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Coronavirus live news: UK to ban travel from South Africa over new variant; Canada approves Moderna vaccine

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Thank you all for following along for tonights latest developments! You can keep up with the Guardian's coverage of Covid-19 through our coronavirus keyword tag, but that's it from me, Edna Mohamed.

Updatedat 12.35am GMT

Victoria has recorded its 55th straight day without a locally acquired Covid-19 case, reports AAP. There are currently 10 active cases in the state with 19,229 tests processed in the past 24 hours. But Victoria's border will remain closed to NSW over Christmas following Sydney's northern beaches outbreak.

On Wednesday, the infection cluster grew to 97 cases.

Summary of some of the key developments

  • Canada becomes the second country to approve the Moderna vaccine for deployment. The Canadian government is also set to extend its ban on incoming commercial and passenger flights from Britain until January 6.
  • The Treasury announces an additional GBP800m in coronavirus funding to the UK's devolved nations. The fund will be split into GBP400m for the Scottish government, GBP200m for the Welsh government and GBP200m for the Northern Ireland executive.
  • France has registered 14,929 new Covid cases and 276 more deaths in the last 24 hours, according to French healthcare data.
  • Sinovac Biotech's Covid-19 vaccine is reported to be 50% effective in late-stage trials, according to the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo on Wednesday.
  • Peru is set to receive a "significant batch" of vaccines from the Covax alliance during the first quarter in 2021.

    The Covax global alliance was designed to help secure Covid-19 vaccines to poor and middle-income countries.

  • New York has started requiring international visitors to quarantine on Wednesday to safeguard against the new variant of Covid-19 coming from the UK.
  • Mexico will begin inoculating health workers on Thursday with the arrival of the first vaccines.
  • The first batch of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will reach Costa Rica on Wednesday night, with inoculations set to begin on Thursday, President Carlos Alvarado told a news conference.
  • Northern Ireland has confirmed a case of the new UK Covid-19 variant. The positive case was found after a genome analysis was conducted on a small number of suspected cases.
  • The current rate of coronavirus infections in South Africa is expected to soon surpass the record set during the first wave of the virus earlier this year, the health ministry warned.
  • Argentina has become the first Latin American country to approve the Russian vaccine, the Sputnik V.
  • The Moderna company have said that it expects its vaccine to be protective against the new variant reported in the UK.
  • The UK government has implemented a travel ban on passengers arriving from South Africa after two cases of another new strain of Covid-19 was found in the UK.
  • The European Union's transport commissioner, Adina Valean has said that she is pleased stranded trucks are now moving "slowly across the Channel", as restrictions between France and the UK were lifted.

The European Union's transport commissioner, Adina Valean has said that she is pleased stranded trucks are now moving "slowly across the Channel", as restrictions between France and the UK were lifted.

The initial restrictions were imposed after the UK discovered a new variant of the Covid-19 virus, which, reportedly has a faster transmission rate.

Adina Valean (@AdinaValean)

Around 10.000 truck drivers are seeking to get back in the EU. Other thousands are already in the Dover area in their vehicles.

December 23, 2020 Adina Valean (@AdinaValean)

We worked hard these days to unblock a crisis between two European countries, France and the UK. ?? ??
We issued a communication appealing for proportional, non-discriminatory measures and the lift of any restrictions for transport workers.

December 23, 2020 Adina Valean (@AdinaValean)

I am pleased that at this moment, we have trucks slowly crossing the channel, and I want to thank UK authorities that they started testing the drivers at a capacity of 300 tests per hour.

December 23, 2020

After a swathe of England is set to be placed under lockdown-like tier 4 conditions on Boxing day, scientists warn that ministers are acting too slowly to curb the rising infections, Simon Murphy and Josh Halliday report.

The new tier reshuffle will see 42% of England, nearly 24m people in tier 4 and 44% in tier 3. Currently, the Isles of Scilly are the only area that is remaining in tier 1. One expert has warned that the delay of "critical days" will mean "case numbers are going to be much, much higher" and "much more difficult to bring down".

On Wednesday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the UK had recorded 744 deaths, the highest since peak figures in April, and 39,237 cases.

UK government to ban travel from South Africa after new variant found

The UK government has implemented a travel ban on passengers arriving from South Africa after two cases of another new strain of Covid-19 was found in the UK, PA reports. Starting from 9 am on Christmas Eve, visitors arriving in England who have been in or transited through South Africa in the past 10 days will not be permitted entry, and direct flights will be banned, the Department for Transport said. The new ban excludes cargo and freight without passengers, and does not include British and Irish nationals, visa holders and permanent residents, who will all be able to enter but will be required to self-isolate for 10 days along with their household.

The Moderna company have said on Wednesday that it expects its vaccine to be protective against the new variant reported in the UK. Currently, there are plans to run tests to confirm the vaccine's activity against any strain. This comes as the UK government announced stricter lockdowns to huge parts of the country.

In a statement from the Moderna company, they said:

We have already tested sera from animals and humans vaccinated with the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine against a number of previous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have emerged since the first outbreak of the pandemic and found our vaccine to remain equally effective. Based on the data to date, Moderna expects that the vaccine-induced immunity from the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine would be protective against the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus recently described in the UK. We will be performing additional tests of the vaccine in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation. We continue to test the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, and our expectation is that the vaccine's effectiveness will hold against them as well.

Argentina has become the first Latin American country to approve the Russian vaccine, the Sputnik V. Argentina's health ministry said on Wednesday that it has given 'emergency' authorisation of the Russian vaccine, which is due to arrive on Thursday with 25m doses. The health minister, Gines Gonzalez Garcia said that the approval for the vaccine was given "in conformity with the recommendations" of Argentina's drug administration policy.

The Sputnik V previously came under fire from critics after it was registered before it began large-scale clinical trials. Its developers claim it is more than 90% effective. So far Argentina has recorded over 1.5m coronavirus cases and more than 42,000 deaths.

Pablo Ceriani (@ceriani_pablo)

Orgullo y emocion, @Aerolineas_AR rumbo a Moscu para traer al pais la vacuna Sputnik V. pic.twitter.com/SpsRMKXldp

December 22, 2020

In South Africa, the current rate of coronavirus infections is expected to soon surpass the record set during the first wave of the virus earlier this year, the health ministry warned. Positive cases have increased by 14,046, increasing the total infection number to 954,258. The positivity rate is at 26%, double the average rate of infection seen before December when the virus showed signs of decline.

But following the discovery of the new variant, South Africa's health department said it was likely the cause of the recent surge. The World Health Organization and local officials have said that the variant discovered in South Africa is different from the one found in Britain, despite both being more transmissible than the previously circulating variants. In a statement, the Ministry of Health wrote that South Africans would need to "review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb the alarming rate of spread."

Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize)

Today we report, with concern, a cumulative total of 954 258 cases of #COVID19, with 14 046 new
cases identified since the last report at a positivity rate of 26%. pic.twitter.com/uVCn0YfEeO

December 23, 2020

Updatedat 9.27pm GMT

Northern Ireland has confirmed a case of the new UK Covid-19 variant. The positive case was found after a genome analysis was conducted on a small number of suspected cases, reports PA. It is understood that health officials believe that the variant has been in circulation at a low level in the nation for several weeks now.

The health minister, Robin Swann, has said: "This is sadly the confirmation we had been expecting. "As I have stated from the outset of this pandemic, we have to avoid both panic and complacency." As part of its Stormont guidance, anyone returning to Northern Ireland for the holiday season should self-isolate on Christmas Day.

Currently, Covid cases remain high in the region, with another 21 deaths and 787 new cases confirmed on Wednesday.

Updatedat 9.08pm GMT

Northern Ireland finds a positive case of the new UK variant

Northern Ireland's Department of Health is reporting that they have found one positive case of the new variant.

Updatedat 8.59pm GMT

The first batch of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will reach Costa Rica on Wednesday night, with inoculations set to begin on Thursday, President Carlos Alvarado told a news conference. The shipment is expected to contain 9,750 doses with another shipment coming in next week with an additional 10,725.

The health minister, Daniel Salas, said the vaccine's arrival was "a light in this year of darkness" but warned the pandemic is not over. Like many national rollouts, Costa Rica will give the vaccine to its essential workers and elderly care facilities first before wider distribution, reports Reuters. With a population of 5 million, Costa Rica has registered more than 2,000 death due to the coronavirus and 161,942 infections.

Updatedat 8.42pm GMT

The new South African variant of Covid-19 is likely to be more transmissible and hit young people harder, according to scientists in the country, Jason Burke reports. While research into the new variant is ongoing, it appears to not have more serious symptoms or require different treatment as the variant the world has been dealing with for the past year. However, epidemiologists point out that death rates have the potential to rise if the new variant spreads rapidly and overwhelms healthcare systems.

Updatedat 8.17pm GMT

Mexico will begin inoculating health workers on Thursday with the arrival of the first vaccines. The foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, told a news conference: "It's true that we still face a tremendous pandemic, but today is the beginning of the end." President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that the vaccinations would begin with hospitals in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo, speaking before the first Pfizer vaccines were flown into the capital.

Mexico has recorded nearly 1.4m cases and 119,495 deaths from Covid-19, now having the fourth-highest death toll worldwide.

Updatedat 8.07pm GMT

New York has started requiring international visitors to quarantine on Wednesday to safeguard against the new variant of Covid-19 coming from the UK. As the city's next group of essential workers, paramedics and first responders, lined up to get the vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that travellers would receive a city order via certified mail.

All international travellers will have to provide their contact details upon arriving in the city. Those to be found breaking the imposed quarantine orders could be fined £1,000 a day, the mayor said. "There's going to be a follow-up, direct home visit or hotel visit from the sheriff's deputy to confirm that they are following the quarantine," De Blasio said.

The Hill (@thehill)

#BREAKING: Mayor Bill de Blasio announces new "tough rules" for UK travelers: "We're going to have sheriff's deputies go to the home or the hotel of every single traveler coming in from the UK." pic.twitter.com/DDo7RfpkFZ

December 23, 2020

Updatedat 7.49pm GMT

Peru is set to receive a "significant batch" of vaccines from the Covax alliance during the first quarter in 2021, the interim president, Francisco Sagasti, said on Wednesday. The Covax global alliance was designed to help secure Covid-19 vaccines to poor and middle-income countries. It hopes to deliver at least 2bn doses by the end of 2021.

Peru has been especially hard-hit by the pandemic after it coincided with the country's political crisis which saw three presidents all hold office in just two weeks.

As it stands, Peru recorded 1m cases on Tuesday and more than 37,000 deaths.

According to Reuters figures, the country's Covid mortality rate is among the world's highest.

Updatedat 7.51pm GMT

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