The European Union began a vaccine rollout Saturday, even as countries in the bloc were forced back into lockdown by a new strain of the virus, believed to be more infectious, that continues to spread from Britain.
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Across the world, people are being urged to respect social distancing guidelines, as the World Health Organisation urged people not to “squander” the “great, heart-wrenching sacrifices” people had made to save lives.
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 1.7 million lives and is still running rampant in much of the world, but the recent launching of inoculation campaigns has boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite.
Hours before the first vaccine doses arrived in France, the country’s health ministry confirmed late Friday that it had detected its first case of the new variant in a citizen returned from Britain.
Several countries have reported cases of the new strain, which has sent jitters through already overstretched health services.
New variant cases reported worldwide
The first French case of the new coronavirus variant was found in a citizen resident in Britain who arrived from London on December 19, the French health ministry said.
They are asymptomatic and self-isolating at home in Tours in central France, and contact-tracing has taken place for the health professionals who treated him.
The new strain of the virus, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the United Kingdom, where it first emerged.
But cases of the new variant have still been reported worldwide: on Friday, Japan confirmed five infections in passengers from the UK, while cases have also been reported in Denmark, Sweden, Lebanon, Germany, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands.
#COVID19 has changed our lives and brought tragedy.
But now there’s hope. The European Union has invested in the research & development of #COVID19 vaccines. We have secured doses for our entire population.
But the head of the Calais port operator told AFP that after the port remained open over Christmas specially, the “situation should be completely taken care of” soon.
Some countries that loosened restrictions slightly for Christmas have re-imposed them – Austria, for example, will see a curfew imposed from Saturday until 24 January.
Millions in the UK have been affected by a tightening of restrictions there – according to the BBC, more than 40 percent of England’s population are now affected by the strictest measures – which include the closure of all non-essential businesses and a limiting of social contacts.
As vaccine rollout gets underway across the world, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday:
“Vaccines are offering the world a way out of this tragedy. But it will take time for the whole world to be vaccinated.”
Thank you, Your Holiness @Pontifex, for reminding the world of the importance of solidarity in stopping #COVID19 & saving lives. We must #ACTogether to ensure access to vaccines for people in need, everywhere. Only equitable allocation will end the pandemic. https://t.co/BiIZvag5Cs
The pope’s Christmas message also referenced the issue, with a plea for “vaccines for all”.
“I call on everyone, on leaders of states, on businesses, on international organisations, to promote cooperation and not competition, to find a solution for everyone… especially the most vulnerable and most in need in all regions of the planet,” Pope Francis said.