Novel coronavirus has infected over 83 million people globally and has claimed more than 1.8 million lives. Here are the updates for December 31:

A woman walks in the normally busy Camden Market, in London, Thursday, December 31, 2020.
A woman walks in the normally busy Camden Market, in London, Thursday, December 31, 2020. (AP)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

France to open city Covid-19 vaccination centres

Health Minister says Olivier Veran has said France would open Covid-19 vaccination centres in cities before the start of February, amid growing criticism that the programme is rolling out too slowly.

Veran said on Twitter the government had decided to "speed up protection of priority public", meaning medical workers aged over 50 would get a vaccine from Monday. 

Turkey's death toll rises by 239 

Turkey's coronavirus death toll rose by 239 in the last 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed, bringing the total number of deaths to 20,881.

The number of new cases stood at 14,380 over the same period, bringing total cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,208,652.

Ankara has imposed full weekend lockdowns and weekday curfews to curb infections. Turks will also be on lockdown from 1800GMT on December 31 to 0200GMT on January 4 as part of the measures. 

UK reports 55,892 new virus cases, 964 deaths

The United Kingdom recorded 55,892 new virus cases and 964 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the virus, according to official data.

Wednesday’s data had shown 50,023 new coronavirus infections and 981 deaths.

Italy reports 555 virus deaths, 23,477 new cases

Italy reported 555 virus-related deaths against 575 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 23,477 from 16,202.

There were 186,004 swab tests carried out in the past day, the ministry said, up from a previous 169,045.

Italy has seen an official total of 74,159 Covid-19 deaths since its outbreak came to light on February 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

Italy’s interior minister has also ordered 70,000 law enforcement officers to patrol New Year’s Eve to ensure that no illegal gatherings take place.

Minister Luciana Lamorgese says this year’s celebrations will be “more sober” than usual, due to restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

North Korea holds New Year's Eve show despite restrictions

Crowds of partiers filled the main square in the North Korean capital Pyongyang to watch a concert and fireworks show marking the new year, state media showed, amid restrictions aimed at preventing a coronavirus outbreak.

State television showed participants wearing face masks but standing close together as they waved glowing lights and balloons in Kim Il Sung Square.

Performers - none of the them wearing protective masks - sang and danced on a stage decorated with a large, colourful "2021" sign. Costumes included traditional Korean "hanbok" dresses and sequinned dance suits.

Portugal's virus cases hit record 

Portugal's daily number of virus cases reached a record high of 7,627 as the country prepared for a subdued New Year's Eve with an 11 pm curfew and no travel between municipalities.

The country, which has so far registered 413,678 cases and 6,906 deaths from the virus, eased restrictions around Christmas but has cracked down again on New Year's Eve with a ban on travel between municipalities and public gatherings, an 11 pm curfew and a 1 pm curfew from January 1-3.

Moderna to supply 40 million doses to South Korea

Moderna Inc confirmed it will supply 40 million doses of its virus vaccine to the South Korean government, with deliveries starting in May.

The vaccine, which is authorised for emergency use in the United States and Canada, is not currently approved in South Korea.

The company said it would work with regulators to pursue an approval prior to the distribution of the vaccine.

Finland extends Britain flight ban until January 11

Finland will extend the ban on passenger flights on routes to Britain for a week until January 11 due to the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency said.

The new variant circulating in Britain has been detected in two people in Finland, Finnish health officials said this week.

Norway to introduce mandatory virus tests

All travellers entering Norway will have to take a Covid-19 test within 24 hours of arrival from January 2, the country's justice ministry said.

To stop the spread of the virus variant first detected in Britain, travellers from any point of origin will need to enter Norway at designated entry points where testing is available, with smaller border crossings to be closed, it added.

Ukraine seeks 16 million vaccine doses

Ukraine hopes to double the eight million virus vaccine doses guaranteed under the global COVAX scheme, set up to provide vaccines to poorer countries, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

"Eight million doses we are guaranteed to receive through the global COVAX mechanism. We are also working to increase supply through COVAX to 16 million doses," Zelenskiy said on Telegram.

The presidential office said on Wednesday Ukraine had signed a contract to buy 1.8 million doses of China's Sinovac vaccine, with the shots expected in the shortest possible time.

Hungary not to use Russian vaccine 

Hungary will buy vaccines either through the European Union's procurement mechanism or directly from China because Russia has inadequate capacity to manufacture vaccines, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said.

Hungary has participated in Russia's testing efforts and was an early recipient of small batches of Russia's Sputnik-V vaccine, raising alarm among European peers that it would bypass the EU's approval mechanism. 

Berlin imposes New Year's eve restrictions

Berlin’s chief of police says thousands of officers will be enforcing bans on protests and the use of fireworks in much of the German capital on New Year’s Eve.

Barbara Slowik told public broadcaster rbb-Inforadio that her force was prepared for the possibility that people opposed to coronavirus restrictions or left-wing extremists might ignore a ban on demonstrations.

German courts this week rejected legal challenges against the ban on public assemblies in Berlin on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that authorities had imposed due to the pandemic.

Guinea begins virus vaccinations 

Guinea officials say the government has begun inoculating against the coronavirus with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine on an experimental basis, starting with government officials.

Guinea has ordered only 55 doses of the Russian vaccine, says Dr. Sakoba Keita, the director-general of the National Health Security Agency. Guinea is one of the first African nations to vaccinate its officials.

Minister of Defense Mohamed Diane was the first to receive the vaccine. He was shown getting the inoculation on national TV followed by other Cabinet ministers receiving the shots.

Irish virus spread worse than formal reporting suggests

About 4,000 additional positive tests for the virus in the last two to three days have yet to be formally confirmed, meaning the situation is worse than recent record daily figures suggest, a senior health official said.

Ireland reported more than 1,500 cases for the third day in a row. To relieve extreme pressure on the testing system, asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases will no longer be advised to get tested and will instead be asked to restrict their movements for 14 days.

World risks ‘moral catastrophe’ if shots delayed in Africa

The world risks a "moral catastrophe" if vaccinations are delayed in Africa while wealthier regions inoculate their entire populations, the head of the continent's disease control body said.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hopes significant vaccination campaigns on the continent will begin in April, its head, John Nkengasong, told reporters.

"That's a long way to go given that this virus transmits very quickly," he said, adding that in Africa, "the second wave is here with a vengeance".

Cases of the new coronavirus increased by nearly 19 percent since last week and deaths increased by 26 percent, according to Africa CDC data. Africa has recorded 2.7 million coronavirus infections and 64,000 deaths as of Thursday, it says.

China confirms first case of UK variant

China has confirmed its first case of a new coronavirus variant that was recently detected in Britain, health officials said.

The new strain, which experts say potentially spreads faster than the original variant, has prompted travel restrictions on the UK by more than 50 countries, including China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.

The first patient in China with the new variant is a 23-year-old woman from Shanghai who arrived from Britain on December 14, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control said in a research note published Wednesday.

She was hospitalised on arrival as she showed mild symptoms.

Dutch lockdown to last at least to mid-February

A national lockdown in the Netherlands will probably have to last at least until mid-February and even then can only be partially lifted, one of the country's health chiefs said.

Jaap van Dissel, head of infectious disease control at the National Institute for Public Health told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that some 2 million people in the country of 17 million had caught Covid-19 and probably had some immunity.

From that point partial easing should be possible for those that have been vaccinated," Van Dissel, who chairs a team that advises the Dutch government, told the newspaper.

The Outbreak Management Team he chairs would then face a tough task establishing what form that easing would take.

"You don't want to go back into another hard lockdown," he said.

The Netherlands imposed a tough second lockdown, with the closure of all shops and schools in mid-December for an initial five weeks.

South Africa reports record daily cases of nearly 18,000

South Africa reported a record 17,710 daily increase in virus infections, surpassing the previous high of about 14,500 set several days ago.

South Africa, which has the highest number of cases on the continent, has been battling a major surge in coronavirus cases since the end of November, owing largely to a new strain of a virus called 501.V2, the government has said.

The number of deaths a day has risen to an average of nearly 500 in the past few days, with the total death toll at more than 28,000. 

Record cases in Tokyo curtail New Year celebrations

New coronavirus infections in Japan's capital hit a record high of 1,337, Tokyo's Metropolitan Government said, and New Year's Eve celebrations were curtailed as the country battles a third wave of the pandemic.

Nationwide, new cases surpassed 4,000 for the first time, local media said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged people to celebrate New Year quietly and avoid non-essential outings.

China's Fosun plans plant to make BioNTech's vaccine

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group is planning a facility in China to produce the vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech , financial magazine Caixin reported.

The first phase of the China-based manufacturing facility will have production capacity of 200 million doses, Caixin said, citing people familiar with the matter. It did not specify how long it would take to produce that many doses.

Caixin's latest version of the story dropped a paragraph saying that Fosun plans to set up a joint venture with BioNTech.

Singapore sees most local cases in 3 months, more of new variant

Singapore has reported five locally transmitted cases, its highest number in nearly three months, and was seeking to verify two others suspected of being infected by a highly contagious variant first discovered in Britain.

The two individuals believed to be infected with the B117 variant, which has prompted new travel curbs worldwide, had both arrived from Britain this month and had earlier tested negative, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

South Korea moves patients out of nursing homes as deaths mount

Dozens of elderly South Korean coronavirus patients were transferred from nursing homes to hospitals this week after criticism that government policy had led to a spike in deaths among the vulnerable residents.

South Korea's total tally of infections passed 60,000, as 967 additional cases were reported.

At least 486 of South Korea's 900 reported deaths were people over the age of 80. Only 40 deaths have been reported among people younger than 60.

At least 316 residents of nursing hospitals or nursing homes have died, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. 

Slovakia reports 6,315 new cases, highest daily number so far

Slovakia has reported 6,315 new cases of coronavirus, the highest daily number so far, the government said.

The country of 5.5 million has recorded 179,543 cases so far, and 2,138 deaths.

Israel expects to get Moderna's vaccine by March

Israel is expecting to begin receiving Moderna's coronavirus vaccines by March "at the latest", Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Ynet TV.

In June, Israel signed an initial agreement for the Moderna vaccine, later extended to cover 6 million doses.

China gives its first vaccine approval to Sinopharm

China approved its first vaccine for general public use, a shot developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, as it braces for greater transmission risks over the winter.

No detailed efficacy data of the vaccine has been publicly released but its developer, Beijing Biological Products Institute, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group, said its vaccine was 79.34 percent effective in preventing people from developing the disease based on interim data.

The approval, announced by the National Medical Products Administration, comes after the United Arab Emirates this month became the first country to roll out the vaccine to the public.

Pakistan to purchase 1.2M vaccine doses from Sinopharm

Pakistan will purchase 1.2 million vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm, a minister said.

"The Cabinet Committee has decided to initially purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm, which will be provided free of cost to frontline workers in the first quarter of 2021," Pakistani Minister for Science and Technology said on Twitter.

US hits record daily deaths as world looks to vaccines

The US has logged its highest ever daily death toll from the coronavirus as the world prepares to turn the page on a grim year defined by the pandemic.

More than 3,900 people died of Covid-19, a new daily record, bringing the toll since the pandemic began to more than 19.7 million infections and 341,000 lives lost.

And experts believe the worst is yet to come, as US healthcare workers brace for a surge in cases after major holiday gatherings.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 32,552 

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 32,552 to 1,719,737, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 964 to 33,071, the tally showed. 

South Korea enforces tough measures in prisons

South Korea has enforced its toughest physical distancing rules at correctional facilities across the country after a major cluster of coronavirus infections flared at a Seoul prison.

The Justice Ministry says that 792 people, 771 inmates and 21 staff, at Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center have tested positive for the virus since one of center officials was found infected on November 27. One of the infected inmates has died.

The Dongbu cluster infection comes as South Korea is struggling to contain a recent viral resurgence tied to a variety of other sources such as nursing homes, churches, army bases and family gatherings.

Earlier Thursday, South Korea reported 967 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 60,740 with 900 deaths.

Thailand reports 194 new cases

Thailand confirmed 194 new cases, the majority of which were locally transmitted, the government's Covid-19 task-force said.

The new infections include 13 imported cases. Thailand has confirmed a total of 6,884 coronavirus cases and 61 deaths since first detecting the virus in late January.

Brazil sees 55,649 new coronavirus cases, 1,194 deaths

Brazil has recorded 55,649 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 1,194 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered more than 7.6 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 193,875, according to ministry data. 

Mexico reports over 1,000 new coronavirus deaths

Mexico has registered 12,406 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,052 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,413,935 infections and 124,897 deaths, according to the Health Ministry's official count.

The government says the real number of infected people and deaths are likely significantly higher than the confirmed figures.

Case of UK variant of virus identified in California

The highly infectious coronavirus variant originally discovered in Britain has been detected in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has, a day after the first known US case was documented in Colorado.

Newsom announced his state's first known case of the coronavirus variant B117, identified in Southern California, at the start of an online discussion of the Covid-19 pandemic with leading infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Newsom did not immediately provide further details, but Fauci said he was "not surprised," adding that additional cases of the variant would likely surface in California and other states.

The first US case of the so-called UK variant of the virus, believed by scientists to be more contagious than others previously identified but no more severe in symptoms it causes, was announced by Colorado Governor Jared Polis on Tuesday.

Pandemic made my last year in office the hardest – Merkel

Germany's "historic" coronavirus crisis will extend into 2021 even if the vaccines bring some hope, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said in her New Year's greetings.

Merkel said 2020 was by far the most difficult of her 15-year leadership, yet the start of vaccinations against Covid-19 made 2021 a year of hope.

In a rare show of emotion, Merkel, who steered Germany and the European Union through the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis a year later and the migrant crisis five years ago, condemned a protest movement opposed to lockdowns and said she would get vaccinated when the shot is widely available.

"Let me tell you something personal in conclusion: in nine months a parliamentary election will take place and I won't be running again," said Merkel, 66. 

"Today is, therefore, in all likelihood the last time I am able to deliver a New Year's address to you."

She added: "I think I am not exaggerating when I say: never in the last 15 years have we found the old year so heavy and never have we, despite all the worries and some skepticism, looked forward to the new one with so much hope."

El Salvador greenlights AstraZeneca, Oxford vaccine

The Covid-19 vaccine developed jointly by British drugmaker AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in El Salvador, according to a statement by the national medicines agency.

The one-page statement noted the approval was based on evidence provided by the developer but also cited emergency use permissions authorized by other countries for the vaccine.

It added that the Central American country's health ministry will later announce the timeline and process by which it plans to distribute the vaccine.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies