Covid-19 wrap: Global cases cross 63.37m, Interpol warns of vaccine criminals, mask guidelines tightened

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Worldwide coronavirus cases cross 63.37 million, death toll at 1 475 392

More than 63.37 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1 475 392 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.


UK will have millions of Pfizer vaccine doses by end of year, minister says

LONDON – The United Kingdom expects to have millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 available by the end of the year, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday, shortly after the jab was approved by the UK medicines regulator.

"We're expecting a matter of millions of doses for the whole of the UK by the end of the year, and I'm purposefully not putting a figure on it, because we don't know," he said on BBC Radio 4.


UK's Covid-19 vaccine approval meets international standards - regulator

LONDON – Britain's medical regulator assessed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine according to international standards and within the provisions of European law, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

"The way in which the MHRA has worked is equivalent to all international standards," June Raine said.

Asked about whether Britain's departure from the European Union earlier this year had affected the speed of the authorisation, Raine said that the regulator had used provisions of European law, which apply until the end of the year when a Brexit transition period ends.

"We have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until (1 January). Our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review and the rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received," Raine said.


Interpol warns that Covid-19 vaccines could be targeted by criminals

PARIS – The Interpol global police co-ordination agency warned on Wednesday that organised criminal networks could be targeting Covid-19 vaccines, and could look to sell fake shots.

Interpol, which is headquartered in France, said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

"As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives," said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.


Biden to meet with US workers hit by coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday will meet with American workers and business owners hit by Covid-19 as he prepares to confront the pandemic that has taken a heavy human and economic toll when he takes office next month.

The Democrat is urging Congress to resolve a months-long standoff over coronavirus aid and has promised to act quickly to provide more resources to fight a health crisis that has killed more than 268 000 Americans so far.

Biden has selected many of his top national-security and economic advisers, though it's unclear how many will win confirmation in a closely divided US Senate, control of which will be determined by a pair of January run-off elections.

One potential bright spot: Top US health officials say they plan to begin vaccinating Americans against the disease as soon as mid-December. Healthcare workers and long-term care residents are expected to be first in line.

Biden is due to hold a socially distanced discussion with workers and small business owners who have suffered during the economic upheaval brought on by the pandemic.


Portugal's health authority chief tests positive for Covid-19

LISBON – Portugal's health authority said on Wednesday its chief had tested positive for the new coronavirus, but displayed only mild symptoms of the disease which has infected more than 300 000 people in the southern European nation.

Graca Freitas, 63, whose daily updates on the pandemic have made her a familiar face to the Portuguese public, tested positive on Tuesday and is in isolation, the General Directorate for Health (DGS) said in a statement.

Wednesday's news conference on the pandemic situation in Portugal had been cancelled, the DGS said, and authorities were now tracking those who had been in recent contact with her.

News website Observador said Health Minister Marta Temido and Health Secretary Antonio Sales were in isolation while they waited for coronavirus test results.

Portugal, with a population of about 10 million people, has reported 300 462 coronavirus cases, with 4 577 deaths.


Italy's health minister hopes first Covid-19 vaccines can start in January

ROME – Italy will launch a huge, free coronavirus vaccination programme early next year, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday, as the government readies restrictions to avoid a surge in infections during the winter holidays.

"We finally see land, we have a clear route to a safe harbour... It seems likely that from January we will have the first vaccines," he told the upper house Senate.

Speranza said the government had options to buy 202 million Covid-19 vaccine shots from various companies and was awaiting clearance for their usage from European drug authorities.

"The vaccine distribution depends on the contracts signed by the European Commission... subject to authorisation procedures that are not yet absolutely certain," he told parliamentarians.

On Wednesday, Britain became the first country in the West to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, after its medicine regulator granted emergency use approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which will be available from next week.


France to make borders checks to stop people skiing abroad - PM

PARIS – France will make random borders checks to stop people getting infected by going to countries where ski resorts remain open, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

"The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by installing random checks at the borders," Castex told BFM TV.


WHO tightens guidelines on mask-wearing in Covid-19 areas

GENEVA – People living in areas where Covid-19 is spreading should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

If they cannot maintain physical distancing of at least one metre, people in those indoor locations – including children and students aged 12 or over – should also wear a mask even if the spaces are well ventilated, it said in a tightening of its guidelines.

They should also wear masks outdoors if physical distancing cannot be maintained, it said.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said the recommendations were among the biggest changes to its guidance on mask-wearing, and updated advice from June.

"If indoors, unless ventilation has been assessed to be adequate, WHO advises that the general public should wear a non-medical mask, regardless of whether physical distancing of at least 1 metre can be maintained," the WHO said.


More than 2 500 US virus deaths in 24 hours - Johns Hopkins

Washington – The United States, the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and in the throes of a surge in cases, on Tuesday registered more than 2 500 deaths in a 24-hour period, the highest total since late April, Johns Hopkins University said.

More than 180 000 new infections were recorded, according to real-time data provided by the Baltimore-based university at 20:30 (01:30 GMT Wednesday).

The last time the daily death toll was higher than Tuesday's total of 2 562 was in late April, at the height of the pandemic's first wave.

The number of hospitalisations in the United states hit 99 000 on Tuesday, a new record, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The situation is particularly dire in several Midwestern states, including Indiana and South Dakota.

Experts fear a new surge in the number of infections now that several days have passed since the Thanksgiving holiday, which saw millions of Americans travel to see loved ones despite recommendations to skip festive gatherings.

 - AFP

Mexico reports 8 819 new coronavirus cases, 825 more deaths

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 8 819 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 825 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1 122 362 cases and 106 765 deaths.

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.


India coronavirus cases stay below 50 000 for 25th straight day

MUMBAI – India's daily coronavirus cases continued to stay below the 50 000 mark for the 25th straight day, with 36 604 new infections reported, data from the health ministry showed on Wednesday.

The country now has 9.5 million total infections, but cases have been dipping since a peak in September, in spite of a busy festival season last month.

Daily cases rose by less than 40 000 for the third straight day on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Deaths rose by 501, the health ministry said, with the total now at 138 122.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 17 270 - RKI

BERLIN – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 17 270 to 1 084 743, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.

The reported death toll rose by 487 to 17 123.


Swiss report 4 786 new coronavirus cases in a day

ZURICH – Coronavirus infections rose by 4 786 in a day, data from Swiss health authorities showed on Wednesday.

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland, and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein, increased to 335 660 and the death toll rose by 115 to 4 667, while 230 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the health care system.


US says ready for immediate domestic shipment of Covid-19 vaccines

WASHINGTON – The US Transportation Department said on Tuesday it has made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of Covid-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

The department said US agencies have been coordinating with private sector companies that will carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to distribution centres and inoculation points.

It added it has established "appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries used in cooling".

The department is preparing to ensure deliveries of vaccine doses for about 40 million US residents through January, or about 20 million a month, officials told Reuters.

Healthcare workers and others recommended for the first inoculations could start getting shots within 24 hours after the vaccine receives regulatory authorisation, the chief adviser for the US government's Operation Warp Speed program said on Tuesday.


Covid-free for days, Australian state resumes singing, dancing, religious services

SYDNEY – Australia's most populous state said that from Monday it would remove limits on the number of people at weddings, bars and religious services and end a ban on public venue dancing as a run of coronavirus-free days prompted a broad downgrade of social distancing rules.

The changes announced by New South Wales (NSW) on Wednesday come in time for Australia's summer holidays and Christmas celebrations, and mark the biggest lifting of precautionary measures since nationwide lockdowns began in March to slow the spread of Covid-19.

People in the state, where a third of Australia's 25 million population lives, would also be allowed to drink standing up at pubs, while seated outdoor events could host up to 5 000 people.

Outdoor stadiums could operate at full capacity and theatres at 75%, authorities the state capital Sydney said.

NSW has recorded no locally acquired infection for nearly four weeks.


Mainland China reports nine new Covid-19 cases, down from 12 a day earlier

SHANGHAI – Mainland China reported nine new Covid-19 cases on 1 December, down from 12 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Wednesday.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said seven of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. Two new local cases were reported in the Inner Mongolia region, the commission said.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed, fell to three from five a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 86 551, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4 634.


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