Countries scramble for virus vaccine deals

India has registered 44,376 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.
India has registered 44,376 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

Countries around the world are scrambling to finalise vaccine deals as the global number of coronavirus infections approach 60 million, scientists urge caution and US officials plead with people to stay home over Thanksgiving.

The holiday weekend is expected to fuel a surge of infections in the United States, which leads the world with soaring COVID-19 infections and the daily toll on Tuesday climbing above 2000, the highest 24-hour tally since early May.

Hopes for a successful vaccine, boosted by Pfizer, AstraZenica and Moderna, have boosted world stock markets.

But an approved vaccine is unlikely to be widely available for months while scientists insist on the continued need for vigilance as politicians seek to relax curbs for Christmas amid a second wave of the pandemic.

Germany on Wednesday reported a record 410 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, before its 16 federal state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel meet on Wednesday to discuss easing restrictions for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Italy reported 853 deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, soaring from 630 the day before and the highest daily toll since March 28.

But new infections and the number of people in hospital with the virus in France dropped sharply as a country-wide lockdown went into its fourth week.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday a vaccine could start being administered by the end of the year.

"We will very likely, and pending authorisation by health authorities, start vaccination of the most vulnerable populations, hence the elderly, as soon as the end of December, early January," he said in a televised address.

Air France-KLM is among airlines gearing up for the challenge of transporting millions of doses of temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines.

"It's going to be a major logistics challenge," Air France cargo chief Christophe Boucher said.

Macron said France will start easing its COVID-19 lockdown this weekend so that by Christmas, shops, theatres and cinemas will re-open and people can spend the holiday with their families.

The four parts of the United Kingdom, which have devised their own pandemic policies until now, agreed to relax restrictions for Christmas to allow up to three households to meet at home for five days.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned against relaxing lockdowns too quickly.

"We must learn from the (northern) summer and not repeat the same mistakes," she told the European Parliament.

"Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas."

US president-elect Joe Biden will give a speech on Wednesday highlighting the challenges facing the country as Thanksgiving approaches.

The United States has the world's highest COVID-19 death toll at nearly 260,000, with more than 1.4 million infections.

Biden will aim to encourage people to focus on the sacrifices they are making, his office said, as officials across the country pleaded with people to stay home and avoid large gatherings.

The US caseload has taxed healthcare providers, filled hospitals and strained other medical resources as 171,000 people test positive and another 1500 or more die from COVID-19 every day on average.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged the public to grasp "the severity of the moment" and remain diligent in wearing masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands until newly developed therapeutics and vaccines are available.

Meanwhile, India has registered 44,376 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

The latest increase has taken the total number of cases to 9.22 million, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

Deaths rose by 481, driving the total fatalities to 134,699.

India's confirmed daily toll has remained below 50,000 for a few weeks after peaking in September.

But several cities have witnessed a surge in cases, prompting some state governments to clamp additional restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.

In Mumbai in southern India, travellers from New Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat will have to undergo mandatory coronavirus tests before entering the city.

More than 59.8 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally by Wednesday and 1,409,664 have died.

Australian Associated Press