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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 22nd Dec 2020

Merry Christmas to all subscribers

  • The Media Focus team who prepare this newsletter every day wish all of you a lovely festive season. Stay Safe!
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Happy Christmas - Feliz Navidad - Joyeaux Noel - Buon Natalie - Feliz Natal - Frohe Weinachten - Prettige Kerstdagen

News Highlights

One death every 33 seconds: The toll of Covid-19 in the U.S. in just seven days

The USA lost a life every 33 seconds due to Covid-19, in the most lethal week of the pandemic to date. In the seven days until December 20th, more than 18,000 died - a 6.7% increase compared to a week earlier. New cases numbered almost 1.5 million, a one percent decrease from the week before. Health Secretary Alex Azar said that fifty million Americans will receive the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of January.

Mutant strain not out of control, says WHO

The mutant variant of Covid-19 identified in the UK and present in some other countries is not 'out of control' according to World Halth Organization emergencies chief Mike Ryan. However, 'it cannot be left to its own devices,' he warned. Those who contract the new variant are thought to infect 1.5 people on average, compared to 1.1 for earlier strains. Its emergence has prompted numerous countries to impose travel restriction to and from the UK.

Many countries, cities face tougher measures to fight Covid

A multitude of nations may see tougher restrictions enforced to fight off surging infection rates. South Korea already has banned gatherings of more than four people in the national capital Seoul. Hong Kong may enforce unprecedented restrictions including curfews to combat the spread of Covid-19. And Sydney, Australia may require a hard lockdown over Christmas to prevent the super spread of Covid-19, experts warn. Tighter measures may also be on the cards in Thailand.

Spain in hot water over treatment of the elderly

Amnesty International has provided a scathing indictment of Spain's treatment of the elderly during the pandemic in its latest report. The human rights watchdog has accused healthcare officials of effectively abandoning those confined to nursing homes and even denying them access to treatment in hospitals.

Lockdown Exit
US California hospitals discuss rationing care as virus surges
With about 98 percent of intensive care beds full, California hospitals are making contingency treatment plans. On the West Coast of the United States, California’s overwhelmed hospitals are setting up makeshift extra beds for coronavirus patients, and a handful of facilities in hard-hit Los Angeles County are drawing up emergency plans in case they have to limit how many people receive life-saving care. The number of people hospitalised across California with confirmed COVID-19 infections is more than double the state’s previous peak, reached in July, and a state model forecasts the total could hit 75,000 patients by mid-January.
U.S. loses one life every 33 seconds to COVID-19 in deadliest week so far
In the United States last week, someone died from COVID-19 every 33 seconds. The disease claimed more than 18,000 lives in the seven days ended Dec. 20, up 6.7% from the prior week to hit another record high, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports. Despite pleas by health officials not to travel during the end-year holiday season, 3.2 million people were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Health officials are worried that a surge in infections from holiday gatherings could overwhelm hospitals, some of which are already at capacity after Thanksgiving celebrations.
New Covid-19 variant hasn't yet been identified in New Zealand, but expert says likely to get here
A new, more infectious, variant of the Covid-19 virus identified in the UK is highly likely to make it to New Zealand’s borders, says an expert. The new variant is being blamed for faster-than-expected spread of Covid-19 in London, the southeast and east of England, which have been placed into tighter restrictions over the Christmas holidays. Several other countries have halted flights from the UK in a bid to stop it spreading further. But the Ministry of Health said on Monday the specific new strain identified in the UK had not yet been seen in this country.
Top epidemiologist warns what Sydney's Covid-19 outbreak means for New Zealand
As Australian health officials scramble to contain the Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney, a top epidemiologist here is warning "that could be us". Professor Michael Baker says New Zealand is arguably entering "our most dangerous stage" since the August Auckland outbreak as the pandemic surges in the Northern Hemisphere. Baker, from the University of Otago's school of public health, is now calling for returnees from countries where the virus is "out of control" to take an additional step and isolate under supervision at a hotel and be tested before even stepping on the plane.
New virus strain not out of control, says WHO as more nations ban UK travel
Roughly 30 countries have shut their borders to people coming from the UK or South Africa, where another variant has emerged. British PM Boris Johnson hopes to see border issues with France sorted out ‘within hours’ amid food shortage fears.
