The novel coronavirus has infected more than 59 million people and cut short over 1.4 million lives. Here are the updates for November 24:

A DHL worker loads dry ice into
A DHL worker loads dry ice into "Envirotainers" inside an ultra-cold facility that is used for the shipment of vaccines, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals in Chicago, Illinois, US. (DHL via REUTERS)

November 24, 2020

France to ease lockdown as world ramps up vaccine preparations

France will start easing its lockdown this weekend so that by Christmas, shops, theatres and cinemas will reopen and people will be able to spend the holiday with the rest of their family, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

In a televised address to the nation, Macron said the worst of the second wave of the epidemic in France was over, but that restaurants, cafes and bars would have to stay shut until Jan. 20 to avoid triggering a third wave.

"We must do everything to avoid a third wave, do everything to avoid a third lockdown," Macron said.

After curfew measures in major French cities in mid-October failed to produce the results the government had hoped for, it enforced a one-month lockdown on October 30, though it was less strict than a lockdown that ran from March 17 to May 11.

Positive trends including a decline in hospitalisations for infections, combined with pressure from business lobbies who say they are facing ruin, have led to calls to start loosening the lockdown as soon as possible.

Macron also said he would start a vaccination campaign at the end of December or beginning of January, starting with the most vulnerable and older people.

Vaccination won't be mandatory, he said.

Trudeau: Canadians won't be among the first to get vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday Canada will have to wait for a vaccine because the very first ones that roll off assembly lines are likely to be given to citizens of the country they are made in.

Trudeau noted Canada does not have vaccine-production facilities. 

The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany do.

Trudeau said it is understandable that an American pharmaceutical company will distribute first in the US before they distribute internationally.

"Shortly afterwards they will start honoring and delivering the contracts that they signed with other countries including Canada," Trudeau said.

“We’re expecting to start receiving those doses in the first few months of 2021.”

Trudeau said Canadians won’t have to wait for everyone in the US to be vaccinated before Canada gets doses.

UK to relax measure over Christmas holidays

The four nations of the United Kingdom have agreed to relax virus restrictions for Christmas to allow up to three households to meet at home for five days.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken differing approaches to handling the pandemic so far but the leaders of the devolved nations settled on a common approach on Tuesday for the festive period.

Three households will be allowed to meet up at home but not at hospitality or entertainment venues from December 23 until December 27 under the plans.

"People want to be with their loved-ones and those close to them for what is the most important holiday of the year," senior minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday.

A national lockdown in England is due to end next week after which different parts of the country will face varying restrictions as part of a tiered system announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A decision is expected later this week on which areas will fall into the different categories.

China reports 22 new cases as Tianjin flags 'pig head' link

China recorded 22 new infections on November 23, up from 11 a day earlier, the country's health authority said, while an official from the city of Tianjin said two confirmed cases this month caught the virus from pig heads from North America.

The National Health Commission said on Tuesday 20 of the new cases were imported infections that originated overseas. One local transmission was reported in Shanghai and another in Tianjin.

The Shanghai case together with a second one reported earlier in the city have been traced to a container from North America, which the two men cleaned when it arrived at an airport, according to the Shanghai Daily.

The latest infection in Tianjin was previously an asymptomatic case, according to state media.

Later on Tuesday, a Tianjin health official said two confirmed cases in the northern port city earlier this month had caught the virus from pig heads arriving from North America.

South Africa confirms going for COVAX vaccine scheme for 10% of population

South Africa is going with the COVAX global Covid-19 vaccine distribution scheme, with a committed purchase for 10% of its population of 58 million, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

Khadija Jamaloodien, Director of Affordable Medicines at the Health Ministry, said it had not yet signed the commitment agreement to participate in COVAX but would do so once officials had completed the necessary administrative processes.

She said the facility would give the country an early batch of vaccines with which to start protecting people.

The decision followed earlier advice from a group of experts.

The government has publicly expressed support for COVAX, but it had yet to say how much of the population it would seek to cover via the facility co-led by the World Health Organization, and whether it would go for the committed, rather than optional, purchase arrangement.

South Africa will make a $33 million payment to help fund production of vaccines that will be made available via the facility, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said earlier on Tuesday.

Italy virus deaths surge by 853, highest toll since March 28

Italy reported 853 virus-related deaths on Tuesday, soaring from 630 the day before and the highest daily toll since March 28.

The health ministry also registered 23,232 new infections, up marginally from 22,930 the day before.

There were 188,659 swabs carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 148,945.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and has seen 51,306 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain's.

UK reports highest deaths since May

Britain reported on Tuesday 608 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the highest daily total since May, and 11,299 cases, a drop from Monday's tally, according to government data.

Turkey's daily deaths hit a record high of 161

Turkey's daily death toll from the coronavirus hit a record high of 161 on Tuesday, according to data from the Health Ministry, after the country introduced nationwide measures last week amid a surge in cases.

