Biden gets COVID shot; WHO says new strain not out of control

Biden gets vaccine on live TV while WHO says new variant of coronavirus can be curbed like other known strains.

US President-elect Joe Biden receives a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a hospital in Newark, Delaware, US [Leah Millis/Reuters]

The United Kingdom has been shut off from much of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new strain of the coronavirus.

Officials from the World Health Organization say the new variant has been spreading faster in the UK, but it is not out of control and can be curbed just like other known strains.

US President-elect Joe Biden has received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on live television and urged Americans to take the vaccine as it becomes available to them.

There have been 77 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide, with more than 1.69 million deaths.

Here are the latest updates:

No intensive care beds for most Californians as COVID-19 surges

California Governor Gavin Newsom said there are no intensive care beds available in Southern California or San Joaquin Valley.

The pandemic is crushing hospitals in the most populous US state, and Newsom said both areas have been at 0.0 percent ICU availability for several days in a row – despite the fact that 98 percent of Californians are under a three-week stay-at-home order.

“Based upon all the data, and based upon all these trend lines, it’s very likely based on those current trends that we’ll need to extend that stay at home,” Newsom said.

Brazil health institute calls early reports on CoronaVac efficacy ‘mere speculation’

The Brazilian public health institute handling trials for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech has said that any reports on the efficacy of the shot before a December 23 announcement were “mere speculation”.

The statement from the Butantan Institute, run by the Sao Paulo state government, followed a report in the Wall Street Journal that the efficacy rate for the so-called “CoronaVac” was higher than 50 percent, citing unnamed sources.

US President-elect Joe Biden receives COVID-19 vaccine

US President-elect Joe Biden has received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine live on television, at a hospital in Newark, Delaware in a campaign to boost Americans’ confidence in the jabs.

The 78-year-old told Americans “there’s nothing to worry about” when they get the vaccine and that, in the meantime, they should keep wearing masks and “listen to the experts”.

Read more here.

US President-elect Joe Biden elbow bumps nurse practitioner Tabe Mase after receiving a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Newark, Delaware, US [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Sudan bans travel from countries with new coronavirus variant

Sudan will ban travellers from the UK, the Netherlands and South Africa from Wednesday due to the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus, the head of the civil aviation authority has told Reuters news agency.

The ban will last two weeks subject to renewal and more countries could be added to the list as the situation develops, Ibrahim Adlan said.

Israel bans foreigners from all countries

Israel has said it would ban entry to foreigners from all countries in a bid to prevent the spread of the new strain of coronavirus.

“I decided last night – and we implemented today – to close the skies of the State of Israel. Foreign nationals will not enter the country, other than exceptions such as diplomats,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter.

Only Israeli citizens and foreigners with special permits, such as diplomats, will be allowed to enter the country under new rules decided by Israel’s coronavirus cabinet.

Delta Air Lines requiring COVID testing for NY-bound UK travelers

Delta Air Lines has confirmed it will require pre-departure COVID tests before passengers leave from the UK to New York.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo first disclosed the decision on Twitter after British Airways earlier said it would take the step as international leaders react to news of a highly infectious new strain. A Delta spokeswoman confirmed the decision.

Peru suspends flights from Europe

Peru has suspended flights from Europe for two weeks and has put its health and travel authorities on high alert to prevent the entry of a new strain of coronavirus, President Francisco Sagasti has said.

Sagasti said no direct flights from the UK had entered the country since December 15, when flights from Europe restarted.

But health authorities were monitoring passengers from the UK who had entered through connecting flights, he said.

UK’s Tesco warns of shortage of some fruit, vegetables if border closure continues

UK supermarket group Tesco has warned that there may be a shortage of some fruit and vegetables later this week if transport ties are not quickly restored with mainland Europe.

Tesco said that “there may be reduced supply on a few fresh items, such as lettuce, cauliflower and citrus fruit later this week, but we don’t expect any problems with availability on these lines today or tomorrow”.

The supermarket group said there was plenty of food for Christmas in stores and would encourage customers to shop as normal.

BioNTech confident COVID-19 vaccine effective against new UK mutation

BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin has said he was confident a COVID-19 vaccine co-developed by his company would be effective against a new variant of the virus.

He said on Bild TV the company would investigate the mutation in the coming days but that he viewed the matter with “with a degree of soberness”.

Iraq agrees with Pfizer to import 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Iraq’s health ministry has said it had agreed with Pfizer to import 1.5 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, the state news agency has reported.

It said the ministry added that the vaccine, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, would arrive in Iraq early next year.

