highways leading from the Czech Republic to Germany due to tight border controls on the German side.
Germany on Sunday implemented the controls on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province in an effort to stem the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.
The new restrictions limit entry from those areas to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others who have to register online and show a negative coronavirus test and be quarantined for at least 10 days on arrival. No one else is allowed to enter Germany.
Sunday was quiet on the roads but Monday was a different story.
The queue reached 23 kilometers (14 miles) on the D8 highway to the German state of Saxony while the line on the D5 highway to the state of Bavaria was about 15 kilometers (9 miles) long.
Three Czech counties on the border with Germany and Poland are in a complete lockdown after a surge in a more contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Britain.
MANILA, Philippines — The approval for many Philippine movie theaters, video game arcades and other leisure businesses to reopen has been postponed another two weeks after mayors expressed fear it will bring new coronavirus infections.
They’ve been closed since last year in most of the Philippines, which has suffered a pandemic-wrought recession since.
The government had announced it would allow them to reopen Monday, but the delay came after a meeting of local Manila and national officials.
Most mayors under the Metro Manila Development Authority expressed apprehension over the reopening of cinemas and video game arcades. Philippine officials said mayors and health officials should draw rules to ensure safety amid the easing of quarantine restrictions in more public areas, including museums, libraries, parks and historical sites.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque later said in a televised news briefing that the reopening of movie houses would be moved to March 1 to allow consultations and more time to craft safety guidelines.
SEOUL, South Korea — A pet cat has become the first animal confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus in the South Korean capital.
Seoul official Song Eun-cheol said Monday the cat was found to have been infected the previous day, after the family that owns her were all diagnosed with the disease.
He says the cat had suffered vomiting and lethargy. It’s being quarantined at a city-run facility.
Seoul last week began providing free coronavirus tests to pet dogs and cats, which come into contact with infected humans and show symptoms.
Earlier Monday, South Korea reported 344 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 83,869 with 1,527 deaths.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Health officials are urging tougher coronavirus restrictions and a partial lockdown in parts of Sri Lanka after patients were confirmed to have a more contagious variant.
Patients in several parts of the Indian Ocean island nation have been confirmed to have a variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom, health officials said Saturday.
“There is a greater risk of spreading the new variant into others areas unless tough and effective measures including lockdowns are taken immediately as already the number of positive cases are rising,” President of the Public Health Inspectors Association Upul Rohana said Monday.
Sri Lanka had a one-month lockdown last March when the first positive case was detected. A lockdown in the capital and its suburbs was imposed again in October after two fresh outbreaks erupted.
Sri Lanka has now confirmed 75,653 cases with 397 fatalities.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will begin vaccinating its population against COVID-19 next week after its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine was delivered on Monday.
More than 142,000 doses had arrived at Sydney airport, the government said. Health care, aged care and quarantine workers will be among the first to be vaccinated from Feb. 22.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will also be among the first to receive a dose in a bid to raise public confidence in the program.
Australia decided against accelerating the vaccine regulator’s approval process in order to increase public confidence that the Pfizer product was safe.
So far, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use in Australia. But the regulator is expected to also approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine soon.
Australia is contracted to receive 20 million Pfizer doses and to receive or manufacture at home 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska will no longer require travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test when arriving in the state, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said when outlining plans for the state to transition into a recovery phase.
The announcement came after the state’s emergency declaration expired Sunday.
Dunleavy ordered his commissioners and state employees to continue following the policies that were in place under the declaration. However, officials will spend the next several weeks reviewing which policies are still needed.
“My administration will begin moving Alaska, its economy and our lives forward through this transition and recovery process,” Dunleavy said. “Make no mistake about it, the virus may be with us for some time. But the data shows that the worst is most likely behind us.”
Alaska has had 54,282 total cases of the virus, and 280 Alaskans have died.
LONDON — The U.K. announced Sunday that it had reached its goal of giving at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to the most vulnerable people in the country, increasing pressure on ministers to clarify when they will ease a lockdown imposed in early January.
More than 15 million people, or 22% of the U.K. population, have received their first shot. The figure includes most people in the government’s top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents. Over 537,000 of them have also received their second dose.
“15,000,000! Amazing team,″ Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart and three syringes. “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.″
Britain ranks behind only Israel, 73%, the Seychelles, 53%, and the United Arab Emirates, 51% in the percentage of people who have received one dose, according to Oxford University. The U.S. is fifth at 15%.