Coronavirus digest: UK rolls out hotel quarantine for ′high risk′ returnees | News | DW | 15.02.2021
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Coronavirus digest: UK rolls out hotel quarantine for 'high risk' returnees

England is hoping that these tough new measures will protect gains made by its speedy COVID-19 vaccine program. People entering from 33 countries will be affected. Follow DW for the latest.

A security guard in a hi-vis vest opens the door to a woman arriving at a quarantine hotel

A guest arrives at a one of the England's new 'quarantine hotels'

England's new quarantine hotels for arrivals from high-risk countries opened for the first time on Monday.

The process was "working smoothly," according to Health Minister Matt Hancock in comments to broadcaster Times Radio.

The government brought in the stricter travel rules to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from interrupting its fast-moving vaccination drive.

Britain has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of the population.

But health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.

Passengers arriving in England from 33 countries identified as "high risk" must stay in designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door.

This includes people travelling from South Africa and Brazil.

In semi-autonomous Scotland, which shares a land border with England, the rule applies to arrivals from any country.

So far, almost 5,000 hotel rooms have been lined up by the government. Another 58,000 rooms are on standby.

Europe

Europe aims to roll out vaccines to everyone who wants one by the end of the summer, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Monday.

The EU vaccine roll-out has so far been marred by supply chain issues, resulting in a much lower vaccination rate than other places such as the UK and Israel.

France is preparing regional health agencies and hospitals to enter "crisis organization" to deal with a possible surge in infections from the new coronavirus variants, Le Journal Du Dimanche has reported.

The move involves increasing the number of available hospital beds, delaying non-urgent surgery and mobilizing all medical staff. 

Germany has partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol following a disturbing rise in coronavirus mutations. The decision comes despite protests from the EU.

Under the new rules, only Germans or non-German residents are allowed across the border. Exceptions have been made for essential workers in sectors like health and transport, and for urgent humanitarian reasons. The authorities also require a recent negative coronavirus test.

The border checks have led to long queues on Czech roads leading to German borders.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 4,426, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 116, according to the latest tally.

Germany's Monday COVID tally is usually lower as some test centers do not submit their data during the weekend.

Police deployed along Germany's border with the Czech Republic

Germany has imposed restrictions on travel from Czech Republic over virus concerns.

Austria announced plans to make home COVID testing kits freely available from March 1.

Austrians will be able to collect up to five testing kits a month from pharmacies in the country.

Italy has halted the reopening of several popular ski resorts that were set to open their doors to visitors on Monday. The existing ban on winter sports for recreational skiers has been extended in light of the risk posed by more infectious variants of the virus.

The Czech government has declared a state of emergency for the next two weeks as it attempts to tackle the pandemic. A nation of 10.7 million, the Czech Republic had more than 1 million confirmed cases. Over 18,000 people have died.

Watch video 02:36

COVID: Germany bans travel from Austrian, Czech regions

Russia's Rosportrebnadzor agency announced they developed the world's first testing system for the UK coronavirus variant.

"The new testing system quickly detects the presence of the mutation," the government watchdog said on their website, adding that it was based on a special selection of oligonucleotides — short DNA or RNA molecules which are often used in genetic research or testing.

"This new technology can be used to develop reagents for any other SARS-Cov-2 mutations and also other infectious agents where rapid mass testing is required (pandemic infections)," they said.

Africa

Zimbabwe has taken delivery of its 200,000 vaccinations. They were donated by China. 

A further 600,000 doses from China are set to arrive in early March, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said last week. It is unclear how much the cash-strapped southern African nation will pay for the second batch of the vaccines from China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

Asia-Pacific

New Zealand’s largest city has been put under lockdown over cases involving the more transmissible UK variant of the virus, health officials have confirmed.

Auckland went into a new three-day lockdown on Monday after three new cases were detected in the city.

"We were absolutely right to make the decision to be extra cautious because we assumed it was going to be one of the more transmissible variants," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

In light of the new cases, Australia has suspended the travel “bubble” with New Zealand, which allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without completing a 14-day quarantine at a hotel.

Americas

The United States has seen average daily new coronavirus cases fall below 100,000 in recent days after months of skyrocketing numbers.

"It's encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they're coming down from an extraordinarily high place," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Watch video 28:42

Operation Vaccination - The Difficult Path out of the Pandemic

Brazil'sfamed Carnival has been pulled off the streets because of the pandemic, prompting many groups to celebrate in online events with music and dance being streamed via YouTube and other social media platforms.

Brazil has recorded an average of over 1,000 deaths a day from the coronavirus, and the immunization campaigns have so far been lacking. This has prompted officials to threaten legal actions against people who defy the party ban. 

Middle East

Israel has reached a deal with Cyprus to allow vaccinated citizens from both countries to travel to the other without restrictions when flights resume. This is the second such deal for Israel after it reached a a similar agreement with Greece last week.

Cyprus' Nicos Anastasiades confirmed that from April 1, Israeli citizens who got EU-approved Covid-19 vaccines "will not be required to take a PCR test to travel to Cyprus and will not be placed in quarantine upon arrival."

"The resumption of unrestricted free movement is of great importance to Cyprus, which is a tourism-dependent country," he added.

Israel’s largest healthcare provider said a study of over half a million fully-vaccinated Israelis indicated the BioNTech-Pfizer shot gave 94% protection against the virus.

"Vaccine efficacy is maintained in all age groups, including those aged 70+," Clalit Health Services said in a statement.

Watch video 01:54

Israel's COVID vaccine rollout fastest in the world

In a groundbreaking project, the healthcare provider tested 600,000 subjects who had received the recommended two doses of the vaccine and the same number of people who had not.

Israeli medical officials have so far administrated the first dose of the vaccine to some 3.8 million people, while 2.4 million have also received the second shot.

see/dj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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