Reuters: Israel reopened swathes of its economy on Sunday in what it called the start of a return to routine enabled by a Covid-19 vaccination drive that has reached almost half the population.
While shops were open to all, access to leisure sites like gyms and theatres was limited to vaccines or those who have recovered from the disease with presumed immunity, a so-called “Green Pass” status displayed on a special health ministry app.
Social distancing measures were still in force. Dancing was barred at banquet halls, and synagogues, mosques or churches were required to halve their normal number of worshippers.
Coming exactly a year after Israel’s first documented coronavirus case, Sunday’s easing of curbs is part of a government plan to open the economy more widely next month, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection.
Israel has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc vaccine to more than 45% of its 9 million population, the health ministry says. The two-shot regimen has reduced Covid-19 infections by 95.8%, ministry data showed.
The country has logged more than 740,000 cases and 5,500 deaths from the illness, prompting criticism of the Netanyahu government’s sometimes patchy enforcement of three national lockdowns. It has pledged that there will not be a fourth.
Elementary schoolers and pupils in the last two years of high school attended classes on Sunday in Israeli towns found to have contagion rates under control. Middle schoolers are due back by next month, after almost a year of remote learning.
In Australia the state of Victoria has recorded no new locally-acquired cases as the government commits $143m of support for businesses unable to operate on Valentine’s Day due to the state’s five-day lockdown.
Vaccinations will start for eligible high-risk recipients on Monday in Victoria, where there were no local or overseas-acquired coronavirus diagnoses in the latest 24-hour period, with more than 10,300 tests conducted.
It was the state’s second consecutive day without a local virus case in Victoria.
Jobs Minister Martin Pakula on Sunday told reporters the state government will distribute $143m to businesses affected by the state’s third lockdown, which ended on Thursday.
Payments of $2,000 to 50,000 businesses aims to compensate for the inability to trade over the five-day period, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year and the Australian Open tennis.
Businesses such as restaurants, florists, live entertainers and accommodation providers would be high on the list, he noted.
The support will be available for firms with an annual payroll of up to $3m.
Additional payments of $3,000 would be made available to licensed hospitality venues which have previously received support via the state’s assistance fund, while $16m in total would be handed to accommodation providers.
An additional 50,000 travel vouchers of $200 would be made available for venues in both regional Victoria and Greater Melbourne.
Chinese state media reports the government has approved another 16 domestically-produced vaccines for clinical trials.
According to government organ, China Daily, six of the 16 have entered phase three trials.
China has two locally produced vaccines – both of which rely on inactivated Covid-19 – which are now being administered to people in multiple countries. At home, more than 40 million Chinese people have received the vaccine, but China has also supplied more than 440m doses to at least 27 countries, in what’s been termed a campaign of ‘vaccine diplomacy’, alongside Russia.
China specialists are pointing to the way it has rolled vaccines into its belt and road initiative framework, using summits with Middle East and African countries to offer preferential access to jabs alongside investments in highways, ports, 5G grids and renewable energy. Last year, while Washington was trumpeting an “America first” response to the pandemic, Beijing was making high-profile deals to trial, produce and sell vaccines in Latin America, deep inside the US’s traditional sphere of influence.
You can read more about that in this report from Friday by Michael Safi and Milivoje Pantovic.
Data on the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK is now so encouraging that outdoor sports for children and small numbers of adults should be allowed immediately as part of an accelerated easing of the lockdown, a leading scientist and adviser to government has told the Observer.
With the prime minister expected to take a cautious approach to lifting restrictions in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Prof Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University, whose work feeds into the Sage committee’s sub-group Spi-M, said the data showed there was no need for the government to be “ultra-cautious”.
Read more here:
Mexico’s health ministry on Saturday reported 7,785 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the country and 832 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,038,276 infections and 179,797 deaths.
The real number of infected people and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the health ministry has said.
In northern China, there are some concerns and complaints among residents who have been in lockdown for more than 40 days.
China recently experienced its worst outbreaks since the early months of the pandemic. Gaocheng, a district of Shijiazhuang city home to 800,000 people, was one of the worst affected, with more than 880 cases.
The South China Morning Post reports there have been no new cases since Monday, and authorities have adjusted the risk level designations of most of the district. But some locals in Jiumen town said they hadn’t been told of restrictions lifting and had been prevented from leaving. They’ve been in lockdown since mid January, and residents are saying they’re running out of food, and have been ordered to take tests multiple times.
“I have done the test 16 times. I have not stepped out of the house for over a month.” He Pengfei, a 30-year-old restaurant owner in Lianzhou town, told the Post. He said he has been forced to shut his business and was going into debt.
China has reported seven new cases in the mainland for Saturday, compared with eight cases a day earlier, the National Health Commission said.
All the new infections were imported cases, it said in a statement. There were no new deaths.
China also reported six new asymptomatic patients, compared with 13 a day earlier. China does not classify asymptomatic cases as confirmed Covid-19 cases.
As of Saturday, mainland China had 89,831 confirmed coronavirus infections, while the death toll remained at 4,636, it said.
Hello and welcome to our continuing coverage of the pandemic. You can catch up on earlier updates here.
Here’s the latest.
- Australia has begun its vaccine rollout a day early, with the country’s prime minister among the first people to receive a dose on Sunday. “It’s safe, it’s important, join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
- All adults in the UK will be offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July, Boris Johnson has said ahead of an announcement on how England will begin to ease its third lockdown.
- Israel has reported a 95.8% drop in Covid-19 infection among those who have received two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, its health ministry announced on Saturday.
- A further 21 cases of the virus variant first discovered in the UK have been detected in Morocco, its health ministry has said, taking the number of reported cases with the mutation to 24.
- Coronavirus cases are rising in a number of Indian states, including Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. The rise in infections comes amid the detection of new virus variants in Maharashtra, the Times of India reports.
- France’s number of new coronavirus cases compared with a week earlier increased for the third day in a row, with the health ministry reporting 22,371 new cases on Saturday.
- Micheál Martin, the taoiseach, has ruled out reopening Ireland’s hospitality sector until mid-summer due to the high level of Covid-19 cases in the country.
- Mexico’s deputy health minister has announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19, adding that his symptoms are mild.
- Iran has closed several crossing points at its border with Iraq in an effort to curb the spread of the Covid variant first detected in the UK after it was found in the country.
- The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully by failing to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law, a high court judge has ruled.
- More than 17 million people in the UK have now had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to government figures.