British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed new coronavirus lockdown measures in England Saturday, reversing initial plans to ease restrictions during the holiday season after a new strain of the coronavirus was detected in the country.
“I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year ...I know how disappointing this will be,” Johnson said at a news conference. “There is no alternative open to me.”
Johnson imposed tighter controls after England’s chief medical officer confirmed Saturday that a new strain of the coronavirus in the country could spread faster and lead to even more surges in infections if left unchecked.
The prime minister noted the new strain is up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains.
Dr. Chris Whitty said in a statement there was no evidence the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or was more resistant to newly approved vaccines, but that urgent efforts were underway to confirm that.
Whitty said Britain has alerted the World Health Organization about the strain, which British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday was detected in the south of England.
As a result of the new measures that become effective at midnight Saturday night, people in London and southeast England are now under a new higher tier of restrictions, affecting about one-third of the country’s population. They will be required to remain at home except for essential reasons, such as work. Non-essential retail stores will close, along with leisure and entertainment venues.
In the U.S., American drug maker Moderna, Inc. and partners have started distributing its COVID-19 vaccine, the second approved for emergency use in the country. Trucks will begin shipping the vaccine to more than 3,700 U.S. locations on Sunday, U.S. Army General Gustave Perna said Saturday during a virtual news conference.
Perna said the Moderna vaccine will reach health care workers as early as Monday, but that the delivery of some of the first 20 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, Inc. could be delayed until the first week of January.
Nearly 76 million people around the world contracted the coronavirus as of midday Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The U.S. tops the list as the country with the most cases, with 17.5 million; India is second, with more than 10 million, followed by Brazil, with 7.1 million.
Medical residents staged a protest Friday at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, because they and other frontline medical professionals, including nurses and respiratory therapists, were not included among the staff members scheduled to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Stanford apologized and has promised to remedy the situation “immediately.”
Turkish state-run media said eight people were killed in a fire that broke out in an intensive care unit where COVID-19 patients were being treated.
The Anadolu news agency said the fire erupted Saturday when an oxygen cylinder exploded at Sanko University Hospital in Gaziantep in southern Turkey.
A hospital statement said 14 other patients have been transferred to other hospitals.
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said Saturday the country would focus on vaccinating high-risk groups over the next several months before beginning to vaccinate the general public.
"During the winter and spring seasons, carrying out novel coronavirus vaccination work among some key population groups is of great significance to epidemic prevention," Zeng, who also is director of State Council's vaccine R&D working group, said.
The World Health Organization said it has gained access to 2 billion doses of several coronavirus vaccines.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said access to the vaccines ensures that some 190 countries will be able to inoculate their populations “during the first half of next year.”
South Korea has recorded four straight days of more than 1,000 coronavirus cases. The government is offering free testing because of the surge, but has not yet decided what, if any, new measures will be imposed to curb the uptick.
Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic is the latest European leader to test positive for the coronavirus. French President Emmanuel Macron has also announced that he has contracted COVID-19. Both men attended an EU summit last week in Brussels.
In Australia, portions of Sydney are set to adhere to new lockdown measures, following an outbreak of 38 cases on the city’s beaches. The lockdown begins late Saturday and goes until midnight Wednesday.
"We're hoping that will give us sufficient time to get on top of the virus so that we can then ease up for Christmas and the New Year," said Gladys Berejiklian, the state premier of New South Wales.