The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 78 million people around the world and claimed more than 1.7 million lives. Here are the updates for December 22:

Travellers look at the information boards at King's Cross station in London, Britain, December 21, 2020.
Travellers look at the information boards at King's Cross station in London, Britain, December 21, 2020. (Reuters)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Brussels urges EU members lift UK travel bans

The European Commission has recommended that EU member states lift the blanket bans some have imposed on arrivals from Britain to allow essential journeys and cargo transport to resume.

"Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions," a statement from the EU executive said on Tuesday.

EU member states are responsible for their own borders, but representatives were to meet later on Tuesday to study the Commission's recommendations.

Several EU member states have imposed flight, train and ferry bans on UK arrivals since Britain announced the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus.

The ban on arrivals in France has led to long tailbacks of freight trucks in southern England, and has disrupted passenger travel in the run-up to Christmas.

Member states want to get their own nationals home from Britain, and resume freight shipments, but they still want to discourage "non-essential" travel.

The Commission recommended, therefore, that coronavirus tests be carried out on passengers within 72 hours of travel - although "transport staff" should be exempted.

"Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine," it said.

"A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey," the statement said.

Turkey adds over 19,000 new cases

Turkey on Tuesday reported 19,256 more coronavirus infections and 251 new fatalities over the past 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry data.

The new cases include 3,309 symptomatic patients and the total number of infections exceeded two million.

As many as 32,110 people also recovered in the past day, bringing the tally to 1,866,815, while the death toll climbed to 18,602.

An additional 192,316 Covid-19 tests were conducted across the country, pushing the total to over 22.82 million.

The number of patients in critical condition, meanwhile, stands at 5,008.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca noted that the number of active and critical cases are dropping.

However, infections within the family are on the rise, he added.

Fauci receives vaccine

Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease specialist, has received his Covid-19 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 rolled up his left shirt sleeve, and said on Tuesday he was taking 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.

He then gave a thumbs-up sign and clapped for his colleagues as he left the stage of an auditorium at the NIH's headquarters in Bethesda, a Washington suburb.

The 79-year-old, who continues to practice as a physician, was among the first Americans to receive injections developed by Moderna and the NIH's National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which he has led since 1984.

NIH director Francis Collins and health secretary Alex Azar also received their vaccinations at the ceremony.

Before them, six health care workers received their shots, many appearing emotional as they explained why they chose to be vaccinated.

Britain reports record infections, 691 deaths 

Britain reported a record number of new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday as it battles a surge in cases caused by a variant strain of the disease.

Official figures showed there had been 36,804 new cases and a further 691 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, both up markedly from a day before.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers said on Saturday a variant of the coronavirus, which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, was spreading rapidly in Britain, although it was not thought to be more deadly or to cause more serious illness.

Iraq bans air travel over new variant of virus

Iraq is banning air travel to or from eight countries to guard against the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus, and is ordering public venues like shopping malls and restaurants to close, according to a cabinet statement.

The two-week travel prohibition comes into effect on December 24 and covers Britain, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Iran, Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands. It could be extended depending on the spread of the virus variant in those nations.

Iraqi citizens in those countries will be allowed to return, subject to a two-week quarantine on arrival.

All land borders with neighbouring nations will also be closed to travellers for two weeks, though the transport of commodities will be permitted, authorities said on Tuesday.

The government ordered malls, restaurants, clubs and other social venues to close for two weeks from December 24.

Iraq has recorded 586,503 cases of Covid-19, including 12,725 deaths, according to the health ministry.

The ministry said it had reached an agreement with Pfizer to import 1.5 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, which would arrive in the country early next year. 

Italy reports 628 deaths

Italy reported 628 coronavirus-related deaths against 415 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections increased to 13,318 from 10,872.

After the usual weekend lull, the number of swab tests carried out in the past day rose to 166,205 from a previous 87,889, the ministry said.

The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has seen 69,842 Covid-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world. It has also registered some 1.977 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 stood at 24,948 on Tuesday, down by 197 from the day before. There were 201 new admissions to intensive care units, compared with 161 on Monday.

The actual number of intensive care patients decreased by 44 to 2,687, reflecting those who died or were discharged after recovery.

When Italy's second wave of the epidemic was accelerating fast in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by around 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day. 

