Coronavirus latest news: EU backtracks on ‘misjudged’ controls for NI amid vaccine row

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Boris Johnson had warned European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen of his "grave concerns" over Brussels' move to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the unimpeded flow of jabs from the bloc into the region on Friday. - OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Boris Johnson had warned European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen of his “grave concerns” over Brussels’ move to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the unimpeded flow of jabs from the bloc into the region on Friday. – OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP

The EU has backtracked on a decision to temporarily override part of the Brexit deal amid an ongoing row over vaccine supplies.

Boris Johnson had warned European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen of his “grave concerns” over Brussels’ move to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the unimpeded flow of jabs from the bloc into the region on Friday.

EU sources said the move had been a “misjudgment”, as the European Commission U-turned to say it is “not triggering the safeguard clause” to ensure the protocol is “unaffected”.

The move to impinge on the protocol, which blindsided both the UK and Ireland and provoked condemnation from across the political spectrum, came as the bloc is embroiled in a row with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over shortfalls in the delivery of jabs.

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland First Minister, has urged Boris Johnson to replace the protocol after the fiasco.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Brussels’ threat on Friday was an “absolutely incredible act of hostility towards those of us in Northern Ireland”, adding: “It’s absolutely disgraceful and I have to say the Prime Minister now needs to act very quickly to deal with the real trade flows that are being disrupted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The protocol, which is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, is designed to allow the free movement of goods from the EU into Northern Ireland, and prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Follow the latest updates below.

09:09 AM

Worldwide coronavirus update

  • India reported its lowest active number of novel coronavirus cases in seven months on Saturday, a year after the virus was first confirmed in the country.

  • The Vietnamese health ministry approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in the country.

  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 12,321 to 2,205,171, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. The death toll rose by 794 to 56,546, the tally showed.

  • The Australian Open will be allowed to admit up to 30,000 fans a day, around 50 per cent of the usual attendance, when the Grand Slam gets underway on Feb. 8, Victoria state sports minister Martin Pakula said on Saturday.

  • Lorry drivers will not be affected by France’s decision to close its borders to non-European Union countries from Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the measure on Friday night, warning of a “great risk” from the new variants of Covid-19.

09:02 AM

First Minister urges PM to replace protocol amid EU fiasco

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has urged Boris Johnson to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol after the EU’s fiasco over vaccine controls at the border with the Republic of Ireland.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Brussels’ threat on Friday was an “absolutely incredible act of hostility towards those of us in Northern Ireland”, adding: “It’s absolutely disgraceful and I have to say the Prime Minister now needs to act very quickly to deal with the real trade flows that are being disrupted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The DUP leader reiterated calls for Boris Johnson to enact Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol over the shortage of some food.

“We’ve been asking the PM to deal with the flow problems and, indeed since January 1, we’ve been trying to manage along with the Government the many, many difficulties that have arisen between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and there are actions he could take immediately,” she said.

“There is great unrest and great tension within the community here in Northern Ireland so this protocol that was meant to bring about peace and harmony in Northern Ireland is doing quite the reverse.

“The protocol is unworkable, let’s be very clear about that, and we need to see it replaced because otherwise there is going to be real difficulties here in Northern Ireland.”

Pressed whether that would be in breach of an international treaty, she said: “Well it didn’t seem to bother the European Union yesterday when they breached the treaty in terms of their embarrassment around their vaccine procurement.”

08:54 AM

WHO appeal to UK: ‘You can wait’ to vaccinate whole population

When asked to clarify whether once the UK has vaccinated the top nine priority groups, it should help efforts elsewhere instead of continuing its own immunisations, Ms Harris told BBC Breakfast: “We’re asking all countries in those circumstances to do that – ‘hang on, wait for those other groups’.

“We’ll also appeal to all the people of the UK – you can wait.

“Also, what’s going to save lives right now is bringing down your transmission, and what brings down your transmission at this stage is not vaccines, that will take a while to kick in.

“What will bring down your transmission are the things that you’re all working very hard to do: the limiting physical distance, limiting gatherings, ensuring you’ve got good ventilation, wearing the masks where you need to, and identify every person who’s infected genuinely self-isolates… all those things really do work, there are lots of countries that have put them in place effectively and made them work, and that’s what we all need to do be doing.

“Rather than rushing to vaccinate one country, we need to be doing the lot and we need to be doing it together.”

Ms Harris added that “we are in an extraordinary position” after having several approved vaccines one year on from when the WHO first described the spread of coronavirus as a “public health emergency”.

08:40 AM

WHO urges countries to pause vaccine rollout after vulnerable get jabs

World Health Organisation (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said it is urging countries to pause domestic immunisations once their health workers and vulnerable groups have been vaccinated, as “morally” and “economically” the right thing to do, and because rollout “needs to be fair” across the world.

She told BBC Breakfast: “We’re asking countries, once you’ve got those groups, please ensure that the supply you’ve got access to is provided for others.

