UK deaths top 73,000, France deploys police for New Year's Eve: COVID-19 daily bulletin
- France is to deploy 100,000 police officers across the country as it looks to clamp down on New Year's Eve gatherings on Thursday evening.
- Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said 2020 was by far the most difficult 12 months of her 15-year tenure, but added that the start of vaccinations made 2021 a year of hope.
- All travelers entering Norway from January 2 will have to take a test upon arrival, or up to 24 hours after, the country's justice ministry said.
- Hungary is to buy its vaccines through the EU or from China because Russia doesn't have the capacity to manufacture vaccines, despite already receiving a small batch of the Sputnik jab, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said.
- The EU drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency, said BioNTech has applied for clearance that would allow EU nations to administer a sixth dose of its vaccine from each vial instead of the current rule of five.
- France has reported its first case of the variant first discovered in South Africa, the health ministry has said.
- The UK has passed 73,000 deaths after it reported a further 964 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 73,512.
- The UK military is ready to help at Nightingale hospitals if the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed, the country's defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said.
- The Netherlands is to continue with its plan to start vaccinations by January 8, despite other EU countries beginning inoculations this week, the country's Health Minister Hugo de Jong said.
- Ireland has extended its ban on travel from the UK and South Africa until January 6 amid a surge in infections of new variants of the virus.
- France's European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, has said the country's vaccination program will not fail after it came under fire for the slow start of its roll-out compared with other EU nations.
Around 20 million more people in England are living under the tightest Tier 4 restrictions this New Year's Eve after the government dramatically applied the measures to swathes of the country on Wednesday.
The changes came as the UK announced that the Nightingale hospitals created during the first wave - and then mothballed - are to be reactivated as existing emergency capacity in the health services struggles to cope with the numbers of patients.
This means large parts of England are now in the top tier, with all non-essential shops closed and people told to stay at home. "COVID loves a crowd," according to Stephen Powis, the head of NHS England, who told people to celebrate the new year within households. "Leave the parties for later in the year," he urged.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon echoed these remarks, urging Scots not to leave their homes for celebrations.
This comes as the new variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the UK, with more than 50,000 new infections reported on Wednesday and 981 deaths.
Meanwhile, schools and parents are digesting a statement from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday, who said most children of 11 years and older will return later than planned, with schools charged to carry out mass testing of pupils and staff. Primary schools for younger children are to open, however those in some of the areas with high rates of infection will have a delayed start to the term, apart from the children of key workers.
France's government is to deploy 100,000 police and gendarmes across the country on Thursday evening in a bid to deter large New Year's Eve celebrations.
Two hundred Paris Metro stations will also close at 9 p.m. local time, with people requiring a declaration explaining why they need to be out past the 8 p.m. curfew enforced by the government to stop the spread of the virus.
While it is not illegal to invite friends and family to your home, people are recommended to limit gatherings to a maximum of six adults.
Meanwhile, the country's vaccination program will not fail, despite coming under fire for its slow roll-out compared to other EU countries, its European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said.
France has reported a further 26,457 new infections in the past 24 hours, more than double the 11,395 new cases recorded the previous day, and the highest daily figure since November 18.
Linda Kennedy in Budapest
More vaccination centers for health workers have been set up in Hungary, after a further 70,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived in the country. Twenty one vaccination points are now set to administer the jabs to 35,000 more front-line workers, including emergency care center staff and workers in intensive care units. The new doses will allow GPs to be among those in line for a vaccination.
Asked about the Russian vaccine Sputnik V at the daily coronavirus briefing, the national chief medical officer, Cecilia Muller, said the 6,000 doses that arrived in Hungary open up "space for us to possibly make another vaccine available to the public, and we have started research and collaboration with the Russian side."
Some 600,000 people have now registered for vaccinations in Hungary – 462,000 people registered online, and 136,000 retired people registered by post.