California has extended a strict ‘stay-at-home’ order indefinitely amid a relentless surge in coronavirus cases that is putting pressure on its hospitals ability to treat people with the infection.

The US has also reported its first incidence of the new coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The Australian state of New South Wales, has traced a second cluster of cases in Sydney – this time in one of its inner west surburbs – which has prompted the state government to further tighten rules on gatherings and movement to avoid any ‘super spreader’ events.

Globally, more than 81.9 million people have been diagnosed with the virus and 1,787,283​ have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Here are the latest updates:

China Sinopharm vaccine found to be 79 percent effective

Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm says Phase III trials of its experimental vaccine have found the shot to be 79 percent effective against COVID-19.

“Sinopharm CNBG Beijing’s inactivated coronavirus vaccine exhibits safety after vaccination… the protective effect of the vaccine against Covid-19 is 79.34%,” the Beijing Institute of Biological Products – a Sinopharm subsidiary – said in a statement.


US reports first case of more infectious variant

The US has found its first case of the COVID-19 variant that’s been seen in the United Kingdom and is thought to be more transmissible.

The case involves a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver in Colorado, according to state health officials.

You can read more on that story here.


South Korea tries to contain outbreak inside prison

South Korea is working to contain a coronavirus outbreak at a prison in Seoul.

The jail in the southeast of the capital has confirmed cases in 771 inmates and 21 staff, bringing the total number of infections linked to the facility to 792, the justice ministry told Reuters news agency. There has been one death so far.

The Justice Minister has ordered inmates diagnosed with the disease to be separated and a programme granting parole to ‘exemplary prisoners’ be extended, the ministry said in a statement.


Singapore starts vaccinations; first in Asia

Singapore has become the first country in Asia to begin inoculations with the Pfizer vaccine against COVID.

Sarah Lim, a senior staff nurse at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, was the first in the city-state to get the vaccination. More than 30 staff at the centre will get their shots on Wednesday, with the second dose scheduled for January 20.

“I feel very grateful and thankful for being the first to be vaccinated in Singapore,” said Lim, who helps screen suspected COVID-19 cases.

Singapore has one of the world’s lowest fatality rates from the coronavirus anywhere in the world.

Sarah Lim receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Singapore. She said she was “very grateful and thankful” [Lee Jia Wen/Ministry of Communications and Information/Handout via Reuters]

California renews ‘stay at home’ order indefinitely

Strict stay-at-home orders have been renewed indefinitely in California, one of the worst-affected states in the US pandemic.

Officials say the extension of the restrictions imposed earlier this month on social and economic life in Southern California was necessary because data showed intensive care units were filled or close to capacity.

The rules are also being extended in the San Joaquin Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland.

People line up in their vehicles at Dodger Stadium as post-Christmas COVID-19 testing resumes in Los Angeles in California [Bing Guan/Reuters]

South Korea mulls tougher curbs with daily cases above 1,000

South Korea is considering imposing the country’s toughest coronavirus measures with new cases remaining above 1,000 for a second straight day.

The country reported 1,050 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, most of them locally transmitted, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Authorities must decide before January 3 whether to raise the current social distancing measures to Level 3, the highest tier.


Sydney tightens restrictions after second cluster identified

Authorities in Australia have moved to tighten curbs on gatherings in Sydney to avoid the risk of a coronavirus “super spreader” event during the city’s famed New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Household gatherings have been limited to just five people while the maximum number of people allowed to gather in public has been capped at 30.

“We don’t want New Year’s Eve to be the cause of a super-spreader,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said as she announced the restrictions would take effect from midnight on Wednesday “until further notice”.

Berejiklian reported 18 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the biggest daily increase in a week.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said a new cluster in the city’s inner west, which includes six members of an extended family living in three different households, is expected to increase because the people involved had taken part in Christmas events.


France could impose an earlier curfew in certain regions: Minister

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said government could soon impose an earlier curfew that would start at 6pm instead of 8pm in eastern areas due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking on France 2 public TV channel, Veran added there were currently no plans to impose a third lockdown, despite the daily new COVID-19 case count being more than twice as high as the government’s target of less than 5,000.


Algeria’s Tebboune returns after COVID-19 treatment: State media

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has returned after weeks away being treated for COVID-19 in Germany, state television reported on Tuesday.

Tebboune’s absence since the end of October has fuelled speculation over his ability to finish his first term.

Algerian leader was transferred to a hospital in Germany in late October after testing positive for the coronavirus [File – Ramzi Boudina/Reuters]

Less than half of French want COVID-19 vaccine: Poll

Just four in 10 people in France want to have a vaccination against Covid-19, a poll showed Tuesday, as concern also grows over the slow start to the country’s immunisation campaign.

According to the poll by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum, just 40 percent of French want to take the vaccine.

This puts it behind even other laggards like Russia on 43 percent and South Africa on 53 percent, let alone those countries where eagerness to take the vaccine is high such as China on 80 percent and Britain on 77 percent.

France began its vaccination campaign on Sunday [FILE – Yuki Iwamura/Reuters]

Ireland reports 1,546 new COVID-19 cases, highest daily rise

Ireland reported the highest COVID-19 new cases in a single day on Tuesday, with 1,546 infections, up from a previous record of 1,296 on Saturday.

The government is to meet on Wednesday to consider additional restrictions to try to control a surge that began after measures were eased in early December when Ireland had the lowest infection rate in the European Union.


US’ COVID-19 test requirement for UK travellers should extend to other nations: Official

A senior US public health official on Tuesday said the coronavirus testing the United States now is requiring for travellers from Britain should probably be extended to other countries as well.

“I think that probably should be extended to other countries,” US Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told MSNBC.


Australia threatens to deport tourist revellers

Tourists who joined a mass gathering against COVID-19 rules at a Sydney beach on Christmas Day could be deported, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said on Tuesday.

Migration authorities were investigating the hundreds of young people who crowded on Bronte Beach despite health limitations and would crack down on those deemed responsible, Hawke told radio station 2GB.

Hawke said he was “shocked” at the beach crowd in Sydney’s east breaching social distancing rules, most of them reported to be foreign backpackers and working visa holders from the UK and Ireland.

“Under the Migration Act, if somebody is threatening public safety or health, their visa can be cancelled and revoked,” Hawke said.


Kamala Harris receives coronavirus vaccine

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff on Tuesday received their first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19.

“I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine,” Harris, 56, said after receiving her injection. “Literally, this is about saving lives. I trust the science, and it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine.”

The vaccine, created by the company Moderna, was administered at the United Medical Center in Washington.

Today I got the COVID-19 vaccine. I am incredibly grateful to our frontline health care workers, scientists, and researchers who made this moment possible.

When you’re able to take the vaccine, get it. This is about saving lives. pic.twitter.com/T5G14LtFJs

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 29, 2020


Belarus, Argentina start vaccination campaigns with Russian-developed Sputnik V

Belarus and Argentina launched mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot on Tuesday, becoming the first countries outside Russia to roll out the vaccine, which is still undergoing late-stage studies to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in the former Soviet republic of Belarus on Tuesday, according to a joint statement by the Belarusian Health Ministry, the Russian Health Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled development of the jab.

The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in Belarus on Tuesday [FILE – Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Hours later, a similar campaign kicked off in South America as Argentine medical workers began receiving the vaccine and officials insisted it was safe. President Alberto Fernandez called it the largest vaccination campaign in the country’s modern history.

Teachers, those with complicating medical conditions and people over 60 were to be next in line in Argentina, which so far has received 300,000 doses, which also will be free and voluntary.


Irish to consider additional COVID-19 measures: Health Minister

The Irish government will hold an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday to decide whether additional measures are required to control the “exponential growth” of COVID-19 in the country, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said.