Austria will offer coronavirus tests to its entire population with those testing negative receiving 'more freedoms' as country prepares for third lockdown
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Austria will enter a third lockdown It will run between December 26 to January 24, but will see mass testing done Those who take part in the series of testing will be allowed more freedoms Such freedoms include visiting cultural events and restaurants, Kurz said It was also announced the country will be reopening ski lifts despite lockdown
Exit Strategies
Covid-19: Qatar and Oman to receive vaccine this week
Qatar's health ministry granted emergency use authorisation for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and is due to receive the first shipment on Monday, state media reported. A ministry statement said people aged 16 years and above would be eligible. Qatar has also signed an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc to buy its vaccine. Fellow Gulf Arab state Oman will receive its first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipment on Wednesday, a health ministry official said in remarks carried on a government Twitter account on Monday, adding the initial phase would cover 20 percent of the population.
Singapore gets first batch of COVID-19 vaccines - DHL
Singapore received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, said logistics firm DHL, which is involved in the transportation of the shots to the city-state from Belgium. DHL in a statement did not specify the size of the batch or name the vaccines being delivered, but Singapore last week said it had approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, becoming the first Asian country to do so.
Covid UK: Give NHS staff the vaccine to open up abandoned Nightingales, say health chiefs
NHS staff must start receiving the coronavirus vaccine urgently because so many are off sick, hospital bosses in England have claimed amid fears there are not enough nurses and doctors to open the Nightingale sites. The temporary purpose-built hospitals constructed for £220million to help fight the Covid-19 crisis were hailed at the start of the pandemic as a solution to the growing crisis in hospital capacity across the country. But many are lying empty as doctors and nurses plead with their hospitals to vaccinate them after being told they must wait until early next year because they are a lower priority than the over-80s and those in care homes
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets Covid vaccine live on Instagram
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, sharing the process live with her 8.2 million followers on Instagram. “The Covid vaccine became available to members of Congress last night and we are urged to take it as part of a continuity of governance plan so I’m heading on my way there (sic),” Ms Ocasio-Cortez, 31, said, as she opened the conversation allowing the followers to send in their questions related to the vaccination process. “Just like wearing a mask, I’d never advise you to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself,” she wrote in the post. The New York lawmaker shared a photo of the medical history questionnaire she was asked to fill out beforehand, then a video showing the injection into her upper arm
Biden to receive coronavirus vaccine as U.S. inoculation effort mounts
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden received his first injected dose of the COVID-19 vaccine live on television on Monday in an effort to boost confidence in its safety ahead of its wide distribution next year. Biden has said he would make the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 315,000 Americans and infected more than 17.5 million, his top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20. At age 78, he is in the high-risk group for the highly contagious respiratory disease.
Why Australia isn't budging on its Covid vaccination plans
The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Sydney has forced parts of the city into lockdown and prevented thousands of people crossing state borders in the days before Christmas. As the US and UK begin to vaccinate their populations, the fresh restrictions imposed in Australia have raised questions about whether its more measured approach to vaccination should be accelerated, even though case numbers remain tiny relative to the US and most of Europe.
Covid: Vaccine clinics operating up to Christmas Eve
In Northern Ireland, vaccination clinics for health and social care workers in priority groups will be operating up to Christmas Eve. The chief medical officer urged those eligible to take up the vaccine offer. About 14,000 people have received the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine in Northern Ireland, including vaccinators, care home residents and care home staff. More vaccine doses arrived in recent days, but Dr Michael McBride said supplies were limited and people would be prioritised in the next few weeks. Staff have been instructed to wait until they are called.
US healthcare workers protest chaos in hospitals' vaccine rollout
Frontline healthcare workers saw their hopes dashed last week when a botched algorithm, crashing scheduling platforms and other logistical mishaps thwarted their efforts to be among the first in the US to receive a long-awaited coronavirus vaccine. Amid a surge in infections overwhelming hospitals around the US, doctors were incensed by administrative failures that denied access to the potentially life-saving shots, even as they volunteered to work in intensive care units or looked after the critically ill.
Fifty million people in U.S. to have first COVID-19 shot by end January - Azar
About 50 million people in the United States will have had the first of two COVID-19 shots needed for immunization by the end of January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday. Azar was speaking at a press conference on the first day of shots of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine and the roll out of the Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE vaccine to nursing homes.
'Help is on the way': Covid relief bill deal agreed, says Mitch McConnell
Top congressional leaders have announced agreement on a $900bn coronavirus aid package after late-night discussions on Sunday. “We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: more help is on the way,” said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalised an agreement for another major rescue package for the American people.” McConnell said lawmakers needed to “promptly finalize text” and avoid any last-minute obstacles.
Partisan Exits
Surgeon general on why Donald Trump hasn't had COVID-19 vaccine
Jerome Adams was vaccinated on television on Friday along with Mike Pence. On Sunday Adams explained why the president has not yet been vaccinated. Trump had COVID in the last 90 days and had been treated with antibodies. Adams said that his recent treatment may make it wise medically to wait. Fauci agreed, saying last week that he hopes Trump will 'ultimately' get the jab
Trump encouraged to get Covid vaccine to ‘generate more confidence’ in jab
Admiral Brett Giroir, a top US health official overseeing the coronavirus testing, said he would encourage Donald Trump to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to boost confidence amongst people after a recent poll suggested that half of Republicans are not in favour of getting vaccinated. “I think any leader who is influential over groups of individuals should have the vaccine,” Mr Giroir told ABC’s This Week. “I would encourage the president to get a vaccine for his own health and safety, and also to generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely," he said. According to a Gallop survey released this month, only 50 per cent of Republicans are willing to get inoculated as against 73 per cent of Democrats.
‘Start with a virus’: Trump suggests Covid-19 was invented to cost him the 2020 election
Continuing his bid to raise doubts over the election results, President Trump on Sunday retweeted a video containing several conspiracy theories around the 2020 race with a bizarre take on the origin of the coronavirus claiming it was engineered to tarnish his image. The video posted by an anonymous account called @a17time which tweets in support of President Trump showcases a string of claims starting from the origin of Covid-19 and leading to the 2020 polling and the election results. The video opens with the title in bold “How to steal an election” and voiceover says: "Start with a virus, import it into America, talk about it nonstop, call some governors, put patients into nursing homes, kill thousands, blame the president, keep blaming, blame some more," the narrator says, while shots of crowded hospitals and cemeteries play in the background.
Boris Johnson facing growing anger from Tory MPs over new Covid rules
Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure from MPs in his own party who are angry at how the government dramatically cancelled the Christmas plans for millions of people. One senior Conservative MP even accused ministers of avoiding parliamentary scrutiny by delaying the announcement until the Commons had closed for the festive period. Others called for parliament to be recalled to debate the new measures, which could see many living under new tougher tier 4 restrictions for months. Ministers insist they acted swiftly after they were informed of how contagious a new strain of the disease was on Friday.
Anti-lockdown protesters arrested as hundreds gather in central London just hours before tier 4 announcement
Despite Police urging people to not gather in large groups less than a week before Christmas hundreds ofanti-lockdown protestors took stance at Parliament Square
Sky News Australia is increasingly pushing conspiracy theories to a global audience online
As Australians look back on 2020, they will remember the defeat of Donald Trump, who was never popular in their country. But they may also reflect on how parts of Australia’s media, including some ostensibly subject to government regulation, have become effective second fronts in the Trumpist culture wars. A key example is Sky News Australia. For years the channel was little more than an oddity: an artefact of broadcasting regulation, only watched by momentarily distracted channel-hoppers, travellers beset by airport delays, and those involved in the dismal craft of professional politics. Around 2013, while daily programming went on as usual, at night the channel was given over to a pretty sad bunch of hard-right ideologues. One program in particular, Outsiders, became a kind of revolving door for white male reactionaries in the twilight of their relevance, whom Sky would finally put out to pasture after an unforced gaffe.
Anti-vaxxers Think This Is Their Moment
For almost as long as humanity has had vaccines, it has also had propagandists who try to scare people out of using them. Among the many medical questions contemplated in the journal The Lancet in the late 1890s and early 1900s—“Grey Hair and Emotional States,” “In Praise of Rum and Milk,” “On the Value of Cheese as a Dietetic Resource in Diabetes Mellitus”—are letters debating the efficacy of the smallpox vaccine, the age at which children should get it, the risk of the vaccine relative to the disease, and the extent to which local authorities should enforce compulsory vaccination in case of outbreaks.
Continued Lockdown
Loneliness could worsen as COVID-19 disrupts Christmas, UK charities warn
Tighter restrictions across Britain at Christmas are an “abject disaster” for mental health and could drive many into further isolation, charities said on Monday. Mental health experts and charities warned that loneliness and mental health problems arising from months of lockdowns could worsen as Britain banned millions from meeting after the discovery of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus. “There’s no escaping that it will be a difficult time both in the Christmas period and in January,” said Antonis Kousoulis, director of the Mental Health Foundation, who is researching the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health.
Lockdown? I've got this, I thought. But COVID-19 is lonely, even for loners like me.
Over the years, I’ve had some bad breakups. One came in the middle of a couples therapy session. One required me to fly to Atlanta to end things, where the discount flight schedule left me stuck in my ex’s home for the remainder of a very awkward weekend. And one relationship ended silently, with a fed-up boyfriend handing me a book titled “The Misanthrope.” I didn’t realize what happened until I looked it up: “Mis·an·thrope — a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society.” It hurt, but I could not dispute its accuracy.
