UK under new lockdown , EU set to kick-start mass vaccinations
The United Kingdom has placed six million more people under harsh coronavirus restrictions, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and the threat of a new more infectious variant of the deadly virus, which has been discovered in Britain and is spreading across the globe.
The government announced the new lockdown measures in Scotland and Northern Ireland on Saturday.
Restrictions that were eased for Christmas Day in Wales will be also re-imposed on Saturday.
The new measures brought the number of people living under lockdown to 24 million — representing 43% of the population.
Under the new measures, non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms must close. The order includes a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors.
Th measures are taken as officials recorded a further 570 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for the virus as of Christmas Day.
The new cases took the UK’s total deaths within 28 days of a positive test to 70,195.
The latest figure brings the total number of fatalities to 70,512 and the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 2,228,021 across the UK, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that England is facing a “difficult time” under considerable new pressures, particularly from the new variant of the virus, known as VUI-202012/01.
According to health secretary, Matt Hancock, these restrictions are likely to last for months, until the vaccine has been rolled out across the kingdom.
Some 40 countries, have so far imposed travel restrictions from the UK, over the new strain of the virus, which is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible.
In Europe, the new variant has so far been tracked in Denmark, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and France.
Spain health authorities reported four cases of the new variant of the virus on Saturday.
Sweden also reported its first case of the new variant of coronavirus on Saturday.
The patients, a traveler from the UK, had been isolating and that no further positive cases had so far been detected, according to Health Agency official Sara Byfors.
Sweden imposed travel restrictions earlier this month on passengers from Britain.
Europe set to kick-start mass vaccinations
In the meantime, the European Union, home to almost 450 million people, will begin vaccinations on Sunday, as several nations received their first batch of vaccines on Saturday.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen previously said that it is “likely that the first Europeans will be vaccinated before end 2020.”
France, which received the first shipment of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Saturday, said it is hoping to get around one million people vaccinated in nursing homes during January and February, and a further 14-15 million in the wider population between March and June.
The French medical regulator France approved the US Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Thursday.
The country has so far reported 2,604,595 cases of COVID-19 infections and 62,548 deaths.
Spain and Hungary have has also received their first deliveries of the vaccine, on Saturday.
“Vaccination will start tomorrow in Spain, coordinated with the rest of Europe,” Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa wrote on Twitter. “This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”
Hungary started vaccinations on Saturday. a day before its fellow EU member states, beginning to give the first shots to its frontline workers at hospitals in the capital Budapest.
The government said it has received its first shipment of enough doses to inoculate 4,875 people.
Hungary has reported 315,362 COVID-19 cases with 8,951 deaths.
Germany also said trucks will deliver the vaccine to care homes for the elderly on Sunday.
The number of confirmed cases of infection rose by 14,455 to 1,627,103 in Germany, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases on Saturday.
The reported death toll rose by 240 to 29,422, the tally showed.
Across the continent in Russia, a total number of cases of COVID-19 crossed the 3 million mark for the first time on Saturday.
Health officials recorded 29,258 new cases in the preceding 24 hours and 567 deaths.
This brought the nations’ total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 3,021,964, according to official data.
In Portugal, a truck dropped off the first batch of shots at a warehouse in the country’s central region. From there, the nearly 10,000 shots will be delivered to five big hospitals.
“It is a historic milestone for all of us, an important day after such a difficult year,” Health Minister Marta Temido told reporters outside the warehouse.
“A window of hope has now opened, without forgetting that there is a very difficult fight ahead,” she said.
The pandemic has claimed the lives of 1,753,313 people and infected over 80 million across the world.