1.6m banned from leaving Beijing

World | AFP and Reuters 21 Jan 2021

China has banned 1.6 million residents from leaving Beijing yesterday as two Covid-19 cases linked to a new UK virus variant were found in the capital.

That comes as the World Health Organization said the UK coronavirus strain has been detected in at least 60 countries, 10 more than a week ago.

With the global death toll now well past two million, and new variants causing deep concern, countries across the world are grappling with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.

The South African strain, which like the UK one is believed to be more infectious, has now been reported in 23 countries and territories, WHO also said in its update.

It added that the number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous seven days, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.

The UK strain, first detected in mid-December, is thought to be 50 to 70 percent more infectious.

While more transmissible, the two variants are not thought to be more deadly and Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have said their vaccines are effective against the mutation found on the British virus variant, known as B117.

The arrival of mass vaccination campaigns in the United States and Europe had brought hope that the end of the pandemic was in sight; the European Union said Tuesday it was aiming to inoculate 70 percent of its adult population before the end of August.

But many EU members and countries like India and Russia have struggled to get their inoculation programs off the ground.

The United States remains home to the world's worst outbreak in overall numbers, and US President-elect Joe Biden made clear he would be taking no chances following his inauguration.

He said yesterday that chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci will attend a WHO meeting today.

Recent days have also seen a renewed focus on the initial outbreak a year ago, with China defending its handling of the virus on Tuesday after independent experts criticized the speed of its response.

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