German authorities have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths in one day for the first time since the pandemic began.
The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said on Wednesday that 1,129 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours.
That exceeds the previous record set a week ago of 962 and brings Germany’s total death toll to 32,107.
While delayed reporting of statistics over holidays and weekends is often an issue in Germany, the latest figure fits a recent pattern of high numbers of deaths.
Germany had a relatively low death rate in the first phase of the pandemic but has seen hundreds of deaths per day in recent weeks. Among major European nations, Italy, the UK, France and Spain still have higher death tolls.
A shutdown that was deepened on December 16th with the closure of schools and most shops is scheduled to remain in place until January 10th.
It appears almost certain to be extended when Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors review the situation next week.
The disease control centre said 22,459 new coronavirus cases were reported over the past 24 hours.
That is a bit lower than a week ago, but lower testing of non-acute cases over Christmas may also play a role.
Germany has reported nearly 1.69 million cases in total.
Taiwan has agreed to buy almost 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, including 10 million from AstraZeneca Plc, the government said on Wednesday, adding that it had confirmed the island’s first case of the new British variant of the disease.
Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control in the community thanks to early and effective prevention and strict quarantine of all arrivals, with imported cases accounting for almost all of its tally of 798 cases, including seven deaths.
The island’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said apart from AstraZeneca, it had agreed to buy 4.76 million doses from global vaccine programme COVAX and was in talks with another company it did not identify.
The first vaccines are expected to arrive in March at the earliest, it said.
Taiwan, which has yet to give formal regulatory approval for any vaccine, is also trying to develop Covid -19 vaccines domestically.
Taiwan plans to get a total of 30 million vaccine doses to cover about 65 per cent of its population, with medical staff to get priority, the centre added.
Health minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters he “really hoped” there would be a “vaccine passport” system put in place to ease international travel for those who have had the shot.
“This is something we are proactively considering,” he said.
Taiwan has watched nervously as cases shoot up around the world.
Mr Chen said authorities had confirmed Taiwan’s first case of a new coronavirus variant discovered in Britain.
From Friday, the government would further tighten entry curbs, suspending arrivals of all foreigners without residence permits, he said, though exceptions will be made on humanitarian grounds.
Some New Year’s events have also been scaled back or cancelled.
Authorities restricted movement and tightened curbs on gatherings in Australia’s biggest city on Wednesday, hoping to avoid a coronavirus “super spreader” event during New Year’s Eve celebrations after finding a new cluster of infections.
Household gatherings were limited to five people while the maximum number of people allowed to gather in public in Sydney was capped at 30. Residential care facilities were closed to visitors.
“We don’t want New Year’s Eve to be the cause of a super-spreader,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said as she announced the restrictions would take effect from midnight on Wednesday until further notice.
Ms Berejiklian reported 18 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the biggest daily increase in a week, with nine of them part of an outbreak in the city’s northern beaches that has grown to more than 100 people over the past week.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said a new cluster in the city’s inner west, which includes six members of an extended family living in three different households, is expected to grow as members had joined Christmas gatherings.
The outbreaks in Sydney have dampened plans for the city’s New Year’s Eve harbour fireworks display, an event televised around the world.
In addition to the new restrictions, authorities have imposed a “green zone” in key vantage spots around the harbour that will be restricted to residents and people with confirmed bookings who get a permit.
The usual 9pm fireworks have been cancelled and the midnight session has been cut to seven minutes.
“If I can stress again, the strongest message to everybody across New South Wales no matter where you are, is please limit your activity and your mobility,” Berejiklian said.
In the state of Victoria, after two months of no locally acquired cases, the health department late on Wednesday said three new cases had been diagnosed outside hotel quarantine.
It had no immediate details on how the infections happened.
Australia has reported just over 28,300 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, mostly in Victoria.
A man in Colorado has become the first known US case of the newly identified strain of Covid-19 circulating in the UK. The new variant is thought to be more contagious than other, established variants and has prompted some countries to restrict travel from the UK.
The new variant has also recently been detected in at least 17 countries, including South Korea, Spain, Australia and Canada. On Christmas Day, the CDC issued new guidelines for travellers from the UK, requiring proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
The Colorado man who contracted the new variant, called B117, is in his 20s, and had no travel history, according to the state’s health department. In a statement, Governor Jared Polis said that health officials are conducting an investigation into how the man might have contracted the virus, while he recovers in isolation.
Although the new variant had not been found in the US until now, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention noted that it was likely already circulating through the country. The agency said while the new variant has not been identified through sequencing efforts “labs have only 51,000 of the 17 million US cases” - and the variant might not have been picked up.