LONDON — British regulators insisted that “no corners have been cut” during the assessment of the the COVID-19 vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which was cleared for emergency use on Wednesday.
In a briefing after the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency became the first regulator worldwide to approve the vaccine, its chair, Dr. June Raine, said the public can be “absolutely confident” that its standards are equivalent to those anywhere around the world.
Regulators also revealed the order by which the vaccine will be rolled out across the country over the coming weeks and months, beginning next week. The U.K. has ordered around 40 million doses of the vaccine, which can potentially immunize 20 million people as two doses are required.
Residents in nursing homes and their carers will be offered the vaccine first followed by those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers. From there, the priority plan largely follows age groups.
According to Munir Pirmohamed, chair of a medicines panel, people will be immune seven days after the second dose.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon
— US panel: 1st vaccines to health care workers, nursing homes
— ‘ Very dark couple of weeks ’: Morgues and hospitals overflow in the United States
— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths
— British lawmakers approved new coronavirus restrictions in England that take effect Wednesday but many Conservative lawmakers are unhappy about the economic consequences
— Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the ban on nonessential travel with the United States will not be lifted until COVID-19 is significantly more under control around the world.
— French President Emmanuel Macron says France will apply restrictions to prevent vacationers from going to Swiss ski resorts and French slopes will remain closed during the Christmas season.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MOSCOW — Russia has registered a record number of coronavirus deaths for a second straight day.
The government coronavirus task force reported 589 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally in the pandemic. The previous record of 569 deaths was registered on Tuesday. The task force has recorded 41,053 virus-related deaths in all.
Russia continued to report high daily infections this week as well. On Wednesday, officials registered 25,345 new infections. Russia’s total of over 2.3 million confirmed cases is the fourth largest caseload in the world.
Still, Russian authorities have insisted there is no need to impose a second nationwide lockdown or shut down businesses. Currently, there is a country-wide mask mandate and mostly mild restrictions that vary from region to region.
BERLIN — Germany on Wednesday reported a record 487 new coronavirus deaths — the country’s highest daily toll since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The country’s disease control center also said 17,270 people had contracted the virus in the last 24 hours.
The country’s health minister said Tuesday that daily death numbers are way too high and reminded his compatriots that behind every single number there’s a tragedy and a human life lost. Germany has seen 17,123 people die in the pandemic,
Germany implemented a so-called “lock down light” about month ago with schools and stores remaining open. That has led to a stagnation of new infections, but the numbers have not been going down again like in other European countries which have had much stricter anti-corona measures in recent weeks.
Germany is waiting for approval of an anti-COVID vaccine by the end of the year, and has started setting up mass vaccination centers across the country that are supposed to be ready within two weeks
HELSINKI — Latvia has extended the state of emergency due to COVID-19 until Jan. 11 and has announced further restrictions to contain the spread of the pandemic in the small Baltic nation.
Latvia’s government announced late Tuesday that, effective Thursday, everyone in the country must follow the 2+2 principle in their daily public routine: observing a distance of two meters (6.6 feet) from others and limiting meetings to two people.
During the state of emergency, sales of alcohol and tobacco in Latvia will be prohibited at shops during the weekends and public holidays. Also, effective on Saturday, only grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to operate on weekends and holidays to sell food, drugs and other basic necessities.
Latvia, a nation of nearly 2 million, has seen its coronavirus outbreak worsen in the past few weeks.
The country on Wednesday reported 690 confirmed new cases and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours., for an overall toll of 224 virus-related deaths.
ROME — Italy’s health minister told lawmakers on Wednesday that Italy will distribute 202.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines during 2021 in “an unprecedented effort that will require a huge collective commitment.’’
Robert Speranza said the vaccines will not be mandatory, but that the doses allotted Italy through an EU collective purchasing agreement would be “enough to potentially vaccinate the entire population.”
Speranza emphasized that the distribution of the vaccines would depend on regulatory approval which was still pending from the European Medicines Agency.
The first vaccines are expected to arrive in January with Pfizer’s vaccine expected to get first EMA approval by Dec. 29 and Moderna by Jan. 12. Priority will be given first to Italy’s front-line health care workers, then residents of nursing homes, then to elderly over 80 before moving to other groups like people with medical risks, law enforcement, teachers and prison workers.
Speranza said the vaccines provide “a message of hope” in the pandemic, which has killed more than 55,000 Italians, but that “prudence and caution are still needed.”
LONDON — Drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they’ve won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, the world’s first coronavirus shot that’s backed by rigorous science — and a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.
The move allows Britain to become one of the first countries to begin vaccinating its population as it tries to curb Europe’s deadliest outbreak.
“The vaccine will be made available across the U.K. from next week,″ the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement. The National Health Service “has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programs and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.″
Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc.
British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that “random border checks” will be put in place over the holiday season targeting French skiers trying to get to foreign resorts, particularly in Switzerland.
“The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by putting in random border checks,” Castex said on BFM TV Wednesday.
He said the controls will include virus tests and a seven-day quarantine will be imposed on returning French skiers.
On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron had indicated that the government was considering taking “restrictive and dissuasive measures” to prevent the French from going abroad to ski, especially in Switzerland, at Christmas.
France will apply restrictions to prevent vacationers from going to ski resorts abroad and French slopes will remain closed during the Christmas period amid the coronavirus pandemic Macron said.
France has reported over 52,800 dead in the pandemic, the third-worst death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s health minister said Wednesday that vaccines against COVID-19 should be available there in late January or early February and the first group to be offered vaccination will be some 500,000 medical workers who have direct contact with coronavirus patients.
Minister Adam Niedzielski said the next vaccines will be given to the country’s almost 3 million elderly, because the COVID death rate spikes for patients over 75. Niedzielski told Radio TOK FM that the whole procedure may take two months.
He said Poland was seeing a drop in new infections and in hospitalizations.
On Wednesday, Poland reported almost 14,000 new daily cases and over 600 COVID-related deaths. Overall, Poland has seen over 18,000 deaths in the pandemic.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex said his country is putting in place a “progressive” virus vaccination plan, with more than enough doses to cover the entire population of 67 million.
Speaking on BFM TV Wednesday, he said that the government had “pre-ordered enough to vaccinate 100 million people, via the European system.”
It was the European Commission that negotiated with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of European Union member states. Authorizations to use the vaccines will come “rather toward the end of December,” he said.
He will outline the specifics on Thursday alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.
LISBON, Portugal — Health Director-General Graça Freitas, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in confinement, the Portuguese health ministry said Wednesday.
In a statement, the ministry said Freitas has some light symptoms. It said health services were tracing people with whom Freitas may have direct contact. The ministry said Freitas’ Wednesday’s press briefing would be canceled.
Freitas, 63, has been the government’s chief official for the virus pandemic.
Portugal’s virus infection numbers have eased in recent days. The country has registered some 300,000 cases and 2,300 deaths.
TOKYO — Japan’s parliament on Wednesday approved revised vaccination legislation to accommodate smooth distribution and administration of coronavirus vaccines for all citizens to fight the pandemic.
The government aims to secure vaccines enough for all 126 million Japanese by the first half of next year.
Under the law, the people are required to make efforts to receive the coronavirus vaccine as part of their cooperation in fighting the pandemic. Local municipalities will carry out inoculations for free, with priority given to the elderly and those with underlying health issues.
The government hopes to start vaccination during the first half of next year, ahead of the Summer Olympics that has been postponed until July due to the pandemic.
The enactment comes as Japan struggles with a resurgence of the infections, with rapid increase of serious cases burdening medical systems. Tokyo, Osaka and several other cities have seen rapid spikes of cases.
Nationwide, Japan has had 2,172 deaths as of Wednesday.
ISLAMABAD_- Pakistan reported 75 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, one of the highest fatalities from coronavirus in recent months, prompting government to launch a week-long campaign beginning Saturday to urge people to wear masks.
The government, however, has ruled out re-imposing a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed 8,166 people and infected 403,311 in Pakistan.
Pakistan flattened the curve in August but currently it is facing a lethal new surge of infections, mainly due to those violating social distancing rules.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings large and small as around half a million students prepared for a crucial national college exam.
Vice Education Minister Park Baeg-beom says the 490,000 applicants so far include 35 virus carriers who will take exams Thursday at hospitals or treatment shelters. Education authorities have also prepared separate venues for some 400 applicants currently under self-quarantine.
Applicants will be required to wear masks and maintain distance from each other.
Park Yu-mi, an anti-virus official in Seoul, pleaded with people to cancel all gatherings of more than 10, and for companies to half at least one-third of their employees work from home to ensure a safe environment for Thursday’s examination.
The country on Wednesday reported 511 new infections, continuing a weekslong resurgence centered around the greater capital area that brought the national caseload to 35,163, including 526 deaths.
NEW DELHI — India has maintained a declining trend in coronavirus infections with 36,604 new cases reported in the past 24 hours.
The cases declined by 32% in November as compared to October, according to the Health Ministry. For more than three weeks, India’s single-day cases have remained below 50,000.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said new cases were declining consistently after peaking in mid-September at nearly 100,000 per day.
The capital of New Delhi has also seen a dip in daily infections. It reported 4,006 new cases in the past 24 hours.
India reported 501 additional deaths, raising total fatalities to 138,122.
DENVER — The ACLU of Colorado and the Weld County Sheriff’s office have reached an agreement to implement measures at the county’s jail to better protect inmates from the coronavirus pandemic.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams and the ACLU asked a federal judge Tuesday to enter a consent decree between the two sides to carry out the changes and provide federal oversight.
The ACLU had filed a lawsuit in April alleging that the sheriff’s office had failed to meet public health orders related to the pandemic and did not sufficiently protect inmates, jail staff and the public.
Joe Moylan, a spokesperson for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, declined further comment.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced measures on Tuesday to boost the number of available health care workers and plan for more hospital beds.
In a partnership with the Maryland Hospital Association, the governor announced the launch of an initiative called MarylandMedNow to recruit people with clinical backgrounds to work at state hospitals, nursing homes, testing sites and vaccination clinics.
The state has asked colleges and universities to develop emergency policies and procedures to award academic credit to students who are willing to get hands-on work experience during the pandemic.
The governor also announced steps to increase hospital beds. Hospitals across the state will be required to submit a patient surge plan, including strategies to expand bed and staffing capacity adjustments. They will be due at the health department Dec. 8.
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined at a posh Napa Valley restaurant the day after California’s governor was there. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo went to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving. And a Los Angeles County supervisor dined outdoors just hours after voting to ban outdoor dining there.
All three local officials were on the hot seat Tuesday after various reports that they violated rules aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus — or at a minimum, violating the spirit of the rules as they repeatedly urged others to stay home.
Breed joined seven others at the three Michelin-starred French Laundry on Nov. 7 to celebrate the 60th birthday of socialite Gorretti Lo Lui, the mayor’s spokesman confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle. She dined in the same kind of partially enclosed indoor/outdoor room Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated in a day earlier.
Newsom, who has appealed to Californians to “do your part” and stay home, apologized when the 12-person dinner was reported, then again when photos emerged showing him, his wife and others sitting close together without masks.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert Tuesday and urged people to wear masks and socially distance to help prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned during a virtual news conference that Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases and pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.
“If you look across the United States, we are really in a public health crisis right now,” Fauci said.
He added that “we are likely going to see a surge upon a surge” of cases, based on the number of people who gathered for Thanksgiving and on those who are expected to shop and attend holiday parties before celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in large groups.
Colorado has been hit with a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases, with one in 41 residents believed to be contagious.
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