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Coronavirus - 9th December

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 10:03

Summary for Wednesday, 9th December

  • Infections in the US pass 15 million, as President-elect Joe Biden vows to provide 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office
  • Campaigners accuse rich countries of hoarding doses of Covid vaccines, leaving poorer countries able to vaccine only one in 10 people
  • The UK continues its second day of its mass vaccination programme, following approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  • A cruise has returned to Singapore on day three of a four-day trip after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19
  • In the UK, more than 50% of students say their mental health has declined since the Covid pandemic began
  • Schools in England will be allowed to close a day early for Christmas to give teachers "a proper break" from identifying potential Covid-19 cases

Hello and welcome to our daily coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our teams from London and around the world will be bringing you the latest updates - it's Josh, Alex, Helier and Sarah with you this morning.
To start with, here is an overview of the global stories that have been making headlines in recent hours:

UK headlines round-up

And here is a round-up of the main Covid-related UK stories this morning.

  • More than 50% of students say their mental health has declined since the Covid-19 pandemic began, says a survey for the National Union of Students. Many of the 4,241 students surveyed in November say they have suffered stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression
  • Schools in England will be allowed to close a day early for Christmas to give teachers "a proper break" from identifying potential Covid-19 cases. Schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs that schools could schedule an inset day next Friday to allow "six clear days" before Christmas Eve
  • A one-off "wealth tax" would be the best way to patch up UK public finances battered by the coronavirus crisis, tax experts have said. Rather than increasing income tax or VAT, the government should instead look at a tax on millionaire couples, the Wealth Tax Commission said
  • People who need to self-isolate or quarantine will only need to do so for 10 days from Thursday, the Welsh government has announced. The current period is 14 days, which has been amended on the endorsement of chief medical officer Frank Atherton

Biden lays out Covid plan for his first 100 days

The US has the highest number of coronavirus infections (over 15 million) and deaths (more than 286,000) of any country in the world, data shows .
So bringing the country’s epidemic under control will be a top priority for President-elect Biden when he takes office in January - and he has highlighted vaccinations and mask-wearing as two key ways to do so.
On Tuesday, Biden pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans against Covid-19 during his first 100 days in the White House.
Introducing his new leadership team for healthcare, Biden unveiled an aggressive plan to tackle coronavirus that he said would change the course of the country’s epidemic, but not end it.
“Out of our collective pain, we are going to find a collective purpose,” Biden said, urging Americans to “mask up for 100 days”.
“To control the pandemic, to save lives and to heal as a nation.”

Millions to be vaccinated before end of year, Gove says

It's the second day of the UK's mass Covid vaccination rollout, and we're continuing to hear positive sounds from the government about it.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said this morning that millions of people in the UK are likely to be vaccinated before the end of the year.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether Health Secretary Matt Hancock was being "too ambitious" for making this pledge, as well as saying that vaccines would be administered in care homes before Christmas, Gove said: "No, I don't think so. I think millions of people will be vaccinated, and I think it's also the case that when it comes to getting vaccines into care homes that we do need appropriate preparations because, as we know, the vaccine needs to be stored until shortly before it's administered at temperatures below -70C.
"It is the case that we're working with logistics experts in order to make sure that the numbers of vaccines can be parcelled up in such a way as to allow visits to care homes and all of the residents in care homes to be appropriately vaccinated, but it is a careful and staged process."

Covid case ends Singapore 'cruise to nowhere'


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The coronavirus pandemic has largely shut down the cruise industry

The pandemic has been a tough time for cruise-ship operators.
In an attempt to revive the hard-hit industry, Singapore launched "cruises to nowhere" - which start and end at the same port without stops - last month.
But on Wednesday the "safe cruising" scheme suffered a setback.
A cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean had to return to Singapore on day three of its voyage after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19.
"We identified and isolated all guests and crew who had close contact with this guest, and each of those individuals have subsequently tested negative for the virus,” the cruise firm said in a statement.
The firm added that passengers would be allowed to disembark "after a review of contact tracing is completed".
According to The Straits Times, a Singaporean daily newspaper, there were 1,680 guests and 1,448 crew members on board.
Read more: Are cruise ships really 'floating Petri dishes'?

Oxford team has 'no idea on timings' for jab approval

The Oxford coronavirus vaccine team has "no idea on timings" for when the British regulator could draw its conclusions about the jab, the lead researcher of the vaccine development programme at the university has said.
The UK government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, but the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has not yet decided whether to approve it.
Asked about when a decision could happen, Prof Sarah Gilbert told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's actually AstraZeneca, the manufacturers of the vaccine, who are working directly with the regulators and in parallel we have been working on the publication of the full data, which came out yesterday."
That data, published in The Lancet journal , showed the vaccine is safe and effective and gives good protection.
The UK's coronavirus vaccine rollout started on Tuesday after it became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 10:19

Don't hoard vaccines, campaigners tell rich nations

As Covid vaccines start to gain regulatory approval globally, there are concerns that people living in less economically developed countries may lose out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called this “vaccine nationalism”, whereby countries prioritise their domestic needs at the expense of others.
Campaigners say that, according to their analysis, rich countries have been hoarding doses of Covid vaccines , leaving few for those in poor countries.
The People's Vaccine Alliance says nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people.
By contrast, rich countries have bought enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over if all the vaccines are approved for use, their analysis showed.
But steps are being taken by the WHO and pharmaceutical companies to ensure access to vaccines is fair around the globe.
You can read more about those efforts here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 10:23

UK regulator used 'innovative' process to approve Pfizer jab

Lessons learned from the Covid pandemic are being discussed at a UK parliamentary committee hearing this morning.
England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and the UK government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance are among those expected to give evidence at today's joint session of the Commons Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee.
But first June Raine, chief executive of the Medical and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), was asked how it was possible for the UK to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before every other country.
Dr Raine told the committee the MHRA adopted a "novel or innovative" regulatory process, known as the rolling review, to speed up the approval process.
She said: "Normally, all the data on a vaccine's safety, quality and effectiveness, and all required documentation, must be submitted together to start an evaluation to approve a medicine or a vaccine. But in this case, in the case of a rolling review, we reviewed data in packages or tranches as soon as they became available from the ongoing studies, on a staggered basis.
"By reviewing data as soon as it became available, we could reach an opinion sooner on whether the medicine or the vaccine could be approved."

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 10:30

From The Guardian:

The UK’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance has warned that Britons may still be wearing masks next winter, telling the Telegraph: “It may be that next winter even with vaccination we need measures such as masks in place”. Restrictions may remain in place long after a full rollout of a vaccine, Vallance suggested, according to the report.
Meanwhile Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said he is feeling better after contracting Covid-19 and expects to leave the hospital on Wednesday.
Here are the other key developments from the last few hours:

  • Deaths from Covid-19 in the US have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April.Cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record.
  • Germany moving towards stricter measures. Germany inched towards stricter measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as an eastern region said it would close schools and most businesses and the health minister warned a partial lockdown had not stopped the disease.
  • Dutch coronavirus cases rise for first week since October. The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands has resumed rising after falling for weeks, the country’s health authority has said. There were 43,103 new cases registered in the week ended 8 December, the National Institute for Health said in its weekly update, up from 33,949 in the week ended 1 December.
  • Hong Kong to impose fresh virus restrictions. Hong Kong is set to impose new virus restrictions to battle a fourth wave of coronavirus – evening dining at restaurants will be banned, fitness centres closed and people urged to work at home as the government tries to reduce the number of people on the streets.
  • A 90-year-old Briton became the first person in world to receive Pfizer Covid-19 jab. UK grandmother Margaret Keenan, 90, has become the first patient in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 jab following its clinical approval as the NHS launched its biggest ever vaccine campaign.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 10:47

Rudy Giuliani expected to leave hospital on Wednesday

The US president Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday said he is feeling better after contracting Covid-19 and expects to leave the hospital on Wednesday.
The 76-year-old former New York City mayor, who is spearheading Trump’s flagging effort to overturn the president’s election loss to Joe Biden, said he began to feel unusually tired on Friday.
By Sunday, when his diagnosis was announced, Giuliani said he was showing other “mild symptoms” but that currently he has no fever and only a small cough.
“I think they are going to let me out tomorrow morning,” Giuliani said in an interview with WABC Radio in New York. He was at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, two sources familiar with the situation said on Sunday.
Giuliani plans to attend a virtual hearing this week with Georgia lawmakers, another source familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday.

UK science chief warns Britons may still need masks next winter

People in the United Kingdom may still be wearing face masks in a year’s time despite the country’s national vaccination programme getting under way, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, told the Telegraph.
“It may be that next winter even with vaccination we need measures such as masks in place,” he said.
Restrictions may remain in place long after a full rollout of a vaccine, Vallance suggested, according to the report.

US passes 15m cases

US coronavirus cases crossed the 15 million mark on Tuesday as regulators moved a step closer to approving a Covid-19 vaccine and Britain started inoculating people, offering hope of slowing a pandemic that killed 15,000 Americans in the last week alone.
Record cases in at least three states - Arizona, Alabama and Ohio - pushed the cumulative case load to over 15 million, according to a Reuters tally of state and county data. With the virus showing no sign of abating, leading health officials are once again sounding the alarm of further spread when people gather for the year-end holidays.
“We*re in for a very challenging period,” top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told a virtual summit on Tuesday.

South Korea reports second-highest cases of pandemic so far

South Korea reported 686 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as it battles a third wave of infection that is threatening to overwhelm its medical system, Reuters reports.
The daily tally was the second-highest since the start of the pandemic, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. New cases have been consistently around 600 over the past week.
Tougher social distancing rules took effect on Tuesday, including unprecedented curfews on restaurants and most other businesses.
The government has also introduced a new testing method to cater to surging demand, and eased rules to release some recovered patients faster to free up hospital beds.
The government has signed deals with four global drugmakers to procure Covid-19 vaccines for 44 million people.
South Korea’s total infections stand at 39,432, with 556 deaths.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a forum in Bahrain on Saturday that it was “hard to believe” that the North had no coronavirus cases, adding that Pyongyang had been unresponsive to Seoul’s offers to help tackle the disease.
The pandemic “in fact has made North Korea more North Korea - ie more closed, very top-down decision-making process where there is very little debate on their measures dealing with Covid-19”, Kang said.
“All signs are that the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don’t have.”
Kim Yo Jong, sister and key adviser to the North Korean leader, condemned Kang in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday, calling her comments “impudent” and accusing her of seeking to worsen the already strained inter-Korean relationship.
“It can be seen from the reckless remarks made by her without any consideration of the consequences that she is too eager to further chill the frozen relations between the north and south of Korea,” Kim said.
“We will never forget her words and she might have to pay dearly for it.”

Thailand to increase border patrol following new case cluster

Rebecca Ratcliffe - The Guardian
Thailand will deploy drones and increase military patrols along its border with Myanmar following a small cluster of cases linked to people crossing undetected into the country.
At least 19 cases of the coronavirus have been linked to people passing over the border without undergoing mandatory quarantine. Health workers have raced to trace hundreds of contacts, while some schools have also been closed as a precaution.
Thailand – which has recorded 4,126 cases and 60 deaths - has been praised by the World Health Organisation for its success in handling the outbreak, including its contact tracing efforts and strict lockdown earlier in the year.



Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 11,006 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 800 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,193,255 cases and 110,874 deaths.
The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.




Indonesia elections

Indonesia pushed forward with holding previously postponed regional elections on Wednesday despite concerns about doing so amid the ongoing pandemic.
AP: At least 105 million people were eligible to vote in elections being held to choose nine governors, 37 mayors and 224 district chiefs across 270 regions. The polls were originally supposed to be held in September but were delayed because of the virus and the number of organisers who got sick.
The vote comes just days after Indonesia recorded its highest daily increase in new virus cases since the pandemic began — more than 8,000.
The pandemic was impacting the logistics of voting. Masks were required for voters and poll workers. Polling stations opened earlier than usual and each voter was given a scheduled hour during which they could vote.

Over than 100 million Indonesians are eligible to vote today in regional elections, prompting concern that a large turnout could fuel the spread of the coronavirus.
The elections will span almost 300,000 polling stations in 24 districts and 37 cities across Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy. The vote had originally been scheduled for September, but was postponed as the country struggled to contain its virus outbreak.
Indonesia has recorded more than 586,000 infections and 18,000 deaths, making it one of the worst hit countries in South-east Asia.
“One hundred million Indonesians will be active all at once,” epidemiologist Pandu Riono told Reuters, warning that while Indonesia’s relatively low testing and tracing rates might obscure the initial impact “it’s very likely that new clusters will emerge.
Election officials said that staff would be deployed at polling stations to ensure that disease prevention measures were being followed, and that election workers would be given protective equipment. Voters are also being encouraged to wear masks.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s son and son-in-law were among candidates on track to win posts in regional elections on Wednesday after polls that health experts have warned could spark new coronavirus clusters across the archipelago.
More than 100 million people were registered to vote in the polls, a mammoth logistical task even without a pandemic, with nearly 300,000 polling stations in 24 districts and 37 cities.
The vote in the world’s third-biggest democracy comes as Indonesia struggles to contain Southeast Asia’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, with more than 592,000 infections and 18,000 deaths.
On Wednesday, it recorded its highest daily Covid-19 death toll of 171, but voter enthusiasm did not seem to have been significantly dampened in many areas.
“Of course, we are all worried during this pandemic but as a good citizen of this country I want to participate in this election,” said Rusdiana Jarkasih, who voted in Depok in West Java as volunteers handed out gloves and checked temperatures
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 11:17

Moldova PM tests positive


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Ion Chicu's adviser said he would continue to work remotely

Moldova's Prime Minister Ion Chicu has become the latest world leader to contract coronavirus.
His adviser said on Facebook on Tuesday that the 48-year-old prime minister had tested positive and would work remotely.
Chicu was appointed as head of a Socialist party-backed minority government in November 2019.
He is one of several world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to have caught the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Covid-19 continues to spread in Moldova, an eastern European country of about 3.5 million people. As of 9 December, 119,204 people have contracted the virus and 2,460 died with it.

GPs to start immunising next week

Vaccines will start in the community next week with more supplies of the Pfizer jab expected to be shipped into the UK in the coming days.
GPs in England have been told to be ready to give the jab from Tuesday.
It comes after hospitals started running clinics yesterday.
Doses are expected to be delivered to around 200 GP surgeries initially - with the over-80s invited first.
Read more
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 11:21

Merkel supports stricter measures over Christmas

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed calls for stricter coronavirus measures over the Christmas period, telling lawmakers that the country's daily death toll was “not acceptable”.
Addressing parliament, Merkel suggested that social distancing was not being observed properly, with contact still “far too high”.
She said she agreed with recommendations to close shops after Christmas and opposed opening hotels so that families can visit each other over the holiday period.
"I am really sorry... but if we're paying the price of death tolls at 590 people daily then that's, in my view, not acceptable,” she told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Germany imposed a "lockdown light" last month, but deaths linked to Covid-19 have risen markedly since the beginning of December, bringing the total tally to almost 20,000.
Merkel did, however, strike a more positive tone in relation to vaccines, saying there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.
However, she reminded people to be patient, saying it was unlikely that enough people would be vaccinated in the first quarter of next year to achieve herd immunity.

Allergy warning over new jab

People with a history of significant allergic reactions should not have the new Covid jab, regulators say.
It came after two NHS workers had allergic reactions on Tuesday.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the advice applies to anyone who has had significant reactions to medicines, food or vaccines.
Thousands of patients were vaccinated on Tuesday in hospital clinics on the first day of the UK's vaccination programme.
June Raine, head of the MHRA, told MPs careful plans had been made for "real-time vigilance" when monitoring side effects from vaccinations and that any updates to advice for patients would be communicated "immediately".
"We know from the very extensive clinical trials that this [the reported allergic reactions] wasn't a feature but if we need to strengthen our advice now that we have had this experience in the vulnerable populations... we will get that advice to the field immediately," she said.
Pfizer said the vaccine was "well tolerated" during the trials with "no serious safety concerns".
The company added that it and BioNTech were supporting the MHRA's investigation.
You can read our explainer here on what you need to know about vaccine safety.

