Millions face new virus restrictions in UK – latest updates

US President Donald Trump has imposed wave after wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic since 2018, when he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal

Novel coronavirus has infected over 80 million people globally and has claimed more than 1.7 million lives. Here are the updates for December 26: People stand on Oxford Street as shops remain closed under Tier 4 restrictions, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, December 26, 2020. (Reuters) Saturday, December 26, 2020

Millions face new virus restrictions in UK

Millions of people in the UK have faced tough new restrictions, with Scotland and Northern Ireland demanding tighter measures to try to halt a new variant of the virus that is believed to spread more quickly.

Northern Ireland went into a six-week lockdown and in Wales, restrictions that were relaxed for Christmas Day were also re-imposed.

The number of people under England's top level of restrictions — Tier 4 — increased by 6 million on Saturday to 24 million people overall, around 43 percent of England's population. The region included London and many of its surrounding areas.

No indoor mixing of households is allowed, and only essential travel permitted. Gyms, pools, hairdressers and stores selling nonessential goods have been ordered to close and pubs and restaurants can only do takeout. 

Business groups say the restrictions will be economically devastating to their members.

UK records 210 more deaths, cases rise to 34,693

The United Kingdom has recorded 210 deaths, down from 570 the day before, while cases rose 1,968 to 34,693, the government said, citing partial data.

The latest R number is estimated at 1.1 to 1.3, the government said.

The UK has recorded a death toll of 70,405, defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test. 

Under that measure, it has the world's sixth-largest toll, after the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and India.

A broader measure of death certificates puts the United Kingdom's death toll at 79,349. 

BioNTech 'very happy' to help Turkey with vaccine deal

German company BioNTech's Turkish-origin co-founder has said he is “very happy” to Turkey after a recent procurement deal for vaccines.

“Turkey is our homeland. We're very happy to be able to help people in Turkey,” Dr. Ugur Sahin told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview a day after Turkish authorities announced a deal with BioNTech early on Friday.

“We have discussions with TUBITAK… We also want to open a place of BioNTech company in Turkey,” he said, referring to Turkey's Scientific and Technological Research Council.

According to the agreement, BioNTech will send Turkey an initial 550,000 doses by earl 2021 at the latest.

Thailand finds new virus clusters in south and east

Health officials in Thailand have said that two new clusters of virus cases have been linked to a major outbreak discovered a week earlier among migrant workers in an industrial province near Bangkok.

The new cases were found in 19 members of a motorcycling club who held a holiday gathering on Lanta island in the southern province of Krabi, and in nine people who were in a gambling den in the eastern province of Rayong, said the Disease Control Department.

The first of the motorcyclists to be diagnosed with the virus had come from Samut Sakhon province, where the outbreak among migrant workers occurred.

On Saturday morning, 110 new cases were reported, bringing Thailand’s total to 6,020. Sixty of the 110 were linked to the Samut Sakhon outbreak.

Swiss admit blundering after virus first wave

Switzerland's health minister has admitted that the government blundered in easing Covid-19 restrictions too far, resulting in some of Europe's fiercest infection rates during the pandemic's second wave.

Alain Berset said the Swiss approach put the emphasis on personal responsibility — but accepted that it had not worked.

The virus will not vanish any time soon, he added, despite the roll-out of vaccinations.

In March, during the first wave of infections, Switzerland was not hit as hard by deaths and did not impose as strict a lockdown as some other European states.

Slow decline in new cases reported in Turkey

Turkey has reported 15,118 more infections and 253 fatalities over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data.

The new cases include 3,002 symptomatic patients, while the total number of infections exceeded 2.13 million.

Since Friday, as many as 23,231 people recovered, bringing the tally to 1,994,034, while the death toll climbed to 19,624.

Some 178,872 tests were conducted across the country over the past day, pushing the total to over 23.6 million.

The number of patients in critical condition stands at 4,501, the data showed.

Italy reports 261 new deaths 

Italy has reported 261 more deaths, against 459 the day before, the health ministry said.

