Germany records largest increase in new cases
Germany’s disease control centre is reporting the nation’s worst daily tally of new infections as it nears the halfway point of its new lockdown measures. The Robert Koch Institute has said Germany’s states have recorded 23,542 daily cases; slightly more than the previous worst – the 23,399 seen on Saturday.
The chancellor Angela Merkel is due to hold talks with state governors on Monday, the midway point into a series of measures the government has called “lockdown-light”.
Germany started a four-week partial shutdown on 2 November that is aimed at flattening a sharp rise in new infections. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have closed, but schools and nonessential shops remain open. Officials say it is still too early to tell whether the new measures are having the desired effect.
Merkel has warned Germans to expect “difficult winter months”. The health minister Jens Spahn has said nobody should expect to hold Christmas parties with more than 10 or 15 people.
Austria will likely close schools and tighten contact restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, news website OE24 has reported. The government is due to hold a news conference to present the new measures on Saturday, it added. It also said the retail sector would largely remain open, except for shopping centres where large crowds could gather.
The nation recorded the greatest number of daily infections on Friday, according to the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, which reported 9,586 new cases.
Sweden sees greatest daily increase in infections
Sweden, whose unorthodox virus-fighting strategy has garnered global attention, registered 5,990 new cases on Friday; the highest since the start of the pandemic, statistics from its Health Agency show.
The increase compared with a high of 4,697 daily cases recorded earlier this month.
Sweden registered 42 new deaths, taking the total to 6,164 deaths. Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours but somewhat lower than some larger European countries such as Spain.
Russia records most daily cases since pandemic began
Russia has reported its worst day for new infections, with 21,983 confirmed on Friday, as Moscow prepares to close restaurants and bars overnight.
Despite a recent surge, Russian authorities have resisted imposing lockdown restrictions as they did earlier this year, stressing instead the importance of hygiene, social distancing and bringing in targeted measures in certain regions.
Moscow, which reported 5,974 new cases in the past 24 hours, has ordered bars, restaurants and nightclubs to close between 11pm and 6am from Friday until mid-January. Officials warned of raids and fines for establishments that do not comply.
Some restaurant owners complained the measures hurt their businesses while doing little to prevent the virus from spreading. Svetlana Pivneva, the manager of Parka Bar in central Moscow, said:
We are a bar after all, and most bars work at night. I do not fully understand the measures that are being taken, to be honest.
The sprawling city of nearly 13 million people has also moved university and college students to online learning and recommended that school children, already learning from home, keep their travel to a minimum.
The virus has been found in mink at two farms in northern Greece, an agriculture ministry official has said. The strain found in the mink had not mutated from that found in humans, the official added.
According to Reuters, the breeder at one of the farms, which is in the northerly Kozani region, also tested positive and tests were being conducted on workers. A cull of the 2,500 mink at that farm was due to begin shortly.
Denmark’s entire 17m mink population is due to be culled after a mutated coronavirus was found in farms there, More than 15,000 mink in the US have also died after being infected since August.
Fur production is an important industry in Kozani and nearby Kastoria, where the second farm is located. Greece’s population of mink is estimated at hundreds of thousands and fur exports bring in €60m-€70m (£53m-£61m) a year.
During the first wave of coronavirus, the region around Strasbourg was so badly hit that it had to evacuate hospital patients by helicopter. In the second, other regions are suffering and the French city is returning the favour, Reuters reports.
The same helicopters that were flying patients out of this part of eastern France in the spring have been fetching patients from elsewhere and bringing them in for treatment in the autumn.
“In a way we’re paying back in kind,” said Christophe Di Stefano, one of the crew of an emergency service helicopter that on Thursday had just flown in a patient from Lyon, south-east France, and delivered them to the Hautepierre Hospital in Strasbourg.
A second helicopter was scheduled to head off again to Lyon later the same day to collect a patient, and Di Stefano’s crew was tasked on Friday with picking up someone seriously ill from Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon.
We relied on others during the first wave, so now we have the wherewithal to receive and treat people, it’s good for us to take part and take the burden off others.
The region around Strasbourg was the earliest and hardest hit by the first wave of the virus, in part because of a week-long evangelical church gathering that turned into a superspreader event.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has had no contact with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team and has said he sees no reason to quit to join that effort when there is so much to do now to fight the surging pandemic. In an interview ahead of next week’s Reuters Total Health conference, he said:
I stay in my lane. I’m not a politician. I do public health things.
Since January, Fauci has served on the White House coronavirus taskforce, a position that has frequently put him at odds with the outgoing US president Donald Trump, who has sought to downplay the pandemic and focused instead on opening the economy. Fauci said:
There’s absolutely no reason and no sense at all for me to stop doing something in the middle of a pandemic that is playing a major role in helping us get out of the pandemic.
His advice for the president-elect, he said, is “exactly the same” as what he is recommending now – social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, washing hands.
Public health principles don’t change from one month to another or from one administration to another.
Fauci has served six administrations and came to prominence fighting the Aids epidemic in the 1980s under the Republican president Ronald Reagan.
In televised remarks, Netanyahu has said the Israeli government’s deal with Pfizer to receive its potential vaccine marks a “great day for Israel” and added: “The goal is for the vaccine supply to start in January and increase in the months thereafter”.
Israel is due to receive 8m doses, Netanyahu said, enough to cover close to half of Israel’s population.
The agreement still requires approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Israel’s health ministry, Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, said. Pfizer is expected to apply for approval this month, he added.
The firm’s potential vaccine is likely to be a two-dose course of treatment, meaning that 8m doses would cover 4m of Israel’s 9m population.
In addition to its new deal with Pfizer, Israel has an agreement with Moderna for the future purchase of its potential vaccine. Moderna said on Wednesday it had enough data for a first interim analysis of the late-stage trial of its vaccine candidate.
Germany has recorded the greatest number of cases in a day since the pandemic began, with more than 23,500 new infections registered since Thursday.
Tighter restrictions to dampen the spread of the virus were introduced at the start of November, but appear to have so far failed to have an effect.
A debate about the extent to which people will have to be prepared to lower their expectations regarding Christmas celebrations is being given a lot of attention in the media. Christmas markets, traditional St Martin parades and the carnival season, which should have started this week, have all been cancelled.
Current restrictions, which have led to the closure of sport facilities and hospitality venues across the country are almost inevitably going to be extended beyond the 30 November deadline, and likely extended into December and possibly beyond.
More than 300,000 school pupils are in quarantine – up from around 50,000 in late September – along with about 30,000 teachers, prompting calls for schools to close. But the government has insisted they should remain open, along with other childcare facilities, such as nurseries and after-school clubs.
The facility set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI vaccine group has exceeded an interim target of raising more than $2bn (£1.49bn, €1.67bn) to buy and distribute shots for poorer countries, but said it still needs more.
The GAVI alliance said on Friday that the funds for an advance market commitment (AMC) will allow the Covax facility to buy an initial 1bn vaccine doses for 92 eligible countries that would not otherwise be able to afford them. The GAVI chief, Seth Berkley, told reporters:
We’ve seen sovereign and private donors from across the world dig deep and meet this target and help ensure that every country will get access to Covid vaccines, not just the wealthy few.
He added that there was an “urgent need” to also finance treatments and diagnostics.
Infections rose by 6,739 cases in a day, data from Swiss health authorities have shown. Total confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 257,135 and the death toll rose by 97 to 2,960.
More than 300 drones lit up the sky over Seoul on Friday in a show the government said was meant to give “comfort and hope” to residents enduring the pandemic.
The devices lined up in synchronised light displays, forming multi-coloured images of people wearing masks, and spelling out slogans promoting the government’s “Korean New Deal” programme to rebuild the economy. Kim Sang-do, the deputy minister for aviation policy, said:
I hope this drone show serves as an opportunity to convey joy and hope for a moment to our people experiencing pandemic fatigue.
The show was designed to thank residents for their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, he added. The first such show in July was held over the city’s Han River without notice, as organisers wanted to prevent crowds from gathering.
This time, the event was announced in advance and held above the park built to host the 1988 Summer Olympics.
South Korea’s aggressive campaign to control the outbreak has won international praise, helped the country avoid lockdowns and insulated its economy from some of the worst impacts of the crisis.
But the country has continued to battle small and persistent clusters of infections, with 191 new cases reported on Friday as daily infections creep higher. As of Friday, South Korea will begin fining people who fail to wear masks in public.
Israel has signed a deal with Pfizer to receive the drugmaker’s potential vaccine, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. The firm and its partner BioNTech SE confirmed a deal was forthcoming in a statement on Thursday but did not disclose financial details.
Early in the pandemic, some cities and countries around the world began testing sewage for evidence of rising infections.
Now some researchers are fine-tuning that strategy by moving upstream to test waste from single hospitals or other buildings, aiming to quickly pinpoint burgeoning outbreaks and stop them with testing and isolation.
While the virus primarily spreads through droplets expelled from the mouth and nose, it can also be shed via human waste.
Testing sewage is cheaper and less invasive than swabbing hundreds of people, and it could be done more frequently. With the virus again surging across much of the world, schools, hospitals and care homes badly need to catch new cases early.
What we’re trying to do is identify outbreaks before they happen,” said Francis Hassard, a lecturer at Cranfield University, part of a project that started collecting samples at 20 London secondary schools last month.
Hassard’s UK government-funded team will expand sampling to at least 70 schools. The programme is a research project, meant to test the approach, and is not yet a fully fledged surveillance system.