World Covid-19 updates: UK to widen lockdowns as new virus strain from South Africa detected, Virus from Thailand’s Samut Sakhon hotspot spreads to 22 provinces

World Covid-19 updates: A new, potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus has been found in the United Kingdom in cases linked to South Africa. In Thailand, the virus from the Samut Sakhon hotspot spreads to 22 provinces.
December 25, 2020 | 06:39
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UK to widen COVID-19 lockdowns as new strain from South Africa detected

A new, potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus has been found in the United Kingdom in cases linked to South Africa, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said while also announcing further swaths of England would be placed under its strictest COVID-19 restrictions, Aljazeera reported.

South Africa’s health department said last week that a new genetic mutation of the virus had been discovered and might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there.

“Thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we’ve detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK,” Hancock told a media briefing on Wednesday.

“Both are contacts of cases who have traveled from South Africa over the past few weeks.”

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Passengers wait in line at the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

The United Kingdom is already trying to curb the spread of a separate mutated strain of the virus discovered in the UK which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, with further studies being carried out.

“This new variant [from South Arica] is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant has been discovered in the UK,” he said.

Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said the new variant in the UK “is very different to the variant in South Africa, it’s got different mutations.”

“Both of them look like they’re more transmissible. We have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant because we’ve been studying that with great detail with academic partners. We’re still learning about the South African variant.”

She expressed confidence that vaccines that have already been developed should be effective “because the vaccine produces a strong immune response and it’s broad and acts against lots of variation in the virus”.

Hancock announced travel restrictions on flights from South Africa as a result of the detection of the new strain.

The health minister said that all individuals in the UK who had contracted the variant originating in South Africa had been placed in quarantine, as well as their close contacts.

Moreover, Hancock said the government was also asking anyone who has been in close contact with someone who had been in South Africa in the last two weeks to quarantine.

Virus from Thailand's Samut Sakhon hotspot spreads to 22 provinces

Coronavirus infections linked to an outbreak in Samut Sakhon have now reached 22 provinces, according to the Bangkokpost.

The Disease Control Department said on Wednesday that cases linked to the cluster in the central province have been detected in provinces around the country -- as far north as Phetchabun, as far northeast as Khon Kaen and as far south as Phuket and Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Bangkok led case tallies with 16 patients, followed by Nakhon Pathom (10), Chachoengsao (6), Samut Prakan and Saraburi (5) and Pathum Thani (3).

Kamphaeng Phet, Nonthaburi, Prachin Buri and Ayutthaya recorded two each.

The outbreak at the Central Shrimp Market in tambon Mahachai of Samut Sakhon's Muang district first became evident when a Thai vendor tested positive on Dec 17. In the following days, cases appeared in a handful of neighboring provinces.

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Public Health workers from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration conduct coronavirus tests at Klong Toey market in Bangkok on Wednesday. Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

The latest reports show the virus has spread far beyond the province, a seafood hub on the southwestern side of Bangkok. It was apparently carried by vendors who visited the shrimp and other nearby markets to buy fresh seafood to resell in their provinces, or by people transporting shrimp and other seafood to and from the markets at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Officials announced 46 new coronavirus cases nationwide on Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,762, but did not divulge details of cases found in migrant worker dormitories in Samut Sakhon, the Covid hotspot.

The department, however, did release more figures in an afternoon briefing, saying 1,202 out of 6,314 people tested -- 19% -- were found to have the virus since the first case was found on Dec 17. Most of the infections were in migrant workers tested in several locations in the town, including the Central Shrimp Market.

The outbreak's epicenter is at the Central Shrimp Market -- now sealed -- where 44% of 2,025 people tested were infected. The market's labor force is dominated by workers from Myanmar but it also employs other migrants, including Laotians.

Russia sets records for COVID-19 cases, deaths

Russia on Thursday registered record numbers for daily infections and deaths from the coronavirus, as the country avoids reimposing a nationwide lockdown, said AFP.

Health officials reported 29,935 new infections, bringing the country's caseload to 2,963,688 - the fourth-highest in the world.

They also registered 635 deaths, increasing total fatalities to 53,096 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Russia's death rate is much lower than that of other badly hit countries, raising concerns that authorities could be downplaying the scale of the outbreak.

Data published by the country's statistics service earlier this month indicated excess deaths of nearly 165,000 year-on-year between March and October, suggesting virus deaths could be much higher.

Officials on Wednesday also registered a record number of new infections in the capital Moscow, the epicenter of Russia's outbreak.

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Ambulances queue outside Saint Petersburg's Pokrovskaya hospital, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease are treated, on December 21, 2020. Photo: Olga Maltseva / AFP

The records came after officials said that Russia does not need to reintroduce a nationwide lockdown like the one at the start of the pandemic in the spring.

During his annual end-of-year press conference last week, President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea of imposing the kind of lockdown many European countries have introduced going into the Christmas holidays.

"If we follow the rules and demands of health regulators, then we do not need any lockdowns," Putin said.

Although stringent restrictions have been imposed in some major cities, authorities in many regions have limited measures to requiring mask-wearing in public spaces and reducing mass gatherings.

US passes 1 million people vaccinated for coronavirus

The nearly yearlong coronavirus pandemic has been full of gloomy numbers but Wednesday brought an encouraging one -- more than 1 million people have received their first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, CNN reported.

And that reported number is low because many doses administrated in recent days have yet to be tabulated in the figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency said.

"With cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the frontlines -- our healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients -- as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said.

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A member of FDNY EMS prepares to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the FDNY Fire Training Academy on Randall’s Island on December 23 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The government has said it intends to distribute 20 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the coming weeks. So far, about 9.5 million doses have been distributed.

"It's been a big week of delivery of vaccines," Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Wednesday. "Over 7,800 deliveries by the end of tomorrow, as we are delivering the 7.9 million doses of vaccine that were allocated for this week around the country -- really a tremendous feat."

Perna said about 15.5 million doses of vaccine have been allocated and another 4.5-5 million will be allotted next week.

"We'll finish those deliveries in the first week of January," he said.

A member of FDNY EMS prepares to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the FDNY Fire Training Academy on Randall’s Island on December 23 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Singapore confirms first case of new COVID variant found in UK

Singapore has confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom.

Singapore’s health ministry said it has been conducting viral genomic sequencing for travelers with confirmed COVID-19 cases who arrived from Europe recently.

Among the 31 COVID-19 patients who arrived between November 17 and December 17, one was confirmed as carrying the British B117 strain, while 11 others were found infected preliminarily, and their confirmatory results are pending, it said late on Wednesday.

All the cases had been placed on 14-day quarantine or isolated upon arrival, and their close contacts quarantined.

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Singapore's health ministry said it has been conducting viral genomic sequencing for travelers with confirmed COVID-19 cases who arrived from Europe recently Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters

The patient with the new variant is a 17-year-old female who had been studying in the UK since August 2020.

She returned to Singapore on December 6, was quarantined upon arrival and confirmed to have the novel disease on December 8.

The health ministry said since she had been isolated upon arrival, “we were able to ringfence this case so that there was no further transmission”.

“There is currently no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating in the community,” the ministry added.

Singapore, which so far reported 58,482 cases and 29 related deaths, has blocked visitors with histories of recent travel to the UK to prevent the new strain from spreading in the city-state that has reported almost zero new local infections daily.

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