LA shuts restaurants as virus surges, but Europe eases lockdowns

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LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A restaurant dining ban in Los Angeles was due to come into force Wednesday as officials warned Americans to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday, while parts of Europe eyed looser lockdowns over the festive season.

The three-week order in America’s second-biggest city will begin as California faces record Covid-19 cases, and its health secretary urges people to avoid large family gatherings.

“It’s as important to say ‘no’ even when it comes to the closest people in our family,” Dr Mark Ghaly said Tuesday, adding he had barred his own mother from his planned celebration.

The US government’s health protection agency has for the first time called on Americans not to travel for the annual holiday, which usually sees families get together over turkey, yams and cranberry sauce.

With the US confronted by soaring numbers of deaths and new cases, plans to deliver a vaccine to Americans are accelerating.

More than six million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will be available in the first week after it is cleared for emergency use — which is likely next month — and 40 million by the end of December, according to officials.

There were more than 86,000 coronavirus hospitalizations in the US on Tuesday, a record, as well as 167,000 new cases and more than 2,000 deaths.

As America grappled with its crisis, European nations were slowly relaxing measures ahead of their own Christmas holidays, as a second wave of infections slowed following weeks of lockdowns.

In a televised address late Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced shops could re-open on Saturday and nationwide stay-at-home orders would be lifted from December 15.

British authorities also announced restrictions on social mixing and travel would be eased across the UK over Christmas.

Mixed signals in Asia

Elsewhere in Europe, 16 German states agreed to slightly loosen limits on social contact over Christmas, according to a draft deal seen by AFP, even as cases near one million there.

State leaders agreed to cap gatherings to 10 people over the December 23 to January 1 holiday — double the limit for the rest of December.

In Australia, the country’s most populous state, New South Wales, eased social distancing measures and allowed companies to bring employees back to work, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced Wednesday after three weeks without a locally transmitted Covid-19 case.

Singapore, which has one of the world’s lowest virus death rates, announced it had no live clusters of Covid-19 cases in the country — the first time since its outbreak began earlier this year, and two weeks without any local cases at all.

In positive news for China, it recorded only five new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, all of them imported, down from 22 the previous day, authorities said on Wednesday.

Those encouraging signs in Asia have been pegged by a recent spike of cases in parts of Japan, which has withdrawn the cities of Osaka and Sapporo from its ‘Go To Travel’ subsidy campaign after experts pointed to easing restrictions as contributing to the rise.

Additionally, Tokyo residents will be urged later Wednesday to avoid non-essential outings and businesses serving alcohol asked to shut early, local media said.

Tempered optimism

There are now several possible vaccines internationally that have undergone or are undergoing clinical trials, with candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Pfizer-BioNTech leading the pack.

Britain, France, Austria and Spain have pledged to begin vaccinations in early 2021 at the latest.

Even once a vaccine becomes available, any return to normality for a global economy ravaged by the pandemic seems a long way off.

But optimism sparked by the vaccines has given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe in recent days, as well as pushing up stock markets.

Asian markets rallied Wednesday following a blockbuster performance on Wall Street as vaccine successes and easing US political uncertainty after Joe Biden’s presidential election win boosted investor confidence.

However, still-high death numbers and a pick-up in new cases in several Asian nations tempered the excitement.

More than 1.4 million people have died worldwide and the global caseload is edging towards 60 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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