News Portal COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic on 4 February

  • This daily news round-up brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top news stories: South African lab makes continent’s first COVID-19 vaccine; Australia considers deploying military to assist in care homes; rush to get vaccines into Pacific Islands after Tonga tsunami.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 388.3 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 5.71 million. More than 10.14 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

Australia could use its defence forces to help manage a COVID-19 outbreak in the aged-care sector that has stretched staffing and forced many homes into lockdowns, the prime minister said on Friday. About 560 aged-care residents have died since Omicron hit in late 2021, according to the Australian government.

Japan’s serious COVID-19 cases crossed 1,000 for the first time in four months, data showed on Friday. Serious case numbers are the highest since September when the Delta variant drove a fifth wave.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in France since the start of the pandemic have passed 20 million, health ministry data showed on Thursday. There were 274,352 new infections on Thursday, pushing the total to 20.15 million.

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People enrolled in the U.S. government’s Medicare program can get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for free starting early spring, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said on Thursday. Beneficiaries will be able to access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month for free.

Malaysia has started a COVID-19 mass vaccination programme for children aged between 5 and 11, in an effort to protect the young and increase its high immunization rate.

South Korea extended COVID-19 social distancing rules on Friday for an additional two weeks as Omicron variant infections soar, including a 9 pm curfew for restaurants and a six-person limit on private gatherings.

The European Union’s drug regulator said on Thursday it would support a filing for approval of an upgraded COVID-19 vaccine targeting only the new Omicron variant if that is the quickest way to broaden the offering of available shots.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries
Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries
Image: Our World in Data

2. South Africa’s Afrigen makes mRNA COVID vaccine using Moderna data

South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics has used the publicly available sequence of Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to make its own version of the shot, which could be tested in humans before the end of this year, Afrigen’s top executive said on Thursday.

The vaccine candidate would be the first to be made based on a widely used vaccine without the assistance and approval of the developer. It is also the first mRNA vaccine designed, developed and produced at lab scale on the African continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last year picked a consortium including Afrigen for a pilot project to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how to make COVID vaccines, after market leaders of the mRNA COVID vaccine, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna declined a WHO request to share their technology and expertise.

The WHO and consortium partners hope their technology transfer hub will help overcome inequalities between rich nations and poorer countries in getting access to vaccines. Some 99% of Africa’s vaccines against all diseases are imported and the negligible remainder manufactured locally.

3. Race to send vaccines, medical aid as COVID-19 reaches Pacific islands

Pacific island nations that are some of the last places in the world to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic are recording a growing number of COVID-19 cases, prompting a rush to provide vaccines, medical teams and food aid.

Concern about the detection of the coronavirus in tsunami-hit Tonga, where one new case was recorded on Friday, has been heightened by thousands of infections sweeping neighbouring Pacific islands.

In the Solomon Islands, an outbreak of the Delta strain with 2,357 cases has overwhelmed the health system, aid agencies say.

Australia has sent four defence flights to the Solomon Islands over the past two weeks with a medical team, vaccines, and emergency food for hospital patients and tens of thousands of households.

Katie Greenwood, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross Pacific, said cases had taken off rapidly in the Solomon Islands, where just 11% of the population was fully vaccinated.

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