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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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Promising data from Israel
Israel’s swift vaccination rollout has made it the largest real-world study of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. Results are trickling in, and they are promising.

More than half of eligible Israelis - about 3.5 million people - have now been fully or partly vaccinated. Older and at-risk groups, the first to be inoculated, are seeing a dramatic drop in illnesses.

Among the first fully vaccinated group there was a 53% reduction in new cases, a 39% decline in hospitalizations and a 31% drop in severe illnesses from mid-January until Feb. 6, said Eran Segal, data scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

WHO's Wuhan probe ends
China called on the United States to invite the World Health Organization to investigate origins of the Covid-19 outbreak there, after the WHO wrapped up its field work in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Hours after the WHO team revealed preliminary findings at a Wuhan news conference on Tuesday, Washington said it wants to scrutinize data used by the team, which concluded that the virus did not originate in a laboratory in Wuhan, and that bats remain a likely source.

"We wish that the U.S. side can, like China, uphold an open and transparent attitude, and be able to invite WHO experts to the U.S. to conduct origin tracing research and inspection," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

EU's von der Leyen admits to failings in vaccine fight
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged failings on Wednesday in the EU's approval and rollout of vaccines, and said the bloc had learned lessons in the process.

The chief of the EU executive was speaking to lawmakers in the European Parliament following criticism of the slow rollout and a plan to curb exports that initially sought to set up a hard border on the island of Ireland, causing an outcry in London and Dublin.

Von der Leyen said 26 million vaccine doses had been delivered and that, by the end of the summer, 70% of adults in the 27-nation bloc should have been inoculated.

Germany plans to extend lockdown
Germany plans to extend restrictions until March 14, a draft agreement for talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the 16 federal states on Wednesday showed.

The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling, leading some regional leaders to push for a timetable to ease the lockdown, but concerns are growing about the impact of more infectious strains of the virus.

"We have a highly fragile situation," Winfried Kretschmann, Greens premier of the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told Spiegel Online. "We can see in other countries, such as Portugal, how quickly the tide can turn."

Common asthma drug cuts hospitalisation risk
A commonly used asthma treatment appears to reduce the need for hospitalisations as well as recovery time for Covid-19 patients if it's given within seven days of symptoms appearing, researchers at the University of Oxford said.

The findings were made following a mid-stage study of the steroid budesonide, sold as Pulmicort by AstraZeneca.

The 28-day study of 146 patients suggested that inhaled budesonide reduced the risk of urgent care or hospitalisation by 90% compared with the usual care.

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