COVID: Israel enters third lockdown amid vaccination drive

Inoculation in some German cities delayed; mass EU vaccine campaign begins; global infections cross 80 million.

A woman walks past closed stores as Israel imposes a third national lockdown to fight climbing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Jerusalem December 27, 2020 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
A woman walks past closed stores as Israel imposes a third national lockdown to fight climbing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Jerusalem December 27, 2020 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Israelis entered a third lockdown on Sunday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging that it, alongside a vaccination campaign unequalled in its speed, would free them of the coronavirus pandemic earlier than any other nation.

European Union nations have kicked off a coordinated effort to give COVID-19 vaccination to adults among their 450 million citizens, a moment of hope on the continent.

Meanwhile, fears grow over a new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading across the United Kingdom with Japan barring the entry of all non-resident foreign nationals as a precaution against the strain.

Thailand is scrambling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak connected to a seafood market in a southern province, and residents of Sydney – Australia’s largest city – are awaiting word on whether any public New Year’s Eve celebrations will be allowed.

These were Sunday’s COVID-19 updates.

Delay in Chinese vaccine delivery: Turkish official

A Chinese coronavirus vaccine delivery to Turkey was postponed for “one or two days”, the Turkish health minister announced.

The delay was caused by an emergency in Beijing customs due to the discovery of a novel coronavirus case there, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

South Africa counts more than one million virus cases

South Africa has become the first African nation to record one million coronavirus cases, according to new data published by the country’s health ministry.

Currently suffering a second wave of infections, of which the majority are a new variant of the coronavirus, South Africa is the hardest hit country on the African continent, with 1,004,413 infections and 26,735 deaths, the data showed.

Last week, South Africa recorded a daily average of 11,700 new infections, up 39 percent over the previous week [File: Jerome Delay/AP Photo]

OPINION: What is the fight over the ‘COVID relief bill’ all about?

On December 21, the United States Senate finally passed a pandemic relief bill. The most attention-grabbing part of this legislation is the direct payments of $600 to almost every American.

A day later President Donald Trump got on TV and called it a “disgrace”.

Read more here.

France’s new infections up as vaccine roll out begins

The French health ministry reported 8,822 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, sharply up from Saturday’s 3,093 as the country, in unison with most of the EU, started its vaccination programme.

France’s cumulative total of cases now stands at 2,559,686, the fifth highest in the world.

Italy reports 298 deaths: Health Ministry

Italy reported 298 coronavirus-related deaths up from 261 the day before, the Health Ministry said.

The daily tally of new infections was 8,913, down from 10,407 the day before, taking the total number of cases since Italy’s epidemic began to 2,047,696.

UK reports 30,500 new cases

The United Kingdom on Sunday reported 30,501 new COVID-19 cases, government statistics showed, with a further 316 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

The government’s coronavirus portal said the figures reflected data from England and Wales but said there was no new data from Northern Ireland and no new deaths data from Scotland owing to the Christmas holidays.

Britain has recorded more than 2.2 million cases and nearly 70,000 deaths [File: Paul Hanna/Bloomberg]

British variant found in two people in Norway: Health agency

The new variant of the coronavirus circulating in Britain has been detected in two people who arrived in Norway from the country, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said.

The travellers, who were not identified, reached Norway earlier in December and health workers will follow up with their close contacts, it said.

AstraZeneca: Shot will be effective against COVID-19 variant

The head of drugmaker AstraZeneca, which is developing a coronavirus vaccine widely expected to be approved by UK authorities this week, said that researchers believe the shot will be effective against the new variant of the virus driving a rapid surge in infections in Britain.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot also told The Sunday Times that researchers developing its vaccine have figured out a “winning formula” making the jab as effective as rival candidates.

US COVID outbreak may worsen after holidays: Fauci

Top US government scientist Anthony Fauci warned on Sunday the worst of the pandemic may be yet to come, driving the country to a “critical point” as holiday travel spreads the coronavirus.

“I share the concern of President-elect [Joe] Biden that as we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” the infectious disease specialist told CNN.

Read more here.

Jordan detects two variant cases in travellers from Britain

Jordan has detected its first two cases of the new variant of the coronavirus which has been spreading rapidly in parts of Britain, in travellers who recently arrived from Britain, the health minister said.

Jordan has in recent weeks seen a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases after a three-month surge in deaths and a spike in cases that has strained its healthcare system.

Jordan last week banned flights to and from Britain until January 3 [File: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

 

Israel enters third nationwide lockdown

Israel began its third coronavirus lockdown as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism that a “world record” vaccination drive will restore a degree of normality within weeks.

After a sharp resurgence of detected infections, Netanyahu’s government announced three days ago that it would reimpose the strict measures that had previously helped limit transmission. The lockdown, which began at 5pm (15:00 GMT) on Sunday, forces most people to stay within 1km (0.62 miles) of their home.

“It is supposed to last about two weeks, but health officials are saying it will likely last for about three to four weeks,” Al Jazeera’s Irene Nasser reported from West Jerusalem.

