Rolling out Covid-19 vaccination to 450 million European people
The European Union began a mass vaccination campaign on Sunday to eventually inoculate some 450 million people in 27 member-states against COVID-19, according to NPR.
EU leaders have negotiated contracts for more than 2 billion vaccine doses from various suppliers. The first 200 million doses are of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which was co-developed by a husband-and-wife team in Mainz, Germany.
A person receives Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine at the Amedeo di Savoia Hospital, in Turin, Italy, on Dec. 27, 2020. Nations across Europe began their COVID-19 vaccination effort on Sunday.
NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
In Greece, the first recipient was Efstathia Kampisiouli, an ICU nurse in Athens. Greek television stations broadcast the vaccination. Kampisiouli, clad in blue scrubs and a mask, gave a thumbs-up as a masked colleague sank a needle into her arm. Everyone clapped.
Similar scenes were playing out across the EU, where more than 350,000 people have died of COVID-19. The hardest-hit country has been Italy, which has recorded more than 70,000 coronavirus deaths. Three healthcare workers were the first to receive the vaccine there. Italy's foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, urged Italians to get vaccinated.
The European Medicines Agency, based in the Netherlands, green-lit the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 21. The first batch of shots were delivered on Saturday.
Though the vaccine was developed in Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia all received it before the EU.
EU leaders wanted all 27 member-states to start vaccinations on Sunday as a way to show unity. In a tweet on Saturday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the synchronized rollout "a European success story."
But some countries couldn't wait. On Saturday, nursing home residents in northeast Germany were immunized — including 101-year-old Gertrude Haase. Hungary and Slovakia also started a day early.
In the Netherlands, logistical and bureaucratic issues have delayed the start of vaccinations until January 8.
The EU hopes to vaccinate residents of all 27 member-states by the end of next year. Brussels has also secured doses of the vaccine for non-EU countries — including Iceland and Norway. EU contributions to the international COVAX vaccine initiative will also mean that Kosovo — one of the poorest countries in Europe — will receive at least 300,000 COVID vaccine doses.
Donald Trump signs Covid-19 relief and spending bill
Donald Trump has signed the Covid-19 relief and spending bill after days of delays leading to anger voices among Republicans.
The announcement on Sunday night after Republicans urged him to act following his refusal to sign the bill, a decision that meant millions of Americans lost unemployment aid.
|US President Donald Trump. Photo: Time.|
Trump blindsided members of both parties and upended months of negotiations when he demanded last week that the package – already passed by the House and Senate by large margins and believed to have Trump’s support – be revised to include larger relief checks and scaled-back spending.
But on Sunday night Trump released a statement that he had signed the bill, saying it was his “responsibility to protect the people of our country from the economic devastation and hardship” caused by a coronavirus.
“As president, I have told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child.
“I will sign the omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed. I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.
“I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more.”
In the face of growing economic hardship and spreading disease, lawmakers had urged Trump on Sunday to sign the legislation immediately, then have Congress follow up with additional aid. Aside from unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, money for vaccine distribution, businesses, and cash-starved public transit systems are on the line. Protections against evictions also hang in the balance.
The UK called for lockdown due to Covid-19 variant rapid spread
The new variant of the Covid-19 virus has spread to several European countries with Spain, Sweden, Switzerland confirming new cases link to people who had arrived from the UK.
According to The Guardian, the news came at the same time as a further six million people in the east and south-east England had tier 4 conditions, England’s strictest Covid level, imposed on them on Boxing Day. Lockdowns were also introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Around 24 million people in England, more than 40% of the population, are now living in tier 4, as pressure mounts for the whole country to be put in this category.
|Illustrative photo.Credit...Andrew Testa/ The New York Times|
Scientists from the Independent Sage group have urged that all regions of England be placed in tier 4, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues must close. Devolved nations were advised to bring forward their own national lockdowns. Tier 4 should include enhanced travel restrictions, the group said, while arguing that an emergency plan be introduced to enable safe education in January and February.
This idea is supported by teaching unions, who have demanded that the government keeps schools closed as evidence has grown that the new virus variant is proving to be particularly infectious among children.
This point was backed by Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia. “If this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big worry,” he said.
In the UK, the NHS on Saturday revealed that a further 161 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 have died. The patients were aged between 44 and 100 years old, and all except eight had known underlying health conditions. The figure brings the total number of confirmed reported Covid deaths in hospitals in England to 48,311.
The numbers of cases are soaring around the country as the coronavirus variant continues to spread rapidly, particularly among young people. A daily rate of 32,725 cases was reported at the end of last week, a 46.6% increase in the previous week.
Covid-19 in Asia
Thailand: The number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand has jumped significantly since an outbreak was detected last week among Myanmar migrants working at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon, according to CNA.
Since last Sunday, more than 1,000 migrant workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, along with Thais working or living near the seafood market, which supplies much of the country.
Thailand has reported a total of 6,123 cases and 60 deaths as of Sunday.
South Korea: South Korea plans to discuss whether it needs to further tighten distancing rules last week as the current curbs failed to reverse a resurgence in outbreaks, with the daily COVID-19 count hitting another high on Friday (Dec 25), CNA cited officials as saying.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,241 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Thursday, the highest daily count recorded.
Daily numbers have been hovering at record levels over the past few weeks, around 1,000, but the government resisted calls for imposing the toughest Level 3 at least for the greater Seoul area due to economic concerns, calling it a last resort. Level 3 restrictions would essentially mean a lockdown of Asia's fourth-largest economy, closing another 1.2 million businesses and allowing only essential workers into offices.
Japan: Japan bans entry from all countries to prevent the spread of the more contagious U.K. strain of the coronavirus, the government announced lastweek, according to Nikkei Asian Reviews.
|Only a few travelers are seen at Haneda airport's departure terminal as countries around the world restrict overseas travel amid the pandemic. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)|
The ban takes effect Monday and continues through the end of January. Japanese nationals and foreigners living in Japan will be permitted to return to the country. A 14-day quarantine request will apply to all without exception.
Japan currently bans entry from 152 nations, but since October, it has allowed in foreign students or business professionals planning long-term stays. Now the issuance of those visas will be suspended, but those who have already acquired visas can enter even after Monday.
New entry from the U.K. and South Africa -- two countries where the new variant is spreading -- has already been suspended.
To avoid disruptions to economic activity, bilateral business travel arrangements with 11 countries including China and South Korea will be maintained. Since many foreigners are entering Japan through this arrangement, the latest travel ban may have little impact on limiting foreign arrivals.
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