France to ease UK travel ban, COVID reaches Antarctica

France to allow EU citizens to enter from UK if they have a negative test, as the virus reaches all seven continents.

A man walks past lorries parked on the M20 motorway after EU countries imposed a ban on travel from the UK [Simon Dawson/Reuters]
A man walks past lorries parked on the M20 motorway after EU countries imposed a ban on travel from the UK [Simon Dawson/Reuters]

The European Commission recommended that travel bans imposed by EU countries on the UK to contain a new variant of the coronavirus should end to allow freight and essential travel to resume and let people return home.

Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc were testing their COVID-19 vaccines against the new fast-spreading version of the virus. Moderna expects immunity from its vaccine to protect against the variants and is performing more tests in the coming weeks to confirm.

There have been 77.3 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide, with more than 1.7 million deaths.

These were the updates:

AstraZeneca says its vaccine should be effective against new variant

British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc told Reuters that its COVID-19 vaccine should be effective against the new coronavirus variant, adding that studies were underway to fully probe the impact of the mutation.

“AZD1222 (AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate) contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, and the changes to the genetic code seen in this new viral strain do not appear to change the structure of the spike protein,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said in an email.


American Airlines begins return of workers after payroll relief

American Airlines is beginning the phased return of furloughed workers after the US Congress passed a pandemic aid package with $15bn in payroll support for airlines, its executives said in a staff memo.

“While pay and benefits will be restored right away, people will be asked to return to the operation in phases,” Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in the memo, released by American.

Air passenger traffic is down by about 70 percent versus a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the travel industry. US airlines furloughed tens of thousands of employees when an initial $25bn in federal payroll support that banned job cuts expired in October.


Coronavirus reaches end of earth as first outbreak hits Antarctica

The coronavirus has landed in Antarctica, the last continent previously free from COVID-19, Chile’s military said this week, as health and army officials scrambled to clear out and quarantine staff from a remote research station surrounded by ocean and icebergs.

Chile’s armed forces said at least 36 people had been infected at its Bernardo O’Higgins base, including 26 army personnel and 10 civilian contractors conducting maintenance at the base.


Mexico open to the UK travel as new virus strain found

Mexican authorities have announced the country will keep its borders open to flights from the UK.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell remarked the policy was founded on recommendations by the World Health Organization.

Mexico has not blocked the arrival of international flights during the pandemic and has only recommended people to quarantine upon arrival to Mexico.


India likely to approve AstraZeneca vaccine by next week: Sources

India is likely to approve Oxford/AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use by next week after its local manufacturer submitted additional data sought by authorities, two sources with knowledge of the matter have told Reuters.

This could be the first country to give the regulatory green light for the British drugmaker’s vaccine as the British medicine regulator continues to examine data from the trials.

India could be the first country to give the regulatory green light for the British drugmaker’s vaccine [File:Reuters]

Oil slips amid concerns over mutant COVID strain found in UK

Oil has dropped towards $50 a barrel , adding to losses from the previous session, as a mutant variant of the coronavirus revived concerns over demand recovery.

Brent crude was down 60 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $50.32 a barrel by 16:58 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 72 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $47.25.

Both benchmarks slid nearly 3 percent on Monday, partly erasing recent gains driven by the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, seen as key to allowing a return to normal life.

Read more here.

The latest rally culminated in Brent hitting $52.48 on Friday, its highest since March, but some analysts see potential for prices to slip [File: Bing Guan/Bloomberg]

EU citizens can enter France from UK if they have negative COVID test: PM

French and EU citizens will again be allowed to enter France from the UK from midnight provided they have a negative COVID-19 test that is less than 72 hours old, the French prime minister’s office said.

British citizens or citizens from third countries who have residence in France or the European Union can also enter the country or transit through it from Britain as long as they have a negative Covid test, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.


Malawi closes borders following coronavirus resurgence

Malawi will close its borders for 14 days and restrict public gatherings to 100 people following a new surge in cases of the coronavirus, the southern African nation’s presidential task force on COVID-19 has said.

After nearly two months without new positive cases, Malawi recorded 46 new infections, bringing the total number of infections to 6,248, with 187 deaths, according to the health ministry.


