In Britain, London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident, warning that hospitals across the capital could struggle to cope with new infections linked to a new strain.
“The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically,” Khan said in a statement, calling for more support and action from the central UK government.
“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point.”
The number of patients in the capital’s hospitals has grown by 27% in the last week and the number on ventilators has increased by 42%.
Khan wants Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take further measures to combat the spread, including greater financial help for people to isolate and a toughening of lockdown rules, such as the closure of places of worship.
The UK government has, meanwhile, announced plans to extend a ban on travelers arriving to England from South Africa to other southern African nations to prevent the spread of a variant discovered in South Africa. The UK’s airline industry mulled the need to introduce pre-departure testing as a short-term measure.
Here’s a roundup of key developments elsewhere.
Germany’s death toll and confirmed caseload have hit new heights. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control reported 1,188 deaths over a 24-hour period, the highest daily count yet. The number of infections rose by 31,849, also one of the biggest increases so far.
Also in Germany, it’s reported that 16 of the country’s soldiers deployed as part of Bundeswehr missions abroad have tested positive for coronavirus.
The largest number of infections was in the German contingent of the UN mission in Mali (Minusma), where 10 cases were detected, as well as three cases in the EU mission, the EUTM, in the same West African country.
The European Union’s medicines regulator says a decision to authorize the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be made by the end of the month.
The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was expecting AstraZeneca to submit a conditional marketing application for the shot next week.
Approval of the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University “will of course depend on the data we receive and the evaluation progress,” EMA chief Emer Cooke told a videoconference.
Lawmakers in Sweden have passed a bill giving the government temporary power to close shopping centers and public transport and to fine people who break social distancing rules.
Sweden has avoided the route taken by other European countries in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and, up to now, has adopted mainly voluntary measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The is partly because, under the constitution, officials have lacked wide-reaching legal powers to act.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors. However, it is lower than several other European countries that, unlike Sweden, opted for lockdowns.
Hungary announced an extension of existing restrictions — including a nighttime curfew — until February 1 to curb the spread of infections. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary had received 80,000 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine but warned that was not enough.
France has pre-ordered 200 million doses of different COVID-19 vaccines, more than enough to cover its entire population of 67 million people. Surveys show six in every 10 citizens intend to refuse the vaccine.
The national health authority of France has approved the vaccine produced by US-firm Moderna for people 18 and older, paving the way for a second option in the country’s inoculation campaign. The news comes after the EU gave approval for the Moderna shot on Wednesday.
Spain became the fourth Western European country to pass 2 million cumulative cases, health ministry data showed. Italy’s medicines regulator said it has approved the use of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. The US biotech company receivedapproval for its shot from the European Commission on Wednesday.
French drugmaker Sanofi was considering how it can help produce COVID-19 vaccines devised by other drugmakers.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received his first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, and urged others to take the jabs. The island nation has largely brought the pandemic under control, reporting only a handful of cases in recent months. Japan is considering whether a state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area needs to be extended to other regions as COVID-19 cases rise. The Japanese capital reported a record of 2,447 new cases on Thursday, a 50% increase from the previous day —which was also a record day for the world’s third-largest economy.
A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has said he “can’t be certain” the postponed Tokyo Olympics will open in just over six months because of the surging pandemic.
Meanwhile the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in China’s Hebei province surrounding Beijing fell slightly from a day earlier, as authorities restricted movement in the provincial capital.
The number of people who have been infected with COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified, could be around three times the official figure, according to a study by Chinese researchers based in the city. Australia will require travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before departing to the country, as the nation’s third-largest city, Brisbane, headed into a three-day lockdown following the discovery of a case of a virulent new coronavirus variant. Brisbane residents were barred from leaving their homes for anything but essential business for three days from Friday evening.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has recorded its first coronavirus death after 10 months of seeking to isolate itself from the global pandemic. A 34-year-old man, who had chronic liver disease, died in a hospital in the capital Thimpu after testing positive for the coronavirus on December 23.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he reached a new agreement with Pfizer that will allow Israel to vaccinate all citizens over 16 by the end of March. Israel has already secured millions of doses and launched one of the earliest and fastest vaccination drives in the world.
South Africa’s two biggest pharmacy chains said they plan to offer COVID-19 shots at their stores and provide storage and distribution facilities.
More than 270,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported across the United States on Thursday. Hospitalizations stood at 132,046 — that’s slightly down from Wednesday’s record tally. The disease killed 4,002 Americans on Thursday, just under the previous day’s toll of 4,008 deaths.
Pennsylvania and Texas on Thursday became the latest two states added to the list, which also includes California, Colorado, Florida and New York. Health officials predicted that the spread of the new variant will likely accelerate across the US in the weeks and months to come.
Parts of California issued fresh lockdown orders and the governor said on Thursday that the state could run out of intensive care unit capacity within weeks.
Brazil has signed a deal with Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute to buy the full output this year of a Chinese vaccine it is producing, as the country’s COVID-19 death toll crossed 200,000 — the world’s second-highest total.
Meanwhile, a coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech showed to be 78% effective in a late-stage Brazilian trial with no severe cases.
Argentina said it would restrict the nighttime movement of people and Colombia’s capital will impose strict quarantine measures until Tuesday.
In the US, millions of pandemic stimulus payments have been deposited in incorrect customer accounts due to an Internal Revenue Service error.
The Canadian state of Ontario has announced it will keep elementary schools in its southern regions closed for in-person learning until January 25.
kw/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)
Coronavirus digest: London declares major incident over soaring cases The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.