‘Relieved’: US health workers start getting COVID-19 vaccine

An intensive care unit nurse becomes the first person in the US to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester from Northwell Health at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park [Mark Lennihan/Pool via Reuters]

The largest vaccination campaign in US history got underway as health workers in select hospitals rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to announce a tough month-long lockdown, including the closing of schools and shops, according to broadcasters NOS and RTL, as his government tries to slow soaring COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, London is likely to be placed into the toughest tier of COVID-19 restrictions following a sharp rise in coronavirus rates, the BBC reported.

In Asia, South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak of novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February.

Here are the latest updates:

US COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin

The US death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 Monday just as the country began dispensing COVID-19 shots in a monumental campaign to conquer the outbreak.

“The numbers are staggering – the most impactful respiratory pandemic that we have experienced in over 102 years, since the iconic 1918 Spanish flu,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said days before the milestone.

The US crossed the threshold on the same day health care workers rolled up their sleeves for Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, marking the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in American history.

If a second vaccine is authorized soon, as expected, 20 million people could be immunized by month’s end.

Canada turns a corner in pandemic as first COVID-19 vaccines administered

Canada kicked off its inoculation campaign against COVID-19 on Monday by injecting frontline healthcare workers and elderly nursing home residents, becoming just the third nation in the world to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The first dose broadcast on live TV went to Anita Quidangen. The personal support worker at the Rekai Centre, a non-profit nursing home for the elderly in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said she was “excited” to have been first in line.

Healthcare workers in masks and white coats applauded after she was injected.

“Today really we turn a corner,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, president and chief executive of the University Health Network’s Michener Institute, where the shot was administered.

“She has worked tirelessly to care for some of our most vulnerable, both throughout this pandemic and since her first days as a personal support worker in 1988,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said of Quidagen.

Kids and COVID isolation & stress: What parents need to know

Five-year-old Andy wants a Nintendo Switch for Christmas to share with his three-year-old brother. “I know it is a lot of money so its [sic] ok if we don’t get one,” Andy writes to Santa. “I wish COVID was over so we can hug.”

Kimberly, 13, tells Santa this year has been tough on her family of six due to the pandemic. “I will gladly appreciate it if you can bring Christmas home,” she writes.

Savannah, who wants Lego sets, concedes in the postscript of her letter to Santa, “I’m sorry if I’ve been bad. It’s really hard because of COVID-19 and online school (school in general) I’m trying to be good. Hope you understand.”

Read more here.

UK says no evidence symptoms worse or different with new COVID-19 variant

There is no evidence that a new variant of the coronavirus identified in England causes worse or different symptoms, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said.

“There are many variants. It just happens that this one has quite a few more mutations than some of the other variants, so that’s the reason why we’ve taken it particularly seriously,” Whitty said.

“But there’s nothing to suggest that the symptoms are different, that the testing is different, or that the clinical outcome is different for this variant,” he said during a news conference.

Dutch PM Rutte: lockdown measures will last for period of at least five weeks

The Netherlands will go into a tough second lockdown, with the  closure of all schools and shops for at least five weeks, in a government-led push to fight the coronavirus, the government said..

Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the measures in a rare television address, broadcast from his office.

US lawmakers urge Trump administration to extension tariff exclusions for PPE

A bipartisan group of 75 lawmakers is urging the Trump administration to extend exclusions from import tariffs on medical products imported from China, including face masks, hand sanitizing wipes and examination gloves, that expire on December 31.

In a letter to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the lawmakers said failure to extend the exclusions would hurt small businesses already suffering from stay-at-home orders aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus.

They said they recognized that the exclusions were granted in part to give US companies more time to diversify their supply chains out of China. But companies needed more time to complete those efforts given continuing travel restrictions, they said.

“Extending exclusions before they expire will help with pandemic response, and it will save jobs, businesses and livelihoods. We strongly urge you to extend all active exclusions before they expire at the end of this year,” the lawmakers said in the letter, which was dated Friday.

Turkey to impose 5-day lockdown as virus deaths hit new record

President Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Turkey will impose a five-day full lockdown beginning on December 31 to maintain gains against the pandemic, as official data showed new daily coronavirus deaths hit a record 229.

Erdogan, speaking after a cabinet meeting, said the stay-home order would begin at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve and run through January 4. Separately government data showed new daily COVID-19 cases stood at 29,617 in the last 24 hours.

France’s new COVID-19 cases slow down but hospitalisations up again

French health authorities have reported 3,063 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, sharply down from Sunday’s 11,533, but the number of people hospitalised for the disease went up for the third day running.

Case numbers have tended to dip on Mondays as there are fewer tests conducted on Sundays. The seven-day moving average of new infections averaging out weekly data reporting irregularities stood at 12,001, declining for the first time in 10 days.

The number of people in France who have died from COVID-19 infections rose by 371 to 58,282, up from 150 on Sunday. The cumulative number of cases in France now totals 2,379,915, the fifth-highest in the world.

Czech government orders tightening of coronavirus restrictions from Friday

The Czech government will tighten restrictions on businesses and public gatherings from Friday in response to a rise in COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced.

Italy reports 491 COVID-19 deaths, 12,030 new cases

Italy has reported 491 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, against 484 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections declined to 12,030 from 17,938.

There were 103,584 swabs carried out in the past day, down sharply from a previous 152,697, the ministry said.

The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has seen 65,011 COVID-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

It has also registered 1.856 million cases to date. Patients in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 27,765 on Monday, up by 30 from the day before.

US Chamber of Commerce tells Congress: Partial COVID relief package better than nothing

The US Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to pass a limited COVID-19 relief package if there is not enough support for liability protection and state aid, warning tens of thousands of small businesses faced permanent closure without quick help.

“Partial agreement is better than no agreement,” Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Chamber, said in a statement.

He said it was imperative that Congress advance aid for small businesses and nonprofits, extend unemployment programs, approve funding for schools and day care centers, and set aside resources to support vaccinations before the end of the year.

Over 1,000 cases of a new coronavirus variant found in England: Minister

Over 1,000 cases of a new coronavirus variant have been identified in the past few days in England, predominantly in the south of the country where it could be connected to a surge in cases, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the faster spread in the southeast of England,” Hancock said in a statement to parliament.

“Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants,” he said.

“I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that the variant is more likely to cause serious disease, and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine,” he added.

New York hospital administers nation’s first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

The largest vaccination campaign in US history got underway as health workers in select hospitals rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic – a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll neared 300,000.

“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” said critical case nurse Sandra Lindsay after became the first person a shot in the arm at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.

Shipments of precious frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech began arriving at hospitals around the country Monday.

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he watched Lindsay’s vaccination via video.

Israel’s Netanyahu in self-isolation for third time

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone into self-isolation after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

He would remain in quarantine until Friday, his office said.

Netanyahu had already taken two coronavirus tests on Sunday and Monday and was negative both times. He said on Twitter that we was feeling fine.

The 71-year-old went into isolation twice in the early part of the year.

London to be placed in England’s top tier of COVID restrictions: Report

London is to be moved up into “Very High alert”, the most restrictive level of England’s tiered COVID-19 restrictions system, the Daily Mirror’s political editor reported, citing lawmakers she said had heard the news from the health minister.

“MPs on call with Health Secretary Matt Hancock say he has confirmed London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex to move into Tier 3,” Pippa Crerar said on Twitter.

Hancock was due to address the House of Commons later on Monday.

Toronto hospital to begin COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday: Official

Toronto’s University Health Network hospital will begin COVID-19 vaccinations with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday, the official in charge of the vaccine rollout in the province of Ontario said.

“The number of vaccinations that will take place today are probably pretty small,” retired general Rick Hillier, who is in charge of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Vaccines have arrived at the Toronto’s University Health Network hospital and a “small number” will receive the shots, he added.

Moderna expects European approval for COVID-19 vaccine on January 12

Moderna expects the European Union to approve its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in mid-January and is ready to start distribution immediately afterwards, the head of its European division told German daily Stuttgarter Zeitung.

“We expect approval for the EU and thus for Germany on January 12,” Dan Staner was quoted as saying. “As soon as we have received the approval, we can deliver.”

Russia repeats 91.4 percent efficacy rate in new COVID-19 vaccine data

Russian coronavirus vaccine developers published fresh results from their trial of the Sputnik V vaccine on Monday based on new data, and said the shot had again been found to be 91.4 percent effective in providing protection from COVID-19.

The new results are based on data from 22,714 participants in the trial, and were published after 78 confirmed coronavirus cases were reported among the group, researchers at the Gamaleya Institute said in a statement made on Monday with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is marketing the shot.

Of the 78 cases, 62 occurred among participants who had received a placebo, the researchers said.

China plans set up of new disease control agency in COVID-19 aftermath

China is considering setting up a new disease control agency as part of its public health reforms following the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Caixin reported on Monday.

The government body will oversee work aimed at preventing future outbreaks and managing emerging ones, Caixin said, citing two government insiders and three public health experts.

Poland faces real threat of pandemic third wave

Poland faces a real threat of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said, adding he would recommend that current restrictions continue until at least January 17.

Poland’s government is expected to adopt a national coronavirus vaccine plan on Tuesday.

Tough Christmas lockdown looming in Netherlands

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to announce a tough month-long lockdown, including the closing of schools and shops, according to broadcasters NOS and RTL, as his government tries to slow soaring COVID-19 infections.

Rutte held emergency meetings on Monday about the rapid rise of infections and took the unusual step of inviting the heads of all political parties in parliament to join the talks.

NOS and RTL cited government sources as saying that all schools and non-essential shops would be closed until January 19.

Mark Rutte PM Netherlands
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to announce the tighter lockdown measures in a rare television address to the country at 1900 local time [File: Tatyana Zenkovich/Reuters]

London likely to move into toughest tier of COVID-19 restrictions

London is likely to be placed into the toughest tier of COVID-19 restrictions following a sharp rise in coronavirus rates, the BBC reported.

The British capital is currently in the second highest tier of restrictions, with a review currently scheduled to take place on December 16.

Since 02 December the UK government replaced national lockdown restrictions against coronavirus with a regional tier system of lockdown restrictions [File: Andy Rain/EPA]

Germany will get 11 million doses of BioNTech vaccine by March

Germany expects to receive 11 million doses of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine by March, the health ministry announced.

In January alone, three million to four million doses of the vaccine will be provided for inoculations in Germany, a ministry spokesman said.

Swiss report 10,726 new coronavirus cases over three days

Coronavirus infections rose by 10,726 since Friday, data from Swiss health authorities showed .

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 384,557, including from mass testing in the Swiss canton of Grisons conducted Friday through Sunday.

The death toll rose by 193 to 5,589, while 445 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the healthcare system, as hospital directors write to Health Minister Alain Berset expressing their concerns.

Study adds to debate over Gilead’s remdesivir for COVID-19

A single-patient study conducted by British scientists has found that Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir could be highly effective against COVID-19, raising questions about previous studies that found it had no impact on death rates from the disease.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study describes how doctors who gave the drug to a patient with both COVID-19 and a rare immune disorder saw a marked improvement in his symptoms and the disappearance of the virus.

“Our patient’s unusual condition gave us a rare insight into the effectiveness of remdesivir as a treatment for coronavirus infection,” said Nicholas Matheson, who co-led the study at Cambridge University’s Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease.

Hospitals in S Korea struggle with bed shortages amid COVID19 spike

Civic and labor groups have urged the government to mobilise more beds and medical personnel from private hospitals to cope with hospital bed shortage amid a recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Public hospitals have received most local COVID-19 patients but have now reached the saturation point, according to media reports.

The number of newly confirmed cases hovers around 1,000 per day.

Singapore approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

Singapore has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s novel coronavirus vaccine and expects to receive shots by year-end, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, adding that he planned to be among the early vaccine recipients.

The city-state of 5.7 million people expects to have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of 2021 and will make it free for citizens and long-term residents, Lee, 68, said.

Vaccination will be voluntary.Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee Hsien Loong said he and other government officials would be among the early recipients after healthcare workers, other front-line personnel, the elderly and the vulnerable [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]

Japan to suspend ‘Go To’ subsidised travel programme

The Japanese government has decided to suspend a travel subsidy programme dubbed “Go To Travel” from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11 nationwide, local media reported, responding to concerns about its impact on the spread of the coronavirus.

Media had widely reported earlier that the suspension would cover only the hardest-hit cities and regions such as the capital, Tokyo, and Nagoya, in central Japan.


Medical experts in Nigeria warn of second wave of COVID-19

Medical experts have warned that Nigeria will likely record a large increase in COVID-19 figures.

A principle reason for a potential second wave is because many people have abandoned safety precautions in recent weeks, according to professor of virology Oyewale Tomori.

Chief executive officer and director general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian: “There is the risk of a ‘second wave’ and many countries have begun to experience a spike in cases.”

Volunteers gesture as they direct an elderly woman at an ongoing distribution of food parcels
There has been an increase in the number of cases across 23 states in Nigeria, with majority of the cases detected in Lagos, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory [File: Temilade Ade/Reuters]


South Korea orders schools to shut as COVID-19 cases spike

South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak of novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February.

Schools in the capital region would move classes online until the end of the month, in the latest ratcheting up of social distancing measures which so far have failed to reverse the spike in infections.

The school closure is a step towards the imposition of Phase 3 social distancing rules, a move that would essentially lock down Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Meet the grandma''s saving South Korea''s schools - Don''t use
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said such a step required careful review, as the government comes under mounting pressure to do more to step the rise of infections [Al Jazeera/Screengrab]

Ireland may need to reimpose COVID-19 curbs in January

Ireland may need to reimpose some COVID-19 restrictions in January, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said, after health chiefs warned that cases may be rising again following the reopening of most of the economy in the last two weeks.

“You could very well be looking at some further restrictions in January,” Martin told national broadcaster RTE, noting that the curbs lifted this month were not as strict as the initial lockdown.

He said the government would consult widely before making any decisions.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a man painting a mural, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Dublin, Ireland, August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Ireland currently has the lowest incidence rate of COVID-19 in the European Union after it moved early to temporarily shut shops, bars and restaurants in October [File: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

French central bank sees recovery taking longer

The French central bank said that it expects the country’s economy to recover more slowly than previously and return to its pre-pandemic level only in mid-2022.

The forecast is based on the COVID-19 pandemic not dying down immediately and widespread vaccination not being achieved before the end of 2021.

The Banque de France now sees economic output falling by nine percent this year, with a rebound of five percent in 2021.

France expects unemployment to jump to 11 percent during the first quarter of 2021, and fall to nine percent by the end of 2022 [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]


Russia reports 27,328 new coronavirus cases

Russia  confirmed 27,328 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,874 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 2,681,256.

Authorities said 450 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 47,391.

Japan picks the kanji character to define coronavirus year

Japan selected a kanji character used to encourage social distancing as its defining symbol for 2020, highlighting a catchphrase used extensively during the coronavirus pandemic that even inspired its own computer game.

The character “mitsu”, meaning “congested” or “dense”, was derived from a buzzword “San-mitsu”, which was central to Japan’s approach to the containing the pandemic.

Translated as “Three Cs” in English, it refers to avoiding closed spaces, crowds and close contacts.

Coronavirus - Japan
Japanese TV networks broadcast the annual announcement live, with the master of the ancient Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto writing the character on a huge white panel with an ink-soaked calligraphy brush [File: Issei Kato/Reuters]

Mexico registers more than 8,600 new coronavirus cases

Mexico’s health ministry reported 8,608 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 249 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,250,044 cases and 113,953  deaths.

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Germany likely to avert second recession despite new lockdown

Germany will likely be able to avoid another recession despite a second national lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic, due to start on Wednesday, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.

“I hope we can prevent a complete economic standstill in the second wave of the pandemic,” he told public radio Deutschlandfunk.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has reached 1,337,078, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases [File: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters]

CureVac enrols first participant in pivotal study of COVID vaccine

Germany’s CureVac announced that it has enrolled the first participant in the Phase 2b/3 study of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The trial will assess the safety and efficacy in adults and is expected to include more than 35,000 participants in Europe and Latin America, it added in a statement

World’s top glove maker says Malaysia worker died from COVID-19

Malaysia’s Top Glove Corp has reported that a worker died on Saturday due to COVID-19, the first death since the outbreak at its dormitories and factories in October.

The world’s largest glove maker told Reuters in an email that the 29-year-old worker from Nepal had worked at its manufacturing facility in Klang, 40 km west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, for more than two years.

The outbreak at Top Glove’s facilities in which more than 5,000 workers tested positive was Malaysia’s largest cluster.

Read more here.

Top Glove, located at Setia Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the world’s largest rubber glove manufacturer [File: Fazry Ismail/EPA]

South Korea reports 718 new coronavirus cases

South Korea reported 718 new coronavirus cases, a drop from the record daily increase of the day earlier, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

Of the new cases, 682 were locally transmitted. The total tally is now 43,484 infections, with 587 deaths.

Trump says he’s nixing plan for early vaccine at White House

President Donald Trump says he is reversing an administration directive to vaccinate top government officials against COVID-19, while public distribution of the shot is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Trump made the announcement hours after his administration confirmed that senior US officials, including some White House aides who work in close proximity to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, would be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week under federal continuity of government plans.

“People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” Trump said in a tweet. “I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.”

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 16,362

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased  by 16,362 to 1,337,078, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 188 to 21,975, the tally showed.

The numbers are usually lower on Mondays, because there is less testing and less data being transmitted to Germany’s RKI on weekends [File: Tobias Schwarz/AFP]

Eswatini PM who tested positive for COVID-19 dies


Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who tested positive for COVID-19 four weeks ago, has died at age 52 after being hospitalised in neighbouring South Africa, the tiny absolute monarchy’s government said.

“Their Majesties have commanded that I inform the Nation of the sad and untimely passing away of His Excellency the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini. His Excellency passed on this afternoon while under medical care in a hospital in South Africa”, Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a statement.

Read the full story here.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies