The Latest: Crematoria in Germany’s Saxony reaching limits
BERLIN — Undertakers in Saxony say crematoria in the eastern German state are reaching their limits because of the number of COVID-related deaths there.
German news agency dpa quoted the head of the regional undertakers association, Tobias Wenzel, as saying on Wednesday that his members are particularly worried about the Christmas public holidays.
He said waiting times for bodies to be cremated have doubled from five to ten days.
Wenzel told dpa that its’s not an option to take bodies out of state or even across the border to the neighboring Czech Republic.
Saxony has had a disproportionately high share of Germany’s deaths linked to the coronavirus — 2,409 since the start of the outbreak or almost a tenth of the nationwide total.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Cheer will be in short supply this pandemic-stricken Christmas, as many face isolation, grief, job fears and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.
No Christmas Day driving in Peru. Lebanon’s nightclubs are open, but no dancing. Such is the global mish-mash of coronavirus measures.
Freight from Britain and passengers have started arriving in France after the country eased a two-day blockade over a new virus variant.
France is springing elderly residents from care homes, but some families agonize if time with elderly relatives is worth the risk.
President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package, demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — Some 300 soldiers are taking part in a trial run ahead of the opening of a large vaccination center in Berlin, slipping into the role of elderly people who will be among the first to get the coronavirus shots.
Officials wanted to see whether it was possible to get people who might have trouble walking or hearing through the vaccination process in 70 minutes.
Wednesday’s trial run was organized by the German Red Cross rather than Berlin’s notoriously inefficient state authorities.
Similar trial runs have been taking place across Germany, where more than 400 mass vaccination centers are being readied for the expected start of the immunization campaign Sunday.
Aside from the centers, mobile vaccination teams will initially also visit nursing homes to reach people who are unable to be moved but who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
BERLIN — Switzerland has started vaccinating people against the coronavirus, a few days before its European Union neighbors start their vaccination campaigns.
The government in Lucerne canton (state) said that a woman aged over 90 at a nursing home in the central Swiss region became the first to receive the vaccine on Wednesday.
Switzerland became on Sunday the first country to approve the vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer for use under normal licensing procedures. The EU followed a day later. Britain, Canada and the U.S. had authorized the vaccine earlier, but in line with emergency procedures.
Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million, is not a member of the EU. Its neighbors in the 27-member bloc plan to start vaccinations on Sunday.
ROME — A group representing COVID-19 victims is seeking 100 million euros ($120 million) in civil damages on behalf of 500 families from top Italian government officials.
The group, Noi Denunceremo (We Will Denounce), filed the civil action Wednesday in Rome, identifying as plaintiffs Premier Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Lombardy Gov. Attilio Fontana.
The group has previously filed criminal complaints with public prosecutors in Bergamo, who are investigating possible wrongdoing in the management of the pandemic.
Both the civil and criminal complaints allege “serious omissions” by government officials in Rome and Lombardy, starting with the decision to reopen a hospital in the town of Alzano after a patient there tested positive on Feb. 23 -- two days after 11 towns elsewhere in the north had been designated the West’s first red zones.
They also cite the failure to lockdown Alzano and Nembro, neighboring towns in the Bergamo province that were devastated by the virus. The group contends that a lockdown of Alzano and Nembro would have avoided a national lockdown.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s president says vaccination against the coronavirus will start on Thursday and that he may be among the first in Serbia to get inoculated.
Serbia on Tuesday received the first batch of 4,800 vaccines against the new coronavirus developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Serbia is also testing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Wednesday the citizens will be able to choose which vaccine they want to take.
He said he or some other top Serbian official will get vaccinated soon “as a signal to people” that all the vaccines are safe. Serbia has a strong anti-vaccination movement.
Vucic said more vaccines will arrive in the weeks and months ahead and that the goal is to have a million people vaccinated by the end of January.
BERLIN — Authorities say it will be possible for some people to fly between Switzerland and Britain to get home for the holiday period starting on Thursday after air links were cut because of the spread of a new coronavirus variant.
Switzerland on Sunday suspended air travel to and from Britain and South Africa, where a new and potentially more contagious variant also has been found. Many other countries took similar steps.
The Federal Office of Civil Aviation said Wednesday that outbound flights will be allowed to take home people resident in the two countries who are currently in Switzerland.
Flights to Switzerland will require special permission from Swiss authorities in advance, and will be allowed mainly to carry citizens of Switzerland and tiny neighbor Liechtenstein as well as people with Swiss residence permits.
Switzerland, unlike many of its neighbors, has left most of its ski slopes open, attracting tourists from countries including Britain. Earlier this week, it ordered people who flew in from Britain since Dec. 14 to quarantine for 10 days.
BRUSSELS — With the first coronavirus vaccinations due to begin in Belgium on Monday, national health authorities say that 60% of people want to be inoculated as soon as the shots become available.
A survey of 30,000 people by the Sciensano public health and research institute released Wednesday shows that one in four respondents are still unsure, and that 15% don’t want to be vaccinated.
Those in favor mostly say it’s because they want to return to their normal lives as soon as possible, while those against or unsure tend to be worried about the lack of certainty about long-term side effects.
Belgium plans to begin its vaccination campaign in five rest homes on Monday. The survey found that 90% of respondents say front-line health care workers should get the shot first, followed by people who already have health problems and those aged over 65.
Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million people, has been among the countries hardest hit per capita in Europe. Almost 630,000 people have been infected, and over 18,800 have died. The infection rate has stabilized recently, although around 90 people are still dying from the virus each day.
BERLIN — Health officials say Germany has recorded a grim new one-day record for COVID-19 deaths with 962.
The country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, also reported 24,740 newly confirmed coronavirus cases.
The eastern state of Saxony has seen the highest infection rates and overloaded hospitals have begun transferring patients to other regions. Figures show Saxony had over 414 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than twice as high the national average.
In an effort to curb the spread, the German government last week shut most stores, tightened the rules on social contacts and urged people to think twice about traveling to see relatives over Christmas.
For those who do travel, authorities recommended self-isolating for a week first and then obtaining a COVID-19 test before getting on trains, planes and autobahns to visit relatives during the festive period.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar began inoculating a prioritized group of citizens and residents against the coronavirus with the vaccine created by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Qatar state-run media reported that several health centers across the tiny energy-rich country started providing the Pfizer vaccine free of charge on Wednesday to older adults, healthcare workers, people in nursing homes and those with underlying health conditions.
Authorities approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use earlier this week. The government has also signed a supply agreement with American drugmaker Moderna.
Also on Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates’ commercial hub of Dubai started administering free-of-charge Pfizer-BioNTech shots to city residents over the age of 60 and those with chronic illnesses.
Dubai has also not specified how many Pfizer doses would be distributed in the campaign announced earlier this week.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s leader says city authorities have approved new regulations that would allow the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that new regulations would empower the city’s health minister to approve the use of vaccines in the city.
Hong Kong plans to offer free vaccinations to its 7.5 million residents. Lam said that the government has reached agreements to obtain 22.5 million vaccines from AstraZeneca, mainland firm Sinovac and Fosun Pharma, the Chinese company that will collaborate with German firm BioNTech.
Lam said the government is currently looking for another 7.5 million vaccines from a fourth company to ensure adequate supply. There are also plans to set up a fund to provide financial support to those who experience rare or unexpected reactions to the vaccines.
Priority for the vaccinations will be given to high-risk groups. Lam said recipients will be told which vaccine will be used and can decide whether to accept or rejected it.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is further tightening restrictive measures amid a new surge in coronavirus infections.
Health Minister Jan Blatny says all businesses except those selling essential goods such as food and medicine will have to shut on Sunday.
Ski resorts will also close while public gatherings of more than two people will be banned. The ban extends to indoor sports activities and cultural events. A night-time curfew will begin two hours earlier, from 11:00 pm to 9:00pm.
All schools will close and return to remote teaching as of Jan. 4. Only at first and second grade primary school kids will be allowed back into classrooms..
The daily increase in new coronavirus infections reached 10,821 confirmed cases on Tuesday, the highest number since Nov. 6. TOverall, the country of 10.7 million had 646,312 cases with 10,664 deaths.
TOKYO — Japan says it will reinstate and entry ban on most new arrivals from Britain in a bid to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant as the country struggles to slow its latest resurgence of the COVID-19 cases.
Japan’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it’s suspending a program allowing entry to foreign visitors with guarantors in the country. Japan’s entry ban on foreign nationals without residency status from more than 130 countries remains in place.
The ministry said that as of Sunday, Japanese nationals returning from Britain after staying there for as long as a week will be required to be tested negative 72 hours ahead of the trip and to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
Japan has more than 203,000 cases with nearly 3,000 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the health ministry.
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria is again permitting all flights from the United Kingdom.
The government said in a statement Wednesday that the decision is aimed at helping countrymen who wish to return home for the holidays.
On Sunday, Bulgaria shut its borders to arrivals from Britain due to the new coronavirus variant that appeared in the country.
Arriving passengers will be tested for the coronavirus and will be put under a 10-day quarantine.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said all measures have been taken to ensure that all Bulgarian citizens can return home.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ highest Islamic authority, the UAE Fatwa Council, has ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible for Muslims even if they contain pork gelatin.
The ruling follows growing alarm that the use of pork gelatin, a common vaccine ingredient, may hamper vaccination among Muslims who consider the consumption of pork products “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law.
If there are no alternatives, Council Chairman Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah said that the coronavirus vaccines would not be subject to Islam’s restrictions on pork because of the higher need to “protect the human body.”
The council added that in this case, the pork gelatin is considered medicine, not food, with multiple vaccines already shown to be effective against a highly contagious virus that “poses a risk to the entire society.