Australia’s three oil refineries are being thrown an economic lifeline as the pandemic pushes them to the brink of collapse due to travel and business restrictions triggering a plunge in demand.
The country’s energy minister, Angus Taylor, has offered the refineries $83.5m of taxpayer. The payment is contingent on refineries keeping their doors open and agreeing to an “open book” policy with the government to continually assess their financial standings.
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to place immense pressure on our refineries and the many Australians employed in the fuel sector,” Taylor said on Monday. “We have worked closely with the sector to design and implement our comprehensive fuel security package.”
Brazil’s supreme court has given the country’s health minister 48 hours to set the starting date for a national vaccination program to fight the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of coronavirus.
A member of the court ordered health minister Eduardo Pazuello to tell the country when the plan to vaccinate against Covid-19 announced on Saturday will be launched, the court said in a statement.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government has been criticised by state governors and public health experts for being unprepared to deal with the pandemic and coming up with a hastily put together and deficient plan.
The plan sets an initial goal of vaccinating a quarter of the population, in the first half of 2021, but it does not say when it will go into effect. Priority will be given to the most vulnerable such as health workers, elderly people and indigenous communities.
Eswatini PM dies after testing positive for Covid-19
Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who tested positive for Covid-19 four weeks ago, has died after being hospitalised in neighbouring South Africa, the government said late on Sunday. He was 52.
“Their Majesties have commanded that I inform the Nation of the sad and untimely passing away of His Excellency the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini. His Excellency passed on this afternoon while under medical care in a hospital in South Africa,” Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a statement.
The southern African country is an absolute monarchy. It has so far recorded 6,768 cases of the respiratory disease, with 127 confirmed deaths, according to the health ministry.
Trump and Pence to be offered vaccine from Monday
President Trump, Vice President Pence and other top US officials will be offered the Covid-19 vaccine from Monday, Reuters reports.
Essential personnel in the White House and certain officials within three branches of government will be vaccinated within the next 10 days, a source tells the news agency.
The United States began shipping vaccine nationwide on Sunday, with healthcare workers and nursing-home residents prioritised.
An initial 2.9 million doses are to be delivered by Wednesday, with officials saying 20 million Americans could receive the two-shot regimen by year end, and 100 million by March.
Brazil reported 21,825 additional confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 279 deaths from Covid-19, its health ministry said on Sunday.
The South American country has now registered 6,901,952 cases since the pandemic began, while its official death toll has risen to 181,402, according to ministry data.
Italy’s city centres were flooded with shoppers this weekend as the government considered which restrictions to enforce over the Christmas break.
In Rome, police were forced to close off popular sites such including the Trevi fountain amid concerns about a possible spike in infections in January.
The country overtook the UK as the European nation with the highest death toll with a total of 64,520 fatalities on Saturday. Almost 1 in 30 Italians have been infected since February.
“All the main information websites today are full of pictures of city centres awash with unacceptable large gatherings,” Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s special commissioner for the healthcare emergency, said.
“We don’t want to see those again ... we must avoid the third wave at all costs. It would be really complicated to launch the vaccination campaign amid a resurgence in cases.” Arcuri said Italy hoped to kick off the campaign between 12 and 15 January.
At an emergency meeting on Sunday, the government discussed whether to ease a ban that currently prevents people from leaving their hometown on Christmas day, allowing an exception for small towns.
Vincenzo De Luca, governor of Naples’ badly hit Campania region, said he would fight such a step, saying: “If the government allows free movement of people for towns with less than 5,000 inhabitants we’ll need to open a ward for democratic madness at the prime minister’s residence.”
Jair Bolsonaro is facing a furious backlash over what critics are calling his “homicidally negligent” failure to prepare a coherent coronavirus vaccination programme as Brazil’s death toll again soars.
More than 181,000 Brazilians have died from the disease the president calls “a little flu”, with Latin America’s biggest economy now careering into a painful second wave.
But Bolsonaro’s far-right administration has been sluggish to explain plans to vaccinate Brazil’s 212 million citizens, betting nearly all of its chips on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Read Tom Phillips’ report here.
- The Dutch government will decide on stricter measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands on Monday, as the country reported the biggest rise in infections in more than six weeks.
- Schools in Greenwich, south-east London, have been asked to close from Monday evening after “exponential growth” of coronavirus demanded “immediate action”, the council said, amid reports that the capital is likely to enter tier 3 soon.
- Bahrain has approved a Covid-19 vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and launched online registration for the vaccine for citizens and residents. Citizens and residents above 18 years of age could register online to receive the vaccine for free.
- Mauritania has reimposed a night-time curfew in in the face of a “worrying surge” in Covid-19 cases and deaths, the president’s office said.
- Greece has reported 693 new coronavirus cases – the lowest daily figure since mid-October. There have been a further 85 deaths.
- Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said he is recovering from Covid-19, in his first televised appearance since he was treated in a German hospital almost two months ago.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a further 213,305 coronavirus cases, taking the nationwide total to 15,932,116.
The CDC said that the number of deaths had risen by 2,283 to 296,818.
The Dutch government will decide on stricter measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands on Monday, as the country reported the biggest rise in infections in more than six weeks.
New coronavirus infections in the country jumped by almost 10,000 in the 24 hours through Sunday morning, data released by national health authorities showed, as the infection rate has risen to the peak levels reached at the end of October.
The rising trend comes despite a partial lockdown that has seen all bars and restaurants closed since mid-October, and people were urged to work from home as much as possible. Schools and shops have remained open.
France has reported 11,533 new coronavirus infections, compared with 13,947 a day earlier.
The country’s health ministry said 150 people had died in hospital over the past 24 hours as a result of Covid-19.
Greenwich schools to shut from Monday
Schools in Greenwich, south-east London, have been asked to close from Monday evening after “exponential growth” of coronavirus demanded “immediate action”, the council said, amid reports that the capital is likely to enter tier 3 soon.
Council leader Danny Thorpe said: “I’m writing this open letter to let you know the situation in Greenwich in relation to Covid-19 is now escalating extremely quickly and I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action.”
He added that Greenwich now has the highest rates of infection at any time since March. Schools have been told to move to online learning for the rest of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs.
Writing to headteachers, Thorpe described the issue as “honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as leader”. He added: “The DFE (Department for Education) are clear this isn’t their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools. However, I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly.”
It comes amid growing reports that the capital is likely to be moved into tier 3 measures soon, with a PA analysis finding that the London borough of Havering now has the fifth highest rate of new Covid-19 cases in England. A total of 1,314 new cases were recorded in Havering in the seven days to 9 December – a sharp increase from 834 new cases in the previous seven days.
Five other London boroughs are also in the top 25 highest rates in England: Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Enfield and Newham.
Rates are currently rising in all 32 London boroughs.
Of England’s 315 local areas, 208 have seen a rise in case rates, a PA analysis of test results in the seven days to 9 December has found.
Swale in Kent continues to have the highest rate in England, with 951 new cases recorded in the seven days to 9 December – the equivalent of 633.7 cases per 100,000 people. This is up from 579.7 in the seven days to 2 December.
Medway, also in Kent, has the second highest rate, up from 605.6 to 613.9, with 1,710 new cases.
Basildon in Essex is in third place, where the rate has risen sharply from 372.9 to 613.8, with 1,149 new cases.
It also found that 105 areas have seen a fall and two areas are unchanged.