Pandemic exposes the vulnerability of Italy's 'new poor'
The coronavirus pandemic did not produce Elena Simone’s first budgetary rough patch. The 49-year-old single mother found herself out of the job market when the 2008 global financial crisis hit Italy and never fully got back in, but she created a patchwork of small jobs that provided for herself and the youngest of her three children. That all changed with Italy’s first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring. With schools closed, so went Simone’s cafeteria job. Her housecleaning gigs dried up, too. While others returned to work when the lockdown ended, Simone stayed frozen out.
Scientific Viewpoint
EMA recommends conditional approval for Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has recommended granting Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine a conditional marketing authorisation (CMA) in the EU. Earlier this month, the EMA announced that it had scheduled an ‘exceptional meeting’ of the CHMP on 21 December to review additional data for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Originally, a meeting had been planned for 29 December, but was brought forward as the vaccine gained emergency approvals in the US, UK and other countries.
CureVac set to begin phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine study in healthcare workers
CureVac is set to launch a new phase 3 study of its COVID-19 vaccine in healthcare workers at the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany. The Tübingen, Germany-headquartered company expects to vaccinate the first participant in this phase 3 study on 22 December 2020.
EU regulator meets to discuss approval of COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency is meeting to consider approving a coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer that would be the first to be authorized for use in the European Union
Regulator clears way for use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Europe
The European Union geared up to start mass vaccinations against COVID-19 just after Christmas after the shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech cleared regulatory hurdles on Monday. European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec. 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month. Having secured a green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Commission gave final approval on Monday evening to the EU’s first COVID-19 vaccine.
Inside J&J's Latam COVID vaccine trial, a rush to recruit is followed by disappointment
Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson abruptly called for an end to enrollment in its coronavirus vaccine trial and told scientists from six Latin American countries to wrap up their work within 48 hours, two researchers told Reuters. The halt was due to J&J’s decision, announced later on that same day on Dec. 9, to cap the number of participants at about 40,000 people globally, down from a previous plan for 60,000. The drugmaker said that a surge in coronavirus cases in the areas it was testing would give it enough data to vet the vaccine.
Inside Oxford's coronavirus vaccine development | Art and design
From a small discovery to producing at scale, photojournalist David Levene documents the groundbreaking work of the scientists of Oxford University during the development of a vaccine which is now poised for approval by medicines regulators
NIH to Study Allergic Reactions Linked to Covid-19 Shots
The National Institutes of Health plans to begin a clinical trial that aims to help doctors “predict and manage” allergic reactions related to Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said during a Monday news briefing that the aim of the trial, which will also study the Moderna Inc. shot just authorized for emergency use, will be to pinpoint why the incidents, known as anaphylaxis, are occurring. During the briefing, Slaoui also addressed a new variant of the virus seen in the U.K., saying it’s no more dangerous than other strains and that there is “no hard evidence” it is more transmissible. Getting the data to determine that, he said, will take weeks.
Healthcare workers who breastfeed should be offered the covid-19 vaccine
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has advised that no breastfeeding woman should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine. NHS Trusts have interpreted this as a blanket-ban. The decision disregards an individual’s particular level of exposure to the virus or her likelihood of developing a severe form of the disease. The MHRA’s stance, and associated restrictions around pregnancy, could undermine efforts to achieve high levels of vaccination, and worsen the UK’s already low breastfeeding rates. Breastfeeding women have been excluded from the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccine trials. To date, no plausible biological mechanism for how an inactivated, recombinant vaccine would cause harm to a breastfed baby has been proposed. [1] However, any data gap leaves open a possibility of risk. Yet men who are trying to conceive can be vaccinated, even though no data exists about the vaccine’s effect on spermatogenesis. Regarding lactation, theoretical risk must be weighed against the established benefits of acquiring immunity to covid-19 and of continued breastfeeding.
300 Scientists Reveal how Boris Johnson has Locked Britain into a Cycle of Draconian Lockdowns
Without a common European public health roadmap, Britain and other European nations face the prospect of another devastating third COVID-19 wave in early 2021 necessitating a cycle of repeated lockdowns, a statement published in the top British medical journal, the Lancet, signed by 300 European scientists, has warned. The statement is authored by 20 top European public health experts working at some of the most prestigious scientific institutions across Europe on solutions to the pandemic, and continues to receive new signatories from verified scientists. It confirms that, if the UK Government had followed the scientific consensus on public health responses to the pandemic, Boris Johnson could have avoided cancelling Christmas. But the statement also warns that, without a unified continental strategy, “further waves of infection are to be expected, with consequential damage to health, society, jobs, and businesses”.
Report accuses Spain of abandoning elderly during pandemic
An Amnesty International report accuses Spanish health authorities of effectively abandoning residents of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report says people have even been denied access to hospital care. DW's Jan-Philipp Scholz reports
France says vaccine ‘should work’ against new strain of Covid
French Health Minister Olivier Veran has said that current Covid-19 vaccines should work against a new strain of the virus, believed to originate in the South East and East of England. "In theory, there is no reason to think that the vaccine should not be effective," Mr Veran told Europe 1 radio on Monday. On 19 December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed lockdown measures on over 16 million people in the newly created Tier 4, which is concentrated in the East and South East of England.
An estimation of undetected COVID cases in France
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has stretched health-care systems, disrupted economies and frayed the fabric of societies around the globe. Nation states have responded differently to the crisis, and only a few countries have managed to achieve continued control of coronavirus transmission. Writing in Nature, Pullano et al.1 report their study of SARS-COV-2 infections in France during late spring and early summer of 2020. Their analysis came after the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 cases there, but before the increase again in the autumn, which led to a higher second wave of cases. The results offer some important lessons.
COVID-19: Government scientist warns we 'should be very concerned' about new strain
The rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus is the "worst news" of the pandemic so far, a government scientist has told Sky News. Britons should be "very concerned" about the mutated strain of COVID-19 that is circulating in London and the South East, Professor Andrew Hayward of the government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) said. Stressing the importance of how much easier this strain passes from person-to-person, he said: "This is really terrible news in terms of the pandemic. "If the vaccine is the best news, this is the worst news we've had so far, and we really, really need to tighten down the hatches to stop the spread of this strain while vaccinating as many people as possible."
BioNTech confident COVID-19 vaccine effective against new UK mutation
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said on Monday he was confident a COVID-19 vaccine co-developed by his company would be effective against a variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain. He said on Bild TV that the German company would investigate the mutation in the coming days but that he viewed the matter with “with a degree of soberness”.
What you need to know about the new variant of coronavirus in the UK
Many countries have closed their borders to people leaving the UK due to the rapid spread within the country of a new variant of the coronavirus that might be more transmissible. Meanwhile, South Africa is also reporting the spread of another new variant. Here’s what you need to know. What do we know about the new UK variant so far? B.1.1.7, as it’s known, has 17 mutations compared with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus first discovered in Wuhan, China, including eight that may change the shape of the outer spike protein. Many of these mutations have been found before, but to have so many in a single virus is unusual. It was first sequenced in the UK on 20 September, but only caught the attention of scientists on 8 December, when they were looking for reasons for the rapid growth of cases in southeast England. On 14 December, the UK’s health minister, Matt Hancock, told parliament that a new variant that seems to spread faster had been identified.
Coronavirus Resurgence
California hospitals struggle to cope with Covid-19 surge double July peak
Hospitals in California are scrambling to handle an explosion of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm the state’s emergency care system, with some facilities in hard-hit Los Angeles county even drawing up emergency plans for rationing care. As of Sunday, more than 16,840 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 infections, more than double the previous peak reached in July. That number could reach 75,000 by mid-January, according to one state model.
Latin America nations suspend flights with the U.K. due to 'Super COVID-19 strain' fears
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru and El Salvador are among the first nations in Latin America to ban flights from the United Kingdom. The decision comes after the U.K. announced a new COVID-19 strain that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread. U.K. flights are still being allowed into Mexico, where 118,602 people have died of coronavirus Brazil, the epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, has not announced any measures
Covid-19: More than 40 countries ban UK arrivals
More than 40 countries have banned UK arrivals because of concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. Flights from the UK are being suspended to countries across the world including Spain, India and Hong Kong. France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours, meaning no lorries or ferries can leave from the port of Dover. Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference: "We had a very good call and we both understand each other's positions."
Covid-19: Thailand tests thousands after virus outbreak in seafood market
Thailand hit by worst Covid surge yet. After months of avoiding the surge in cases seen by its neighbours, Thailand has been hit by its worst Covid-19 outbreak yet. Tens of thousands of people are being tested after hundreds of cases linked to its biggest seafood market. It has locked down Samut Sakhon, the coastal province near the capital Bangkok, home to the market which employs mostly migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar. Workers have been ordered to stay home.
France says mutated Covid strain may already be in the country
France’s health minister has said it is "entirely possible" the mutated Covid-19 strain identified in parts of England is already spreading in France. "It is entirely possible that the virus is circulating in France," Olivier Véran told Europe 1 radio, adding that the strain had not yet been identified in the country. Fears over the mutant strain have led France and many other countries to ban passengers arriving on flights, trains and ferries from the UK. Mr Véran, who is a neurologist as well as serving in Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet, also said that the current vaccines were likely to work against the new strain of the virus.
India suspends flights from UK due to ‘prevailing situation’ with new Covid strain
India announced a temporary ban on flights from the UK until 31 December effective from midnight on Tuesday, spooked by a new and more transmissible strain of the coronavirus. The decision was taken after a meeting of health ministry officials earlier on Monday. “Considering the prevailing situation in (the) UK, the government of India has decided to suspend all flights originating from the UK to India," India’s civil aviation ministry said. “Consequently flights from India to UK shall stand temporarily suspended... as a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from (the) UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 22 December at 23:59 hours) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned,” according to a tweet posted by the official Twitter account of India’s civil aviation ministry.
Italy worries about high death toll among coronavirus patients
For every 100 Italians infected, more than 3 people die (3.5 percent). Among the 20 most-affected countries in the world, only Mexico and Iran have higher fatality rates among infected patients (9 percent and 4.7 percent respectively), according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Italy’s numbers are high in comparison to others in Europe too: In France, the case-fatality rate is 2.4 percent; in Germany it’s 1.6 percent; and hard-hit Spain has a rate of 2.7 percent. Only the United Kingdom, with 3.4 percent, has similarly worrying figures. There is no easy explanation for the high mortality among infected Italians, according to Enrico Bucci, a biochemist and adjunct professor at Temple University of Philadelphia. Most likely, it is the result of a combination of known factors: the age of Italy’s population, the quality of its health care system, and the choices made by politicians — though it is unclear how much weight each carries, said Bucci. According to Eurostat data, the median age in Italy is 46.7, compared with an EU average of 43.1, making it one of the oldest in Europe — and that trend is only accelerating. Between 2009 and 2019, the percentage of Italians over 80 went from 5.6 percent to 7.2 percent. By comparison, that figure is 6.5 percent in Germany and 6.4 percent in Portugal.
France has imposed a travel ban from the UK
France has imposed a travel ban on UK passengers for 48 hours, due to concerns about the new strain of Covid. This has resulted in the port of Dover closing to outbound traffic - with warnings about “serious disruption” in place - which has caused fears that imported food products will be affected. Boris Johnson is holding an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday 21 December in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Cautious optimism over latest Sydney Covid-19 outbreak
Australia's most populous state has reported its lowest one-day rise in new Covid-19 cases in three days, stoking cautious optimism that authorities have contained an outbreak in Sydney's northern beachside suburbs. New South Wales said 15 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, down from the 36 infections detected a day earlier and bringing the total cases in the northern beaches outbreak to 83. It confirmed it had detected cases of the fast-spreading new coronavirus strain that has forced Britain to reverse plans to ease curbs over Christmas.
S.Korea's capital to ban gatherings larger than four as coronavirus deaths rise
South Korea’s capital Seoul and surrounding areas banned gatherings of more than four people over the Christmas and New Year holidays as the country recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Monday. The national government has resisted calls to impose a strict national lockdown but the governments of Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon city ordered unprecedented restrictions on gatherings from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. “We cannot overcome the current crisis without reducing cluster infections that are spreading through private gatherings with families, friends and colleagues,” Seoul acting mayor Seo Jung-hyup said at a briefing.
EU states begin suspending all flight travel from UK over new Covid strain
EU states have started suspending all incoming air travel from the UK amid mounting concern over a new strain of Covid-19. The new variant of coronavirus apparently native to Britain is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original. Germany, France and Ireland are the latest to have suspended travel, announcing the moves shortly after Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium made similar decisions. Bulgaria has also suspended travel from Britain, Reuters reported on Sunday evening. A spokesperson for the German government said on Sunday afternoon that the country was working on a regulation to restrict travel from Britain to protect the country from the new coronavirus variant. It wasn't immediately clear when or for how long the restrictions would last
Hong Kong May Consider Unprecedented Virus Curbs, Including Curfews
Unprecedented virus control measures including curfews and shutdowns of non-essential businesses may be considered in Hong Kong, according to a government health adviser, as the city continues to see a high number of locally-transmitted cases and the holiday season looms. Limiting the number of people per household allowed to shop for groceries, shuttering all businesses deemed non-essential and shortening mall operating hours are among the curbs that may have to be imposed to prevent another Covid-19 wave, David Hui, a respiratory disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who advises the government on the virus response, told TVB on Sunday, according to various local media reports.
Australia detects new UK strain; Hong Kong, India cancel Britain flights
Australia said on Monday it had detected cases of the new fast-spreading coronavirus strain identified in the United Kingdom, while Hong Kong and India said they would suspend flights from Britain. Two travellers from the United Kingdom to Australia’s New South Wales state were found carrying the mutated variant of the virus that Britain has said could be up to 70% more infectious. Both are in hotel quarantine, and the recent spike in infections in Sydney is not linked to this, authorities said. The new strain has prompted Britain’s European neighbours and several others including Canada and Iran to close their doors to travellers from the country.
COVID-19: New strain found in Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia and Gibraltar
Cases of the new coronavirus strain spreading rapidly in the UK have been confirmed in Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and Australia. France and South Africa also believe they have cases of the mutation - known as VUI-202012/01 - but these have not been confirmed. French health minister Olivier Veran said it is "entirely possible" the new variant is already circulating in France, but no cases have been officially identified yet.
Hard lockdown needed to prevent Sydney Christmas Covid surge, health experts warn
A hard lockdown across Sydney for the next three days is needed to reduce the risk of Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve becoming super spreader events, some health experts have warned. The dual celebrations could lead to thousands of new cases in the first weeks of 2021 without drastic action, warned Prof Raina MacIntyre, the head of the biosecurity program at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute. But other epidemiologists have suggested the current localised lockdown and limit on gatherings is the way to go. They argue the state’s “very skilled’” public health team has previously gotten on top of outbreaks and it should be trusted to do so again.
Northern beaches coronavirus outbreak unlikely to lead to Melbourne-style lockdown, expert says
Greater Sydney lockdown fears as Gladys Berejiklian warns coronavirus cases to worsenThe GuardianCoronavirus: Sydney isolated from rest of Australia as outbreak growsThe Irish TimesSydney imposes lockdown on beach suburbs as Covid cluster growsCNBCState by state: Australia shuts borders with Sydney as Northern Beaches outbreak escalates9NewsView Full coverage on Google News
A Fresh Virus Wave Is Testing South Korea’s No-Lockdown Strategy
Time after time this year, South Korea prevented the coronavirus from spreading uncontrollably, applying its elite testing-and-tracing practices that have become a global model for managing the pandemic without draconian, economy-sapping lockdowns. Now, this “living with the virus” strategy -- as the nation of 51 million calls it -- is being tested like never before. While case numbers are still small compared to the U.S. and parts of Europe, Korea saw new infections top 1,000 for five consecutive days through Sunday, a staggering jump from an average of about 100 in previous months. The fierce winter wave has alarmed a country that’s drawn pride from being globally lauded for its Covid-19 response.
Thai PM urges calm as new coronavirus outbreak sees cases surge
Thailand’s prime minister called for calm on Monday and said there were no immediate plans for a wider lockdown after 382 new coronavirus infections were confirmed, the majority linked to the country’s worst outbreak yet. Of the new cases, 360 were migrant workers connected to a seafood centre outbreak in Samut Sakhon, a province near the capital Bangkok, where a lockdown has been imposed and thousands of tests were being conducted to contain and track the spread. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the government would monitor the situation for a week before taking further action.
UK gives dark glimpse of pandemic’s next act
Despite the initial shock of Britain’s not-so-splendid isolation, the new strain could have some helpful domestic effects. The UK is now spared a five-day period over Christmas that could have exacerbated an already dangerous viral spread. It also acts as a handy stress test of how prepared Britons really are for tangible shortages of goods. Every day 5,000 trucks enter Britain from the continent via the Dover-Calais crossing. In the winter, they carry nearly all Britain’s fresh fruit and vegetables. Retailer J Sainsbury predicted shortages of items like lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower within days. If they happen, Prime Minister Boris Johnson may see the logic of agreeing a post-Brexit trade deal before his Dec. 31 deadline.
Britain faces isolation as world tightens borders to keep out new coronavirus strain
Countries across the globe shut their borders to Britain on Monday due to fears about a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, causing travel chaos and raising the prospect of food shortages days before Britain is set to leave the European Union. India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a mutated variant of the virus had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely. Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada - although experts said the strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.
India hits 10m Covid cases as tough measures fail to halt spread
India has recorded 10m Covid-19 cases, the second country after the US to reach the grim landmark, underscoring how strict containment measures have failed to stop the virus rampaging across its population of 1.4bn. The world’s second most populous nation achieved the unwanted record on Saturday after notching 25,000 cases daily over the past week, down from a peak of almost 100,000 new infections per day in September. India largely avoided the worst of the early waves of the virus that spread through Asia and Europe in March, before emerging as a global coronavirus hotspot.
New Lockdown
UK fashion retailers pushed deeper into crisis by tighter Covid curbs
Non-essential British retailers have been plunged deeper into crisis, as concern over a more infectious strain of coronavirus prompted fresh store closures in the south-east of England as well as border restrictions. Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, whose brands include Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, on Monday withdrew the profit guidance it had laid out only 10 days ago, citing “the high likelihood of further rolling lockdowns nationwide over the following months”. Frasers’ share price fell 10 per cent on Monday morning, while rival fashion stores Next, Ted Baker and Superdry were also hit. Superdry shed 12 per cent, while Next was down about 5 per cent
Coronavirus: Empty streets and squares amid Germany’s second lockdown
Many of Germany's busiest streets and squares have never been so empty shortly before Christmas. Strict COVID-19 rules, which have hit many hard, are in place throughout the country.
In Germany, ‘tis the season to point fingers
If there’s one thing Germans excel at (aside from engineering and self-deprecation), it’s what they call nörgeln, an ancient Teutonic exercise in unrelenting complaint that can border on the pathological. As it happens, there’s no better time than Christmas for nörgeln, and amid this year’s lockdown, Germans are going full bore over the country’s handling of the coronavirus, blaming everyone from politicians to the press for ruining the holidays. For months, Germans basked in the accolades they received for their handling of the pandemic. Then November hit, and infection rates began to skyrocket, plunging the nation into a fit of Nietzschean angst.
Spanish village in COVID-19 lockdown after barber’s Turkish hair transplant trip
A village in south-west Spain is reeling after a severe outbreak of COVID-19 has been linked to a barber's trip to Turkey for hair transplant treatment. The municipality of Calamonte, east of Badajoz, Extramadura, has seen 29 of its 6,000 residents test positive for Covid-19 this month. The outbreak has caused the school to close to students and numerous businesses to shut their doors
Canada's most populous province makes clear 'hard lock down' needed to fight COVID-19
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, on Monday announced a partial shutdown of some businesses starting Dec. 26 and banned most indoor gatherings as it struggles to control a second wave of COVID-19. Essential retailers, such as those selling food, will have to impose capacity limits while many other stores will only be allowed curbside pick-ups. Indoor dining is to be banned. “Thousands of lives are at stake,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters. “If we fail to take action right now the consequences will be catastrophic.” The measures appear to fall short of the immediate four-to-six-week “hard lockdown” that Ontario’s own expert medical panel had called for earlier on Monday.
Thailand considers more lockdowns as seafood workers hit by virus
While a lockdown hasn’t been imposed in Bangkok, the capital’s chief administrator said residents with businesses in the neighboring province should work from home and ordered more stringent screening of migrant workers.
Covid: Australian states enforce travel bans amid Sydney outbreak
Australian states and territories have begun enforcing entry bans on Sydney residents amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in the nation's largest city. The border closures outside New South Wales (NSW) have dashed Christmas plans and family reunions for many people. Airlines cancelled several flights leaving Sydney Airport on Monday, following a midnight deadline. The city has recorded 83 cases so far in this outbreak, all linked to Sydney's Northern Beaches region. Speaking from Canberra on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "2020 is not done with us yet."
New Covid variant to delay normality by ‘up to four months’ and tip vast swathes of England into lockdown
The new Covid variant is so infectious it is likely to delay any return to normality by up to four months and force vast swathes of the country into the toughest tier four restrictions, leading scientists have warned.
Sydney isolated from rest of Australia as COVID outbreak grows
Sydney was isolated from the rest of Australia on Sunday after all of the country’s states and territories imposed travel restrictions on its residents as a coronavirus cluster in the city grew to around 70. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) sent a stern ‘do not come to us’ message to Sydney, the country’s most populous city of more than five million people, warning its residents they would be quarantined for 14 days if they arrived. "If you are not an ACT resident and have been in greater Sydney...our message is simple: do not travel to the ACT,” the ACT health department said. The states of Victoria and Queensland, and the Northern Territory, banned people arriving from Sydney as of Monday.
Coronavirus: Royal Mail halts deliveries to Europe amid transport turmoil
Royal Mail has halted deliveries to Europe, except for the Republic of Ireland, due to a UK travel ban triggered by the discovery of a new faster spreading coronavirus strain. The company has also added Canada and Turkey to its "on suspension" list due to delays caused by "severely limited" air capacity. In addition, Royal Mail said it could not guarantee special delivery items posted on 23 December would arrive before Christmas due to tighter COVID-19 restrictions being introduced in England.
UK business despairs at new lockdown restrictions
Business groups reacted with despair and anger this weekend as they called for urgent government support to help companies survive “the hammer blow” of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s clampdown on pre-Christmas trading. A clutch of trade bodies issued pleas for further financial relief to help non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment businesses to cope with a shutdown in high-risk areas in south-east England during a crucial period for sales. The Welsh government also enforced a new national lockdown at the weekend. Specific demands include an extension of the rates holiday for a further 12 months from January, VAT relief and additional direct support for businesses forced to shut their doors.