Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Thursday

The latest:

  • Africa CDC says new virus variant appears to have emerged in Nigeria, but further investigation is needed.
  • Ukraine’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpasses 1 million.
  • Mexico now has more people hospitalized for COVID-19 than it saw at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in late July.
  • Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been approved in Canada. Here’s what you need to know.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford says international travellers pose ‘extreme risk’ for COVID-19 spread. Here are the facts.

U.S. officials say they are on track to deliver 20 million vaccine doses by the first week of January. But how quickly those shots will get into arms isn’t clear.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Operation Warp Speed official Gen. Gus Perna said states are administering doses at a “good pace” and are “immunizing quite a bit of people.” But the chief science adviser for the U.S. vaccine push added that vaccinating people is going “slower than we thought it would be.”

Data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about one million doses had been administered as of Wednesday morning out of the 9.5 million doses delivered. However, Perna says there is a lag time in reporting the administration of shots.

The shipments are for vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

A clinician cares for a COVID-19 patient at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, Calif., on Wednesday. The 213-bed-capacity hospital in San Bernardino County is currently treating at least 140 COVID-19-positive in-patients while operating at approximately 250 percent of ICU capacity. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The U.S. has seen more than 18.4 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and more than 326,000 deaths, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Despite health officials’ pleas that people stay home, millions of Americans are travelling ahead of Christmas and New Year’s, much like they did last month for Thanksgiving.

Hospitals in California and elsewhere have been pushed to the brink. They have hired extra staff, cancelled elective surgeries and set up outdoor tents to treat patients, all to boost capacity before the cases contracted over Christmas and New Year’s show up in the next few weeks.

What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | ‘Unacceptable and unforgivable’: Ont. nursing homes not learning lessons from 1st wave:

The second wave of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Ontario’s long-term care homes. Hard-hit Quebec learned some lessons during the first wave, but Ontario didn’t implement many changes and some say what’s happening now is ‘unacceptable and unforgivable.’ 2:09

The latest:

As of 7 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 528,354, with 75,305 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,597.

Health Canada approved a second COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, paving the way for the shots from U.S. biotech firm Moderna to start arriving in the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the move during a news conference in which he also announced that Canada will receive more doses next month of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine than previously expected, after it was approved by Health Canada on Dec. 9.

Between the early doses already in the country and the shipments now scheduled, Canada should have at least 1.2 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna delivered by Jan. 31, Trudeau said. The rollout of the Moderna vaccine is expected to begin within days, with Health Canada saying it expects up to 168,000 doses to be delivered by the end of December.

What’s happening around the world

A boy stands near a Christmas tree with a coronavirus-themed decoration in Bali, Indonesia, on Thursday. (Firdia Lisnawati/The Associated Press)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 78.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 44.4 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.

Another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, Africa‘s top public health official said Thursday, but further investigation is needed. “It’s a separate lineage from the U.K. and South Africa,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters.

He said the Nigerian CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country — Africa’s most populous — will be analyzing more samples. “Give us some time … It’s still very early,” he said.

The alert about the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, he said, but that and South Africa’s alert late last week were enough to prompt an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week. The news comes as infections surge again in parts of the continent.

The new variant in South Africa is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach one million. While the variant transmits quickly and viral loads are higher, it is not yet clear whether it leads to a more severe disease, he said.

Africa’s top public health official, John Nkengasong, said further investigation is needed about a new variant of the coronavirus that appears to have emerged in Nigeria. (Michael Tewelde/AFP/Getty Images)

“We believe this mutation will not have an effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the continent, he said of the South Africa variant. Late on Wednesday, South Africa’s health minister announced an “alarming rate of spread” in that country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed in the past day, including more than 400 deaths.

The country has more than 950,000 infections and COVID-19 is “unrelenting,” Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement. The African continent now has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3 per cent of global cases. Infections across the continent have risen 10.9 per cent over the past four weeks, Nkengasong said, including a 52 per cent increase in Nigeria and 40 per cent increase in South Africa.

In Europe, Irish health chiefs believe a new variant of COVID-19 found in neighbouring Britain is present in Ireland, but not solely responsible for a rapid spread of the disease.

Ukraine’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed one million on Thursday. Ukrainian health officials reported 11,490 new infections Thursday, which brought the country’s total to 1,001,132. Ukraine has also reported 17,395 deaths in the pandemic.

The rapid rise in virus cases in Ukraine started in September and put a strain on the country’s health-care system. In a bid to curb the spread of contagions, Ukrainian authorities decided to impose tight lockdown restrictions in January.

Russian authorities reported 29,935 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily spike in the pandemic. This is nearly 2,700 infections more than was registered the previous day. Russia’s total of over 2.9 million remains the fourth-largest coronavirus caseload in the world. The government’s coronavirus task force has also registered more than 53,000 deaths in all.

People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus walk in Moscow on Wednesday. Russia’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country’s authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.

In the Americas, Mexico now has more people hospitalized for COVID-19 than it saw at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in late July. The Health Department says 18,301 people are in hospital across Mexico being treated for the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus. That is 0.4 per cent more than in July.

Mexico City is the epicentre of the current wave of infections and 85 per cent of its hospital beds are in use.

An Army National Guard soldier processes a line of cars full of people getting COVID-19 tests in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday. (Cedar Attansio/The Associated Press)

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom, while 11 others who were already in quarantine had returned preliminarily positive results for the new strain.

Taiwan’s tourism department on Wednesday cancelled an annual New Year celebration at the northeastern tip of the 
island, after a report of the first locally transmitted COVID-19 case since April 12.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reported 888 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday, an all-time daily high.

In the Middle East, Israel has detected four cases of the new, highly infectious variant that has emerged in Britain.

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