Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 from around the world - Thursday, December 24

The latest on the pandemic from around the world overnight.
The latest on the pandemic from around the world overnight. Photo credit: Getty

Huge swathes of England will be placed under stringent COVID-19 restrictions, the British government announced on Wednesday (local time), as a highly infectious virus variant sweeps the country and pushes case numbers to a record level.

Britain has reported almost 40,000 new infections as the mutated variant of the coronavirus - which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original strain - causes case numbers and hospital admissions to soar.

The number of recorded deaths - 744 - was also the highest figure since April.

"Against this backdrop of rising infections, rising hospitalisations and rising numbers of people dying from coronavirus, it is absolutely vital that we act," Health Minister Matt Hancock told a media briefing. "We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for."

Hancock said from December 26, many more parts of southern England would join the 16 million already in Tier 4 - the highest level of social restrictions - while other areas currently in lower tiers would also face tighter curbs.

Here's the latest on the pandemic from around the world overnight. 



Mexico will begin rolling out its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 on Thursday (local time) as the government battles a sharp surge in infections, putting hospitals under immense strain.

Health workers will be prioritised following the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer vaccines this week, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday (local time), with vaccinations beginning at hospitals in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo. Senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses are next in line to be inoculated. 

"It's true that we still face a tremendous pandemic, but today is the beginning of the end," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference.

Mexico has recorded a total of 1,338,426 cases and 119,495 deaths, the fourth highest death toll worldwide.


Argentina has become the second country after Belarus to approve Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Russia's sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday that the Sputnik V vaccine has been approved for use by Argentina's regulators.

"Argentina was the first country in Latin America to officially register Sputnik V," the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a statement.

"The vaccine was registered under the emergency use authorization procedure and was approved by the regulator, ANMAT, based on the results of Phase III clinical trials in Russia, without additional trials in Argentina."

Argentina's Health Ministry confirmed the news in a statement, saying it had granted emergency approval for the use of the Sputnik V vaccine.


Canada has approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine and will receive up to 168,000 doses by the end of December.

Health Canada, the country's federal health department, announced the approval on Wednesday (local time) after completing a review of the biotechnology company's clinical trial data.

"The data provided supports favourably the efficacy of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as well as its safety," Health Canada said in a notice, authorising use of the vaccine for people over the age of 18.

"There were no important safety issues identified and no life-threatening adverse events (AEs) or deaths related to the vaccine."



In the days before Christmas, a German crematorium is struggling to keep up with the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.

The Meissen crematorium in the eastern state of Saxony has been hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic, with manager Joerg Schaldach saying employees are currently working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without a break.

"We will, of course, have to keep on cremating and now the holidays are around the corner."

Special procedures are required for people who died from COVID-19, Schaldach said.

"The coffins are sealed, the deceased are wrapped in accident-like bags, so there is barely any possibility of having contact with the virus."

Saxony has reported the highest number of deaths per capita in Germany over the course of the pandemic - around 57 in 100,000 people there have died. Germany reported a new coronavirus daily death toll high of 962 on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 27,968. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 24,740 to 1,554,920, data showed on Wednesday.


About 500 relatives of people who died from COVID-19 in Italy have launched legal action against regional and national authorities, it was revealed on Wednesday (local time), with the families seeking 100 million euros (NZ$171 million) in damages.

The civil lawsuit, which the plaintiffs - members of a committee called 'Noi Denunceremo' - presented to a Rome court, is against Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the governor of the northerly Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana.

"This case is our Christmas gift to those who should have done what they were supposed to do, but didn't," the group's president, Luca Fusco, said in statement.

The Noi Denunceremo committee said when the outbreak erupted in Lombardy, local authorities and the central government failed to take rapid action which could have avoided the need for a national lockdown and the subsequent economic damage.

They also condemned the alleged lack of preparedness, with neither Rome nor the Lombardy region having an updated plan in place to deal with a possible pandemic.

Middle East and Africa


The Prime Minister of Israel is urging residents to assume the new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that emerged in Britain is now spreading in the Middle Eastern country.

Benjamin Netenyahu addressed the nation after Israel's Health Ministry detected the first known cases of the new variant. 

"At the moment we need to assume that the virus is spreading here," Netenyahu said. 

"The good news is that the assessments of the companies that are supplying us with vaccines are that there is a high, but not absolute likelihood that these vaccines will deal with the mutation as well... we need to wait in order to know this." 

The ministry announced on Wednesday (local time) that the variant had been detected in three people who had returned from the UK, who are currently staying in quarantine facilities. The source of a fourth case is still under investigation.

Israel tightened its border restrictions this week, barring nearly all foreigners from entering the country and requiring all returning Israelis to isolate in state-run hotels for 10 to 14 days.

It comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) called a meeting on Wednesday to discuss strategies to counter the new variant.

Reuters / Newshub.