Coronavirus News LIVE Updates: The UK has become the first western country to license a vaccine against Covid-19, opening the way for mass immunisation with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to begin in those most at risk. The vaccine has been authorised for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), ahead of decisions by the US and Europe. The MHRA was given power to approve the vaccine by the government under special regulations before 1 January, when it will become fully responsible for medicines authorisation in the UK after Brexit.
Here are the latest updates on Coronavirus:
• Japan will give free coronavirus vaccines to all of its residents under a bill passed Wednesday, as the nation battles record numbers of daily cases. The bill, which says the government will cover all vaccine costs for Japan's 126 million residents, was approved by the upper house of parliament, having cleared the powerful lower house. The country has secured Covid-19 vaccines for 60 million people from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and for a further 25 million people from biotech firm Moderna. It has also confirmed it will receive 120 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine.
• Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and the biotech firm Regeneron are investigating whether technology developed for gene therapy can be used to make a nasal spray that will prevent infection with the new coronavirus. The idea is to use a weakened virus as a delivery truck to carry genetic instructions to cells within the nose and the throat, which will in turn create powerful antibodies to stop SARS-CoV-2 from invading our bodies. "The advantage of our approach is that you don't need a competent immune system for this to be effective," James Wilson, a professor of medicine at Penn who is leading the project told AFP. The technology is currently being tested in animals and Wilson believes that, if successful, it could provide people with around six months of protection from a single dose, sprayed up the nose, and therefore complement vaccines that could soon be approved.
• The United States, the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and in the throes of a surge in cases, on Tuesday registered more than 2,500 deaths in a 24-hour period, the highest total since late April, Johns Hopkins University said. More than 180,000 new infections were recorded, according to real-time data provided by the Baltimore-based university.
• England on Wednesday exited a month-long lockdown but most of the country remained under restrictions as a new regional system for cutting coronavirus infection rates kicked in. The four-week lockdown, which began in November, was imposed to stop surging rates of infection, ease pressure on health services, and to allow families to gather for Christmas. But a tough three-tier system of restrictions will now be in place that has been criticised as doing little to reinstate cherished freedoms and help the virus-battered economy.
• The United States and Europe on Tuesday fleshed out plans to administer Covid-19 vaccines as soon as they gain approval, with a US panel recommending that health care workers and nursing home residents be given top priority. Hopes are high that shots could be ready for use before the end of the year, with two frontrunner vaccines -- by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer -- already seeking emergency use approval on both sides of the Atlantic.
• Asian shares shed early gains from a strong Wall Street lead on Wednesday, as some investors booked profits on a stellar run to record highs, but hope for additional U.S. economic stimulus and a coronavirus vaccine kept market sentiment well supported. Shares in China fell 0.22%. Tokyo stocks fell 0.17% after setting a new 29-year high. South Korean shares bucked the trend and rose 1.11% due to signs of an increase in semiconductor demand. US stock futures declined 0.4% following a record closing high for Wall Street shares.