Concern about the mutated strain first detected in Britain grew in Asia, with Japan banning the entry of most foreigners through the end of January. Singapore begins more relaxed virus rules Monday as the city-state moves into the final phase of curbs to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Singapore Begins to Relax Rules (10:56 a.m. HK)
Singapore begins more relaxed virus rules Monday as the city-state moves into the final phase of curbs to contain the spread of the pandemic. The number of people allowed to gather will increase from five to eight, while capacity limits in malls and attractions as well as places of worship will also ease. The country will also begin vaccinating health-care workers this week, after getting its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Trump Signs Virus Aid Bill (9:49 a.m. HK)
Trump signed a bill containing $900 billion in pandemic relief, the White House said, triggering the flow of aid to individuals and businesses and averting the risk of a partial government shutdown on Tuesday.
In addition to aid to stem the economic effects of the pandemic, the legislation Congress passed Monday also includes $1.4 trillion in government spending to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year in September. The government had been operating on temporary spending authority that expires after the end of the day Monday.
The combined $2.3 trillion package was the product of intense negotiations, from which Trump was largely absent until he surprised lawmakers of both parties by demanding bigger stimulus payments for individuals after the bill was already passed.
Beijing Officials Watching New Cases (9:01 a.m. HK)
Beijing has reported 10 new virus cases since Thursday, putting government and health officials on alert against potential flare-ups. Most of the cases were identified in the city’s northeastern district of Shunyi, which is home to the world’s second busiest airport before the pandemic. No new cases were reported on Monday after aggressive contact tracing and testing in neighborhoods where cases were found, suggesting the outbreaks could be under control.
South Korea Finds First Case of U.K. Variant (8:43 a.m. HK)
South Korea found its first case of the coronavirus variant from three citizens who flew from the U.K. The country joins others including Japan and Singapore that have reported the new strain, which is more infectious than previous strains.
South Korea reported 808 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. South Korea stopped short of raising its coronavirus alert to the highest level over the weekend, noting that growth in the number of infections has slowed.
Crowds Curbed for Sydney New Year’s Eve Fireworks (8:36 a.m. HK)
Australian authorities will restrict crowds from lining the Sydney harbor foreshore to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacle as a cluster of Covid-19 cases in the city continues to grow. While the seven minute display will go ahead, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged Sydneysiders to stay home and watch the world-famous pyrotechnics on television instead.
Malaysia Mulls Opening Border: Bernama (8:18 a.m. HK)
Malaysia is considering opening its border to help keep businesses in the tourism sector afloat, state news agency Bernama reported, citing Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri. Malaysia is looking to negotiate with countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand, which have been considered green zones, the report said.
Saudi Arabia to Allow Foreigners to Leave Kingdom (7:46 a.m. HK)
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority has allowed airlines to resume flights to transport foreigners out of the kingdom, state television reported. The decision excludes countries dealing with the new variant of Covid-19 and crew members of flights landing in the kingdom are not allowed to leave their planes, according to the report.
Saudi Arabia also extended the suspension on international flights and the closure of its border crossing for another week over concern about the new coronavirus strain, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported separately. Flights for foreigners who want to leave the country and cargo were excluded from the move, according to the report.
Massachusetts Reports Most Deaths Since June (5:46 p.m. NY)
Massachusetts reported 100 fatalities, the most since the beginning of June, according data from the state and Johns Hopkins University. The state also reported a total of 2,156 hospitalizations, the highest since late May, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. As in many states, both testing and new cases have slowed during the holiday. The state reported 2,973 cases, the fewest since the first week of December.
U.K. Poised to Clear AstraZeneca Shot (3:09 p.m. NY)
The U.K. is poised to approve the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, giving the country another powerful tool to fight the pandemic as concern mounts over rising infections.
Britain’s drug regulator could clear the shot for use as early as this week, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. AstraZeneca Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot and U.K. health officials had previously said they hoped for approval by the end of the year.
California Hospitalizations Climb to Record (2:57 p.m. NY)
California’s hospitalizations climbed to a new high after the state added 50,141 cases, one of the highest levels since a record two weeks ago.
The number of cases now totals 2.1 million. It also added 237 new deaths, bringing the total fatalities to 24,220.
California has imposed a stay-home order for most of the state, and is expected to extend the notice for cities including Los Angeles and San Diego when it ends Monday with almost no intensive-care unit beds available.
Norway Detects Two Cases of Coronavirus Mutation (2:23 p.m. NY)
Norway has detected the new strain of the virus in two people who traveled from the U.K. in December, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in a statement on its website. The statement did not disclose the people’s nationality.
Turkey Says Vaccines From China Delayed (1:15 p.m. NY)
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shipments of Covid-19 vaccines expected to begin Sunday will be delayed by “one or two days.” Turkey has agreed to purchase 50 million doses from the Chinese company and is planning an extensive inoculation campaign following an emergency certification. It also inked an agreement with Pfizer partner BioNTech for 4.5 million doses, with an option to raise it to 30 million.
Germany Suffers Vaccination Blip Over Temperature (11:39 a.m. NY)
The vaccine rollout was postponed in some German cities after doubts emerged about whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots had been kept cold enough during transit.
The Bavarian cities of Coburg, Lichtenfels, Kronach, Kulmbach, Bayreuth, Hof and Wunsiedel were all affected, according to a statement posted on the Lichtenfels website. The vaccine needs to be kept in ultra-cold storage at around minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-70 Celsius).
Fauci, Giroir Warn of Post-Christmas Surge (10:47 a.m. NY)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease doctor, warned that the worst is yet to come for the pandemic and said there still is a chance for a “surge upon a surge” with people traveling for the holidays. He said on CNN’s State of the Union that the U.S. is at a “very critical point” in combating the pandemic.
Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told “Fox News Sunday” that a post-Christmas rise in infections “really depends on what the travelers do when they get where they’re going.”
France Inoculates First Citizen (6:22 p.m. HK)
A 78-year-old woman living in a care home in Sevran, just outside Paris, was the first person to receive the vaccine in France, local media reported. President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the news with a tweet: “We have a new weapon against the virus: the vaccine. Continue to stick together.”
Next week, vaccinations will be rolled out to 23 establishments in the Paris, Lyon and Tours areas, as well as the northern tip of France. This will also involve elderly care home residents and older staff at risk.
China to Suspend U.K. Flights (5:33 p.m. HK)
China’s Civil Aviation Authority has asked airlines to suspend connections with the U.K. from Dec. 28 to Jan. 10, citing the new variant. The local government in Beijing is calling for stricter Covid-19 controls and prevention measures after the Chinese capital reported five local cases on Saturday.