A World Health Organization (WHO) team tracing the origins of COVID-19 on Sunday visited a food market in Wuhan, where the virus was initially detected.
The 10-strong international team walked through sections of the Baishazhou seafood center — one of the largest wet markets in Wuhan — surrounded by a large entourage of Chinese officials and representatives.
Public access to the market has been restricted since the authorities closed it at the beginning of last year.
On December 31, 2019, four cases of a mystery pneumonia were reported in the market, which was later identified as the novel coronavirus. By the end of January, Wuhan had gone into a 76-day lockdown to contain the COVID-19 spread.
International health experts believe the market still plays a role in tracing the origins of the virus. A single visit by scientists, however, is unlikely to confirm the virus’ origins.
On Saturday, WHO experts continued their probe into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic on the second full working day with a visit to the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital.
The experts arrived in China on January 14, but spent two weeks in mandatory quarantine. During this time they communicated with Chinese officials by video calls to lay the groundwork for field visits.
The team will also visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at medical facilities, including the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps and cover-ups in its early response to the coronavirus outbreak and has pushed the idea that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan.
Bolivia has reached a deal to receive around 1 million vaccine doses in February via the COVAX program. Earlier this week, the country received 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
“In February we will receive almost a million vaccines. We are making progress, we have vaccines, we have hope, we will move forward,” said President Luis Arce.
The COVAX program, backed by the WHO and Gavi vaccine alliance, wants to deliver 1.3 billion doses of approved vaccines — from suppliers, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca — to 92 eligible low- and middle-income nations this year.
South Africa has secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the country’s health minister told a Sunday newspaper.
A shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs produced in India is due to arrive on Monday, with the first injections to begin soon afterwards.
South Africa — the worst virus-hit country on the continent — plans to vaccinate 67% of its population by the end of the year.
Algeria has launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign after receiving a first shipment of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The drive began in the northern city of Blida, which was the epicenter of the country’s virus outbreak.
While the country has ordered 500,000 doses from Moscow, it is also expecting a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday. In a bid to immunize all of Algeria’s 44 million people, doses of vaccines have also been procured from India and China.
Tunisia has become the third African country to register Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Worldwide, it joins Russia, Belarus, Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, the UAE, Iran and the Republic of Guinea in registering Moscow’s coronavirus shot.
The registration would be valid for one year, the government said.
Italy’s medicines agency AIFA has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults but recommended alternatives should be given to people over the age of 55.
For the best use of the vaccine, the agency recommended: “preferential use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, pending further data, in subjects between 18 and 55 years old, for whom more solid evidence is available.”
Despite the European Union approving the shot, the agency noted “a level of uncertainty” about the vaccine’s effectiveness in people over the age of 55, as the age group was “poorly represented” in trials.
The Italian agency’s decision comes after Germany’s vaccine commission said Thursday it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn says he is open to using coronavirus vaccines from Russia or China to overcome the current deficit of doses in Europe.
“Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help cope with the pandemic,” Spahn told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on Sunday, adding that they must be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Russia announced Friday it would be able to supply 100 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the EU in the second quarter of the year, which would allow some 50 million people to be vaccinated. The vaccine approval application has already been submitted to the EMA.
Russia has begun supplying its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to the rebel-controlled region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine despite a ban by Kyiv, a local news outlet said on Sunday.
“A couple of thousand doses were supplied. Such deliveries will come on a regular basis,” Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic, was quoted by the region’s news agency DAN as saying. “We are grateful to Russia that it supports us in every field.”
He said health workers and teachers were among those being vaccinated first.
Ukraine’s government is planning to receive shipments of Western-made vaccines from February and has prohibited the use of Russia’s Sputnik V.
But it has little control over Donetsk on its border with Russia, where a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
Israel says it will send 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority to inoculate medical personnel, following global calls to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated.
The Jewish state has launched an aggressive coronavirus vaccine campaign on Israeli territory, an effort widely regarded as the world’s fastest per capita.
More than 3 million of the country’s 9 million people have received the first of two required jabs of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Palestinian Authority has not publicly asked for Israel’s help procuring vaccines, but it has made agreements with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V.
South Korea’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, says the country’s social distancing rules will be extended by two weeks until February 14, when the Lunar New Year holidays end.
The current restrictions, which include a restaurant curfew and ban on gatherings of more than four people, have been in place since early December. Chung said the decision to keep the curbs in place came after a new outbreak was detected at missionary training schools last week.
The Pakistani government says it will receive 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the WHO’s COVAX Facility, out of which up to 7 million would arrive by March.
Planning Minister Asad Umar tweeted Saturday that a plane has also been sent to China to bring the first tranche of half a million doses of China’s Sinopharm’s vaccine, enough to inoculate 250,000 out of 400,000 health workers.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special aide on health, said the vaccination drive will start next week.
Pakistan has so far confirmed 544,813 COVID cases and 11,657 related deaths.
In Australia, the western city of Perth will go into a five-day lockdown on Sunday evening after a hotel quarantine security guard tested positive for coronavirus.
A stay-home order is in place with exceptions for shopping for essentials, going out for medical or health care needs, exercise in the local neighborhood for one hour per day, or to work for those who can’t work remotely.
Authorities believe the guard, a man in his 20s, has likely contracted the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain, which is thought to be highly contagious, AAP reported.
Western Australia had gone nearly 10 months without a coronavirus case detected in the community, the news agency said.
W.com, shs,see/mm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)