Czechia bars protest, Portugal's hospital surge: COVID-19 daily bulletin
Updated 02:35, 24-Jan-2021
Aden-Jay Wood



- Belgium's government has announced it is to ban all non-essential journeys in and out of the country from Wednesday until at least March 1 as it seeks to slow the spread of the virus.

- Pubs and restaurants in Czechia opened their doors on Saturday in protest against the government's restrictions that have forced them to close for months.

- France's top health advisory body the Haute Autorite de Sante has recommended a change from the three-week gap between the first and second dose of the vaccine to six weeks to enable more people to be vaccinated.

- Scientists have warned against alarmism over the new variant first discovered in the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that it may be 30 percent more deadly than the original strain.

- Bulgaria is to ease some of its restrictions from February 4, prime minister Boyko Borissov said. Secondary school students will be allowed to attend classes again but restaurants will remain closed.

- Germany's health minister Jens Spahn said it expects AstraZeneca to deliver three million doses of its vaccine next month despite the firm's production issues.

- Denmark is to temporarily suspend flights from the UAE for five days amid fears over the reliability of COVID-19 tests that can be obtained before leaving Dubai.

- High schools in Greece will reopen from February 1, but the remainder of the nationwide lockdown measures will remain in place, the country's education minister Niki Kerameus said.

- The British Medical Association has written to the UK government's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, calling for the gap between the first and second dose of the Pfizer vaccine to be shortened from 12 weeks to six weeks.

- Ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients queued outside Portugal's hospital emergency departments on Friday as the country struggles to cope with a surge of the virus.

- Norway's capital, Oslo, and nine neighboring municipalities are to close shopping centers and non-essential shops from noon on Saturday, amid an outbreak of the variant first discovered in the UK.

- Pharmaceutical firm and vaccine producer Pfizer has said it will provide up to 40m doses of its jab to the WHO's COVAX vaccine program, which is designed to help poorer countries get access to vaccines.



Guy Henderson in London

No easing of the UK's lockdown was in sight after Friday evening's British government press conference.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the new more contagious variant of the coronavirus that emerged in the South East region of England late last year may also be 30 percent more deadly.

There is hope that the number of new cases has peaked, and that hospitalizations may be leveling off. But due to a lag time, it will still be some time before new intensive care admissions come down. The weeks ahead will still see many thousands more deaths.

In the eye of the intensifying storm, the British Medical Association is now questioning the planned route out. 

In a letter seen by the BBC, the body calls for a shorter gap between doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pfizer itself has warned against the UK's approach. Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty continues to defend this strategy, arguing that even a slightly reduced efficacy amongst many people is better than a higher one amongst a few.

Nursing groups are placing pressure on the government too. They want better personal protective equipment for all staff in light of the latest data on the new variant.

Government scientists are still more worried about new variants coming in from abroad. On Monday, cabinet ministers will discuss further bolstering border measures, including the option of all new arrivals being obliged to quarantine in hotels.


Pubs and restaurants in Czechia opened their doors on Saturday in protest against the government's restrictions. /AP

Pubs and restaurants in Czechia opened their doors on Saturday in protest against the government's restrictions. /AP


Stefan de Vries in Amsterdam

The ban on passenger flights from the UK, South Africa and all of South America to the Netherlands will come into effect on Saturday. Travelers from other regions have to show a negative test result. 

They must have this test done up to four hours before departure, in addition to the mandatory PCR test. This obligation does not apply to travellers from the Caribbean part of the Netherlands and several safe countries, including China, Australia and Japan.

Saturday night will also bring the country's first curfew, from 9 p.m. to 4.30 a.m. – and they will be repeated nightly until at least February 9.

There were 5,791 positive tests on Friday, more than the average for the past seven days (5,318). After a two-day drop, the number of admitted coronavirus patients in the Netherlands rose slightly by 14 (to 2,354 patients).



Belgium's government has announced it will ban all non-essential overseas travel to and from the country from Wednesday until March 1 in a bid to contain the virus.

The ban will apply to land, sea and air travel but will not affect cross-border workers or those with overriding health or family reasons.

"We are not going to build a wall around Belgium," said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. "We can go to other countries but only for essential reasons. When people travel, the virus travels with them."

Any visitors from the UK, South Africa and South America, where new variants of the virus have been first discovered, will have to quarantine for ten days on arrival as a precaution.





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