Novel coronavirus has infected over 80 million people globally and has claimed over 1.7 million lives. Here are the updates for December 25.

A Turkish Airlines (THY) Boeing 777-800 plane is pictured at Hatay Airport in Hatay, Turkey, March 1, 2020.
A Turkish Airlines (THY) Boeing 777-800 plane is pictured at Hatay Airport in Hatay, Turkey, March 1, 2020. (Reuters)

Friday, December 25, 2020

Turkish Airlines makes negative PCR tests mandatory

All international passengers are now required to submit negative PCR tests that are not older than 72 hours, before boarding.

"On request of our Health Ministry, all passengers coming from abroad will be asked to submit negative PCR virus test results obtained within the last 72 hours before boarding, as part of Turkey's fight against Covid," Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi confirmed.

Turkey, BioNTech reach deal on Covid-19 vaccine

Turkey's health minister said his country and German company BioNTech struck a deal early on Friday, and that initially, 550,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine would be sent to the country by the end of the year or early 2021 at the latest.

According to Fahrettin Koca, 4.5 million doses of the vaccine will be sent to Turkey by the end of March 2021 under the agreement.

Turkey could have access to up to 30 million doses as part of the deal, Koca added.

The minister went on to say that the delay in the process was because the company did not want to take any responsibility for possible production problems.

The vaccination will be based on written consent, he added.

Koca, on behalf of the Turkish nation, thanked to Turkish-German scientist Dr Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, for his efforts for easing the process.

Italy reports 459 deaths

Italy reported 459 virus-related deaths on Friday against 505 the day before, the health ministry said.

The daily tally of new infections increased by 19,037 from 18,040 the day before, taking the total number of cases since Italy's epidemic began to 2.02 million.

Italy on Thursday became the eighth country in the world to exceed 2 million officially recorded cases.

The number of swab tests carried out in the past day was 152,334 from a previous 193,777, the health ministry said.

The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has reported 71,359 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

Pope urges 'vaccines for all' in Christmas message

Pope Francis in his Christmas message has called for "vaccines for all, especially the most vulnerable and most in need in all regions of the planet."

The pontiff also touched on the plight of children caught up by war, singling out victims in Syria, Yemen and Iraq in his Christmas message.

Vaccines were "glimmers of hope in this period of darkness and uncertainty," Francis said in the annual "Urbi et Orbi" speech "to the city and the world."

British army helps clear backlog of virus-stranded drivers

Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the UK, then demanded virus tests from all amid fears of a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant.

Even though an estimated 4,000 or so international truck drivers are spending yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion towards the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France.

Rail operator Eurotunnel was also back in action, offering a way back into France.

The military personnel were directing traffic and helping a mass testing program for the drivers, who must test negative to enter France. French firefighters have also been drafted to help the military test drivers for coronavirus. Poland's Territorial Defense Force also sent reinforcements to help with testing and food distribution.

Ireland confirms UK virus variant present

Ireland has confirmed the presence of a highly infectious new virus variant whose presence in the United Kingdom has brought travel bans from a number of countries.

"I can confirm that we have detected the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 by whole genome sequencing at the National Virus Reference Laboratory" in University College Dublin, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said in a statement.

"Further testing in the coming days and weeks will establish the extent to which it is present here," he added.

Serbia to receive second batch of vaccines

Serbia's health minister has said it expects the second batch of BioNTech and Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to arrive on January 4.

Zlatibor Loncar said the new contingent of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will arrive in Serbia on January 4, and then another part on January 11 to complete a total of more than 60,000 doses.

Loncar added that it is enough for nursing homes as well as some health workers.

CoronaVac efficacy at 50-90 percent in Brazilian trial

The CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd has showed efficacy between 50 percent and 90 percent in Brazilian trials, Sao Paulo's state health secretary said after concerns were raised by a failure to provide data.

Results of trials in Brazil are known exclusively by Sao Paulo state's Butantan Institute biomedical research center, which has an agreement with Sinovac to produce the vaccine, said health secretary Jean Gorinchteyn.

First trials showed efficacy above 50 percent, the minimum required by Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, and below 90 percent, Gorinchteyn said in an interview with CBN radio aired late on Thursday.

Queen Elizabeth addresses Covid-19 on Christmas

All many people want for Christmas this year is a simple hug, Britain's Queen Elizabeth has said in her annual festive message, saying it would be hard for those who lost loved ones to Covid-19 pandemic or were separated by curbs on social mixing.

In her traditional pre-recorded Christmas Day address to the nation, the 94-year-old monarch repeatedly spoke of hope for the future whilst acknowledging millions of Britons would be unable to have their usual family celebrations this year.

Japan's premier urges 'silent' new year

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on citizens to spend a "silent" New Year to prevent the spread of the virus, which has been breaking infection records almost on a daily basis.

Suga also announced a fresh package of $2.61 billion (270 billion yen) for institutions treating patients.

Russia introduces two-week quarantine period for UK arrivals

People arriving in Russia from the United Kingdom must undergo a two-week mandatory self-isolation, the Interfax news agency cited the state consumer health watchdog as saying on Friday.

Russia said earlier this week that it would suspend flights to and from Britain for one week starting from Tuesday due to a new variant of the coronavirus detected in Britain. 

No cafes, no tourists: Virus empties streets of old Athens

It’s been a while since visitors to Greece sought out souvenirs in Athens’ oldest neighbourhood.

The winding streets of Plaka, laid out long before the city imported a grid system, are lined with closed stores behind aluminum shutters. The coronavirus pandemic has kept tourists away from the historic city centre that forms a semi-circle around the Acropolis, and the area remained unusually devoid of pedestrians and motorists before Christmas.

In their absence, ancient monuments are a little easier to make out from a distance, fewer horns are sounding in traffic and homeless cats parked in front of cafes are a little less aloof.

Greece so far has imposed two nationwide lockdowns since the start of the pandemic. The first, in the spring, kept the country’s infection rates low. Authorities ordered the second in response to a rapid post-summer rise in reported cases and as of Christmas Eve has seen 4,4,57 confirmed virus-related deaths.

The restrictions have closed bars, restaurants, coffee shops and many other businesses considered non-essential but which make up a large slice of Greece’s tourism-dependent economy.

The number of visitors traveling to the country plummeted 76.1 percent during the first 10 months of 2020 compared to a year earlier. Spending sank 77 percent, according to central bank data released this week.

Greece is expected to see a 10.5 percent contraction of its gross domestic product this year compared to the forecasted EU average of 7.4 percent, while its debt-to-GDP ratio is set to surge to a staggering 208.9 percent.

South Africa rejects claim its variant more dangerous than UK's

South Africa's health minister has rejected his British counterpart's claim that a new coronavirus variant in the country is more contagious or dangerous than a similar one in spreading the UK.

"At present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 (variant) is more transmissible than the United Kingdom variant — as suggested by the British Health Secretary," Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement published late Thursday.

"There is also no evidence that (it) causes more severe disease or increased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world."

Announcing restrictions on travel from South Africa Wednesday, Britain's Matt Hancock had said that the variant there was "highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further" than the similar strain in Britain.

The British minister's words "have created a perception that the variant in SA has been a major factor in the second wave in UK," Mkhize said.

"This is not correct."

He pointed to evidence that the British strain, which bears a similar mutation to the South African one, appeared as early as September in southeastern county Kent -- "approximately a month before the South African variant appears to have developed".

Citing "the widely shared view of the scientific community," Mkhize also argued that "the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits".

"Banning travel between UK and SA is an unfortunate decision," he added.

South Africa is the country hit hardest by coronavirus on the continent, with close to one million infections so far and 26,000 people dead.

Mali's Cisse succumbs to virus

Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse has died of coronavirus aged 71, his family and party said, after being held hostage for six months by militants earlier this year.

Cisse "died in France, where he had been taken for Covid-19 care," a member of his family told AFP.

"I can confirm this terrible news. He's dead," a leader of Cisse's URD party told AFP, saying the politician's wife had let him know.

Indonesia records highest daily increase in deaths
Indonesia has recorded its biggest daily rise in Covid-19 deaths, with 258 fatalities, taking the total to 20,847.

