The global novel coronavirus has infected over 81 million people globally and has claimed nearly 1.8 million lives. Here're the updates for December 29:

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen in Belfast, Northern Ireland December 8, 2020.
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen in Belfast, Northern Ireland December 8, 2020. (Reuters)

Tuesday, December 29

Some Britons receive 2nd shot of virus vaccine

Some people in Britain have received their second and final dose of coronavirus vaccine as the country’s immunisation program rolls on.

Margaret Keenan, 91, who became the first person in the UK to get a vaccine on December 8, had the follow-up injection at a hospital in the central England city of Coventry.

Hospital chief executive Andy Hardy says: “We were delighted to welcome Margaret Keenan back to Coventry’s University Hospital today to safely receive the second dose of the vaccination after she became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 (vaccine) following its clinical approval.”

Chile records first case of British variant of virus 

Chile said it had recorded its first case of the British variant of coronavirus, prompting health authorities to reinstate a mandatory quarantine period for all visitors entering the South American nation from abroad.

The variant, which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, has spread rapidly from Britain, where it was first identified, to countries across the globe, including Pakistan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and Israel, among others.

Chilean Undersecretary of Health Paula Daza said a Chilean woman who returned to her home country on December 22 had tested positive for the variant. She had traveled to London to visit family.

Once in Chile, she boarded another plane to the south-central city of Temuco. Her movements prompted a scramble among health authorities in Chile to track down those she may have contacted during her journey.

Daza said the woman was asymptomatic, in quarantine and in good health.

Denmark extends hard lockdown until January 17

Denmark has extended a hard lockdown for two weeks, until January 17, to limit the spread of the virus, following a drastic spike in new infections over the past month, the country's prime minister said.

"The situation regarding infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths is now even more serious than in the spring," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a press briefing.

The extension of the current country-wide restrictions announced on December 16 will keep schools, shopping malls, restaurants, bars and other non-essential shops closed, Frederiksen said.

France's new virus cases spike amidst fears of another lockdown

The French health ministry reported 11,395 new virus infections over the past 24 hours, jumping above the 10,000 threshold for the first time in four days amidst fears of a third lockdown in the country.

France, which launched its gradual vaccination campaign on Sunday, also saw the number of persons hospitalised for the disease rise for the fourth day running, a sequence unseen since November 13.

France's cumulative total of cases now stands at 2,574,041, the fifth-highest in the world.

The seven-day moving average of new infections, which averages out weekly data reporting irregularities, stands at 11,871, more than twice as high as the government's target of less than 5,000.

UAE reports 'limited number' of cases of new virus variant

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has discovered a "limited number" of cases of people infected with the new virus variant in the country, a government official said, the first confirmed cases of a more contagious Covid-19 mutant in the Gulf region.

Omar al-Hammadi, an official spokesman of the UAE government, said at a press briefing that those affected had travelled from abroad, without specifying from where or the number of the cases.

"In light of the emergence of the new emerging strain of the coronavirus in Britain, and in conjunction with the continuous investigations by the health sector, it has been proven that there are limited cases in the country and received from abroad," he said.

Ireland reports 1,546 new virus cases, highest daily rise

Ireland reported the highest virus new cases in a single day, with 1,546 infections, up from a previous record of 1,296 on Saturday.

The government is to meet on Wednesday to consider additional restrictions to try to control a surge that began after public-health measures were eased in early December when Ireland had the lowest infection rate in the European Union.

EU to buy additional 100 million doses of Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine 

The European Union has decided to buy an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, the head of the European Commission said in a tweet.

The 27-nation EU will then have 300 million doses of the vaccine, which has been assessed as safe and effective, Ursula von der Leyen said.

UK reports record 53,135 cases

Britain's government reported 53,135 new cases of the virus, the highest number since mass testing started in mid-2020 and up sharply from the previous record of 41,385 set on Monday.

The number of new deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive virus test also rose to 414 from Monday's 357, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 71,567.

Turkey reports over 15,800 cases 

Turkey reported 15,805 more virus infections and 253 new fatalities over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data.

The new cases include 2,783 symptomatic patients, while the total number of infections exceeded 2.17 million.

Since Monday, as many as 21,004 people recovered, taking the tally to over 2.05 million and the death toll climbed to 20,388.

Some 183,117 virus tests were conducted across the country over the past day, pushing the total to over 24.14 million.

Italy reports 659 deaths

Italy reported 659 virus-related deaths against 445 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 11,212 from 8,585.

There were 128,740 swab tests carried out in the past day, the ministry said, up sharply from a previous 68,681.

Italy has seen an official total of 73,029 virus deaths since its outbreak came to light on February 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

It has also reported 2.067 million cases to date.

Russian updates show over 100K virus deaths

Russia’s updated statistics on virus-linked deaths show more than 100,000 people had died by December, a number much higher than previously reported by government officials.

A total of 116,030 people with the virus died in Russia between April and November, according to data released on Monday by Russia’s state statistics agency Rosstat. The count included cases where the virus was not the main cause of death and where the virus was suspected but not confirmed.

Israel vaccinates around half a million people

Israel’s Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the virus since the start of the pandemic.

The ministry says nearly 500,000 people, or about 5 percent of Israel's population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. There have been more than 407,000 confirmed cases in Israel, and more than 3,200 have died.

Sri Lanka reopens to tourists after over nine months

Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists after more than nine months.

The Indian Ocean island nation closed to tourists in March, amid the first wave of the virus. Authorities also closed the two main international airports.

The government says a pilot program to attract tourists is being implemented. The first tourists arrived on a special flight from Ukraine on Monday. The 186 tourists are expected to stay in Sri Lanka for 10 days.

Ireland begins vaccinations with 79-year-old woman

Ireland began its vaccination campaign by giving a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to a 79-year-old woman at a hospital in Dublin, the health service said, as virus cases surge in the country.

Annie Lynch was the first person in the country to receive the vaccine at Dublin's St James’s Hospital, it said. Health staff and patients at four hospitals were also vaccinated.

"Today is a new day. It marks a new chapter in our fight," Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told RTE Radio.

Mexico expects 100,000 Pfizer vaccines by early January

Mexico expects delivery of Pfizer's virus vaccine to increase to over 100,000 doses by January 4 and more than 1.4 million doses by the end of next month, according to a schedule outlined by the president.

US drugmaker Pfizer's vaccine is the first of several expected to reach the country as the government presses companies to honour delivery commitments on time amid concerns of delays due to a global scramble to secure supplies.

Cyprus' new year celebrations to be a a tight family affair

Celebrations in Cyprus will be a tight family affair after authorities imposed a limit on all New Year’s Eve gatherings of no more than 10 people from two families.

But until January 10, all other get-togethers at home are restricted to only those who reside there. All public gatherings outdoors are limited to two people.

Only essential staff will be permitted into government offices, while all others will have to work from home.

Pakistan extends ban on passenger flights from the UK

Pakistan’s civil aviation authority has extended its ban on passenger flights from the UK for a week in an effort to avoid the spread of a new variant of the virus.

The ban was imposed last week after European and other countries halted air travel from Britain due to a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus in England.

Argentina launches vaccinations with Russia's Sputnik V

Argentina launched a virus vaccination campaign with the Sputnik V shots developed by Russia, the government said.

It is the first country in the Americas to use this vaccine against the pandemic.

The vaccination drive began simultaneously around the country with frontline healthcare workers given priority, Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia said.

She spoke at Posadas Hospital in Buenos Aires, where a doctor named Flavia Loiacono became the first in the country to get a virus shot.

Sweden registers 32,485 cases, 205 deaths since December 23

Sweden has registered 32,485 new virus cases since December 23, Health Agency statistics showed.

The country registered 205 new deaths in the period, taking the total to 8,484. The deaths registered have typically occurred over several days and sometimes weeks. The Health Agency has said statistics over the Christmas period are less reliable than usual due to less testing and delays in reporting of deaths.

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.

Thailand imposes new restrictions 

Officials in the Thai capital have announced new restrictions, including the closure of some entertainment facilities during the New Year's holiday, as infections continued to rise following a recent virus outbreak.

After months of seeming to have the virus situation under control, Thailand has seen two major clusters developing since mid-December that threatened to undo its progress. One has mainly infected hundreds of migrant workers from Myanmar at a seafood market near Bangkok, the capital, while in recent days a cluster has grown connected to a gambling den in an eastern province.

China capital locks down part of district 

Beijing sealed off 10 areas of its northeastern Shunyi district, the first lockdown in the Chinese capital since the last virus outbreak in the months of June and July.

The city has reported 16 infections and three asymptomatic cases since December 18, when the first cases were found. Most of the cases were in Shunyi, which has banned couriers from entering residential compounds.

Six villages, three buildings and one industrial zone were among the areas locked down, a Beijing municipal official told a news conference.

UK's new virus variant detected in Germany

German authorities say the virus variant found in Britain has been detected in samples from two patients who were infected in northern Germany in November.

The health ministry in Lower Saxony state said that the samples were tested more thoroughly after news of the new variant emerged in Britain, regional public broadcaster NDR reported. They were taken in November from an elderly man with other medical conditions who later died and from his wife.

The ministry said the man’s daughter had been in England in mid-November and likely was infected there.

Hospitalisations in England exceed spring's peak

Official figures show more people are currently hospitalised with virus in England than at the first peak of the outbreak in the spring.

There were 20,426 patients in hospitals as of Monday morning – the last day for which figures are available – compared to the previous high of 18,974 on April 12.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service, said health care workers are back in “the eye of the storm” as they had been in the spring.

Iran starts human trial of locally made vaccine

Iran has begun human trials of a locally-developed virus vaccine, state television reported.

Three people received the first injections at a ceremony at a hotel in the capital Tehran.

The event was attended by health minister Saeed Namaki.

First virus vaccine shots given in Luxembourg

The first virus inoculations were administered in Luxembourg as part of a coordinated vaccination scheme across the European Union.

The first people to get a shot were medical workers working with pandemic patients.

Belarus starts vaccinations with Russian shots

Belarus announced the start of mass virus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot, becoming the second country after Russia to roll out a vaccine that is still undergoing late-stage studies to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in the former Soviet republic, according to a joint statement by the Belarusian Health Ministry, the Russian Health Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled development of the jab.

South Africa imposes new curbs 

South Africa's ban on alcohol sales and compulsory mask mandate in public has come into effect after a surge in coronavirus cases.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier announced a ban on selling alcohol and said face masks will be compulsory in public after his nation became the first in Africa to record one million cases.

Ramaphosa said data showed "excessive alcohol consumption" leads to an increase in trauma cases reported at hospitals, causing an "unnecessary" strain on public health facilities.

Indonesia secures vaccine deals with Pfizer, AstraZeneca

Indonesia is finalising deals to secure 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca, the new health minister said.

Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the deal with AstraZeneca would be finalised before the end of the year, while an agreement with Pfizer would be signed in the first week of January.

Speaking at his first official news conference, the minister said 1.3 million frontline health workers, 500 of whom have died of Covid-19, would get priority in the vaccination drive.

The world's fourth most populous country has struggled to contain the coronavirus. It has had nearly 720,000 confirmed cases and 21,500 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.

Russia reports 27,002 new cases, 562 deaths

Russia has reported 27,002 new cases, including 5,641 in Moscow, taking the total to 3,105,037 since the pandemic began.

Authorities also reported 562 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 55,827. 

Philippines gives green light to trials of Janssen's vaccine

The Philippines has approved a clinical trial for the Covid-19 vaccine of Johnson & Johnson's unit Janssen, the head of its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.

The trials could begin in the next few weeks, FDA head Rolando Enrique Domingo told a media briefing.

The FDA is still evaluating the late-stage trial applications of Sinovac and Clover, Domingo said. 

Dubai aims to inoculate 70 percent of population with Pfizer vaccine in 2021

Dubai is planning to inoculate 70 percent of its population with vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech by the end of 2021, in a campaign free of charge for citizens and residents, a health official said.

The financial hub of the United Arab Emirates began the first phase of the vaccination campaign last week, targeting "priority groups", including those 60 and older, people with chronic medical conditions, those with disabilities and frontline workers.

Dubai, which in 2019 had a population of over 3.3 million, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, which hurt its key tourism, real estate and trade sectors.

The Sinopharm vaccine is also available to anyone living in the UAE who wishes to receive it, including at a field hospital in Dubai set up by the federal government.

Sri Lanka reopens to tourists after nine months

Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists after more than nine months.

The Indian Ocean island nation closed to tourists in March, amid the first wave of the coronavirus. Authorities also closed the two main international airports.

The government says a pilot program to attract tourists is now being implemented. The first tourists arrived on a special flight from Ukraine on Monday. The 186 tourists are expected to stay in Sri Lanka for 10 days.

Under the pilot program, which will run to January 24, 2,580 tourists are expected to arrive in Sri Lanka, mostly from CIS countries.

Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,602 cases, including 194 deaths.

Sydney on alert after mystery cases but new infections remain low

Australia's most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has maintained its downward trend of new infections but authorities have asked people to be on "high alert" after cases were detected outside the current virus cluster.

A cluster detected in Sydney's northern beachside suburbs in mid-December has now grown to 129 cases and about a quarter of a million residents have been put under lockdown until January 9 as authorities battle to stamp out the virus.

NSW reported three cases, all linked to the Sydney cluster, in the 24 hours to 8 pm on Monday, its lowest daily rise in coronavirus infections in nearly two weeks.

Three cases were detected after the 2000 daily deadline, which are under investigation, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Sydney, Australia's largest city, has scaled back its New Year's Eve celebrations by banning large gatherings outdoors to watch its popular fireworks display, and urged people to stay home and watch the event on television.

The country has recorded just over 28,300 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.

India finds six cases of new variant in UK arrivals

India has found six people who returned from Britain in recent weeks infected with a more infectious strain of the coronavirus that has prompted a wave of panic and border closures around the world.

All six patients have been kept in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement, adding that their fellow travellers were being tracked down.

India has suspended all flights from Britain until the end of the month but about 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban came into place, the ministry said.

Of those arrivals, 114 people were found positive for the coronavirus and their samples were being checked for the new variant, which has been detected across parts of Europe and Asia, the ministry said.

India on Tuesday reported 16,432 new cases of the virus, taking its total up to 10.22 million confirmed infections and 148,153 deaths.

Philippines expands travel ban to limit spread of variant

The Philippines will ban travellers from 19 countries and territories until mid-January as a measure to keep out a new variant of the coronavirus, its transport ministry said.

The regulation will be in effect from midnight of December 29 to January 15, covers Filipinos and foreigners arriving from the "flagged countries", the transport ministry told reporters in a group text message.

The Philippine government previously imposed and later extended a flight ban from Britain until mid-January. 

Thailand confirms 155 new infections

Thailand has confirmed 155 new coronavirus cases, the majority of which were locally transmitted infections, the public health ministry said.

The new cases include 10 imported from abroad, the ministry said in a statement. Thailand has confirmed a total of 6,440 coronavirus cases and 61 deaths since its first case in late January.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 12,892 -RKI

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 12,892 to 1,664,726, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 852 to 30,978, the tally showed. 

US House okays $2,000 coronavirus aid checks 

The Democratic-led US House of Representatives has voted 275-134 to meet President Donald Trump's demand for $2,000 Covid-19 relief checks, sending the measure on to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But even as Democrats helped secure approval for what the Republican president sought on stimulus payments, they spearheaded a House vote just a short time later to override his veto of a separate $740 billion defence policy bill. 

The rebuke, in Trump's final weeks in office, would be the first veto override of his presidency if seconded by the Senate this week.

Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 and cut another spending. 

He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with lawmakers.

But Democratic lawmakers have long wanted $2,000 relief checks and used the rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal - or at least to put Republicans on record against it - in the vote on Monday, less than a month before he leaves office.

China reports 27 new Covid cases vs 21 a day earlier

Mainland China has reported 27 new Covid-19 cases up from 21 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in its daily online bulletin that 12 of the new cases were imported infections originating from abroad. The 15 locally transmitted cases came from the northeastern province of Liaoning and the capital city of Beijing.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to eight from 20 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 87,003, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Bolsonaro says vaccine will be available in 5 days 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said a Covid-19 vaccine would be available in the country within five days of being approved by federal health regulator Anvisa.

The president told journalists the Health Ministry would only buy a vaccine with a strong recommendation from Anvisa and it would be distributed equally among Brazil’s states.

Bolsonaro, who was infected with Covid-19 in July, has sought to downplay the severity of the virus and said he will not agree to be vaccinated.

Mexico reports 5,996 new coronavirus cases, 429 more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 5,996 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 429 additional fatalities, bringing country totals to 1,389,430 cases and 122,855 deaths.

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

New lockdowns likely in Southern California as ICUs stay filled

The United States topped 19 million Covid cases as hospital intensive care units remained filled to overflowing across much of California, a major US coronavirus hot spot, portending an extension of strict stay-at-home orders imposed this month.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said mandatory constraints on gatherings and business activities would almost certainly be renewed for at least three more weeks in Southern California - encompassing the state's biggest metropolitan areas - and its agricultural heartland, the San Joaquin Valley.

Newsom said a formal decision on continuing stay-at-home orders, among the most stringent in the United States, would be announced on Tuesday, based on trends projected by health authorities for the coming weeks.

South Korea reports record daily death toll from Covid-19

South Korea reported 40 new coronavirus deaths, a record daily toll, bringing the total death tally to 859, as the country grapples with the third wave of infection centered around nursing homes and a prison in the capital Seoul.

South Korean officials have vowed to accelerate the launch of a vaccination programme after detecting the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.

As of midnight Monday there were 1,046 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 58,725, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies