Some of the shots will be paid for by donors to the Gavi alliance, a global collaboration led by the World Health Organisation for speeding up the development, manufacture and equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines to low and middle-income countries. It was announced last year that the Serum Institute would receive $150 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Gavi vaccines alliance to make 100 million vaccine doses for India and other emerging economies.

India will now start to conduct a nationwide vaccination dry run in which participants receive dummy vaccines to test mechanisms and reveal possible gaps in the system ahead of the actual vaccination drive.

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“We have prepared detailed guidelines on vaccination. Everything in this has been kept very clear and free. In case of adverse events during vaccination, we have also made arrangements to monitor that,” said Harsh Vardhan, a health minister.

While Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has promised everyone will be vaccinated in India, Rajesh Bhushan, the health secretary, said there was no need to vaccinate the country’s entire population.

Out of 1.3 billion people, Bhushan said 300 million from priority groups would be vaccinated first. These include 10 million healthcare workers, 20 million front-line workers and 270 million people over 50 and under 50 with co-morbidities.

Covishield, as the Oxford vaccination is called in India, can be stored in a refrigerator, making it better for Indian facilities that lack adequate cold-storage facilities for Pfizer’s jab.

At 10.3 million cases, India has reported the second-highest number of coronavirus cases after the US, though its rate of infection has come down significantly from a mid-September peak.

India will now require approval from the WHO to export the vaccine to other countries.

Virus-defying raves shut down

Illegal parties marking the turn of the year attracted thousands of people in France despite coronavirus restrictions banning these gatherings.

A rave south of the city of Rennes in Brittany was attended by around 2,500 people, the AFP news agency reported, citing authorities in the Ille-et-Vilaine department.

The revellers were reportedly locals as well as people who had travelled from abroad.

The police were called to the scene in Lieuron, where disinfectant and masks had been distributed at the event in a bid to minimise the risk of infection. However very few of the partygoers captured in social media footage were wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

The public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.

In illegal gatherings in Marseille and Seine-et-Marne, some 300 and 100 people partied into the new year, according to AFP. Those events were broken up by security forces.

Broadcaster Franceinfo also reported that another New Year’s party was planned in Normandy with 190 guests.

Under France’s pandemic rules, the government asked citizens to have no more than six adults meet indoors for New Year.

The French health ministry reported 19,348 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on New Year’s day, local time, slightly fewer than Thursday’s 19,927 and well below Wednesday’s more than one-month high of 26,457 but still far from the government’s target of less than 5,000 daily additional infections.

France’s cumulative total of cases now stands at 2,639,773, the fifth highest in the world.

The COVID-19 death toll was up by 133 at 64,765.

France will impose an earlier curfew in 15 northeastern and southeastern departments from Saturday to combat the spread of the coronavirus, starting at 6pm instead of 8pm.

New COVID strain reaches Vietnam

Vietnam has detected its first imported case of the new coronavirus variant that is spreading rapidly around Britain, the health ministry said on Saturday.

The variant was detected in a 44-year-old woman returning to Vietnam from Britain, who was quarantined upon arrival and was confirmed positive for the virus on Dec. 24, the ministry said in a statement.

Countries around the world have cut off travel links to Britain to stop the spread of the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original virus.

Vietnam is still operating repatriation flights to bring home citizens stuck in the UK.

With strict quarantine and tracking measures, Vietnam has so far quickly contained coronavirus outbreaks, allowing economic activity to rebound faster than in much of Asia. It has recorded 1,474 infections, with 35 deaths.

South Korea bans all gatherings of more than four people

South Korea will expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until Jan. 17, the health minister said on Saturday.

Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing that the measures were necessary to reduce a prolonged surge in infections that has led to a spike in deaths.

The country reported 824 new cases as of midnight on Friday, down from 1,029 a day before, a drop that officials said was likely due to reduced testing over the New Year holiday.

As much as 40 per cent of recent cases have been linked to small gatherings, Kwon said. The ban on such gatherings had been imposed in Seoul and neighbouring areas before the Christmas holiday and had been due to expire on Sunday.

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The country also has restrictions on churches, restaurants, cafes, ski resorts, and other venues.

Kwon apologised to citizens for the rules, but thanked them for their “solidarity and cooperation”.

As vaccinations would begin in February, the next few months will be the “last hurdle”, he said.

After initial success in subduing earlier waves of infections, South Korea has struggled to reduce this latest and largest surge, with daily cases hovering around 1,000 for weeks

The London Telegraph, Reuters, McClatchy’s

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