Here’s a roundup of the main developments so far today.
- The official EU programme to vaccinate up to 450 million people across Europe got under way today. Italy, France, Austria, Portugal, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Malta and Spain all started vaccinating people on Sunday morning. Germany, Hungary and Slovakia administered their first shots on Saturday.
- The Czech prime minister became the first European leader to get the jab. Andrej Babiš was given the Pfizer vaccine at a military hospital in Prague. Soon afterwards the president of the neighbouring Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, also received the vaccine. Both the Greek prime minister and president also got the vaccine today.
- Those getting the first jabs in their countries varied widely from prominent figures to ordinary elderly people. They included a retired archbishop in Slovenia, a 96-year-old care home resident in Spain, a 29-year-old nurse in Italy and the head of infectious diseases at a hospital in Porto.
- Canada has become the latest country to detect cases of the new strain of the virus first identified in the UK. Dr Barbara Yaffe, the associate chief medical officer of Ontario province, said the first two confirmed cases were a couple from the country’s Durham region with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts. The new strain was also detected on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
- Plans have been drawn up to roll out the Oxford coronavirus vaccine across the UK on 4 January, according to the Sunday Telegraph. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored in ordinary fridges, is expected to be approved by regulators this week.
- The head of the firm behind the Oxford vaccine has said researchers believe the jab will remain effective against the new variant. But the AstraZeneca chief executive, Pascal Soriot, told the Sunday Times more tests were needed to be sure, while he hailed the discovery of what he called a “winning formula” to improve the jab’s efficacy.
- A private Thai hospital has been banned from advertising Covid vaccinations for sale on the grounds that no vaccine is yet approved in Thailand. Vibhavadi hospital said its online offer for 1,000 initial reservations for the two-dose Moderna vaccine had been the result of a misunderstanding.
Greek president and PM among first to get vaccineHelena Smith - The Guardian
Greece has also rolled out its vaccination programme with the country’s head of state, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among the first to get the shot.
In a nation where conspiracy theories over the merits of any vaccine have been rife, Athens’ political elite have gone out of their way to lead by example.
Sakellaropoulou, the nation’s first female president, urged all Greeks to participate in the immunisation campaign.
“It is important that as many as possible are vaccinated,” she said after her own vaccination at Athens’ Evangelismos hospital was broadcast live on TV. “The time has come to emerge victorious, to put this ordeal behind us, to take back our lives, to gain our freedom and to meet again.”
Five hospitals in the Greek capital will be administering jabs in a mass vaccination programme dubbed Operation Freedom by the centre-right government. Nationwide more than 1,000 clinics will be handing out the vaccine.
Receiving the Covid-19 jab in Athens’ Attikon hospital shortly after the president, Mitsotakis hailed the moment as “a great day for science”.
“And a great day for the European Union which succeeded in delivering the vaccine on the same day to all countries in Europe displaying in practice the message of European solidarity.”
Efstathia Kampisiouli, a nurse in a Covid-19 intensive care ward at Evangelismos, the capital’s largest state-run hospital, was the first citizen in Greece to receive the shot.
“In my person today the entire nursing profession and family of public health are being honoured,” she said.
Greece has struggled to contain a second wave of the pandemic after faring relatively well compared with other EU member states during the first wave. Public health officials have confirmed 135,114 coronavirus cases and 4,553 Covid-19 deaths to date.
Cold-chain concerns delay vaccine in GermanyGermany’s coronavirus vaccination campaign faced delays in several cities on Sunday after medical staff found potential irregularities in the cooling of the Pfizer shot, according to Reuters.
“When reading the temperature loggers that were enclosed in the cool boxes, doubts arose about the compliance with the cold chain requirements,” the district office of Lichtenfels in the north of Germany’s largest state, Bavaria, said in a statement.
The Pfizer vaccine, which uses new so-called mRNA technology, must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -70C (-94F) to remain effective before being shipped to distribution centres.
Pfizer has designed special shipping containers filled with dry ice to keep the vaccine from spoiling in transit. Shots can be kept in an ultra-low temperature freezer for up to six months, or for five days at 2-8C, a type of refrigeration commonly available at hospitals.
Besides Lichtenfels, the northern Bavarian cities of Coburg, Kronach, Kulmbach, Hof, Bayreuth and Wunsiedel also held off from inoculating people after uncertainty arose about whether the cold chain had been maintained.
“Vaccination against the coronavirus is not about who vaccinates the fastest or who does the most doses. Safety and conscientious work for the benefit of the population has the highest priority,” said Oliver Bär, district administrator of Hof.
Similar problems also delayed the vaccination campaign in the southern Bavarian city of Augsburg, the daily Merkur reported.
Trump continues to block pandemic relief package as millions lose benefitsMiranda Bryant - The Guardian
As unemployment benefits expired for millions of Americans on Saturday, Donald Trump, who spent Christmas playing golf in Florida, continued to block a $900bn pandemic relief bill that would extend them.
The US package, which Congress passed with bipartisan support on Monday after months of negotiations, would keep unemployment benefits in place until March and expand state benefits by $300 a week – as well as extending an evictions moratorium, providing federal loans to small businesses and $600 direct payments to many Americans.
But without Trump’s signature, the entire package – set to be the second biggest in US history – is stalled and the US government now faces a shutdown on Tuesday.
“I simply want to get our great people $2,000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’,” he tweeted on Saturday morning.
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