Ireland imposes new virus curbs over Christmas

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

In a televised address, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Tuesday 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 exceptions, over the festive period.

Non-essential shops will be allowed to stay open, though the January sales will be postponed. Schools will also remain open.

Under the special measures, the new restrictions will be imposed from Christmas Eve, December 24, until 12 January.

Individuals will be permitted to go beyond county borders until December 26 but not after.

Only two households will be allowed to mix from 27 December and hairdressers, restaurants and pubs that serve food must all also close on December 24. The pubs that don't serve food have already been closed for months.

Ireland, which has nearly five million inhabitants, has recorded 2,158 deaths since the start of the pandemic from a total of 80,267 cases, according to figures released on Monday.

Sweden 174 deaths since Friday

Sweden, whose soft-touch pandemic response has placed it in the global spotlight, registered 22,319 new coronavirus cases since Friday, Health Agency statistics has showed.

The increase compared with 20,931 cases recorded in the corresponding period one week ago.

Sweden registered 174 new deaths, taking the total to 8,167. The deaths registered have typically occurred over several days and sometimes weeks, and are added into the Health Agency's tally which is updated four times per week.

Sweden's death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

BioNTech CEO confident vaccine will work on UK variant

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has said it's confident its vaccine will work against the new UK variant, but that further studies are need to be completely sure.

“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” CEO Ugur Sahin told a news conference the day after the vaccine was approved for use in the European Union.

Pfizer, Moderna tests vaccines against UK variant  CNN

Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing their vaccines against the new fast-spreading version of the virus that has emerged in Britain, CNN reported.

Moderna expects immunity from its vaccine to protect against the variants and is performing more tests in the coming weeks to confirm, the company said in a statement to CNN.

Pfizer said it is "generating data" on how well blood samples from people immunised with its vaccine "may be able to neutralise the new strain from the UK", according to the report.

Iraq inks preliminary deal for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Iraq has signed a preliminary deal to receive 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in early 2021, the Health Ministry said.

The country has been among the hardest-hit in the Middle East, with more than 580,000 reported cases although numbers have dropped dramatically in recent weeks.

Health Ministry spokesperson Seif al Badr told state television late Monday that Iraq had "formally signed a preliminary deal with Pfizer... which will arrive in stages early next year".

WHO Europe to convene members over new virus variant

The World Health Organization in Europe has said it would convene its members to discuss how to handle a new variant of the virus discovered in the UK.

Hans Kluge, WHO's regional director for Europe said on Twitter that the organisation was closely monitoring the spread of the new variant and would "convene member states to discuss strategies for testing, reducing transmission & communicating risks" without specifying a timeframe.

The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries, including Russia and several Central Asian nations, a region that has registered nearly 24 million cases and over 500,000 deaths.

Second wave of pandemic peaks in Hungary

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

As of Tuesday, Hungary had reported 306,368 cases with 8,462 deaths and 108,676 recoveries. 

New cases rose by just 1,238, but more than 7,000 people are still in hospital, straining the healthcare system.

"We can see a clear reversal in the spread of the infection in Hungary," Gulyas told an online briefing.

Peru bans all flights from Europe over virus variant

Peru has suspended all flights from Europe and prohibited the entry of non-resident foreigners into the country who have been in the UK for the last two weeks.

"The entry of flights from Europe is preventively suspended for the next two weeks," Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti said Monday during his address to the nation.

While non-resident foreigners were prohibited to enter the country until further notice, the government ordered a two-week-quarantine for Peruvian citizens or foreign residents who had visited the UK during the past two weeks and returned to the Latin American nation.

Night curfew in Mumbai on UK virus strain fears

The Indian state of Maharashtra has imposed a night curfew on cities, including the country's financial hub Mumbai, because of fears about the new virus strain from Britain.

In addition, Mumbai airport said Tuesday that all air passengers from anywhere in Europe or the Middle East will have to go into institutional quarantine upon arrival and then be tested.

The announcements come even though daily numbers of new infections has fallen sharply in India in recent weeks, including in Maharashtra, whose capital Mumbai is home to one of Asia's biggest slums.

Slovenia launches quick nationwide testing

Slovenia has launched rapid antigen testing across the country as part of efforts to curb infections. 

Testing began Tuesday at a central square in the capital Ljubljana.

Slovenian epidemiologists have said rapid tests could be particularly useful in detecting infected people who have shown no symptoms.

Serbia has received the first batch of 4,800 vaccines.

The vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer has arrived by cargo plane at Belgrade airport. Video footage shows workers unloading special containers with the vaccines and transferring them into a truck.

Authorities have said that vaccination will start in the Balkan country’s nursing homes for the elderly in the coming days.

Serbia is also testing the Russian vaccine. Officials have said the citizens will be able to choose which vaccine they want to take.

France rewards frontline Covid workers with citizenship

France's Interior Ministry has said hundreds of foreigners whose jobs expose them to high virus risks will be naturalised quickly for their commitment during the health crisis.

The ministry had in September invited people who "actively contributed" to the fight against the virus to apply for fast-track naturalisation.

Of the nearly 3,000 people who responded, 74 had already obtained citizenship and 693 more were in the final stage of the process, the office of Marlene Schiappa, junior minister for citizenship, said in a statement.

Germany says virus infection decline weeks away

The head of Germany’s disease control center has said it will probably be several weeks before infections in the country, which is nearly a week into a toughened lockdown, start to decline.

Germany has seen new cases and deaths hit record highs over recent weeks, despite a partial shutdown in place since early November. Last Wednesday, non-essential shops and schools were closed in a bid to reverse the trend.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre, said Tuesday that he fears the Christmas period is making the situation worse, despite restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather.

France expects national vaccine approval by December 26

French Health Minister Olivier Veran has 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.

Veran reiterated that as of now, there was no evidence that the new variant of the coronavirus detected in Britain was circulating in the country.

Russia reports 28,776 new cases, 561 deaths

Russia has reported 28,776 new 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.

India records lowest daily coronavirus tally since July 3

India has recorded 19,556 new cases of the coronavirus, according to health ministry data, its lowest daily increase since July 3.

The new infections took India's total to 10.08 million.

Daily cases have been falling steadily in India since a peak in September in spite of a busy festival season last month. India has recorded the world's second-highest number of infections after the US.

A total of 146,111 people have died of the coronavirus in India, with 301 deaths in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

US Congress approves $900B relief package

US lawmakers have approved a $900 billion relief package for the world's biggest economy that will provide a long-sought boost for millions of Americans and businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic, and also fund the federal government's activities through September 2021.

Overwhelming approval in the Senate and House of Representatives clears the way for the legislation to be sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

Taiwan reports first locally transmitted case since April 12

Taiwan's government has reported its first locally transmitted case of Covid-19 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.

Thailand confirms 427 new infections

Thailand has confirmed 427 new coronavirus infections, with the majority of cases linked to a seafood centre outbreak in a province near the capital Bangkok, the Public Health Ministry has said.

The new cases include 397 migrant workers in the southwestern province of Samut Sakhon, where Thailand's coronavirus worst outbreak yet was confirmed at the weekend.

There were also 16 other local infections in several provinces which are linked to the same outbreak, plus 14 cases imported from abroad.

South Korea Korea orders ski resort, winter tourism shutdown

South Korea has moved to shut down all ski resorts and winter tourist spots in a bid to stop the novel coronavirus spreading as a third wave of the pandemic proves much tougher to contain in the densely populated region of the capital city.

From December 24 to January 3, the government will close ski facilities and tourist attractions, popular during the year-end season, said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, speaking during a televised briefing. Gatherings of more than four people will not be permitted, he said, while tighter anti-virus curbs will be imposed on restaurants to tamp down infections.

The announcement comes after Seoul and surrounding areas banned gatherings of more than four people over the Christmas and New Year holidays with the country recording its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Monday.

South Korea reported 869 new coronavirus cases as of Monday midnight, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said, down from the daily record of 1,097 reported over the weekend. The new cases bring the nation's tally to 51,460 infections, with 722 deaths.

The rash of new cases has shaken a country that has for months been held up as a mitigation success story.

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 19,528  RKI

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 19,528 to 1,530,180, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases has showed.

The reported death toll rose by 731 to 27,006, the tally showed.

Malaysia buys AstraZeneca vaccines, seeks more from China, Russia

Malaysia has signed a deal to procure 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, and is in final talks with Chinese and Russian manufacturers to secure more, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian country has already secured 12.8 million doses from its deal with Pfizer-BioNTech signed last month, as well as from its participation in the global COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization.

"This means that we have secured vaccine supplies to cover 40 percent (of the population)," Muhyiddin said in a televised address.

Malaysia expects to buy enough supplies to inoculate 26.5 million people, or more than 80 percent of its people.

IMF unlocks $2B for Ecuador

The board of the International Monetary Fund has decided to immediately release $2 billion to help virus-hit Ecuador, the institution announced.

The money is being unlocked as part of an aid plan that totals $6.5 billion and extends over 27 months, the Washington-based lender said.

"The Ecuadorian economy is showing nascent signs of economic recovery after bottoming out in the second quarter," Antoinette Sayeh, IMF deputy managing director, said in a statement.

The number of new infections and virus-related deaths "have moderated compared to the high levels seen in the spring," she added.

Economic activity is expected to contract this year by 9.5 percent, an improvement over the 11 percent estimated earlier this year, according to the latest IMF projections.

However, "considerable risks" remain, noted the IMF, citing the lingering uncertainty about the depth and duration of the pandemic globally.

China reports 15 new cases; no new strains detected

Mainland China has recorded 15 new cases of Covid-19, compared with 23 the previous day, and will look to strengthen measures to prevent the arrival of a new strain of the coronavirus, the country's health authority has said.

The National Health Commission said in its daily bulletin that 13 of the new cases were imported. Two cases of local transmission were reported in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Another 17 asymptomatic cases were reported on December 21, up from 15 the previous day. China does not include asymptomatic patients in its total confirmed case list.

Feng Zijian, deputy director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) told state broadcaster CCTV that no imports of a new coronavirus strain have been discovered, but the agency is closely monitoring its spread globally.

Feng said the CDC is studying ways to further strengthen prevention to shield against new strains.

Mainland China has now reported an accumulated total o f 86,867 coronavirus cases, with 4,634 deaths.

Majority of US House votes to pass Covid aid

A majority of the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives have voted to pass a $900 billion coronavirus aid bill, which is attached to federal agency spending needed to avert a government shutdown at midnight when existing money expires.

With the bill headed toward House passage, it would next be considered by the Senate, which is standing by in what is expected to be an overwhelming vote of approval.

China's Sinovac vaccine proves effective in Brazil trials

Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd's Covid-19 vaccine has shown to be effective in late-stage trials in Brazil, the Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people involved in the vaccine's development.

Sao Paulo state's Butantan Institute, which is organising the late-stage trials of Sinovac's vaccine CoronaVac in Brazil, said on Monday that any reports on the efficacy of the shot before a Wednesday announcement were "mere speculation".

Brazil is the first country to complete late-stage trials of CoronaVac, which is also being tested in Indonesia and Turkey, the Journal reported.

The results from the Brazil trials put CoronaVac above the 50 percent threshold that international scientists deem necessary to protect people, the Journal report said.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said it had certified the production standards of CoronaVac.

Anvisa has certified the quality of Sinovac's production standards, not the vaccine itself. 

Mexico sees 5,370 new cases, 396 more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 5,370 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 396 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,325,915 cases and 118,598 deaths.

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases. 

Australia's New South Wales reports lowest rise in Covid-19 cases in five days

Australia's most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has reported its lowest rise in new Covid-19 cases in five days, fuelling optimism that the spread of the virus from a fresh outbreak in Sydney has eased.

NSW reported eight new local Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 15 a day earlier.

A coronavirus cluster, detected in Sydney's northern beaches areas last week, has now grown to 90 cases as authorities battled to contain the flare-up in Australia's largest city just days before Christmas.

Authorities have placed the affected suburbs in lockdown until Wednesday.

Netherlands bans all flights from South Africa

The Netherlands has joined a range of nations banning flights from South Africa to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus.

The Dutch government said all passenger flights were banned with immediate effect until January 1 at the latest.

An exception would be made for medical workers, it said, while cargo flights were also still allowed.

At least five countries and airlines, including Germany and Turkey, were reported to have banned flights to South Africa on Monday after a new genetic mutation of Covid-19 had been found there and is believed to be responsible for a recent surge in infections.

The Netherlands on Sunday already banned all passenger flights and ferries from Britain over the same issue.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies