The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of science, yet many people continue to ignore warnings about the climate crisis, the environmental activist Greta Thunberg has said.
The Swedish teenager argued that people were “only listening to one type of scientists” during a joint interview alongside the author Margaret Atwood that was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of the two-times Booker Prize-winning writer’s guest-editing of the Today programme.
Thunberg was asked if the pandemic’s impact on people’s appreciation of science would have an effect on climate information as well.
It could definitely have. I think this pandemic has shone a light on how … we are depending on science and that we cannot make it without science.
But, of course, we are only listening to one type of scientists, or some types of scientists … for example, we are not listening to climate scientists, we’re not listening to scientists who work on biodiversity and that of course needs to change.
The environmental campaigner expressed scepticism when questioned about countries’ pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, such as China, which has committed to reach a net zero target by 2060.
That would be very nice if they actually meant something. We can’t just keep talking about future, hypothetical, vague, distant dates and pledges. We need to do things now. And also net zero … that is a very big loophole, you can fit a lot in that word net.
India likely to extend ban on flights from UK
India’s civil aviation minister has said the country is likely to extend a ban on flights from the UK that it has imposed in an attempt to contain a new variant of the virus. Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters:
I foresee a slight extension of the temporary suspension. I don’t expect that extension to be a long or indefinite extension.
Last week, India suspended all flights from the UK until the end of the month.
Iran has launched human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate, state media has reported, which Tehran says could help it defeat the pandemic despite US sanctions interfering with its ability to import vaccines.
Setad, a giant state-affiliated conglomerate controlled by Iran’s supreme leader, said production of the vaccine developed by one of its companies, Shifa Pharmed, could reach 12m doses per month, six months after a successful trial ends.
The first volunteers to take the vaccine were officials of the conglomerate and the daughter of its head, in an apparent effort to boost public confidence in the vaccine. According to the state broadcaster IRIB, the health minister Saeed Namaki said:
The message of this act was that we do not see ourselves apart from the people, and we brought our family first to test this vaccine.
Iran has been the worst-hit country in the Middle East by the pandemic. It complains that its ability to buy vaccines is hampered by US financial sanctions, reimposed after the Trump administration abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement. Food and medicine are exempt from the sanctions but banks have been discouraged from financing Iranian deals.
Tehran said last week it had received approval from US authorities to buy coronavirus vaccines from the World Health Organization-led Covax alliance. Iran’s Red Crescent Society has said that, separately from the government, it was planning to import a Chinese vaccine.
Ireland may be able to provide a vaccine to everyone in the country who wants one by August in a “fairly positive scenario”, a senior official tasked with vaccine rollout has said.
While it was impossible to be precise, one “fairly positive scenario that we’d be looking at for the month of August would be over 2m doses of vaccine arriving”, the chair of the government’s Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force, Brian MacCraith, told RTÉ radio.
If all things come to pass that are in that model in terms of expected approval dates and expected delivery schedules, one would be looking at that stage of being very close or at the point of closing out the vaccination of as much of the population of Ireland that want to receive vaccines.
MacCraith said this was based on modelling that excluded under-18s and pregnant women, who were not allowed to take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the fact that a minority of the population was likely to refuse vaccination.
Ireland is due to administer its first vaccines on Tuesday at four hospitals.
Belarus has begun administering the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, both countries have said, after the first consignment arrived in Minsk.
Last week, many Russians expressed anger on social media after 300,000 doses of the vaccine were dispatched to Argentina, when only 650,000 had been administered in Russia by 24 December, according to the developer, the Gamaleya Institute.
Belarus expects to vaccinate around 200,000 people with Sputnik V in the first stage of its national programme, the health minister, Dmitry Pinevich, said last week.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is marketing the vaccine abroad, declined to comment on how many doses had been dispatched to Belarus.
The number of deaths in the Netherlands increased at the highest rate since the second world war this year due to the pandemic, the Dutch national statistics office (CBS) has said.
Up to last week, about 162,000 deaths were reported in the country of 17 million this year; 13,000 more than would have been expected, the CBS said.
Such an increase of the number of deceased has not been reported since World War Two.
About 9,000 people more than normal died during the first wave between early March and early May, the CBS said, while more than 6,000 extra fatalities have been reported since the start of the second wave mid-September.