The data showed 7,381 new patients were recorded in the country, while the overall death toll rose to 12,672.

Austria plans to start virus vaccination in January

Austria plans to start its vaccination campaign in January, the health minister said Tuesday, with the elderly, at-risk groups and health professionals being first in line.

The country will acquire more than 16 million doses of the vaccine through the European Union which has signed six contracts for supplies, according to Clemens Martin Auer, who coordinates the health ministry’s pandemic response.

"In all likelihood we can start in January," Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.

"Our goal is to vaccinate at least 50 percent of the population," he told a news conference, adding that the campaign would cost around $237 million.

World ramps up Covid-19 vaccine preparations

Hopes over vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe in recent days, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient.

Governments have scaled up preparations for any vaccine.

Even once a vaccine becomes available, any return to normality for a global economy ravaged by the pandemic seems a long way off.

The boss of Australia's Qantas also on Tuesday said proof of vaccination will likely become the only way people will be allowed to fly.

Aviation has been particularly hard-hit, with the global industry body IATA estimating that airline revenue this year will plunge 60 percent.

Despite the vaccine optimism, the world is still engulfed in the unprecedented health crisis which has infected almost 58.9 million people and left nearly 1.4 million dead.

EU seals sixth vaccine deal, secures 160M Moderna shots

The European Union's executive said Tuesday it will sign a contract for up to 160 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, said the deal will be approved on Wednesday as the EU tries to build “one of the most comprehensive vaccine portfolio in the world."

The deal with Moderna is the sixth secured by the EU Commission with pharmaceutical companies, allowing its 27 member countries to buy more than one billion doses once the shots are ready.

“We are working on yet another one," von der Leyen said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from the company's study.

The commission said that once a vaccine is ready, all EU countries will receive it at the same time on a pro rata basis.

Russia to protectively vaccinate mink population

Russia will protectively vaccinate its mink population the virus after other countries identified cases in the animals, the acting head of a big Russian state fur company has told a TV station run by the defence ministry.

Ivan Nesterov, acting head of state fur company Russian Sable, made the comments to the Zvezda TV station on Monday. When reached on Tuesday, he redirected questions to the agriculture ministry, saying it was better if they provided official comments.

In a recording of his interview to Zvezda, he can be heard saying that authorities are testing the vaccine and plan to vaccinate the mink population once the process is finished.

He said the measure was a precautionary one and that Russia had no scientific confirmation that the virus could be passed from minks to humans and had not detected the virus in Russian minks.

Berlin lab tests drones for quicker virus tests

A German lab is hoping to cut the time it takes to send coronavirus tests across Berlin by using drones, thereby avoiding the capital's clogged roads.

California-based company Matternet is currently testing drone deliveries between a hospital and Labor Berlin, one of the largest laboratories in Europe.

The route from drone to lab is about 11 kilometers (7 miles) as the drone flies, and officials expect to cut standard delivery times from about an hour to around 10 minutes when service on the route begins in January.

Eventually, the hope is that drones will provide regular deliveries to the lab from six points around Berlin, shaving vital minutes off the turnaround time for Covid tests.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine 95 percent effective

Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 95 percent effective, according to a second interim analysis of clinical trial data, its developers said.

The calculations were based on preliminary data obtained 42 days after the first dose, Russia's Health Ministry, the state-run Gamaleya research centre and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said in a statement.

They did not note the number of cases used to make the calculation, however.

Also two-shot Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine will cost less than $20 per person on international markets and will be free of charge for Russian citizens, according to a statement on the official Sputnik V Twitter account.

Finland's Helsinki takes strict measures

High schools, libraries and swimming pools will be closed and public events banned outright in Helsinki due to the "worrying" situation, Mayor Jan Vapaavuori told a press conference.

Large-scale infections in institutions such as care homes and homeless shelters in Helsinki in recent days have also demonstrated the need for stricter measures, Vapaavuori said, adding that "too many people" have been ignoring the recommendations so far.

Finland's nationwide incidence rate continues to be by far the lowest in the EU.

Poland finds 8 cases among farmed minks

Polish scientists have identified eight cases of Covid-19 in mink at a farm in the north of the country, the Medical University of Gdansk said.

Poland, a major producer of mink fur, started coronavirus tests among its farmed mink and checks among workers this month after a mutated virus was detected in farmed mink in Denmark, leading to a nationwide cull there.

"This is the first case of confirmed infection with SARS-CoV-2 in farm animals in Poland," the statement said.

Iran reports record high 13,721 new cases

Iran has reported a record high 13,721 new Covid-19 cases and a near-record 483 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that the new cases took the cumulative total of cases to 880,542 and the total death toll to 45,738.

Hong Kong to shut bars, nightclubs for third time

Hong Kong will close bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues for the third time this year, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said as authorities scramble to tackle a renewed rise in coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong reported 80 new coronavirus cases, taking the total since late January to 5,782 Covid-19 infections and 108 deaths.

Over 180 of the latest cases are linked to dance clubs.

