(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
Italy’s deaths head for wartime levels
An adviser to Italy’s health ministry has called for restrictions to be drastically tightened to avoid a “national tragedy” after the national statistics bureau said deaths this year would be the highest since World War Two.
“We are in a war situation, people don’t realise it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war,” public health professor Walter Ricciardi told the television channel la7 on Tuesday evening.
Ricciardi, the adviser to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, said the government, which is considering tightening restrictions over the Christmas and New Year holidays, should lock down the main cities completely.
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.
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.
‘Easter can be the new Christmas’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government thinks people should make their own decision about meeting up for Christmas, but given the risk some may want to wait for Easter to gather with their family, a British minister said on Wednesday.
“How much do they want to bring members of their broader family together at Christmas or whether they think on this occasion let’s just keep it small and we can meet up in the Spring – Easter can be the new Christmas for some people,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky.
After imposing the most onerous restrictions in British peacetime history, Johnson is keen to avoid becoming the prime minister who cancelled Christmas, even though the UK has the sixth worst official COVID-19 death toll in the world.
(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)