Regulator and NHS in 'very good position' to pick up vaccine issues

The NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are in a "very good position" to pick up issues with any vaccine, England's chief medical officer has told MPs.
"Dr (June) Raine talked about identifying things once a vaccine is in use," Prof Chris Whitty told the Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees.
"The initial process, very importantly, picks up common side effects, that's what the big phase two and then subsequently, if they are safe, phase three clinical trials allow to happen.
"But extremely rare but important issues, inevitably you accrue more information over time.
"The NHS through to the MHRA is in a very good position to make sure that we can pick things up quickly, identifying them, communicate them widely, ensure that we improve practice."
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 12:49

Trump lawyer Giuliani 'on same treatments as president'

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday, has given an update on his treatment and condition.
The 76-year-old former New York City mayor called into his own WABC radio show on Tuesday, apparently from his bed at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC.
“I have no fever,” he said. “I have very little cough, it’s just about also gone, I’ve been walking around, and I think they’re going to let me out tomorrow morning.”
Giuliani said he had taken remdesivir and dexamethasone, the same drugs Trump received when he had the coronavirus in October (read more about those treatments here ).
“His doctor sent me here,” Giuliani said of the president. “He talked me into it.”
Meanwhile, another senior legal adviser to Trump, Jenna Ellis, tested positive for coronavirus, according to US media reports.

UAE says China vaccine is 86% effective

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said a Chinese coronavirus vaccine tested in the country is 86% effective, according to analysis of third-phase trials.
The UAE's health ministry "has announced the official registration" of the vaccine, state news agency WAM said on Tuesday, without giving further details.
The news is the first public release of information on the efficacy of the vaccine, produced by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (CNPG), known as Sinopharm.
The vaccine has been undergoing third-phase trials in the UAE since July, and it was approved for emergency use for healthcare workers in September.
But neither the UAE nor Sinopharm have released detailed data from the pivotal study. The UAE’s health ministry said “analysis shows no serious safety concerns” but, without more detailed data, questions remain.
You can read more about China’s vaccines, including one made by Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, in this explainer .

'Nearly half' of democracies regressed on human rights during pandemic

Toby Luckhurst - World Online
As the coronavirus spread around the world eight months ago, governments brought in tight restrictions in a bid to halt its spread.
But while those measures helped slow the pandemic, a new report published on Wednesday says they may have damaged human rights.
Almost half of the world’s democracies have gone backwards in 2020 on democratic and rights standards, according to the international Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
Their study says 43% of democracies - including countries like India, Poland and Argentina - have brought in restrictions "that were either illegal, disproportionate, indefinite or unnecessary". Including non-democratic nations, that figure rises to 61% of countries worldwide.
Restrictions on information about the virus, covering up outbreaks, indecision about holding elections and curtailing media freedoms have all served to undermine people’s rights or even their faith in democracy.
IDEA’s secretary-general Kevin Casas-Zamora told the BBC that this was not surprising in nations "where democracy and the rule of law was under stress before the pandemic".
He also said this was an incomplete story - the "political bill" of the pandemic will come in the months and years ahead as the economic crisis hits, just as happened in the years after the global financial crisis of 2008. "That's where the real danger lies," he said.
But Mr Casas-Zamora also pointed out that there are some countries - like New Zealand, Uruguay, Finland and South Korea - which both respected democratic norms and also effectively tackled the outbreak.
"This notion that we have to become like China [to fight the virus] is not true," he said.
"It's part of a narrative that we have to debunk - and that has been debunked by the evidence."
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:30

Merkel backs tougher restrictions and other global headlines


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German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern about social distancing in an address to parliament

If you’re just catching up with today’s coronavirus news, here’s a look at some of the stories making headlines around the world:
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:32

Herd immunity could take a year, Biden adviser says


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Now to the US, where the grim milestone of 15 million coronavirus infections in total was reached in the past 24 hours.
With vaccines close to regulatory approval in the US, members of President elect Joe Biden's coronavirus task force have said it could take at least a year to inoculate most of the population.
Dr Eric Goosby, an infectious disease expert, told the BBC that even if the Pfizer vaccine received official US approval in the coming days, the country would not reach the required level of immunity for many months.
Dr Goosby said at least 70% of the population needed to have immunity to Covid-19 to achieve herd immunity.
Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient portion of a population becomes immune to a disease through vaccinations or natural exposure.
“With the combination of individuals who are infected from the virus itself, matched with vaccination groups, we will be able to get there… at the end of the year for 2021,” Dr Goosby said.
On Tuesday, Biden set an ambitious target of vaccinating 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. However, he did try to manage expectations of vaccinations, saying they alone would not end the outbreak.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:36

Covid 'not out of control' in Wales

The coronavirus situation in Wales is "very difficult" but not out of control, according to the country's first minister.
Mark Drakeford defended his government's decision to have a short lockdown of 17 days in the autumn.
He has faced accusations from the Welsh Conservatives of losing his grip as cases rise.
Chief medical officer Frank Atherton warned there was "serious pressure" on the NHS in the country, particularly in south Wales - and said ministers were considering whether new measures might be needed before Christmas.
He also urged people not to mix with others outside their household between now and Christmas.
Read more

Starmer tests negative for coronavirus


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Sir Keir Starmer has received a negative test for coronavirus after a member of his staff tested positive.
The Labour leader had been in self-isolation and took part in Prime Minister's Questions earlier today via video link.
Starmer's spokesman said he took the test at home after it was provided to him by parliamentary authorities.
Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also had to appear at PMQs via video link after coming into contact with a fellow Conservative MP who later tested positive for Covid-19.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:38

Far-right voters and Covid in Germany: Is there a link?

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed parliament earlier today she was heckled by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who is opposed to the government's lockdowns.
Mrs Merkel responded: “I believe quite simply that the scientific knowledge is real and it is this we should be using to guide us.”
It comes as some data suggests that regions that have seen increasing support for far-right political parties in recent elections have higher infection rates.
For example Saxony, where the AfD's vote share surged in 2016 and 2019 elections, had the highest incidence rate of coronavirus in Germany on Tuesday.
So, is there a connection between far-right voters and coronavirus infections? Well, maybe.
A research group from the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena said it looked at the data. In a tweeted thread , its director Matthias Quent said there was a "strong and very significant statistical correlation" between AfD support in the 2017 federal election and the intensity of the pandemic.
Some AfD politicians have played down the threat of the virus which, according to one theory, may have led to complacency among their supporters, thus increasing infections.
However, other factors such as the proportion of elderly people in these regions could explain the high incidence rates, the researcher cautioned. In short, more research needs to be done.

