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Coronavirus digest: Global infections up for first time in weeks, warns WHO

The WHO has urged countries not to relax measures to combat the coronavirus, saying that it’s too early to rely solely on vaccinations. Follow DW for the latest.

People walk along a street amid coronavirus (Covid-19) in Tehran, Iran

The WHO has warned of rolling back pandemic restrictions too quickly

The number of new COVID-19 infections globally rose last week for the first time in seven weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

"We need to have a stern warning for all of us: that this virus will rebound if we let it," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead for COVID-19, said during a briefing. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the surge in infections was "disappointing but not surprising."

He called on nations worldwide not to ease coronavirus measures, stressing that it was too early for countries to rely only on vaccination campaigns and abandon other measures.

"If countries rely solely on vaccines, they are making a mistake. Basic public health measures remain the foundation of the response," he said. 

Europe

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said he wants Germany to allow coronavirus vaccinations at doctors' clinics/family general practitioners as of April. 

"In most states, the number of available vaccination doses will already exceed the maximum capacities in vaccination centers," German news group Funke Mediengruppe quoted the minister as saying.

Spahn said general practitioners and specialists who routinely offer vaccinations as part of regular health care services should be comprehensively involved in the vaccination campaign.

Watch video 06:22

Two sides of coronavirus vaccination

The Austrian government announced on Monday it plans to allow cafe and restaurant terraces reopen this month in a further easing of its COVID-19 lockdown.

Non-essential businesses, schools, hairdressers and museums are now open but restaurants, bars, hotels and theatres remain shut. 

Some 62% of Russians did not want to get the Sputnik V vaccine — Russia's domestically produced vaccine, according to a poll conducted by the independent Moscow-based Levada Center.

The highest level of reluctance was identified among 18 to 24-year-olds. Most respondents said side effects such as fever and fatigue are the main reason for not wanting to get inoculated.

The poll also found that 64% of Russians thought COVID-19 was created as a biological weapon. The center sampled 1,601 people in 50 regions.

More than 20 million people in the UK have been given at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the country's Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Sunday evening.

Government figures revealed that 20,089,551 people from a population of some 66 million had been administered a jab. The UK has been ahead of other countries in Europe in vaccinating its population by extending the waiting time between the two doses up to three months so that more people can be partially vaccinated quicker.

Watch video 04:04

Stretching timing of second shot could save lives: researcher

The number of coronavirus cases in Germany went up by 4,732 to 2,447,068, according to figures released early on Monday by the country's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. COVID-linked fatalities went up by 60, to 70,105 in total.

Finland's government on Monday declared a state of emergency, which enhances its powers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The government also announced it would move ahead with the temporary closure of cafes, bars and restaurants in areas where the epidemic is considered to be in either an acceleration or community transmission phase.

The European Commission also announced plans for a digital vaccination certificate that could help unlock the continent's travel industry. The EU executive said they would announce more details within the coming weeks with a view to having the scheme up and running by June.

France's rugby coach Fabien Galthie did not stay inside the team's bubble before a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad that has led to the postponement of a Six Nations game, according to the French rugby federation president.

Speaking to French television station France 3 on Sunday, Bernard Laporte said that Galthie left the team bubble to watch his son play a rugby match after France thrashed Italy last month in its opening Six Nations match.

Laporte stopped short of criticizing Galthie, though. "I don't see where the problem could be. But then again, I'm not a doctor," Laporte said, insisting that he continues to have confidence in his coach.

France has decided to extend its night curfew and other restrictive measures, such as the closure of bars, restaurants and museums for the next four to six weeks "at a minimum," said French Health Minister Olivier Veran Monday.

Though a new lockdown was not on the agenda, the government would decide this week whether local weekend lockdowns might be needed in 20 areas with high rates of infections including Paris and the surrounding region.

France's COVID-19 death toll is the seventh-highest globally and it's total number of COVID cases is the sixth worst worldwide.

The Czech Republic is deploying some 30,000 police officers and soldiers to enforce a three-week order limiting free movement across the nation as it battles a surge of infections, mainly from the UK variant. The restrictions seek to confine people mostly to their home districts and bans travel to other counties unless for work or to take care of relatives.

The numbers of those hospitalized or in intensive care are still near the record highs set earlier last week.

New figures show that the nation of 10.7 million now has world's highest per capita infection rate, 11 times higher than in Germany.

Watch video 02:43

Germany partially closes border with the Czech Republic

Slovakia is buying 2 million Sputnik V vaccines from Russia and expects half of them to arrive in March.

The country is suffering from the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in the past week, according to the Our World in Data website.

It is following Hungary in rolling out the Russian vaccine despite it lacking approval for emergency use within the EU.

Asia

Turkey will lift weekend lockdowns in its low and medium-risk cities and limit coronavirus restrictions to just Sundays in high and very high-risk areas.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country is starting a "controlled normalization" of coronavirus measures, and said that the list of measures would be updated every two weeks on a province-by-province basis.

Istanbul was categorized as high risk, while the capital Ankara was in the medium-risk category.

China has said it plans to vaccinate 40% of its population by June. 

Zhong Nanshan, the head of a group of experts tied to the National Health Commission, said China has delivered 52.52 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Febuary 28.

The country has vaccinated 3.56% of its population of 1.4 billion so far, according to Zhong. 

The target is the first China has announced publicly since it began its mass inoculation campaign for key groups in mid-December.

Iran passed the grim milestone of 60,000 known coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Health Ministry report released on Sunday.

The number of infections in the country since the pandemic reached over 1.63 million. Iran has been one of the worst hit by the global pandemic.

India expanded its vaccination drive beyond frontline and health care workers on Monday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the first to receive a vaccine in the most recent cohort.

People older than 60 as well as those over 45 who have underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are now also eligible for a vaccine.

So far the government has managed to administer at least one dose to 6.6 million of the 10 million health care workers and 5.1 million of the 20 frontline workers that it had planned to vaccinate by now. India still hopes to immunize 300 million people by August.

Health experts urged the Pope to call off his trip to Iraq on Friday — the first papal visit ever to the country — fearing that his visit may become a superspreader event.

The Philippines launched its coronavirus vaccination program on Monday. President Rodrigo Duterte, along with other top officials, was among the first to be vaccinated to encourage uptake in one of Southeast Asia's worst hit countries.

Health workers, police and military were also vaccinated in Manila with some of the 600,000 doses donated by China.

Watch video 03:41

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine raises hopes in Moscow

Middle East

Israel's supreme court has ruled the government must limit its use of the domestic spy agency to track coronavirus infections, saying "draconian" surveillance compromises democracy. 

The Israeli government began deploying the Shin Bet's surveillance technologies in March 2020, when  infections began to peak, but it was quickly blocked. The court argued that legislation was required to authorize the program.

In July, however, parliament passed a law allowing the surveillance when "an epidemiological investigation cannot be completed otherwise."

After four civil society groups challenged the law, a seven-judge panel said the government must curb its use of the tracking agency beginning March 14 this year.

"From this day on, the use of the Shin Bet will be limited to cases in which a confirmed coronavirus patient was not cooperating in his (epidemiological) investigation, whether intentionally or not, or gave no report of his encounters," the court said.

Americas

Mexico's coronavirus czar Hugo Lopez-Gatell had to be hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment over the past five days, a health official said on Sunday. The man behind the Mexican coronavirus strategy has been criticized for downplaying the importance of wearing masks and widespread testing.

The country reported 458 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 185,715.

Oceania

The mayor of New Zealand's biggest city Auckland called for the residents to be given priority in the country's vaccination strategy after the city of 2 million was put into a weeklong lockdown.

Mayor Phil Goff defended his plea by saying that each day under lockdown costs the city an estimated 200 jobs and more than NZ$30 million (€17.9 million, $21.7 million).

mvb, ab, rc/rs (Reuters, AP, AFP)