“While that is morally clearly the right thing to do, it’s also economically the right thing to do.

“There have been a number of very interesting analyses showing that just vaccinating your own country and then sitting there and saying ‘we’re fine’ will not work economically.

“That phrase ‘no man is an island’ applies economically as well.

“We in the world, we’re so connected and unless we get all societies working effectively once again, every society will be financially effected.”

08:37 AM

Oxford professor accuses Macron of ‘demand management’

Sir John Bell, a professor who is part of the Oxford University vaccine team, accused French president Emmanuel Macron of “demand management” over his claims the AstraZeneca vaccine is “quasi-ineffective” for the over-65s.

The professor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not sure where he got that from.”

He acknowledged its original study only had small numbers of elderly people, with many shielding themselves from the pandemic, but added: “The numbers still pointed toward a very highly effective vaccine but the numbers were small, in fairness, we always accepted that.”

But he said other studies proved “elderly people responded just as well in other age groups” and that “there’s really persuasive evidence that this is a protective vaccine in those populations”.

“I suspect this is a bit of demand management from Mr Macron,” he added.

Pressed if he thinks he is trying to reduce demand, Sir John said: “Well, if he didn’t have any vaccine the best thing you could do is reduce demand.”

Read more: Fury at Emmanuel Macron’s ‘nonsense’ claims about Oxford Covid vaccine

07:41 AM

Brussels accused of ‘almost Trumpian act’ over NI vaccine threat

Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith accused Brussels of an “almost Trumpian act” by threatening to override part of Northern Ireland Protocol under its coronavirus vaccine controls.

The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Years have been spent trying to ensure goods will flow freely and there will be no hard border and last night the EU pulled the emergency cord without following any of the process that are in the protocol if one side wants to suspend it.

“And they did that, in my view, without anywhere near the understanding of the Good Friday Agreement, of the sensitivity of the situation in Northern Ireland, and it was an almost Trumpian act.

“The relationships are complex, we need to spend much, much more time, much, much more money and much, much more resources in getting this relationship right. The EU cocked up big time last night but we all need to work in the interests of preserving Northern Ireland.

“It is not just a backdoor for goods going to Britain, it is a very sensitive place and we have a duty of care between the EU and the UK to preserve no hard border and stability in Northern Ireland.”

Read more: EU threatens war-time occupation of vaccine makers as AstraZeneca crisis spirals

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07:25 AM

Taiwan reports first Covid death since May

Taiwan’s government on Saturday reported the island’s first death from Covid-19 since May, as it battles a small and unusual outbreak of locally transmitted cases.

A woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions died after being infected with the coronavirus as part of a domestic cluster connected to a hospital, said Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

The new outbreak has infected 19 people since the start of the month, centring on a hospital in the northern city of Taoyuan.

Mr Chen, reporting four new cases from the hospital cluster, announced the death, bringing to eight the total number of deaths in Taiwan from the pandemic.

05:54 AM

US makes masks mandatory on public transport

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a sweeping order late Friday requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation Monday as the country continues to report thousands of daily Covid-19 deaths.

The order, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. EST on Monday (0459 GMT Tuesday), requires face masks to be worn by all travellers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares and at transportation hubs like airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations and seaports.

Read more: What executive orders has President Joe Biden signed?

05:11 AM

Migrants set fire to Kent barracks after Covid outbreak

Channel migrants have set fire to their Kent barracks. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, called the fire an “appalling” incident which is “offensive to taxpayers”.

The asylum seekers set fire to one of the blocks at Napier Barracks, near Folkestone in Kent, in protest at their treatment after an outbreak of Covid-19 at the base.

In what one source described as a near riot, they initially barricaded staff into a room and blocked entrances before starting the fire, which led to eight fire engines being sent by Kent fire and rescue service.

Read the full story

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03:46 AM

WHO visit second Wuhan hospital in virus probe

Members of a World Health Organisation team investigating the origins of the pandemic visited another Wuhan hospital that had treated early Covid-19 patients on their second full day of work on Saturday.

Jinyantan Hospital was one of the city’s first to deal with patients in early 2020 suffering from a then-unknown virus and is a key part of the epidemiological history of the disease.

The team’s first face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists took place on Friday, before the experts who specialise in animal health, virology, food safety and epidemiology visited another early site of the outbreak, the Hubei Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital.

03:13 AM

Mexico plans to import AstraZeneca vaccine from India

Mexico plans to import about 870,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India in February, as well as producing it locally, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday.

Mexico and Argentina have a deal with AstraZeneca to produce its vaccine for distribution in Latin America, with financial support from the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

“We are also getting AstraZeneca vaccines, apart from the agreement we have with them – these vaccines are being made here in Mexico – we will bring AstraZeneca from India,” Mr Lopez Obrador said in a video broadcast on social media.

Meanwhile, deliveries of Pfizer’s vaccine to Mexico would “very probably” resume on Feb 10, LMr opez Obrador said, after global delivery delays by the US company. Mexico was expecting about 1.5 million doses from Pfizer, he noted.

Read more: Delaying second jab could help fight against new variant

A baby Jesus figurine available for sale in Mexico City ahead of celebrations of Candlemas Day. Vendors said that some customers want a way to give thanks for family members having overcome the virus. - APA baby Jesus figurine available for sale in Mexico City ahead of celebrations of Candlemas Day. Vendors said that some customers want a way to give thanks for family members having overcome the virus. - AP
A baby Jesus figurine available for sale in Mexico City ahead of celebrations of Candlemas Day. Vendors said that some customers want a way to give thanks for family members having overcome the virus. – AP

02:24 AM

Australian Open allowing up to 30,000 fans a day

The Australian Open will be allowed to admit up to 30,000 fans a day, around 50 per cent of the usual attendance, when the Grand Slam gets underway on Feb 8, Victoria state sports minister Martin Pakula said on Saturday.

The limit will be reduced to 25,000 over the last five days of the tournament when there are fewer matches, but Mr Pakula said the announcement would ensure some of the biggest crowds for a sporting event since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’ll mean that over the 14 days, we will have up to 390,000 people here at Melbourne Park and that’s about 50 per cent of the average over the last three years,” he said.c”It will not be the same as the last few years but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”

Read more: Djokovic and Williams play in controversial Australian Open warm-up event

02:18 AM

Colombia reaches vaccine agreements with Moderna and Sinovac Biotech

Colombia has reached agreements for doses of developed by Moderna and Sinovac Biotech and plans to begin a mass vaccination campaign on Feb 20, President Ivan Duque said on Friday.

The Andean country’s government aims have at least 1 million people vaccinated by the end of March, Mr Duque added. Colombia, a country of about 50 million people, hopes to vaccinate some 34 million people in a bid to achieve herd immunity.

Colombia previously announced agreements to secure 10 million doses each of vaccines developed by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, as well as 9 million doses of a vaccine developed by Janssen. It also has secured 20 million doses of vaccines via the COVAX mechanism backed by the World Health Organisation.

Read more: Janssen vaccine results show complete protection against death after one dose

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01:30 AM

Canada tightens travel restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced stricter restrictions on travellers in response to new, likely more contagious variants – including making it mandatory for travellers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada and suspending airline service to Mexico and all Caribbean destinations until April 30.

Mr Trudeau said in addition to the pre-boarding test Canada already requires, the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada.

“Travellers will then have to wait for up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2,000,” Mr Trudeau said. “Those with negative test results will then be able to quarantine at home under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement.”

He said the measure will be take effect “in the coming weeks”.

Read more: Full ‘red list’ of countries from which UK arrivals face mandatory hotel quarantine

01:27 AM

Pfizer resuming vaccine shipments to Panama

Pfizer has informed Panama that shipments of its Covid-19 vaccine will resume to the Central American country the week of Feb 15, the Panamanian foreign minister said on Friday.

Pfizer will deliver 450,000 doses in the first quarter of the year, said Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes.

Panama’s first batch of Pfizer vaccines on Jan 20 was fewer than expected due to global delays by the company.

Read more: Recovery hinges on swift vaccinations here and for all

The president of the Club Rotario of Panama presents a face shield with an iconic Panamian 'red devils' bus design on it in Panama City - BIENVENIDO VELASCO/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockThe president of the Club Rotario of Panama presents a face shield with an iconic Panamian 'red devils' bus design on it in Panama City - BIENVENIDO VELASCO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The president of the Club Rotario of Panama presents a face shield with an iconic Panamian ‘red devils’ bus design on it in Panama City – BIENVENIDO VELASCO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

01:22 AM

Vietnam approves AstraZeneca vaccine

Vietnam’s health ministry approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic inoculation, the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved in the country, the government said on Saturday as it battles its biggest outbreak yet.

Vietnam reported 34 new infections early on Saturday in its latest coronavirus outbreak, and seeks to accelerate procurement of vaccines.

Of the new cases, 32 were detected in Hai Duong province, the epicentre, and two in neighbouring Quang Ninh province, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. It added that the country has recorded more than 1,700 cases since the disease was detected a year ago, including 873 locally transmitted infections.

Previously, Vietnam said it was in talks to procure 30 million doses of vaccine made by AstraZeneca. Late on Friday, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said Vietnam must have a vaccine within the first quarter.

Read more: Vietnam braces for Covid surge as UK variant is detected in fresh outbreak

A car is driven through disinfectant mist to enter the venue of Vietnam Communist party congress in Hanoi - APA car is driven through disinfectant mist to enter the venue of Vietnam Communist party congress in Hanoi - AP
A car is driven through disinfectant mist to enter the venue of Vietnam Communist party congress in Hanoi – AP

01:08 AM

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