(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
Global health officials back AstraZeneca vaccine
Health officials around the world gave their backing to the AstraZeneca vaccine, after a study showing it had little effect against mild disease caused by the variant now spreading quickly in South Africa rang global alarm.
The prospect that new variants could evolve the ability to elude vaccines is one of the main risks hanging over the global strategy to emerge from the pandemic.
South Africa, where a new variant now accounts for the vast majority of cases, initially announced a pause in its rollout of a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it said on Monday it could still roll it out in a “stepped manner”.
Fauci says quick vaccinations needed to slow variants
The best defence against emerging variants is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, top U.S. infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci said on Monday.
Nearly 700 cases associated with variants have been identified in the United States, U.S. officials said on a press call. Of them, 690 cases are from a more transmissible variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, which could become the dominant variant in the United States by March.
The United States has not been testing widely for variants, so the actual number is likely higher than official figures.
New figures suggest Russia had third highest death toll
Russia’s state statistics service on Monday reported 162,429 deaths related to COVID-19 in Russia last year, a tally that is much higher than previously reported and amounts to the world’s third highest death toll from the disease in 2020.
The figure is almost three times higher than the 57,555 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 by Russia’s coronavirus task force, and confirms comments by a deputy prime minister last year suggesting the toll was higher than reported.
The data could renew questions about how the death toll is calculated in Russia and how effective Russia’s handling of the pandemic has been.
Iran starts vaccinations
Iran launched a vaccination drive on Tuesday, focusing initially on hospital intensive care personnel as the hardest-hit country in the Middle East awaits enough vaccines for its general population.
State television showed Parsa Namaki, son of Health Minister Saeed Namaki, receiving the first jab, in an apparent effort by officials to boost public confidence in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Iran has received 10,000 of the 2 million doses of Sputnik V it has ordered and plans to vaccinate some 1.3 million people by March 20.
Testing collapses in Myanmar after coup
Testing for coronavirus has collapsed in Myanmar after a military coup prompted a campaign of civil disobedience led by doctors and mass protests swept the country.
The number of daily tests reported late on Monday stood at 1,987, the lowest number since Dec. 29, compared with more than 9,000 a week earlier and an average of more than 17,000 a day in the week before the Feb. 1 coup. Since the coup, tests per day have averaged 9,350.
Myanmar has suffered one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia with a total of 31,177 deaths from more than 141,000 cases.
(Compiled by Linda Noakes, editing by Ed Osmond)