“We will look right across the spectrum… and see in light of the rising cases and the rise in hospitalisations what the appropriate thing to do is,” Donnelly told RTE radio.

The government has closed all bars and restaurants and will ban all household visits from January 1, but non-essential retail and schools remain open.


UK government says emergency COVID hospitals not dismantled

Emergency hospitals set up at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are still available to support Britain’s state-run national health service as it tackles a new wave of patients, Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Tuesday.

British media had reported that the so-called ‘Nightingale’ hospitals set up at record speed earlier in the year were quietly being dismantled.

“The Nightingales are ready to support the NHS and are an important insurance policy should they be needed,” the spokesman said.

“Some are already being used for outpatients and for diagnostics and scans, and some are being prepared for additional use as COVID vaccination centres,” he added.


Spain to create registry for those refusing COVID-19 vaccine

Spain will create a registry to keep track of people who refuse a COVID-19 vaccination and will share the information with other European countries.

“In the registry, which we will share with our European partners because we are all committed to creating a COVID-19 registry, we will put those people who were offered the vaccine and refused to get it, just like is the case with other treatments,” Health Minister Salvador Illa told Spanish broadcaster La Sexta this week.

“This is not going to be a public document and will be done with the utmost respect for data protection and Spanish legislation,” he added.

Spain received its first large shipment of vaccines from Pfizer on Tuesday, which contained more than 350,000 doses [FILE – Reuters]

According to the latest national survey in Spain published last week, nearly six out of every 10 people were willing to get vaccinated, while 28 percent of respondents still refused.


Turkey aims to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically

Turkey aims to produce Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V domestically, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Turkey requested more information from Russia about the vaccine and Health Minister Fahrettin Koca informed the presidential cabinet that everything was on the right track, Cavusoglu said.


Thailand warns of stricter measures if virus not contained

Thailand has warned that more intensive measures might be necessary to halt its worst coronavirus outbreak yet and urged the public to cooperate to contain a spread that has seen cases in most regions of the country.

Thailand has imposed tighter control measures in some areas, including on entertainment businesses, which will be reassessed in seven days, said COVID-19 taskforce spokesman Taweesin Wisanuyothin.


Iran launches human trials of its COVID vaccine

Iran has launched human trials of its coronavirus vaccine.

The start of the trials on Tuesday comes as Iran has managed to bring its COVID-19 fatalities down to a three-month low and as the country continues to face difficulties in importing sufficient quantities of vaccines due to US sanctions.

Read more here


Pakistan reports coronavirus variant cases

At least three cases of the coronavirus variant were detected in the southern port city of Karachi.

“Twelve samples of UK returnees were taken for genotyping out of which six were positive and three showed the new variant of the virus in the first phase,” the ministry said in a statement on Twitter.

“The genotyping showed 95 per cent match of the new variant from the UK. These samples will go through another phase of genotyping,” it added.


India finds six cases of variant as daily infections drop

All six patients have been kept in isolation, India’s health ministry said in a statement, adding that their fellow travellers were being tracked down.

“Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine,” the ministry said.

India has suspended all flights from the UK until the end of the month but some 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban, the ministry said.

Read more here


Dozens of teachers die from the virus in South Africa

Local media, quoting education ministry spokesman Elijah Mhlanga, reported that at least 32 teachers have died of the virus in less than a week.

South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the continent, with 1,004,413 cases and nearly 27,000 deaths.

It announced tighter restrictions once again to combat the increase in coronavirus infections driven by a faster-spreading new variant.

Read more here


Indonesia secures vaccine deals with Pfizer, AstraZeneca

Indonesia is finalising deals to secure 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the deal with AstraZeneca would be finalised before year-end, while an agreement would be signed in January.

Speaking at his first official news conference, the minister said 1.3 million front-line health workers would be prioritised in the vaccine drive.