Germany reports 6,114 new Covid cases and 218 deaths
US Marine in Darwin infected with Covid
A US military serviceman in Australia’s Northern Territory has tested positive for Covid after arriving to join the marine rotational force in Darwin, Australian Associated Press reported.
The 21-year-old was diagnosed with the virus on Saturday after arriving on an international flight on Thursday with the first deployment of Marines to the Top End for 2021.
The Marine has been placed in quarantine at Royal Darwin hospital and remains asymptomatic, an NT Health spokeswoman told AAP on Sunday.
“Due to strict quarantine measures in place for all arriving Marines, this case of Covid-19 was promptly detected and the Marine had no direct contact with the general community,” the department said in a statement.
About 2,200 marines will arrive in Darwin by June in batches of 200-500 servicemen and women.
It’s the 10th Marine Rotational Force to train with the Australian defence force.
Australia’s defence minister Linda Reynolds has previously said all US personnel would undergo Covid-19 testing within 72 hours of departure for Australia and must present a negative result before boarding their flight.
They are also required to complete mandatory 14-day quarantine with virus testing on arrival in Australia and again before exiting the quarantine facility.
The Marine force has rented a secure facility outside Darwin – understood to be Bladin Point, about 20km south of Darwin – for the majority of personnel to complete their quarantining.
However, the first two groups will stay in isolated accommodation on an ADF base, understood to be RAAF Base Darwin.
The European Union will fast-track approvals of coronavirus vaccines adapted to combat mutations, the bloc’s health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a newspaper interview on Sunday.“We have now decided that a vaccine that has been improved by the manufacturer on the basis of the previous vaccine to combat new mutations no longer has to go through the entire approval process,” she told Bavaria’s Augsburger Allgemeine.“So it will be faster to have suitable vaccines available without compromising on safety.”
The European Commission has come under fire from EU member states over delays to deliveries of vaccines which has seen the bloc lag behind countries such as Britain, a former member, and the US.
Kyriakides is a member of a new task force, led by the industry commissioner, Thierry Breton, to eliminate bottlenecks in production plants and adjust output to new variants.
While vaccinations in the first quarter of 2021 have started slowly, the second quarter would see a pick-up and by the end of September the EU expects to have received sufficient doses from licensed producers to cover over 70% of its population, Kyriakides said.
Germany tightens borders to keep out mutant strains
Germany on Sunday implemented more measures to keep coronavirus variants at bay, banning travel from Czech border regions and Austria’s Tyrol after a rise in contagious mutations, AFP has reported.
A thousand police officers have been mobilised to ensure strict border controls and state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn suspended services to and from the affected areas.
Interior minister Horst Seehofer announced Thursday that the states of Bavaria and Saxony had asked the government “to class Tyrol and border regions of the Czech Republic as virus mutation areas, and to implement border controls”, and that Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to do so from Sunday.
Germany in late January banned most travellers from countries classed as so-called mutation areas or places hardest hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants. These include Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Portugal.
Only a handful of exceptions are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, including returning Germans and essential workers such as doctors. Trade links will also be maintained.
Europe’s biggest economy has halved its daily infections rate after more than two months of curbs that shuttered most shops, schools and restaurants.
But fears are growing that the positive trend could be compromised by travellers from border regions that are reporting high case rates.
Australia is expecting 80,000 doses to arrive before the end of this week, Hunt said.
He outlined several groups who would be prioritised for the vaccine: border and quarantine workers, aged care residents and staff, as well as disability residents and staff.
“We think that will take the best part of six weeks but we will see along the way,” he said, adding that the vaccines would be checked by the Therapeutic Goods Administration when they arrive.
“The TGA will ensure the numbers are correct, that they haven’t had any in-flight actions that damaged quality, such as a loss of temperature. The [regulator] will look to see that all of the vials are intact and haven’t had seals broken. They will also do testing as part of that.”
Paul Kelly, Australia’s chief medical officer, said there would be no change to green zone flights arriving in the country from New Zealand, where three community cases were announced this morning.
The flights had been operating very successfully with tens of thousands of people travelling for some months, he said. Australian officials were in contact with New Zealand on a daily basis to monitor the situation.
“The sort of things we look for – are there cases? Are they in the community? And if so, what’s happening in terms of chasing down those chains of transmission?… We will continue to have very close conversations with [New Zealand] as they go through and progress with that work,” said Kelly.
Pfizer vaccines due to land in Australia this week
Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, is addressing media. He has told reporters that Australia is on track for its vaccine rollout, which is due to commence late in February.
“We have said that the vaccine rollout would commence in late February and I can confirm that the vaccine rollout is on track ... with the first jab expected in late February,” he said.
Hunt added that the vaccine delivery was “the most precious of cargo”. The government was being cautious about releasing exact details, but said that the vaccines are scheduled to land in Australia before the end of the week, if not earlier. About 80,000 doses are expected in this initial delivery.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, is asked whether, given the thousands of negative test results coming back, the lockdown was an overreaction. He says no:
This is a high-stakes game, when a virus that has caused devastation across the northern hemisphere and many, many other countries in the world and may soon be the predominant variant of concern globally, and we cannot afford to be wrong here. As the premier said, we do not want to be in a situation a week from now or two weeks from now, where we wish we’d done that. Because we’ve now got mystery cases or wastewater [positive results] or cases that are beyond us.
We have to be precautionary. It’s an awful situation to have a circuit breaker of any kind, but it’s done because we must get on top of this. There is really no alternative.
Sutton, and Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, also said they were not concerned about the positive test result in Greek tennis player Michail Pervolarakis after he departed Melbourne.
“This particular individual tested negative on the day of departure, but was on a long flight, mixed with other international travellers. Again, with a significant risk of cases on the subsequent levels of flight,” Sutton said.
“We will go through the normal processes in the national incident room and go through the information with South Africa and tie it off.”
Foley pointed out Pervolarakis departed Melbourne through the international terminal, so could not be linked to the Terminal 4 exposure site.
That’s the end of the Victorian press conference for today.