A sign instructs people to stay six feet away at a farmers' market in the Bronx borough of New York, US | Photo: David Dee Delgado | Bloomberg

Bloomberg: Hospitalisations in New York City continued to rise and the rate of positive tests showed no sign of slowing. Pope Francis used his Christmas Day message to appeal for world leaders to share vaccines.

Travelers from the U.K. face more restrictions due to a new variant of the virus spreading, with the U.S. insisting arriving Britons have a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of departing the country. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the order later Friday, and the measure will come into effect Dec. 28.

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Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Japan joined a growing number of countries that have identified their first cases of the coronavirus mutation, although there’s no clear evidence it results in more severe cases of the disease.

California cases continue to increase (2:15 p.m. NY)

California added 39,144 new Covid-19 cases yesterday for a total of 2.04 million infections, while deaths rose by 312 to 23,947, according to the health department’s website. Test positivity rates continued to hover at 12.4%. The number of intensive-care unit beds available for the state’s 40 million residents fell to 1,302.

Meanwhile, a church in San Jose held an indoor Christmas Eve service last night, defying local public health and court orders, NBC Bay Area reported.

Calvary Chapel San Jose has accumulated fines of more than $1 million for violating Covid-19 rules by holding weekly indoor services for hundreds of people, NBC said. The church leaders and their attorneys argued that their faith protects them from the virus and questioned the constitutionality of local health orders.

France reports cases remain at elevated levels (1:52 p.m. NY)

France reported 20,262 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, the second-highest daily increase during the last five weeks.

Deaths rose by 159 to 62,427, according to the latest statistics published by French health authorities.

NYC’s hospitalisations continue to climb (1:10 p.m. NY)

As of Dec. 23, there were 2,387 people in New York City hospitals, about twice as many as at the start of the month.

Hospitals admitted 208 people on Dec. 23 for Covid-like illness, with nearly two-thirds testing positive. The city’s rate of positive tests reached a seven-day average of 6.69%, from less than 2% in early November, according to city data.

In the week ended Dec. 24, the city confirmed 23,127 cases and 199 deaths from Covid-19. Its weekly average of the previous four weeks was 22,648 cases and 159 fatalities.

In New York state, more than half of the 1,148 patients in the ICU were intubated as of Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The statewide positivity rate is 5.49%.

MBS pictured taking vaccine dose (12:52 p.m. NY)

Saudi Arabian state TV published footage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being injected with a Covid vaccine. It wasn’t immediately clear which of the available vaccines he was given.

Italy cases rise as new lockdown starts (12:04 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 19,037 new coronavirus cases, an increase from 18,040 the day before. The country on Thursday began what will be the first of two strict lockdown periods as the government tries to curb contact between citizens during the holiday period.

Shops and restaurants had operated with fewer restrictions in the run-up to Christmas week, but Rome has insisted that Italians limit their contacts and movement, and avoid traditional parties and large family gatherings both at Christmas and New Year’s.

Also read: India noticed ‘super-spreading’ Covid strain in March-May but it died on its own, expert says 

UK death toll exceeds 70,000 (11:05 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 570 fatalities, taking the nation’s tally from the virus to more than 70,000 — Europe’s worst total after Italy.

There were another 32,725 cases, the sixth consecutive day that daily new infections have exceeded 30,000.

Ireland confirms it has new coronavirus variant (10:34 a.m. NY)

Irish authorities confirmed the new variant of the coronavirus has been found in the country.

“It is particularly important” that travelers arriving from the U.K. quarantine for 14 days, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said. Testing for recent arrivals is being arranged, he added. The ministry reported 1,025 new cases on Christmas Day, the most since October, with two deaths.

Queen Elizabeth thanks medical staff in Christmas address (10:10 a.m. NY)

Queen Elizabeth II used her annual Christmas message to thank medical staff on the front lines of the battle against Covid-19, and said the pandemic has helped bring communities.

“Remarkably, a year that has necessarily kept people apart has, in many ways, brought us closer,” said the British monarch, who has delivered the broadcast every year except one since assuming the throne in 1952.

“In the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenges of the year, and I am so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit,” she added.

Pope urges nations and leaders to share vaccines (9:59 a.m. NY)

Pope Francis made a Christmas Day plea for authorities to make Covid-19 vaccines available for everyone, starting with the most vulnerable and needy.

“In this time of darkness and uncertainty regarding the pandemic, various lights of hope appear, such as the discovery of vaccines,” he said in his address. “But for these lights to illuminate and bring hope to all, they need to be available to all. We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are.”

Swiss taskforce calls for stricter measures amid new strain (9:55 a.m. NY)

Switzerland should implement broader, stricter measures and bolster testing and tracing to hinder the spread of the new strain, according to the Swiss Covid-19 science taskforce. Switzerland has increased efforts to analyse whether the new variant is already more widespread than the two cases the country’s health ministry reported yesterday.