WHO members to meet on Wednesday on new virus variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called a meeting of members for Wednesday to discuss strategies to counter a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in the UK.

A spokeswoman said the meeting was designed to help with information-sharing.

“Limiting travel to contain spread is prudent until we have better info,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Regional Director for Europe, tweeted.


Top US scientist Anthony Fauci receives COVID-19 vaccine

Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease specialist, received his vaccine along with other senior officials and six health workers at a live streamed event at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The widely-respected scientist said he took the shot “as a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine.

“I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we could have a veil of protection over this country, that would end this pandemic,” he added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, rolls up his sleeve as he prepares to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine [AFP]

Sweden to fast-track pandemic bill permitting wider shutdown

Sweden’s government is rushing to put forward a temporary pandemic bill that would give it powers to shut shops, private museums and by law limit the number of people in gatherings, news agency TT reported.

Sweden has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic and has preferred to work with voluntary measures aimed at promoting social distancing and good hygiene. The government has lacked powers to enforce many of the recommendations by sanctions.


Pope adapts Christmas plans as cardinals test positive for virus

Pope Francis will deliver his Christmas Day message indoors due to coronavirus restrictions, the Vatican said, as two cardinals close to the pontiff tested positive for Covid-19.

The pope traditionally gives his “Urbi and Orbi” (To the City and The World) message from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica on December 25.

But this year Italy has imposed tough new restrictions over the Christmas and New Year period to stem the spread of coronavirus.


Anti-vaxxers could face public transport ban in France

People who fail to get a Covid-19 vaccination could be banned from using public transport in France, according to a draft law sparking angry protests from opposition politicians.

Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday got his cabinet’s backing for a bill that is designed to provide a legal framework for dealing with health crises, including the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the text, which will now be submitted to parliament, a negative COVID test or proof of a “preventative treatment, including the administration of a vaccine” could be required for people to be granted “access to transport or to some locations, as well as certain activities”.


Dutch hospitals brace for wave of COVID-19 patients as cases jump

Hospitals in the Netherlands have said they would postpone all non-critical care the coming weeks in order to deal with the rapid rise in COVID-19 patients.

Coronavirus infections in the country jumped 42 percent to 83,240 in the week through Tuesday, the National Institute for Public Health said, following a string of record daily increases.

The Dutch government early last week imposed a tough five-week lockdown, closing all schools and non-essential stores, in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.


Ireland imposes new virus curbs over Christmas

Ireland has announced fresh coronavirus restrictions with adjustments from Christmas until January 12 to curb the spread of new infections.

In a television address, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said his government had chosen to reintroduce the highest level of restrictions, level five, following an “extraordinary growth” in the virus.

Under the measures, families will be asked to stay at home with some specific changes over the festive period.


EU Commission recommends lifting blanket UK travel bans

The European Commission has recommended that travel bans imposed by EU countries on the UK to contain a new variant of the coronavirus should end to allow freight and essential travel to resume and let people return home.

The recommendation, to be put to EU ambassadors later on Tuesday, advised that non-essential travel to and from Britain should be discouraged. However, people heading to their country of residence should be allowed to do so, provided they undergo a COVID-19 test or quarantine for 10 days, the Commission said.


Thai PM blames virus surge on illegal migration

Thailand’s prime minister has attributed a recent surge in coronavirus cases to illegal migration and said additional regulations to fight the epidemic could be announced this week.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he would meet his COVID-19 task force this week and may introduce “appropriate” measures ahead of New Year celebrations, without elaborating.

Prayuth said the more than 1,000 cases detected mostly among workers from Myanmar since the weekend in Samut Sakhon province – the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreak so far – were primarily due to networks responsible for illegal migration.


BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine heads to EU as effectiveness against new strain tested

BioNTech is testing the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer against a highly infectious new strain virus as it prepares to send 12.5 mln doses to EU countries by the end of year.

“There is no reason to be concerned or worried until we get the data,” he said.

The 27 EU member states that want shots produced in BioNTech’s manufacturing sites in Germany, and Pfizer’s site in Puurs, Belgium, will receive them on Saturday so vaccinations can start on Sunday, chief financial officer Sierk Poetting said.


