LatAm countries begin mass vaccinations as Europe fears new strain

প্রকাশিত: ৬:৩৪ অপরাহ্ণ , ডিসেম্বর ২৫, ২০২০

Three Latin American countries
launched mass immunization programs on Thursday as fears grew in Europe over
a variant coronavirus strain that is believed to be far more contagious than
the original version.

Frontline medical staff in Mexico and Chile were among the first to receive
their vaccines while Costa Rica began its own immunization program, with
President Carlos Alvarado hailing what “may be the beginning of the end of
this pandemic.”

But global optimism was tempered as China and Brazil joined more than 50
governments restricting flights from Britain or air traffic in both
directions, after the highly infectious new coronavirus strain first appeared
there.

Thousands of trucks remained stranded at a major British port as France
sent 10,000 kits to test drivers before allowing them to cross the Channel.

Despite the new strain that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said was
“up to 70 percent more transmissible” than the original coronavirus, Britain
said rail and sea links with France would remain open over Christmas.

Mexico televised the start of its mass immunization program after it
received its first 3,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from Belgium.

“It’s the best gift I could receive in 2020,” 59-year-old Mexican nurse
Maria Irene Ramirez said as she received the injection at a hospital in the
capital.

Mexico has registered more than 120,000 Covid-19 deaths — the world’s
fourth highest toll after the United States, Brazil and India.

In Chile, 46-year-old nursing assistant Zulema Riquelme was the first
person shown receiving the jab in the presence of President Sebastian Pinera.

“I’m very excited and nervous,” she said, hours after the first 10,000
doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived by plane.

Elizabeth Castillo, a wheelchair-bound, 91-year-old nursing home resident,
was the first person in Costa Rica to be vaccinated.

“I am very grateful to God, because I have asked so much of him. My life is
very important to me, so take advantage of every moment,” she said.

Argentina, meanwhile, received the first 300,000 doses of Russia’s
controversial Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday on a special flight from Moscow.

The country is the first in Latin America to approve the Russian vaccine.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez has vowed to receive the first
Sputnik V shot to prove it is reliable after criticism that it was registered
before the start of large-scale clinical trials.

– Covid deaths to increase in 2021 –

Some of the thousands of lorry drivers stuck near the British port of Dover
said they feared there was little chance of making it back into mainland
Europe in time for the holidays.

“Home for Christmas? Forget it,” said Laurent Beghin, a French trucker who
has been stranded in England since Sunday.

British Transport Minister Grant Shapps gave some hope in a Twitter post
revealing that the rail and sea border with France would “remain open.”

Passengers with negative virus tests on Wednesday boarded the first
Eurostar trains from London to France since border closures were introduced
on Sunday.

The new strain of the virus that surfaced in Britain and has been detected
in small numbers elsewhere, appeared for the first time in Germany after a
woman flew in from London.

Although it appears to spread more easily, experts say there is no evidence
it is more lethal or resistant to vaccines.

But the new variant, which is on average 56 percent more contagious, is
likely to boost hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 next year,
according to a study by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious
Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

New restrictions came into force on Thursday in Italy, one of the worst-hit
countries with more than 70,000 reported coronavirus deaths — half of them
in the past three months.

Austria allowed its more than 400 ski stations to open on Thursday, just
two days before entering a third nationwide lockdown that will force shops
and much of the service industry to close until mid-January.

Israel said it would announce a third national lockdown from 5:00 pm (1500
GMT) on Sunday for two weeks.

– Vatican mass brought forward –

Fears over the new strain and surging coronavirus infections in general
across Europe have severely dampened the mood over the holiday season.

Russia on Thursday registered a record 29,935 new infections, bringing the
country’s caseload to more than 2.96 million — the fourth-highest in the
world.

It also posted 635 deaths over the last 24 hours, another record,
increasing the toll to over 53,000.

Germany has been forced to cancel its famous Christmas markets and Pope
Francis plans to bring the Vatican’s Christmas midnight mass forward by two
hours to meet Italy’s curfew rules.

The European Union is preparing to kick off vaccinations across the bloc on
Sunday, hoping to turn the corner in the fight against the virus, which has
infected more than 78 million people worldwide with more than 1.7 million
deaths.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office meanwhile said he was free of
Covid-19 symptoms, a week after testing positive.

Despite a new cluster of cases, Australia’s biggest city Sydney still plans
to celebrate the start of 2021 with its famous Harbour Bridge fireworks —
but people are being encouraged to watch it on TV at home.

In Bethlehem — which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus Christ
— Christmas mass will be held without worshippers and broadcast online.

Egypt has called off all New Year’s celebrations in order to stem a rise in
cases.