Canada’s most populous province announces new lockdown

Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, will impose a new lockdown beginning Saturday for its 14 million inhabitants, its premier has announced.

The lockdown will last 28 days in the southern part of the province and 14 days in the less populated north, Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference.

Toronto, the country’s biggest city, has already been in lockdown for nearly a month.

Ireland clearly in the grip of third wave: Health officials

Ireland is clearly in the midst of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapid acceleration in the growth of cases from a relatively low level just days ago is of very grave concern, senior health officials have said.

“This is clearly a rapidly increasing incidence in what is now a third wave happening much, much sooner after the last one,” Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, told a news conference after reporting a near doubling of the five-day incidence rate of the virus in just four days.

“It’s really important that people stay at home. The situation has changed and is changing very, very quickly. We’re trying to evaluate things such as the potential role of this new variant of the disease.”

Japan doctors’ group, others declare medical emergency

National associations of doctors, nurses and seven other medical groups in Japan have declared a state of medical emergency, urging the government to support the nation’s medical system.

“The spread of the coronavirus infection shows no signs of stopping. Left unchecked, people in Japan will not be able to receive regular medical care, let alone care for COVID-19,” the joint statement said.

The nine groups, which also include national associations of dentists and pharmacists, called on the government to provide proper assistance to front-line medical workers, and on the public to exercise infection prevention measures thoroughly.

European Commission gives final approval to Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The European Commission has given approval for the use of the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the final step to allowing Europe to start inoculations within a week.

France’s Macron eager to solve border issues in hours, UK PM says

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said French President Emmanuel Macron was eager to resolve border issues within hours.

“It was an excellent conversation with the French president; he stressed he was keen I would say to sort it out in the next few hours if we can,” Johnson said.

“Our teams will be working on it flat out and if we can result then that would be great, but we will do it as fast as we can.”

Pakistan places restrictions on travel from UK

Pakistan’s health ministry has barred all travel to the country from the UK other than for Pakistani citizens who are currently in the UK on temporary visas. Those returning will have to submit to PCR tests before and after their flight to Pakistan.

The restrictions will come into effect at midnight on Wednesday and will remain in effect until midnight on December 30.

New strain is controllable: WHO

A new variant of the novel coronavirus found in the UK has been spreading faster, but it can be curbed just like other known strains, World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said.

“This situation is not out of control but it cannot be left to its own devices,” WHO health emergencies chief Mike Ryan told a news conference, urging countries to implement tried-and-tested health measures.

WHO expects more detail on new strain in coming days, weeks

The WHO has said it expects to get more detail soon on the potential effect of the highly infectious new coronavirus strain.

There is no evidence the mutated variant of the virus increases the severity of the disease, although it is more transmissible, officials said, citing UK analysis.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19, said scientists are looking at the body’s antibody response to the virus and she expects results in the coming days and weeks.

New COVID strain: Six key questions answered

The new strain of the coronavirus, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge, but is said to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the UK.

Click here to read the six key questions we have answered.

Which countries have closed borders over new COVID strain?

Click here to view the list of nations closing their borders over the new COVID-19 strain.

EU regulator approves Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine

The EU’s medicines regulator has given its conditional approval for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech to be used across the bloc, paving the way for inoculations to start within a week.

Following a closed-door expert meeting, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was authorising the vaccine jointly produced by the American pharmaceutical giant and its German partner for use in people aged above 16.

Read more here.

Sweden bans travellers from the UK, Denmark

Sweden will stop allowing in foreign travellers from the UK and Denmark, the government has said.

“To minimise the risk of it spreading here, the government has today decided on a ban of entry,” Minister for the Interior Mikael Damberg told a news conference, adding that Swedish citizens were exempt from the ban.

Denmark’s infectious disease authority said last week it had found nine cases of coronavirus infections involving the new strain from November 14 to December 3.

Biden set to receive COVID vaccine as US distributes shots

President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

Monday’s event will come the same day a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, will start arriving in states, joining Pfizer’s in the nation’s arsenal against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more here.

President-elect Joe Biden is set to receive a COVID vaccination on Monday [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]

Germany to start first COVID-19 vaccination in elderly homes on December 27

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has welcomed the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech by the European Medicines Agency as a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“Vaccination is paving the way for us out of the crisis. And we’re doing everything we can to take this path as quickly as possible,” Spahn said.

He added that authorities would start the first vaccination in elderly homes on December 27.

EU drug regulator: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be on case by case for pregnant women

The European drug regulator has said the use of the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on pregnant women should be done on a case by case basis.