New coronavirus strain still not found in India

The new more transmissible strain of the coronavirus detected in Britain has not yet been found in India, a senior government official said, as health authorities prepared to screen all passengers arriving from the UK since November 25.

People wearing protective masks exit a railway station amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

 

V.K. Paul, a top COVID-19 adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the new virus strain would have no impact on vaccines being developed in India.

India has suspended all flights from Britain starting Wednesday until the end of the year.


China suspends operations of its visa application service in London

China is suspending operations of its Visa Application Service Centre in London from December 22, the Chinese embassy in Britain said.


Hungary bans air passenger planes from UK from landing

Hungary’s government banned air passenger planes from Britain from landing in Hungary until February 8 to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decree, signed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, extends to regular and charter flights but does not include emergency landings, which are permitted.


Second wave of pandemic appears to have peaked in Hungary

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have peaked in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said.

Gulyas said the government would keep existing restrictions in place until at least January 11.


New coronavirus variant probably exists in Germany

It is highly likely that the mutation of the coronavirus that has been found in Britain also exists in Germany, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health institute said, adding, however, that it had not shown up in data yet.


South Africa facing isolation amid fears over new COVID strain

South Africa is facing increasing isolation as more countries ban travel over the discovery of a new variant of the virus.

The country’s scientists are studying if the vaccines against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain.

Read more here


France expects national COVID-19 vaccine approval

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that the French medical regulatory body was expected to give approval to COVID-19 vaccines by December 26 after the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

France is planning to start its vaccination programme on Sunday.


WHO calls meeting on new virus variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) will convene a meeting of members to discuss strategies to counter the new coronavirus strain.

The Geneva-based body has cautioned against major alarm over the variant, saying it was a normal part of a pandemic’s evolution and praising Britain for detecting it.

In a statement on Tuesday, the WHO repeated that there was not yet enough information to determine whether the new variant could affect vaccine efficacy, saying researching was ongoing.


Britain has plenty of food, no need to worry

Food in Britain is plentiful and shoppers should not be concerned about supermarkets running out of supplies, interior minister Priti Patel said.

On Monday, Britain’s two biggest supermarket groups Tesco and Sainsbury’s, warned that gaps will start to appear on British supermarket shelves within days if transport ties with mainland Europe were not quickly restored.

But Patel played down those concerns.


Russia reports 28,776 new coronavirus cases, 561 deaths

Russia reported 28,776 new coronavirus cases, including 7,237 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 2,906,503 since the pandemic began.

Authorities also confirmed 561 deaths, taking the official death toll to 51,912.


Uzbekistan shuts borders over new COVID-19 strain

Uzbekistan has closed its borders to residents of eight countries, including Britain, and to people who have recently visited them amid concerns about a new coronavirus strain.

The entry ban will be in effect until January 10 and will affect Italy, Germany, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Australia, and South Africa, the Central Asian nation’s government said in a statement.


UK and France working to lift border closure, British minister says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is working with France in an attempt to find a way to lift border closures that have snarled one of Europe’s most important trade routes just days before the Brexit cliff edge.

“We speak to our colleagues in France constantly on a range of issues and that work has been underway over the last 24 hours and we’ll continue today,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky.


Guatemala to restrict entry to travellers from UK, South Africa

The new measures will require people who have visited Britain or South Africa within 14 days to quarantine for at least a week upon arrival in Guatemala.

Health minister Amelia Flores said the restrictions would initially last two months. Guatemala will restrict entry beginning on Wednesday.


Taiwan reports first locally transmitted case since April 12

The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 was a friend of a person who had already been confirmed to have been infected with the virus, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference.


US Congress approves $892bn relief package

The US Congress on Monday approved an $892bn coronavirus aid package, throwing a lifeline to the nation’s pandemic-battered economy after months of inaction, while also keeping the federal government funded.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the package into law.

The virus relief bill includes $600 payments to most Americans as well as additional payments to the millions of people thrown out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, just as a larger round of benefits is due to expire on Saturday.

Read more here

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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