International Affairs Archives

December 2020

12/21/2020

  • The E.U. granted authorization on Monday for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, paving the way for millions of doses to be transferred by Pfizer to the bloc’s 27 member states. Immunization is expected to begin in most countries over the next few days and gather speed in early January.
  • The E.U.’s drug authority, the European Medicines Agency, is expected to give its decision on the Moderna vaccine authorization request on Jan. 6.
  • The creators of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine Monday signed a memorandum of intent with British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to work together on developing a vaccine, a major boost to Russia’s efforts to advance its vaccines to the global market. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that by working together with AstraZeneca, Russia was following WHO advice to pool COVID-19 vaccine efforts.
  • More than 40 countries across the globe have shut down travel from England in response to reports of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 in England, though scientists have yet to determine whether the new strain is indeed more contagious.
  • France imposed a 48-hour suspension of freight transit across the English Channel, leaving thousands of truck drivers stranded in their vehicles on Monday as the roads leading to England’s ports were turned into parking lots.
  • Saudi Arabia announced a one-week ban on international travel.
  • Air passengers from the U.K. arriving in Germany were detained at airports on Sunday night.
  • Spain announced that only Spaniards and residents of Spain will be allowed to fly to Spain from Britain, and implemented tighter border checks with Gibraltar, the British territory located at the southern tip of Spain.
  • Hong Kong on Monday closed its borders to travelers from Britain.
  • Israel is halting air travel to most foreign nationals beginning on Wednesday.
  • Peru suspended flights from Europe for two weeks and has put its health and travel authorities on high alert.
  • Eight countries, including The Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey, have barred travelers from South Africa, where cases of the new strain have also been reported.
  • Qatar received its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday, just hours after regulators approved it for use in the Gulf state. Qatari officials say the country will inoculate all residents free of charge.
  • Nigeria is advising its sub-regions to limit public gatherings and close bars and night clubs over the next five weeks amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases. Lagos, the country’s largest city, has ordered schools to shut indefinitely, banned concerts, carnivals, and street parties, and asked certain civil servants to work from home.
  • Morocco will impose a three-week curfew from 9 PM to 6 AM starting on Wednesday, to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Shops, malls, and restaurants will have to close at 8 PM across the country.
  • Seoul, South Korea has banned gatherings of more than five people, though weddings and funerals are capped at 50 people. The restrictions, which will go into effect on Wednesday, will remain in place through Jan. 3. As of Sunday, there were just four intensive care unit beds remaining in the greater Seoul area. The government has ordered private hospitals to free up more than 300 beds to be used for coronavirus patients.
  • Authorities in Sydney, Australia have put about a quarter of a million people in the city’s northern beach suburbs into a strict lockdown and restricted gatherings across the rest of the city in a bid to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Ontario, Canada will enter sweeping COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday that will last until at least Jan. 23. Most stores, aside from pharmacies and groceries, will be closed except for delivery and curbside pickup. Indoor gatherings will be limited to groups made up of household members with the exception of weddings and religious services involving no more than 10 people. The majority of students will shift to online learning after their holiday break, and residents are being urged to avoid all but essential travel.
  • Citing poor pay, lack of medical insurance, and inadequate PPE, doctors across Kenya went on strike on Monday as coronavirus cases continued to rise nationwide.
  • A 63-year-old coronavirus patient has been arrested in Hong Kong after he escaped from a hospital isolation ward. Hong Kong has strict quarantine and isolation requirements for people who contract the virus and their close contacts.
  • Thailand has eased travel restrictions for citizens from 56 countries in a bid to boost the country’s pandemic-hit tourism industry. Visitors will be required to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine.
  • Thai authorities this week plan to test more than 10,000 people connected to a major seafood market after a spike in COVID-19 cases. The cluster around the shrimp market, a hub for migrant workers, marks Thailand’s worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • Global Cases: 75,704,857      Total Deaths: 1,690,061

12/18/2020

  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for the coronavirus. Several E.U. leaders, including Portuguese prime minister António Costa, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, and European Council president Charles Michel, will self-quarantine after meeting with Macron on Monday.
  • The WHO said Thursday that an international team of scientists will visit China next month to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, about a year after it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
  • The global scheme to deliver vaccines to poorer countries, called Covax, faces a “very high” risk of failure, potentially leaving billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024, according to internal documents.
