Covid-19: Netherlands to close schools under tough five-week lockdown

World round-up: Eswatini’s prime minister dies after testing positive for coronavirus

A medical worker  swabs a citizen for a Covid-19 test at a makeshift clinic  in Seoul, South Korea on Monday. Authorities have begun offering free  tests at 150 new makeshift  testing sites in Seoul and  surrounding areas under a three-week containment campaign. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

A medical worker swabs a citizen for a Covid-19 test at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea on Monday. Authorities have begun offering free tests at 150 new makeshift testing sites in Seoul and surrounding areas under a three-week containment campaign. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

 

More than 72.2 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 1.6 million deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:

US

Shots against Covid-19 have begun in the US as deaths there approach the 300,000 mark. The head of the government’s vaccine drive said as much as 80 per cent of the population could be inoculated by summer.

An intensive care unit nurse in New York state became the first person in the US to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Monday. Sandra Lindsay, who has treated some of the sickest Covid-19 patients for months, was given the vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre in the New York City borough of Queens, an early epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, receiving applause on a livestream with New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

“It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Ms Lindsay said. “I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.” Minutes after Ms Lindsay received the injection, president Donald Trump sent a tweet: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”

California’s new cases and deaths dropped Sunday from a record the day before. The state reported 30,334 new infections, bringing the total to 1.6 million, while 122 new deaths were added for a total of 20,969.

Hospitalisations climbed to a new high, while the number of available intensive-care unit beds, still hovering near a record low, increased by 25 to 1,444. The state has imposed a stay-home order on about two-thirds of its residents over the holiday season as the supply of ICU beds dropped below its threshold. However, a slowing of new cases in the midwest and west offers “hopeful signs,” even as infections on the east and west coasts are accelerate, former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Even with the start of vaccinations in the US, “we need to keep the healthcare system from getting maxed out,” Mr Gottlieb said. “They’re not going to see peak burden on hospital resources probably until mid January, late January.”

With indoor dining at New York eateries due to halt on Monday, the positive-test rate remained higher than the 5 per cent benchmark that helps determine virus-related restrictions by the city, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

While bars and restaurants are being restricted to outdoor and takeout service under an order by Mr Cuomo, the city’s “vaccine command centre” is due to open on Monday. New York reported more than 10,000 new virus cases statewide for the fifth consecutive day.

Meanwhile US president Donald Trump suggested that senior White House officials would wait longer for Covid-19 vaccines hours after media outlets reported senior officials were to receive doses within 10 days.

Germany

Germany will close most stores from Wednesday until at least January 10th, cutting short the busy Christmas shopping season, as it tries to rein in the spread of Covid-19. Germany will likely be able to avoid another recession despite a second national lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic, economy minister Peter Altmaier said. “I hope we can prevent a complete economic standstill in the second wave of the pandemic,” he told public radio Deutschlandfunk on Monday The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,362 to 1,337,078, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 188 to 21,975, the tally showed. The numbers are usually lower on Mondays, because there is less testing and less data being transmitted to the RKI on weekends.

Lithuania

Lithuania told citizens to stay at home for three weeks from Wednesday as it seeks to rein in a raging coronavirus spread that has seen the country jump from 18th to third worst-hit in the European Union in just six weeks.

Leaving home will be permitted only for work, essential shopping, caring for the sick, funerals and for people to take walks in single household groups, prime minister Ingrida Simonyte announced. All non-essential shops will be closed and meetings between households banned.

As of Sunday, Lithuania reported 1,178 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, three times more than the 340 cases per 100,000 when a lighter lockdown was announced on November 4th.

By that measure, the country now trails only Croatia and Luxemburg on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s list of worst-affected countries.

Italy

Italy plans to set up primrose-shaped pavilions in its artistic squares to dispense coronavirus vaccines, an official said on Sunday, a day after the country overtook Britain to report the highest official death toll from Covid-19 among European countries.

England

London will probably slip into England’s most restrictive Tier 3 coronavirus category because infection rates are rising so fast, while mayor Sadiq Khan has called for the government to shut the capital’s schools from Tuesday, the Telegraph reported. Lawmakers from London and the surrounding areas are expected to be briefed Monday on data showing the infection rate doubling every four days, the newspaper said, citing health sources. A spokesman for Mr Khan told the newspaper the matter is a decision for the government and health officials.

Netherlands

The Netherlands will go into a tough second lockdown, with the closure of all schools and shops for at least five weeks, in a government-led push to fight the novel coronavirus, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Monday.

“The Netherlands is closing down,” he said to the sound of protesters banging pots and pans outside his office in The Hague.

The measures, detailed in a rare live television address, include limiting gatherings to no more than two people. An exception will be made for three days around Christmas, when three adult visitors will be permitted, he said.

People were further advised to stay at home, not to travel to work and to avoid contact with other people as much as possible.

Mr Rutte appealed to people to postpone non-essential international travel until March 15th, two months later than a previous recommendation.

From Tuesday, all public places – including daycare centres, gyms, museums, zoos, cinemas, hairdressers and beauty salons – will close until January 19th. Schools will close until January 18th. Supermarkets, banks and pharmacies will be allowed to stay open. New coronavirus infections in the country of 17 million people increased by about 8,500 in the 24 hours to Monday morning, data released by national health authorities showed. This followed a jump by almost 10,000 a day earlier, which was the biggest such rise in more than six weeks. The Netherlands has recorded more than 600,000 cases and 10,000 deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

France

Covid-19 patients in intensive-care units in France increased for the first time in almost four weeks, rising by 10 to 2,871, according to the health ministry. Hospitalisations for illness related to the virus, which include ICUs, climbed by 259, the most in three weeks

EU vaccine

European Council president Charles Michel said he expects the first Covid vaccines to be approved in the EU “in the coming weeks, maybe even before the end of the year.” The bloc has decided to follow its regulatory process and “not to play” with approval, Michel said. European countries are working on a simultaneous vaccination drive, to avoid some countries falling months behind others, Mr Michel said in an interview with France Inter radio Sunday.

Russia

Moscow will not impose a curfew or curb alcohol sales during the New Year holiday, despite a rise in coronavirus cases, the mayor of the Russian capital was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Canada

The first Covid-19 vaccines have landed on Canadian soil, prime minister Justin Trudeau said, and some Canadians are expected to roll up their sleeves for a shot as soon as Monday.

Brazil

Brazil’s supreme court gave the country’s health minister 48 hours to fix the starting date for a national vaccination programme to fight the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of coronavirus.

India

India will deploy its vast election machinery to deliver 600 million doses of vaccines to the most vulnerable people in the next six to eight months through conventional cold chain systems, the expert leading the initiative said.

Japan

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga is set to avoid an across-the-board halt to a travel incentive programme seen as potentially spreading the coronavirus, a report said, even as Japan’s worst outbreak undermined support for his cabinet. The government will halt the use of “Go To” subsidies for trips to Tokyo and Nagoya, while asking travellers to voluntarily refrain from using the programme for journeys starting in the two cities, Jiji Press reported Monday, citing unnamed government officials. The restrictions are likely to apply until either December 25th or December 27th, the agency said. Similar restrictions are already in place for Sapporo and Osaka. Mr Suga has defended the domestic tourism subsidies as the best way of propping up regional economies crippled by the pandemic.

New Zealand

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said a travel bubble with Australia could begin in the first quarter once final details have been worked out. Addressing reporters after a Cabinet meeting, Ms Ardern said the quarantine-free arrangements depend on levels of Covid-19 in both countries not getting worse. Australia and New Zealand already have a limited travel corridor, but anyone returning from a trip from Australia must quarantine for 14 days on their return.

South Korea

South Korea reported a drop in new cases - to 718 - after posting a record of more than 1,000 infections on Sunday. Health authorities announced it was setting up nearly 60 temporary testing centres at subway stations in Seoul to stem the latest spread. Implementing the strictest level of social distancing measures is a last resort, South Korean prime minister Chung Sye-Kyun said in a meeting.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s army headquarters was isolating due to a Covid-19 outbreak during an annual conference, a spokesman said.

Eswatini

Eswatini prime minister Ambrose Dlamini, who had tested positive for Covid-19, has died, the country’s government has announced. The 52-year-old, who had been prime minister since 2018, announced in November that he had tested positive for the virus and was being treated at a hospital in neighbouring South Africa.

The government of Eswatini announced Mr Dlamini’s death on Twitter.

Eswatini, a small mountain kingdom northeast of South Africa formerly known as Swaziland, has recorded almost 7,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 127 deaths.

Bahrain

Bahrain said it had approved a Covid-19 vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group and launched online registration for the vaccine for citizens and residents.

Algeria

Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune made his first appearance on Sunday since being flown to a hospital in Germany 47 days ago after testing positive for coronavirus.

Medical developments

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline delayed the launch of their Covid-19 vaccine, while AstraZeneca said it would investigate combining its experimental Covid-19 vaccine with the Russian shot. –Bloomberg, PA, New York Times, Reuters