Australian authorities extended a lockdown for Sydney’s Northern Beaches as a cluster of Covid cases grows. Pope Francis used his Christmas Day message to appeal for world leaders to share vaccines.

Hospitalizations in New York City continued to rise and the rate of positive tests showed no sign of slowing. In Boston, a doctor reportedly suffered a severe allergic reaction after taking Moderna’s vaccine.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an order Friday forcing anyone flying from the U.K. to the U.S. to have a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of boarding. France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Japan joined a growing number of countries that have identified their first cases of the coronavirus mutation, although there’s no clear evidence it results in more severe cases of the disease.

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Sydney Lockdown Extended; Pope Makes Vaccine Plea: Virus Update

China Reports 20 New Virus Cases With Symptoms (8:51 a.m. HK)

China reported a total of 39 new Covid cases Friday, including 20 patients with symptoms and 19 without, according to the National Health Commission. Twelve of the cases with symptoms and 17 of the asymptomatic cases were imported, the commission said.

Lockdown Extended for Sydney’s Northern Beaches (8:29 a.m. HK)

Australian authorities extended a lockdown for Sydney’s Northern Beaches until at least Dec. 30 as a cluster of Covid-19 infections grows.

Some 250,000 people in the area should remain at home except for essential medical care and provisions, but will be able to gather outside for exercise with five or 10 people depending on whether they’re in the worst-affected areas, the New South Wales state government said Saturday. Nine new cases were recorded overnight — with eight linked to the outbreak — taking the cluster’s total size to 116.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters that health officials remain concerned that the virus cold have spread into the central business district before Christmas, and urged Sydneysiders to limit their activities in coming days and avoid Boxing Day shopping sales.

Pandemic Speeds Up China’s March to #1 Economy (8:26 a.m. HK)

The Chinese economy is set to overtake the U.S. faster than previously anticipated after weathering the coronavirus pandemic better than the West, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. The world’s biggest and second-biggest economies are on course to trade places in dollar terms in 2028, five years earlier than expected a year ago, the center said Saturday.

China was the first economy to suffer a pandemic blow, but has recovered swiftly, according to government data. That should prompt Western economies to pay much more attention to what is happening in Asia, according to the report.

First Covid Variant Case Discovered in France (5:30 p.m. NY)

French health authorities identified the first case of a person infected with the Covid-19 variant circulating in southeast England that prompted France to restrict travel between the two countries.

The variant was found Friday in a French national in Tours, southwest of Paris. The man, who lives in England, traveled from London on Dec. 19, the French Health Ministry said in a statement. The man is self-isolating at home, and authorities are contact tracing.

Brazil Health Regulator Cancels Leave for Employees (4:35 p.m. NY)

Brazil has a total of 7.5 million cases of Covid-19, with 22,967 confirmed in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said. Numbers from Ceara state weren’t included.

The nation’s health regulator canceled its year-end recess and scrapped January holidays for employees to ensure all vaccine registration requests get processed as quickly as possible, Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported.

N.J. New Daily Cases Keep Below Month’s Peak (4:00 p.m. NY)

New Jersey reported more than 5,000 new cases, the highest daily increase in five days but lower than early December, when daily cases surpassed 6,000.

The statewide transmission rate stayed below 1, meaning each person who tested positive is spreading to less than one other person, a positive sign in containing the spread.

Doctor Suffers Allergic Reaction to Moderna Shot (2:30 p.m. NY)

A Boston physician with a severe shellfish allergy said his immune system went into revolt minutes after receiving one of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines, the NYT reported.

The case was the first of its kind linked to Moderna’s shot. Federal agencies are investigating at least six cases involving people who suffered anaphylaxis after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which contains similar ingredients, according to the report.

California Positivity Rates Hover Above 12% (2:15 p.m. NY)

California added 39,144 new Covid-19 cases Thursday for a total of 2.04 million infections, while deaths rose by 312 to 23,947, according to data Friday on the health department’s website. Test positivity rates continued to hover at 12.4%. The number of intensive-care unit beds available for the state’s 40 million residents fell to 1,302.

A church in San Jose held an indoor Christmas Eve service, defying local public health and court orders, NBC Bay Area reported. Calvary Chapel San Jose has accumulated fines of more than $1 million for violating Covid-19 rules by holding weekly indoor services for hundreds of people, NBC said. Church leaders say their faith protects them and questioned the constitutionality of local health orders.

France Cases Remain at Elevated Levels (1:52 p.m. NY)

France reported 20,262 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, the second-highest daily increase during the last five weeks. Deaths rose by 159 to 62,427, according to French health authorities.

NYC’s Hospitalizations Continue to Climb (1:10 p.m. NY)

As of Dec. 23, there were 2,387 people in New York City hospitals, about twice as many as at the start of the month. Hospitals admitted 208 people Dec. 23 for Covid-like illness, with nearly two-thirds testing positive. The city’s rate of positive tests reached a seven-day average of 6.69%, from less than 2% in early November, according to city data.

In the week ended Dec. 24, the city confirmed 23,127 cases and 199 deaths from Covid-19. Its weekly average of the previous four weeks was 22,648 cases and 159 fatalities. More than half of the 1,148 patients in New York state ICUs were intubated as of Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The statewide positivity rate is 5.49%.

MBS Pictured Taking Vaccine Dose (12:52 p.m. NY)

Saudi Arabian state TV published footage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being injected with a Covid vaccine. Saudi Arabia, which approved the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in mid-December, has reported almost 362,000 infections and more than 6,100 deaths.

Italy Cases Rise as New Lockdown Starts (12:04 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 19,037 new coronavirus cases, an increase from 18,040 the day before. On Thursday the country began what will be the first of two strict lockdown periods as the government tries to curb contact between citizens over the holidays.

Shops and restaurants had operated with fewer restrictions in the run-up to Christmas week, but Rome has insisted that Italians limit their contacts and movement, and avoid traditional parties and large family gatherings both at Christmas and New Year’s.

U.K. Death Toll Exceeds 70,000 (11:05 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 570 fatalities, taking the nation’s tally from the virus to more than 70,000 — worst in Europe after Italy. There were another 32,725 cases, the sixth consecutive day that daily new infections exceeded 30,000.

Ireland Confirms It Has New Coronavirus Variant (10:34 a.m. NY)

Irish authorities confirmed the new variant of the coronavirus has been found in the country.

“It is particularly important” that travelers arriving from the U.K. quarantine for 14 days, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said, with testing for recent arrivals being arranged. The ministry reported 1,025 new cases on Christmas Day, the most since October, with two deaths.

Queen Elizabeth Thanks Medical Staff in Christmas Address (10:10 a.m. NY)

Queen Elizabeth II used her annual Christmas message to thank medical staff on the front lines of the battle against Covid-19, and said the pandemic has helped bring communities closer.

“Remarkably, a year that has necessarily kept people apart has, in many ways, brought us closer,” said the British monarch, who has delivered the broadcast every year except one since assuming the throne in 1952. “In the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenges of the year, and I am so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit,” she said.

Pope Urges Nations and Leaders to Share Vaccines (9:59 a.m. NY)

Pope Francis made a Christmas Day plea for authorities to make Covid-19 vaccines available for everyone, starting with the most vulnerable and needy.

“In this time of darkness and uncertainty regarding the pandemic, various lights of hope appear, such as the discovery of vaccines,” he said in his address. “But for these lights to illuminate and bring hope to all, they need to be available to all. We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are.”

Swiss Taskforce Calls for Strict Measures Amid New Strain (9:55 a.m. NY)

Switzerland should implement broader, stricter measures and bolster testing and tracing to hinder the spread of the new coronavirus strain, according to the Swiss Covid-19 science taskforce. The country’s health ministry reported two cases yesterday, but Switzerland has increased efforts to analyze whether the new variant has spread further.

Japan Confirms First Five Cases With New Strain (7:44 a.m. NY)

Japan has confirmed its first cases of people infected with a new Covid strain that emerged in the U.K., Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said Friday. The five people infected with the new strain had traveled from the U.K. and the infections were confirmed at two separate airports in Japan; four of the people were asymptomatic.HK

Africa Covid Toll May Be Higher Than Figures Show (6:41 p.m. HK)

Infections and deaths in Africa may be much higher than official figures show, according to researchers from Boston University and the University of Zambia, who tested corpses for the virus in the biggest referral hospital in Lusaka.

The disease was detected in nearly one in five of the 364 bodies tested, according to a study published on medRxiv, an online archive and distribution service for complete but unpublished manuscripts that have yet to be peer reviewed. Of the 70 that tested positive, only six were screened before they died, even though many others had symptoms.

Iran’s Death Count Lowest Since September (6:38 p.m. HK)

Iran reported 6,021 coronavirus cases and 132 deaths in the past 24 hours, marking the lowest number of fatalities since Sept. 13. The country has recorded a total of 1,189,203 infections and 54,440 deaths since the onset of the outbreak, per official health ministry figures.

Iran’s central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati earlier announced that it would purchase 16.8 million vaccine doses from the World Health Organization’s Covax facility.

South Africa Rejects U.K. Claims Over New Strain (6:22 p.m. HK)

South Africa rejected allegations that a new variant found in the country has contributed to a second wave of infections in the U.K. and criticized its decision to impose travel restrictions. Several other countries have also halted flights from South Africa.

A new strain that was detected in the U.K. has a mutation occurring at a site common with the South African variant, but they are “two completely independent lineages,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement late Thursday. There’s no evidence that it causes more severe disease or increased mortality than any other variant that’s been sequenced around the world, he added.

Japan Mulls Changing Virus Law (6:03 p.m. HK)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said people are still going out and infections are rising, and urged people to stay home over the New Year’s holiday and celebrate “quietly” for the sake of the medical system.

Poland Infections Slow Before Lockdown (5:34 p.m. HK)

Poland, which is implementing strict lockdown measures after Christmas, registered 9,077 new coronavirus cases Friday, the fewest in three days. It also had 240 deaths caused by the virus, the smallest number in four days.

Beijing Advises Residents to Stay Home Over Holidays (5:06 p.m. HK)

Beijing residents should not leave the city during the New Year and Chinese New Year holidays due to a recent resurgence of cases, the local government spokesperson said in a briefing. Subway capacity will be capped at 90%, while indoor entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, museums and libraries, can be 75% full.

U.K. Travelers to U.S. Need Negative Test (2:05 p.m. HK)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires air passengers arriving from the U.K. to get a negative polymerase chain reaction or antigen test no more than 72 hours before leaving, according to a statement from the U.S. authority. The order, which needs to be signed by President Donald Trump, will come into effect Dec. 28.

Passengers from the U.K. must provide written documentation of their test to their airline. Carriers must confirm the negative result for all passengers boarding, and will deny entry to those who don’t take a test.

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