Coronavirus live news: EU rollout of Pfizer vaccine may be disrupted; Philippines to ban arrivals from US

The UK economy begins 2021 on the back foot as record numbers of coronavirus infections and tougher restrictions cloud the outlook for growth and limit the chances of a rapid recovery from the country’s worst recession in 300 years.

There had been hopes that the arrival of successful Covid vaccines could prompt a rebound in activity. But with new government controls to combat the rising infection rate, the outlook is deteriorating.

Global humanitarian figures and NGOs have urged world leaders to urgently make Covid-19 vaccinations available to millions of refugees and others displaced by war, as the pandemic continues to overwhelm some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The impact of the contagion has sharply intensified across the Middle East in recent weeks, matching soaring global numbers. It has been further amplified by drastically under-resourced medical responses that cannot cope with the numbers of dying or seriously ill people.

Ireland correspondent

Surging Covid-19 infection rates in Northern Ireland have stretched hospitals and the ambulance service to breaking point.

Overall bed occupancy is at 100%, with just six beds left empty, and people in need of ambulances have been warned of lengthy delays in response times.

About 160 Northern Ireland ambulance service employees – a third to a quarter of frontline staff – are off work for pandemic-related reasons, the agency said in a statement. “This has put our service under even more pressure and we anticipate that callers to 999 may, at times, experience a delay in having their calls answered.”

Nigel Ruddell, the ambulance service medical director, put the crisis in starker terms. “It’s like fighting with one’s hand tied behind one’s back,” he told the BBC.

On Thursday there were 467 hospital inpatients who had tested positive for coronavirus, with 34 in intensive care units. The region recorded 11 deaths and 1,929 infections.

The health minister, Robin Swann, appealed to people to avoid socialising. “If you choose to meet others outside your household this new year you may well be inviting an unexpected guest to the party.”

Department of Health (@healthdpt)

Health Minister Robins Swann’s plea to the public of Northern Ireland this New Year’s Eve.#StayAtHome #StaySafe #notgoingout #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/tu9FAyOn84

December 31, 2020