First case of new Covid-19 variant found in France as EU countries receive vaccine

Von der Leyen welcomes delivery but warns immunisation will be a gradual process

The first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Spain. Photograph: EPA.

The first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Spain. Photograph: EPA.

 

France is the latest country to record its first case of the new variant of coronavirus, as EU countries received their first shipment of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

The French health ministry said a Frenchman who recently arrived back in France from London had tested positive for the new variant of the coronavirus.

The ministry said the case - the first in France - had been found in the city of Tours. The man in question arrived from London on December 19th. He was currently self-isolating and felt alright, the ministry added.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said on December 14th that a spike in Covid cases in the United Kingdom might have been linked to the new variant of the virus in the country.

Mr Hancock said more than 1,000 cases of the new variant had been identified, mainly in southeastern England.

Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to both Britain and South Africa following the identification of cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus in those countries.

Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Japan joined a growing number of countries that have identified their first cases of the coronavirus mutation, although there’s no clear evidence it results in more severe cases of the disease.

Vaccine

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to the EU’s 27 members, but cautioned that immunisation will be a gradual process and care is still needed.

“Once enough people have been vaccinated, we can start traveling, meeting our friends and family again and have normal holidays, which we all long for,” Ms von der Leyen said in a video message to mark what she called ‘Delivery Day.’ “But until then we have to continue being careful,” she added.

“We have to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus.”

EU nations will begin vaccinations on Sunday. The bloc has secured enough doses for its entire population of 450 million, and more vaccines will be rolled out “very soon” once they are proved to be safe and effective, Ms von der Leyen said. The premier of the German state of Bavaria asked citizens to be patient while waiting for a vaccine, saying the immunisation process will take a longer time.

“Today, at least a small amount arrived in Bavaria, that provides hope,” Mr Soeder said in a tweet.

“But because the quantities ordered only come gradually, it will take longer,” he said. “Therefore, patience is still required.”

Turkey signed an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech for 4.5 million doses of their vaccine, with an option to raise it to 30 million.

Health minister Fahrettin Koca said Friday that an initial 550,000 doses will arrive by the year-end or in early January, state news agency Anadolu reported. Turkey made its first Covid-19 vaccine deal with Sinovac Biotech for 50 million doses, saying it found the Chinese vaccine to be the safest as it’s manufactured using conventional methods.

However, the CoronaVac needs to be administered in two shots, which means the amount Turkey signed for will be enough only for 25 million of its citizens out of a population of more than 83 million people.

America

The US recorded 106,188 new Covid-19 cases on December 25th, an increase of just 0.6 per cent from the day before and the smallest daily gain since November 4th.

However, the numbers were likely skewed by the Christmas holiday: The last time the daily rise was below 1 per cent was on Thanksgiving, and was preceded and followed by significantly larger jumps.

Thailand

Thailand reported 110 new cases Saturday, most connected to a recent outbreak in Samut Sakhon province, the country’s seafood hub. Of the new 110 cases, 64 were transmitted locally, 30 were found among migrant workers and 16 were detected in state quarantine, according to the country’s Covid-19 centre.

Thailand’s recent wave started with a record 576 new cases December 20th, mostly among workers at seafood markets, people who visited the markets or their close contacts.

Seeking to limit the spread during the New Year’s holiday, the government on Thursday divided the country into zones based on risk and banned public gatherings in areas at the highest risk level.

Australia

Australian authorities extended a lockdown for Sydney’s Northern Beaches until at least December 30th as a cluster of Covid-19 infections grows.

Some 250,000 people in the area should remain at home except for essential medical care and provisions, but will be able to gather outside for exercise with five or 10 people depending on whether they’re in the worst-affected areas, the New South Wales state government said Saturday.

Nine new cases were recorded overnight - with eight linked to the outbreak - taking the cluster’s total size to 116.

Global cases of Covid-19 passed 79.8 million on St Stephen’s Day, while deaths hit 1.75 million.

-Agencies