International

Coronavirus digest: Biden to put together pandemic task force

US President-elect Joe Biden has announced plans to put together a task force to take on the coronavirus pandemic as the country sees a record number of new cases.

US President-elect Joe Biden says he plans to put together a task force of leading experts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In contrast to his rival Donald Trump who had sidelined scientific advisers in his administration, Biden told supporters Saturday he wanted a plan “built on bedrock science” and “constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern.”

“On Monday I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris plan and convert it into an actual blueprint that will start on January 20, 2021 [on Inauguration Day],” he said in his first address since defeating Trump.

Previously Biden has revealed a plan to invoke a nationwide mask mandate and rapidly roll out free COVID-19 testing as well as reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw the country from the World Health Organization.

Biden’s announcement came as the US saw its fourth consecutive day of record numbers of new cases, recording 130,138 infections on Saturday as the nation’s death toll surpassed 237,000. 

Texas also became the first state to surpass one million cases — only nine countries worldwide have more cases than the southern state. The number of cases in the most populous state, California, lies just below the one million mark.

Europe

Portugal will bring a night-time curfew into effect from Monday across large parts of the country. People will also have to stay at home from 1 p.m. at the weekend. Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced the new measures after a special cabinet meeting on Saturday.

The rules will last for two weeks and the government hopes that this will prevent the need for a stricter lockdown. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had announced a state of emergency on Friday.

Germany reported record daily figures on Saturday of 23,399 new cases and 130 deaths. On the same day, a protest against the new restrictions in the Eastern German city of Leipzig turned violent with demonstrators attacking the police.

The number of cases reported on Sunday fell to 16,017, however, several agencies don’t report Sunday cases until Monday.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has said that the lowered VAT (sales tax) rate will not be extended past the end of the year. VAT in Germany dropped from 19% to 16% earlier in the year, but it will return to the higher rate on January 1, six months after the initial reduction.

The German health ministry has requested support from the army to store coronavirus vaccines when they become available. According to the newspaper, Bild am Sonntag, the health ministry wishes to store future vaccines in military barracks before being delivered to 60 vaccination centers across the country.

The number of people in France who have died from the novel coronavirus surpassed 40,000 on Saturday. Public Health France reported 306 new deaths which brought the total to 40,169.

The French parliament has approved the extension of a state of emergency which will last until February 16. The measure allows for the imposition of a strict night-time curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in Paris and other big cities.

Italy reported a record number of 39,811 new cases on Saturday, with the total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic soaring past the 900,000 mark. Reports of 425 new deaths took the total death toll to 41,063. The Italian government imposed new restrictions at the end of October.

Following a recent spike in cases, Greece has joined other European countries in entering a second lockdown. All but the most essential retail services have been closed and people must seek authorization by text message before they can leave the house.

Current global uncertainty and anxiety amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic could risk another world war, the head of the armed forces in Britain said Sunday.

“I think we are living at a moment in time where the world is a very uncertain and anxious place … I think the real risk we have with quite a lot of the regional conflicts that are going on at the moment, is you could see escalation lead to miscalculation,” Nick Carter, Britain’s Chief of the Defense Staff told Sky News.

Asked if that meant there was a genuine threat of another world war, Carter replied: “I’m saying it’s a risk and we need to be conscious of those risks.”

Asia

Daily new cases in India have continued their steady decline, however, the number of new daily cases being reported in the capital, New Delhi, has remained around 7,000, up from around 1,000 in September. The city also reported 79 new deaths on Sunday, the highest toll since June.