What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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Main Photo: German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) and his wife Elke Buedenbender (C) look at the projected lights during a launching event of ‘Lichtblick’ (lit. light look) project at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany,on Tuesday evening. From 15 to 17 December, artistic images and letters will be projected on the facade of the Bellevue Palace to send message of encouragement and cohesion for the corona crisis. EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON

Salient news from around the world on the coronavirus pandemic:

Saudi Arabia receives first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines

Saudi Arabia received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday morning and will begin distributing the shots in the next three days, the health minister said on Wednesday.

Tawfiq al-Rabiah asked citizens and residents to register to receive the vaccine and reiterated that the vaccine would be free to all in the country.

He did not specify how many shots had been received nor which vaccine it was. Last week, Saudi health authorities registered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for import and use in the country.

Portugal says will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for its whole population

Portugal will have enough coronavirus shots to inoculate the whole population but no one will be forced to be vaccinated against the disease, the head of the country’s vaccination taskforce Francisco Ramos said on Wednesday.

Ramos said  that the distribution of coronavirus jabs would kick off as soon as they arrive in the country, hopefully before the end of the year.

“It would be intolerable to have vaccines in Portugal and not use them immediately,” Ramos told a parliamentary committee, adding there would be three main distribution points across the country, including in the Azores and Madeira islands.

The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is expected to arrive three days after the EU drug regulator is set to approve it on Dec. 21, Ramos said.

Portugal will buy 22 million doses of COVID-19 shots and it has signed agreements to buy the vaccines with potential manufacturers CureVac, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson&Johnson, Sanofi and GSK.

A tram passes the Alexanderplatz during the morning rush hour in Berlin, Germany, 16 December 2020. As the number of cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is still rising throughout Germany, the government has imposed a second hard lockdown with businesses closing from 16 December on until 10 January 2021. EPA-EFE/ALEXANDER BECHER

Swiss report more than 5,600 new coronavirus cases in a day

Coronavirus infections rose by 5,625 in a day, data overview from Swiss health authorities showed on Wednesday, amid calls from a senior government adviser this week to impose an immediate lockdown.

The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 394,453, while the death toll rose by 89 to 5,781 and 241 new hospitalisations kept pressure on the health care system.

A priest waits for devotees at Pashupati temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, 16 December 2020. The Pashupati temple in Kathmandu reopened on 16 December, after it closed in March 2020 due to government imposed coronavirus pandemic restrictions. EPA-EFE/NARENDRA SHRESTHA

COVID beds run short in St Petersburg

St Petersburg is running out of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, city authorities said, as one of around half a dozen firms licenced to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine began deliveries across the country.

Biotech group Biocad said on Wednesday it was supplying the shot as part of a national inoculation programme. More than 200,000 people in Russia have already been vaccinated against the disease.

Russia is battling a second wave of the virus and, while authorities have so far relied on targeted curbs rather than imposing a second national lockdown to contain it, the Kremlin warned last week that St Petersburg was close to crossing a “red line”.

Oleg Ergashev, deputy governor in the city – Russia’s second largest and President Vladimir Putin’s birthplace – said just 4% of the beds allocated to COVID patients were vacant.

“We understand that additional capacities need to be deployed,” he told local television late on Tuesday.

The city of around 5 million people has recorded more than 185,000 infections and 6,529 deaths since the start of the pandemic – compared with, respectively, more than 2,730,000 and 48,500 nationwide.

Authorities said 596 people had died from COVID-19 across the country in the past 24 hours.

A Ramayana Giant Guardian statue has a large protective mask as part of a campaign by the Health Ministry at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Samut Prakan province, Thailand. The campaign by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health is aimed at encouraging people to properly use protective masks and keep good hygiene both off and on planes in order to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease. EPA-EFE/DIEGO AZUBEL

U.S. immunization rollout expands

The United States expanded its rollout of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to hundreds of additional distribution centers on Tuesday, inoculating thousands more healthcare workers in a mass immunization expected to reach the general public in the coming months.

Distribution of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech began on Monday, three days after it won U.S. emergency-use authorization.

Political leaders and medical authorities have launched a two-pronged media blitz avowing the safety of the vaccines while urging Americans to remain diligent about social distancing and mask-wearing until inoculations become widely available.

Catholic devotees attend a dawn mass at the Manila Cathedral in Metro Manila, Philippines, 16 December 2020. The traditional Catholic dawn mass, which is held ever day for nine days before Christmas, is being held outdoors for social distancing requirements, due to the coronavirus pandemic. EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Seoul runs out of critical care beds

South Korea reported a record daily rise in cases on Wednesday and the prime minister issued an urgent call for more hospital beds to cope with the country’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals were at breaking point with only three critical care beds available in greater Seoul, an area with a population of almost 26 million people, officials said.

“The top priority is securing more hospital beds,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting.

Japan PM under fire over year-end dinners

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has drawn criticism for joining year-end get-togethers after begging the public to avoid parties as the country grapples with record numbers of cases.

Suga became prime minister in September but he has not enjoyed much of a honeymoon as public frustration grows with rising infections.

Despite warning the public to shun big gatherings, Suga has attended several over the past week, stirring criticism on social media and from politicians, including from allies in his coalition.

The world needs our art, say locked-down French performers

Several thousand French artists shut out of their performance spaces because of COVID-19 protested on Tuesday to demand the government let them back on stage.

Protesters paraded near the shuttered Bastille Opera house in central Paris with dancing giant puppets, drums and trumpets to spread the word that culture is essential, including during a pandemic.

Workers from the cultural sector participate in a protest against government closure measures during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Paris, France, 15 December 2020. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

French President Emmanuel Macron had said theatres could reopen from Dec. 15, but this was scrapped because COVID-19 transmission rates were not falling fast enough. The new target date for reopening is in January.

Culture is “part of humanity,” said one protester, who gave his name as Maurizio, and had a 12-foot (3.6 metre) tall puppet mounted on his shoulders. “It’s a part of what defines someone.”

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