The number of deaths was lower than normal in most other weeks, the statisticians said.
A total of 770,400 people in the Netherlands have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. More than 11,000 patients are known to have died from the disease.
The actual number of infections and fatalities is likely to be significantly higher, as a shortage of testing and lab capacity meant only seriously ill patients were tested during the first months of the pandemic.
Staying with the UK, a leading social scientist has accused the government of failing to make schools safe. Dr Zubaida Haque, the former deputy director of race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said:
The key question is are schools safe enough right now? Has the government made schools safer and, in making it safer, can we then keep schools open?
Speaking to the Good Morning Britain TV programme, she said:
Right now, we have a critical situation. Yesterday, we had the highest number of daily Covid cases, over 41,000 cases of coronavirus in this country. By Christmas Day, we had more people in hospitals than at the peak in April this year, so we are in a crisis situation now.
The government has delayed opening Parliament because we are in a crisis situation but yesterday we had Michael Gove saying: ‘No, it’s fine, we’re going to have schools open next week and we’ll have a staggered return’ and, frankly, that’s not acceptable, and that’s not safe.
National restrictions are needed to prevent a “catastrophe” in the UK at the start of 2021, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) has warned. Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.
A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that.
I think we’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near lockdown, but we’ve got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown.
A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has also concluded that the UK must vaccinate 2 million people a week to avoid a third wave. It said:
The most stringent intervention scenario with tier 4 England-wide and schools closed during January and 2 million individuals vaccinated per week, is the only scenario we considered which reduces peak ICU burden below the levels seen during the first wave.
In the absence of substantial vaccine roll-out, cases, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths in 2021 may exceed those in 2020.
An accelerated uptake of 2 million vaccinated per week “is predicted to have a much more substantial impact”, it added. The study has yet to be peer reviewed.
Russia has reported 27,002 new cases, including 5,641 in Moscow, taking the total to 3,105,037 since the pandemic began. Authorities also reported 562 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 55,827.
South Korea will sign a deal with Moderna to offer vaccines for 20 million people, the Yonhap news agency has reported, citing the presidential office.
This comes a day after officials vowed to speed up efforts to launch a public vaccination programme as the country detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in the UK.
South Korea has reported 40 new deaths – its worst daily toll – bringing the total death tally to 859, as the country grapples with a third wave of infection centred around nursing homes and a prison in the capital Seoul. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency also confirmed 1,046 new cases, bringing the total to 58,725. Of the new cases, 1,030 were locally transmitted and more than half were found in Seoul.
NHS hospitals are “very pressurised” and “very, very busy” because of the surge in cases, the head of a London NHS trust has said. Matthew Kershaw, the chief executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
We have expanded our capacity here in Croydon, as have hospitals around the capital and indeed across the country. So we have increased our critical care capacity, we’ve also got expansion capacity for general beds as well. So we have responded, thus far, well to the needs of our population.
It is very, very busy… and it’s a really important and difficult moment but we are responding well at this moment.
As the pressure builds in the UK, the head of one of the biggest teaching unions called for schools to remain closed until Covid-19 testing schemes have been set up properly. Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told BBC Breakfast:
Eminent scientists have said that schools should remain closed; that’s what unions I think have been responding to.
Barton said the ASCL union supported the phased opening of schools with a testing system already in place, set up with the support of health services and the military.
What that would then allow would be the phased introduction of children from next week and for us not to be on the back foot in implementing something we haven’t heard about until the day before Christmas Eve, but to be able to do it in a planned way.
Those people that are calling for a delay to young people coming back (to school) are doing it on the principle that we should get this testing right and we should listen to what the scientists are saying.
If a government minister says ‘whatever the scientists say, we think young people should be in school’ then we have every right to say ‘can you tell us why you know better than the scientists please?’
Mexico’s health ministry has reported 5,996 new confirmed cases and 429 additional fatalities, bringing country totals to 1,389,430 cases and 122,855 deaths. The government says the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases, Reuters reports
Thailand confirmed 155 new cases; the majority of which were locally transmitted infections, the public health ministry has said. The new cases include 10 imported from abroad. Thailand has confirmed a total of 6,440 cases and 61 deaths since its first case in late January.