Japan confirms first five cases with new strain (7:44 a.m. NY)

Japan has confirmed its first cases of people infected with a new Covid strain that emerged in the U.K., Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said in a press briefing Friday. The five people infected with the new strain had traveled from the U.K. and the infections were confirmed at two separate airports in Japan; Four of the people were asymptomatic.

Africa’s Covid toll may be higher than official figures (6:41 p.m. Hong Kong)

Infections and deaths in Africa may be much higher than official figures show, according to researchers from Boston University and the University of Zambia, who tested corpses for the virus in the biggest referral hospital in Lusaka.

The disease was detected in nearly one in five of the 364 bodies tested, according to a study published on medRxiv, an online archive and distribution service for complete but unpublished manuscripts that have yet to be peer reviewed. Of the 70 that tested positive, only six were screened before they died, even though many others had symptoms.

Iran’s death count at lowest since September (6:38 p.m. Hong Kong)

Iran reported 6,021 coronavirus cases and 132 deaths in the past 24 hours, marking the lowest number of new daily fatalities since Sept. 13. The country has recorded a total of 1,189,203 infections and 54,440 deaths since the onset of the outbreak, per official health ministry figures. Iran’s central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati earlier announced that it would purchase 16.8 million vaccine doses from the World Health Organization’s Covax facility.

South Africa rejects UK claims over new strain (6:22 p.m. Hong Kong)

South Africa rejected allegations that a new variant found in the country has contributed to a second wave of infections in the U.K. and criticised its decision to impose travel restrictions. Several other countries have also halted flights from South Africa.

A new strain that was detected in the U.K. has a mutation occurring at a site common with the South African variant, but they are “two completely independent lineages,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement late Thursday. There’s no evidence that it causes more severe disease or increased mortality than any other variant that’s been sequenced around the world, he added.

Japan mulls changing virus law (6:03 p.m. Hong Kong)

Japan is considering changes to a law for virus management by offering rewards for bars and restaurants that comply with instructions to close early to stem infections and fines for those that don’t.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said people are still going out and infections are rising, and urged people to stay home over the New Year’s holiday to celebrate “quietly” for the sake of the medical system.

Also read: 2020 is the worst year since Independence, but not only because of Covid 

Poland infections slow before lockdown (5:34 p.m. Hong Kong)

Poland, which is implementing strict lockdown measures after Christmas, registered 9,077 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the fewest in three days. It also had 240 deaths caused by the virus, the smallest number in four days.

Beijing advises residents to stay home during holidays (5:06 p.m. Hong Kong)

Beijing residents should not leave the city during the New Year and Chinese New Year holidays due to a recent resurgence of cases, the local government spokesperson said in a briefing. Subway capacity will be capped at 90%, while indoor entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, museums and libraries, can be 75% full.

Belgium’s 7-day average cases stabilise (5:04 p.m. Hong Kong)

Belgium reported 2,583 new coronavirus cases, taking the total number of infections up to 634,904. The number of deaths rose by 99 to 19,038. The average number of infections for the 7-day period ended Dec. 21 stabilised at 2,452.4 cases.

Indonesia gears up for surge after long holidays (4:48 p.m. Hong Kong)

Indonesia’s government is scaling up its health facilities and resources in anticipation of a spike in Covid-19 cases after long holidays in the country, according to Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. The country confirmed 258 new deaths, the most since the beginning of the outbreak.

German cases, deaths ease before vaccine rollout (3:19 p.m. Hong Kong)

Germany recorded fewer new infections and fatalities in the 24 hours through Friday morning, as medical staff prepare to begin vaccinating the nation’s most vulnerable citizens from Sunday.

There were 26,467 new Covid-19 cases, down from 33,758 the previous day, and 421 additional deaths from the disease, compared with 813 on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“The high number of cases nationwide is caused by increasingly diffuse transmission, with numerous clusters, especially in households and nursing and long-term care homes,” the RKI public health institute said in its latest situation report.

Swiss find mutated strain in two probes (3:09 p.m. Hong Kong)

Switzerland has discovered the new variant that’s been spreading in the U.K., the Swiss health ministry said on Dec. 24. The strain was found in positive tests of two people who live in the U.K. and traveled to Switzerland.

South Africa has record infections for second day (2:55 p.m. Hong Kong)

South Africa reported a record number of new infections for a second consecutive day, with cases jumping by 14,305 to a cumulative total of 968,563, the health ministry said in a statement late Wednesday. The number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 who have died rose by 326 to 25,983. A new virus strain that’s different from the one that’s been spreading in the U.K. has been detected in the country that may be driving a second wave of infections.

UK travelers to US need negative test (2:05 p.m. Hong Kong)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires air passengers arriving from the U.K. to get a negative polymerase chain reaction or antigen test no more than 72 hours before leaving, according to a statement from the U.S. authority. The order will be signed by President Donald Trump today and comes into effect on Dec. 28.

Passengers from the U.K. must provide written documentation of their test to their airline. Carriers must confirm the negative result for all passengers boarding, and will deny entry to those who don’t take a test. – Bloomberg

Also read: Mumbai’s Dharavi reports no new Covid cases in 24 hrs, first time since April 


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