COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Ireland's Covid-19 infection rate was world's highest last week, researchers find
The Republic of Ireland recorded the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world last week, according to a global tracking website affiliated with Oxford University.

The staggering surge in transmission has been blamed on the relaxation of lockdown rules over the Christmas holiday, combined with the appearance of the more transmissible variant of the virus first identified in England.

South African President announces extension of Covid-19 restrictions, closes land borders
The current measures were were due to expire on January 15 and include closing beaches and public parks, and banning the sale of alcohol.

"The pandemic in our country is now at its most devastating. The number of new infections, the number of hospital admissions, and the deaths that continue to take place come far higher than it has ever been since the first case was recorded in our country in March of 2020," Ramaphosa said in a live national address.

In addition to extending the existing measures, Ramaphosa announced that 20 land borders will be closed until February 15. The closures will have several exceptions such as those traveling for medical emergencies, he said.

Malaysia's king declares state of emergency to curb spread of Covid-19
Under emergency rule, his government can introduce laws without parliamentary approval.

On Monday, Muhyiddin announced a nationwide travel ban and a 14-day lockdown in the capital Kuala Lumpur and five states, saying the healthcare system for the country of 32 million people was at a breaking point.

The number of new daily infections hit a record high last week, breaching the 3,000 mark for the first time. Total coronavirus cases passed 138,000 on Monday, with 555 deaths.

A new virus variant is found in Japan.
Another new coronavirus variant has been detected in four people who traveled to Japan from Brazil.

Japan’s health ministry said that the people who arrived this month at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport had tested positive for the coronavirus and that it was a separate variant with similarities to those detected in Britain and South Africa. It is also distinct from another variant recently identified in Brazil, according to experts who have analyzed the data.

It is not unusual for viruses to accumulate mutations or for new variants to emerge. But scientists are calling for greater surveillance of variants, particularly after those from Britain and South Africa proved to be more contagious.

Mr. Shimoaraiso said epidemiologists were not sure whether the variant identified in Japan was more infectious or likely to cause more severe illness.

According to Japan’s health ministry, one of the passengers infected with the new variant, a man in his 40s, was admitted to a hospital after having breathing difficulties. Of the other cases, a woman in her 30s and a teenage boy are experiencing sore throats and fever, and a teenage girl is asymptomatic.

Brazilian researchers find a Chinese vaccine once hailed as a triumph is far less effective than thought.
Scientists in Brazil on Tuesday provided a markedly less enthusiastic assessment of the efficacy of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine that they hailed as a major triumph last week.

Officials at the Butantan Institute in SΓ£o Paulo said a trial conducted in Brazil showed that the CoronaVac vaccine, manufactured by Beijing-based Sinovac, had an efficacy rate of just over 50 percent. That rate was far lower than the 78 percent efficacy rate announced last week.

... Scientists and world leaders regard CoronaVac as a potential game-changer in fighting the pandemic because it could be rapidly produced and distributed in countries in the developing world. Unlike other vaccines, it does not require storage in freezing temperatures.

... “The lack of transparency really damages people’s trust,” she said. “They’ve just reinforced the narrative that this vaccine is not good.”

The U.S. will require negative virus tests from international passengers arriving by air.
Before boarding their flights, all international passengers headed to the United States will first need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test, according to a new federal policy going into effect on Jan. 26.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement describing the new policy.

“But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

The new policy requires all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to get a test for current infection within the three days before their flight to the United States departs, and to provide written documentation of their test results or proof of having recovered from Covid-19.

... Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or the documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide proof of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger, the agency said.

One Mask Is Good. Would Two Be Better?
Health experts double down on their advice for slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Double-masking isn’t necessary for everyone. But for people with thin or flimsy face coverings, “if you combine multiple layers, you start achieving pretty high efficiencies” of blocking viruses from exiting and entering the airway, said Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech and an author on a recent commentary laying out the science behind mask-wearing.

Of course, there’s a trade-off: At some point, “we run the risk of making it too hard to breathe,” she said. But there is plenty of breathing room before mask-wearing approaches that extreme.

Democrats want to fine colleagues $1,000 a day if they refuse to wear a mask on Capitol grounds
After numerous lawmakers refused to wear masks while hunkered down with their colleagues during last week’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol, Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) have introduced a bill that could penalize lawmakers for making the same choice again.

The legislation introduced Tuesday would impose a $1,000 fine on members who refuse to wear masks while in the Capitol complex. The legislation would amend House rules to add that lawmakers are required to wear masks while in the Capitol.

If the Ethics Committee “determines that any Member, Delegate or Resident Commissioner” is in violation, the committee “shall fine such individual $1,000 for each day that such violation occurs,” according to the text of the bill.

It is a move that comes as at least three Democratic House members — Reps. Brad Schneider (Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.) — revealed within 24 hours that they had tested positive for the coronavirus after sheltering with dozens others in a committee room on Wednesday as a pro-Trump mob stormed the building. Several Republicans in the room refused to wear a mask.

“It is not brave to refuse to wear a mask, it is selfish, stupid, and shameful behavior that puts lives at risk,” Dingell said in a statement first sent to The Washington Post.