Coronavirus live news: US retracts World Health Organization withdrawal; Australia marks four days with no new cases – The Guardian

US President Joe Biden is planning to revamp the nation’s fight against its worst public health crisis in more than a century, while Pfizer is facing potential legal action over its move to temporarily delay Covid-19 vaccine shipments to European countries.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
* Eikon users, see Covid-19: MacroVitals for a case tracker and summary of news.

EUROPE
* A third pandemic lockdown appears to be having little impact on rates of Covid-19 in England, researchers warned, with prevalence of the disease ‘very high’ and ‘no evidence of decline’ in the first 10 days of renewed restrictions.

* The more contagious variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain is spreading rapidly across Portugal, pressuring the health service at a time when authorities are scrambling to tackle the country’s worst outbreak since the pandemic’s start.
* Turkey has slowed the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations after an explosive start last week but can quicken it again after the country delivers inoculations to the elderly in care homes and at their houses, the programme’s coordinator said.
* The Index.hu website reported that Hungary’s drug regulator gave the green light to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, while Argentina approved the shot for use in people over 60.
* The Netherlands proposed the first nationwide curfew since World War Two and a ban on flights from South Africa and Britain.

ASIA-PACIFIC
* China plans to impose strict Covid testing requirements during the Lunar New Year holiday season, when tens of millions of people are expected to travel, as it battles the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.
* India’s Bharat Biotech has applied to conduct trials in Bangladesh for its coronavirus vaccine recently approved for emergency use at home, a senior official at Bangladesh’s main medical research body told Reuters.
* Beijing is touting a state programme that gives Taiwanese in China priority for COVID-19 vaccines, prompting concern within Taiwan’s government which sees it as the latest Chinese tool to win over the island’s population.
* Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases, prompting the chief of the country’s most populous state to call for a special travel “bubble” with Pacific island nations.
* Indonesia plans to start giving the general public Covid-19 vaccinations sometime between late April to May, health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

AMERICAS
* President Joe Biden signed an order requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings and the development of a testing program for federal employees for Covid-19, in a first step to combat a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.
* Ecuador said the first batch of 18 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines it contracted for with three pharmaceutical companies and the COVAX initiative arrived on Wednesday for a pilot plan with medical staff from public hospitals and nursing homes.
* Chile’s health regulator approved the emergency roll-out of the CoronaVac vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* The World Bank said it had approved a re-allocation of $34 million in funds to support Lebanon’s vaccination efforts as it races to contain the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first such outlay of funds by the Bank.
* Dubai has suspended non-essential surgery for a month and live entertainment in hotels and restaurants until further notice as coronavirus infections surge.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS
* Oxford
scientists are preparing to rapidly produce new versions of their vaccine to combat emerging more contagious Covid-19 variants discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
* The World Health Organisation plans to approve several vaccines from Western and Chinese manufacturers in the coming weeks and months, according to Reuters.
* The new Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa defeats plasma treatment and may reduce vaccine efficacy, scientists said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT
* Asian stocks rose to new record highs on Thursday, tracking US markets as investors hoped for more economic stimulus from newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden to offset damage wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic.