Vaccinations in the US and UK are set to start the coming week, while inoculations in Russia are underway to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people across the globe.
Vaccinations in the US could begin as early as Friday, with the Food and Drug Administration set to vote on emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer Inc./BioNtech SE shot the day before, an FDA adviser told NBC News. California set another record for infections and now more than half the state faces new restrictions, while New York City's outbreak continued to worsen. Fatalities across the US are rising sharply.
The UK plans to begin inoculations during the week of Dec. 14, as authorities worldwide move to a new stage in tackling the pandemic. Moscow began jabs on Saturday.
South Korea is considering stricter social-distancing measures, including a ban on gatherings at high-risk venues such as karaoke bars.
Two German nationals avoid quarantine in Australia
Australian state police were to blame for two German nationals avoiding mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival in Sydney before they took a flight to Melbourne.
New South Wales Police reviewed the circumstances of the incident and identified they "had incorrectly allowed the two travelers to proceed to Melbourne," the force said in a statement Sunday. "Police practices and systems at the airport have also been reviewed and strengthened as a result of this incident."
The pair - a 53-year-old woman and 15-year-old boy - arrived at Sydney International Airport at 9:45 a.m. Saturday from Tokyo and were screened, police said. After being cleared, all travelers were directed toward a bus to hotel quarantine but the duo advised police they were booked on a flight to Melbourne, according to the statement.
South Korea may tighten curbs
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun is scheduled to host a Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures meeting in Seoul City Hall at 3 p.m. on Sunday at which the government could make a decision on tighter curbs.
South Korea confirmed 631 cases on Sunday, the highest in nine months, with 599 local infections. Total deaths rose by five to 545, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Just two weeks ago, South Korea raised the social-distancing level to 2 from 1.5 in the greater Seoul area, limiting restaurant hours and social gatherings, as the surge in cases threatened to undermine efforts to contain the pandemic. In a meeting last Sunday
UK prepares for historic moment
The UK will become the first western country to deploy a COVID-19 vaccine after regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Wednesday. The government has bought 40 million doses from the companies, enough to inoculate 20 million people on the two-dose regimen. The shots will be given in order of priority, with the first vaccines going to those in care homes, including workers, and people over 80 years old.
"This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19," Matt Hancock, the UK's health secretary, said in a statement. "We are doing everything we can to make sure we can overcome significant challenges to vaccinate care home residents."
The plan calls for more than 1,000 centers across the country to provide the shot over the coming weeks with the first jab expected to be given on Tuesday.
New curbs in California
Southern California and San Joaquin Valley will be slapped with the state's stay-at-home order after the capacity at their intensive-care units fell below the 15% threshold for more curbs.
ICU capacity in San Joaquin Valley, a relatively rural area in the the state's central region that includes Fresno, dipped to 8.6%. In Southern California, which has more than half of the state's population in an area that includes Los Angeles and San Diego, the ratio fell to 12.5%. Under the order, a list of sectors including bars, wineries, hair salons and personal-care services would be shut.
California added a record 25,068 new cases, bringing the total to 1.3 million. It also reported 209 new deaths for a total fatality count of 19,791.
US COVID shots could begin this Friday
A COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE could be in use by Friday if the Food and Drug Administration approves an emergency use authorization, James Hildreth, a member of the FDA's vaccine advisory committee, told NBC News.
The panel is scheduled to vote on the matter after reviewing the vaccine's data at a meeting on Thursday.
"If the FDA Commissioner decides to issue approval, the EUA, on that day when the vote is taken, as early as Friday of next week we could see vaccinations happening across the country," Hildreth said on NBC's "Weekend Today."
New Jersey reported 5,367 new cases, the second time this week over 5,000. The state's infections are at the highest level since the start of the pandemic. Total hospitalizations fell slightly, and another 53 fatalities were reported.
France's Drop in New Cases Stalls, Hospitalizations Decline (1:56 p.m. NY)
France's reported confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 12,923 on Saturday to 2.28 million. The seven-day average of new cases rose by 0.5% to 10,397, climbing for the first time in more than two weeks.
The rate of positive COVID-19 tests remained at 10.7% for a third day, following three weeks of declines. Hospitalizations and patients in intensive care for COVID-19 continued to fall from their mid-November peak. Deaths linked to the virus increased by 214 to 54,981.
The government started easing some lockdown measures a week ago, allowing non-essential stores to reopen.
Italy's outbreak eases
Italy reported 21,052 new cases Saturday, confirming the downwards trend from last week. Daily fatalities dropped to 662 from 814 on Friday.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on SkyTg24 television on Saturday that strict anti-COVID measures are a necessity to avoid a new uptick in virus cases that would swamp hospitals and cause a further increase in deaths.
Asked about vaccine distribution, he said the timing will depend on the European Medicines Agency and that the Italian government plans to administer the vaccine on a voluntary basis once it's available.
German can maintain spending
Germany can carry on spending "large sums" next year to help the economy through coronavirus upheavals, Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of a parliamentary vote on the federal budget next week.
"We were able to deploy large sums in 2020 and we will be able to do so in 2021 because we have managed our finances well in the past years," Merkel said. Debt-funded stimulus measures were necessary this year to prevent far costlier bankruptcies and job losses, she said.
Germany will spend as much as 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) on vaccinating its population against the coronavirus.
"That's a lot of money," Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a conference in Berlin on Saturday. Still, the cost of "not getting it under control is higher," he said.
Russia starts vaccinations amid record spikes
Moscow started widespread vaccination of front-line workers and other high-risk people on Saturday, following an order from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. More than 5,000 people signed up in the first five hours of registration on Friday, Moscow's mayor said on his blog. The Kremlin has resisted a broad lockdown, putting the responsibility for imposing restrictions on regional governments.
Russia reported a record 28,782 cases in the past day, the government's virus response center said Saturday. That raises the total to 2.4 million, the fourth-most in the world.