US hits daily Covid death toll record of 4,500

Indonesia leader gets nation's first coronavirus jab

By: AFP      Published: 10:44 AM, 13 Jan, 2021
US hits daily Covid death toll record of 4,500

The United States on Tuesday announced all air travelers entering the country will need a negative Covid-19 test before departure, as the country hit a record of nearly 4,500 deaths in a single day.

The policy takes effect on January 26 and expands an existing measure targeting Britain, where the strain known as B117 has been tied to a drastic spike in cases.

Ireland, which now has the world's highest per capita infection rate, also announced Tuesday it was extending testing measures that previously applied only to travelers from the UK and South Africa.

"Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer," said Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The United States remains the worst-affected country, with around 380,000 -- or a fifth -- of the world's almost two million dead, despite accounting for just four percent of the global population.

In 24 hours, the US recorded more than 235,000 new cases and a record high of 4,470 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tally on Tuesday evening.

Also Tuesday, Democratic members of US Congress voiced fury at Republican colleagues who refused to wear masks while lawmakers sheltered from a mob that rampaged through the Capitol last week.

"I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife's health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers," said Brad Schneider, the third Democratic representative to test positive.

- Third vaccine in EU -

Across the border in Canada, the most populous province of Ontario ordered residents to stay home as projections showed the number of cases could soon explode and overwhelm hospitals.

But there was some positive news in the European Union, which started the approval process for its third vaccine on Tuesday.

The 27-nation bloc promised an "accelerated timeline" after confirming drug company AstraZeneca had applied for approval for the jab it developed with Oxford University.

The EU's medicines agency said a decision would still not come before January 29.

But the European Commission said Tuesday it had concluded exploratory talks with Franco-Austrian biotechnology laboratory Valneva for the possible purchase of up to 60 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine.

- No population immunity this year -

Switzerland meanwhile approved the Moderna vaccine, having already been the first country in continental Europe to start using the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

Even with mass vaccinations however, World Health Organization scientists warned that coverage would still not be wide enough for population-level immunity this year.

Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as fears grow that its health system is close to being overwhelmed, after China and Japan took measures against localized clusters.

The Netherlands became the latest European nation to tighten virus controls, extending its restrictions until February 9, including the closure of schools and non-essential shops, and a ban on people having more than two visitors in their homes.

"I don't think I am going to surprise you this evening, the lockdown is extended by three weeks," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a televised news conference.

Portugal's 72-year-old President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa meanwhile has now tested negative for coronavirus after a positive test that saw him cancel all public engagements, his office said Tuesday, two weeks before an election he looks set to win.

China added a city of five million to a growing lockdown area near Beijing on Tuesday, as WHO experts arrive in the central city of Wuhan to probe the origins of the disease there.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday demanded China release a citizen journalist jailed for reports from Wuhan, accusing Beijing of seeking to cover up the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, under pressure for having failed to secure any Western-made vaccines, on Tuesday called on the European Union to help source coronavirus shots.

Malawi lost two senior members of government to the virus Tuesday, transport minister Sidik Mia and local government minister Lingson Belekanyama.

- Mask threat to wildlife -

Sports fans can look forward to England starting a cricket Test match in Sri Lanka on Thursday, 10 months after their tour was called off.

But elsewhere, shredded schedules and crisis meetings were still the order of the day.

Tokyo Olympics organizers dismissed speculation that this summer's event was about to be canceled, as polls showed public support declining.

Formula One announced a major reshuffle of next season's races, shifting the season-opening Australia Grand Prix from March to November and postponing the China race indefinitely.

And the US National Basketball Association and its players union updated health protocols on Tuesday after an increase in cases among players and game postponements.

Environmentalists also warned about the pandemic's longer term impacts.

Discarded face masks -- littering waterways and beaches the world over -- can wreck animal habitats and take hundreds of years to decompose, campaigners warned.

Indonesia leader jab

Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the country's first Covid-19 jab Wednesday, as the sprawling archipelago of nearly 270 million kicked off a mass vaccination drive to clamp down on soaring case rates.

In a procedure broadcast live on television, the 59-year-old leader, better known as Jokowi, was inoculated at the state palace in Jakarta along with his health minister and several senior officials, as well as business and religious leaders.

"I don't feel it at all," he said with a laugh after receiving the injection, the first of two required. He will get the second at a later date.

This week, domestic regulators approved a Covid-19 vaccine produced by China's Sinovac, announcing that its efficacy stood at a relatively low 65.3 percent, according to tests performed in Indonesia.

The Muslim-majority nation's top religious body also approved the vaccine as halal -- meaning permissible under Islam -- in a move that could help convince wary citizens.

Previous vaccination drives have met resistance among some segments of the country's huge population, the world's fourth largest.

"This vaccination is important to break the chain of coronavirus infections and to give health protection to all of us, and safety and security for all Indonesians," Jokowi told reporters, adding that it would "also help speed up the economic recovery".

Health workers and other at-risk groups will get priority under an ambitious plan to inoculate nearly 182 million people over the next 15 months.

The Southeast Asian nation has already signed deals for nearly 330 million vaccine doses from a string of pharmaceutical companies including UK-based AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Chinese suppliers including Sinopharm.

It has reported nearly 850,000 Covid-19 cases and close to 25,000 deaths, but low testing rates mean the public health crisis is believed to be much bigger than the figures suggest.