European Medicines Agency (EMA) does not have enough data from the companies’ clinical trials on the potential risks to pregnant women, Harald Enzmann, chair of EMA’s Human Medicines Committee (CHMP) said in a briefing.

It can change its recommendation if more information becomes available, he said.

EU to decide on Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by evening

The European Commission should give its decision by Monday evening on the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which should pave the wave for vaccinations to begin across the 27 EU countries this year.

After the European Medicines Agency gave its green light to the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, the EU’s chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said the Commission would act quickly.

Spain, Portugal suspend flights from the UK

Spain will ban all travellers from the UK except Spanish nationals and residents from entering the country from Tuesday, the Spanish government has said.

Controls at the border with Gibraltar, where at least one case of the new COVID-19 variant has already been detected, will be stepped up, the government added in a statement.

It said the entry ban for non-residents had been coordinated with neighbouring Portugal, which announced its decision late on Sunday.

A couple sit on a terrace bar on the empty street of Las Ramblas in downtown Barcelona, Spain [Emilio Morenatti/AP]

Mexico to analyse suspending flights from UK

Mexico will analyse whether to suspend flights from the UK, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Lopez Obrador said the health ministry would during the course of the day analyse the matter to see whether Mexico should follow other countries in suspending flights from the UK.

Traffic rises at US airports as 3.2 million screened over weekend

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it screened more than one million airline passengers for the first time since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic devastated air travel demand.

TSA said it screened a total of 3.2 million people over the prior three days as holiday air travel began in earnest, including 1.06 million on Sunday.

The total was down 58 percent over the 7.6 million people that were screened over the same period in 2019, the agency said.

UK working with other nations to reduce travel disruption: PM’s spokesman

The UK is working closely with other countries to minimise transport disruption, Prime Minister Johnson’s spokesman has said, after several nations banned travellers and freight from the UK from arriving in their countries.


US health official says ‘everything on table’ about possible UK travel ban

US Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir has said it was possible the US would ban travel from the UK as a new variant of the deadly coronavirus spreads in the country, but added nothing had been decided yet.

“I think everything is possible. We just need to put everything on the table, have an open scientific discussion and make the best recommendation,” he said in an interview on CNN, adding the White House coronavirus task force will meet later on Monday.

Hello, this is Mersiha Gadzo in Toronto, Canada taking over the live updates from my colleague Linah Alsaafin.

Australia confirms two cases of new coronavirus strain

Australia confirmed it has detected two cases of the new coronavirus strain that has forced the UK to reverse plans to ease curbs over Christmas, the first confirmed cases of the strain in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia’s most populous state on Sunday reported six new cases of the novel coronavirus in people returning from overseas and in quarantine, and authorities said among them were two cases of the fast-spreading new strain.

However, New South Wales officials stressed that no people infected with the new strain were believed to be circulating in the community.

“We’ve had a couple of UK returned travellers with the particular mutations,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters.

Russia reports record jump in new virus cases

Gravediggers wearing protective suits carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim in the section of a cemetery reserved for coronavirus victims in Kolpino, outside St Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, December 15, 2020 [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]

Russia has reported a new record increase in coronavirus infections, as some experts said the pandemic had hit the country harder than government statistics suggest.

Health officials reported 493 new virus deaths and 29,350 cases, bringing total infections to 2,877,727 – the fourth highest in the world.

Total fatalities stood at 51, 351.

Moscow and the second city of Saint Petersburg were the hardest hit, recording 7,797 and 3,752 new cases.

Myanmar’s biggest city closes parks to keep lid on coronavirus

Myanmar has closed off public gardens, parks and a lake in its biggest city Yangon, hoping to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases during year-end holidays.

City officials trying to protect recent gains in containing COVID-19 infections put up barricades, signs and cordons around the Mahabandula park and along the banks of the Inya lake, among other popular sites known for drawing holiday crowds.

The closures come amid fears that fatigue and frustration from the coronavirus crisis and containment measures could see a larger turnout than usual this year.

“We have seen some people do some extreme celebrations at New Year. And we think the crowd would get bigger for celebrations this year,” city administrator Myo Kyi said.

EU agreed to pay 15.5 euros per dose for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

The European Union has agreed to pay 15.5 euros ($18.90) per dose for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, an internal EU document reviewed by Reuters showed.

The price, which is confidential and was negotiated for a total of 300 million doses, is slightly lower than the $19.50 per shot the United States agreed to pay for the first shipment of 100 million doses of the same vaccine, in line with what Reuters reported in November.

