COVID-19 SUMMARY: British variant detected in at least 37 countries, record 745 new cases in Thailand, 600 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine to be produced in 2021


4th January 2021 – (Hong Kong)  Total worldwide COVID-19 cases have reached 85,611,594 with 1,853,213 deaths as of 11pm today.


The European regulator has moved up its meetings to discuss possible approval for Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine from Wednesday to Monday, a European Medicines Agency (EMA) spokesperson told CNN.

Scotland will implement another lockdown from midnight, including keeping schools closed and ordering people to largely remain at home. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no choice but to take more drastic action as hospital admissions reached levels not seen since the previous peak of the pandemic in April. School closures will be reviewed in the middle of January.

French officials urged a faster rate of COVID-19 inoculations on Monday after an initial roll-out slowed by bureaucracy and what some see as excessive government precautions in one of the most vaccine-sceptical countries in the world. The country began vaccinating medical staff over the age of 50 after delivering just 516 COVID-19 shots developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech during the first week of a campaign that focused on the elderly in nursing homes.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would impose tougher restrictions on England shortly to contain a rapidly escalating coronavirus outbreak and indicated that secondary schools may not reopen this month. Cases of COVID-19 have risen sharply in Britain in recent weeks, fuelled by a new and more transmissible variant of the virus. On Sunday there were nearly 55,000 new cases and in total more than 75,000 people in the country have died with COVID-19 during the pandemic – the second highest toll in Europe.

A new variant of coronavirus first discovered in the UK, also known as B.1.1.7, is present in at least 37 countries as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to CNN’s count. The 37 countries are: United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United States (including cases in Florida, California and Colorado) and Vietnam.

The first patient in the UK has received the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.  Brian William Pinker, 82, received the shot early Monday morning at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that he is “incredibly worried about the South African variant” of the novel coronavirus and described it as “even more of a problem” than the new UK strain. Meanwhile, a leading Oxford scientist has said there was a “big question mark” around the effectiveness of current vaccines on the South African variant. “The mutations associated with the South African form are really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein.”

German police struggled to keep day-trippers off ski slopes in several regions over the weekend, despite a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.  Authorities in the Winterberg resort near Düsseldorf said thousands of people travelled to the winter resort despite closed ski slopes and police efforts to blockade roads.

Finland’s health minister has said delivery of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses to the country has been “considerably slower than expected,” according to public broadcaster YLE.  The first batch of vaccines which reached Finland around Christmas only contained around 10,000 of the total expected 100-300,000 thousand doses, YLE reported, with an additional batch of 40,000 arriving last Wednesday.

U.S. and Canada

New York state surpassed 1 million COVID-19 infections over the weekend, according to state and Johns Hopkins University data, becoming the fourth state to do so.

California’s hospitalisations remained at one of the highest levels as an increase in infections following Christmas further strained the health-care system.

Officials from Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s vaccine drive, are asking Moderna Inc. and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to cut in half the dose of the company’s COVID-19 vaccination for people ages 18 to 55 after finding that it induces the same immune response, Chief Scientific Adviser Moncef Slaoui.

Moderna Inc said on Monday it would produce at least 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, up by 100 million doses from its previous forecast, as the United States continues to roll-out the vaccine. Moderna said it has so far supplied about 18 million doses to U.S. government as part of a deal for 200 million doses. It has also signed a deal with the Canadian government for 40 million doses.

Central and Latin America

Dozens of migrant refugees in Mexico have closed their doors or scaled back operations in recent weeks to curb the ravages of coronavirus, exposing people to greater peril just as migration from Central America to the United States is on the rise again.

China and Hong Kong

China’s foreign minister said outbreaks outside of the country may have caused the COVID-19 pandemic, as Beijing steps up efforts to recast the virus narrative amid growing scrutiny over the pathogen’s origins. “More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in comments published over the weekend from an interview with the official Xinhua News Agency and state broadcaster CCTV.

Hong Kong pushed back the re-opening of classrooms for more than a month .The suspension of in-person classes at kindergartens through high school, a restriction originally scheduled to expire 10th January will be extended until the lunar new year holidays, which begin on 12th February, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said on Monday. The city reported 53 new cases for the day, 43 of which were local and six untraceable. Existing social distancing measures have been extended to 20th January.

Elsewhere in the world

Israel plans to vaccinate 70% to 80% of its population by April or May, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Monday. The inoculation drive, which leads efforts around the world on a per capita basis, has already administered first doses of the Pfizer Inc. shot to about 1.2 million residents, or more than 12% of the population.

India is embarking on one of the world’s most ambitious mass immunization programs ever undertaken, after regulators approved the country’s first two COVID-19 vaccines for restricted emergency use. Indian drug regulators on Sunday gave the go ahead for two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and the other conceived locally by Bharat Biotech and a government-run institute.  Both vaccines will be administered in two doses and stored at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Japanese government said on Monday it was considering declaring a state of emergency in and around Tokyo as coronavirus cases climb, casting fresh doubt over whether it can push ahead with the summer Olympics and keep economic damage to a minimum. Citing government sources, Kyodo News reported that preparations were being made for a state of emergency that would take effect by Friday and last about a month.

South Korea will expedite the vaccine approval process for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, according to the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. AstraZeneca has filed for approval of its vaccine, which could take only 40 days. Normal vaccine approval takes 180 days, according to the ministry. South Korea reported 1,020 COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said Monday. 

North Korea asked for virus vaccines from the main global alliance helping lower-income countries fight the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne looks set to be rescheduled from its season-opening slot to later in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a tightening of local quarantine rules.

Vietnam’s health ministry has proposed suspending or limiting incoming flights from at least 34 countries and territories that have detected cases of the new COVID-19 variant first found in Britain, the government said on Monday.

Thailand’s prime minister on Monday urged the public to stay at home to help contain its biggest coronavirus outbreak and avoid a strict lockdown, as authorities confirmed a daily c.

Indonesia’s mass vaccination programme is set to start next week, a senior minister said on Monday, pending authorisation from the country’s food and drug agency (BPOM), as about 700,000 doses of vaccines have already been widely distributed.

Cambodia has started reopening schools and museums as it relaxes a six-week lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak late last year, marking a contrast with some neighbouring countries that are facing new restrictions due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Information compiled from REUTERS, CNN, CNA and Bloomberg.