England tightens restrictions, Denmark extends lockdown: COVID-19 daily bulletin
Updated 02:28, 31-Dec-2020
Aden-Jay Wood


- France could be forced to impose an earlier curfew in eastern regions that would start at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. amid a surge in new infections, the country's Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

- Ukraine has signed a contract to buy 1.8m doses of China's Sinovac vaccine, the country's presidential office said.

- Switzerland's government has decided against further restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, calling the current measures "appropriate."

- People traveling from the UK to Sweden From January 1 will need to provide a negative test result before entering the country. The requirement will not apply for Swedish citizens, Home Affairs Minister Michael Damberg said.

- A further 20 million people in England will be put in the strictest level of restrictions from Thursday as the country continues to battle against a surge of new infections from the new variant, Health Minister Matt Hancock said.

- Latvian police and border guards are to patrol the nation's streets on December 31 to enforce a New Year's Eve curfew.

- Greece's government has announced that senior officials will no longer be given priority for the vaccine after a backlash from unions and opposition parties over pictures released on social media showing ministers receiving the jab.

- The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling the breakthrough "a triumph for British science."

- Denmark has extended its lockdown for a further two weeks until January 17 after a spike in new cases. Schools, shopping centers, restaurants, bars and all other non-essential shops will remain closed during that time.

- Czechia has allowed the squeezing of an extra dose from vaccine vials supplied by Pfizer and BioNTech, making use of an extra reserve amount put into the vials by the maker, the country's health ministry said. 

- Germany has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the past 24 hours for the first time since the start of the pandemic as cases continue to surge. The further 1,129 fatalities reported brings the country's death toll to 32,107.

- Italy's second batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was delivered to different parts of the country on Wednesday as the country looks to continue its vaccination program that started over the weekend. 



Guy Henderson in the UK

UK regulators have approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. It is relatively easy to mass produce, can be stored in a standard fridge and doesn't require 15 minutes of observation after it has been administered. It should allow the UK to scale up its vaccine program faster.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses. Each patient must ultimately receive two jabs, but it can still be effective with a gap of up to three months between the first and second. The plan is to give as many people as possible their first injection, even before sufficient supplies are available for them all to receive a second. That should start to build up at least some immunity across a wider section of the population.

But none of this will have an impact on the wave of infections sweeping across the country right now at a rate that is alarming everyone.

A further 20 million people in England will be put in the strictest level of restrictions from Thursday, health minister Matt Hancock said, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the country faced "tough weeks ahead."

The UK reported a further 981 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, one of the highest daily tolls since April. 

Meanwhile education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that the majority of pupils that are not in exam years would go back to school on January 18, a week later than originally planned.


Natalie Carney in Munich 

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Germany has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths within a 24-hour period. According to the Robert Koch Institute, 1,129 people died from or with the virus on Tuesday, raising the total number of deaths in Germany to 32,107.

Meanwhile, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn considers lifting all coronavirus restrictions after January 10 to be unrealistic. The high number of infections along with the presence of the new coronavirus mutation in Germany, have many predicting an extension to the current hard lockdown measures.

Federal state premiers will meet again via video chat with Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 5 to assess the current situation.

Germany's second biggest city, Hamburg, has already announced the extension of school holidays there to January 17.


The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. /AP

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. /AP


Toni Waterman in Brussels 

The EU

Brussels has ordered an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only jab so far approved by the European medicines regulator. This extra order brings the total number of doses to 300 million, although it could be even higher after health professionals discovered that six doses could be extracted from the five-dose vial if the excess solution is used. European regulators are examining the use of leftovers.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the announcement of the extra doses via Twitter, adding that "more vaccines will follow!"

The European Medicines Agency is expected to approve the Moderna vaccine on January 6 but the regulator's Deputy Executive Director told Het Nieuwsblad it was unlikely the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford jab will be approved next month because they "have not even filed an application with us yet."


The Belgian government is consulting with health experts on how to best manage people returning from the Christmas holidays. Some, including infectious diseases specialist Erika Vlieghe, are calling for all incoming passengers, including Belgians, to present a negative COVID-19 test. Right now, only foreign travelers need to do so. 

The government "strongly discouraged" people from traveling over the holidays, but around 100,000 are estimated to be abroad. 

After two months of strict anti-COVID-19 measures, the country has managed to reduce average daily infections to below 2,000. Experts are concerned returning holidaymakers could be carrying the new fast-spreading variant of the virus, potentially setting Belgium on course for a third wave. 


Linda Kennedy in Budapest

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has defended Russian vaccines, saying "the vast majority" of Hungarians have been vaccinated with Russian vaccines since childhood.

Szijjarto's statement followed the arrival in Hungary of 6,000 doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine. It also comes as 5,000 healthcare workers in the country are receiving jabs of the approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as part of the EU roll-out. 

The low number of Hungarians which surveys are finding intend to have a coronavirus vaccine is partly to do with the lack of trustworthy independent communication and that politics has taken over health policy, one top health professional said.

However, the number of people registering for coronavirus vaccines has increased to 598,000, the prime minister's office has announced. With 462,000 people now having registered online and 136,000 by post.





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