Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Dec. 21

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U.S. president-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday at a hospital in Newark, Del., and he urged Americans to get the vaccine when it is available.

Biden has said he would make the fight against COVID-19 — which has killed more than 319,000 people in the U.S. 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.

Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris would likely get the vaccine next week.

“I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine,” Biden said. “There’s nothing to worry about.” 

WATCH | Biden receives COVID-19 vaccine:

An infectious disease specialist answers viewer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine including whether it will protect people against new variants and should seniors outside of long-term care be next to be vaccinated. 3:53

Biden praised the health-care workers and said U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration “deserves some credit getting this off the ground.” And the president-elect urged Americans to wear masks during the upcoming Christmas holiday and not travel unless necessary.

On Monday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an $892 billion US COVID-19 aid package aimed at throwing a lifeline to the country’s pandemic-battered economy, clearing the way for Senate approval later in the evening.

The House in a pair of bipartisan votes also passed a $1.4 trillion US measure that will keep the U.S. government funded for another year, which will also go to the Senate for consideration.

The relief bill, which would become law if passed by the Senate and signed by U.S. President Donald Trump, includes $600 US payments to most Americans, as well as additional payments to the millions of people thrown out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes just as a larger round of benefits is due to expire on Saturday.

The White House has said Trump will sign the bill.

Earlier, the European Union gave official approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be put onto the market across the 27-nation bloc.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the commission “took the decision to make available for European citizens the first COVID-19 vaccine. We granted conditional market authorization.”

The commission, the EU’s executive arm, gave the green light just hours after the European Medicines Agency said the shot meets safety and quality standards. Brussels had been expected to require two or three days to endorse the market authorization move.

Deliveries of the vaccine had been scheduled to start this coming Saturday, with inoculations beginning across the EU between Dec. 27 and 29.

Following a closed-door expert meeting on Monday, the EU drug regulator said it was recommending the shot be licensed for use in people over 16 years of age, with some exceptions. The pharmaceutical companies will need to submit followup data on their vaccine for the next year.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, left, fist-bumps nurse practitioner Tabe Mase after he received the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

The European regulator came under heavy pressure last week from countries calling for the vaccine to be granted approval for use as quickly as possible. The vaccine has already been given some form of regulatory authorization in at least 15 countries, including Canada.

Britain and the United States authorized the vaccine to be used according to emergency provisions, meaning the shot is an unlicensed product whose temporary use is justified by the pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide to date, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Health Canada said its approval was made under an interim order that allowed it to “assess information submitted by the manufacturer as it became available during the product development process, while maintaining Canada’s high standards.”

“Canadians can feel confident that the review process was rigorous and that we have strong monitoring systems in place,” the department said in a Dec. 9 statement announcing the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Scientists are still waiting for more long-term followup data to see how long immunity from the vaccines lasts and if there are any rare or serious side-effects. Final testing of the vaccine is still ongoing. More information on whether the shot works in children is needed, in addition to its effects on pregnant women.

The vaccine is not made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.

EMA chief Emer Cooke downplayed concerns that the vaccine might be ineffective against a new strain of the coronavirus detected in Britain

“At the moment, we can say that there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will not work against the new variant of the coronavirus,” she said.

But she added that protective measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and physical distancing would likely be needed for some time.

“Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal life,” Cooke said. “But the authorization of this first vaccine is definitely a major step in the right direction and an indication that 2021 can be brighter than 2020.


What’s happening across Canada

As of 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday, there were 515,314 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Canada, with 423,621 of those considered recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 14,332.

All of Ontario will move into a lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb climbing COVID-19 case numbers and spare hospitals and their intensive care units from being inundated in January, Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday.

The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021, in the 27 public health units that comprise southern Ontario. In the seven public health units in Ontario’s north, where daily case numbers have been significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9.

WATCH | Ford discusses Ontario-wide lockdown:

With COVID-19 surging in parts of Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has announced tighter restrictions across the province, saying ‘thousands of lives are at stake.’ The restrictions will last for 28 days in southern Ontario and 14 days in the north. 3:22

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Ontario — which has now seen seven days straight with more than 2,000 daily cases — and the province’s ability to control the spread of the virus is “precarious.” Those are the findings from new projections released on Monday that concluded “hard” lockdowns lasting four to six weeks could cut daily case counts to less than 1,000.

British Columbia health officials announced 1,667 new COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths over a three-day period. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have urged British Columbians to hold the line against the virus and adhere to provincial health guidelines over the holiday season, as vaccinations are dispensed.

Current provincial health orders in B.C., which include voluntary restrictions on non-essential travel and a mandatory ban on social gatherings, are set to expire on Jan. 8.

Alberta reported 1,240 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and nine more deaths. Earlier, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Nakiska ski resort just west of Calgary. Alberta Health said 15 cases have been linked to the resort, which will be added to the province’s official list of outbreaks Tuesday. All 15 cases are still active.

Saskatchewan announced four new COVID-19-related deaths and 206 new cases, while Manitoba also reported four deaths and 167 new cases, the lowest numbers in more than a month.

Quebec saw 2,108 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday with hospitalizations up to 1,048, including 146 people in intensive care units.

In Atlantic Canada, new measures meant to prevent any possible surge of COVID-19 over the holiday period have started across Nova Scotia, which announced two new cases on Monday. Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases and announced that the province’s active caseload has dipped to 28.

In Nunavut, three new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed since Friday, all in Arviat, according to a government news release.


What’s happening around the world 

As of Monday evening, more than 77 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 43.5 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll surpassed 1.7 million on Monday.

In Africa, South Africa announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving the country’s current resurgence of the disease, which is seeing higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa, according to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy.

“It is still very early, but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave,” Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the government’s ministerial advisory committee, said in a briefing to journalists.

South Africa may see “many more cases” in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease, Abdool Karim said.

South Africa currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.

A worker is seen at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Berlin on Monday. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

“We are seeing a much earlier and much sharper rise in the second wave or resurgence than we anticipated,” Prof. Ian Sanne, a member of the advisory committee, told South Africa’s News24.

The new strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus. South African scientists are studying if the vaccines that are effective against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain.

Some of the vaccines, including the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, are undergoing clinical tests in South Africa. The scientists studying the new variant emphasized that preventive measures like wearing masks and social distancing are vital.

In response to the resurgence of COVID-19, the South African government has introduced tougher lockdown restrictions that include limited days and hours for the trade of alcohol and the closure of beaches in areas identified as hot spots.

The country has recorded a total of 912,477 cases, including 24,539 deaths.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will ban flights from Britain due to the more infectious variant of the coronavirus found in the country, according to the city’s top health official.

In Japan, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Monday asked all residents to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s at home just with their families and asked organizers to have events close early in the night.

Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have been steadily on the rise, and Tokyo hit a new high of 822 last Friday. On Monday, the Japanese capital city found 392 new cases for a prefectural total of 51,838. 

Thailand’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases surged past 5,000 on Monday as hundreds of migrant workers tested positive for the disease.

Thailand has been one of several Southeast Asian countries that had been relatively unscathed by the pandemic. But on Saturday, health officials reported a daily record of 548 new cases, almost all of them among migrant workers in the seafood industry in Samut Sakhon province, about 35 kilometres southwest of Bangkok, the capital.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his government would wait to see how the situation looked in a week’s time before deciding on any special restrictions for New Year’s celebrations.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia shut its land and sea borders late on Sunday and suspended international commercial flights temporarily over fears of a new coronavirus strain, but foreign flights already in the country can leave, the Interior Ministry said.

Fellow Gulf Arab state Oman will close its land, air and sea borders for one week starting Tuesday, state television reported on Monday.

In Kuwait, the civil aviation authority added the United Kingdom to its list of high-risk countries on Sunday, meaning all flights from there are banned.

The U.S. remained the hardest-hit country in the Americas, trailed by Brazil, which has seen more than 7.2 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 186,700 deaths.



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