At least 74 million people have been infected by the coronavirus that has claimed more than 1.6 million lives around the world. Here are updates for December 17:

A nurse tends to a patient inside a Covid-19 intensive care unit of the Tor Vergata Polyclinic Hospital in Rome, December 13, 2020.
A nurse tends to a patient inside a Covid-19 intensive care unit of the Tor Vergata Polyclinic Hospital in Rome, December 13, 2020. (AP)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Italy reports nearly 700 more deaths

Italy has reported 683 more coronavirus-related deaths – largely stable from the day before – as the country continues to register one of Europe's highest death tolls.

The country also recorded 18,236 new infections, up from 17,572 on Wednesday, with a higher number of swab tests performed.

Confirming trends observed over the past few weeks, the new figures show that the contagion curve is flattening though at a very slow pace.

The number of daily deaths also continues to be worryingly high, experts noted, showing that the virus remains deadly.

UK reports 532 new deaths

The United Kingdom has reported 532 new deaths from Covid-19, down from 612 a day earlier, official data showed.

The daily number of new cases jumped to 35,383, up from 25,161 on Wednesday, but today's figure included around 11,000 previously unreported cases from Wales.

The delay in reporting the Welsh cases was attributed to system maintenance in a computerised data management system being used there.

France reports 18,254 new infections

France has recorded 18,254 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, extending an upward trend seen over the past several days, public health director Jerome Salomon said.

Turkey registers at least 27,000 new cases

Turkey has reported 27,515 more infections, including 4,209 symptomatic patients

The total number of cases reached 1.95 million with the latest additions, data from the Health Ministry.

As many as 30,494 cases recovered over the past day, bringing the tally to 1.72 million, while the death toll climbed to 17,364 with 243 fatalities.

The number of patients in critical condition now stands at 5,803.

EU agency fast tracks Moderna vaccine decision

The EU's medicines watchdog said that it had brought forward the date for a decision on authorising Moderna's coronavirus vaccine by nearly a week to January 6.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency has been under growing pressure to speed up, and earlier this week accelerated the timeframe for Pfizer/BioNTech's jab.

The EMA had originally been due to decide on US-based Moderna's vaccine on January 12, but said the company had submitted extra data on Thursday "ahead of schedule".

"Taking due account of the progress made, the Committee has scheduled an extraordinary meeting on 6 January 2021 to conclude its assessment, if possible," the EMA said, referring to the medicines committee that decides on such issues.

Spanish PM tests negative after seeing Macron

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will stay in quarantine despite testing negative for Covid-19 after he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has the virus, Sanchez's office said.

Sanchez will remain isolated and under medical surveillance until December 24 and will be tested again at that point, a statement said.

He was the only member of a Spanish delegation to come into close contact with Macron during a visit to Paris on Monday, it added.

Macron tested positive for Covid-19, and will be self-isolating for the next week.

Early data show two doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provoked good immune response

Oxford University's Covid-19 vaccine candidate has a better immune response when a two full-dose regime is used rather than a full-dose followed by a half-dose booster, the university said, citing data from early trials.

The developers of the vaccine candidate, which has been licensed to pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca, have already published later stage trial results showing higher efficacy when a half dose is followed by a full dose, compared to a two full-dose regime. However, more work needs to be done to affirm that result.

The latest details from the Phase I and 2 clinical trials made no reference to the half-dose/full-dose regime, which Oxford has said had been "unplanned" but approved by regulators.

Once seen as the front runner in the development of a coronavirus vaccine, the British team has been overtaken by US drugmaker Pfizer, whose shots have been rolled out in Britain and the United States this month.

Covid-19 kills daily record 3,580 in US 

US coronavirus deaths soared to a daily record of 3,580 and hospitalisations rose for the 19th straight day, ramping up the stakes as regulators on Thursday considered whether to approve a second Covid-19 vaccine.

Another 232,255 cases were reported, the second-highest daily caseload on record, as California became the first state to report more than 50,000 cases in a single day, according to a Reuters tally.

The United States leads the world with a cumulative 307,767 deaths and nearly 17 million cases as many Americans and the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump have resisted the stay-at-home orders and mask-wearing that have proven effective at controlling the spread.

EU's von der Leyen will not self-isolate after meeting with Macron

The head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will not self-isolate after she met the French President Emmanuel Macron who was announced to be positive for the new coronavirus.

Von der Leyen "has no plan on self-isolating," a Commission spokesman said. 

She met Macron earlier in the week, but French authorities said the meeting did not constitute a close contact that required self-isolation, the spokesman added.

Portugal PM Costa self-isolating after Macron contact

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa went into self-isolation, a day after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has tested positive for Covid-19, his office said.

It said Costa has shown no symptoms and underwent a test for the virus. He will remain in quarantine until health authorities can determine "his level of risk".

The prime minister, who attended a lunch with Macron in Paris on Wednesday, has cancelled all immediate events on his calendar.

Dutch may not be ready for vaccinations in December

The Netherlands cannot yet say whether it will be among the first EU countries ready to start with Covid-19 vaccinations in December, several health officials said.

EU commission head Ursula von der Leyen said earlier that European Union countries would begin inoculating people against the new coronavirus just after Christmas, assuming the EU regulator approves a vaccine. 

Pence, Biden to get vaccine in bid to build public support

Vice President Mike Pence will publicly receive the coronavirus vaccine on Friday as the Trump administration scrambles to build public support for an inoculation that promises to stanch the deadly pandemic.

Pence will be the most high-profile recipient to date of a vaccine that was rolled out in the United States this week with high hopes of curbing a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

President-elect Joe Biden will publicly get the vaccine next week, according to transition officials.
At age 78, he is in the high-risk group for the disease.

French President Macron tests positive for Covid-19

French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19, the presidential Elysee Palace announced on Thursday.

It said the president took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared.” The brief statement did not say what symptoms Macron experienced.

It said he would isolate himself for seven days. “He will continue to work and take care of his activities at a distance,” it added.

EU Council President and Spanish PM in isolation after meeting Macron

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been in quarantine after meeting with Macron.

Sanchez will be tested "without delay" for the virus, and will "respect the quarantine until December 24," which will be 10 days since he met with Macron in Paris, his office said in a statement.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel also entered self-isolation, his spokesman said after meeting Macron at the same meeting.

Restaurants, malls will remain closed in Bulgaria until end-January

Bulgaria will keep secondary schools, shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and gyms closed until the end of January to contain coronavirus infections that have strained the poorly funded healthcare system.

The restrictions, which were due to end on December 21, have helped decrease a surge in new infections, but the country of 7 million people still has one of the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates in the EU.

Kindergartens and primary schools will reopen after the New Year holidays, the government said in a statement.

Irish health service head warns of post-Christmas surge

The head of Ireland's health service has said he concerns that the country could see an "explosive concoction" that would lead to a surge in the cases after Christmas.

"The concern is that we get this kind of explosive concoction when we have a major impact post-Christmas," Health Service Executive (HSE) chief Paul Reid told RTE radio, citing an increase in positive tests and a 30 percent surge in test requests over the past week and expected socialising over Christmas.

Ireland currently has one of the lowest rates of infections in Europe and earlier this month reopened its retail and hospitality sectors, with the exception of bars and clubs.

Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy vaccine

Israel will begin rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign next week after the prime minister reached out personally to the head of a major drug company. Millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer.

Israel reached an agreement with the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to supply 8 million doses of its newly approved vaccine, enough to cover nearly half of Israel's population of 9 million since each person requires two doses.

Israel has mobile vaccination units with refrigerators that can keep the Pfizer shots at the required minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit). It plans to begin vaccinations as soon as next week, with a capacity of more than 60,000 shots a day. Israel reached a separate agreement with Moderna earlier this month to purchase 6 million doses of its vaccine, enough for another 3 million Israelis.

Israel's vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory's 2.5 million Palestinians.

Denmark shuts malls and shops over Christmas

Denmark's Prime Minister has said the country will shut malls and shops over the holidays as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

"Denmark will be truly shut from Friday December 25 to January 3," Mette Frederiksen said, adding that food shops and pharmacies would be exempt.

Shopping centres will be closed as soon as Thursday, while a further tranche of activities will be shut down on December 21 before non-essential shops close from Christmas Day.

On Wednesday, health authorities registered almost 3,700 new cases and 14 deaths in 24 hours in the kingdom of 5.8 million people.

Russia reports 28,214 new cases

Russia has reported 28,214 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 6,711 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 2,762,668.

Authorities said 587 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 49,151.

South Korea coronavirus cases hit record high

South Korea has added more than 1,000 infections to its virus caseload for the second straight day amid growing fears that the virus is spreading out of control in the greater capital area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the death toll was now at 634 after 22 patients died in the past 24 hours, the deadliest day since the emergence of the pandemic. Among 12,209 active patients, 242 are in serious or critical condition.

Nearly 800 of the 1,014 new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital capacities.

Australian state violated human rights during lockdown

Victoria's state Ombudsman says in a report that the state's decision to lockdown more than 3,000 people in public housing towers to contain a second Covid-19 outbreak was not based on direct health advice and violated human rights

Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria, locked down nine public housing towers for several days in July due to a surge in coronavirus cases.

Victoria's acting chief health officer had only 15 minutes to consider and approve the lockdown, including the potential human rights impacts , Ombudsman Deborah Glass said in her report.

Residents in eight towers were confined in their apartments for five days but the ninth tower, which had the highest number of infections, went through a total lockdown for two weeks.

Some were left without food and medicines while many others waited more than a week to be allowed outside, the report said.

The state government conceded mistakes were made, but said decisions were made to ensure the safety of the residents.

Most vaccines in Asia expected mid or late 2021

The World Health Organization says countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not guaranteed to have early access to shots and urged them to adopt a long-term approach to the pandemic.

WHO Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, that the development of safe and effective vaccines is one thing. Producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone who needs them is another.

Dr Socorro Escalante, WHO’s coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies, said that while some countries that have independent vaccine purchase agreements might start vaccination campaigns in the coming months, others could see vaccination begin in the middle or late 2021.

Czech Republic's death toll passes 10,000

The Czech Republic's total death toll from the virus has surpassed 10,000.

The country of 10.7 million, among the hardest hit in Europe during the second wave of the pandemic, registered 8,235 new infections on Wednesday, its largest daily tally since November 11. In total, 602,404 infections have been reported since March.

The Health Ministry reported 154 new deaths, including 48 on Wednesday and revisions to previous days that brought the total to 10,036, a level that has tripled since late October. 

US angling to secure more of Pfizer's vaccine

US officials say they’re actively negotiating for additional purchases of Pfizer’s virus vaccine after passing up a chance to lock in a contract this summer since it was still unclear how well the shots would work.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and special adviser Dr Moncef Slaoui also told reporters that Pfizer had been unable to commit to a firm delivery date. Azar called that “the core issue.”

There was no immediate comment from the company, whose CEO Albert Bourla told CNN this week it is “working very collaboratively” with the government to deliver additional vaccine through the federal Operation Warp Speed.

Chilean health regulator approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The Chilean health regulator has approved for emergency use the virus vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, paving the way for the first doses to be administered as early as Christmas to citizens over the age of 16.

The Institute of Public Health received the Pfizer request for approval on November 27, and a panel of experts was convened to analyse the vaccine data supplied by the US drugmaker.

Chile has signed a purchase agreement for 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, enough to inoculate 5 million people.

Sweden struggles to contain second wave of Covid-19

Despite a sharper tone from authorities and new restrictions, Sweden, which has famously relied on non-coercive measures, is struggling to contain a strong second wave of Covid-19 it thought it could avoid.

The capital Stockholm is once again at the epicentre of the epidemic and this week called on members of the public with medical training to help offset some of the burden on healthcare.

On Monday, the number of people receiving hospital care reached 2,406, near the peak of 2,412 on April 20.

The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 in the country of some 10.3 million reached 7,802 on Wednesday, with more than 500 in the last week and over 1,800 since the beginning of November.

Brazil will purchase Sinovac vaccine

Brazil's federal government will purchase 46 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine being developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd as authorities rush to source vaccines in a sometimes-confusing free-for-all.

Wellington Dias, the leftist governor of the northeast state of Piaui, said Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello told him of the federal government's plan to purchase the vaccine, which is being produced at the Instituto Butantan, a biomedical center in Sao Paulo state.

He told journalists he saw a copy of a production and delivery contract during a meeting with Pazuello, adding that 9 million doses are set to be delivered on January 25.

Mexicans fill streets for Christmas shopping 

Tired of months of confinement, Christmas shoppers have been crowding stores in Mexico City this week despite a recent spike in coronavirus cases that has strained hospitals in the capital.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pleaded with Mexico City residents to avoid being out in the streets as much as possible during the normally festive holiday season.

The mayor of Mexico City declared a "Covid-19 emergency" last week. 

The city of about 9 million people has registered over 19,000 deaths related to the virus, and a fifth of Mexico's nearly 1.3 million confirmed cases.

Germany's virus cases rise by 26,923

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 26,923 to 1,406,161. 

The reported death toll rose by 698 to 24,125, the  data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

Vaccinations reach California's nursing homes

The first Covid-19 vaccinations are underway at US nursing homes, where the virus has killed more than 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming it has spurred California to dispense thousands of body bags and line up refrigerated morgue trucks.

With the rollout of shots picking up speed on Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington closed in on a long-stalled $900 billion coronavirus relief package that would send direct payments of around $600 to most Americans. Meanwhile, the US appeared to be days away from adding a second vaccine to its arsenal.
At the same time, a major snowstorm pushing its way into the Northeast raised concern it could disrupt distribution of the first vaccine.

Tokyo says Covid-19 strain on hospitals severe

The Japanese capital of Tokyo has said the strain on its medical system from the pandemic was severe, raising its alert level to the highest of four stages as hospital beds filled up with rising infections.

At a coronavirus monitoring committee meeting attended by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a health official said it had become difficult to balance the care of Covid-19 patients with regular ones, assigning a "red" alert for medical preparedness for the first time.

The number of positive cases in Tokyo hit a daily record of 678 cases on Wednesday, and the city a month ago raised its coronavirus alert for new infections - a separate category - to the highest level.

Australia looks for source of virus cluster

Authorities are searching for the source of an emerging Covid-19 cluster in Sydney’s northern coastal suburbs.

Australia’s largest city had gone 12 consecutive days without community transmission until Wednesday when a driver who transported international air crews in a van to and from Sydney Airport tested positive.

By Thursday, six people had been infected with the virus though community transmission in Sydney, as well as six returned travelers who had been infected overseas and tested positive while in hotel quarantine.

US Interior Secretary Bernhardt tests positive

US Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt has tested positive for Covid-19. 

Bernhardt was asymptomatic and would continue to work while in quarantine, Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin told Reuters by email.

Russia's vaccine roll-out draws wary response

While excitement and enthusiasm greeted the Western-developed coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, the Russian-made serum named "Sputnik V" has received a mixed response.

Kremlin officials and state-controlled media touted the "Sputnik V" vaccine as a major achievement after it was approved on 11 August, but among Russians, hope that the shot would reverse the course of the  crisis has become mixed with wariness and skepticism, reflecting concerns about how it was rushed out while still in its late-stage testing to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Russia faced international criticism for approving a vaccine that hasn't completed advanced trials among tens of thousands of people, and experts both at home and abroad warned against its wider use until the studies are completed.

A poll conducted in October by the Levada Center, Russia 's top independent pollster, showed that 59% of Russians were unwilling to get the shots even if offered for free

US sees record single-day spike

The United States has set a grim double record notching more than 3,700 deaths and over 250,000 new Covid-19 cases during the past 24 hours, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The country has seen a spectacular spike in Covid infections for more than a month now, with some 113,000 people currently hospitalised due to the virus, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

South Korea marks deadliest day with more than 1,000 new cases

South Korea has added more than 1,000 infections to its coronavirus caseload for the second straight day amid growing fears that the virus is spreading out of control in the greater capital area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday said the Covid-19 death toll was now at 634 after 22 patients died in the past 24 hours, the deadliest day since the emergence of the pandemic. Among 12,209 active patients, 242 are in serious or critical condition.

Nearly 800 of the 1,014 new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital capacities.

Thursday marked the 40th consecutive day of triple digit daily jumps, which brought the national caseload to 46,453.

Mexico reports 10,297 new cases, 670 more deaths

Mexico's health ministry has reported 10,297 new cases of coronavirus infection and 670 more fatalities, bringing the country's totals to 1,277,499 cases and 115,769 deaths.

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

Novavax enters deal with New Zealand for 10.7 mln doses of vaccine candidate

Biotechnology company Novavax Inc has said it had entered an agreement with the government of New Zealand for 10.7 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

"Under the terms of the agreement, Novavax will manufacture NVX-CoV2373 with a target of delivering initial doses by mid-2021," it said in a statement on Thursday.

The company will work with New Zealand's regulatory agency, Medsafe for approvals, it added.

The statement did not disclose further terms of the agreement.

Brazil's infections cross seven million mark

Brazil has registered over 70,000 new cases of the coronavirus, a daily record, bringing the country's total caseload above 7 million as a second wave of infections slams the South American country.

Brazil has the second-deadliest Covid-19 outbreak in the world, behind only the United States, with over 180,000 deaths from the highly contagious respiratory virus. Wednesday's record came without even the daily numbers from Sao Paulo state, the nation's most populous, which has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

In a statement, the Sao Paulo state government said it had been unable to upload the data because of technical issues.

After reaching a peak in late July, daily coronavirus cases and deaths in Brazil fell steadily until early November. But in the last month, cases and deaths have spiked.

Epidemiologists consulted by Reuters blamed the second wave on the relaxation of social distancing measures and decreased mask usage among Brazilians.

The nation registered 70,574 new infections on Wednesday, bringing the number of total confirmed coronavirus cases to 7,040,608.

Biden, Pence set to get vaccine soon

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence are set to receive the Covid-19 vaccine soon.

According to two transition officials familiar with the matter, Biden will receive the vaccine publicly as early as next week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to discuss it publicly.

The White House says Pence and his wife, Karen, will receive the vaccine publicly on Friday.

Biden said on Tuesday that Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, advised him to get the vaccine “sooner than later.” Biden has said that he wants to keep front-line health care workers and vulnerable people as the top priority as the vaccine is rolled out throughout the country.

But he’s also noted the importance of him getting the vaccine publicly to build confidence among Americans to get vaccinated.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies