EU readies vaccine rollout as new virus strain spreads

Published December 27, 2020
A healthcare worker carries a tray of prepared doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Del-Pest Central Hospital as the coronavirus  outbreak continues, in Budapest, Hungary on Saturday. — Reuters
A healthcare worker carries a tray of prepared doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Del-Pest Central Hospital as the coronavirus outbreak continues, in Budapest, Hungary on Saturday. — Reuters

PARIS: Countries around Europe were on Saturday preparing to roll out their first coronavirus vaccines even as a reputedly more contagious variant spreads around the world, forcing some nations back into lockdown.

The impending inoculation campaigns have boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite from the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.7 million people since emerging in China late last year.

First doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in EU countries including hard-hit Italy, Spain and France early on Saturday, ready for distribution to retirement homes and care staff.

“We’ll get our freedom back, we’ll be able to embrace again,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said as he urged his countrymen to get the shot.

But polls show only 57 per cent of Italians intend to get the jab whereas scientists estimate herd immunity can only be reached if 75 to 80 per cent have it.

Vaccinations in all 27 European Union countries are set to begin on Sunday, after regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 21.

But a new strain that emerged in Britain and spread rapidly has sent jitters through already overstretched health services as countries from Sweden to Japan have reported cases.

Austria began its third national lockdown on Saturday and millions also woke to tougher restrictions in Britain, where the vaccine rollout has already begun.

New variant

France, Spain and Sweden are among the countries confirming that the new virus strain has reached their shores.

French officials said late on Friday that a Frenchman living in Britain had tested positive after arriving from London, adding that he was not showing symptoms and was isolating.

Four cases were confirmed in Madrid on Saturday, though the patients were not seriously ill, the Madrid regional government’s deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero said, adding “there is no need for alarm”.

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK.

Thousands of trucks backed up in southern England, but the bottleneck eased after France lifted a 48-hour entry ban for drivers with a negative coronavirus test.

South Africa has detected a virus mutation in some infected people but on Friday denied British claims its strain was more infectious or dangerous than the one originating in the UK.

In Asia, China’s communist leadership issued a statement hailing the “extremely extraordinary glory” of its handling of the virus, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Japanese capital Tokyo reported a record 949 new daily cases while Thailand has seen a new outbreak linked to a seafood market near Bangkok infect almost 1,500 people.

In Australia, there was little sign of the usual rush to the Boxing Day sales in Sydney, with residents largely heeding the state premier’s request they stay home faced with a new virus cluster.

“Even when we entered the store there were less than 10 people,” shopper Lia Gunawan told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2020

Opinion

State Bank’s bluff
Updated 28 Jan 2021

State Bank’s bluff

Banks are sceptical of the State Bank’s ‘forward guidance’ if their bidding behaviour in govt debt auctions is anything to go by.
Unburied conscience
Updated 28 Jan 2021

Unburied conscience

Certain events in a nation’s history (however traumatic) need to be retrieved from the cupboard of memory.
A jab in time
27 Jan 2021

A jab in time

Vaccines are evidently not an instant panacea.

Editorial

28 Jan 2021

Streamlining madressahs

SUCCESSIVE governments over the decades have grappled with the challenge of regulating the tens of thousands of...
Updated 28 Jan 2021

Farmers’ protest

It is possible that an unyielding Modi has painted himself into a corner in a politically crucial election year.
28 Jan 2021

A broader investigation

THE Broadsheet controversy may be poised to open up a Pandora’s Box. Reportedly, the government is planning to...
Updated 27 Jan 2021

Pemra’s powers

The right to freedom of expression has been curtailed to such an extent that it invites comparisons with martial law times.
27 Jan 2021

Increasing debt

THE numbers released by the State Bank regarding the government’s domestic debt stock and servicing at the end of...
27 Jan 2021

Women in conflict

“WHEN the guns fall silent, it does not mean the suffering of women and girls stops. The suffering and abuse that...