Coronavirus live news: UK variant hits New Zealand; WHO envoy expects ‘some sort’ of vaccine passports

An agreement between Cyprus and Israel allowing vaccinated citizens of both countries to travel freely between them, has been hailed as a ground-breaking “first step” towards normalising tourism once flights resume, writes Helena Smith in Athens.

The accord, signed during a visit of the Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiades to Jerusalem on Sunday, is expected to go into effect in the next few weeks.

“When the world is in upheaval because of corona, the warm relations between our two countries are more important than ever,” the Cypriot leader said.

Tourism is an integral to the economy of both states with Israelis forming a large part of the market share in popular resorts such as Ayia Napa.

Under the agreement travellers in both directions will not be required to have undergone PCR tests nor will they have to endure periods of quarantine. “This is a first step in restoring the connectivity between the two countries,” the Mediterranean island’s transport minister, Yiannis Karousos, told the Cyprus news agency on Monday. “It is very important and will be combined with other support measures that will be announced soon.”

Karousos did not rule out similar arrangements being made with other nations although he emphasised that the health ministry will “reserve the right to carry out tests on passengers” if deemed necessary.

Cyprus’ deputy tourism minister Savvas Perdios described the accord as “a huge achievement.”

More than 300,000 Israelis flew into the island in 2019, he said, with a further 40,000 arriving on cruise ships. “Israel is effectively one of the most important markets for us in terms of tourism and this agreement will certainly boost out economy,” he said.

Last week Greece and Israel, also close allies, announced a similar agreement with officials in Athens calling it vital for the revival of tourism already badly hit by the pandemic. With one in five Greeks working in the sector, it is regarded as the country’s heavy industry.

Russia has reported 14,207 new cases of coronavirus, including 1,818 in Moscow, taking the national infection tally to 4,086,090 since the pandemic began.

According to Reuters, the country’s coronavirus taskforce said 394 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official national death toll to 80,520.

Vietnam is to put 2 million people under new coronavirus restrictions from Tuesday after a new outbreak in a northern province of the country.

Residents of Hai Duong province have been ordered to stay at home for 15 days, state media reported, according to the French news agency AFP, as a nation widely praised for its handling of the pandemic struggles to extinguish a troubling new outbreak.

According to AFP:

Pakistan will allow private companies to import coronavirus vaccines and has exempted the vaccines from price caps in a divisive move that health experts fear will create vast inequalities in access, writes Shah Meer Baloch for the Guardian in Islamabad.

A British man has pleaded guilty to violating his coronavirus quaratine order in Singapore by sneaking out of his hotel room to visit his fiancée several times in another hotel room.

Nigel Skea, 52, admitted leaving his room three times on 21 September last year, one of which was to meet his Singaporean partner Agatha Maghesh Eyamalai, who was not in quarantine but had booked a room in the same hotel.

The couple will appear in court for sentencing on 26 February. They face a possible sentence of up to six years in jail and a fine of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,500) on each charge.

According to court documents, seen by the Associated Press, Skea climbed an emergency stairwell and entered a room that his Singaporean fiancée had booked. The two spent nine hours together.

The prosecution asked that Skea be jailed for four weeks and fined 1,000 Singapore dollars ($750).

Defence lawyer Dhillon Surinder Singh, who is also representing Eyamalai, asked for a fine or a one-week jail term “to give him a slap on a wrist”.

Malaysia has reported 2,176 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections from the pandemic to 266,445.

The health ministry also reported 10 new deaths, raising total fatalities to 975.

The first guests have checked into quarantine hotels in the UK, as tougher rules for international arrivals from 33 “red list” countries came into force on Monday morning. (The rule applies to people returning to Scotland from any destination.)

Passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow airport were escorted by security personnel to coaches which took them to nearby hotels, the PA Media news agency reports.

A handful of people pulled up to the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel shortly before 9am. One woman, who had flown in from Zambia, told PA: “I’m not happy, but you have to do it.”

People required to enter the quarantine hotel programme must enter England or Scotland through a designated port and have pre-booked a package to stay at one of the government’s managed facilities. No international flights are operating to Wales or Northern Ireland.

Peru’s foreign minister has resigned amid uproar over government officials being secretly vaccinated against coronavirus before the country recently received 1m doses for health workers facing a resurgence in the pandemic, according to the Associated Press.

The president, Francisco Sagasti, confirmed that Elizabeth Astete had stepped down and told a local television channel that Peruvians should feel “outraged and angry about this situation that jeopardises the enormous effort of many Peruvians working on the frontline against Covid”.

The scandal erupted on Thursday when the former president Martín Vizcarra, who was dismissed by Congress on 9 November over a corruption allegation, confirmed a newspaper report that he and his wife had secretly received shots of a vaccine from the Chinese state pharmaceutical company Sinopharm in October. Pilar Mazzetti resigned as health minister on Friday after legislators accused her of concealing information.

People aged 65 and over in South Korea will not receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the Korea disease control and prevention agency has said.

The announcement reverses an earlier decision and came as the KDCA scaled back targets in its vaccination programme as a result of a delay to shipments from the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme, according to the Reuters news agency.

South Korea had said it would complete vaccinations on 1.3 million people by the first quarter of this year with AstraZeneca shots, but it slashed the target sharply to 750,000.

KDCA’s director, Jeong Eun-kyeong, insisted that South Korea’s plan to reach herd immunity by November remained intact, telling reporters:

South Korea also said it would delay inoculation of elderly people using the AstraZeneca vaccine until more efficacy data becomes available.

The World Health Organization special envoy for the global Covid-19 response has said he expects “some sort” of vaccine passport will be introduced in future.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday morning, David Nabarro said:

Nabarro said countries would only be able to form “bubbles” for travel purposes if they both had the same standards of coronavirus restrictions and similar levels of vaccination uptake. Transparency over Covid-19 measures between countries was key to keeping an eye out for new variants of the virus, he said.

Vaccine passports are among the most controversial potential measures that have been mooted to contain the spread of coronavirus in the future, with apparent disagreements within the UK government over their implementation. Cabinet ministers have several times contradicted each other over whether there are plans to introduce the documents, and whether they will be in use only for international travel or also for civil society.

A plane has landed in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, carrying the southern African country’s first consignment of coronavirus vaccines, 200,000 doses donated by China.

A further 600,000 Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccines – this time paid for – are expected to arrive in early March.

Constantino Chiwenga, the vice-president of Zimbabwe, who was with a delegation who came to meet the vaccines at Robert Mugabe airport, said frontline health workers would be the first to be vaccinated.

Zimbabwe has set aside $100m for vaccine procurement and is looking to buy 20 million doses in efforts to immunise about 60% of its population and achieve herd immunity, Reuters reports.

Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, is doing the customary early morning ministerial parade of London’s broadcast studios today, answering questions on the latest lines that the government has managed to brief into the national papers.

The vaccination of 15 million people has been an achievement of which the government is particularly proud and, after so many missteps to date in handling the coronavirus crisis, will be wanting to tout for all its worth.

On BBC Breakfast, Hancock gave a breakdown of what percentage of people in each of the top four priority groups had been vaccinated, adding that he believed that everyone in those groups had at least been offered the vaccine. He said:

Hancock said the figure among healthcare staff was “a little bit lower than 90%”, with “around two-thirds” of social care staff jabbed and “four-fifths” of NHS staff receiving their first dose. In care home residents, among those eligible to be vaccinated, the percentage who had been given a jab was “over 90%”.