Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
WHO team in Wuhan set to leave quarantine
A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic was expected to leave their quarantine hotel on Thursday to begin field work, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
The mission has been plagued by delay, concerns over access and bickering between China and the United States, which has accused Beijing of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and has criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
English infections starting to fall, but not fast enough
The number of COVID-19 infections in England is starting to fall, possibly reflecting the impact of a new lockdown, but cases are not coming down quickly enough and prevalence remains very high, a large study showed on Thursday.
For the period Jan. 6 to 22, London and other areas of the South showed declines in prevalence, but there was clear evidence of a growth in cases in the East Midlands. The pattern in other regions was that prevalence was flat.
New Zealand, Vietnam top COVID performance ranking
New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan filled the top three places in a COVID Performance Index that ranked nearly 100 countries by how successfully they handled the coronavirus pandemic, with Britain and America near the bottom of the pile.
Australia’s Lowy Institute think-tank said it evaluated 98 countries in the 36 weeks that followed their hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19, using data available to Jan. 9, 2021. It excluded China, where the first cases were identified in December 2019, due to a lack of publicly available data.
Vietnam reports first cases in 55 days
Vietnam’s health minister on Thursday said 81 people had tested positive for the coronavirus linked to two cases announced earlier in the day, which were the country’s first-known locally transmitted infections in nearly two months.
Though a tiny number compared with new coronavirus infections in many countries, the cases are a jolt for Vietnam. Thanks to strict quarantine, testing and tracing measures, it had reported only 1,551 cases and 35 COVID-19 deaths before Thursday, earning it a top three spot in a survey of how well countries have handled the pandemic.
Pfizer vaccine only slightly less effective against key S.African mutations
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appeared to lose only a small bit of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the U.S. drugmaker.
The scientists are currently engineering a virus with the full set of mutations and expect to have results from that in around two weeks, according to Pei-Yong Shi, an author of the study and a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).
Hopeful signs lead some U.S. states to ease restrictions
Severe COVID-19 infections are beginning to abate in many parts of the United States even as the death toll mounts, signalling an end to the pandemic’s post-holiday surge and prompting some states to ease public health restrictions.
A slow but steady reduction in the number of Americans entering hospitals with the disease has paralleled a choppy rollout of vaccines that are also expected to reduce spread of the coronavirus that causes it.