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London primary schools to close

January 1, 2021

London's mayor said that the government had "finally seen sense," but there are concerns about the new virus variant and potential burnout for hospital workers. Stay with DW for the latest.

https://p.dw.com/p/3nQ92

The UK decided to close all primary schools in London for the next two weeks to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

UK Education Minister Gavin Williamson outlined a plan to delay reopening secondary schools on Wednesday, but re-open most primary schools for children under 11 in less hard-hit parts of the country.

The plan would have affected some parts of London, but not all. Local authorities had complained where schools were scheduled to re-open.

"The Government have finally seen sense and u-turned," tweeted London Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling the previous approach to re-opening schools "shambolic" in a previous tweet.

The decision on schools comes as medical workers warned new infections could spike across the country due to a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Authorities decided to reactivate field hospitals ahead of the potential surge in new cases, which could be further fueled by gatherings surrounding Christmas and New Year's in the past week.

The UK recorded 53,285 new cases on Friday, down slightly from the previous day's record of 55,892. The UK recorded its four highest daily new infection totals over the past four days, all over 50,000 and about double the number from a few weeks ago.

With the spike in cases expected to worsen in the coming weeks, there is growing concern about burnout among UK hospital staff.

"We are very much at battle stations," said Adrian Boyle, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine on British broadcaster BBC. "There is a real worry about burnout."

Boyle said doctors and nurses are tired and frustrated from the onslaught of the pandemic. He urged people to comply with government guidelines to slow the spread of the illness. Several intensive care units in London and beyond have been stretched to full capacity.

There are also fears of not enough medical staff to work in new facilities, according to Mike Adams, England director of the Royal College of Nursing on British broadcaster Sky News.

Despite the Health Ministry's reports that more than 1 million people have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, it will likely take months before the campaign will bring any relief.

Asia

Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers to show a negative coronavirus test before they can board their planes.

The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian airports come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located north of the capital Beijing.

Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month's annual Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world's largest annual human migration.

In Thailand, the capital Bangkok will close all schools for two weeks after the New Year holiday to control a new wave of the virus.

"We begin to detect new cases linked to students and other service businesses," said Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, the spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

The country confirmed 279 new cases on Friday, with the majority of them linked to a cluster among migrant workers in a province south of Bangkok, and another cluster linked to illegal gambling dens that started in the eastern province of Rayong.

'Good health for every person'

Europe

Britain is gearing up to reopen its Nightingale field hospitals in response to a spike in cases of the new strain of coronavirus.

The country's Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, told Times Radio that the military, which helped build them, "stands ready" to help staff the hospitals if the National Health Service falls short of critical care beds.

Seven Nightingale hospitals were built across England during the first wave of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the NHS said the temporary facilities across England "are being readied to admit patients once again should they be needed," news agency AFP reported. 

He added that "in anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection," NHS has been asked to ensure the Nightingale hospital in London was "ready to admit patients as needed" and that reactivation was underway.

As per the latest government data, a total of 944,539 people in the UK had received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as of Sunday.

The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine, the second approved shot for public use in the country, is also set to be administered from next week.

Germany has recorded another 553 deaths, taking the overall death toll to 33,624. 

Meanwhile, the founders of Germany's BioNTech said Sunday they are working flat out with partner Pfizer to boost production of their COVID-19 vaccine.

The biotech startup has led the vaccine race but its shot has been slow to arrive in the European Union due to relatively slow approval from the bloc's health regulator and the small size of the order placed by Brussels.

The delays have caused consternation in Germany, where some regions had to temporarily close vaccination centers days after the launch of an inoculation drive on December 27.

"At the moment it doesn't look good — a hole is appearing because there's a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told news weekly Der Spiegel.

A shot from Moderna is expected to be cleared by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on January 6.

Finland has extended its ban on passenger flights from Britain until January 11 over fears about the spread of the new variant of the virus, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency announced on Thursday.

The nation has reported some of the lowest infection numbers in Europe since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the new UK strain — which is more transmissible — was detected in two people in Finland. 

Slovakia is implementing stricter coronavirus measures as it steps into the new year.

A ban has been imposed on travel between districts. Ski resorts and hotels have been ordered to shut down.

People will not be allowed to meet anyone from a different household.

The restrictions will come into effect on January 1 and are scheduled to last until January 24. 

Norway is lifting its ban on flights from the UK, introduced to stop the spread of a more contagious variant of the virus, with planes allowed to land from January 2 at 1600 UTC.

Norway along with dozens of other countries halted travel from Britain before Christmas after news that the new variant was rapidly spreading.

Turkey has announced a temporary ban on all entries from the UK Friday after it found cases of the new variant of COVID-19 among arrivals to the country. Health Minister Dr. Fahrettin Koca tweeted Friday that 15 people from the UK tested positive for the variant.

Koca added that all 15 people, as well as all of those they came into contact with, were under quarantine. The minister did not say when the 15 people arrived in Turkey.

Americas

Canada will now require all air travelers above the age of 5 to test negative for COVID-19 before arrival into the country. 

The measure will be implemented from January 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Thursday. 

The decision comes after pictures on social media showing maskless Canadian tourists abroad, triggered calls to tighten travel measures amid a rising caseload.

The mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals will still remain in place, despite the pre-departure testing. 

This comes as a setback for Canada's airlines that have taken a massive hit during the pandemic and were calling for a negative test result as an alternative to strict quarantine restrictions.

Johns Hopkins University said Friday that the US has surpassed 20 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. That is nearly one-fourth of the more than 83 million cases worldwide, but well under 10% of the US population.

The increase comes as officials race to vaccinate millions of Americans. President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration Tuesday for the slow pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines and vowed to increase the speed when he takes over on January 20.

Biden acknowledged that it "will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated."

Africa

Chad has locked down its capital for the first time since the global coronavirus outbreak. 

The city of N'djamena will enter a week-long lockdown on January 1, a decree signed by President Idriss Deby said on Thursday, adding that it could be extended. 

The country's airspace has been ordered to stop all operations, with the exception of cargo flights. The capital's borders will also be closed. 

Chad has reported a relatively low caseload compared to the other nations in the region.

Middle East

Israel has vaccinated nearly 1 million people, less than two weeks after the launch of its Covid-19 inoculation campaign, the government said on Friday.

Around 950,000 Israelis have received the first dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, equivalent to more than 10% of the population.

According to Oxford-based researchers, Israel is vaccinating its population at a speed unmatched anywhere else in the world.

A graphic on the website "Our World in Data" comparing the number of people vaccinated in each country per 100 residents showed a clear lead for Israel at 9.18, accurate as of Wednesday.

dvv,kbd/dj (AFP,AP,dpa, Reuters)

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