The chief executive of BioNTech says the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the U.K. variant, but further studies are needed to be completely sure.
Ugur Sahin said Tuesday that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.
Sahin said BioNTech is conducting further studies and hopes to have certainty within the coming weeks. BioNTech’s vaccine, developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is authorized for use in more than 45 countries.
As of early Tuesday, more than 77.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 43.7 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.
What’s happening in Canada
As of 12:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 519,707, with 77,993 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,381.
At a briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Canada on Tuesday, federal health officials said Tuesday that they had not yet seen a sign of the mutated COVID-19 variant that first emerged in Britain, which experts believe is more readily transmissible.
“What we can say is at this point in time we have not detected this mutation,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
She said experts will continue to monitor the situation, “but we will of course inform people as this goes along.”
Tam said more testing and sequencing would be done in the days ahead.
Quebec reported 2,183 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 28 deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 1,055 in the hard-hit province, with 137 people in intensive care units.
Ontario, which has seen COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations rise, on Monday announced a sweeping shutdown is set to begin across the province on Dec. 26.
“We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable,” Premier Doug Ford said as he made the announcement Monday. But the Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement that it was “surprised and disappointed” the lockdown won’t happen for another five days.
Warehouses, food processing plants, and manufacturing facilities are among the essential businesses exempt from the provincial shutdown — even though workplaces are a significant source of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> infections, <a href=”https://twitter.com/trevorjdunn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@trevorjdunn</a> reports, leaving workers at risk:<a href=”https://t.co/pbEeo6133a”>https://t.co/pbEeo6133a</a>
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Tuesday reported 2,202 cases of COVID-19 and said more than 45,300 tests were completed. Hospitalizations also increased, according to the province, rising to 1,005 with 273 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. Figures published by a Toronto critical care doctor and attributed to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) put the ICU figure at 285.
The figures reported by the province daily can vary from the CCSO reports due to differences in how the numbers are compiled.
What’s happening in the U.S.
The U.S.’s top infectious disease expert has received the initial dose of the newest COVID-19 vaccine alongside other federal health leaders who helped oversee its development. Dr. Anthony Fauci received his first shot of the two-dose regimen alongside National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Each received the vaccine co-developed by NIH and Massachusetts drugmaker Moderna.
The vaccinations Tuesday at the NIH campus outside Washington are part of a broader government effort to bolster public confidence in the safety of two COVID-19 vaccines recently cleared by U.S. regulators.
The vaccinations Tuesday at the NIH campus outside Washington are part of a broader government effort to bolster public confidence in the safety of two COVID-19 vaccines recently cleared by U.S. regulators. Six health-care workers from NIH’s research hospital also received vaccination shots at the event.
Congress, meanwhile, has passed a $900-billion US pandemic relief package that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4-trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year. The bill approved Monday night went to President Donald Trump for his signature, which was expected in the coming days.
The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $300 a week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatres, as well as money for schools, health-care providers and renters facing eviction.
The U.S. has seen more than 18 million COVID-19 cases and more than 319,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Californians, meanwhile, were being warned it is too risky to celebrate the winter holidays normally and if they don’t change plans a deadly explosion of coronavirus cases could follow. The state has recorded a half-million coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that a projection model shows California could be facing nearly 100,000 hospitalizations within a month.
“Another spike in cases in the winter holidays will be disastrous for our hospital system and ultimately will mean many more people simply won’t be with us in 2021,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said bluntly during a briefing.
The current surge is overwhelming emergency rooms in urban centres and in rural areas including along the Mexican border where a small hospital system warns it is quickly running out of patient beds.
Conditions at El Centro Regional Medical Center in the southeast corner of the state are desperate, even worse than during a summer surge that caught the attention of the governor, hospital officials said.
“We don’t have space for anybody. We’ve been holding patients for days because we can’t get them transferred, can’t get beds for them,” said Dr. Alexis Lenz, an emergency room physician at the medical center in Imperial County, home to 180,000 people.
What’s happening around the world
In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan has reported a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 — the first in 253 days.
The country’s Central Epidemic Command Center said on Tuesday that the patient is a 30-year old female. She was found to be a close contact of a foreign pilot who was previously confirmed as having contracted the coronavirus.
Health officials are in touch with 167 contacts of both individuals, and have asked 13 of them to quarantine at home. An official said the pilot, who did not mention the woman as a close contact, may be found in violation of Taiwan’s epidemic prevention laws and could be fined.
Taiwan has largely shielded itself during the pandemic, recording just seven deaths and 770 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
South Korea will prohibit private social gatherings of five or more people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide starting on Christmas Eve as it contends with a surge in coronavirus infections.
The restrictions announced Tuesday extend to a national level similar rules set earlier by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area. It is the most serious step the government has taken to reinstate social distancing after months of easing.
India recorded 19,556 new cases of the coronavirus, according to health ministry data on Tuesday, its lowest daily increase since July 3.
In Europe, Ireland’s prime minister said coronavirus restrictions will be tightened in the country amid concerns that the new variant of the virus identified in southeast England has spread across the Irish Sea.
In an address to the country, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the government was acting “quickly and aggressively” in response to rising infection rates and that it was proceeding on the assumption that the new variant, which is said to be more virulent than existing strains, was already in Ireland.
He said that in the last week, the country had seen “extraordinary growth in the spread of the virus.” Figures, he said, suggest the virus is growing by around 10 per cent a day.
Among the new restrictions to be imposed over the coming days and to last until Jan. 12, Martin said restaurants and pubs selling food will have to close at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24. So-called “wet pubs” — those that don’t sell food — are already closed. Shops and schools can stay open, he said.
Germany has expanded its ban on passenger flights from the U.K. to forbid passenger transport by rail, bus and ship. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the measure took effect at midnight, a day after flights were halted. A similar measure applies to South Africa, where a new variant of the coronavirus also has been detected.
The measures apply through Jan. 6. There are exceptions for freight and mail transport, and for medical and humanitarian flights. A string of European and other countries halted air travel from Britain because of a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus in England.
A leading German virologist who was initially skeptical about reports that the strain was much more contagious voiced concern after seeing more data. Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, tweeted that “unfortunately it doesn’t look good.” But Drosten added that the mutation has so far increased only in areas where there was a high or rising rate of infection, meaning that reducing contacts works against its spread.
In Africa, Sudan will ban travellers from Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa from Dec. 23.
In the Middle East, Oman said on Monday it’s temporarily suspending all entry to the country by foreigners and halting international passenger flights over worries about a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus.
Oman said the one-week closure of all official ports of entry would begin on Tuesday “to protect community members from the severity of infection and the speed of spread.”
In the Americas, Brazil tailed only the U.S. in total coronavirus cases, with more than 7.2 million cases reported and more than 187,000 deaths. Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said it had certified the production standards of CoronaVac, China’s Sinovac-produced coronavirus vaccine candidate.
Guatemala and Panama will restrict entry to travellers who have recently visited Britain or South Africa.