Santa is deemed an essential worker. The British government edges closer to approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Russia’s death toll soars.
If you’re just joining us, here’s the latest coronavirus news from across the continent to get you up to speed.
The British government has announced a “significant first step” in getting the AstraZeneca vaccine “approved for deployment,” formally referring the company’s experimental vaccine candidate to the medicines regulator for assessment. The British-Swedish drugmaker is developing the vaccine in conjunction with the UK’s Oxford University.
If it gains regulatory approval, the UK will be one of the first countries in the world to receive it, according to the country’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
AstraZeneca expects to have up to 4 million doses ready for the UK by the end of the year, with 40 million more by the end of March, it added.
The news has arrived at a critical moment for the company, which has been pushing back against criticism about a lack of transparency behind its data.
Northern Ireland has begun a two week “circuit-breaker” lockdown in an attempt to get infections down before Christmas. Schools will remain open, but some businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector have been forced to close.
Meanwhile, regions in England could see their coronavirus risk-category de-escalated before Christmas, as part of a mid-December review period. The national lockdown will end on December 2, after which London will be placed in the Tier 2 “High Alert” risk category, while cities including Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester and Bristol will be placed in the Tier 3 “Very High Alert” category.
The Irish government is set to announce its exit plan from Level Five restrictions that have seen businesses close and social gatherings forbidden since October.
According to state broadcaster RTE, restaurants and pubs will likely reopen on Monday, but it is expected that household gatherings will not be permitted until December 18. It also reports that hairdressers will reopen on Wednesday, and people will be able to travel within their county and attend religious services.
Deputy premier Leo Varadkar told RTE this week the government is considering allowing three households to gather for up to two weeks during the Christmas period. “We know people are going to do it anyway, so it’s better we provide for it in a safe way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Santa will be exempt from coronavirus restrictions over the holiday period.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told members of parliament yesterday that he had been “working on the Santa Claus issue for a number of weeks,” noting that as Santa is an essential worker, “he is exempt from the need to self-quarantine for 14 days and should able to come in and out of Irish airspace, and indeed in and out of Irish homes, without having to restrict his movements.”
He added that children shouldn’t stay up at night to greet Santa, as he will still be required to social distance.
Germany reached a grim milestone Friday when it logged its one millionth coronavirus case. Once deemed a symbol of hope in Europe’s Covid-19 chaos, the country has struggled to cope with a second wave.
This comes after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country’s coronavirus restrictions and partial national lockdown would last until December 20 and could be extended into 2021. “It is up to us. We are not powerless,” she said on Thursday in the German Bundestag.
In the past 24 hours, data released by the Robert Koch Institute shows 22,806 new recorded cases, bringing Germany’s total number of coronavirus cases to 1,006,394.
Germany has also recorded its highest single day death toll since the start of the pandemic. In the past 24 hours, 426 virus-related deaths occurred, raising the total fatalities to 15, 586.
Also hitting records is Russia, with 27,543 new cases recorded on Friday, taking the total recorded number since the start of the pandemic to 2,215,533.
According to data from the country’s coronavirus response center, this is the highest number of cases ever reported there in a single day — 2000 more than the previous record. A further 496 fatalities were recorded, bringing the overall death toll so far to 38,558.
Moscow alone accounted for 7,918 new cases. Mayor Sergey Sobyanin on Thursday extended some new restrictions in the city until January 15. As the worst-affected city, the capital beat its own record too on Friday.
It is important to keep in mind that official Russian death figures may grossly understate the real toll by excluding people who are presumed to have Covid-19 post mortem and even those with pre-existing conditions that proved fatal due to the infection, a CNN investigation revealed.
Health Minister Salvador Illa formally outlined Spain’s three-phase vaccine roll-out strategy, with fifteen population categories created to establish who would have precedence in receiving a vaccine.
At the top of the list is the elderly, and people with disabilities who live in residences and the staff who care for them. Illa estimated that 2.5 million people would be vaccinated in the first phase, which would run from January to March.
The second phase would include other Spaniards older than 64 and those in higher risk groups. Those who live or work in closed communities as well as people vulnerable because of their social surroundings would also be prioritized, he said, with the general population beginning to get the vaccine in June on a free and voluntary basis.
The country hailed as recently having one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is now seeing cases rise at “alarming speed,” the Health Ministry said Thursday.
According to the Health Ministry, the number of cases “increased sharply, and new infections were reported in all hospital districts” between November. 16-22. Within that period, a total of 2,541 new cases were reported, representing an increase of 906 from the previous week.
Infection rates are particularly high in the Greater Helsinki area, it added.
The Health Ministry confirmed that new restrictions and recommendations are to be introduced, but it did not outline the details of the proposed measures. So far, the country has reported a total number of 22,652 cases and 388 coronavirus related deaths.
Italian premier Giuseppe Conte hinted that many of Italy’s red zones “will turn orange or yellow, as the latest Covid-19 surveillance report, to be published later on Friday, is hoped to reveal the country’s R number has reduced to 1.
Speaking to Italy’s Channel 5 news Thursday, Conte said “this would mean that the citizens of those territorial communities could benefit from less restrictive, less penalizing measures.” But he cautioned that sacrifices must still be made to avoid a third wave in January: “We can’t let our guard down. Italians are aware that it will be a different Christmas.”
Daily deaths in Italy continue to be reported in staggering heights, with 822 fatalities recorded Thursday. However, for the first time in seven weeks, the number of patients in ICU decreased.