Germany suffered another 852 deaths and confirmed 12,892 additional cases, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases shows, taking its cumulative death toll to 30,978 and its overall caseload to 1,664,726.
Indonesia is finalising deals to secure 50m doses of the Pfizer/BoiNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, its new health minister has said.
Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the deal with the latter would be finalised before the end of the year, while an agreement with the former would be signed in the first week of January.
Speaking at his first official news conference, the minister said 1.3 million frontline health workers would get priority in the vaccination drive. The country has suffered the loss of 500 of its health workers already. He said:
They are the most important group of people in our battle against the pandemic.
The world’s fourth most populous country has struggled to contain the outbreak. It has had nearly 720,000 confirmed cases and 21,500 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.
Medical workers will be included in the first wave of vaccinations between January and April, along with public servants. The second wave will cover those in infection “red-zone” areas.
While other countries have vaccinated the elderly first, Indonesia has said that after healthcare workers and public servants, those aged between 18 and 59 would be next in line in an effort to safeguard the working population.
Bambang Heriyanto, the corporate secretary of the state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma, said the strategy would allow Indonesia to reach herd immunity.
If herd immunity is reached, anyone below 18 and above 59 can hopefully be protected, too.
In total, Indonesia has secured 329m vaccine doses, including about 125m from China’s Sinovac, 50m from Novavax and 54m from the global vaccine programme Covax.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are expected to arrive in the second quarter of 2021 and the Pfizer/BioNTech doses in the third quarter. The companies were not immediately available for comment.
The country has also approved a clinical trial for the vaccine of Johnson & Johnson’s unit Janssen, the head of its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said.
The trials could begin in the next few weeks, FDA head Rolando Enrique Domingo told a media briefing. The FDA is still evaluating the late-stage trial applications of Sinovac and Clover, Domingo said.
Philippines extends travel ban
The Philippines will ban travellers from 19 countries and territories until mid-January as a measure to keep out a new variant of the coronavirus, its transport ministry has said.
The regulation will be in effect from midnight of 29 December to 15 January and covers Filipinos and foreigners arriving from the “flagged countries”, the transport ministry told reporters.
The Philippines previously imposed and later extended a flight ban from the UK until mid-January as the more contagious variant of the virus was first detected in England.
The new variant, which British scientists have called “VUI – 202012/01”, has renewed fears about the virus that has killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide.
The flagged countries include France, Australia, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Singapore and Japan.
With more than 470,000 infections and 9,124 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest number of cases and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia. The new variant has not been detected in the Philippines.
Philippine health officials said the travel ban could be expanded to include more countries should those report the presence of the new Covid-19 variant.
India finds new strain in travellers from UK
India has found six people who returned from the UK in recent weeks with the more infectious strain of the virus that has prompted border closures around the world, Reuters reports.
Nevertheless, the country’s daily increase in cases fell to a six-month low.
All six patients have been kept in isolation, the health ministry has said, adding that their fellow travellers were being tracked down and their close contacts being put under quarantine.
India has suspended all flights from the UK until the end of the month but about 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban, the ministry said.
Of those arrivals, 114 people were found positive and their samples were being checked for the new variant, which has been detected across parts of Europe and Asia.
With 10.22m confirmed infections, India has the second-highest case load in the world, behind only the United States. But, on Tuesday, the health ministry reported 16,432 new cases, the lowest daily rise since 25 June.
Authorities fear new variant has spread around the world
Hello and thank you for reading our live coverage. I’ll be with you for the next few hours. Here’s a brief summary of where we stand:
- Several countries are on alert over the new, more virulent variant of the virus. South Africa, one of the first to suffer, is facing tighter restrictions after it is believed to have caused a sharp increase in cases.
- The UK – where it has also hit – must vaccinate 2m people per week to avoid a third wave, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Without a substantial vaccine rollout, the researchers said, 2021 could be even worse than 2020.
- England in particular was bracing itself as it emerges the latter’s hospitals have more Covid-19 patients than during April’s first-wave peak and a health boss warns doctors and nurses are “back in the eye of the storm”.
- More than 80.86m people have been reported to have been infected globally and 1,768,392 have died, according to a Reuters tally. Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified.
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