The daily tally of new infections increased by 10,407 from 19,037 the day before, taking the total number of cases since Italy's epidemic began to 2,010,037.

Italy on Thursday became the eighth country in the world to exceed 2 million officially recorded cases.

Hall of Fame golfer Norman battling virus

Hall of Fame golfer Greg Norman has spent part of his Christmas Day in a hospital battling the virus.

The 65-year-old Australian, known as “The Shark” during a career that included two major wins at The Open Championship (1986, 1993), revealed his diagnosis in an Instagram post.

“This sums it all up. My Christmas Day. On behalf of millions, (expletive) CoVid,” wrote Norman, who was photographed in a hospital bed.

He posted a video on Christmas Eve describing his symptoms.

“I feel very flu-like, I have a mild fever, I have a cough, I have aches and pains.

Iran's Rouhani: US wants vaccine payments through its banks

President Hassan Rouhani has said that Washington was demanding Iranian transactions for vaccines pass through US banks, and expressed fear the money could be seized.

US President Donald Trump has imposed wave after wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic since 2018, when he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran has assets frozen in several countries, including in the US.

“We want to transfer money from a country where our money is” to buy the vaccine and “this country has accepted”, Rouhani said during a meeting of Iran's coronavirus task force, without identifying the country in question.

EU readies vaccine rollout as new virus strain spreads

The European Union has teed up a vaccine rollout, even as countries in the bloc were forced back into lockdown by a new strain of the virus, believed to be more infectious, that has spread from Britain to France and Spain and even as far as Japan.

The pandemic has claimed more than 1.7 million lives and is still running rampant in much of the world, but the recent launching of inoculation campaigns has boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite.

First doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in hard-hit Italy, Spain and France on Saturday morning ready for distribution to elderly care facilities and hospital staff.

“We'll get our freedom back, we'll be able to embrace again,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said as he urged Italians to get the shot.

Deadly fire hits Egyptian hospital treating patients

A fire has killed at least seven people and injured several others at a private hospital that was treating virus patients on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo, local sources and media said.

The fire broke out at about 0700 GMT (9 am local) at Misr Al Amal Hospital in El Obour, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of central Cairo, and according to initial investigations was caused by an electrical fault, security and medical sources said.

The hospital was evacuated and closed and patients were transferred to a public hospital in Cairo, the sources said.

Iran extends curfew to 330 cities to sustain virus decline

Iran has extended a night-time traffic curfew to 330 lower-risk cities in an effort to sustain a recent fall in the number of new infections and deaths, state television reported on Saturday.

Alireza Raisi, spokesman for the national coronavirus task force, said on state TV that a curfew running from 1730 GMT to 0030 GMT (9 pm to 4 am local), already in place in 108 so-called “orange” or medium-risk cities, will be extended to lower-risk “yellow” cities.

The curfew, during which there is a ban on the use of private cars to reduce the level of contacts between people, resulted in nearly 100,000 fines on one night in the past week.

Philippines evaluating emergency use for Pfizer's vaccine

The Philippines' presidential spokesman has said the country. is evaluating the emergency use of Pfizer Inc's vaccine.

Pfizer was the first company to seek the Philippine regulator's approval for emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine, Harry Roque, spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a statement.

It will take the food and drugs agency 21 days to evaluate and approve the vaccine, he said, adding that inoculation would start as soon as stocks become available.

The Philippines has the second highest n umber of infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.

Russia tops 3 million infections

Russia has passed three million confirmed coronavirus infections, as authorities hold out against reimposing a national lockdown while the country is battered by a second wave.

Official figures showed that a total of 3,021,964 cases have been detected, with 54,226 deaths.

In the past 24 hours, 29,258 new infections and 567 deaths were registered in Russia, fourth on the list of hardest-hit countries worldwide.

First confirmed cases in Spain of British virus variant

Four cases of a coronavirus variant believed to be particularly infectious that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in Madrid, the regional government said, the first cases detected in Spain.