Bars and nightclubs, as well as other types of venues such as karaoke and dance halls, will be closed initially for seven days until at least December 3.

German states plan to allow Christmas gatherings up to 10

Germany's 16 federal states plan to allow gatherings of up to 10 people over Christmas and New Year, offering some relaxation of virus restrictions to let families and friends celebrate together.

"Christmas and other end-of-year festivities should be possible as celebrations with family and friends even in this unusual year, albeit on a smaller scale," the draft said.

Under the new plans, private gatherings would be limited to a maximum of five people until the Christmas period. In addition, fireworks would be banned in public places on New Year's Eve to avoid large numbers of people gathering.

Qantas to require Covid vaccine for international flights

International travellers will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to fly with Australia's Qantas, the company has said, the first major airline to suggest that such rules could become common across the industry.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the Australian flag carrier would implement the measure once a coronavirus vaccine was made available to the public.

"We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft," he told Channel Nine television.

Joyce predicted the rule would likely become standard practice around the world as governments and airlines currently consider the introduction of electronic vaccination passports.

Other major regional airlines, however, said that it was too early to comment on what travel requirements might be when a vaccine becomes widely available.

Philippines targets 60 million for vaccination

Philippine officials say about 60 million Filipinos are being targeted for vaccination against the coronavirus next year at a cost of more than 73 billion pesos ($1.4 billion) to develop considerable immunity among a majority of Filipinos.

Carlito Galvez Jr, who oversees government efforts to secure the vaccines, said late on Monday that negotiations were underway with four Western and Chinese pharmaceutical companies, including US-based Pfizer Inc. and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., to secure the vaccines early next year. One company based in the UK, AstraZeneca, can commit to supply up to 20 million vaccines, he said.

“We will target the most vulnerable and the poorest communities in areas that were affected,” Galvez said, addressing who would be prioritised for vaccination.

The Philippines has had more than 420,000 confirmed cases, the second-most in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia, and 8,173 deaths.

China reports results of mass testing

China has reported new cases in the cities of Shanghai and Tianjin as it seeks to prevent small outbreaks from becoming larger ones.

The National Health Commission said that there were two new locally spread cases in the previous 24-hour period, one in each city. It also reported 20 cases among people who had arrived from overseas.

In Shanghai, the mass testing of 17,719 workers at the city’s Pudong airport found one infection, a Fedex employee. Everyone else tested negative.

Hundreds of flights at Pudong International Airport were cancelled since a small clutch of Covid-19 cases in the city was linked to several cargo handlers.

Three UPS workers at the airport have also tested positive in recent days, along with the wife of one of them.

In all, Shanghai has reported eight non-imported cases since Friday.

In Tianjin, where 2.3 million people had been tested as of Monday, the city reported one case in a person who developed symptoms after testing positive earlier. China does not include people without symptoms in its confirmed case count.

To date, the health commission has recorded 86,464 confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths.

India records nearly 38,000 new infections

India recorded 37,975 new infections of coronavirus, with the daily increases, tallied by Reuters, remaining below the 50,000 mark for more than two weeks, having peaked in September.

The latest increase brought the total number of cases to 9.18 million, the health ministry said. Deaths rose by 480, with the total now at 134,218.

India has the second-highest number of cases in the world, after the United States.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 13,554

The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 13,554 to 942,687, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 249 to 14,361, the tally showed. 

Brazil adds over 300 more fatalities

Brazil reported 16,207 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 302 deaths from Covid-19, the health ministry has said.

The South American country has now registered 6,087,608 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 169,485, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India.

Mexico adds nearly 7,500 new cases

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 7,483 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 250 more deaths in the country, bringing the official number of cases to 1,049,358 and the death toll to 101,926.

Health officials have said the real number of infections is likely significantly higher.

Belize's PM tests positive

Belize's Prime MinisterJohnny Briceno has tested positive for Covid-19 and will remain in isolation for the following two weeks, after which he will be tested again, the prime minister's office has said in a statement.

Spain's King Felipe in quarantine 

Spain's King Felipe VI has started 10 days of quarantine after coming into close contact with someone who later tested positive for the new coronavirus, a Royal House source said. 

The king, 52, has cancelled his public appearances during the quarantine period after the person tested positive on Monday, one day after they were in close contact, the source added. 

Felipe VI had chaired a scientific meeting in Madrid earlier on Monday. 

Queen Letizia and their two daughters will continue their royal activities, the source said. 

Spain has registered more than 1.58 million Covid-19 cases – western Europe's second-highest tally after France – and 43,131 deaths.

Eight positive in latest Premier League tests

The Premier League has said that eight people had returned positive results in its latest round of coronavirus tests conducted on players and staff last week.

The league said the individuals who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus would now self-isolate for 10 days.

"The Premier League can today confirm that between Monday 16 November and Sunday 22 November, 1,530 players and club staff were tested for Covid-19," the league said in a statement.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies