ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities have confirmed the first detection of the South African variant of the new coronavirus in the country, prompting top health officials to fly to the area where it was found for meetings on Sunday.
The minister leading the government response to the pandemic and the head of the country’s public health body met with doctors and the local bishop in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The variant is believed to be more contagious than the original type and it was detected in a 36-year-old deacon in a suburb of the city.
“We will be doing screenings to isolate the persons who have been in contact with the patient,” said Panayiotis Arkoumaneas, head of the National Public Health Organization.
There have also been 173 cases of people affected with a variant first detected in the U.K., authorities said Sunday.
Authorities announced 484 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, as well as 17 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is 156,957, with 5,796 fatalities.
Experts warn there could be a resurgence in February and March and say the situation will remain volatile until a large number of vulnerable people are vaccinated.
“The virus is playing the drums and we are dancing to its beat,” said Nikos Sipsas, member of the state advisory committee on the pandemic.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Thousands flout virus restrictions at Israel funeral
— Anxiety grows as long-term facilities await COVID-19 vaccines
— Fans who’ve been to every Super Bowl making plans again this year
— Even if schools reopen by late April, millions of students, many of them minorities in urban areas, may be left out.
— A World Health Organization team looking into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is visiting a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan
— The U.S. is backing off for now on a plan to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to the 40 prisoners held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ROME — For the first time in weeks, the number of daily new admissions of COVID-19 patients to intensive care wards in Italy has dipped below 100, according to the Health Ministry’s figures on Sunday.
The total number of COVID-19 ill in ICU beds nationwide stood at 2,215. While that number is far lower than the nearly 4,000 patients receiving intensive care in any day in late November, Italy has been struggling with a surge of coronavirus infections since autumn.
With 88,516 known dead, Italy has Europe’s second-highest known toll, after Britain’s. Italy, a nation of 60 million, has registered more than 2.5 million confirmed infections in the pandemic.
BRUSSELS — Belgian protesters denouncing coronavirus restrictions staged a demonstration on Sunday in central Brussels and local media say police arrested about 300 people who tired to join the unauthorized action.
Brussels police on Twitter repeatedly called on people not to gather and later dispersed the demonstration, which ended peacefully.
Authorities had warned that riots in the Netherlands over coronavirus restrictions could spark similar protests in neighboring Belgium.
Belgium’s tough lockdown includes a 9 p.m. curfew and a ban on nonessential travel in and out of the country, which has had one of Europe’s worst outbreaks.
Authorities have reported over 21,000 confirmed virus deaths in a nation of 11 million.
HARTFORD, Conn. — A top Connecticut official says that COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to enough nursing home residents in the state to potentially stop the transmission of the virus among those residents.
Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for the state, said Saturday that Connecticut nursing homes are reporting that 90% to 100% of residents have received at least the first of two vaccine shots.
He said the number of weekly COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has declined by 66% in the last three weeks. Geballe said some vaccine doses that had been earmarked for nursing homes are being reallocated to hospitals and retail sites.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal on Sunday reported 9,498 new cases and 303 more deaths as the country battles a raging surge in new coronavirus infections.
The figures came as Portugal and Spain began applying border restrictions for a period of two weeks. Portugal is in lockdown and has banned all nonessential travel abroad for its citizens.
The country has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 population for more than a week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Portuguese health authorities say total fatalities are now at 12,482 and the total number of cases has surpassed 720,500.
Virus patients in hospitals, many of which are close to full, are at 6,694.
Experts say the peak of the latest surge in Portugal may not come until mid-February, as a fast-spreading variant first identified in Britain takes hold.
BEIJING — China recorded more than 2,000 new domestic cases of COVID-19 in January, the highest monthly total since the tail end of the initial outbreak in Wuhan in March of last year.
The National Health Commission said Sunday that 2,016 cases were reported from Jan. 1-30. That does not include another 435 infected people who arrived from abroad. The tally for Jan. 31 is due to be released Monday.
Two people have died in January, the first reported COVID deaths in China in several months.
Most of the new cases have been in three northern provinces. Hardest-hit Hebei province, which borders Beijing, has reported more than 900 cases. Beijing, the Chinese capital, has itself had 45 cases this month.
The numbers, while low compared to many other countries, have prompted officials to tighten restrictions and strongly discourage people from traveling during the Lunar New Year, a major holiday when people typically return home for family reunions.
Train trips were down nearly 75 percent in the first three days of the holiday travel season, the official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday, citing the state railway company.
BERLIN — Austria and Germany say they will provide medical assistance to Portugal as the country struggles with a surge in coronavirus cases.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Sunday that the Alpine nation will receive intensive care patients from Portugal, without specifying a number.
Kurz said in a tweet that “swift, unbureaucratic help” was required to save lives, adding that Austria has previously taken in patients from France, Italy and Montenegro.
Meanwhile, the German military plans to send medical aid and doctors to Portugal in the coming days.
Defense Ministry spokesman Christoph Czwielung said the military “will provide personnel and material support” though details on the extent and timing were still being finalized.
CAIRO — Egypt on Sunday received its first shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines, airport officials said.
The 50,000-dose shipment arrived at Cairo international airport on a flight from Dubai, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Dr. Mohammed Awad Tag el-Din, Egypt’s presidential health advisor, said the AstraZeneca shipment originated in the company’s factory in India.
It was the second shipment of coronavirus vaccines received by Egypt. The first was 50,000-doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine that was delivered last month.
Egypt, a county of more than 100 million people, has reported more than 165,400 confirmed cases, including 9,263 deaths. However, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will maintain elevated social distancing measures for at least two more weeks as health officials raise concerns about a possible surge in coronavirus infections surrounding February’s Lunar New Year holidays.
Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae on Sunday pleaded with people to stay home during the holidays as he extended a clampdown on private social gatherings of five or more people through the end of the holiday on Feb. 14.
The government will also maintain restrictions on indoor dining in the Seoul metropolitan area for another two weeks, requiring restaurants to provide only deliveries and takeout after 9 p.m.
Kang said officials are also concerned about how the toughened social distancing rules are hurting business owners and they could possibly decide to ease some restrictions after monitoring the spread of the virus for another week.
South Korea reported another new 355 cases on Sunday, bringing the national caseload since the pandemic began to 78,205, including 1,420 deaths.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s planning minister says the country will receive 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the WHO’s COVAX Facility, out of which up to 7 million would arrive by March.
Asad Umar in his Saturday night tweet said also a plane is being sent to China to bring the first tranche of half a million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine — enough to inoculate 250,000 out of 400,000 health workers.
He said the rest of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be delivered in the second half of the year.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s special aide on health, said the vaccinations will start next week.
Pakistan reported 34 additional deaths amid 1,599 new cases. It has so far confirmed 544,813 cases with 11,657 deaths.
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the largest vaccination sites in the nation temporarily shut down Saturday because dozen of protesters blocked the entrance, stalling hundreds of motorists who had been waiting in line for hours.
Officials say the Los Angeles Fire Department shut the entrance to the vaccination center at Dodger Stadium about 2 p.m. as a precaution. The protesters had members of anti-vaccine and far-right groups.
Some of them carried signs decrying the COVID-19 vaccine and shouting for people not to get the shots. There were no incidents of violence.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico reported 752 additional known COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths on Saturday, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 173,539 cases and 3,265 deaths.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested.
New Mexico’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped in the past two weeks while the rolling average of daily deaths was nearly flat.
Santa Fe’s school superintendent announced Saturday that schools will reopen in a voluntary hybrid model on Feb. 22, two weeks after when state officials have said New Mexico school districts and charter schools can reopen.
The Feb. 22 date provides time to inspect schools and for teachers to set up their classrooms while giving families and staff at least two weeks notice, Superintendent Veronica García said.
HAVANA — Cuban authorities say they will tighten measures against the spread of COVID-19 to require tourists and other visitors to isolate at their own expense for several days until tests for the new coronavirus come out negative.
The announcement Saturday by Dr. Francisco Durán, Cuba’s director of epidemiology, came as the country announced 910 new infections of the new virus detected Friday, as well as three additional deaths.
Duran said as of Feb. 6, arriving tourists and Cubans who live abroad will be sent to hotels at their own expense to wait for the results of a PCR test for the new coronavirus, which will be given on their fifth day in the country. A similar measure was imposed in the spring, and apparently helped stem the spread of the virus.
Cubans returning home from abroad will be housed in other centers at government expense to await test results. Diplomats and some foreign businesspeople will be allowed to isolate at home.
Cube has recorded 25,674 infections with the new coronavirus and 213 deaths since March. Cuba had eased restrictions in November, opening airports to tourists and others, but the number of infections detected has risen sharply this month.
BALTIMORE — Baltimore public health officials are canceling some COVID-19 vaccination appointments scheduled for next week after overbooking hundreds of first-dose appointments.
The city health department did not specify how many appointments would be canceled, or why the overbooking happened, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The department says it was working to identify potential issues in the state’s scheduling system, and the possibility that links to second-dose appointments were shared via email or social media.
“We are working to confirm that this situation will not occur moving forward,” the statement read.
Officials said they are prioritizing giving second doses to people who have already gotten their first shot because of limited inventory.
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Saturday that state health officials have confirmed a case of COVID-19 caused by the new virus variant first detected in South Africa.