The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 64 million people and cut more than 1.5 million lives short. Here are the developments for December 2:

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken on October 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Vaccines won't prevent short-term coronavirus surge - WHO

The World Health Organization does not believe there will be enough quantities of coronavirus vaccines in the next three to six months to prevent a surge of infections, its top emergency expert said.

"We are not going to have sufficient vaccinations in place to prevent a surge in cases for three to six months," Mike Ryan told a social media event, calling on people to maintain social distancing and respect other measures to restrict the spread of Covid-19. 

Turkey reports nearly 32,000 new cases

Turkey has registered 31,923 more infections, including 6,690 symptomatic cases, over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data.

The new symptomatic cases raised the overall patient count to 513,656.

As many as 4,821 patients recovered over the past day, bringing the tally to 414,141, while the death toll rose to 14,129.

Russia's Putin tells officials to start mass vaccinations next week 
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered authorities to begin mass vaccinations next week.

"Let's agree on this — you will not report to me next week, but you will start mass vaccination ... let's get to work already," Putin told Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.

WHO tightens guidelines on mask-wearing 

People living in areas where the virus is spreading should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, WHO said.

If they cannot maintain physical distancing of at least one metre (3 feet), people in those indoor locations  — including children and students aged 12 or over — should wear a mask even if the spaces are well ventilated, it said in a tightening of its guidelines on Wednesday.

They should also wear masks outdoors if physical distancing cannot be maintained, it said.

Portugal's health authority chief tests positive 

Portugal's health authority has said its chief tested positive but displayed only mild symptoms of the disease which has infected more than 300,000 people in the southern European nation.

Graca Freitas, 63, whose daily updates on the pandemic have made her a familiar face to the Portuguese public, tested positive on Tuesday and is in isolation, the General Directorate for Health (DGS) said in a statement.

Portugal, with a population of about 10 million people, has reported 300,462 cases, with 4,577 deaths.

Poland passes 1 million cases

The number of cases recorded in Poland has passed 1 million, as the government agrees to buy 45 million vaccine doses. 

Poland has one of the lowest testing rates in the European Union and one of the highest proportions of positive tests.

On Wednesday, a further 13,855 cases and 609 deaths were reported, Health Ministry data showed, bringing the total to 1,013,747 confirmed cases and 18,208 deaths.

Thailand says more nationals infected returned illegally

Thailand has reported six more infected Thai nationals illegally entered the country, skipped quarantine and travelled to different provinces, escalating fears of a new outbreak in a nation with relatively few cases.

The six Thais had travelled separately to four provinces, including the capital Bangkok, Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the Disease Control Department, told a news conference.

With its normally strict border controls and surveillance, Thailand has kept the number of infections low at 4,026, with 60 deaths, but the new cases are causing fears of rare local outbreaks.

WHO reviewing Pfizer vaccine for possible emergency listing

The World Health Organization has received data from Pfizer and BioNTech on the vaccine and is reviewing it for "possible listing for emergency use," a benchmark for countries to authorise national use.

Referring to Britain's regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, it said in a statement to Reuters on Wednesday: "WHO is also in discussions with MHRA on the possibility of accessing some of the information from their assessment, which could expedite WHO’s emergency listing."

Britain approved Pfizer's vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the United States and Europe to become the West's first country to formally endorse a shot it said should reach the most vulnerable people early next week.

Germany set to extend closures of restaurants over pandemic 

The German government and the country's 16 states have plans to extend restrictions on restaurants and hotels until January 10, sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.

Leaders could decide on the measures, which are meant to slow the spread of the disease, in mid-December, the sources added.

Germany is trying to contain a second wave. On Wednesday, it reported its highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic. 

Pfizer-BioNTech seeks full marketing approval from UK for vaccine

Pfizer has said it's seeking full marketing authorisation from Britain for its vaccine,  as the US drugmaker gears up to deliver by the weekend the first shots following approval for emergency use in the country.

The application for full approval is "in parallel" with emergency use approval (EUA), said Berkeley Phillips, medical director of Pfizer UK, in a briefing.

He said regulators will review the same data provided for the emergency use by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech for the full approval.

UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use

Britain said it had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use and that it will be rolled out for use from next week.

"The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for use," the government said.

"The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week." 

Swiss report 4,786 new cases in a day

Swiss infections rose by 4,786 in a day, data from Swiss health authorities showed.

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 335,660 and the death toll rose by 115 to 4,667, while 230 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the health care system.

Vaccinations in Germany will take over a year -expert panel head

 It will take until 2022 to vaccinate the whole population of Germany due to capacity limits, according to the head of an expert panel that will help decide in which order people should receive the vaccine.

"If you can administer shots on 150,000 to 200,000 people a day, so on five or six days a week, assuming vaccines are available and people are willing to be vaccinated, then you can calculate how long it will take," Thomas Mertens, head of STIKO, Germany's expert panel on vaccine use, told Rheinische Post.

"Then you would need 100 days to vaccinate 15 million people," he said, according to a summary of an interview to be published by the daily paper on Thursday.

Germany is rushing to prepare vaccination centres across the country so it can start offering shots quickly once a vaccine has been approved in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that 60% to 70% of the population would need to acquire immunity, either via a vaccine or through infection, in order for the government to lift restrictions such as limits on private gatherings. Vaccination will not be mandatory in Germany.

Italy's health minister hopes first  vaccines can start in January

Italy will launch a huge, free coronavirus vaccination programme early next year, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday, as the government readies restrictions to avoid a surge in infections during the winter holidays.

"We finally see land, we have a clear route to a safe harbour... It seems likely that from January we will have the first vaccines," he told the upper house Senate.

Speranza said the government had options to buy 202 million vaccine shots from various companies and was awaiting clearance for their usage from European drug authorities.

"The vaccine distribution depends on the contracts signed by the European Commission... subject to authorisation procedures that are not yet absolutely certain," he told parliamentarians.

Speranza said the main part of the Italian vaccine campaign would be carried out between spring and summer 2021, with health workers, elderly people and those living in nursing homes getting the first shots, and the army involved in distribution.

WHO tightens guidelines on mask-wearing in Covid-19 areas

People living in areas with where virus is spreading should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

If they cannot maintain physical distancing of at least one meter (3 ft), people in those indoor locations - including children and students aged 12 or over - should also wear a mask even if the spaces are well ventilated, it said in a tightening of its guidelines.

They should also wear masks outdoors if physical distancing cannot be maintained, it said.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the recommendations were among the biggest changes to its guidance on mask-wearing, and updated advice from June.

Portugal's health authority chief tests positive

Portugal's health authority said its chief had tested positive, but displayed only mild symptoms of the disease which has infected more than 300,000 people in the southern European nation.

Graca Freitas, 63, whose daily updates on the pandemic have made her a familiar face to the Portuguese public, tested positive on Tuesday and is in isolation, the General Directorate for Health (DGS) said in a statement.

Wednesday's news conference on the pandemic situation in Portugal had been cancelled, the DGS said, and authorities were now tracking those who had been in recent contact with her.

News website Observador said Health Minister Marta Temido and Health Secretary Antonio Sales were in isolation while they waited for test results.

Interpol warns that vaccines could be targeted by criminals

The Interpol global police co-ordination agency warned on Wednesday that organised criminal networks could be targeting vaccines, and could look to sell fake shots.

Interpol, which is headquartered in France, said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

"As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives," said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.

EU lawmaker warns of risks from UK "hasty" approval

Britain's emergency approval of the experimental vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is "problematic" as it was done too hastily, a prominent European Union lawmaker said.

"I consider this decision to be problematic and recommend that EU Member States do not repeat the process in the same way. A few weeks of thorough examination by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorisation of a vaccine," said Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party. 

Philippines gives FDA emergency use powers for drugs, vaccines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte issued an executive order granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to clear drugs and vaccine for emergency use.

The Philippines wants to start immunizing 25 million people next year against the coronavirus, hoping to restore some normalcy after nearly nine months of at times harsh restrictions, and prevent the economy from sinking deeper into recession.

The FDA can now grant emergency use authorization (EUA) if there is reason to believe the drug or vaccine may be effective in preventing, diagnosing or treating Covid-19 and if their potential benefits outweigh possible risks.

France to make borders checks to stop people skiing abroad - PM

France will make random borders checks to stop people getting infected by going to countries where ski resorts remain open, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

"The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by installing random checks at the borders", Castex told BFM TV.

Russia reports record 589 deaths, 25,345 new infections

Russia reported a record 589 deaths, bringing the official number of deaths to 41,053.

Authorities also reported 25,345  infections in the last 24 hours, including 5,191 in the capital Moscow, and 3,684 in St Petersburg, bringing the national cumulative tally to 2,347,401.

Taiwan says Covid 'passports' would be a good idea

Covid-19 "passports" to show peoples' inoculation and infection history will be hard to do in practice but are a good idea, Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said, offering support to a means to get global travel going again.

Global aviation body IATA said last month it is developing a set of mobile apps to help passengers navigate travel restrictions and securely share test and vaccine certificates with airlines and governments.

That news came shortly after Australian airline Qantas said it would insist in future that international travellers have vaccination before they fly, describing the move as "a necessity".

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, and has been very cautious about when it may re-open its borders, which are still largely closed to visitors.

Poland surpasses a million cases

Poland's Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said the total number cases in the country has surpassed one million.

Japan residents to get free vaccine

Japan will give free coronavirus vaccines to all of its residents under a bill passed Wednesday, as the nation battles record numbers of daily cases.

The bill, which says the government will cover all vaccine costs for Japan's 126 million residents, was approved by the upper house of parliament, having cleared the powerful lower house.

The country has secured Covid-19 vaccines for 60 million people from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and for a further 25 million people from biotech firm Moderna.

It has also confirmed it will receive 120 million doses of AstraZeneca's vac cine.

Pfizer and Moderna are already seeking emergency-use approval in the United States and Europe, after clinical tests showed their jabs were effective.

The bill's passage comes two weeks after Japan's prime minister said the country was on "maximum alert" over the virus, and as medics warn hospitals are on the brink of collapse.

US, Europe develop vaccine plans with approval likely soon

The United States and Europe fleshed out plans to administer vaccines as soon as they gain approval, with a US panel recommending that health care workers and nursing home residents be given top priority.

Hopes are high that shots could be ready for use before the end of the year, with two frontrunner vaccines, by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, already seeking emergency use approval on both sides of the Atlantic.

Companies have been racing to find a treatment for the coronavirus, which has killed almost 1.5 million people and infected more than 63 million since it emerged in China in December of last year.

In the United States, an advisory panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed that health care workers and nursing home residents, 24 million people in total, be the first in line for Covid jabs.

Those two groups have accounted for about 40 percent of deaths in the US thus far.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA ) said Tuesday it would hold an extraordinary meeting on December 29 "at the latest" to consider emergency approval for the vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech and US giant Pfizer.

Another meeting to assess the request from Moderna will take place no later than January 12.

US says ready for immediate domestic shipment of vaccines

The US Transportation Department said it has made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

The department said US agencies have been coordinating with private sector companies that will carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to distribution centers and inoculation points.

It added it has established "appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries used in cooling."

The department is preparing to ensure deliveries of vaccine doses for about 40 million US residents through January, or about 20 million a month, officials told Reuters.

Lockdowns drive spike in online child abuse

Out-of-school kids and adult predators spending more time at home and on the internet during the pandemic is the "perfect storm" driving a spike in online child sex abuse around the world, activists and police say.

From slums in the Philippines to Australia's suburbs, the cross-border crime has mushroomed as offenders take advantage of school closures and lockdowns to reach children, either in person or via social media, gaming sites and the dark web.

In Australia, federal police received more than 21,000 reports of child sex abuse in the 12 months to June 30, a n increase of over 7,000 cases on the previous year.

Their investigators also recorded a 136 percent increase in online child sex exploitation material.

"The Philippine government saw a 260 percent increase in reports of online child abuse materials from March to May, when the country was in a strict lockdown, UNICEF said.

Investigators are even "seeing Covid-specific child exploitation forums where (offenders) are discussing the opportunities that have arisen during the Covid period", Hudson revealed, including one with 1,000 members.

South Korea outbreak adds new stress to gruelling

From avoiding family members to skipping extra study at "cram schools", the virus has forced nearly half a million South Korean test-takers and proctors to rethink their strategies ahead of a hyper-competitive university entrance exam this week.

This year teachers, proctors and students drastically changed their study and teaching practices to try to ensure those taking the test don't ruin their chances by getting sick.

After delaying the exam by two weeks, authorities have prepared 31,291 test venues nationwide for this year's exam, nearly double the number from last year to allow more social distancing.

Some venues are specialised to accommodate at least 37 students with confirmed infections, and another 430 in quarantine, deputy education minister Park Baeg-beom told a briefing on Wednesday.

All students must wear masks and will be separated by plastic screens, Park said.