  • Once approved, the E.U.’s vaccine rollout will begin on Dec. 27. The rollout will depend on authorization by the E.U.’s drug regulatory authority, the European Medicines Agency, which is set to deliberate approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday. The bloc’s 27 member states have delegated the entire vaccine acquisition, authorization, and distribution process to the European Commission, its executive branch.
  • Saudi Arabia began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Thursday in an initial stage of vaccinations that will include people who are older than 65, obese, or immunodeficient, according to the state news agency.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government was considering giving each member of the public just one dose of its main coronavirus vaccine, instead of two, in order to get the vaccine to more people quickly.
  • China has purchased 100 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, its first order of a foreign-made COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced Wednesday that he will be the first in the country to be immunized against COVID-19 and that the vaccine, once approved, will be available at no cost to all citizens. Earlier this month, Indonesia received 1.2 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech. The vaccine, called CoronaVac, is still awaiting approval from Indonesia's food and drug agency.
  • South Korea is struggling to contain its biggest wave of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The country reported more than 1,000 new cases for the second straight day on Thursday and saw its largest daily death toll, with 22 deaths.
  • South Africa has entered sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions All gatherings are limited to a maximum of 100 people for indoor events and 250 people for outdoor events; the total number of people in a venue must not exceed 50 percent capacity; a national curfew from 11 PM to 4 AM has been extended; and bars and restaurants across the country must close by 10 PM.
  • Poland will enter a national lockdown on Dec. 28. All shopping centers, hotels, and ski resorts will be shut, there will be a curfew on New Year’s Eve, and anyone entering the country from abroad will have to quarantine for 10 days.
  • Portugal’s prime minister António Costa said the country will enter an overnight curfew from 11 PM to 5 AM on New Year’s Eve that will remain in effect from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3.
  • Tokyo raised its alert for medical preparedness to the highest level on Thursday for the first time, as hospital beds across Japan's capital fill up with COVID-19 patients.
  • Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown on Dec. 26 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Ambulances had to queue outside of all Northern Ireland’s 11 hospitals on Wednesday because emergency departments were at full capacity.
  • A new case of community transmission has been confirmed in Sydney, Australia, breaking a 12-day streak of no new reported COVID-19 infections.
  • Uruguay will close its borders for three weeks beginning later this month due to a COVID-19 surge that has now reached all of its 19 provinces. The country will be closed to all noncommercial traffic from Dec. 21 to Jan. 10.
  • China's aviation authority announced Wednesday it will suspend inbound international flight routes if five or more people on board test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival. An airline will be banned from operating that flight route for up to two weeks if five or more passengers are found to be infected with the virus after landing in China. The suspension period extends to four weeks if 10 or more passengers test positive.
  • Global Cases: 72,851,747    Total Deaths: 1,643,339

Previous Updates

  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • London and its surrounding areas will be placed under Britain’s highest level of COVID-19 restrictions beginning Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital.
  • Primary care doctors in Britain began patients on Monday. Doses will be delivered to more than 100 vaccination centers in villages, towns, and cities by groups of doctors, the National Health Service said. Roll-out will still be prioritized, with the staff and residents of nursing homes and those aged 80 and over among the first in line as the country expands its program.
  • The United Arab Emirates started providing a coronavirus vaccine over the weekend, offering China’s Sinopharm vaccine free to residents of each of its seven emirates.
  • Canada began immunizing residents against the coronavirus Monday after receiving its first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine overnight. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said that up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be in Canada by the end of the year. In total, Canada has secured more than 400 million doses of various coronavirus vaccines for its population of just 38 million.
  • Singapore on Monday became the first Asian country to approve the Pfizer vaccine, announcing that the first shipment would arrive this month and be given for free to Singaporeans and long-term residents. Singapore has also agreed to buy vaccines from the American drug maker Moderna and the Chinese company Sinovac.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Sunday the country will enter a new lockdown. Starting on Wednesday, nonessential stores, schools, and hairdressers will be required to close, and companies will be encouraged to offer employees an extended holiday break or allow them to work from home. The number of people allowed to meet privately — including over Christmas — will also be further tightened. New Year’s celebrations outdoors will be essentially prohibited, with the sale of fireworks and gatherings in public both banned.
  • The Netherlands will lock down for at least five weeks to limit the spread of the virus. The new measures include the closure of schools, gyms, non-essential businesses, theaters, and more until Jan. 19. Medical offices will be allowed to stay open.
  • South Africa imposed further COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, closing down beaches on the eastern coast and limiting large public gatherings ahead of the festive season.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan announced Turkey will impose a five-day full lockdown beginning on Dec. 31.
  • South Korea is ordering schools to close starting Tuesday, the latest move toward lockdown as the nation witnesses its highest caseloads since the start of the pandemic.
  • Two French cities began mass testing residents Monday as part of a campaign to detect and isolate COVID-19 cases ahead of a government plan to lift restrictions for the holidays. The pilot program is taking place in Le Havre on the northern coast and in Charleville-Mézières near the Belgian border — areas recently hit hard by the virus.
  • Restaurant and bar owners, hoteliers, waitresses, and other employers and workers have protested in Paris for the right to work again during the pandemic. The French government has indicated that restaurants and bars might be allowed to reopen beginning Jan. 20 if infections don’t surge again.
  • Austria wrapped up its first nationwide mass COVID-19 testing on Sunday, turning up about 4,200 asymptomatic infections. Slightly less than a quarter of the country’s population took part in the free screening, available to anyone over the age of six who had not been sick in the past three months.
  • The E.U. launched a mobile app on Monday aimed at facilitating safe travel between its 27 member countries, as well as to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, which belong to the bloc’s Schengen zone. The app, called Re-open E.U., is intended to help residents of Europe navigate a patchwork of different national restrictions, as well as quarantine and testing requirements, and was introduced ahead of the busy holiday season.
  • Japan’s government will suspend its subsidized travel program, called Go To Travel, which had encouraged residents of Japan to travel domestically to boost the country’s pandemic-battered economy, because of the rising number of cases of coronavirus cases across the country. On Sunday, the number of daily cases surpassed 3,000 for the first time.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the country intends to establish a travel bubble with Australia in the first quarter of next year. The arrangement would allow people to travel freely between Australia and New Zealand without needing to quarantine for two weeks on arrival. Passengers arriving from New Zealand are already exempt from quarantine requirements in Australia.
  • The prime minister of Swaziland appears to be the first head of government to have died of the coronavirus. On Sunday, the country’s deputy prime minister said that Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini had died “while under medical care in a hospital in South Africa.”
  • Global Cases: 71,051,805   Total Deaths: 1,608,648
  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • A total of four countries have approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Britain and Bahrain were the first countries to do so. Saudi Arabia’s food and drug authority approved the vaccine on Thursday, and Canada approved the vaccine on Wednesday.
  • On Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates approved China’s coronavirus vaccine.
  • Uzbekistan said large-scale trials of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine would begin this week among its population. Phase 3 trials are also planned for Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ecuador.
  • Argentina announced it will begin administering doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine later this month.
  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU’s top drug regulator responsible for assessing coronavirus vaccines, suffered a cyberattack on Wednesday. The EMA is set to announce a decision on approval of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine by Dec. 29.
  • António Guterres, the secretary general of the U.N. denounced “vaccine nationalism” on Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of ensuring access to the coronavirus vaccine in poor countries as well as wealthy ones.  In about 70 developing countries, only one in 10 residents is expected to receive a coronavirus vaccine within the next year.
  • Hospitals in Tokyo were strained as Japan’s capital city reported 602 new cases on Thursday, its first time topping 600 cases in a day. Only around 3 percent of hospital beds were available for severe cases, and 17 percent were available for all patients.
  • In Seoul, South Korea, 506 people were unable to be taken to hospitals this week due to hospital bed shortages. Authorities scrambled to build hospital beds in shipping containers to ease strains on medical facilities and plan to step up testing by launching 150 temporary sites across the greater Seoul area.
  • ICUs in Stockholm, Sweden reached 99 percent capacity on Wednesday amid warnings that some patients may be refused treatment if hospitalizations continue to increase.
  • Spain’s rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached its lowest level since August.
  • The French government on Thursday said that it will delay relaxing some COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, because rates of new infections are not falling as fast as expected. The reopening of theaters and museums, which was planned for Dec. 15, will be pushed back another three weeks, and a curfew that will replace the current lockdown will begin earlier than planned.
  • Denmark’s government will expand tighter lockdown measures to 30 new municipalities. On Monday, the government announced a partial shutdown of 38 municipalities, including the capital Copenhagen, resulting in the closure of bars, restaurants, and museums.
  • Slovakia ordered schools and most shops closed for at least three weeks beginning Dec. 21. The country also banned outside seating at restaurants beginning Dec. 11, only allowing carry-out as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
  • High schools and colleges in Wales will move to online learning beginning on Monday.
  • Israel on Wednesday reversed plans to impose a night-time curfew meant to prevent a new wave of coronavirus infections, minutes before the start of the Hanukkah holiday.
  • An automated machine dispensing coronavirus test kits has been installed at a hospital in the Latvian capital of Riga. Currently, the machine is providing free 24-hour testing to staff at the Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital. The samples stored in the machine will be collected once a day.
  • People using Google in Britain to search for vaccine information will be presented with a new knowledge panel tailored to their location, making it easier to  connect people with authoritative sources as health officials  begin the momentous rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine.
  • Belarus has said it will temporarily close its land border in late December to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • A passenger on board a Royal Caribbean “cruise to nowhere” was diagnosed with COVID-19, forcing the boat to return early to Singapore.
  • Christmas mass in Bethlehem, normally attended by Christian congregations in the West Bank village, will be closed to the public this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Global Cases: 68,165,877     Total Deaths: 1,557,385
  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • An army of health care workers — assisted by tens of thousands of volunteers and the military — will begin rolling out doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in Britain on Tuesday morning, aiming to vaccinate more than 20 million citizens in just a few months.
  • The E.U.’s drug regulator is expected to make a decision on approving the first COVID-19 vaccine for use by Dec. 29.
  • Russia began its national vaccination campaign over the weekend. Even though the vaccine, Sputnik V, has yet to be proven fully safe and effective, health care workers have started to inoculate thousands of people.
  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said today that the first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine will arrive in his country next week at 14 distribution centers. The vaccination process won’t start until the country’s national regulator approves the vaccine. Mr. Trudeau said that Pfizer will send 249,000 doses of the six million Canada has purchased by the end of December.
  • U.S. sanctions have prevented Iran from paying for and accessing COVID-19 vaccines, Iran’s Central Bank governor said Monday. Iran is participating in the global COVAX plan sponsored by the WHO that seeks equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
  • A Chinese coronavirus vaccine manufacturer, Sinovac Biotech, secured $515 million in funding to double production capacity of its coronavirus vaccine as it begins supplying the vaccine to nations like Indonesia.
  • French health authorities said on Monday that a decline in the number of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the country was still far short of the drop necessary to further ease lockdown rules.
  • As a deadly wave of COVID-19 cases extends across Europe, several countries are planning to loosen restrictions over the holidays to allow families and friends to gather.
    • In a four-day period beginning Dec. 23, people across Britain can form a Christmas bubble, which will allow members of up to three households to spend time together in private homes or to attend places of worship.
    • In Germany, officials have agreed to extend a partial lockdown to Jan. 10, but loosen restrictions from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, allowing private gatherings of as many as 10 people from any number of households.
    • Spanish officials have decided to allow travel between regions to see relatives and close friends but said that social gatherings around Christmas and New Year’s Day must be limited to 10 people if not from the same household.
    • In France, residents will be under a nationwide curfew from 9 PM to 7 AM beginning Dec. 15, when a national lockdown ends. However, the curfew will not apply from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve.
  • Greece is extending its lockdown until Jan. 7, with schools, courts, bars, restaurants, gymnasiums, and ski resorts remaining closed. Travel between regions will remain prohibited, and a nighttime curfew will also stay in place.
  • On Monday, Denmark expanded lockdown measures until Jan. 3 in 38 of its 98 municipalities, including Copenhagen, officials said. Beginning Dec. 9, restaurants, museums, movie theaters, and other similar cultural establishments must close. Select grade school students and students at universities will be sent home.
  • COVID-19 cases are surging in South Korea, which recovered from an initial wave of cases in the spring and then managed to keep new infections low for several months. Case numbers are reaching their highest point in nine months, with 615 cases reported Sunday. President Moon Jae-in has ordered more intensive contact tracing and testing efforts, including longer hours for testing sites to accommodate a growing number of patients.
  • Hong Kong has installed vending machines for COVID-19 test kits in 10 subway stations. The regional government said it will be supplying about 10,000 self-administered test kits to the mass transit authority for distribution to the vending machines daily.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has announced plans for a nighttime curfew during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday. The curfew is set to go into effect on Wednesday, on the eve of Hanukkah. Commercial activities will be banned, and inter-city travel will be limited.
  • South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has called on students who attended end-of-year parties to immediately self-quarantine for 10 days.
  • Global Cases: 66,422,058        Total Deaths: 1,532,418
  • Here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Update and here is the most recent edition of the WHO's Weekly Operational Update.
  • The WHO is tightening its mask guidelines, telling people who live in areas where the coronavirus is still spreading to wear masks at all times in a variety of public places. The new guidelines specify that those entering stores, workplaces and schools with low ventilation should make sure that they are wearing a mask. The WHO is also asking that people wear masks if they cannot keep a physical distance of at least three feet from others within an enclosed area.
  • On Thursday, the U.S. military in Japan reported three new COVID-19 cases, and U.S. Forces Korea reported nine new cases.
  • French authorities announced today that a COVID-19 vaccine will be free. Those who are most at-risk will be first to receive it in a three-phase rollout of a widespread vaccination campaign next year. A second wave of vaccinations starting in February will target around 14 million additional people, mostly health care workers and at-risk populations. A third and final round beginning next spring will focus on the broader adult population.
  • Britain has granted emergency authorization to the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Distribution of the first 800,000 doses will begin next week, with the elderly and nursing home residents receiving first priority.
  • 70 vaccination centers will open in Moscow on Saturday with teachers, doctors, and social workers the first in line to receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. City residents will have to register online in advance for time slots to avoid overcrowding. The global police cooperation agency Interpol said Wednesday that the distribution of coronavirus vaccines could be exploited by criminals, with “falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines” posing growing risks.
  • Japan’s parliament passed a law Wednesday that would make COVID-19 vaccines free of charge and would strongly urge people to take them.
  • Poland has signed a contract for 45 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from companies like Pifzer, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Johnson and Johnson, which will be free to the public, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
  • Ukraine has lifted weekend lockdown restrictions but is still considering whether to introduce a tighter lockdown at a later stage, prime minister Denys Shmyhal said.
  • People are now required to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces in the Netherlands.
  • In Belgium, social gatherings are limited to four people and must take place outdoors. But only one lucky guest who is chosen as a “close contact” can be allowed inside the house to use the bathroom. Other visitors are banned from going inside for any reason, including grabbing a drink or food.
  • Norway will relax its coronavirus restrictions slightly over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, raising the number of guests allowed to be invited to parties to 10. Currently, a household is allowed to invite a maximum of five guests into their home as long as people stay three feet apart from each other.
  • Austria’s ski lifts will open on Dec. 24, but hotels, bars and restaurants will remain closed throughout the holiday season. A second lockdown has failed to dramatically lower coronavirus infection rates across the country, which remain at around 5,000 new cases per day. The country will begin easing lockdown measures on Monday, but bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least Jan. 7 and quarantines will extend to 10 days for arriving travelers.
  • All cafes and restaurants in St. Petersburg, Russia will be closed from Dec. 30 to Jan. 3.
  • Germany extended its lockdown, which includes the closure of bars and restaurants, to Jan. 10, three weeks after its restrictions were scheduled to expire on Dec. 20.New South Wales, the Australian state that includes Sydney, will lift caps on weddings, funerals, and religious services and allow up to 50 people in gyms and on dance floors (provided they are spaced two square meters apart) after going nearly four weeks without a local infection.
  • People traveling to Iceland won’t be subject to quarantine and screening requirements if they have already contracted the coronavirus. The policy applies only to residents of the 26 states in Europe’s Schengen area, since Iceland’s border restrictions bar virtually all other travelers.
  • Greece has extended lockdown measures for an additional week.
  • Global Cases: 63,965,092        Total Deaths: 1,488,120
November 2020
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