BERLIN (AFP) - European nations vowed Wednesday (Dec 16) to get their coronavirus vaccination campaigns rolling before the end of the year while a surge in infections prompted tighter restrictions across several countries.
Germany will begin vaccinations on Dec 27, its health minister said, detailing a timeline expected to be mirrored across the European Union's 27 member states.
France said it would receive around 1.16 million vaccine doses by year-end, with a further 2.3 million coming over the next two months.
The vaccination drive cannot come too soon to the embattled continent, which is fast approaching 500,000 deaths from the disease.
Germany saw a record high of 952 deaths in 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre Wednesday, a figure that could rise as the hard-hit Saxony region was not included in Tuesday's numbers.
"It feels like a Sunday," said Ines Kumpl, 57, observing the deserted streets of Berlin on the first day of a new partial lockdown.
"These measures are necessary but it's stressful." Denmark, France, Turkey and the Netherlands have all tightened coronavirus restrictions and Spain's Prime Minister expressed alarm at rising infection numbers there.
"To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 per cent of the population vaccinated," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs.
Pressure has been mounting on the bloc since Britain and the United States started their programmes, using a vaccine developed in the EU by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The British government said more than 137,000 people had received a first dose in the week since inoculations began.
Pleas for holiday restraint
The World Health Organisation's European wing warned of a resurgence of the virus on the continent early next year, urging special precautions over the holiday season.
"It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe," the health agency said.
US Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife will get the vaccine on Friday in a public display designed to boost fragile national confidence, the White House announced.
The event comes in the first week of a mass US vaccination programme aimed at stopping the surging pandemic, which has already killed more than 300,000 Americans.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that President Donald Trump is "absolutely open to taking the vaccine." Since he recently recovered from a bout of Covid-19, he is thought to be currently immune.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that a health worker in Alaska suffered a serious allergic reaction after getting the Pfizer vaccine and is now hospitalised but stable. Pfizer said it was gathering information about the case.
Building trust in vaccine
Meanwhile Twitter said on Wednesday that it would crack down on false posts and conspiracy theories about vaccines, following in the footsteps of Facebook and YouTube.
"We will prioritise the removal of the most harmful misleading information, and... label tweets that contain potentially misleading information about the vaccines," Twitter said in a statement.
The policy will include action against claims that the vaccine is being used to intentionally cause harm or control people.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro performed an about-turn on Wednesday as he backed the national mass coronavirus immunisation campaign.
His support came a day after he told the YouTube channel of a well-known television presenter that "I won't get vaccinated. It's my problem. Full stop." Bolsonaro contracted the coronavirus in July but recovered quickly.
Brazil on Wednesday set a new record of infections - 70,574 cases in one day, though officials admit the true number is far higher.
In Canada, the pandemic is having a troubling knock-on effect on the opioid crisis, a government report said Wednesday.
A total of 1,628 people died of opioid overdoses from April to June, up 58 per cent from the previous quarter.
Experts said opioid users were facing increased risk because of the pandemic, which has sparked increased unemployment and homelessness.
In contrast, New Zealand roared back from a coronavirus-induced recession with record economic growth of 14.0 per cent in the July-September quarter.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the recovery was a payoff for New Zealand's success in containing the virus, with only 25 deaths among a population of five million.
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,636,687 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Wednesday.