For students who are suspected cases of Covid-19, proctors must wear protective equipment and collect exam papers in plastic bags and wipe them before handing over to the staff outside.

South Korea reported 511 new cases as of midnight Tuesday, bringing the country’s total to 35,163 with 526 deaths.

Tennis Australia needs five years to recover from pandemic

Tennis Australia (TA) expects to exhaust most of its $59 million reserves to maintain funding to the sport as it deals with significant costs in staging the Australian Open during the pandemic.

TA boss Craig Tiley said the governing body would likely spend more than $29.4 million on quarantine and biosecurity operations for the year's first Grand Slam, which is also expected to be delayed from its January 18-31 schedule.

The biosecurity arrangements will involve additional costs in accommodating players and their entourages during Australia's mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals.

The protocols are also expected to limit crowd sizes at Melbourne Park to as little as 25% capacity through the two-week Australian Open.

About 800,000 people attended the tournament in January.

TA have consulted with government authorities for months over the protocols.

Mexico set to sign Pfizer vaccine deal on Wednesday

Mexico's government was due to sign a contract with pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the delivery of its vaccine, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.

Pfizer has submitted the details about its vaccine to Mexico's health regulator, Cofepris, and the country's foreign minister last month said the government expects the vaccine to reach Mexico in December.

Lopez-Gatell said the contract with Pfizer, which developed its vaccine wit h German partner BioNTech SE, is expected to be signed by Health Minister Jorge Alcocer, and the Finance Ministry was making plans to ensure Mexico sets aside enough money to pay for the Pfizer and other vaccines.

Mexico's contract with Pfizer will include ways to minimise the challenges associated with its vaccine, which requires that it be transported and stored at -70 degrees Celsius.

India registers another drop in Covid-19 infections

India has maintained a declining trend in infections with 36,604 new cases reported in the past 24 hours.

The cases declined by 32% in November as compared to October, according to the Health Ministry. 

For more than three weeks, India’s single-day cases have remained below 50,000.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said new cases were declining consistently after peaking in mid-September at nearly 100,000 per day. .

The capital New Delhi has also seen a dip in daily infections. It reported 4,006 new cases in the past 24 hours.

India reported 501 additional deaths, raising total fatalities to 138,122.

In an effort to stop the virus from spreading, the Home Ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions.

Hong Kong limits most gatherings to two people

Hong Kong is limiting most gatherings to just two people and ordering compulsory testing of workers at retirement homes and facilities for people with disabilities, among tightening measures to contain a new wave of cases.

That is prompting the government to raise penalties for failing to follow orders on mask wearing in public and for compulsory tests.

Exceptions were made for some group gatherings, including a limit of 20 people for weddings and shareholder meetings, but religious activities and group travel would no longer be exempt.

Hong Kong and Singapore, meanwhile, have called off a planned travel bubble until next year in response to the surge in Hong Kong cases.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 17,270 - RKI

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 17,270 to 1,084,743, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 487 to 17,123. 

Global cases now over 64M

Coronavirus cases globally surpassed the grim milestone of 64 million, according to a tracking portal.

The United States is the worst affected country in terms of caseload, followed by India and Brazil.

Brazil sees nearly 700 more fatalities

Brazil reported 50,909 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily case number since early September, and 697 new deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry has said on Tuesday.

The South American country has now registered 6,386,787 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 173,817, according to ministry data.

Mexico records 825 more deaths

Mexico's health ministry has reported 8,819 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 825 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,122,362 cases and 106,765 deaths.

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

China adds nine cases

Mainland China reported nine new Covid-19 cases on Dec. 1, down from 12 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority has said.

The National Health Commission, in a statement on Wednesday, said seven of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. Two new local cases were reported in the Inner Mongolia region, the commission said.

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

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 86,551, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Florida tops 1M cases

Florida joined Texas and California in surpassing one million confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday as the governor has vowed not to adopt any further restrictions or impose closures like those enacted in the spring and summer.

Hospitalisations have also climbed in the state with 4,261 Covid-19 patients, up from 4,139 tallied on Monday.

The figure is still less than half what hospitals saw in late July, but it has steadily climbed since October after plateauing at about 2,000 hospitalisations daily for weeks following the summer surge of the virus.

The state’s health department on Tuesday reported 82 new virus deaths, raising the toll in the third-most populous state to at least 18,942 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies