• This daily round-up brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top stories: EU approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine; WHO says no need for major alarm over mutation; President-elect Biden gets vaccine.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now passed 77.4 million globally, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The number of confirmed deaths stands at more than 1.7 million.

South Korea has moved to shut down all ski resorts and winter tourist spots, in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested that airlines voluntarily screen passengers for COVID-19 on flights to JFK airport, after the outbreak of a new, more infectious mutation in the UK.

Concerns about the mutation caused oil prices to fall, despite recent optimism about the vaccines.

COVID-19

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BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to develop their COVID-19 vaccine, has said it is confident it will be effective against the new variant.

The Moroccan government has announced a three-week curfew from 9pm to 6am, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Peru has suspended flights from Europe for two weeks. It comes as confirmed cases in the country near 1 million.

Health officials in Ireland have warned that the country is in the midst of a third wave, after a rapid acceleration in cases.

US President-elect Joe Biden has received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, live on television.

2. EU approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

The European Union has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use. Countries including France, Germany, Austria and Italy say they plan to start vaccinations from 27 December.

“Today we add an important chapter to a European success story. We approved the first safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19. More vaccines will come soon,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

She explained that doses would be available for all EU countries, at the same time and on the same conditions.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people
New confirmed cases in selected EU countries.
Image: Our World in Data

European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke did strike a note of caution though.

“Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal lives, but the authorization of this first vaccine is definitely a major step in the right direction and an indication that 2021 can be brighter than 2020,” she told a news briefing.

3. WHO says no need for major alarm over mutation

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against major alarm following news of a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that's emerged in the UK.

“We have to find a balance. It’s very important to have transparency, it’s very important to tell the public the way it is, but it’s also important to get across that this is a normal part of virus evolution,” WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told an online briefing.

“Being able to track a virus this closely, this carefully, this scientifically, in real time is a real positive development for global public health, and the countries doing this type of surveillance should be commended.”

He added that countries imposing travel restrictions were acting out of an abundance of caution while they assess the risks. “That is prudent. But it is also important that everyone recognizes that this happens, these variants occur.”