Second wave in Scotland 'triggered by summer holidays'

The origins of many of the second wave of Covid infections in Scotland can be traced to countries outside the UK, a new expert report has said.
Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, told the daily media briefing the March lockdown eliminated the majority of the first wave strains.
But he said the report demonstrated that whole new strains were introduced and the study identified travel to Europe as the trigger for the second wave.
The report, written for the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said many cases could be traced to summer holidays and other travel abroad in July and August.
Read more
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:40

North Korea's anger over South's Covid comments

David Cann - BBC Korean Service
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has condemned South Korea's foreign minister, calling her "impudent" for her comment on North Korea's coronavirus measures.
It comes after the South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-hwa said on Saturday that it was “hard to believe” that the North had zero coronavirus cases.
“The regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don't have," Kang said.
Kim Yo-jong called Kang’s comment a “reckless remark” and that “she might have to pay dearly for it”.
While Kim’s statement seems strongly worded, the fact that it has only been published in KCNA, North’s state media for the outside world, rather than its domestic outlets, suggests that the regime has in fact deliberately toned down the criticism.
North Korea maintains that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus within its borders. Experts believe that this is directed towards its own populace, to prevent any doubts being cast upon the regime’s ability to control the pandemic.
Read more: Kim Yo-jong: North Korea's most powerful woman and heir apparent?

Cunard extends suspension of cruises

The suspension of Cunard cruises has been further extended until the end of May 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The British company has pushed back the date of its cruises resuming several times. Operations had most recently been paused until March, prior to today's announcement.
Cunard president Simon Palethorpe said: “Our extension to the pause in operations is the result of the ongoing restrictions on cruising in the UK and around the world and recognises the significant lead times to return to service, once those restrictions are lifted."
In May, its parent company Carnival UK announced plans to cut 450 jobs across Cunard and P&O Cruises, to "ensure the future sustainability" of the business.

Israel PM vows to take Pfizer vaccine as first doses arrive

Israel has received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to take the first jab.
Netanyahu said the delivery was a “great celebration” for Israel as he stood on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport, where batches of the vaccine were unloaded from a cargo plane.
“I want to serve as an example to them and I intend to be the first to be injected with this vaccine in the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has yet to receive regulatory approval for use in Israel, but Netanyahu said he expected it to receive clearance "in the very near" future. The first Pfizer jabs were given to people in the UK on Monday .
"The end is in sight," Netanyahu said of the pandemic, during which almost 350,000 infections and 3,000 deaths have been recorded in Israel.
The country imposed a second nationwide lockdown in September, when the country had one of the world's highest per-capita infection rates.
Netanyahu will hope the vaccine provides a political as well as a medical turning point, with his cabinet widely criticised for its handling of the epidemic, the BBC's Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.
Israel’s government has not yet commented on whether the vaccine procurement will cater for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip, our correspondent adds.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:43

Latest from the UK

If you're just joining us here's a quick recap of the main UK stories so far today:

  • England's chief medical officer says there will be a "gradual retreat" from lockdowns and warns that easing restrictions now there is a vaccine would be "absolutely the wrong thing to do"
  • People with a history of significant allergic reactions should not have the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab, regulators say
  • GPs in England have been told to be ready to give the jab from next week, after hospitals started vaccinations yesterday
  • More than 50% of students say their mental health has declined since the Covid pandemic began, according to a survey for the National Union of Students
  • People in Wales have been urged not to mix with others outside of their household


  • The origins of many of the second wave of Covid infections in Scotland can be traced to countries outside the UK, a new expert report says


Sputnik V, alcohol and Christmas in Russia

Oleg Boldyrev - BBC Russian, Moscow
Russians have been puzzling over conflicting advice from the authorities over whether they should stop drinking alcohol around the time they get vaccinated against Covid.
Last week, a deputy prime-minister, Tatiana Golikova, tasked with launching Sputnik V mass vaccination, said that those preparing for the jab should limit their drinking for 21 days after the first dose, and 21 days after the second dose.
This week another government official, Anna Popova, who heads Russia's consumer watchdog, went even further and suggested that alcohol should be avoided altogether for 56 days. She didn't say whether this advice was based on research.
Abstaining from alcohol for so long is a big ask for Russians, especially at the start of a prolonged festive period.
Perhaps predictably, social media reacted to government advice with fiery sarcasm. One user asked: "What were those plonkers thinking by introducing this procedure in December?!" while another joked: "They will later be able to say that it was not the vaccine that was bad but the people drinking."
Alexander Gintzburg, the head of Russia's Gamaleya research centre, which developed the Sputnik V vaccine, sought to calm the alarm and said abstinence must last only 3 days prior to the jab and 3 days after.
Scientific advice against a total ban on alcohol consumption in vaccination is scant, although it is agreed that excessive drinking can impair the build-up of immune defences.
The vaccine programme may face an uphill battle in any case - an opinion poll conducted by Superjob.ru last week showed that only 30% of Russians want to be vaccinated.
Quite possibly, researchers are now alarmed that after the alcohol warnings, public appetite for vaccination could evaporate faster than a shot of vodka on a hot stove.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:45

London must enter tier 3 now, warn experts

London should be placed in tier three "now" to avoid a spike in deaths over Christmas, experts have warned.
The city saw a spike in Covid-19 cases at the end of the England-wide lockdown on 2 December, new figures have revealed.
Government officials are due to meet on 16 December to review what tier each area should be allocated.
PHE data shows 21 of London's 32 boroughs have infection rates higher than the overall rate for England of 150 cases per 100,000 people.
John Ashton, a former regional director of public health for north-west England, said: "If London doesn't want hospitals to be full over Christmas the government need to get a grip today."
Read more

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:47

New York-Rome flight 'reawakens hope for air traffic'

Mark Lowen - BBC Rome Correspondent
The first "Covid-free flight" from New York to Rome touched down earlier today, with all 100 passengers on board required to present a negative coronavirus test result before being allowed to travel.
The Alitalia flight from New York’s John F Kennedy airport to Rome Fiumicino landed at 8am local time – and out of an abundance of caution, the passengers on this first flight were subsequently tested on arrival. All again came out negative, allowing them to avoid the 14-day quarantine Italy requires for other incoming non-EU passengers.
Nicola Zingaretti, the governor of the Lazio region, which comprises Rome, said the initiative “reawakened hope for air traffic and transport”, calling it “a leap into the future where Italy leads the way and an experiment that, while waiting for the vaccine, can allow people to avoid the need to quarantine.”
There have been other "Covid-free flights" in recent weeks, including one from Milan to Nanjing, China, last month. And in September, Alitalia trialled the system on its Milan-Rome shuttle.
But extending the system to three flights per week on its New York-Rome service suggests that the airline believes this could be the boost that intercontinental air travel needs.
New York is a key route for Alitalia: an estimated three million residents of the city have Italian descent and 5.6 million Americans visited Italy last year – the biggest non-European market. In a country whose economy is already forecast to shrink by 10% this year, any initiative that increases tourism safely and securely would be the Christmas gift Italy craves.

Two NHS workers 'recovering well' after jab reaction

Earlier we heard that two NHS workers had an allergic reaction to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab on Tuesday.
We now know the two people had the reaction shortly after having the new jab, had treatment and are both fine now.
They are understood to have had an anaphylactoid reaction, which tends to involve a skin rash, breathlessness and sometimes a drop in blood pressure. This is not the same as anaphylaxis which can be fatal.
Both NHS workers have a history of serious allergies and carry adrenaline pens around with them.
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for the NHS in England, said both individuals were recovering well.
People with a history of significant allergic reactions have now been told by regulators not to have the jab.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:50

Analysis: Allergic reactions can happen with any vaccine

James Gallagher - Health and science correspondent, BBC News
The story about two people having allergic reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech jab is one to assess with your head and not your gut.
No effective medicine is without side effects so you have to balance the risk and the benefit.
Remember, one in 1,000 people in the UK have died after being infected with coronavirus this year and that figure is rising daily.
Two people, out of thousands vaccinated yesterday, had an allergic reaction which they recovered from.
Such reactions can happen with any vaccine and are treated with drugs such as steroids or adrenaline.
The trials reported one possible allergic reaction

UK coronavirus deaths rise by 533

A further 533 coronavirus deaths have been recorded in the UK, taking the total number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus to 62,566.
The latest government figures also show there have been a further 16,578 cases across the UK.
per 1,000 people immunised that may have been related to the jab.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has given targeted advice to those most at risk, but for the overwhelming majority of people this changes nothing.
More from James: What you need to know about vaccine safety

Breaking News 

Canada approves Pfizer vaccine for use

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been deemed safe for use by regulators in Canada, paving the way for mass vaccination in the country.
Health Canada approved the Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, shortly after the UK's move at the start of December.
"The approval of the vaccine is supported by evidence that it is safe, effective and of good quality," Health Canada said in a statement.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians would start receiving their first doses of Pfizer's vaccine before the end of December.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:54

How one woman’s foot became anti-vaccine propaganda

Marianna Spring - Specialist disinformation reporter

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Patricia from Texas is suffering from an unexplained skin condition on her feet - but a misunderstanding about what might have caused it set off a chain of events that turned her into fodder for anti-vaccine activists.
Mistaken claims she was injured in a vaccine trial were shared on a fundraiser page.
That fuelled rumours and conspiracy theories.
They all were based on the idea that Patricia had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
She had been part of a trial, but medical records show that instead of the vaccine itself, she received a placebo, a small injection of salt water.
Dermatologists confirmed that such an injection would not cause a skin reaction.
That didn't stop activists twisting her story to advance their own agendas.
The disinformation they fuelled online is worlds apart from legitimate safety concerns and today’s reports about allergic reactions.
On top of the physical pain caused by her condition, Patricia received a wave of online abuse.
Read more

Do you need to wear a mask if you're vaccinated?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
One of the big unknowns about the vaccines that are being developed is whether they prevent people from passing on the virus.
The trials that have taken place have only established that they stop people getting ill.
But it is quite possible that someone who is vaccinated could still infect others.
The assumption is vaccination will at least disrupt this to some extent - but it may not end transmission completely.
For that reason, those who are vaccinated will still be expected to wear masks and self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone who is infected.
That does not mean these precautions can never be lifted.
Once all the vulnerable people are immunised, there will be a strong case that these steps are not needed – or at least not needed on the scale they are currently being used.
However, it will take many months to get to that point.
Masks, self-isolation and social distancing are here for a while.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 20:58

EU medicines regulator hit by cyber-attack

The medicines regulator for the European Union (EU) says it has been the victim of a cyber-attack.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is currently working on approval of two Covid-19 vaccines, which it expects to conclude within weeks.
The EMA did not say what the nature of the cyber-attack was, if it was successful, or if it was linked to the vaccine approval process.
The agency authorises the use of medicines across the EU.
It is trying to decide if the Pfizer/BioNTech jab - which is being rolled out in the UK - and another made by Moderna, are safe for use in EU countries.
There has been a string of warnings about hacking threats against vaccine-makers and public health bodies.
Security services warned in the summer that Russian intelligence had been targeting organisations attempting to develop a successful vaccine.
Read the full story

Four Sky journalists off air during Covid breach inquiry

Sky News presenter Kay Burley and three colleagues have been taken off air while an investigation into breaches of Covid guidelines is carried out.
Political editor Beth Rigby, north of England correspondent Inzamam Rashid and presenter Sam Washington are off air while the inquiry takes place.
BBC media editor Amol Rajan said Burley's job was hanging in the balance.
It follows Burley's admission that she "inadvertently broke the rules" while celebrating her 60th birthday at the weekend.
The journalist said she could "only apologise" for her "error of judgment".
Writing on Twitter on Monday , Burley said she had been at a "Covid compliant" restaurant on Saturday and had later "popped into another" venue to use the toilet.

First person to receive Pfizer jab discharged from hospital


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Margaret Keenan left hospital with her daughter Sue

The 90-year-old grandmother who became the first person in the world to have the Pfizer vaccine has been discharged from hospital.
Margaret Keenan was admitted to University Hospital Coventry a few days before she was given the jab early on Tuesday.
Mrs Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said the injection was the "best early birthday present".
It was the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be dispensed in the UK in the coming weeks.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 21:01

Hong Kong's 'fourth wave' prompts mandatory testing

Helier Cheung - BBC News
Hong Kong is struggling under what officials are calling a "fourth wave".
For several days in the past two weeks, the territory has seen more than 100 new infections per day - a sharp contrast from earlier this year, when the city seemed to have the outbreak contained, and some days with zero local transmissions.
Now, authorities have banned dining in restaurants after 6pm - a significant move in a city where many work long hours, and eating out in an essential part of local culture.
The government has also ordered compulsory Covid-19 testing for taxi drivers working between over Christmas and January, and for residents of two housing estate blocks with clusters of infections .
Mandatory testing is a touchy subject to some in Hong Kong - some activists have raised concerns that testing could be used to collect DNA samples for surveillance purposes - claims the authorities have dismissed as a smear campaign.
A survey last month found 49% of people said they did not trust the government (compared to 30% who said they did).
However, attitudes may be changing as infection numbers rise, says Victoria Hui, a Hong Konger and politics professor at Notre Dame University.
"While people didn't want to sign up before, there seems to be more acceptance of testing now... Covid-19 now seems to be the immediate concern, with the possibility of DNA collection becoming a secondary concern," she told the BBC.

US regulators will check vaccine allergy data

We can bring you a response from US Health Secretary Alex Azar to the vaccine advice issued by UK regulators earlier today.
UK regulators have advised people with a history of significant allergic reactions against taking the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
That's because two people had a reaction shortly after having the new jab, though they received treatment and are both fine now (read more about this here ).
The vaccine is yet to be approved by the US’s regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), though it has found no safety concerns yet .
In an interview with broadcaster CNN , Azar was asked if the advice issued in the UK would have any impact on the regulatory authorisation of the vaccine in the US.
He said the FDA would examine the data on allergic reactions and speak to UK regulators.
“FDA is going to not cut any corners,” Azar said. “They’re looking at the data. They’re looking under the hood at everything. So I’m sure that’ll be something the FDA looks at here.”
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Fears as Stockholm's intensive care units reach 99% capacity

Maddy Savage - BBC News, Stockholm
Sweden’s capital has almost reached its limit for providing intensive care beds for the first time during the pandemic, with 99% of all spots filled with serious Covid-19 cases alongside other patients, according to Björn Eriksson, Health and Medical care director for the Stockholm region.
He told a news conference that his team had thought they were seeing a “plateau or the beginning of a decline” of coronavirus admissions, but that the opposite had happened.
In a separate interview with major Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, he admitted there was a risk that some patients in need of care may not be able to receive it, describing a “very serious situation”. Earlier this week intensive care staff from Blekinge in southern Sweden were called in to help doctors at Stockholm’s largest hospital, Karolinska.
Sweden, which relied largely on voluntary social distancing guidelines at the start of the pandemic, has recently toughened its restrictions, banning public gatherings of more than eight people and alcohol sales after 10pm.
Students over the age of 16 have also switched back to distance-learning, having returned to classrooms in August. However there are ongoing concerns about overcrowding in shops and on public transport.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Lena Hallengren promised that everyone aged over 18 would be offered a Covid-19 vaccine within the first six months of 2021.

Canada approves vaccine - but faces 'hoarding' criticism

Robin Levinson King - BBC News, Toronto
Canada has officially approved Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine , which means the first doses could be delivered by the end of the month.
The drug will be indicated for people over 16-years-old, while its use in children continues to be studied, the health department said.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 249,000 doses could go out to people in long term-care homes as early as the end of December.
In total, the Canadian government has purchased 20 million doses of the vaccine - enough to inoculate 10 million people - with the option to buy 56 million more. The country's population is about 37 million.
That gives Canada the most doses per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to a recent study.
Amnesty International has accused Canada and other rich countries of "hoarding" the vaccine, and says it could lead to more deaths in the developing world.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 21:07

UN: Pandemic will have ‘negligible’ impact on climate change

Flights have been grounded. Fewer cars have been on the roads. Economic activity has slowed.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought much of life as we know it to a halt.
As a result, carbon emissions are predicted to fall by about 7% globally this year, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) .
Yet, this year’s projected reduction in greenhouse gases will have a “negligible” impact on climate change, the report says. The forecasted dip, it says, only translates to a 0.01C reduction of global warming by 2050.
Such a reduction would do little to keep global temperatures within 2C of pre-industrial levels, the target set by the Paris Agreement on climate change .
A green pandemic recovery, however, can bring emissions close to levels needed to achieve the 2C goal by 2030, the report adds.
While the report looks at the plans that governments have submitted to curb their CO2, it also examines the roles of lifestyles and consumption patterns of individuals.
It says that the top 10% of earners would need to cut their carbon footprints to around one tenth of their current level to help restrict the rise in temperatures this century to 1.5C
You can read more about these findings here .

In charts: Decline in daily UK cases slows

After the first Covid-19 peak in April, cases in the UK started rising again in July, with the rate of growth increasing sharply in September and October, before falling again in November following tougher restrictions.
The rate of decline now appears to have slowed, with a further 16,578 confirmed cases announced by the government on Wednesday.
It is thought the infection rate was much higher during the first peak in spring, but testing capacity at the time was too limited to detect the true number of daily cases.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 21:12

Oregon nurse fired after claiming to flout Covid rules

A nurse in Oregon has been fired after claiming she does not follow pandemic restrictions outside of her job.
In a TikTok video apparently filmed in her hospital’s break room, Ashley Grames – a cancer nurse – said she does not wear a mask away from work. She added that she still travels and lets her children have play dates.
The now-deleted video caused a stir on social media, forcing Ms Grames’ employer Salem Health to condemn her behaviour and place her on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The hospital told local media on Tuesday that it no longer employs Ms Grames.
State records also indicate she will stop practising nursing for the time being, an agreement that will remain in effect until the state board of nursing allows her to practice again.
Oregon has experienced a surge of the virus over the past few weeks, setting records in daily caseloads and hospital admissions.

People in Wales urged not to mix outside of their household before Christmas

People in Wales have been urged not to mix with others outside of their household between now and Christmas.
The country's chief medical officer, Frank Atherton, told a Welsh government briefing: "The best present we can give our families this year is a coronavirus-free Christmas."
Groups of four people from different households are allowed to meet indoors at pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Previously the Welsh government had said people should limit themselves to seeing the same "one or two friends".
Dr Atherton said: "We all have to work to reduce the number of people we have contact with between now and Christmas.
"My message on this is really very simple - don't mix with people outside your household between now and Christmas."
Read more

Crypt of 1,400-year-old cathedral turned into Covid test site


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The military has helped set up the testing site at Rochester Cathedral

The crypt of England's second oldest cathedral has been turned into a coronavirus testing centre.
Rochester Cathedral, which has stood in Medway, Kent, for some 1,400 years, is one of the area's new targeted community testing centres being run in partnership with the military.
The county has some of the highest case numbers in the country and was recently placed under tier three - the highest level of restrictions in England.
Residents without symptoms are being encouraged to book a test to help tackle a rise in infections.

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Conspiracy theories follow first vaccinations

Alistair Coleman - BBC Monitoring
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Some people are claiming that this vaccine event was staged

The roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK was met immediately - and predictably - by an uptick in misinformation and false claims online.
Among posts on social media are claims that patients and medical staff seen on television “weren’t real people”, and that a “fake vaccination event” was staged for the media.
Although on the face of it these wild claims are preposterous, we checked anyway – and found the theories full of holes.
Take one allegation that gained traction on Twitter – that yesterday’s vaccination footage first appeared on CNN’s website in October.
This, however, is a characteristic of the CNN website’s video player - a feature used by many news organisations.
What readers actually saw was a constantly updated playlist of relevant stories, meaning new videos appear on older stories.
Other untrue claims were even more contrived, alleging actors and bizarre secret codes. One feature they seem to have in common is the lack of any real evidence.
We’ve been tracking some of the more popular anti-vaccine conspiracy theories during the pandemic - theories that are far from legitimate questions or reports, such as today’s reports of allergic reactions.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 09 2020, 21:17

Day 273 of the pandemic - here are the headlines

We’re wrapping up our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic for the day soon.
Before we do, let’s have a look at the stories that made headlines today, the 273rd day since a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the UK:

  • England's chief medical officer said there would be a "gradual retreat" from lockdowns and warned that easing restrictions now there is a vaccine would be "absolutely the wrong thing to do"
  • UK regulators advised people with a history of significant allergic reactions to not have the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The advice came after two people had a reaction shortly after having the jab, which experts say is not unusual
  • Wales' chief medical officer has urged people not to mix with others outside of their household between now and Christmas
  • The 90-year-old grandmother who became the first person in the world to have the Pfizer vaccine has been discharged from hospital
  • Four Sky News journalists have been taken off air while an investigation into breaches of Covid guidelines is carried out.

Elsewhere:

  • The Pfizer vaccine was approved by regulators in Canada , paving the way for the jab to be administered in the country this month
  • The medicines regulator for the European Union said it had been the victim of a cyber-attack . The European Medicines Agency assesses the safety of coronavirus vaccines - but gave no further details
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country's daily death toll was "not acceptable", as she backed calls for stricter coronavirus measures over Christmas
  • The first "Covid-free flight" from New York to Rome touched down earlier today, with all 100 passengers on board required to present a negative coronavirus test result before being allowed to travel.


Thanks for joining us

Thanks for following our live coverage of the pandemic.

Today's live page was edited by Helier Cheung and Sarah Collerton and written by Becky Morton, Joshua Nevett and Alex Therrien.


We'll be back with all the latest updates tomorrow morning.

    Current date/time is Sat Feb 27 2021, 22:10