Moderna vaccine gets EU’s approval

The European Union’s medicines watchdog on Wednesday approved a second coronavirus vaccine, in a relief to struggling European countries as the world reached a grim new record of 15,700 deaths in the last 24 hours.

The Moderna vaccine is now set to join Pfizer-BioNTech’s jab for use in the 27-nation EU, where governments are grappling with soaring caseloads and slow roll-outs of the vaccines already available. “Good news for our efforts to bring more Covid-19 vaccines to Europeans!” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

The breakthrough came as more than 15,700 Covid-19 deaths around the world were registered in the past 24 hours, according to a count by AFP – a new record.

The United States, the world’s worst-hit country, logged a record 3,936 daily coronavirus deaths in a separate tally maintained by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.

In Portugal, health authorities reported 10,000 new cases in 24 hours in the nation of just 10 million people.

Mass vaccinations are seen as key to returning the world to a semblance of normality, but the EU’s campaign has got off to a sluggish start compared to the US, Britain and Israel.

The Netherlands administered its first shot on Wednesday, becoming the last EU country to get started.

As it recorded 1,041 new virus deaths, the most since late April, UK returned to a full lockdown on Wednesday. Authorities are battling to contain the alarming spread of a new coronavirus strain that appears to be more infectious. One in 50 people in England were infected last week, according to official data, rising to one in 30 in London.

The global crisis shows no signs of slowing, with more than 1.8 million people known to have died worldwide among some 86mn cases.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, announced on Tuesday that it was toughening its partial lockdown and extending measures such as store closures until the end of January.

Along with other leaders, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing accusations from critics that her government should be rolling out vaccines much faster in order to spare people from more disruption to virtually every aspect of their lives.

Concerns are also growing over the new coronavirus strains first located in Britain and South Africa, which have since been detected in dozens of other countries. While there is no evidence so far that available vaccines will prove less effective against them, the increased transmissibility of the new variants has officials worried that their spread will outstrip the rate at which they are able to protect people.

The Cannes, the world’s biggest film festival, may be moved to the summer this year from its usual May date because of the Covid-19 crisis, organisers said on Wednesday.

The festival, originally scheduled to be held from May 11 to 22, “will certainly take place in 2021”, a spokeswoman told AFP, but could be postponed to a time between the end of June and the end of July.

The festival was cancelled last year, while rival European events in Berlin and Venice went ahead under strict health restrictions.

Organisers still need some time “to evaluate the situation at the start of the year” before making a decision, the Cannes spokeswoman said.

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