World News in Brief: February 18

Thursday, 2021-02-18 15:51:50
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An officer gestures a car to stop for ID checking at the border between Portugal and Spain, on Feb. 16, 2021. Spain and Portugal extended police checks along their internal land border until March 1 in a bid to control the spread of new coronavirus variants. (Photo: Xinhua)
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday proposed that the Group of 20 (G20) set up an emergency task force to prepare a "Global Vaccination Plan" against COVID-19.

* Countries participating in the COVAX vaccine distribution mechanism will soon receive confirmation of their first shipments, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.

* Newly sworn-in Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi won a confidence vote in the Senate on Wednesday night. Draghi's government was supported by a vote of 262-40 with two abstentions in the Senate.

* Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced resignation on Thursday, media reports said.

* Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden held on Wednesday their first talk over the phone, the Prime Minister's office said. The two leaders discussed Iran and other regional issues, including Israel's newly-signed normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.

* Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtaye said on Wednesday that Palestine, Qatar and the European Union are cooperating to resolve the chronic electricity crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

* The European Union (EU) on Wednesday stepped up its efforts to detect and fight COVID-19 variants by bringing together various stakeholders to develop new and adapted vaccines.

* Britain became the first country to give the go-ahead for human challenge trials in which volunteers will be deliberately exposed to COVID-19.

* The COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech is effective against the UK and South African variants, the vaccine's Brazilian partner said.

* Researchers urged governments to delay administering the second dose of Pfizer vaccine, which they said had an efficacy of 92.6% after the first dose.

* Brazil was approaching 10 million COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, after 56,766 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 9,978,747, according to the Health Ministry. In its daily report, the ministry also reported 1,150 deaths in the same period for a death toll of 242,090.

* India's COVID-19 tally rose to 10,950,201 on Thursday, as 12,881 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, the latest data from the federal health ministry showed. According to the official data, the death toll mounted to 156,014 as 101 COVID-19 patients died since Wednesday morning.

* Russia on Thursday reported 13,447 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,950 in Moscow, pushing the national infection tally to 4,125,598 since the pandemic began. The government coronavirus taskforce said that 480 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 81,926.

* Cuba reported 824 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, raising its total caseload to 40,765, the country's Ministry of Public Health said Wednesday.

* White House officials said Johnson & Johnson has only a few million COVID-19 vaccine doses in stock even as likely US approval nears, while EU officials said Pfizer's vaccine supply to the bloc was about 10 million doses short of plan.

* England's third national lockdown is helping to reduce infections, a study found, but the prevalence of cases remains high as PM Boris Johnson eyes a cautious route to re-opening the economy.

* Switzerland plans a cautious easing of its lockdown from March, while Spain will make quarantine obligatory for travellers from South Africa and Brazil.

* The Dutch government raced to prepare legislation to keep a nighttime curfew in place after a court ordered it to scrap the controversial measure.

* India will make COVID-19 molecular tests mandatory for people arriving directly or indirectly from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

* The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 10,207 to 2,360,606, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 534 to 66,698, the tally showed.

* Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that Iran is ready for dialogue with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi but will not renegotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement.

* Australian employment rose for a fourth straight month in January and the jobless rate fell by more than expected.

* US Federal Reserve officials broadly agreed that the Fed's easy monetary policy will remain in place for some time, according to the minutes of the Fed's recent policy meeting released Wednesday.

* Chile has vaccinated some 2.39 million people against COVID-19 two weeks after launching a mass vaccination campaign, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

* Slovakia will ask other EU member countries for medical staff to help with the surge in cases.

* The coronavirus variant first identified in the UK does not cause more severe disease in children than variants circulating earlier in 2020, new data suggested.

* The World Bank has approved US$97.5 million in grant for Afghanistan to combat the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and droughts in the war-torn Asian country, the World Bank office in Afghanistan said in a statement reaching here Thursday.

* Venezuela will begin vaccinating medical personnel on Thursday.

* Nepal approved the emergency use of a vaccine developed by an affiliate of China's Sinopharm.

* Croatia could purchase Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine against COVID-19, before the European Medicine Agency (EMA) approves it, Croatian Health Minister Vili Beros said Wednesday.

* Turkey will begin a gradual return to normal life on a province-by-province basis from March, while nationwide weekend lockdowns would be lifted in some provinces based on infection rates.

* Namibia will roll out AstraZeneca's vaccine despite efficacy concerns.

* Africa's total reported death toll from COVID-19 was approaching 100,000 on Thursday, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.

* The Hamas-run health ministry in the besieged Gaza Strip announced on Wednesday that it has received the first batch of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Xinhua, Reuters