BERLIN — Christmas Eve in Germany is shaping up as an all-too-silent night as COVID-19 cases hovered near record highs, police threatened fines for violating restrictions on gatherings and people lined up outside a shuttered nightclub to get tested for the coronavirus.
A few people were out on Thursday for last-minute shopping, but streets in Berlin were emptier than usual on a day when most shops close early for the country’s biggest family holiday. Berlin’s Kitkat Club nightclub may be closed because of the nationwide lockdown, but a few people lined up outside its doors for a virus test.
Medical association president Klaus Reinhardt cautioned that testing can miss new infections with deadly results for others and warned against “a false sense of security,” the dpa news agency reported. Police in the southern Bavaria region, which has been hard hit by the winter upsurge in infections and deaths, warned of 500 euro ($610) fines for violating a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Germany’s national disease control center on Thursday reported 32,195 new cases and 802 deaths, just below the peak of 33,777 cases from Dec. 18 and 962 deaths from Wednesday. The high level of infections comes ahead of the expected start of vaccinations on Sunday. First in line are people over 80 as well as caregivers, first responders and front-line medical personnel.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in his Christmas address to the nation that the pandemic had “cancelled plans and ruined dreams,” resulted in many dying a lonely death and others still struggling with the disease in intensive care units. He urged people adhere to restrictions out of a sense of personal responsibility. . He said vaccinations made “the long awaited light at the end of the tunnel” brighter, raising hopes for a return to traditional Christmas celebrations.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Coronavirus dampens Christmas joy in Bethlehem and elsewhere
— No Christmas Eve joy for truckers stuck in UK virus gridlock
— Africa CDC: New virus variant appears to emerge in Nigeria
— Nurses fear what’s to come: ‘Walk down our unit for a day’
— Politicians and vaccines: Set an example or cut in line?
— Studies find having COVID-19 may protect against reinfection
— Worried Morocco bans parties to stem holiday virus spread
— Russia’s Health Ministry has agreed to cut the size of a study of a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine and to stop the enrollment of volunteers.
— Santa’s ‘grandchildren’ spread joy in Italian nursing homes
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Christmas celebrations in Indonesia will be a low-key affair amid surging coronavirus cases in the world’s fourth most populous nation.
Earlier this month, the Indonesian government imposed a ban a large gatherings during Christmas and New Year’s eve. Churches are limited to only 50 worshippers.
Most major churches across the mostly Muslim country of 270 million obeyed the restriction on Thursday. About 10% of the population are Christians.
Church Unity General-Secretary Prist Jacklevyn Frits Manuputy said many churches in the capital Jakarta, and other cities have set up online services, as well as midnight masses. “We did all we can do to keep people connected with God during this Christmas eve,” he said.
Indonesia has reported nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases, the largest caseload in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10.1 million confirmed cases. It has recorded more than 20,000 deaths.
ROME — Police in Italy are out in force to implement new COVID-19 travel restrictions aimed at preventing far-flung families from gathering for Christmas as public health officials appeal for common sense to protect the elderly from infection.
Italy went into a modified nationwide lockdown Thursday for the Christmas and New Year period. Restrictions on personal movement and commercial activity mirror those during the 10 weeks of hard lockdown Italy imposed from March to May when the country became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.
Italy is on track Thursday to pass the 2 million mark in confirmed infections since the first domestic case was registered Feb. 20-21. On Wednesday, the country crossed another psychological threshold when its confirmed death toll passed 70,000, the highest in Europe.
Of particular concern is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, usually a multi-course, multi-generational affair that is a staple of Italian family life over the holidays.
Italians on Thursday lined up at bakeries, fish markets and grocery stores for last-minute shopping to prepare their “cenone,” even as government officials appealed to families to limit gatherings to no more than two people outside the main family unit.
BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was the first to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in a show to the generally skeptical population in the Balkan country that the vaccine is safe.
She and another Serbian government minister received the first shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in a live TV broadcast on Thursday in what marked the start of the vaccination campaign in the country of 7 million people.
Those older than 70 in nursing homes are to follow.
Serbia on Tuesday received the first batch of 4,800 vaccines against the new coronavirus developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Serbia is also testing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Polls show that a large segment of Serbia’s population is prone to different conspiracy theories and is reluctant to get vaccinated. Serbian officials have said that an unspecified number of different vaccines will arrive in the weeks and months to come and that mass vaccination should start early next year.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Kuwait has started its vaccine rollout, with the first Pfizer shots given to healthcare and essential workers, older adults and those with chronic health conditions.
Kuwait’s minister of health announced Thursday that batches of the coronavirus vaccine created by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech would arrive each month until all residents of the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikhdom had been vaccinated. Kuwait’s prime minister received the first jab that marked the official opening of the mass inoculation drive.
The first shipment of 150,000 Pfizer doses arrived in industrial freezers on Wednesday, with a total of 450,000 doses expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021.
Kuwait has recorded more than 148,770 coronavirus infections and 920 deaths, a relatively high confirmed infection rate per population in the tiny state of 4.2 million.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, but further investigation is needed.
John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on Thursday that “it’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa.” He said the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases will analyze more samples.
The new variant in South Africa is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach 1 million. While the variant transmits quickly and viral loads are higher, it is not yet clear whether it leads to a more severe disease, he said.
He said health authorities believe the the South Africa variant “will not have an effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the continent.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. The new variant in South Africa now makes up most of the country’s rapidly rising new cases. South Africa’s health minister says there is an “alarming rate of spread.”
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron no longer has virus symptoms and is leaving isolation after a week with COVID-19, but is urging the French public to limit contacts and remain vigilant to keep infections under control during the Christmas holiday season.
Macron’s office said in a statement on Thursday that he is finishing a week of isolation at a presidential retreat in Versailles based on French health protocols, which recommend seven days of confinement following a positive virus test.
French authorities lifted virus restrictions for the holidays but infections remain high, and some doctors are urging new lockdown measures.
As families prepare to gather for traditional Christmas Eve dinners Thursday, infectious disease specialist Karine Lacombe warned that the meal “is one of the most risky situations for transmitting the virus.”
But she said on France-Info radio that after an emotionally trying year, “It’s important to take into account the need to have some conviviality, it’s a balance between the benefit and the risk.”
France recorded nearly 15,000 new infections Wednesday and a total of 61,978 virus-related deaths throughout the pandemic, among the world’s highest official death tolls.
PARIS — France’s High Authority for Health has released its vaccination guidelines for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine based on European Union approval of the drug. Vaccinations are scheduled to start on Sunday, at the same time as several other EU countries.
France will prioritize the elderly, based on the high impact on older populations in previous virus surges in France. The French medical safety agency will monitor for eventual problems.
France will not make the vaccine obligatory, and will require authorities to register consent from those vaccinated.
The agency says more study must be done to determine if it is effective against new variants.
It says anyone over 16 can get vaccinated except for pregnant women or people with severe allergies. People who have already had the virus should wait three months to get vaccinated.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities have imposed lockdown on three towns on the outskirt of the capital Colombo, in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 during holiday period.
Kosgama, Awissawella and Ruwanwella towns which are located about 60 kilometers east of Colombo went under lockdown from Thursday noon.
Dozens of towns and villages in different parts of the country have been kept under lockdown since a resurgence of the coronavirus appeared in the Indian ocean island nation in October.
Sri Lanka’s total number of positive cases since March reached 38,639 on Thursday with 184 fatalities.
MOSCOW — Russian authorities reported 29,935 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily spike in the pandemic.
This is nearly 2,700 infections more than was registered the previous day. Russia’s total of over 2.9 million remains the fourth largest coronavirus caseload in the world. The government’s coronavirus task force has also registered more than 53,000 deaths in all.
Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country’s authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.
Earlier this month, mass vaccination against COVID-19 started in Russia with Sputnik V — a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine that is still undergoing advanced studies among tens of thousands of people needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Russia has been widely criticized for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after it had only been tested on a few dozen people.
BEIJING — China will suspend flights to and from the UK, joining a growing list of countries who have instituted travel bans, in light of a new variant of the coronavirus, its Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.
It did not offer details on when flights would stop. On Tuesday, the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre in London said it will suspend its operation until further notice.
Non-Chinese passport holders from the UK were already banned from traveling to China in November.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 1 million on Thursday.
Ukrainian health officials reported 11,490 new infections Thursday, which brought the country’s total to 1,001,132. Ukraine has also reported 17,395 deaths in the pandemic.
The rapid rise in virus cases in Ukraine has started in September and put a strain on the country’s health care system.
In a bid to curb the spread of contagions, Ukrainian authorities decided to impose tight lockdown restrictions in January. Restaurants, bars, malls, gyms, theaters, cinemas and other non-essential businesses will be closed between Jan. 8 and Jan. 24.
Mass public events will be banned, and schools and other educational facilities — with the exception of day care centers — will be on vacation. Only grocery shops, pharmacies, banks, post offices, hotels and public transport will operate during this period of time.
TOKYO — The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reported 888 newly confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday, an all time daily high. The previous highest number of newly confirmed cases was 821.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike reiterated calls for residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary, wear masks, wash hands often and avoid crowds. She noted a growing number of people were becoming infected in their homes or in offices.
The city government has urged Japanese to wear masks even inside their own homes and to open windows once every two hours to improve ventilation.
Authorities are especially concerned about an increase in severe COVID-19 cases, especially among older Japanese, which is straining medical facilities. Japan has the world’s oldest population.