Britain considers new COVID-19 restrictions amid surge in cases, deaths

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Jan. 3 (UPI) — Amid record coronavirus cases, including a more contagious variant strain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday restrictions are “probably about to get tougher” though the kingdom plans to administer the Oxford AstraZeneca for the first time in the world Monday.

Most of Britain, including eight in 10 people in England, already are in the tier 4 rules that include stay-at-home orders with the closure of non-essential shops and one-to-one outdoor meeting limits between households.

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On Saturday, Britain set a record for most new cases in one day, 57,725, and the number was 54,990 Sunday and is sixth in the world with 2,654,779 since the start of the pandemic. Britain also reported 454 deaths Sunday, behind the record 1,166 April 21, and ranks sixth with 74,570.

In all, the world death toll is 1,848,927 and cases have passed 85 million at 85,343,073, according to tracking by Worldomets.Info. The U.S. leads the world in deaths, passing 350,000 Sunday, and more than 20 million cases, which hit the milestone on New Year’s Day Friday, according to Johns Hopkins tracking.

Johnson, asked about a new “tier ” level, Johnson told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show : “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in … many parts of the country … I’m fully reconciled to that. My bet [is that] the people of this country are reconciled to that.”

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Johnson said it could include strong rules enacted in March or a curfew but refused to call them “tier 5.”

“You’ve spoken about tier 5, I haven’t said that, but there are obviously a range of … tougher measures that we would have to consider,” Johnson said.

When asked the type of measures: “I’m not going to speculate now on what they might be, but I’m sure all our viewers, or listeners, will understand … clearly, school closures, which we had to do in March, is one of those … things. It’s not something we necessarily want to do.”

He said restrictions will need to be in place, “Until the vaccine comes on stream in a massive way, we’re fighting this virus with the same set of tools.”

Johnson said Sunday he hopes for “tens of millions” of vaccinations in the next three months.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock posted on Twitter on Sunday that the country had administered 1 million Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, saying “the end is in sight.” Britain also last week approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna vaccine should would be ready to use “soon,” Johnson said.

Britain will administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday at a small number of hospitals for the first few days.

“The Oxford vaccine is a triumph of British science and I want to thank everyone involved in its development and production,” Johnson said in a statement.

In the meantime, Britain is facing a critical shortage of hospital beds, including intensive care.

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Health workers are preparing to reactivate seven emergency COVID-19 field hospitals.

On Saturday, a spokesperson for the National Health Service told CNN officials were asked on Dec. 23 “get services ready to use.” They were originally set up during the first coronavirus wave in March. They are called NHS Nightingale after the pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale.

Some London hospitals are two-thirds full with COVID-19 patients, President of the Royal College of Physicians Andrew Goddard said Saturday.

Through Friday, there were 22,534 coronavirus patients in hospitals across England. During the peak in April it was almost 19,000.

Britain has been dealing with the new variants that has turned up around the world.

“There is no doubt the new variant is more transmissible and the escalation of cases that we’ve seen in South Wales, London, Essex and the South East has been at a much greater rate than we’ve seen with the previous strains,” Goddard said.

Europe has experienced a spike in deaths after record infections.

On Saturday, 2,765 of the world’s 8,299 new deaths were in Europe. Infections were 159,420 of the 552,087 total. The continent has the most deaths at 553,186 and the highest number of cases at 24,200,721.

Four other European nations in the top 10 for most deaths.

Italy, which at one time was the world’s epicenter, is fifth at 74,985, including 347 Sunday after a record 993 Dec. 3. Cases were 11,831after a record 40,896 on Nov. 13.

France is seventh at 64,921 with 116 deaths Sunday after 932 on Nov. 13 that was the most since a record of 1,437 in April. The 12,489 cases are far below a record 86,852 on Oct. 31.

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Russia has climbed to eighth with 58,506, including 504 Sunday after record 635 plus 24,250 cases after record 29,935 Dec. 24 and fourth overall with 3,236,787. No. 10 Spain reported no data since 148 deaths Thursday for 50,837 and 15,603 cases with the record 22,822 Oct. 27.

Also in Europe, No. 14 Germany initially reported 66 deaths Sunday after a record 1,129 last week 8,492 cases, behind the record of 31,553 on Dec.18. No. 16 Poland added 61 deaths with the record 674 on Nov. 25, and 6,945 cases, behind the record of 37,596 Nov. 23.

France plans to vaccinate 26 million “by the summer,” according to France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, speaking Sunday to CNN’s affiliate BFMTV.

Numerous European nations have instituted forms of lockdowns. Parts of France have an expanded curfew to start at 6 p.m. rather than 8 p.m. in areas where the infection rates are surging. A national lockdown ended Dec. 15.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 revelers were cited for violating coronavirus restrictions and drug offenses, and five arrested in illegal rave in France’s Brittany. The event drew more than 2,500.

In Spain, police broke up a New Year’s Eve rave in an abandoned warehouse near Barcelona. The event drew 300 people who had been partying for over 40 hours.

Italy has delayed opening its ski resorts until Jan. 18 because regional authorities want more time to meet coronavirus rules.

Germany’s lockdown is scheduled to end Jan. 10.

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“The health system desperately needs relief, which can only be achieved through an extension of the contact restriction measures,” Susanne Johna, head of the Marburger Bund doctors’ union, told newspapers of the Funke media group Saturday. “We won’t be able to get the situation under control otherwise.”

The coronavirus had spread to Europe from mainland China where officials announced on Dec. 31 one year ago that dozens of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause were being treated.

Mainland China hasn’t reported a death since April 26 and has dropped to 44th place with 4,634, behind Tunisia. It added 24 cases Sunday.

The Beijing Institute of Biological Products said its vaccine 79% effective based on preliminary analysis, the state-controlled company Sinopharm said. The nation conditionally approved the vaccine.

The continent has the fourth-most deaths at 340,688 and third-most cases at 20,895,990.

In Japan, the governors of Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures on Saturday urged Japan’s central government to declare a state of emergency because the surge is at a “crisis situation.”

Tokyo reached a record of 1,337 cases Thursday.

On Saturday, Japan recorded 3,059 cases two days after a record 4,520. Deaths Saturday were 31 six days after record 63 for a total of 3,585, including 13 on a cruise ship.

South Korea also set a record for deaths last week, 40, for a total of 962, including 20 Sunday. There were 657 new cases, behind the record of 1,241 Dec. 25.

The greater Seoul area is extending stringent distancing rules until Jan. 17. The restrictions, which have been in place for more than one week, include bans on social gatherings of more than five people and in-person religious services.

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Also, an outbreak at a South Korean prison has risen to 1,084.

India and Iran are in the top 10 for most deaths.

India is third with 149,535 deaths, including 217 deaths after a high of 1,299. And cases were 18,177 for second place with 10,323,965 after a high of 97,789 in September.

India, before plans for mass vaccinations, conducted a nationwide drill Saturday, India’s state-run broadcaster Doordarshan has reported. India has approved vaccines by AstraZeneca and Indian local firm Bharat Biotech.

In the first phase, authorities hope to vaccinate 300 million people, including healthcare workers, police, soldiers, and vulnerable groups.

Iran is ninth with 55,540 deaths, including 102 Sunday.

Brazil is second in the world with 195,742 deaths, including 301 Saturday with a high last week of 1,224 and the record 1,554 in July. Cases were 15,827 behind a record 70,869 on July 29, with total third at 7,700,578.

Between mid-August and late November, it hadn’t exceeded 50,000 but it surpassed that figure twice last week.

Brazil has yet to begin a vaccination program. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who contracted the virus, said he won’t get it citing unfounded concerns about side effects.

South America has the third-most deaths, 364,600, and fourth-most cases, 13,302,501.

The continent has three other spots in the top 20 for most deaths: Colombia in 11th with 43,765, Argentina in 12th with 43,375 and Peru in 13th with 37,773. Chile, which is 21st for most deaths at 16,767, is the first South American nation to begin vaccinating with the Pfizer-BioNTech drug.

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Mexico was the first nation in Latin America to begin vaccinations.

Mexico is fourth in the world for most deaths, 126,851, including 344 Saturday and a high of 1,092 on June 4. Cases were 6,359 after a record 12,485 on Dec. 25, for 13th overall with 1,443,544.

Mexico remains open to all travelers but the land border between Mexico and the U.S, is closed until Jan. 21. In addition the U.S.-Canadian border remains closed for non-essential travel.

The Canadian government now requires visitors to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The nation also requires travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

In North America, vaccinations also have begun in the U.S. and Canada.

Canada is 23rd in the world for deaths at 25,715, including 109 Saturday with no data released the day before. On Tuesday, a record 257 fatalities were announced.

The cases are 582,697, including 7,583 additional infections Saturday with the surpassing 10,000 for the first time last week. Between May 26 and Aug. 30 cases were never more than 1,000.

All but around 20,000 of the total 522,120 deaths in North America are in Canada, U.S. and Mexico. The total number of cases: 23,932,028. North America is second behind Europe in those categories.

Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has had minimal deaths and cased since the worldwide pandemic, recording 1,059 deaths and 48,487 cases.

New Zealand’s deaths have remained at 25 since Sept. 16 and Australia’s toll rose by 1 last week after being at 908 since Nov. 30.

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New Zealand reported 19 cases Sunday, tallying 37 in one week, for a total of 2,144 and Australia was up 13 Sunday for 28,312, an increase of 161 in seven days.

Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales, including Sydney, put in new social distancing restrictions and mandatory mask wearing effective Sunday.

Victoria, which includes Melbourne, already made masks mandatory while limiting gatherings and shutting its border to NSW.

In Africa, there have been 67,259 deaths, which increased by 4,000 in one week and 2,841,991 cases.

South Africa leads the continent with 29,175 deaths, which moved past Poland 15th in the world last week, including 402 Sunday followed by Egypt at 7,741 after gaining 54 Saturday, and Morocco at 7,485 with an additional 33.

South Africa has the 16th-most cases in the world for a total 1,100,748, including 11,859 Sunday, behind the record of 18,000 Thursday.

Last week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced new tougher coronavirus restrictions to take effect Monday, which include banning indoor and outdoor gatherings, a curfew and no alcohol sales.

He said the new variant is well established in South Africa with the rise in cases a “cause for great alarm” as hospitals have reported a rise in admissions.

“We have simply let our guard down,” the president said during an address.

On Dec. 22, Antarctica recorded its first COVID-19 case after 36 people, 26 army personnel and 10 civilians, tested positive on a research base, according to a statement released by the Chilean Army last week.

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