Several arrested in Paris over illegal parties

Five people suspected of organising illegal parties during the coronavirus pandemic have been arrested by police in Paris, authorities said.

The suspects are accused of putting others in danger, according to a statement.

Officers cleared gatherings in a number of districts in the French capital over the weekend, as well as in the Tremblay-en-France suburb near the Charles de Gaulle airport.

People wearing face masks to protect against the COVID-19 walk at Trocadero Plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, December 26, 2020 [Michel Euler/AP Photo]

COVID in besieged Gaza: ‘A blockade inside a blockade’

Eight years ago, the United Nations warned that the Gaza Strip would not be a “liveable place” by 2020, urging Israel to lift its years-long blockade against the Palestinian coastal enclave and calling for a “herculean effort” to improve basic services there.

But Israel and Egypt have continued the crippling air, land and sea blockade imposed in 2007, mostly isolating the territory’s nearly two million residents from the rest of the world.

When 2020 arrived, the conditions in Gaza were marked by water and medicine shortages as well as a severe power crisis, with residents of the enclave receiving only up to six hours of electricity per day, a situation some called “no longer tolerable”.

Read more here.

New variant detected in Portugal’s Madeira island

The new variant of the coronavirus linked to a rapid rise in infections in Britain has been detected on the Portuguese island of Madeira, the regional civil protection authority said.

In a statement, the authority said the new variant was “detected in travellers who arrived in Madeira from the United Kingdom” but it did not specify how many people were infected with it.

Cold chain doubts delay COVID-19 vaccinations in German cities

Germany’s coronavirus vaccination campaign faced delays in several cities on Sunday after medical staff found potential irregularities in the cooling of the shot produced by BioNTech and Pfizer.

“When reading the temperature loggers that were enclosed in the cool boxes, doubts arose about the compliance with the cold chain requirements,” the District Office of Lichtenfels in the north of Germany’s largest state Bavaria said in a statement.

The Pfizer vaccine, which uses new so-called mRNA technology, must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -70 degrees Celsius (-112°F) to remain effective before being shipped to distribution centres.

The German armed forces’ team prepares for vaccination at the Agaplesion Bethanien Sophienhaus nursing home in Berlin, Germany, December 27, 2020 [Kay Nietfeld/dpa/Pool/AP]

Oman launches vaccination campaign

Oman started coronavirus vaccinations two days before plans to resume all flights and open borders that temporarily closed amid concerns over a new strain of the disease.

The sultanate – which has recorded the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia – is the last of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to begin inoculating people.

Like most of its neighbours, it has opted for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Iran reports lowest daily deaths in three months

Iran has reported 119 deaths from the new coronavirus, the lowest daily fatalities in more than three months, the health ministry said.

Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state television that 5,502 people had been infected in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Middle East’s worst-affected country to 1,200,465.

Sunday’s death toll was the lowest since September 12 when it registered 116 deaths.

A total of 1,200,465 COVID-19 cases have been registered in the Middle East’s worst-affected country since the pandemic started [Reuters]

Dubai cuts 2021 budget as pandemic hits economy

Dubai expects to cut its budget to $15.5bn in 2021 after its economy was affected by a plunge in tourism and other sectors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The emirate, one of the seven that make up the United Arab Emirates, had posted a record $18.1bn budget for 2020.

“The newly-announced budget takes into account the exceptional economic conditions of the fiscal year 2020 and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy,” said a statement by the Dubai Media Office.

Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, posted $18.1bn budget for 2020 [Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]

Thai hospital banned from offering to sell COVID-19 vaccine

A private Thai hospital has been ordered to stop advance advertising of COVID-19 vaccinations for sale on the grounds that no vaccine is yet approved in Thailand.

Vibhavadi Hospital told Reuters its online offer for 1,000 initial reservations for the two-dose Moderna vaccine had been the result of a misunderstanding. With reservations priced at 4,000 baht, the total cost of getting vaccinated would have been 10,000 baht ($330).

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that no COVID-19 vaccine had been approved for use in Thailand yet and that advertising one violated hospital regulations. “The removal of the advertisement was ordered,” it said.

COVID-19 cases top 80 million worldwide

More than 80 million confirmed cases of coronavirus have been detected worldwide since the pandemic began a year ago and 1.76 million deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally

In total, 80,412,311 cases and 1,758,886 deaths have been recorded. Last week, an average of 580,000 new cases were registered every day.

Europe is the world’s hardest-hit region, passing the 25-million mark on Friday and with 546,000 deaths.

 

Beijing tightens COVID-19 curbs as cases detected across capital

Beijing has tightened COVID-19 curbs over concerns that China’s mass travel during the holiday period could cause a spike in the capital, as it reported locally transmitted cases for a fourth straight day on Sunday.

A meeting led by the capital’s Communist party boss, Cai Qi, urged all districts in Beijing to enter “emergency” mode, sealing off residential compounds and villages where infections are found.

