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Today’s coronavirus news: Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant; Australia cuts traveller numbers to stop variant; China city offers cash for tip on test evaders

KEY FACTS

  • 5:12 a.m. Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant

  • 5:08 a.m. Australia cuts traveller numbers to stop variant

  • 5:02 a.m. China city offers cash for tip on test evaders

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:12 a.m. New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

Those variants are causing global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.

Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.

5:08 a.m. Australia is almost halving the number of passengers allowed to arrive by plane in a bid to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.

A cleaner at a Brisbane quarantine hotel diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday is the first person infected with the variant found in the Australian community. Other cases have been detected among travellers while in hotel quarantine, where there is little risk of community spread.

The authorities in Brisbane are also locking the city down for three days beginning Friday.

The Queensland state government says masks will also be compulsory for the first time in Brisbane and the surrounding municipalities of Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that state leaders have agreed that international arrivals to New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia state airports will be halved until Feb. 15. Arrivals at Victoria were already relatively low and will remain unchanged.

5:05 a.m. Facing a massive surge in coronavirus cases, California has been issuing waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the nation’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios.

Nurses say that being forced to take on more patients is pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care.

At least 250 of about 400 hospitals in California have been granted 60-day waivers. They allow ICU nurses to care for three instead of two people and emergency room nurses to oversee six patients instead of three.

Nurses in other states have demanded law-mandated ratios like those in California but so far have failed to get them.

5:02 a.m. A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a recent coronavirus test.

The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and its surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of COVID-19.

The offering of cash or other rewards for information on political or social nonconformists has a long history in China, but the pandemic is putting a new face on the practice. Those found non-compliant will be forced to undergo testing and a two-week quarantine at their own expense.

China has largely controlled local transmission through the use of measures considered by some to be extreme and highly intrusive, including lockdowns of entire cities and close electronic monitoring of bans on travelling to and from parts of the country.

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4:58 a.m. Japan began its first day under a coronavirus state of emergency Friday with much of life going on as usual, including morning commuter trains shuttling crowds of mask-wearing people at bustling stations.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated his request for restaurants to shorten business hours and for people to work from home.

“We take this very seriously. By all means, I would like to overcome this difficult situation with the co-operation of the people,” Suga told reporters.

The emergency runs through Feb. 7. The declaration is asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. while drinks won’t be served after 7 p.m.

It applies to Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

Nationwide, confirmed COVID-19 cases have reached some 260,000, with more than 7,500 new cases reported Friday.

Friday 4:54 a.m. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday banned Iran from importing of American Pfizer-BioNTech and Britain’s AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a reflection of mistrust toward the West.

In a televised speech, he said the import of American and British vaccines were “forbidden,” referring to the surging death tolls from the virus in both countries.

”I really do not trust,” them, Khamenei said of those nations. “Sometimes they want to test ,” their vaccines on other countries, adding, “I am not optimistic (about) France,” either.

However, Khamenei okayed the import of vaccines from other “safe” places, and remains supportive of Iran’s efforts toward producing a vaccine. The county began testing its vaccines on humans December. The product is expected to hit the local market in spring.

Hardliners in Iran have longed opposed the U.S-made vaccines. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in December rejected the use of foreign-made vaccines altogether. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi said the Guard “does not recommend the injection of any foreign vaccine” candidates based on genetic material known as messenger RNA, which carries the instructions for cells to make proteins.

Authorities said then that U.S.-based benefactors plan to deploy scores of thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus to Iran.

Thursday 9:20 p.m.: Sen. Vern White, a former Conservative who now sits with the Canadian Senators Group, admitted to the CBC that he went to Finland to visit his wife’s parents.

And five other senators have not responded to repeated questions from The Canadian Press about whether they’ve left the country since Dec. 1.

The vast majority — 86 of the current roster of 93 senators — say they have stayed home, as recommended by public health authorities. Indeed, most said they haven’t travelled anywhere since the pandemic began sweeping Canada last March.

Click here to read more COVID-19 coverage from Thursday.




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