SECOND WAVE OF CORONAVIRUS US: Europe plan vaccination schemes

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Plans for vaccination programmes began taking shape in Europe and the United States following recent breakthroughs, as surging coronavirus caseloads prompted gruelling new restrictions, with Austria taking the unpopular step yesterday of closing schools and shops.

Global hopes of vanquishing the coronavirus pandemic were high after US biotech firm Moderna said its vaccine candidate was nearly 95 percent effective in a trial, a week after similar results announced by pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci hailed the results, telling AFP that the data exceeded expectations. “The idea that we have a 94.5 percent effective vaccine is stunningly impressive,” he said.

Moderna, whose clinical trial involved more than 30,000 participants, expects to have approximately 20 million doses ready to ship in the United States by year-end — with elderly and at-risk people to be first in line for jabs.

The US Food and Drug Agency may approve both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines early next month, according to Moncef Slaoui, head of the government’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine quest.

He said that from January, 25 million people would be vaccinated per month.

France too said it was “getting on the starting blocks” for a vaccination programme to launch in January pending French and EU regulatory approval, budgeting 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) for the rollout in 2021, according to spokesman Gabriel Attal.

Fauci, who heads the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, warned it would be crucial to convince people to take the vaccine, particularly in the US, where anti-vaccine sentiment runs high.

Yet with widespread availability of any vaccine still far off, restrictions on free movement, gatherings and business were inevitable as the second wave of the coronavirus continued to build.

Globally, infections have surpassed 55 million with more than 1.3 million deaths, and experts caution the months ahead will still be difficult and dangerous.

Curbs have returned in Europe — often in the face of protests — from Greece to Britain, where Covid-19 survivor Prime Minister Boris Johnson was self-isolating after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for the virus.

Sweden, which has drawn attention for a softer approach to combating the virus, decided to ban gatherings of more than eight people for the first time.

Bucking the trend in Europe, Russia has not imposed a new nationwide lockdown, even as it reported a record high 442 new coronavirus-related deaths yesterday.

Infections in the United States, meanwhile, show no sign of relenting after one million new cases in less than a week pushed the total number to 11,206,054 with 247,229 deaths.

The spikes have prompted new curbs in various states, while experts warn families against large gatherings for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

A stay-at-home advisory came into force Monday in the country’s third-biggest city, Chicago; while New York, an earlier outbreak epicentre, was also trying to flatten a second curve.❐

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