The European Union (EU) will start vaccination for COVID-19 after Christmas, the bloc's executive chief Ursula von der Leyen announced on Thursday.
Also read: Covid-19: Global cases surge past 49 million
"It's Europe's moment. On 27, 28 and 29 December vaccination will start across the EU," von der Leyen tweeted, reports Xinhua.
The announcement came two days after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) decided to bring forward a meeting to conclude its assessment of the vaccine jointly developed by Germany's BioNTech and America's Pfizer.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for COVID-19, and a number of EU leaders including European Council President Charles Michel, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, as well as Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Angel Gurria went into self-quarantine after having lunch with Macron one day earlier.
According to the website of the World Health Organization, as of Wednesday, there were 222 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 56 of them were in clinical trials.
French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for COVID-19, the presidential Elysee Palace announced on Thursday.
It said the president took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared.” The brief statement did not say what symptoms Macron experienced.
It said he would isolate himself for seven days. “He will continue to work and take care of his activities at a distance,” it added.
It was not immediately clear what contact tracing efforts were in progress. Macron attended a European Union summit at the end of last week, where he notably had a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He met Wednesday with the prime minister of Portugal. There was no immediate comment from Portuguese officials.
Also read: Worldwide Covid-19 cases cross 74 million
Macron on Wednesday also held the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Jean Castex and other ministers. Castex’s office said that the prime minister is also self-isolating for seven days.
The French presidency confirmed that Macron’s trip to Lebanon scheduled for next week is being canceled.
Macron and other government officials repeatedly say that they are sticking to strict sanitary protocols during the pandemic, including not shaking hands, wearing a mask and keeping distance from other people.
Macron is following French health authorities’ recommendations that since September have reduced the self-isolation time from 14 days to seven. Authorities said at the time that this is the period when there is the greatest risk of contagion and that reducing it allows better enforcement of the measure.
French health authorities argued this week that the 14-day quarantine was not well-respected by many in the country who considered it too long.
A national train tour by Prince William and his wife Kate has received a frosty welcome from leaders in Wales and Scotland, with one Welsh official saying he would rather “no one was having unnecessary visits” during the coronavirus pandemic.
William and Kate arrived in the Welsh capital of Cardiff on Tuesday for the final day of their three-day royal train tour, meant to spread Christmas cheer and thank medical staff and other frontline employees for their hard, dangerous work during the pandemic, reports AP.
But Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said he wasn’t “particularly bothered or interested” when asked on BBC radio if he thought the couple should travel to Wales when the region has been seeing high COVID-19 infections.
Gething said Monday that Wales was the only part of the U.K. where infections were not falling at the end of November, and warned that further restrictions may be needed.
Asked if it was the right moment for the royal couple to visit, Gething said Tuesday: “I’d rather that no one was having unnecessary visits. And people always have divisive views about the monarchy, but their visit isn’t an excuse for people to say that they are confused about what they are being asked to do.”
On Monday, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon suggested that William and Kate travelled to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh despite their office being made aware of coronavirus restrictions for those wanting to cross the border.
Royal officials have said the visits were planned in consultation with the Scottish and Welsh governments, and that William and Kate were allowed to travel across the border because they were working.
Wales and Scotland have their own devolved governments and different sets of coronavirus restrictions from England even though they are all part of the U.K. Welsh and Scottish officials have discouraged people from the rest of the U.K. from travelling to their regions without a reasonable excuse in a bid to reduce the virus’s spread.
Britain has Europe’s deadliest outbreak, at over 61,000 reported dead.
Also read: COVID-19 alert level 4 recommended for UK
More than 300 people were detained in the Belarusian capital on Sunday, where crowds of people took to the streets for the 18th consecutive weekend, demanding the ouster of the country's authoritarian leader who won a sixth term in office in an election widely seen as rigged.
Thousands of people Sunday took part in dozens of small rallies scattered all over Minsk, the Belarusian capital — a new tactic the opposition employed instead of one large gathering to make it harder for the security forces to target the protesters.
“We believe! We can! We will win!” the demonstrators chanted. Several people wore Santa Claus costumes and masks depicting President Alexander Lukashenko. “Give Belarusians a gift: go away,” a banner they carried read.
Police in Minsk said they detained more than 300 people. The Viasna human rights group released the names of 189 people detained in Minsk and other cities, where rallies also took place.
Mass protests have rocked Belarus, a former Soviet republic in eastern Europe, since official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud.
Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Police used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the rallies.
On Sunday, water cannons, armored vehicles and military trucks were seen in the center of Minsk. Several subway stations were closed and internet access was restricted.
At least four journalists have been detained in Minsk and the western city of Grodno, according the Belarusian Association of Journalists. Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-old protester famous for her resilience, was also among those detained.
The continued crackdown on the protests elicited international outrage. Earlier this year, the European Union imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and several dozen officials over their role in the security crackdown launched after the contested election.
On Friday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that the situation with human rights in Belarus is getting worse. Bachelet pointed to reports of mass arrests, the beating of detainees and the use of force in dispersing peaceful demonstrations.
“It is urgent that the government of Belarus puts an end to ongoing human rights violations,” Bachelet said, urging Belarusian authorities to release those who have been unlawfully detained during protests, stop clamping down on the demonstrations and investigate “all allegations of torture and other human rights violations, including the deaths of at least four persons in the context of the protests.”
Protesters in the meantime say they aren't discouraged by the crackdown.
"The protest will not fade down until Lukashenko leaves,” Maksim Borovets, one of those rallying in Minsk on Sunday, told The Associated Press. “The intensified repressions did not stop (it). They merely changed the forms of the fight.”
The coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech was being sent to hospitals across the U.K. in super-cold containers on Sunday, two days ahead of the kickoff of Britain’s biggest-ever immunization program, one being closely watched around the world.
Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be in place for the start of the rollout on Tuesday, a day that British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II, reports AP.
“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director. “The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness.”
Last week the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts the same day.
Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program to note its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly. The United States hopes to start vaccinations later this month. British regulatory authorities are also examining data on vaccines made by Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University.
Russia on Saturday began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centers in Moscow with its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved over the summer after being tested in only a few dozen people.
The excitement in Britain, which has Europe’s highest virus-related death toll at more than 61,000, was palpable.
“This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19,” said Hancock.
Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospitals as outpatients and those being discharged after a stay in the hospital will be among the first to receive the jab in Britain. Hospitals will also start inviting over 80s in for a vaccine shot and will work with nursing homes to book staff into vaccination clinics. Any appointments not taken up will be offered to those health workers deemed to be at the highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Everyone who is vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.
Buckingham Palace refused to comment on speculation that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, will be vaccinated within weeks and then make it public, a move that could reassure anyone nervous about getting a vaccination.
“Our goal is totally to protect every member of the population, Her Majesty, of course, as well,” Dr. June Raine, chief executive of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which authorized the vaccine, told the BBC.
The U.K. has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which can cover 20 million people. Since the British government will only immunize people over 16, around 55 million people in the U.K. will be eligible.
Now that the first tranche of the vaccine has arrived from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Belgium, checks are being conducted by a specialist medical logistics company to ensure there was no damage in transit. This could take up to a day.
Each box containing the vaccines, which includes five packs of 975 doses, will need to be opened and unpacked manually at specially licensed sites. After that, the vaccines will then be made available to hospitals.
Delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complicated because it needs to be stored at super-chilled temperatures: about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). Fortunately, the vaccine is stable at normal refrigerator temperatures, between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 to 46.4 F), for a few days, meaning it can be stored locally. After defrosting the vaccine, which takes a few hours, additional time is required to prepare it to be given in a shot.
Public Health England has secured 58 special Twin Guard ultra-low temperature freezers that provide sufficient storage for approximately five million doses. The fridges, which are not portable, each hold around 86,000 doses.
The vaccine won’t just be provided by hospitals. Local doctors’ offices and other local health care centers are being put on standby to start delivering the vaccine, with a small number expected to do so the week of Dec. 14. More medical practices in more parts of the country will be phased in during December and in the coming months.
Vaccination centers treating large numbers of patients in sports areas and conference centers will subsequently emerge when further supplies of the Pfizer vaccine or other vaccines come on stream. Local pharmacies will later be able to offer the jabs as they do with annual influenza shots.
Although nursing home residents top the prioritization list given to the British government by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, they won’t be getting the vaccinations straight away, as the vaccine packs of 975 doses cannot yet be divided.
The NHS hopes that authorities will soon approve a safe way of splitting up the dose packs so the vaccination shots can get to nursing homes during December.