S Africa tightens curfew, Spain COVID deaths top 50,000: Live

The timetable, until now unknown, will see the firm supply 200 million doses to the bloc by the third quarter of 2021.

Globally, more than 80.4 million people have been infected by the coronavirus [File: Luca Solar/AFP]

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced a ban on alcohol sales and said mask-wearing would be mandatory in public as his country became the continent’s first to record one million coronavirus cases.

The distribution of an initial 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech across the European Union will be completed by September, a spokesman for the EU Commission said.

South Korea is accelerating efforts to launch a coronavirus vaccination programme it announced the detection of its first cases of the virus variant originally identified in the UK.

On Sunday, US President Donald Trump signed into law a $2.3-trillion pandemic aid and spending package, restoring unemployment benefits to millions of Americans and averting a federal government shutdown.

Globally, more than 80.4 million people have been infected by the coronavirus, and 1.7 million have died.

Here are the latest updates:

Fiocruz to seek Brazil approval for AstraZeneca vaccine on January 15

Brazil’s Fiocruz biomedical institute will seek approval for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 with federal health regulator Anvisa on Jan. 15, one of the center’s senior officials told Reuters news agency.

The Rio de Janeiro-based institute is licensed to receive supplies from AstraZeneca and eventually produce the vaccine locally.

Brazil’s federal government, which has ordered the AstraZeneca vaccine, expects to receive 100 million doses in the first half of 2021.

Pandemic severe, but ‘not necessarily the big one’: WHO

The novel coronavirus has had a devastating impact around the globe, but the World Health Organization warned that worse pandemics could lie ahead, urging the world to get “serious” about preparedness.

“This is a wakeup call,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told reporters at a briefing marking a year since the UN agency first learned of the new virus spreading in China.

“This pandemic has been very severe,” Ryan acknowledged. “It has spread around the world extremely quickly and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one.”

He stressed that while the virus is “very transmissible, and it kills people… its current case fatality (rate) is reasonably low in comparison to other emerging diseases.”

“We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future.”

South Africa bans alcohol sales, tightens curfew in new COVID-19 restrictions

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.

In a nationwide address, Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas.

South Africa will extend its nighttime curfew so all residents must be at home from 9 PM until 6 AM, the president said.

The president said that wearing masks is mandatory and that anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence.

Spain’s COVID-19 death toll tops 50,000, infection rate drops

Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus has crossed the 50,000 mark, while the number of infections per 100,000 people fell for the first time in nearly three weeks, health ministry data showed.

A total of 24,462 new cases were logged since Thursday, bringing the total to nearly 1.88 million. The death toll rose by 298 to 50,122, showed the first set of nationwide data released since Sunday’s start of vaccination against the virus.

The incidence of the virus measured over the past 14 days slipped to 246 cases per 100,000 people from 263 cases on Thursday after climbing steadily from a low of 189 cases on December 10.

Spain to keep registry of people who refuse Covid vaccine

Spain will set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus and share it with other European Union member states, although it will not be made public, Health Minister Salvador Illa has said.

During an interview with La Sexta television, Illa reiterated that vaccination against the virus – which as in most EU nations began in Spain over the weekend – would not be mandatory.

“What will be done is a registry, which will be shared with our European partners… of those people who have been offered it and have simply rejected it,” he said.

“It is not a document which will be made public and it will be done with the utmost respect for data protection,” he added, noting that employers or members of the general public would not have access to it.

Kuwait won’t extend suspension of flights, will open borders

Kuwait will not extend its decision to suspend flights beyond January 1 and will open its land and sea borders the next day, the cabinet said in a statement.

Last week, Kuwait had suspended all commercial flights and closed its land and sea borders until January 1, the government communications office said, over fears about a new, more contagious coronavirus variant.

After a cabinet meeting on Monday, in which the health minister confirmed that no new variants of coronavirus have been discovered in Kuwait until this date, the cabinet decided it will not extend the suspension of flights or keep its borders closed.

The cabinet decided to open the land and sea ports daily, as of Saturday January 2, from 9 AM to 3 PM. These decisions will be reviewed according to developments regarding the spread of coronavirus, the cabinet added.

Jordan to get 1 million Pfizer vaccine doses: health minister

Jordan has ordered one million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech novel coronavirus vaccine, with the first shipment expected at the end of January or early February, the health minister said.

“Jordan will receive one million vaccines from Pfizer-BionNTech in installments from January or early February,” said Health Minister Nazir Obeidat in remarks carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

He said the country was seeking to make vaccines available to more than 20 percent of the 11 million-strong population, “which means to suffice for 2.2 million citizens”.

Jordan has recorded 289,748 cases of the Covid-19 disease, including 3,778 deaths, and the numbers continue to rise daily.

Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 257

Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rose by 257 in the last 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed, bringing total deaths to 20,135.

The number of new cases stood at 15,197 in the same period, bringing total cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,162,775.

Ankara has imposed full weekend lockdowns and weekday curfews to curb infections. Turks will also be on lockdown from 9 pm on December 31 to 5AM on January 4 as part of the measures.

Hungary receives 6,000 doses of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

Hungary has received 6,000 doses of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on his Facebook page.

Szijjarto said local health experts would continue their assessment of the use of the Russian vaccine in Hungary.

Norway extends ban on flights from Britain over virus variant

Norway will extend a ban on flights from Britain up to and including December 30 at 1600 GMT due to concerns over a variant of coronavirus, the health ministry.

“It remains possible that the ban can be extended until after the new year,” the ministry said in a statement.

Following the lead of other European nations, Norway on December 21 halted travel from Britain after news that the new variant was rapidly spreading.

Iran says Pfizer vaccine batch expected from US benefactors

An unidentified group of US-based philanthropists plans to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran in the coming weeks, Iranian media reported, in a step that could bring the hardest-hit country in the Middle East closer to inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus.

Details remained scarce in the report by semiofficial Tasnim news agency.

It quoted the chief of the country’s Red Crescent Society as saying he expects the vaccine created by American drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to be imported by January 19 “based on coordination with a group of benefactors in the US”

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.

Man City’s clash at Everton postponed due to multiple Covid-19 cases

Manchester City’s Premier League visit to Everton on Monday was postponed after multiple new positive tests for coronavirus were detected at City, the club confirmed.

“Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture,” City said in a statement.

City announced on Christmas Day there had been four positive tests at the club for players Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus and two staff members.

“After the latest round of Covid-19 testing, the club returned a number of positive cases, in addition to the four already reported on Christmas Day,” City’s statement added.

“With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond.”

Britain reports 41,385 COVID-19 cases in new daily record

Britain has reported 41,385 new COVID-19 cases, a new daily record, as a rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus increases infection rates and the holiday weekend impacted the reporting of some new cases.

There were 357 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the government’s coronavirus statistics portal said.

EU’s Borrell accuses Russia of spreading COVID-19 disinformation to sell its vaccine

The European Union’s top diplomat has said that Russian public media had spread false information on European and American COVID-19 vaccines in countries where it wants to sell its own shot against the coronavirus.

“Western vaccine developers are openly mocked on multi-lingual Russian state-controlled media, which has in some cases led to absurd claims that vaccines will turn people into monkeys,” Josep Borrell said in a blog post.

“Such narratives are apparently directed at countries where Russia wants to sell its own vaccine, Sputnik V,” Borrell added, noting that these moves threatened public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He gave no specific examples.

Moscow has repeatedly denied these accusations, and alleges that Sputnik V is being targeted by a foreign-backed disinformation campaign.

Russia extends UK flight suspension until January 12 – TASS

Russia has decided to keep flights to and from Britain suspended until the end of January 12 due to the new coronavirus variant detected in Britain, the TASS news agency cited Russia’s coronavirus task force as saying.

Russia reports 20.5 percent more deaths since pandemic – state statistics service

Russia has recorded 20.5 percent more deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the country in April, data from the Rosstat state statistics service showed.

The total figure, at 241,193 more deaths in April-November 2020 than during the same period the previous year, is significantly higher than the preliminary pandemic death toll of 55,265 so far, reported on a cumulative daily basis by the government’s coronavirus crisis centre.

This figure includes deaths recorded in December.

Though death tolls fluctuate year-to-year, tallies of what are referred to as excess deaths can illustrate the impact of the pandemic by including cases where the novel coronavirus was not a confirmed cause of death, as well as deaths from other causes that could be linked to the fact that national medical systems are over-stretched.

Lebanon reserving nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccines

Lebanon’s health minister said that his country has reserved nearly 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to fight the coronavirus, an amount that covers up to 20 percent of Lebanese.

Hamad Hassan said in a news conference his government has been negotiating with the company to acquire the vaccines and that they are expected to be in Lebanon by February. The deal was expected to be signed Monday.

Lebanon is reeling from a historic economic crisis that has left the highly indebted government short on cash and foreign currency.

Foreign donors and supporters have refrained from bankrolling the government deficit demanding major reforms, which have failed to materialize because of political jockeying among the country’s multiple power centers and sectarian groups.

Belgium launches Covid vaccinations

Belgium began to deploy the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, inoculating residents at three retirement homes as the first step in a national campaign.

The country has suffered one of the worst per capita death rates in the world during the epidemic, and its nursing homes have been particularly hard hit.

The first doses of the vaccine that scientists hope will turn back the tide went to homes in Puurs, the French-speaking town of Mons and a Brussels suburb.

A much larger campaign will begin in early January, but Belgium wanted to symbolic first vaccinations to start alongside those in its other EU partners.

Some German districts will not use vaccine on cold chain issues

Some German districts will not use the COVID-19 vaccine received over the weekend on the suspicion that the cold chain could have been interrupted during its delivery, a district administrator said.

“There were doubts as to whether the cold chain was maintained at all times”, the Lichtenfels District Administrator Christian Meissner told Reuters news agency.

“Biontech commented and said that the vaccine was probably okay, but probably okay is not enough”, he said, adding that the shots would not be used to prevent damage to the public’s trust in the vaccination campaign.

A Lichtenfels district spokesman said on Sunday that 1,000 shots earmarked for use in Lichtenfels as well as Coburg, Kronach, Kulmbach, Hof, Bayreuth and Wunsiedel in northern Bavaria had been affected by the temperature issue.

Pfizer to complete supply of COVID-19 vaccines to EU by September

The distribution of an initial 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech across the European Union will be completed by September, a spokesman for the EU Commission said.

The protracted timetable, which was previously unknown, confirms that the bloc, with a population of 450 million, will need vaccines from other suppliers to speed up inoculations against the new coronavirus.

Most EU countries began inoculating healthcare workers and vulnerable people on Sunday with the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only one so far authorised in the 27-nation bloc, and requires a two-dose regimen.

“Distribution of the full 200 million doses is scheduled to be completed by September 2021,” the spokesman told Reuters news agency in an emailed statement.

UN rights office decries jail term for citizen-journalist in China’s Wuhan

The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern at the four-year prison term imposed by a Chinese court on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who reported from Wuhan early in the pandemic and reiterated its call for her release.

“We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release,” it said in a tweet.

A Chinese court handed a four-year jail term to Zhang on Monday on grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, her lawyer said.

Finland finds first patients with new coronavirus variants

The new variant of the coronavirus circulating in Britain has been detected in Finland in two people, while a separate variant spreading in South Africa has been detected in one other person, health officials said.

Finland imposed travel restrictions earlier this month on passengers from Britain amid concerns over the new variant, which is thought to be more contagious than previous ones.

India’s Serum Institute expects approval for AstraZeneca

Serum Institute of India, the local maker of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, said it expected the government to approve the shot for emergency use in a few days.

Serum Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla also told reporters that the company had already made 40 million to 50 million doses of the vaccine.

Japan PM says ‘virus recognises no holidays’

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has asked his ministers to remain ready to implement measures to prevent the further spread of coronavirus infections, after daily case numbers hit a string of record highs in recent days.

“The virus recognises no year-end or New Year holidays. I ask each minister to raise the level of their sense of urgency and thoroughly carry out counter measures,” Suga told a meeting of the government’s taskforce on coronavirus responses.

Approval of Oxford/AstraZeneca could relax restrictions

British regulatory approval of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca could accelerate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said.

Gove said that the independent regulator had to assess the vaccine, but if it was approved there would be a “significant increase” in vaccine available. Britain is already rolling out a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Indonesia bans international visitors for 2 weeks over new virus strain

International visitors will be barred from entering Indonesia for a two-week period.

The new regulation, effective January 1, comes days after Indonesia banned travelers from the Britain and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to limit the spread of the new strain.

Earlier this year Indonesia banned all tourists but some exemptions have been made for business travelers. The new regulation applies to all foreign visitors with the exception of high-level government officials, she said.

Pfizer delayed delivery of new batch of vaccine to Spain by one day

Pfizer has postponed the delivery of a new batch of the coronavirus vaccine to Spain by one day to Tuesday due to a logistics hurdle.

Spain started vaccinating people on Sunday.

Health Minister Salvador Illa expected around 70 percent of the country’s population to be immunized by the end of the summer.

Britain’s plans for staggered school return under review

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove said the current plan was that students doing GCSEs and A-levels this year and the children of key workers would return to school next week, with other secondary school students returning the following week. But he said that this could be changed.

“We do keep things under review, and we’ll be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24, 48 hours just to make sure that our plans… are really robust,” Gove told Times Radio.

China jails citizen-journalist for four years over Wuhan virus reporting

Zhang Zhan, 37, the first such person known to have been tried, was among a handful of people whose firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic epicentre than the official narrative.

He was handed the sentence on grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” her lawyer said.

“We will probably appeal,” the lawyer, Ren Quanniu, told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia extends entry ban

Saudi Arabia extended a ban on entry to the kingdom for another week amid fears of the new coronavirus variant.

The government said it was evaluating the current situation while allowing non-citizens to leave the kingdom and allowing entry for exceptional cases.

Thailand confirms 144 new infections

Thailand’s new cases include 129 local infections and 15 arriving from abroad, the public health ministry said in a statement.

The country has confirmed a total of 6,285 coronavirus cases and 60 deaths since its first case in late January.

Mexico elderly could get coronavirus vaccines in January

Mexico expects to finish administering the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to healthcare workers by early January, before moving to inoculate elderly people in the month’s second half, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

South Korea to accelerate virus vaccine efforts

South Korean officials are vowing to speed up efforts to launch a public vaccination programme as the new variant was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London, UK, on December 22, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

The KDCA reported 808 new cases as of midnight Sunday, the lowest since a record 1,241 infections were logged on Friday.

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South Africa’s cases cross the one-million mark

South Africa logged its millionth case of COVID-19, the pandemic showing no signs of letting up.

The country had 800,000 recorded cases early in December.

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies