COVID-19: What you need to know

HERE’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

UK variant ‘likely to sweep the world’

The coronavirus variant first found in the British region of Kent is a concern because it could undermine the protection given by vaccines against developing COVID-19, the head of Britain’s genetic surveillance programme said.

The variant was dominant in Britain and was likely to sweep the world “in all probability”, she said.

Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, told the BBC: “What’s concerning about this is that the 1.1.7. variant that we have had circulating for some weeks and months is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines.”

Africa not ‘walking away’ from AstraZeneca vaccine

The African Union’s disease control body said on Thursday that it was not “walking away” from AstraZeneca’s vaccine, after trial data showed it had greatly reduced efficacy against the coronavirus variant dominant in South Africa.

African countries are due to receive 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot this year under an AU vaccine plan.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told a news conference that more work needed to be done to understand how the vaccine worked against the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified in South Africa late last year.

New COVID cluster in Melbourne

Health authorities in Australia’s Victoria state ramped up contact tracing and prepared for more mass testing of residents in Melbourne after a new COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel grew to eight cases on Thursday.

More than 22,500 test results were conducted in the past 24 hours in Australia’s second most populous city and authorities urged residents to get tested amid fears of community transmission from a worker at the Holiday Inn.

The new outbreak in Melbourne, where the Australia Open tennis tournament is underway, has stirred fears of a fresh wave of infections in the state hardest hit by COVID-19.

New York will reopen stadiums

New York state will allow large stadiums and arenas, such as Citi Field and Madison Square Garden, to reopen for sports and concerts later this month, with sharply limited capacity and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Any stadium that can fit more than 10,000 people can stage events beginning on Feb. 23 at 10% capacity so long as the state’s Department of Health signs off on its safety plans, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday.

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has already won approval for a basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings on that day.

Merkel urges patience

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Thursday to have a little more patience after agreeing with regional leaders to extend a coronavirus lockdown until March 7 and said restrictions would not be kept for a day longer than necessary.

Addressing the Bundestag lower house of parliament, Merkel said the extension was needed to avoid a third wave due to the risk posed by new virus variants.

“I know what we have achieved in our fight against the virus has had, and is still having, a high price,” said Merkel.

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