Spain received its first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, a day before the country is set to begin its immunisation campaign.
A refrigerated truck arrived at Pfizer’s warehouse in Guadalajara in central Spain with the shipment, three days after it left the company’s factory in Puurs in northeast Belgium, the health ministry said in a statement.
After repackaging, the vaccines will be redistributed to Spain’s 17 autonomous regions so that vaccination can begin across the country as planned on Sunday, it added.
Spain will receive 4.5m Pfizer vaccine doses over the next 12 weeks, enough to vaccinate some 2.3 million people, according to the ministry.
Tokyo reported a record rise in coronavirus cases on Saturday, as Japan experiences a surge that now includes a new, fast-spreading variant while the government urges people to stay home. Infections of the virus that causes Covid-19 hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan heads into New Year holidays that normally see people stream from the capital into the provinces. Serious cases were unchanged from a day earlier at 81. Japan on Friday reported its first cases of a fast-spreading variant in passengers arriving from Britain. The new variant has also been detected in a man who visited that country and a family member - the first cases of infected people found outside airport checks - Nippon TV reported on Saturday.
Tokyo transport hubs were subdued, local media said, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.
With New Year celebrations centred around family gatherings and mass visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned moderation will be essential to prevent infection rates from rising further amid concerns of pandemic fatigue.
Suga’s initial political honeymoon after taking his post in September has ended, with his popularity sliding after criticism he was slow to react to rising infections in Tokyo and for attending a group steak dinner in defiance of his own calls for restraint.
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It was over breakfast on the wintry morning of 24 January that Özlem Türeci and her husband Uğur Şahin decided, “we need to fire the starting gun on this”.
Şahin “had concluded from a publication describing coronavirus cases in Wuhan ... that there was a high probability that a pandemic could be imminent”, Türeci recounted.
The decision by the couple, founders of a small German company called BioNTech, gave birth to Operation Lightspeed - in which the scientists in the company diverted all their resources from cancer therapy research to finding a vaccine to stop Covid-19.
“Since that day... there has not been a day when we took a break from working on this project,” said Türeci.
Four days later, on January 28, Germany confirmed its first case of coronavirus infection - also the first known human-to-human transmission on European soil.
What was an epidemic hitting China hardest soon morphed into a global health crisis, forcing governments to close borders, schools and offices and keep their populations at home to halt the spread.
As BioNTech and other pharmaceutical companies leapt into action in search of the winning formula, Germany’s army of “Mittelstand” companies and other bigger manufacturing and logistics experts would soon prove crucial.
First vaccine doses delivered in France
France’s first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were delivered early Saturday to the Paris hospital system’s central pharmacy outside the capital, AFP reported.
After more than 62,000 Covid-19 deaths in France, shots are set to begin with people in two elderly care homes on Sunday, the same day the rest of the EU begins injections.
A refrigerated truck brought the roughly 19,500 doses from the Pfizer factory in Puurs, north-east Belgium, to Paris, the capital’s APHP hospital authority said, with pharmacy chief Franck Huet calling it a “historic” moment in the pandemic.
After repackaging in Paris, the vaccines will be delivered to a long-term care unit at a hospital in Sevran, outside the capital, and an old-age care home in Dijon, in eastern France.
The first EU deliveries come after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the Pfizer/BioNTech shot its green light on Monday and France’s HAS health authority in turn on Thursday.
Countries are especially eager to begin their vaccination campaigns as a new strain believed to be more infectious spreads from Britain. A first case was identified in France on Friday.
A resurgence of coronavirus in South Korea has reached new heights during Christmas week, prompting soul-searching on how the nation sleepwalked into a crisis. The 1,241 infections on Christmas Day were the largest daily increase. Another 1,132 cases were reported Saturday, bringing South Korea’s caseload to 55,902.
Over 15,000 were added in the last 15 days alone. An additional 221 fatalities over the same period, the deadliest stretch, took the death toll to 793.
As the numbers keep rising, the shock to people’s livelihoods is deepening and public confidence in the government eroding. Officials could decide to increase social distancing measures to maximum levels on Sunday, after resisting for weeks.
Tighter restrictions could be inevitable because transmissions have been outpacing efforts to expand hospital capacities.
In the greater Seoul area, more facilities have been designated for Covid-19 treatment and dozens of general hospitals have been ordered to allocate more ICUs for virus patients. Hundreds of troops have been deployed to help with contract tracing.
At least four patients have died at their homes or long-term care facilities while waiting for admission this month, said Kwak Jin, an official at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The agency said 299 among 16,577 active patients were in serious or critical condition.
“Our hospital system isn’t going to collapse, but the crush in COVID-19 patients has significantly hampered our response,” said Choi Won Suk, an infectious disease professor at the Korea University Ansan hospital, west of Seoul.
Millions wake up to tighter restrictions in UK
Millions more people will be waking up to harsher coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day as tier changes come into force in England, and new restrictions are imposed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A series of locations in tier 2 – including Oxfordshire, most of Hampshire, West Sussex, the remainder of East Sussex not already in tier 4, as well as Brighton and Hove, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – have been placed under tougher curbs. Parts of Essex not already in tier 4 and Waverley, in Surrey, will join them.
The 6 million people living in the areas join nearly 18 million people in London, the south-east and east of England who have endured tier 4 “stay at home” restrictions – including the closure of non-essential shops and strict one-on-one meeting limits outside between households – over Christmas.
It comes as the UK’s devolved administrations have also tightened restrictions to combat a rise in cases, with Wales going into another lockdown earlier than planned and mainland Scotland and Northern Ireland starting new lockdowns today.
In Scotland, hospitality businesses will have to close for all but takeaways and non-essential shops must also shut their doors. All non-essential stores across Scotland will be expected to close on 26 December, with click-and-collect services allowed.
Number of cases in Russia passes 3m
The European Union began a vaccine rollout Saturday, even as countries in the bloc were forced back into lockdown by a new strain of the virus, believed to be more infectious, that continues to spread from Britain.
The pandemic has claimed more than 1.7 million lives and is still running rampant in much of the world, but the recent launching of inoculation campaigns has boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite.
Hours before the first vaccine doses arrived in France, Paris’ health ministry confirmed late Friday that it had detected its first case of the new variant in a citizen returned from Britain.
Several countries have reported cases of the new strain, which has sent jitters through already overstretched health services.
There was little sign of the usual Boxing Day sale rush on the streets of Sydney Saturday, as residents largely heeded the state premier’s request they stay home faced with a new virus cluster.
“Even when we entered the store there were less than ten people,” shopper Lia Gunawan told The Sydney Morning Herald after queueing up for the sales.
Hello everyone and welcome to the Guardian’s coronavirus live blog, bringing you all the latest news on the virus.
I am working in London, and it’s 8am GMT here on Boxing Day. If anyone has any questions, news tips or comments then please do get in touch. Hoping everyone is enjoying the festive period.