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Coronavirus digest: UK sees record rise as mutant variant spreads

The UK has seen a record number of COVID-19 cases for a fifth day in succession. Meanwhile, hospitals in Lebanon are being overwhelmed as infection rates soar.

A woman speaking on a mobile phone in north London walks past a government publicity campaign poster

The new coronavirus variant is thought be be particularly prevalent in the London area

The United Kingdom has recorded more new coronavirus infections in a single day than ever before for a fifth consecutive day, registering more than 57,700 cases within 24 hours.

Many of those cases are attributed to a variant of the virus that appears to be more contagious and is particularly rampant in London.

Over the same period, 445 virus-related deaths were also recorded across the UK, which has announced a death toll of over 82,600 since the start of the pandemic.

Problems are especially acute in London where hospitals are starting to reach the limits of their capacity, media reports say. Some patients are being housed in corridors or must wait for hours in an ambulance until a bed becomes free.

Meanwhile, the UK government is under fierce pressure from teachers' unions to keep schools in England closed for at least another two weeks from Monday. Ministers have already decided to shutter all schools in the capital, but unions wanted this extended to the country as a whole.

Figures have shown that December was by far Germany's deadliest month in the coronavirus pandemic, with a nearly three-fold increase in the number of deaths since November. Meanwhile, some experts and politicians have slammed the German government for allegedly failing to ensure a sufficient supply of vaccine doses.

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The President of the Swiss Confederation Guy Parmelin conceded mistakes in Switzerland's pandemic management: "We underestimated the situation between July and September."

The country avoided a hard first wave but has seen infections jump in autumn.

Gibraltar has imposed a second lockdown to help curb a soaring rate of virus cases, only days after a last-minute deal to ensure post-Brexit fluidity along its border with Spain. The measure, beginning at 10 p.m. local time on Saturday, will remain in force for 14 days. That means Gibraltar's 34,000 residents can only leave home for essential shopping, to work, exercise or for medical reasons.

In the past month, the number of cases in the tiny British overseas territory at the southern tip of Spain has more than doubled.

The Vatican says its COVID-19 vaccination campaign will begin "in the next few days."

Health workers and the elderly in the tiny city state are to receive vaccines from the second half of January.

There was no mention in the Holy See's short press release about Pope Francis and when the 84-year-old would receive a shot.

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Middle East

Lebanon's hospitals are struggling to deal with coronavirus cases as infections in the small Mediterranean nation spiral upward after end-of-year holidays.

The country's COVID-19 task force met on Saturday and recommended a three-week lockdown. The decision was supported by the parliamentary health committee.

With a population of around six million, Lebanon has recorded 183,888 coronavirus cases, including 1,466 deaths, since February. It hit a daily record on Thursday of more than 3,500 new cases.

Americas

Brazil's health regulator Anvisa said late on Saturday it had approved the import of 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The jab is not yet approved for use in the country but federal government-affiliated biomedical center Fiocruz will apply for emergency use of the vaccine by Wednesday. 

Asia-Pacific

In Japan, the government is considering a new emergency declaration after governors there urged action to tackle a record surge in COVID-19 cases.

The government is to consult with health experts before deciding on a new declaration, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters.

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As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlors in the Tokyo area would be asked to shut at 8 p.m., while businesses that serve alcohol should close at 7 p.m., the minister said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has so far resisted calls to reinstate a nationwide state of emergency.

In India, experts at the country's drugs regulator have recommended for emergency use two COVID-19 vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other backed by a state-run institute. Meanwhile, health workers across the country took part in nationwide trial inoculation drills before the government begins its massive vaccine rollout.

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Africa

Zimbabwe has introduced a strict lockdown as coronavirus infections spike. Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who also serves as the country's health minister, said Zimbabweans must now adhere to an overnight curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Restaurants, bars, liquor stores and gymnasiums have also been ordered to close.

Zimbabwe recorded 14,084 infections since the onset of the pandemic in March, with 369 total related deaths. While these figures are much lower than countries like neighboring South Africa, Zimbabwe's frail healthcare system is already overwhelmed.

Police arrested more than 2,000 people over New Year's Eve for breaking existing Covid-19 regulations, including attending a concert.

rc/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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