Germany entered a strict lockdown on Wednesday in an effort to get soaring coronavirus cases under control as the number of registered deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 952, the highest daily increase yet.
Fears that the pandemic is spiralling out of control in Germany, Europeâ€™s biggest economy, prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state governors to announce on Sunday a tough lockdown until 10 January at the earliest.
Shops and schools will stay shut from Wednesday in a pre-Christmas tightening of restrictions following a partial lockdown in November, which closed bars and restaurants but failed to contain a second wave of the pandemic, Reuters reports.
The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases put the number of confirmed cases at 1,379,238, an increase of 27,728. The total death toll in Germany is at 23,427. The previous highest daily increase in deaths was 598 on Friday.
Merkel told lawmakers on Tuesday she was worried by the trend and warned them that January and February would be very tough months.
Germans are waiting for regulatory approval for a vaccine partly developed in Germany even as other countries, including Britain and the United States, are rolling it out.
The health minister, Jens Spahn, has said Germany should start giving coronavirus shots 24 to 72 hours after the vaccine by BioNTech and Pfizer gets EU approval and could begin as soon as Christmas. European authorities are expected to approve the vaccine next week.
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In Japan, the city of Tokyo today reported its highest one-day case total of the pandemic so far, with 678 infections.
The figure is higher than last week Saturdayâ€™s record of 621 cases.
In Australia, Channel 10 news reports that two new local coronavirus cases have been confirmed â€“ hours after the first locally transmitted case in two weeks was reported:
Here are the key developments from the last few hours:
- London on Wednesday moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions in an effort to control rising infection rates, dealing another blow to hospitality venues before Christmas. The British capitalâ€™s move into â€œtier 3â€ means theatres, pubs, restaurants will have to close, although takeaway food outlets can still operate.
- Donald Trump will â€˜absolutelyâ€™ encourage Americans to take vaccine, says press secretary. The US president will â€œabsolutelyâ€ encourage Americans to take Covid-19 vaccines and will receive a vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines its best, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, has said.
- Nearly one in four people may not get Covid-19 vaccines until at least 2022 because rich countries with less than 15% of the global population have reserved 51% of the doses of the most promising vaccines, researchers said. Low- and middle-income countries â€“ home to more than 85% of the worldâ€™s population â€“ would have to share the remainder, said researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US.
- A World Health Organization research mission to China is expected to arrive in Wuhan next month to investigate how the novel coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, and whether it emerged earlier or in a different place than originally thought.
- India recorded 26,355 new coronavirus cases, data from the health ministry showed on Wednesday, making it the third straight day that daily infections in the country have stayed below 30,000. India has recorded 9.93m infections so far, the second highest in the world after the United States, but daily numbers have dipped steadily since hitting a peak of about 97,000 in mid-September.
- A rapid, over-the-counter Covid-19 test developed by Australian firm Ellume has been given emergency approval in the US. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Brisbane-based companyâ€™s 20-minute Covid-19 Home Test on Tuesday as the US battles the virus that has infected 16.5 million people and killed more than 300,000 people in the country.
- South Korea reports record 1,078 new cases. South Korea has reported 1,078 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national total to 45,442. The death toll has risen by 12, bringing the total to 612.The new case total is the highest since the start of the pandemic. There were only three critical care beds left in the greater Seoul area with a nearly 26 million population, officials said.
- Swedish PM says officials misjudged power of Covid resurgence. Health officials in Sweden, which opted not to respond to the first wave of Covid-19 with a national lockdown, misjudged the power of the virusâ€™s resurgence, the countryâ€™s prime minister has said, as independent commission criticised the countryâ€™s strategy.
- New Zealandâ€™s economy shows faster recovery than expected. The country is expected to bounce back sooner from the impact of Covid-19 than previously thought, but large deficits and rising debt levels will have a lasting effect on the economy, the government said on Wednesday. The countryâ€™s treasury department predicted the budget deficit for the 2020/21 fiscal year to be NZ$21.58bn, NZ$10.1bn smaller than forecasts made in September.
- New community case confirmed in Sydney, Australia. A new case of community transmission has been confirmed in Sydney, Australia, breaking a 12-day streak of no community cases.The case is a 45-year-old man who felt ill on Saturday and was tested yesterday.The man drives a van that carries international air crews.
California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus deaths.
The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak seen earlier in the pandemic, and which threaten to soon overwhelm the stateâ€™s already taxed hospital system.
Gavin Newsom, Californiaâ€™s governor, said Tuesday that the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago. The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.
The number of average daily deaths now stands at 163, while positive cases have surged to more than 32,500 each day. Of those new cases, an anticipated 12% will wind up in the hospital and 12% of those hospitalized will crowd already stretched intensive care units:
The rightwing thinktank LibertyWorks has launched a federal court challenge to Australiaâ€™s travel ban, arguing that the health minister, Greg Hunt, has no power to stop citizens from leaving the country.
The case is the first major challenge to Australiaâ€™s strict external border restrictions, which were introduced in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The case will not seek to overturn the cap on the number of arrivals to Australia â€“which human rights bodies have warned may breach international law.
The national cabinet agreed to a ban on Australians leaving Australia, subject to limited exceptions, in an attempt to limit the number of citizens exposed to coronavirus overseas seeking to return home:
New Zealandâ€™s response to the virus has been among the most successful in the world, together with actions taken by China, Taiwan and Thailand early on in the pandemic.
The country of 5 million has counted just 25 deaths and managed to stamp out the spread of Covid-19, allowing people to return to workplaces, schools and packed sports stadiums without restrictions.
AP has spoken to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
When the virus began hitting Europe early in the year, Ardern said, the only two options countries were considering were herd immunity or flattening the curve. She opted for the latter.
â€œOriginally, thatâ€™s where we started, because there just simply wasnâ€™t really much of a view that elimination was possibleâ€.
But her thinking quickly changed.
â€œI remember my chief science adviser bringing me a graph that showed me what flattening the curve would look like for New Zealand. And where our hospital and health capacity was. And the curve wasnâ€™t sitting under that line. So we knew that flattening the curve wasnâ€™t sufficient for us.â€
A strong response to the coronavirus pandemic, surging exports and healthy public spending have helped Vietnam buck a global recession in 2020 and fast-track its recovery, with analysts predicting it will likely enjoy one of the highest growth rates in the world, AFP reports.
But the pain is not over for some sectors with containment measures and border disruptions hammering the countryâ€™s tourism industry, and leaving the once-booming aviation sector limping.
While many countries have suffered from high infection and mortality rates, Vietnam has recorded fewer than 1,500 coronavirus cases and 35 deaths thanks to mass quarantines, expansive contact-tracing and strict controls on movement, allowing factories to largely stay open and people to swiftly get back to work.
While many Western countries were imploring citizens to stay home mid-year, Vietnamese people were able to flock to scenic beaches as the government tried to give the domestic tourism industry a much-needed shot in the arm.
There were grave fears for Vietnamâ€™s export-reliant economy as demand for clothing, footwear and smartphones slumped in some of its biggest markets including the European Union, Japan and South Korea.
Shipments to China grew more than 15% on-year in the first nine months, according to the Vietnam General Customs Administration.
Demand for many of the items made in Vietnam – such as home electronics, office furniture, computers and televisions – soared during the pandemic as people were forced to stay home during lockdowns.
That has meant that while it will fall short of its target of 6.8 percent growth this year, the economy is expected to expand 2.4%, which the International Monetary Fund said would be among the best in the world.
The Fund has forecast a global contraction of 4.4%.
A World Health Organization research mission to China is expected to arrive in Wuhan next month to investigate how the novel coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, and whether it emerged earlier or in a different place than originally thought.
Fabian Leendertz, a biologist at Germanyâ€™s Robert Koch Institute and a member of the WHOâ€™s 10-person mission team, told the Associated Press they will be working with Chinese scientists for four to five weeks.
Most scientists think the virus Sars-Cov-2 began in animals in China, most likely bats, before jumping to humans. Cases were first discovered in the city of Wuhan in late December 2019, linked to a seafood market. More than 73.4 million people have since been diagnosed with the virus, and 1.63 million have died:
For many Spaniards looking to make a similar move to the countryside during the pandemic, a lack of good internet access often stands in the way, AFP reports.
Just over one in four Spaniards – some 13 million people – do not have decent internet access, according to Spanish trade union UGT.
This digital divide is the legacy of years of a lack of investment in Spainâ€™s depopulated interior, which has been emptied out by the flight of young people to cities since the 1950s in search of better job opportunities. Some parts of Spain have just two people per square kilometre – the same density as in Siberia.
The problem is not unique to Spain.
Two thirds of school-age children worldwide have no internet at home, according to a UN report published earlier this month, even as pandemic-induced school closures have made online access vital to getting educated.
The Spanish government has promised an ambitious European Union-funded programme to provide â€œadequateâ€ internet connectivity to 100 percent of Spainâ€™s population by 2025 as part of its efforts to revive the countryside.
Spain, one of the main beneficiaries of the EUâ€™s 750-billion-euro ($912-billion) coronavirus recovery package, has a â€œhistoric opportunityâ€ to â€œre-populate interior regionsâ€ which have long been neglected, said Gema Roman of consultancy firm Atrevia.
To attract more people to the countryside, the government must build more schools and hospitals in rural areas and encourage companies to use a mix of telework and working from the office, she added.
India recorded 26,355 new coronavirus cases, data from the health ministry showed on Wednesday, making it the third straight day that daily infections in the country have stayed below 30,000.
India has recorded 9.93 million infections so far, the second highest in the world after the United States, but daily numbers have dipped steadily since hitting a peak of around 97,000 in mid-September.
The average number of Covid-19 deaths reported each day in India has been decreasing for 10 days straight, according to a Reuters tally.
On Wednesday, the health ministry said deaths rose by 360, with the total fatalities now at 144,069.
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Queues of ambulances have formed outside several hospitals in Northern Ireland as pressure continued to mount on the regionâ€™s health service.
The scenes unfolded as first minister, Arlene Foster, participated in a call with other UK political leaders to review the planned relaxation of restrictions on household gatherings over Christmas.
No decisions were taken, with Stormont ministers set to convene to discuss the situation on Thursday amid intensifying calls from medics to rethink the relaxations and introduce fresh measures to curb the spread of the virus:
Ask not for whom the bell tolls…