China’s southern technology hub of Shenzhen reported one asymptomatic case on Sunday, a patient who made two business trips to Beijing this month.

Israel speeds vaccines, locks down in hope of March exit from pandemic

Israel will enter what officials hope will be its last coronavirus lockdown on Sunday as they ramp up vaccinations to a pace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said may allow an emergence from the pandemic by March.

If realised, this could help Netanyahu’s re-election hopes after missteps that include lifting the first lockdown with a premature declaration of victory in May, inconsistent enforcement of curbs and sluggish economic relief.

After beginning vaccinations a week before the EU’s roll-out on Sunday, Israel’s centralised health system is administering about 70,000 shots a day. Netanyahu wants that raised to 150,000 by the end of the week with the opening of 24/7 vaccination stations among proposals.

Israel will enter what officials hope will be its last coronavirus lockdown on Sunday [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

A 96-year-old is first Spaniard vaccinated for COVID-19

Araceli Hidalgo, who lives in the Los Olmos retirement home in Guadalajara, became the first person to be vaccinated in central Spain, in an event broadcast by national television.

She felt “nothing” from the shot, Hidalgo said with a smile after being injected.

Then the pensioner with the cropped white hair pulled on her black jacket, got up slowly, and walked off using a frame for support.

Los Olmos nursing home resident Araceli, 96, receives the first injection nationwide in Spain [Reuters]

Woman at care home first to get vaccinated in Sweden

Gun-Britt Johnsson was the first person in Sweden to be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The 91-year-old lives at a nursing home in Mjolby, 230 kilometres (143 miles) southwest of Stockholm.

“I didn’t feel anything,” she said after the jab, which was broadcast by public broadcaster SVT.

Russia reports 28,284 new coronavirus cases

Russia has reported 28,284 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 3,050,248 after it crossed the 3 million mark on the previous day.

Russia’s coronavirus crisis centre said 552 coronavirus patients had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall national coronavirus death toll to 54,778.

Italy kicks off vaccinations in Rome

Almost 10 months after the first Italian patient tested positive for the new coronavirus, Italy has administered its first COVID vaccines.

Three health workers at the Rome Spallanzani hospital were inoculated shortly before 07:00 GMT with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a statement by the commissioner for the epidemic Domenico Arcuri said.

“The vaccine went very well and it was an exciting, historical moment,” 29-year-old nurse Claudia Aliverini told state-owned television RAINEWS24.

“It is the beginning of the end and I hope to be the first of over 60 million Italians”.

Alivernini, one of the first recipients of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine in Italy, receives her vaccination at the Spallanzani hospital in Rome [Reuters]

Cyprus starts roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine

Cyprus has started vaccinating its population against COVID-19.

Pensioners at homes in the capital Nicosia and the towns of Larnaca and Limassol were the first to receive a shot of the two-dose vaccine, which arrived by air on Saturday.

Cyprus has reported 19,391 cases of the novel coronavirus, and 111 deaths.

Boxes of Pfizer-BioNtech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines arrive at an undisclosed location in Nicosia, Cyprus [File:Reuters]

Czech republic starts roll-out of coronavirus vaccine

The Czech Republic has started administering vaccinations against the virus.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis was the first to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Central Military Hospital in Prague, just before other hospitals in the capital and second-largest city Brno started to distribute the 9,750 doses the country has received so far.

“The vaccine which arrived from the European Union yesterday, that is a hope, a hope that we will return to a normal life,” Babis said before taking the jab.

Prime Minister Babis of the Czech Republic receives the first injection nationwide [David W Cerny/Reuters]

EU begins vaccine roll-out

Several EU nations have started vaccinating their most vulnerable groups as a new coronavirus variant spread internationally and the WHO warned that the current pandemic will not be the last.

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab arrived in hard-hit Italy, Spain and France on Saturday, ready for distribution to retirement homes and care staff.

The approval and roll-out of vaccines have boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite from the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.7 million people since emerging in China late last year.

Thailand’s COVID-19 outbreak grows

Thailand confirmed 121 new infections of the novel coronavirus, a senior official said, up from the 103 cases reported earlier in the day.

Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 pandemic task force, said at a briefing that the new cases include 94 domestic transmissions and 18 in migrant workers connected to an outbreak at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon, a province southwest of Bangkok.

Infections connected to this cluster have spread to 38 provinces.

Japan halts all foreign arrivals over UK variant

Japan is barring entry of all nonresident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that is spreading across the UK.

The foreign ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through January 31.

Sydney awaits verdict on New Year’s festivities

Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak continued on Sunday with more than a quarter of a million people in lockdown as Australia’s largest city awaited word on whether any public New Year’s Eve celebrations will be allowed.

Seven COVID-19 cases were reported in New South Wales state, six linked directly to the outbreak in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs, which are under a stay-at-home order until Wednesday. Infections stand at 122.

“We hope to have some clear information for everybody tomorrow, or the latest the day after, on what the New Year’s Eve and the next weeks will look like,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news conference.

 

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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