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Coronavirus live news: Fauci says political divide added to 'stunning' US deaths; Italy 'misled' WHO

The Guardian - Tue Feb 23 00:49

19:49

Syria approves Russia’s Sputnik Covid vaccine

Syria has authorised the use of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, its embassy in Moscow said Monday, AFP reports.

The country is the latest to approve the Russian vaccine, named after the Soviet-era satellite. Sputnik V was registered in August before clinical trials were underway, which left experts wary.

But leading medical journal The Lancet published results showing the jab to be safe and 91.6 percent effective.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has completed all registration procedures for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus infection and allowed its use on its territory,” the Russian TASS news agency cited the Syrian embassy as saying in a statement.

More than 30 countries have approved the vaccine, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financed its development.

Syria in December also signed on to the World Health Organisation’s Covax initiative to procure vaccines.

The WHO, together with the UN children’s agency UNICEF and Gavi, will support Syria in acquiring jabs to initially cover at least three percent of the population and aim for 20 percent by the end of the year.

Syria has recorded 15,179 coronavirus infections and 998 fatalities from the virus in government-held areas.

Territories under Kurdish control in the country’s northeast have recorded nearly 8,600 cases and 311 deaths, while the rebel-held northwest has reported 21,121 infections and 408 fatalities.

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s long-running civil war.

19:38

Italy 'misled' WHO about pandemic preparedness weeks before Covid confirmed locally

Angela Giuffrida

Italy allegedly misled the World Health Organization (WHO) on its readiness to face a pandemic less than three weeks before the country’s first locally transmitted coronavirus case was confirmed.

Each year, countries bound by the International Health Regulations (IHR) – an international treaty to combat the global spread of disease – are required to file a self-assessment report to the WHO on the status of their preparedness for a health emergency.

Italy undertook its last self-assessment report on 4 February 2020. In section C8 of the report, seen by the Guardian, where countries have to evaluate their overall readiness to respond to a public health emergency, the author marks Italy in ‘level 5’, which is the highest status of preparedness.

The category states that a country’s “health sector emergency response coordination mechanism and incident management system linked with a national emergency operation centre have been tested and updated regularly”.

However, it emerged last year that Italy had not updated its national pandemic plan since 2006, a factor that may have contributed to at least 10,000 Covid-19 deaths during the first wave and which is a key element in an investigation into alleged errors by authorities being carried out by prosecutors in Bergamo, the Lombardy province that was severely affected in the pandemic’s early stage:

19:11

Fauci says political divide added to 'stunning' US deaths

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said political divisiveness contributed significantly to the “stunning” US coronavirus death toll, which on Monday surpassed 500,000 lives lost, Reuters reports.

The country had recorded more than 28 million Covid cases and 500,054 fatalities as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. In an interview with Reuters, Fauci on Monday said the pandemic arrived in the United States as the country was riven by political divisions in which wearing a mask became a political statement rather than a public health measure.

“Even under the best of circumstances, this would have been a very serious problem,” Fauci said, noting that despite strong adherence to public health measures, countries such as Germany and the UK struggled with the virus.

“However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top adviser to President Joe Biden.

“That I believe should not have happened.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

While the United States has just about 4% of the global population, it has recorded nearly 20% of all Covid-19 deaths.

Fauci said the emergence of more contagious variants of the coronavirus, especially ones from South Africa and Brazil that have been shown to reduce the immunity from natural infections and vaccines, have made it challenging to predict when the nation will be able to put the pandemic behind it.

Fauci and Biden have said the United States should return to something approaching pre-pandemic normal life around Christmas. That could change, he cautioned.

The variants also change the equation when it comes to herd immunity, in which a population becomes protected from infection because of high levels of immunity from vaccines or infections.

Asked whether that is still achievable, Fauci said, “I think we can get herd immunity at least against getting sick.”

19:06

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.

I’ll be bringing you the latest coronavirus developments for the next few hours _ as always, you can find me (and a movie recommendation) on Twitter, too @helenrsullivan.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said political divisiveness contributed significantly to the “stunning” national Covid-19 death toll, which on Monday surpassed 500,000.

Meanwhile Italy allegedly misled the World Health Organization (WHO) on its readiness to face a pandemic less than three weeks before the country’s first locally transmitted coronavirus case was confirmed.

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • More than half a million people have died of Covid-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country had recorded more than 28 million cases and 500,071 lives have been lost as of Monday afternoon.
  • US president Joe Biden is set to mark the latest tragic milestone of Covid deaths in the US on Monday night, with a candlelit commemoration and moment of silence for the 500,000 who will have lost their lives.
  • The US has administered 64,177,474 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of Monday morning and delivered 75,205,940 doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
  • Italy allegedly misled the World Health Organization (WHO) on its readiness to face a pandemic less than three weeks before the country’s first locally transmitted coronavirus case was confirmed.
  • British prime minister Boris Johnson has set out a four-stage plan for England to come out of lockdown that could pave the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums once again and staycations to return.
  • Real-world evidence from the Covid vaccination programmes in England and Scotland show that one dose of vaccine gives high protection against severe disease and admission to hospital – and protects against even mild disease with no symptoms in younger people.
  • France reported a further 333 deaths from Covid-19, as well as 4,646 new infections, an increase from last Monday’s daily case tally of 4,376.