LONDON: Britain geared up to become the first country to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday, as southern California locked down 20 million people to ease the burden on hospitals struggling with record cases.
British health officials warned the nation’s biggest-ever inoculation drive would be a “marathon” stretching well into next year.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has volunteered to have a jab live on television on “V-Day” to counter public doubts over the rapid approval.
California’s lockdown will see most offices close and gatherings from different households banned. Bars and services such as hair salons will be closed and restaurants only allowed to serve takeaways.
“We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California’s hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” said state governor Gavin Newsom.
He said introducing stay-at-home orders when spare capacity in intensive care units falls below 15 percent would help flatten the curve of infections.
The state is suffering record new cases with two days last week in which 113 deaths were registered, up from around 14 daily fatalities in early November.
The United States as a whole is seeing record infections, with the illness once again reaching President Donald Trump’s inner circle -- his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani the latest to test positive.
White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx pleaded with people to wear masks -- advice often disregarded by the president’s aides and most ardent supporters.
“This is not just the worst public health event. This is the worst event that this country will face,” Birx told NBC on Sunday.
In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel was also urging people to follow the rules and said German regions with high infection rates should tighten social contact curbs before Christmas, as the country struggles to tamp down its second wave.
Further south, Greece extended its restrictions until January 7 but Austrians got a boost when the government lifting its measures.
“We couldn’t wait with the shopping, even if it might be a bit crowded today,” Robert Bauer told AFP as he shopped in Vienna.
As Britain has faced down controversy over its rapid approval of the vaccine, Indonesia has received 1.2 million doses of a vaccine by Chinese firm Sinovac that is yet to clear the final regulatory hurdles.
China has, however, approved advanced candidates such as the Sinovac drug for emergency use.
China, which has largely brought the virus under control, has promised to make its vaccines available as a “global public good” after global criticism of its early handling of the pandemic.
The scramble to secure vaccines comes at an awkward time for the UK, with Brexit negotiations heading into the home straight with no deal still a looming possibility.
The government has reportedly put military flights on standby to transport more doses in case Brexit talks collapse and new rules cause border chaos from January 1.
At one hospital in Croydon, south of London, medical workers were carefully dealing with the first doses, which have to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).
“To know that they are here, and we are amongst the first in the country to actually receive the vaccine and therefore the first in the world, is just amazing, I’m so proud,” said Louise Coughlan, a pharmacist at the hospital.
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2020