3.26am GMT

It’s been described as “very un-Australian” – one of the fiercest, but most flexible, criticisms you can make in this part of the world.

Australian department of foreign affairs and trade officials are being allowed to skip government-mandated hotel quarantine when returning from abroad, instead spending two weeks at home.

3.07am GMT

Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 11,228 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 801 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 1,267,202 cases and 115,099 deaths.

Paramedics arrive with a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Mexico City. Photograph: Jose Pazos/EPA

The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Hospitals across Mexico are approaching capacity across the country, but the shortage of Covid-19 beds is particularly acute in Mexico City.

2.44am GMT

Only three unoccupied critical care beds left in Seoul, a city of 26 million people

South Korea’s highest priority is securing more hospital beds to handle a record surge in coronavirus cases and blunt a corresponding spike in deaths, the country’s prime minister said on Wednesday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,078 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Tuesday, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

The latest number came three days after the daily tally topped 1,000 for the first time since South Korea confirmed its first coronavirus infection in January.

The KDCA also reported 12 more deaths, the second day of double-digit deaths after a record 13 the day before in a country that had kept overall cases and deaths relatively low through aggressive tracing and testing.

The number of severe cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks to hit a record high of 226 on Wednesday.

There were only three critical care beds left in the greater Seoul area with a nearly 26 million population, officials said.

Health workers wearing protective suits move a Covid-19 patient in an isolation stretcher from an ambulance to a hospital in Seoul. Photograph: Kim Chul-Soo/EPA

“The top priority is securing more hospital beds,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting, according to a transcript.

“Full administrative power should be mobilised so that no patient would wait for more than a day before being assigned to her bed.”

He said the government is making all-out efforts to implement current social distancing rules in an effort to avoid having to impose the highest level of restrictions, which would effectively be the country’s first lockdown.

2.06am GMT

Workers at the busiest US seaport are plucking containers of toys off ships and out of massive stacks of cargo swamping docks at the Southern California trade gateway to get holiday gifts under trees in time for Christmas, Reuters reports.

“We’ve never had this much cargo,” Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said on Tuesday, when the port announced that imports spiked 25% during the month of November.

With so much cargo flooding in ahead of Christmas, “we’re essentially in a triage situation,” said Seroka, who worked with a handful of toy makers to expedite toy shipments.

Containers are seen on a shipping dock in the Port of Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Imports to the Port of Los Angeles have been booming for more than five months as US businesses rebuild depleted inventories of everything from appliances to bicycles; stockpile personal protective equipment and other sought-after goods in a worsening pandemic; and prepare for the winter holiday selling season.

The surge in volume has created congestion that makes it harder for trucks and trains to quickly whisk containers away from the busiest gateway by volume for US trade with China. That then slows down inbound ships.

1.46am GMT

Greek lawmakers on Tuesday approved a 2021 budget built around weaker forecasts for a rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, which also includes cash for buying new fighter jets from France.

Latest projections see the Greek economy slumping 10.5% this year, worse than the 8.2 percent predicted in October.

Meanwhile the 2021 rebound should see 4.8% expansion, down from a previous forecast of 7.5%.

After weathering the first wave of the pandemic better than most European countries, Greece in early November resorted to a nationwide lockdown that has weighed on activity and is now expected to last until 7 January.

People walk at central Syntagma square that is decorated for Christmas in Athens, Greece, 15 December 2020. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

The economy had returned to growth in the third quarter, following a 14% quarter-on-quarter slump in April-June that was the worst in at least 25 years.

Greece faces “unprecedented circumstances, with uncertain facts and the end of the crisis unknown,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told lawmakers before the vote.

But as inoculations get under way around the world, with the European Union expected to soon follow suit, he added that “the vaccine is the boundary between the end of the pandemic and the preface of the post-covid era, and the budget is adapted to these conditions”.

1.36am GMT

In the UK, vaccinating the population against Covid-19 will cost up to £12bn, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has disclosed, amid details of tensions between health bodies over the rollout.

The National Audit Office said the government would spend up to £11.7bn on purchasing and manufacturing Covid-19 jabs for the UK before deploying them in England.

A report released on Wednesday reveals officials from Public Health England complained that they had been cut out of key decisions despite having previous experience of vaccine delivery programmes:

1.18am GMT

Rapid Covid-19 home test developed in Australia approved for emergency use in US

A rapid, over-the-counter Covid-19 test developed by Australian firm Ellume has been given emergency approval in the United States.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Brisbane-based company’s 20-minute Covid-19 Home Test on Tuesday as the US battles the virus that has infected 16.5 million people and killed more than 300,000 people in the country.

The agency approved a prescription coronavirus test last month, but an over-the-counter product will make it easier to ramp up testing.

The Ellume Covid-19 Home Test uses a special nasal swab connected to a smartphone app, which sends the results back to users via bluetooth in as little at 15-20 minutes.

To use the app users must enter a postcode and their date of birth, which can be shared with health authorities to monitor outbreaks and conduct contact tracing.

The FDA says Ellume’s test correctly identified 96% of positive samples and 100% of negative samples in patients with symptoms.

In asymptomatic patients, the test identified 91% of positive samples and 96% of negative samples:

1.06am GMT

London moves to Tier 3 restrictions

London on Wednesday moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions in an effort to control rising infection rates, dealing another blow to hospitality venues before Christmas, AFP reports.

The British capital’s move into “Tier 3” means theatres, pubs, restaurants will have to close, although takeaway food outlets can still operate.

People cannot now socialise with anyone not from their household or support bubble, but can meet in groups of up to six in public places outside.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned on Monday that London had seen a “sharp rise” in daily cases and hospital admissions.

“This action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe but because we have seen early action can prevent more damage and longer-term problems later,” he told parliament.

Cases were doubling every seven days in some areas, he said, sounding a more downbeat note after hopes of a breakthrough were raised last week with the start of a vaccination programme.

Concerns have also been raised about higher rates of infection among secondary school children aged 11-18, leading to increased testing in the worst-hit areas in and around London.

England only emerged from a four-week lockdown earlier this month, and the government introduced a targeted regional system of tiers to try to cut infection rates.

London had been placed in “Tier 2”, which means non-essential shops and services can open, but it currently has one of the highest infection rates in the country.

Under Tier 3, essential shops and hairdressers can still stay open, as can schools but not indoor entertainment venues.

12.51am GMT

New Zealand economy shows faster recovery than expected

New Zealand is expected to bounce back sooner from the impact of Covid-19 than previously thought, but large deficits and rising debt levels will have a lasting effect on the economy, the government said on Wednesday.

The country’s Treasury department predicted the budget deficit for the 2020/21 fiscal year to be NZ$21.58 billion, NZ$10.1 billion smaller than forecasts made in September.

The GDP is expected to bounce back from its sharpest contraction on record in the second quarter to grow 10.5% in the September quarter, followed by further growth of 2.2% in the December quarter, according to the treasury’s half-year economic and fiscal update.

But by June 2024, nominal GDP will remain a cumulative NZ$67 billion below the 2019 half year update forecast, it said.

Net core Crown debt was forecast to peak at 52.6% of GDP in 2022/23.

“Despite improvements in the outlook, the COVID-19 shock is expected to have lasting economic impacts, and the fiscal position remains challenging,” Treasury said in its summary.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government’s quick response to the pandemic contributed to the better than expected economic recovery, but warned that challenges remain.

“Of course the pandemic is not the only risk….ongoing trade and geopolitical tensions, in particular tensions between China and the United States, have the capacity to affect growth and lead to higher levels of volatility,” Robertson said in a statement.

12.49am GMT

Mainland China reported 12 new Covid-19 cases on Dec. 15, down from 17 cases a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Wednesday.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said all of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to nine from eight a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 86,770, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

12.40am GMT

South Korea reports record 1,078 new cases

South Korea has reported 1,078 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national total to 45,442. The death toll has risen by 12, bringing the total to 612.

The new case total is the highest since the start of the pandemic.

at 12.49am GMT

12.23am GMT

The case in Sydney was likely connected to US air crew. The New South Wales government has an “inclination” to say that international air crews coming into New South Wales will most likely be asked to quarantine like any other travellers.

“They would be in a quarantine environment but not for fourteen days,” the state health minister, Brad Hazzard, says.

12.17am GMT

New community case confirmed in Sydney, Australia

A new case of community transmission has been confirmed in Sydney, Australia, breaking a 12-day streak of no community cases.

The case is a 45-year-old man who felt ill on Saturday and was tested yesterday.

The man drives a van that carries international air crews.

11.59pm GMT

Swedish PM says officials misjudged power of Covid resurgence

Health officials in Sweden, which opted not to respond to the first wave of Covid-19 with a national lockdown, misjudged the power of the virus’s resurgence, the country’s prime minister has said, as independent commission criticised the country’s strategy.

“I think that most people in the profession didn’t see such a wave in front of them; they talked about different clusters,” the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, told the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper on Tuesday.

Sweden has stood out among European and other nations for the way it has handled the pandemic, not mandating lockdowns like other nations but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty.

But the country of just over 10 million people has seen 341,029 confirmed infections and 7,667 virus-related deaths, a death toll much higher than in neighbours Norway, Finland and Denmark.

Over the summer, Sweden’s left-leaning minority government had said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over but came under pressure to act sooner.

The commission said in its report that the strategy to protect the nation’s elderly partly failed, and its head stressed that the current and the previous governments would bear the “ultimate responsibility” for the situation:

11.43pm GMT

One in four people globally may not get Covid-19 vaccines until 2022

Nearly one in four people may not get Covid-19 vaccines until at least 2022 because rich countries with less than 15% of the global population have reserved 51% of the doses of the most promising vaccines, researchers said.

Low- and middle-income countries – home to more than 85% of the world’s population – would have to share the remainder, said researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US.

An effective response to the pandemic requires high-income countries “to share in an equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the world”, they wrote.

“The uncertainty over global access to Covid-19 vaccines traces not only to ongoing clinical testing, but also from the failure of governments and vaccine manufacturers to be more transparent and accountable over these arrangements,” they added.

As of 15 November, high-income nations had pre-ordered nearly 7.5bn doses of vaccines from 13 manufacturers, the paper said.

This included Japan, Australia and Canada who collectively have more than 1bn doses but accounted for less than 1% of current Covid-19 cases, it said.

Even if leading manufacturers’ vaccines reach their projected maximum production capacity, nearly 25% of the world’s population may not get the vaccines for another year or more, according to the paper.

11.28pm GMT

Donald Trump will ‘absolutely’ encourage Americans to take vaccine, says press secretary

The US president, Donald Trump, will “absolutely” encourage Americans to take Covid-19 vaccines and will receive a vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it’s best, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said.

But the Republican president also wanted to show that vulnerable Americans are the top priority to receive the vaccines, she told reporters at a White House briefing.

McEnany said some career national security staff would have access to vaccines to ensure a continuity of government, along with a “very small group” of senior administration officials for the purpose of instilling public confidence.

11.21pm GMT


Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next few hours.

As always, you can find me on Twitter @helenrsullivan.

US president, Donald Trump, will “absolutely” encourage Americans to take Covid-19 vaccines and will receive a vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it’s best, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said.

But the Republican president also wanted to show that vulnerable Americans are the top priority to receive the vaccines, she told reporters at a White House briefing.

Nearly one in four people may not get Covid-19 vaccines until at least 2022 because rich countries with less than 15% of the global population have reserved 51% of the doses of the most promising vaccines, researchers said.

Here are the other key developments:

EU countries could begin inoculations as soon as this year, the head of the European commission said. This followed the decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to bring forward its possible approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by eight days to 21 December.
The US Food and Drug Administration raised no new concerns over data on Moderna vaccine in documents made public on Tuesday. It prepared the way for US authorisation of a second, easier-to-handle vaccine.
Germany, France, Italy and five other European states will coordinate the start of their Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, the countries’ health ministers said. The countries will promote “the coordination of the launch of the vaccination campaigns” and will rapidly share information on how it is proceeding, the statement said, along with other commitments on areas such as transparency.
Turkey has recorded 235 more deaths – its highest one-day tally since the pandemic began – bringing its total death toll to 16,881. According to the health ministry, Turkey also recorded 32,102 new cases, including asymptomatic ones, in the last 24 hours. For four months, Ankara only reported daily symptomatic cases but has reported all cases since 25 November.
The US president, Donald Trump, will “absolutely” encourage Americans to take Covid-19 vaccines and will receive a vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it’s best. The White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the Republican president also wanted to show that vulnerable Americans are the top priority to receive the vaccines.
Germany had reportedly been pressuring EU authorities to speed up the approval of a vaccine. The chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and Germany’s health ministry want the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to bring forward the approval date for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 23 December from 29 December, the German newspaper Bild said, citing unnamed sources.

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