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Coronavirus live updates: China will suspend international flights over COVID cases

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(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 73.2 million people and killed over 1.6 million worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Dec 16, 9:31 am
WHO warns of ‘high risk of further resurgence’ across Europe early next year

The World Health Organization has warned that “there is a high risk of further resurgence” in COVID-19 infections across Europe at the start of the new year.

“Despite some fragile progress, COVID-19 transmission across the European Region remains widespread and intense,” the WHO Regional Office for Europe said in a statement Wednesday. “There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it.”

The warning comes amid the festive season when families are anxious to gather together for the winter holidays.

“Annually across Europe, we see a massive increase in gatherings that bring together people of all ages, including families, religious groups and friends,” the regional office said. “This brings a significant risk of increased COVID-19 transmission during the upcoming holiday season.”

The regional office is urging everyone in Europe to “play our part to prevent yet another resurgence” by postponing or reducing the size of gatherings and holding them outside if possible, wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and avoiding any transportation that might be crowded.

The regions of the Americas and Europe continue to shoulder the burden of the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for 85% of new cases and 86% of new deaths globally, according to the WHO’s weekly epidemiological update published Tuesday.

Dec 16, 7:55 am
China will ban inbound international flights if five or more people on board test positive

China’s aviation authority announced Wednesday it will suspend inbound international flight routes if five or more passengers on board test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

The 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, according to a statement from China’s Civil Aviation Administration.

Airlines will be allowed to resume one flight per week on that route once the suspension ends.

The previous rule was a one-week ban if five or more passengers on an inbound international flight tested positive for COVID-19.

The move comes one day after China’s Civil Aviation Administration issued one-week suspensions to inbound flights operated by Ethiopian Airlines, Russia’s Pegas Fly and Swiss International Air Lines after five or more passengers on each of those flights tested positive for COVID-19.

The first known human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China, last December. The virus soon spread to every single continent around the world, except Antartica. Since the start of the pandemic, the Chinese mainland has reported more than 86,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including at least 4,634 deaths, according to the latest data from China’s National Health Commission.

Dec 16, 6:32 am
COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized in Europe ‘within a week,’ EU chief says

A COVID-19 vaccine will be authorized in the European Union “within a week,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Wednesday.

“Finally, within a week, the first vaccine will be authorized so that vaccinations can start immediately, and more will follow in the new year,” von der Leyen said in an address to lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels. “In total, we have bought more than enough doses for everyone in Europe.”

The EU’s 27 member states will all be able to launch mass immunization programs on “the same day” that the vaccine is approved, according to von der Leyen.

“To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70% of the population vaccinated,” she said. “This is a huge task, a big task. So let’s start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start at the same day.”

The European Medicines Agency, the drug regulator for the European Union, announced Tuesday that a special meeting to discuss conditional authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech will be moved up to Dec. 21. The meeting was originally scheduled for Dec. 29. The move comes amid mounting pressure on the agency after the United States and the United Kingdom both granted emergency-use authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and began immunization campaigns.

Dec 16, 5:50 am
UK vaccinates over 137,000 people against COVID-19 in seven days

There were 137,897 people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the United Kingdom in the first seven days of the country’s mass immunization program, according to Nadhim Zahawi, the U.K. minister in charge of the vaccine rollout.

Zahawi said 108,000 people were administered the vaccine in England, 7,897 in Wales, 4,000 in Northern Ireland and 18,000 in Scotland.

“A really good start to the vaccination program,” Zahawi wrote on his official Twitter account Tuesday morning. “That number will increase as we have operationalised hundreds of PCN (primary care networks).”

On Dec. 2, the United Kingdom became the first Western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, granting emergency-use authorization to one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. The U.K. government launched a mass immunization program just six days later, administering the shot to people over the age of 80 and front-line health workers.

Dec 16, 4:18 am
US reports over 198,000 new cases

There were 198,357 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Tuesday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

It’s the 43rd straight day that the U.S. has reported over 100,000 newly diagnosed infections. Tuesday’s tally is down from the country’s all-time high of 231,775 new cases confirmed on Dec. 11, according to Johns Hopkins data.

An additional 3,019 deaths from the disease were also registered nationwide on Tuesday, just under a peak of 3,300 fatalities on Dec. 11, according to Johns Hopkins data.

A total of 16,724,772 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 303,849 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.

The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4 and reaching 200,000 for the first time on Nov. 27.

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