A graphic produced by Johns Hopkins researchers shows the number of new infections around the world.

Live version of coronavirus map

South Korea on Saturday reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases so far, as the US green lighted the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

Officials in Seoul announced 950 new infections after several days reporting numbers ranging from about 500 to 600.

Some 669 were reported in the greater Seoul area on Saturday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, prompting worries about a major outbreak in the densely populated area – home to half the country’s 52 million people.

“This is the last hurdle before the roll-out of vaccines and treatments,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement, calling the situation “very grave”. 

Click on the link at the top of the story to see a live version. Source: Johns Hopkins University

“The government will make utmost efforts using the full administrative power” to bring the spread under control, he added. 

Saturday’s figure takes the total number of recorded cases in South Korea to more than 36,800.

Late Friday, the US got approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, paving the way for millions of vulnerable people to receive their shots in the world’s hardest-hit country.

President Donald Trump immediately released a video on Twitter, where he hailed the news as a “medical miracle” and said the first immunizations would take place “in less than 24 hours.”

It comes as infections across America soar as never before, with the grim milestone of 300,000 confirmed deaths fast approaching. 

The US is now the sixth country to approve the two-dose regimen, after Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

The US is seeking to inoculate 20 million people this month alone, with long-term care facility residents and health care workers at the front of the line. 

The government also said Friday that it is buying 100 million more doses of the Moderna vaccine candidate, amid reports the government passed on the opportunity to secure more supply of the Pfizer jab.

Two other vaccine candidates stumbled Friday: France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK said their vaccine would not be ready until the end of 2021.

And in Australia, the development of a vaccine at The University of Queensland was abandoned Friday after clinical trials produced a false positive HIV result among subjects involved in early testing.

Sputnik mix

The mixed news on the vaccine front comes as infections accelerated fast in North America and parts of Africa but started to stabilize in Europe and drop in Asia and the Middle East.

Around the world more than 1.58 million lives have been lost to Covid-19 since it emerged in China a year ago, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

Brazil on Friday crossed 180,000 deaths, despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence the crisis was at the “tail end.”

But across the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, which has been praised for its handling of the virus, took its first tentative steps towards reopening its borders – with the tiny Cook Islands.

Countries which have approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab meanwhile were preparing for roll out, as the World Health Organization warned of a potentially grim Christmas season.

Following Britain’s lead, the first vaccine shipments to 14 sites across Canada are scheduled to arrive Monday with people receiving shots a day or two later.

Israel, which accepted its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, is targeting a rollout on December 27.

And Hong Kong said Friday it had struck deals for two vaccines – one from Pfizer and the other from Beijing-based Sinovac – with plans to launch a campaign in early 2021.

A new combined approach is also being tested by AstraZeneca, whose Russian operation said it would mix its shot with the locally-made Sputnik V vaccine in clinical trials.

Russia and China have already begun inoculation efforts with domestically produced vaccines that have seen less rigorous vetting.

EU countries are eagerly awaiting clearance on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in late December and early January respectively.

Carbon down

As Europe’s surge eases off slightly, France is planning to lift a six-week-long lockdown from Tuesday but impose a curfew from 8.00 pm, including on New Year’s Eve.

Greece also announced new plans Friday to slash quarantine time for incoming travelers and reopen churches for Christmas.

But Switzerland, which is seeing a sharp resurgence in cases, announced a 7:00 pm curfew for shops, restaurants and bars. 

While lockdowns have brought economic pain, boredom and myriad other woes, the effect on the environment has been more positive. 

Carbon emissions fell a record seven percent in 2020 as countries imposed lockdowns, according to the Global Carbon Project.

AFP