Data released by the country's Health Ministry showed infections increased by 7,259, bringing the number of cases to 700,097.
Indonesia has the highest coronavirus caseload and death toll in Southeast Asia.

Russia reports 29,018 new cases

Russia has reported 29,018 new virus cases in the last 24 hours, including 7,315 in Moscow, taking the national total to 2,992,706 since the pandemic began.
Authorities said 563 had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 53,659.

US to require negative virus test for UK arrivals

US authorities have announced that passengers arriving on flights from the United Kingdom will need to test negative for coronavirus before departure, the latest restriction imposed due to a new Covid-19 variant.

News of the strain, believed to be more transmissible, led to nations around the world closing their borders to travelers from the UK.

The new rule takes effect on Monday and requires a negative test within 72 hours of departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Japan panel says people 65 or older should get vaccine priority

A Japanese Health Ministry panel has said that people aged 65 or older should get priority for vaccination against Covid-19 as the government sets guidelines that will also prioritise frontline healthcare workers and those with medical conditions.

The panel also specified chronic heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and chronic kidney disease, among others, as underlying conditions that should determine priority for the vaccine.

The recommendations would include 36 million elderly people and 8.2 million people with medical conditions in the first group to receive vaccine shots.

Germany's cases rise by 25,533

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 25,533 to 1,612,648, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 412 to 29,182, the tally showed.

Hong Kong imposes 21-day quarantine for visitors

Hong Kong has extended a compulsory quarantine by an extra seven days to 21 days for all visitors outside China, in stepped-up efforts to prevent a new variant of the virus from spreading.

Authorities also banned all people who have stayed in South Africa in the past 21 days from boarding for Hong Kong.

Mexico records 12,485 new cases, 861 more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry on Thursday reported 12,485 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 861 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,362,564 cases and 121,172 deaths.

The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

South Korea sets highest daily virus toll

South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said 1,241 new coronavirus cases were reported the day before, the highest daily count recorded, with a large outbreak at a prison in Seoul.

South Korea had early success in quickly controlling outbreaks with aggressive testing and contact tracing but has struggled to contain the recent surge in cases.

Tougher restrictions to stem new cases were taken this week including a ban on social gathering of more than five people, and ski resorts and tourist spots have been shut in a bid to stop the spread during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

"The daily record of confirmed cases was renewed yesterday at 1,241 cases," Chung said at a coronavirus response meeting, adding despite a large majority of the public heeding the government warning, many still flout social distancing rules.

The new cases reported include an outbreak in Seoul, Chung said but he did not specify the number of cases there.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency later said the national tally of confirmed cases grew to 54,770 and there were 17 additional deaths bringing the total to 773.

Testing has been ramped up to track cases from unknown origin and infected people who are not displaying symptoms. Chung said the daily testing in Seoul and outlying regions have surpassed 110,000. 

China reports 14 new cases 

Mainland China recorded 14 new Covid-19 cases on December 24, down from 17 cases the previous day, the country's health authority said.

The National Health Commission said in its daily bulletin that seven of the new cases were imported. The seven locally transmitted cases all came from the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Additionally, 17 asymptomatic cases were reported on December 24, down from 19 the previous day. China does not include asymptomatic patients in its total confirmed case list.

Mainland China has now reported a total of 86,913 coronavirus cases, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634. 

Moderna vaccine distribution started in Canada by FedEX, Innomar Strategies

FedEx Corp's Canadian subsidiary and Innomar Strategies, a Canada-based unit of US drug distributor AmerisourceBergen Corp said on Thursday they have started to distribute Moderna Inc's Covid-19 vaccine across Canada.

The government separately announced on Thursday that the first doses of the Moderna vaccine had arrived in Canada. It approved the vaccine on Wednesday and said it expects 168,000 doses by end of 2020.

FedEx and Innomar Strategies have been hired by Canada to provide logistical support on vaccine delivery. Canada has so far reported 528,354 cases of Covid-19, including 14,597 deaths.

South Africa closes in on one million cases

South Africa reported 14,305 new coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 968,563, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday.

Mkhize said the country also lost 326 more people to Covid-19 related deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 25,983.

At least 822,978 people have recovered from the virus in the country.

South Africa is currently experiencing a second wave of the pandemic.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies