An adviser to Italyâ€™s health ministry has called for coronavirus restrictions to be drastically tightened to avoid a â€œnational tragedyâ€ after the national statistics bureau ISTAT said deaths this year would be the highest since the second world war.
â€œWe are in a war situation, people donâ€™t realise it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war,â€ public health professor Walter Ricciardi told the television channel la7 on Tuesday evening.
Ricciardi, the adviser to the health minister, Roberto Speranza, said the government, which is considering tightening restrictions over the Christmas and new year holidays, should lock down the main cities completely.
In an interview with Wednesdayâ€™s daily La Stampa, he said Rome had been â€œconstantly lateâ€ in responding to the second, autumn wave of the virus.
Italy reported 846 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, taking the official total to 65,857, the fifth highest in the world.
Indonesia will provide free coronavirus vaccines to its citizens when it starts its inoculation programme, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday, adding he would get the first shot to reassure people on safety.
It received its first shipment of vaccines, 1.2m doses from Chinaâ€™s Sinovac Biotech in early December, but is awaiting emergency use authorisation from its food and drug agency. Another 1.8m doses are expected to be delivered in January.
Indonesia has now recorded more than 629,000 confirmed infections and 19,000 deaths, the highest caseload and death toll in south-east Asia.
The country, which has a population of 270 million, is looking to secure 246.6m vaccine doses and has also been in negotiations with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and global vaccine programme Covax.
In Russia, St Petersburg is running dangerously low on hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, the city authorities said, as deliveries of Russiaâ€™s Sputnik V vaccine began on Wednesday across the country.
Biotech group Biocad, licenced to produce Sputnik V, said it was supplying the shot nationwide to help fulfil a large-scale inoculation plan.
In comments to local television late on Tuesday, deputy St. Petersburg governor Oleg Ergashev said just 4% of beds allocated to patients infected with the coronavirus were vacant, Reuters reports.
â€œWe understand that additional capacities need to be deployed,â€ he said.
The Kremlin has resisted imposing a national lockdown, saying targeted measures to contain coronavirus were enough, though it warned last week that St Petersburg, Russiaâ€™s second largest city and President Vladimir Putinâ€™s hometown, was close to crossing a â€œred lineâ€.
Russia has reported around 2.7m Covid-19 infections and nearly 48,000 deaths.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to urge people in England to think carefully before visiting relatives over Christmas, but is not expected at this stage to tighten the legal framework.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide their own rules, though there will be further discussions between all four nations today to see if there can be consensus.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said that â€œEaster can be the new Christmasâ€, suggesting some people may want to put off large family gatherings until the spring.
â€œThis is a virus that thrives on social interaction, so bringing more people together, even over this short period of time, is not cost-free. It will have consequences in terms of increasing the rate. It will rise,â€ he told Sky News.
Prof Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the spread of the virus under the proposed Christmas mixing plans was â€œreally uncertainâ€.
The Sage member told BBC Radio 4â€™s Today programme that while mixing posed a risk, the closure of schools and workplaces could mitigate this.
He said: â€œThere are two things happening over the period: one is that most workplaces and schools are closed, so that will result in reduced contact.
â€œOn the other hand, if we all mix together and have a normal Christmas then we know that in a normal year most respiratory diseases and hospital admissions increase after Christmas anyway in a non-Covid year, so thereâ€™s clearly a risk, but it really very much depends on what people do.
â€œItâ€™s very hard to predict and say â€˜oh yes, this is going to be a disasterâ€™ or â€˜nothing is going to happenâ€™ because it really does depend on what people decide to do.â€
The UK competition regulator has launched an investigation into the failure of airlines to offer cash refunds to travellers who have been unable to take their flights because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said its move follows reports that airlines may have breached consumersâ€™ rights by not offering cash refunds in cases where travel restrictions meant people could not legally take the flight.
The CMA cited the example of consumers being unable to travel for non-essential purposes in the UK or abroad during the second lockdown in England in November. The regulator said it was aware of cases where flights were not cancelled and customers were not offered refunds even though they could not lawfully travel. Instead, many were offered the option to rebook or receive a voucher.
The CMA said airlines may be under severe financial pressure but that does not mean that consumers should be â€œleft unfairly out of pocketâ€.
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In the UK, the government is resisting demands to change the relaxation of rules over Christmas that will allow families to meet up over five days.
The message is for people to take personal responsibility and assess the risk before travelling to visit relatives, especially elderly and vulnerable loved ones.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick today said government would not be changing the â€œlegal frameworkâ€ which allows people from up to three households to form â€œbubblesâ€ over the holiday period.
â€œWe all need to use our own personal judgment thinking about our own families whether we have particularly elderly or clinically vulnerable relatives who might be round the Christmas table, and also looking at the fact that the rates of the virus are rising in many parts of the country,â€ he told Sky News.
â€œThinking of some of the examples we can see internationally like Thanksgiving, for example, where lots of people coming together did have consequences after the event.
â€œI would just urge people to use their personal judgment and to think carefully whether this is the right thing for their family.â€
The leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, has demanded an urgent review of Christmas Covid rules.
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.