All four cases involved people who recently arrived from the UK, the Madrid regional government’s deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero told a news conference.

Spain receives first batch of vaccine

Spanish authorities say the first batch of the virus vaccine to reach the country has arrived.

The government said that a truck transporting the vaccine produced by Pfizer arrived at a company warehouse in the central city of Guadalajara after making the trip from Belgium. It is the first part of what the government says will be weekly shipments of an average of 350,000 doses.

The first vaccines will be administered on Sunday morning at a nursing home in Guadalajara.

Spain plans to receive more than 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next 12 weeks, enough it says to immunise just over 2.2 million people. It will represent the first phase of a national vaccination plan.

Hungary starts vaccinations – government spokesman

Hungary started vaccinating healthcare workers against the coronavirus with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a day earlier than in most other countries in the European Union.

Hungary received a first shipment of coronavirus vaccines Saturday morning that will be enough to inoculate 4,875 people, state news agency MTI reported. The vaccines have been shipped to Budapest with police escort.

The first vaccinations are being delivered at Budapest's main Covid centre, the Del-Pest Central Hospital, and in the afternoon at another main Budapest hospital as well, MTI reported.

Hungary had reported 315,362 cases with 8,951 deaths. More than 6,000 people are still in hospital, straining the healthcare system.

Bulgaria receives first batch of vaccine

The first batch of vaccines against the virus has arrived in Bulgaria.

A truck with the first 9,750 doses escorted by police cars arrived at the Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases in Sofia, where the boxes with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were unloaded.

Vaccinations will start on Sunday in a Sofia hospital, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said, adding that he will be the first to take the shot. Medics working with patients will be vaccinated with priority, as will residents of nursing homes.

The Balkan country has reported a total of 196,915 infections, including 7,073 deaths.

Health authorities fear a new wave of infections after the holiday season. Orthodox churches across the country remained open, drawing many for Christmas services.

South  Korea logs second-highest daily tally of cases

South Korea has posted its second-highest daily number of coronavirus cases as outbreaks at a prison, nursing homes and churches continued to grow, prompting authorities to plead for a halt to all year-end gatherings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said there were 1,132 new coronavirus cases, not far off the record 1,241 logged a day earlier.

KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong urged that all private gatherings be cancelled and public and religious events be held online.

The government plans to hold a meeting on Sunday to discuss whether it will tighten distancing rules to the toughest level for the greater Seoul area .

The current largest cluster is at a prison in eastern Seoul, where 520 inmates, workers and their family members have been infected, prompting health authorities to test all 650 people there. The virus likely spreads easily as the prison consists of five, high-rise buildings and suffers from over-capacity, a health official said.

South Korea's total infections now stand at 55,902, with 793 deaths, KDCA data showed. 

Tokyo coronavirus cases hit record 949

Coronavirus infections in Tokyo have hit a record daily high of 949 cases, local media reported, as Japan heads into the New Year holiday period, which in normal years sees citizens of the capital stream into the provinces.

Serious cases were unchanged from a day earlier at 81, the reports said.

Local media reported subdued scenes at Tokyo transport hubs a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as daily cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.

Germany's confirmed cases rise by 14,455

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 14,455 to 1,627,103, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. 

The reported death toll rose by 240 to 29,422, the tally showed. 

Thailand confirms 110 new infections

Thailand has confirmed 110 new infections, of which 64 were local infections, connected to an outbreak in the southwest province of Samut Sakhon.

Of the new infections, 30 were among migrant workers and 16 were imported cases, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country's Covid-19 task force, told a briefing.

Thailand has a total of 6,020 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. 

Mexico records 9,679 new cases, 665 more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 9,679 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 665 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,372,243 cases and 121,837 deaths.

Beijing residents told to stay put for holidays

China's capital has urged residents not to leave the city during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays, implementing fresh restrictions after several coronavirus infections last week.

