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Coronavirus digest: WHO rebukes China for blocking probe

January 5, 2021

The World Health Organization has issued rare criticism of China for blocking access to researchers. A team of 10 experts hopes to find the origin of the virus and how it jumped to humans. Stay up to date with DW.

Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market
The virus reportedly originated from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in WuhanImage: Getty Images/AFP/N. Celis

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday decried China's last-minute decision to block investigators who are researching the origin of the coronavirus.

"Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team's arrivals in China," Tedros told reporters in a rare rebuke of Beijing. "I am very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute," he said.

Michael Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program, called the delay "frustrating."

Ryan said he had made clear to senior Chinese officials "that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team."

For the past few months, the United Nations body has been working to send a 10-person team of international experts to China to investigate the origins of the virus and how it crossed into humans.

The team, including epidemiologists and animal health specialists, wants to focus its research onWuhan, the home of a wet market reported to be the origin of the human outbreak. However, China is particularly sensitive to the investigation, often pointing to unsubstantiated reports that it appeared in other countries first. It has also been wary of claims that it may have originated in a laboratory in the same city.


Germany has extended its national lockdown until January 31 and has tightened restrictions. People can now meet with just one person from outside their household, and 15-kilometer travel bans will be imposed on local hotspots.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed "issues of cooperation in combating the coronavirus pandemic" including possible prospects for joint production of vaccines," the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday.

England and Scotland have gone into a full lockdown with residents ordered to stay at home and work remotely, if possible, and only to go out for essential shopping, medical reasons or to exercise. 

New daily infections have surged past 60,000 for the first time in the UK as a more infectious variant spreads through the country. The number of people in hospital is now 40% higher than at the April peak last year.

Italian lawmakers have agreed to extend lockdown measures that were set to expire this Thursday.

The lockdown — which has seen businesses shuttered and trips outside severely limited — will continue over the weekend. After this, Italy will return to a three-tier system allowing for different restrictions in different regions.

France has seen about a dozen cases of the more contagious UK-discovered variant of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Tuesday.

Veran also told RTL radio that the high level of coronavirus infections in France made easing current COVID-related restrictions unlikely.

Switzerland has promised that all of its citizens who wish to be vaccinated will be able to receive a shot by summer. Health officials are in discussions to secure up to 1.5 millions doses of the vaccine from various manufacturers. 

Swiss police have arrested a Dutch teenager who tested positive for the coronavirus. The 17-year-old was detained at Zurich airport attempting to fly home, despite being ordered into quarantine.

She confessed to showing a falsified negative coronavirus test result at the airport.

In Denmark, the limit on public gatherings will now be halved from 10 to five. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a press conference that the new mutation is "so widespread that it cannot be stopped," meaning the country's strategy will now be to "delay it and drag out the time so we can vaccinate more people."

Middle East

Israel has authorized the Moderna vaccine for use against COVID-19,the US biotech company announced.

It is the third country in the world to approve the vaccine, after the US and Canada.

The Israeli Health Ministry secured 6 million doses of the vaccine, Moderna said. First deliveries to Israel "are expected to begin shortly" the company added.

According to the research website Our World in Data, Israel, with a population of 9 million people, is the world leader in the number of vaccinated people per 100 residents, followed by Bahrain and Britain.

Some 1,370,000 Israelis have already received their first dose of the vaccine since the vaccination drive began on December 27, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said early Tuesday.

By comparison, Germany administered almost 265,000 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in the first week of inoculations ending Monday, according to Germany's national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute.


Thailand is extending tight restrictions on movement around the country to goods, cargo and necessary travel between virus-hit province. Checkpoints are planned to enforce restrictions.

Thailand has been struggling with a sudden virus surge after months of very few cases.

The world's fourth-most populous country, Indonesia, will begin mass vaccinations on January 13, the country's health minister said on Tuesday.

Indonesia is currently battling the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam has suspended all incoming flights from the UK, South America and other countries where the new coronavirus variants have been detected. 

The eastern Chinese province of Hebei, a geographical moat around capital Beijing, is reportedly in "war mode," according to local media reports. The beginning of January has seen the province officially record its first locally transmitted infections since June 2020. Teams of trackers have been deployed to find contacts of those who've tested positive.


Mexico has granted emergency approval to the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine, a Health Ministry official said.

The country became the first in Latin America to start vaccinations against COVID-19, using the German-US produced BioNTech-Pfizer jab.

A military nurse administrates the Pfizer vaccine under an outdoor gazebo
Mexico became the first country in Latin America to launch a vaccination driveImage: Eyepix/NurPhoto/picture alliance

kmm/shs (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)