The EU document dated November 18 was circulated internally after the EU announced its supply deal with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on November 11

India suspends flights from UK until December 31

India has said it was joining other countries in temporarily suspending all flights from the UK after the emergence of a new and more infectious strain of coronavirus there.

“Considering the prevailing situation in UK. Govt. of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India to be suspended till 31st December 2020,” the aviation ministry said in a tweet.

It said the suspension would come into effect from 11:59pm (06:29 GMT) on Tuesday.

It added that in a “measure of abundant precaution”, passengers arriving from Britain on transit flights would be subject to a mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival.

Interpol expects ‘dramatic’ jump in crime over vaccine shipments

Interpol chief Juergen Stock has predicted a sharp rise in crimes with robbers seeking to get their hands on precious vaccines aimed at stopping the coronavirus pandemic.

“With vaccines rolling out, crime will increase dramatically,” Stock told business weekly WirtschaftsWoche. “We will see thefts and warehouse break-ins and attacks on vaccine shipments.”

France to start COVID-19 vaccinations next week

France will start its COVID-19 vaccination programme on Sunday, Health Minister Olivier Veran wrote on his Twitter feed.

Veran added that the French vaccination programme would start off with the most vulnerable members of the population, such as the elderly.

Europe’s medicines regulator will on Monday assess the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, with a green light to put Europe on course to start inoculations within a week.

US President-elect Biden to receive vaccine

President-elect Joe Biden walks onstage to speak at a drive-in rally for Georgia Democratic candidates for US Senate Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]

President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

Monday’s event will come the same day that a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, will start arriving in states, joining Pfizer’s in the nation’s arsenal against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 317,000 people in the United States and upended life around the globe.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden has said of his decision.

Philippines to get 30 million doses of Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

The Philippines expects to receive 30 million doses of Novavax Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine by July next year, boosting the country’s effort to secure supplies to inoculate more than 100 million people.

Despite consultations with numerous vaccine makers, the Philippines has so far signed only one supply deal, with the help of its private sector, to acquire 2.6 million shots of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca.

It plans to buy 25 million doses of a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech for delivery by March and aims to secure between four and 25 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings Inc.

Countries that have blocked travel from UK

The list of countries stopping flights from the UK continued to grow as alarmed officials reacted to a new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus that has sent London and southeastern England into lockdown.

Here are the countries that have banned flights from the UK:

From Europe: France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Portugal.

From Latin America: El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Peru.

From the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco.

From North America: Canada.

New COVID strain in the UK: What we know in 500 words

In recent days, concerns have grown over a new strain identified in the UK.

The new variant, which has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020), is thought to have first occurred in mid-September in the country’s southeast, in the capital London or the county of Kent.

Vaccines should still be effective against it and the new strain is not believed to be any more deadly, but people are increasingly worried because this mutation appears to be 70 percent more infectious.

Read more here.

Thousands tested in Thailand after virus outbreak in seafood market

A medical worker performs a nose swab on a migrant worker at a seafood market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Samut Sakhon province, in Thailand [Panumas Sanguanwong/Reuters]

Thailand has confirmed 382 new coronavirus infections with the majority of cases linked to a seafood centre outbreak in a province near the capital, the health ministry said.

Tens of thousands of people are being tested after hundreds of cases linked to the Mahachai seafood market in Thailand’s worst outbreak yet.

The new cases in the southwest province of Samut Sakhon include 360 migrant workers, most of them from neighbouring Myanmar.

Seoul to ban gatherings of five people or more

South Korea’s capital Seoul and surrounding areas will ban most gatherings of five people or more later this week in an attempt to reduce coronavirus cases over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

South Korea recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus, health authorities said on Monday, as a surge in infections strained the health system and prompted police raids on venues suspected of violating physical distancing rules

COVID-19 patient who fled from Hong Kong hospital is caught

A 63-year-old coronavirus patient who ran away from Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital isolation ward on December 18 has been found and returned by police.

The patient was escorted back to the hospital and is reportedly in a stable condition.

Hospital wards have enhanced patient management and surveillance, enhancing security on the floors with isolation wards and deploying extra patrols.

Saudi Arabia halts all international flights

Saudi Arabia reopens domestic flights
A traveller wearing a protective face mask wheels his bags at Riyadh International Airport, after Saudi Arabia reopened domestic flights, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2020 [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia said it was halting all flights and suspending entry through its land and seaports for at least a week, with the option to extend for a further week.

Passengers who arrived in Saudi Arabia from Europe – or any country where the new strain was detected – starting December 8 will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks and undergo testing.

Foreign flights currently inside the kingdom are allowed to depart.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies