Publicado: 12/02/2021

Lockdown hits Australian Open as UK economy shrinks record amount

Lockdown hits Australian Open as UK economy shrinks record amount

Melbourne (AFP) -

Australia ordered more than six million people into an emergency coronavirus lockdown Friday, throwing a showpiece tennis tournament into disarray as the pandemic's economic cost was laid bare in badly hit Britain.

The decision to confine the people of Melbourne and surrounding areas to their homes for five days illustrates the tough choices faced by many nations as they struggle to balance reopening and keeping infections under control.

'It's rough. It's going to be a rough few days for everyone,' said tennis star Serena Williams, reacting to the lockdown news moments after her latest victory.

The move comes as the Covid-19 death toll heads towards 2.4 million, with more than 107 million people infected since the virus emerged in China a little over a year ago.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said the lockdown was needed to halt an outbreak of the 'hyper-infectious' UK strain of Covid-19, which leaked from a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport.

But the timing for Melbourne could not be worse.

The city -- Covid-free for three months -- is currently hosting the Australian Open Grand Slam, with tens of thousands of socially distanced fans gathering to watch international players.

While play will continue under the restrictions, fans will no longer be permitted and players must restrict themselves to biosecure 'bubbles'.

The shutdown will not comfort Japan's Olympic organisers, with the much more complicated Tokyo games due to kick off in July after multiple delays.

- 'Serious shock' -

On the other side of the world, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen urged the 27 EU member countries to accelerate ratification of a key part of the bloc's 750-billion-euro ($900-billion) plan to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The UK -- which has left the EU and has Europe's highest virus death toll after a heavily criticised initial response to the pandemic -- reported that the economy shrank a record 9.9 percent last year.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak admitted the impact would be a 'serious shock' and warned: 'We should expect the economy to get worse before it gets better.'

Much of the UK re-entered lockdown in early January to curb the more transmissible Covid-19 variant.

But hopes rose Friday that the lockdown could soon be eased with the news that more than 13.5 million people have been given a coronavirus vaccine, close to a mid-February target of inoculating 15 million of the country's most vulnerable people.

The devolved government in Wales said Friday it had reached the target of vaccinating the top priority groups, which includes over-70s, care home residents and some key workers.

First Minister Mark Drakeford hailed hitting the 'milestone', but said the nation was not in a competition with the rest of the UK or other countries.

- 'Enough for 300 million' -

Hungary meanwhile said it will become the first EU nation to start using Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

The country broke ranks with the EU last month by becoming the first bloc member to approve Sputnik V, ordering two million doses to be delivered over three months, enough to vaccinate one million people.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August, months ahead of Western competitors but before the start of large-scale clinical trials, which left some experts wary.

However, recent results published in The Lancet journal found that the vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against Covid-19.

Some EU leaders seem to be warming to the idea of deploying Sputnik V as the bloc struggles with supply shortfalls for the three vaccines it has approved.

The European Medicines Agency has so far approved vaccines for the bloc developed by US-German firm Pfizer-BioNTech, US firm Moderna and British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca with Oxford University.

The EMA said Friday it had started a 'rolling review' of a vaccine from German manufacturer CureVac, the first step towards possible authorisation.

Non-EU Bosnia started vaccinating on Friday, using the Sputnik V jab, but only medical staff will be inoculated for now.

In the United States -- the world's hardest-hit country with more than 470,000 deaths -- Joe Biden announced plans to vaccinate nearly all American citizens by the end of July.

On Thursday the US president said deals had been struck for 100 million more Moderna and 100 million more Pfizer vaccines.

With the latest vaccine purchases, the US is on track 'to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July', Biden said, meaning enough inoculations for all eligible people.

More than 161.2 million vaccines have been administered worldwide so far, according to an AFP tally on Friday at 1100 GMT.

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