Two domestic cases were reported, a convenience store worker and a Hewlett Packard Enterprise employee. Another two asymptomatic cases were discovered in Beijing earlier in the week.

Beijing is conducting testing on a limited scale in the neighbourhoods and workplaces where the cases were found.

To contain any new outbreaks, the Beijing government cancelled big gatherings, such as sports events and temple fairs.

China reports 20 new cases vs 14 a day earlier

Mainland China recorded 20 new Covid-19 cases on December 25, up from 14 cases the previous day, the country's health authority said on Saturday.

The National Health Commission said in its daily bulletin that 12 of the new cases were imported. Of the eight locally transmitted cases, six came from the northeastern province of Liaoning and two from the capital Beijing.

Additionally, 19 asymptomatic cases were reported on December 25, up from 17 the previous day. China does not include asymptomatic patients in its total confirmed case list.

Mainland China has now reported a total of 86,933 coronavirus cases, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634. 

France confirms first case on its soil of British virus variant

The first case of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain has been confirmed in France, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

The person, a French citizen living in Britain, is asymptomatic and self-isolating at home in Tours in central France, the ministry said.

The person arrived from London on December 19 and was tested in hospital on December 21 and found to be positive for the strain of the virus known as VOC 202012/01.

“The health authorities have carried out contact-tracing for the health professionals taking care of the patient,” the ministry said in a statement.

Any of their contacts that were seen as vulnerable would similarly be isolated, the statement said.

In addition to this first case, “to date, several positive samples that may suggest the VOC 202012/01 variant are being sequenced” by the specialist laboratories of the national Pasteur Institute, the statement added.

Texas hospitals fill to near pandemic peak

Coronavirus hospitalisations in Texas approached a peak equaling the summer's surge even as health officials warned that holiday gatherings and travel are likely to further spread the virus and pressure health care services.

The state health department reported 10,868 patients hospitalised with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state on Christmas, less than 30 behind the record high set in July. Intensive care units in several parts of Texas were full or nearly full, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Texas on Friday reported 200 more death from Covid-19.

There were 3,123 newly confirmed cases of the virus and another 973 probable cases, according to the health department.

New Covid-19 patients range from 2-100 years in Kenya

Confirmed new coronavirus infections in Kenya span patients aged between 2 and 100, Kenya’s Health Ministry announced on Friday.

In a tweet, the ministry said: “282 people [240 Kenyans and 42 foreigners] have tested positive for the virus, from a sample size of 4,095 tested in the last 24 hours, bringing to 95,713 the number of confirmed positive cases in the country.”

While one person was killed from the infection, new Covid-19 cases include 164 males and 118 females.

“The youngest is a two-year old child, while the oldest is 100,” it said.

While Kenya has been hit by a second wave from the pandemic, fatalities stand at 1,653, while 76,811 patients have recovered.

CoronaVac efficacy at 50-90 percent in Brazilian trial  –  Sao Paulo official

The CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd showed efficacy between 50 percent and 90 percent in Brazilian trials, Sao Paulo's state health secretary said, and its Brazilian producer said full trial results will be released by January 7.

Results of trials in Brazil are known exclusively by Sao Paulo state's Butantan Institute biomedical research centre, which has an agreement with Sinovac to produce the vaccine, said health secretary Jean Gorinchteyn.

First trials showed efficacy above 50 percent, the minimum required by Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, and below 90 percent, Gorinchteyn said in an interview with CBN radio aired late on Thursday.

At Sinovac's request, Sao Paulo's health department has not received the Chinese drugmaker's full trial results, he said, adding that the company will review the data before announcing final results.

Butantan will disclose the data trial results in up to 15 days, or by January 7, the institute said in a note on Friday.

Brazil coronavirus death toll hits 190,000

Brazil registered 22,967 additional cases of the new coronavirus and 482 related deaths in the prior 24 hours, according to data from the country's Health Ministry.

The South American country has now registered 7,448,560 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 190,488 deaths from Covid-19. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies