Novel coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 78 million people globally and claimed over 1.7 million lives. Here are the updates for December 23:

A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past a sign alerting people that
A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past a sign alerting people that "COVID-19 cases are very high in London - Stay at Home", in central London on December 23, (AFP)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Taiwan cancels, curbs gatherings after new local case 

Taiwan's tourism department cancelled an annual New Year celebration at the northeastern tip of the island, the Xinhua news agency reported, after a report of the first locally transmitted virus case since April 12.

The tourism department is also considering banning other mass gatherings at tourist sites, Xinhua said. 

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods and widespread use of masks, with all new cases for more than the last 250 days among travellers arriving on the island.

Spain to receive 350,000 doses of vaccine per week

Spain will receive 350,000 vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech per week starting on Saturday, with a total of nearly 4.6 million to be delivered over the next 12 weeks, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

The first batch will be delivered to the city of Guadalajara in central Spain, where vaccination will begin on Sunday, and then distributed to other regions.

The Spanish government has said it aims to vaccinate between 15 million and 20 million people in the first half of 2021.

Egypt seeks more vaccines as infections surge

Egypt is working to boost its supply of virus vaccines as the number of recorded infections rises, the health minister said.

The country signed a contract to get vaccines developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) on December 4 and is expecting further deliveries after receiving the first batch earlier this month, Hala Zayed told reporters.

Medical staff and people with chronic diseases would get priority, Zayed said, without giving details on the quantity of vaccines or timeframe. Local media re ported that the first batch contained 50,000 doses.

UK reports most deaths since April

UK has recorded its most virus virus-related deaths since April.

In its daily update, the British government said another 744 people have died 28 days after testing positive for virus, the highest level since April 29.

That takes the UK’s total up to 69,051, Europe’s second-highest behind Italy. If current trends continue, the UK looks set to overtake Italy to once again become Europe’s worst-hit country.

It also said another 39,237 new infections have been identified, the most recorded. However, comparisons with the early days of the pandemic are difficult as testing for the virus then was negligible.

Trump's bill delay leaves millions of desperate Americans in limbo

President Donald Trump's threat late Tuesday to veto the $892 billion coronavirus relief bill approved by Congress this week may delay aid for millions of families on the cusp of eviction and about to lose unemployment benefits.

Trump's apparent refusal to immediately sign the bill "has injected uncertainty or worse into the effort to protect millions of Americans from falling over a financial cliff," said Mark Hamrick of Bankrate.

Trump said the bill, which passed Congress Monday night, did not provide enough support for small businesses, and he asked Congress to increase stimulus checks to individuals to $2,000, instead of the “ridiculously low” $600 in the bill.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine approved for use in Argentina  

Russia's sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday that the Sputnik V vaccine, which it markets abroad, has been approved for use by Argentina's regulators.

"Argentina was the first country in Latin America to officially register Sputnik V," the Russian Direct InvestmentFund (RDIF) said in a statement.

"The vaccine was registered under the emergency use authorisation procedure and was approved by the regulator, ANMAT, based on the results of Phase III clinical trials in Russia, without additional trials in Argentina," it said.

Turkey reports record daily virus death toll

Turkey's virus death toll rose by 259 in the last 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 18,861.

Turkey also recorded 19,650 new cases, including asymptomatic ones, in the last 24 hours. 

Total cases sinceMarch, when the first Covid-19 case was identified in Turkey, stood at 2,082,610, the data showed.

The government has imposed full weekend lockdowns and weekday curfews to curb daily infections. 

The country's highest daily number of new cases was reported on December 8 at 33,198.

More areas in England to enter Tier 4 lockdown

British health minister Matt Hancock said more areas in England would be placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of a more transmissible variant of Covid-19.

Hancock said from December 26, large regions across southern England would join London and neighbouring areas in Tier 4 with restrictions similar to that of a lockdown.

The areas to come under the strictest tier with lockdown-like restrictions are Essex, Norfolk, Sussex, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Hampshire. 

Meanwhile, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, Isle of Wight, New Forest, Northamptonshire, Cheshire and Warrington will go into Tier 3, he said. 

Italy's death toll passes 70,000

Italy reported 553 virus-related deaths against 628 the day before, taking its total toll past 70,000, the health ministry said.

The daily tally of new infections increased to 14,522 from 13,318.

The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy becomes the fifth nation in the world to surpass 70,000 deaths, with an updated total of 70,395, the highest in Europe.

It has also registered some 1.991 million cases to date.

Mutated virus variant from South Africa found in UK, health minister says

Britain has detected a new variant of the virus in contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

South Africa's health department said last week that a new genetic mutation of the virus had been found and might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there.

"Thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we've detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK," Hancock told a media briefing.

EU clears nearly $150M to support Greece's Aegean Airlines

EU regulators approved a state grant of $146.48 million for Greece's national carrier Aegean Airlines to help the airline with damage suffered during the coronavirus crisis.

The support consists of a direct grant of $146.48 million, an amount that does not exceed the estimated damage directly caused to the airline between March 23 and June 30, the EU Commission said.

"This measure will enable Greece to compensate Aegean Airlines for the damage directly suffered due to the travel restrictions necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus," the European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. 

New strain detected in Israel, health ministry says

Israel has detected four cases of the new, highly infectious variant of the virus that has emerged in Britain, the Israeli health ministry said.

Mexico to start first vaccinations on Thursday

Mexico's government said it will begin vaccinations against virus on Thursday, starting with healthcare workers, as the first batch of doses from Pfizer arrived on Wednesday with the country battling an upsurge in infections.

"Tomorrow we're going to vaccinate," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a regular government news conference.

Vaccinations will begin at hospitals in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo, the president said, speaking shortly before the foreign ministry announced the first Pfizer vaccines had arrived by plane to the capital from Belgium.

Canada approves Moderna as second vaccine

Canada has approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by American biotech firm Moderna, the health department announced, two weeks after authorising immunisations with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.

"Health Canada ... has determined that the Moderna vaccine meets the Department’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements," the department said in a statement.

Pfizer to supply US with additional 100M doses of vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech will supply the US with an additional 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine under a new agreement.

The drugmakers said that they expect to deliver all the doses by July 31 in the nearly $2 billion deal.

Pfizer already has a contract to supply the government with 100 million doses of its vaccine.

Under the $2 billion deal announced Wednesday, the companies will deliver at least 70 million of the additional doses by June 30, with the remaining 30 million doses to be delivered no later than July 31. The government also has the option to acquire up to an additional 400 million doses.

US jobless claims drop sharply latest week

New applications for US jobless benefits fell by 89,000 last week after two weeks of increases but remain high as virus cases have spiked, according to government data.

Applications fell to 803,000 in the week ended December 19 from an upwardly-revised 892,000 in the prior week, according to the seasonally-adjusted Labor Department data.

That was far below the level economists had been expecting, although analysts warn that the reports can be erratic due to seasonal adjustment errors around the holidays.

Africa needs about $9 billion for vaccines  – Afreximbank

Africa needs about $9 billion to finance enough of vaccines to halt the pandemic on the continent, but a bigger problem is accessing that supply amid the global race for doses, an African Export Import Bank official said.

Hippolyte Fofack, Afreximbank chief economist, told Reuters the Cairo-based bank and other development finance institutions are working with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to obtain vaccines for the novel virus.

But African nations cannot compete with wealthier governments that have secured huge supplies of inoculations, he said.

Airline sacks pilot blamed for Taiwan's first local virus infection since April

A pilot blamed for infecting two colleagues and causing Taiwan's first local virus transmission since April was fired on Wednesday, his airline said.

The island's clean streak of 253 days without local infections ended on Tuesday after a local woman who had contact with the pilot, a New Zealander, tested positive.

The man – who worked for Taiwan's EVA Airways – was slapped with a fine of $10,600 for failing to "truthfully declare" his contacts and activities to health authorities once he learned he was infected.

The airline in a statement said he had violated pandemic prevention regulations and caused "serious damage to the company's reputation and image."

Crematoria in Germany's Saxony reaching limits

Undertakers in Saxony say crematoria in the eastern German state are reaching their limits because of the number of virus-related deaths there.

German news agency dpa quoted the head of the regional undertakers association, Tobias Wenzel, as saying that his members are particularly worried about the Christmas public holidays.

He said waiting times for bodies to be cremated have doubled from five to ten days.

Wenzel told dpa that its’s not an option to take bodies out of state or even across the border to the neighboring Czech Republic.

Families of virus dead sue Italy govt for $122 million

Around 500 relatives of virus victims are suing the Italian state for $122 million, alleging a litany of failures in the early stages of the pandemic, campaigners said.

The action is being driven by the group "Noi Denunceremo" (We Will Denounce), which has already filed around 300 complaints with prosecutors in Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region that suffered most from the first wave of the virus.

The legal action targets Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, the group said in a statement.

EU starts to ease bans over UK virus strain

Europe began easing travel bans on Britain put in place to contain a new strain of virus that UK officials believe is spreading faster as WHO experts were set to meet on a response to the variant.

The discovery of the new virus type set off alarm bells worldwide just as vaccines are being rolled out to halt a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.7 million lives since it began a year ago in China.

But the European Commission has urged EU nations to reopen their borders to Britain and replace the blockades with mandatory tests for arrivals.

WHO Wuhan probe not looking for Covid 'guilty' parties

The World Health Organization's international mission to China to investigate the origins of virus will explore all avenues and is not looking to find "guilty" parties, a team member told AFP.

Investigators will head to China in January and to Wuhan, where the first cases were detected 12 months ago in the pandemic that has swept the world, causing giant global health and economic crises.

UK's COVID R rate rises to between 1.1 and 1.3

Britain's estimated virus reproduction "R" number has increased again to between 1.1 and 1.3, the Government Office for Science said, indicating that the virus was continuing to spread.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said on Saturday that a new more infectious variant of the virus could increase the R rate by 0.4 or more.

The daily growth rate is now between +1 percent and +6 percent, meaning the number of infections is estimated to be increasing by between 1 percent and 6 percent every day. 

Volunteers in Russia's Sputnik V vaccine trials no longer to receive placebos - RIA

Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, developer of the first Russian vaccine against virus, said it would no longer give placebos to volunteers in its large-scale final-stage trials for the Sputnik V shot, RIA news agency reported.

Alexander Gintsburg, the institute's director, said the Health Ministry had authorised the move.

"Everything there has been proven and the pandemic is ongoing, so a placebo is not good at all," he was quoted as saying.

Switzerland reports over 5,000 cases

Infections rose by 5,033 in a day, from Swiss health authorities showed, as Switzerland began selected vaccinations of elderly people.

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 423,299, the death toll rose by 98 to 6,431, while 292 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the health care system.

New virus variant not detected in Japan, says government panel

The infectious virus variant spreading in Britain has not been detected in Japan, members of the Japanese government's expert panel on virus responses said.

The Japanese government said earlier in the day it will ban the entry of non-Japanese people from the United Kingdom from Thursday.

Russia halts uptake of new volunteers in Sputnik V vaccine trial - TASS

Russa's Health Ministry said it was halting the uptake of new volunteers in its main trial of the Sputnik V vaccine against virus, the TASSnews agency reported.

The ministry said it had already vaccinated more than 31,000 volunteers as part of the Moscow-based trial, a quarter of whom received placebos.

Britain approves use self-test kit

Britain approved the exceptional use of the National Health Service test and trace virus self-test kit to detect asymptomatic virus cases, as it mulls a stricter lockdown to stem the spread of a highly infectious variant of the virus.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the kit uses an antigen lateral flow test (antigen LFT), which can give a result in 30 minutes.

Turkish experts formulate virus infection risk model

Researchers at Gazi University in the Turkish capital Ankara announced that they developed a new method to estimate the risk of infection by the novel virus, as well as the number of potential new cases.

The researchers told Anadolu Agency that the new method calculates the risk of infection in indoors environments based on ventilation conditions, the number of total an d infected people, and duration spent in the environment.

With this method, when 30 people, one of whom is infected, spend one hour in an indoor environment of 35 square meters without ventilation, the risk of infection is 47 percent, and the number of new cases rises 14.

UK virus variant likely found in HK

A new variant of the novel virus that is spreading rapidly in Britain appears to have infected two students who returned to Hong Kong from the UK, Hong Kong's Department of Health said, as the city secured 22.5 million doses of virus vaccine. 

Virus samples from the two students, who returned to the Asian financial hub in December, appeared to match the British variant of the virus, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, an agency under the Department of Health, told a daily press briefing.

Merck in supply agreement with US for its virus treatment

Merck & Co said it will supply about 60,000-100,000 doses of its virus treatment to the US government for up to about $356 million.

The agreement will help support advanced development and large-scale manufacturing of Merck's investigational therapeutic MK-7110 to treat hospitalised patients with severe or critical virus, The US Department of the Health and Human Services said.

Irish cabinet restricts movements after minister contracts virus

All members of Ireland's cabinet are restricting their movements while awaiting virus9 tests after an unnamed minister contracted the virus, the government said in a statement.

Ireland has one of the lowest incidence rates of virus in Europe but cases are now rising at a rate of 10 percent a day after a sudden surge that health chiefs say represents a third wave of infections.

French President Macron improving - presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron's health is showing signs of improvement after he tested positive for virus on December 17, his office said.

Macron has been has been self-isolating at Versailles, and BFM TV this week broadcast live images of him chairing a government ministerial meeting via an audiovisual link.

He has said that although he will be working at a slower pace as he recovers, he will continue to tackle top-priority issues such as France's response to the virus pandemic and Brexit.

Britain's fresh food supply at risk until Dover backlog cleared

British supplies of some fresh food, mainly fruit and vegetables, are at risk of running out until a backlog of trucks at the port of Dover is cleared and links with France return to normal, the UK retail industry said.

A partial blockade by France to try to contain a new highly infectious virus variant has left thousands of trucks stranded in Dover, Britain's main gateway to Europe, in the run-up to Christmas.

Paris and London agreed late on Tuesday that drivers carrying a negative virus test result could board ferries for Calais.

Sri Lanka to reopen two main airports for international flights

Sri Lanka has decided to re-open the country’s two main airports for international flights and tourists on December 26 after shutting them down for nearly nine months because of the virus pandemic,

But officials say only some selected flights carrying tourists will be allowed to operate for one month.

The airports will be open for all other airlines in January.

Japan to reinstate an entry ban on most new arrivals from UK

Japan says it will reinstate an entry ban on most new arrivals from Britain in a bid to prevent the spread of a new virus variant as the country struggles to slow its latest resurgence of the COVID-19 cases.

Japan's foreign ministry said that it's suspending a program allowing entry to foreign visitors with guarantors in the country. Japan’s entry ban on foreign nationals without residency status from more than 130 countries remains in place.

Qatar starts vaccination campaign

Qatar began inoculating a prioritised group of citizens and residents against the virus with the vaccine created by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Qatar state-run media reported that several health centres across the tiny energy-rich country started providing the Pfizer vaccine free of charge on Wednesday to older adults, healthcare workers, people in nursing homes and those with underlying health conditions.

60 percent of Belgians want vaccine shot right away

With the first virus vaccinations due to begin in Belgium on Monday, national health authorities say that 60 percent of people want to be inoculated as soon as the shots become available.

A survey of 30,000 people by the Sciensano public health and research institute released Wednesday shows that one in four respondents are still unsure, and that 15 percent don’t want to be vaccinated.

Those in favor mostly say it’s because they want to return to their normal lives as soon as possible, while those against or unsure tend to be worried about the lack of certainty about long- term side effects.

Egypt bans New Year celebrations to curb cases

Egypt has called off all New Year's celebrations in order to stem rising virus cases in the country, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said.

"There will be no New Year's celebrations or gatherings as part of the precautionary measures taken to confront the coronavirus," the premier said in a statement released after a cabinet meeting.

Egypt's daily novel virus caseload has been increasing steadily in recent weeks, and the Arab world's most populous country has officially recorded more than 127,000 cases, including over 7,100 deaths.

Switzerland begins vaccine rollout 

Switzerland has started its vaccine rollout, with a care home resident in her 90s becoming the first person to receive an approved shot.

The woman, who lives in the Lucerne region in central Switzerland, was given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine just four days after it was approved by national regulators.

Switzerland is battling stubbornly high coronavirus cases.

The country of 8.6 million people has seen a total of more than 415,000 infections and over 6,300 deaths since the pandemic began.

UAE Fatwa Council approves vaccines even with pork

The United Arab Emirates’ highest Islamic authority, the UAE Fatwa Council, has ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible for Muslims even if they contain pork gelatin.

The ruling follows growing alarm that the use of pork gelatin, a common vaccine ingredient, may hamper vaccination among Muslims who consider the consumption of pork products “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law.

If there are no alternatives, Council Chairman Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah said that the coronavirus vaccines would not be subject to Islam’s restrictions on pork because of the higher need to “protect the human body.”

The council added that in this case, the pork gelatin is considered medicine, not food, with multiple vaccines already shown to be effective against a highly contagious virus that “poses a risk to the entire society.

Scottish leader Sturgeon sorry for breaking restrictions 

Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has apologised for breaching coronavirus restrictions when she took off her face mask at a funeral wake.

A photograph published in the Scottish Sun newspaper showed Sturgeon chatting to three women in a bar while standing at a distance but without wearing a mask. She was attending a funeral wake on Friday for a civil servant.

Under the Scottish government’s coronavirus rules, customers in restaurants and bars must wear a face covering except when seated at their table. Those breaching the rules can face a $81 (60-pound) fine.

After months of calm, Thailand grapples with virus outbreak

After managing against the odds to keep the coronavirus largely in check for most of the year, Thailand has suddenly found itself challenged by an expanding outbreak among migrant workers on the doorstep of the capital, Bangkok.

The surge of cases in Samut Sakhon province threatens to undo months of efforts to contain the virus and hasten recovery of Thailand's ailing economy.

Cases related to the outbreak have already been found in more than a dozen other provinces, including Bangkok. 

Thailand's 576 new cases reported on Sunday was the country's biggest daily spike. For months, nearly all of the cases detected were in people already in quarantine after arriving from abroad.

Russia's vaccine volunteers will no longer receive placebos

Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, the developer of first Russian vaccine against Covid-19 has said  that volunteers in the trials for the Sputnik V shot will no longer receive placebos.

Serbia to start vaccinations on Thursday

Serbia will begin vaccinating people against the virus on Thursday, President Aleksandar Vucic has said, making the Balkan state one of the first in Europe to launch a campaign with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

Officials said Serbia has received nearly 5,000 doses of the vaccine, which is already in use in the United States and Britain.

Meanwhile European Union countries plan to roll out the vaccine on December 27.

Flights from UK to Bulgaria to resume on Wednesday

Bulgaria will allow flights from the United Kingdom from 1000 GMT to help Bulgarians wishing to return home.

The Balkan country closed its air, land and sea borders to travellers from Britain late on Sunday in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus.

Travellers coming from the UK will be tested for the coronavirus and will have to observe a 10-day quarantine after arrival, the country's government said.

Cases and deaths keep rising in South Korea

South Korea has added 1,092 new coronavirus cases in a resurgence that is erasing hard-won epidemiological gains and eroding public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak.

The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 52,550, with more than 13,130 cases added in the last two weeks alone.

At least 17 patients died from Covid-19 during the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 739 as concerns grow about a shortage in intensive care beds. At least 284 of the country’s 15,0 85 active patients were in serious or critical condition.

South Korea had been seen as a success story against Covid-19 after health workers managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in the spring. But critics say the country gambled on its own success by easing social distancing restrictions to help the economy.

Russia records 27,250 new  cases

Russia has reported 27,250 new cases during the past 24 hours, including 5,652 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 2,933,753.

Authorities said 549 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 52,461.

Dubai to offer free Pfizer-BioNTech

Dubai will start inoculating people with the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech for free from today, joining Saudi Arabia which last week became the first Arab country to begin using this vaccine.

The move comes after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain earlier this month rolled out a vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) to the general public.

UAE was the first country to roll out the Chinese vaccines for its population, saying earlier this month saying it has 86% efficacy, citing an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials.

Czech Republic report 10,821 new virus cases

The Czech Republic has reported 10,821 new virus cases, the first daily tally over 10,000 since November 6.

The government is due to decide later on Wednesday whether to move the country to the fifth, strictest level of anti-coronavirus measures due to rising numbers of infections and hospitalisations. 

Covid-19 not under control in France

The coronavirus pandemic is not under control in France and a new lockdown must remain an option, Karine Lacombe, the head of the infectious diseases unit at Paris' Saint-Antoine hospital says.

Medical experts have voiced concerns that the Christmas holidays could result in a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in France and Europe. Data published on Tuesday showed that France had reported a further 802 related deaths in the last 24 hours, and another 11,795 confirmed cases.

India reports 23,950 new cases

India has recorded 23,950 new coronavirus infections during the past 24 hours, taking its total cases to 10.1 million, the health ministry said.

Less than 300,000 of those 10.1 million cases are currently infected with the coronavirus, the health ministry added.

Daily cases have been dipping steadily in India since hitting a peak in September, although the country still has the second-highest infections in the world, after the United States.

A total of 146,444 people have died of Covid-19 in the country, with 333 of those deaths coming in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

Germany's cases rise by 24,740

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 24,740 to 1,554,920, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 962 to 27,968, the tally showed.

Mexico to start vaccinations on Thursday

Mexico will begin Covid-19 immunisations on Thursday, a day after the country receives its first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, Undersecretary of Health Hugo Lopez-Gatell has said.

"Tomorrow (Wednesday) the first consignment of the Pfizer vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 arrives," he said on Twitter.

"There will be a press opportunity and then the vaccine will be safeguarded until its use on Thursday, December 24, the day vaccinations start," Lopez-Gatell said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said 1.4 million doses will arrive from Belgium of the 34.4 milli on that the company has agreed to deliver.

The first vaccines will be destined for frontline medical personnel, and administered in Mexico City and the northern state of Coahuila due to the logistics related to the frigid temperatures required for the shots.

Trump calls Covid relief bill 'a disgrace'

President Donald Trump has rejected a $900 billion bipartisan Covid stimulus package, calling it "a disgrace" and demanding that lawmakers more than triple relief payments to Americans.

While he did not explicitly say he would not sign the bill, which passed overwhelmingly on Monday in both houses of Congress, Trump made clear he would not accept the legislation.

"It really is a disgrace," he said in a video message posted to Twitter.

"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple. I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and just send me a suitable bill."

Mexico reports 897 more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 12,511 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 897 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,338,426 cases and 119,495 deaths.

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

Australian NSW state eases curbs for Christmas

Australia's most populous state has relaxed coronavirus restrictions for Christmas following a second straight day of low case numbers, though parts of Sydney's northern seaside suburbs remain under lockdown.

New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, reported eight locally acquired cases on Wednesday, unchanged from Tuesday in another sign that social distancing and mass testing have brought a dangerous new outbreak under control.

About a quarter of a million residents in Australia's largest city were ordered to stay home for five days from December 19 as authorities rushed to contain the outbreak, which has now grown to 97 cases.

Residents in the affected areas were told not to leave their homes except for grocery shopping, work, emergency medical treatment, or visiting an isolated relative.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies