Below is an outline of the latest updates of the day:
- 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 coronavirus infections and deaths, state television reported on Saturday.
- Four cases of a coronavirus variant believed to be particularly infectious that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in the Spanish city of Madrid, the regional government said Saturday, the first cases detected in the country.
- Hungary stole a march on its fellow EU nations as it began vaccinating its people against Covid-19 on Saturday, a day ahead of rollouts in several other countries including France, Germany and Spain as the pandemic surges across the continent.
- Mass vaccination across the European Union, home to almost 450 million people, would be a crucial step towards ending a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million around the world, crippled economies and destroyed businesses and jobs.
- The total number of cases of coronavirus infections in Russia crossed the 3 million mark for the first time on Saturday after officials recorded 29,258 new cases in the preceding 24 hours and 567 deaths.
- A resurgence of coronavirus in South Korea has reached new heights during Christmas week, prompting soul-searching on how the nation sleepwalked into a crisis. The 1,241 infections on Christmas Day were the largest daily increase. Another 1,132 cases were reported Saturday, bringing South Korea’s caseload to 55,902.
Millions wake up to tighter restrictions in UKSarah Marsh - The Guardian
Millions more people will be waking up to harsher coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day as tier changes come into force in England, and restrictions are imposed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A series of locations in tier 2 – including Oxfordshire, most of Hampshire, West Sussex, the remainder of East Sussex not already in tier 4, as well as Brighton and Hove, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – have been placed under tougher curbs. Parts of Essex not already in tier 4 and Waverley, in Surrey, will join them.
The 6 million people living in the areas join nearly 18 million people in London, the south-east and east of England who have endured tier 4 “stay at home” restrictions – including the closure of non-essential shops and strict one-on-one meeting limits outside between households – over Christmas.
It comes as the UK’s devolved administrations have also tightened restrictions to combat a rise in cases, with Wales already in another lockdown and mainland Scotland and Northern Ireland starting new lockdowns today.
In Scotland, hospitality businesses will have to close for all but takeaways and non-essential shops must also shut their doors. All non-essential stores across Scotland will be expected to close on 26 December, with click-and-collect services allowed.
Read more here
EU begins vaccine rolloutThe European Union began a vaccine rollout Saturday, even as countries in the bloc were forced back into lockdown by a new strain of the virus, believed to be more infectious, that continues to spread from Britain.
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.
Hours before the first vaccine doses arrived in France, Paris’ health ministry confirmed late Friday that it had detected its first case of the new variant in a citizen returned from Britain.
Several countries have reported cases of the new strain, which has sent jitters through already overstretched health services.
There was little sign of the usual Boxing Day sale rush on the streets of Sydney Saturday, as residents largely heeded the state premier’s request they stay home faced with a new virus cluster.
“Even when we entered the store there were less than ten people,” shopper Lia Gunawan told The Sydney Morning Herald after queueing up for the sales.
Number of cases in Russia passes 3mThe total number of cases of coronavirus infections in Russia crossed the 3 million mark for the first time on Saturday after officials recorded 29,258 new cases in the preceding 24 hours and 567 deaths.
This brought the total number of cases of coronavirus in Russia since the start of the pandemic to 3,021,964, according to official data.
South Korea at Covid 'crossroads' as global concern mounts over variantsA resurgence of coronavirus in South Korea has reached new heights during Christmas week, prompting soul-searching on how the nation sleepwalked into a crisis.
The 1,241 infections on Christmas Day were the largest daily increase. Another 1,132 cases were reported Saturday, bringing South Korea’s caseload to 55,902.
Over 15,000 were added in the last 15 days alone. An additional 221 fatalities over the same period, the deadliest stretch, took the death toll to 793.
As the numbers keep rising, the shock to people’s livelihoods is deepening and public confidence in the government eroding. Officials could decide to increase social distancing measures to maximum levels on Sunday, after resisting for weeks.
Tighter restrictions could be inevitable because transmissions have been outpacing efforts to expand hospital capacities.
In the greater Seoul area, more facilities have been designated for Covid-19 treatment and dozens of general hospitals have been ordered to allocate more ICUs for virus patients. Hundreds of troops have been deployed to help with contract tracing.
At least four patients have died at their homes or long-term care facilities while waiting for admission this month, said Kwak Jin, an official at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The agency said 299 among 16,577 active patients were in serious or critical condition.
“Our hospital system isn’t going to collapse, but the crush in COVID-19 patients has significantly hampered our response,” said Choi Won Suk, an infectious disease professor at the Korea University Ansan hospital, west of Seoul.
Read more here
Protests in ThailandIn Thailand there have been protests to demand more action to help seafood sellers hit by a Covid-19 outbreak as the government urged people to eat more shellfish.
Thailand’s worst outbreak of the new coronavirus was reported just over a week ago, with more than 1,500 infections now linked to a shrimp market outside Bangkok. Most of those infected have been migrant workers from Myanmar.
Seafood sellers say business has fallen in a country whose economy had already been badly hit by a collapse in tourism. “We want the government to create confidence in shrimp consumption,” said Piyarat Chongthep, among the scores of protesters at Government House, some of whom briefly scuffled with police.
First vaccine doses delivered in FranceFrance’s first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were delivered early Saturday to the Paris hospital system’s central pharmacy outside the capital, AFP reported.
After more than 62,000 Covid-19 deaths in France, shots are set to begin with people in two elderly care homes on Sunday, the same day the rest of the EU begins injections.
A refrigerated truck brought the roughly 19,500 doses from the Pfizer factory in Puurs, north-east Belgium, to Paris, the capital’s APHP hospital authority said, with pharmacy chief Franck Huet calling it a “historic” moment in the pandemic.
Ontario set for strict lockdown from todayOntario, a province in east-central Canada, will go into a strict lockdown today, forcing nearly all non-essential businesses to close.
The lockdown will begin at midnight on 26 December. It will be in effect for all of Ontario until Saturday, January 9, 2021. Public health unit regions in Southern Ontario will remain in shutdown until Saturday, January 23, 2021.
Tokyo reports record rise in coronavirus casesTokyo reported a record rise in coronavirus cases on Saturday, as Japan experiences a surge that now includes a new, fast-spreading variant while the government urges people to stay home.
Infections of the virus that causes Covid-19 hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan heads into New Year holidays that normally see people stream from the capital into the provinces. Serious cases were unchanged from a day earlier at 81.
Japan on Friday reported its first cases of a fast-spreading variant in passengers arriving from Britain. The new variant has also been detected in a man who visited that country and a family member - the first cases of infected people found outside airport checks - Nippon TV reported on Saturday.
Tokyo transport hubs were subdued, local media said, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.
With New Year celebrations centred around family gatherings and mass visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned moderation will be essential to prevent infection rates from rising further amid concerns of pandemic fatigue.
Suga’s initial political honeymoon after taking his post in September has ended, with his popularity sliding after criticism he was slow to react to rising infections in Tokyo and for attending a group steak dinner in defiance of his own calls for restraint.