Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Britain went into a Tier 4 lockdown on Sunday, including banning activities during Christmas, amid a newly identified strain of COVID-19 that a top health official describes as "out of control."
Subsequently, several European nations, including France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, have temporarily banned travel from Britain. Most nations' restriction are 1-2 days to assess the situation though orders by Germany and Netherlands are at least through at least Dec. 31. Eurostar announced train cancellations between London, Brussels and Amsterdam at midnight Monday for 24 hours as a "precaution," but trains will operate between London and Paris.
The world is in the midst of another wave of the pandemic with the death toll nearing 1.7 million and cases passing 77 million, according to Worldometers.info tracking. More than 1 million cases are being announced every two days and more than 80,000 have died in the past week. For several months, the United States has had the most deaths, passing 300,000 Monday and 17 million cases Friday, according to Johns Hopkins tracking.
It has been almost one year since the first death was announced in Mainland China on Jan. 11. On Dec. 31, the government in Wuhan confirmed that health authorities were treating dozens of cases of a type of pneumonia.
By March, the outbreak had spread to Europe, including Italy, France, Spain and Britain.
In Britain, deaths had reached a peak of 1,166 on April 21 but had dropped to single digits many days during the summer. Subsequently, in a new wave, the daily death count hit 696 on Nov. 25 with 326 Sunday. Cases reached a record 35,928 cases Sunday with the high early in the pandemic 7,860 on April 10.
Britain is sixth overall with 67,401 deaths, behind the United States then Brazil with 186,733 and Mexico with 117,876.
With the new wave, Britain's restrictions are among the strongest in the world.
"The only way you can do that is by restricting social contacts and essentially, especially in Tier 4 areas, everybody needs to behave as if they may well have the virus and that is the way that we can get it under control and keep people safe," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday.
Hancock described the conditions as "an awful end to what has been a difficult year."
He noted it will be difficult to ease the restrictions.
"Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out."
Britain was the first nation to approve Pfizer's vaccine two weeks ago and Operation Warp Speed Lead Moncef Slaoui said Sunday it is "very unlikely" that the currently available vaccines would not be effective against the new variant.
This new variant, originating from southeast England, has been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and as far as Australia, World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said on Sunday.
"We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease from the preliminary information that [Britain] shared with us, although again those studies are underway to look at hospitalized patients with this variant," she said.
"The message is that this is the year to lift a glass to those who aren't there, in the knowledge that it's precisely because they're not there to celebrate Christmas with you this year that we all have a better chance that they'll be there next year," Johnson said.
Nations are working to restrict travel.
Starting Monday, flights and trains from Britain will be blocked for a 24-hour period, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Sunday morning.
He said the initial ban would last a day "because the scientific consultation is still ongoing," on the variant.
Belgium ranks 18th with the most deaths at 18,545 with 90 reported Sunday.
In all, nine countries are in the top 20 for most deaths. On Sunday, Europe reported 3,070 new deaths after 4,265 Saturday with 184,818 new cases Sunday after 203,730 Saturday.
Italy, which at one time was the epicenter of the world, is in fifth place with 68,799 deaths after a record 993 on Dec. 3 and 15,104 infections on Sunday after a record 40,896 on Nov. 13. Italy reported 352 deaths Sunday.
France is seventh with 60,549 deaths, including 131 Sunday after 932 on Nov. 13 that was the most since a record of 1,437 in April. The nation also reported 12,799 cases after a record 86,852 on Oct. 31.
Last week, Russia moved past Spain into ninth place, now with a total of 50,858 deaths, including 511 Sunday as well as 28,948 cases after record 29,039 Dec. 6 and fourth overall with 2,848,377.
No. 10 Spain doesn't report data over the weekend and has a total of 48,926.
Also in the top 20 are Germany with 26,764, including 350 Sunday but a record 838 two days ago, as well as a cases mark of 31,553 that day. Before mid-November, the greatest number of deaths was 333 on April 8.
Germany went into lockdown last Wednesday and it will last until Jan. 10 though restrictions will ease from Christmas Eve until Dec. 26.
Poland is 15th with 25,397 deaths, including 143 Sunday but a record 674 on Nov. 25.
Several European nations have been in lockdown.
Italy will go into a nationwide "red zone" lockdown during the Christmas and new year period. Non-essential shops will close, along with bars and restaurants, unless they provide home delivery.
Last week no nations were in the "red zone" with most Italian regions classified as yellow zones with fewer restrictions.
France was scheduled to lift its lockdown on Tuesday but President Emmanual Macron, who announced last week he has contracted the virus, has imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until mid-January, apart from Christmas Eve. Museums, theaters and cinemas will be closed until at least next month. It also includes restaurants, bars and cafes. French ski resorts will remain closed
Spain has ruled out a nationwide lockdown but regional authorities have the power to restrict movement. Spain's health minister, Salvador Illa, said Friday the second wave started later in other countries and "we have taken drastic measures when they have been necessary."
Among the continents, Europe has the most deaths with 492,125 and cases with 21,329,429.
Asia is close behind in cases with 19,780,908 but fourth in deaths with 322,413.
South Korea and Japan have been experiencing record cases though those figures are far below other countries in the world.
On Saturday, South Korea recorded a record 1,097 new cases, including 1,027 locally transmitted. There were 15 new deaths.
On Sunday, it record 926 cases and 24 deaths for a total of 50,591 infections and 698 fatalities.
On Friday, the federal government ordered hospitals to set aside 1% of all licensed beds for severe cases.
Last week, Japan set records for deaths -- 53 each on consecutive days -- for a total of 2,930, including 13 on a cruise ship, and cases 3,211 Thursday. Sunday's increases were 36 deaths and 2,496 cases.
Japan never has had a hard lockdown but encouraged people to follow social distancing precautions, including wearing masks, which are widely accepted there for other purposes.
Mainland China is the original epicenter but hasn't reported a death since April 26 and has dropped to 42nd place with 4,634, behind Guatemala with 4,656 and Austria with 5,351. It added 23 cases Sunday.
Two Asian nations are in the top 10 for most deaths: India and Iran.
India is third in deaths behind the U.S. and Brazil with 145,477, including 341 Sunday. The daily high was 1,299.
India becomes only the second nation to pass 10 million cases, adding 26,624 more for a total of 10,031,223 with the high 97,894 in September.
The nation, which has the second-biggest population in the world with 1.37 billion, plans to vaccinate 300 million people with the first vaccine doses from three candidates. These include 30 million essential workers and 270 million who are vulnerable.
The nation has conducted the second-most tests, 161 million behind the U.S. with 232.7 million.
Iran is in eighth place for most deaths at 53,625, including 177 Sunday after a record 486 on Nov. 16 and 6,312 cases after a record 14,051 on Nov. 27.
Israel ranks 49th with 3,099 deaths.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first person to be vaccinated in the nation with a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.
"This is a great day," Netanyahu told reporters at the center. "I believe in this vaccine and I am doing this to serve as a role model and encourage people to get vaccinated."
On Sunday, Israel health workers and nursing home residents will begin receiving the vaccine.
South America has the third-most deaths, 348,844, and fourth-most cases, 12,473,177.
The continent has four spots in the top 20 for most deaths: Brazil in second with 186,773, Argentina in 11th with 41,813, Colombia in 12th with 40,475, Peru in 13th with 37,103. Chile has dropped to 21st with 16,154.
Brazil passed 7 million cases last week and is third overall, including 49,423 Saturday and 25,445 Sunday. Brazil surpassed 68,000 cases three times last week. Between mid-August and late November, it hadn't exceeded 50,000. The high was 70,869 on July 29.
Deaths are lower than the record of 1,554 on July 29, including 669 Sunday with it surpassing 1,000 for the first time since mid-September with 1,054 Thursday.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the seriousness of the virus though he contracted it himself in July, also is critical of vaccines. He has said that the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech could turn people who take it into "crocodiles."
On Thursday, he said: "In the Pfizer contract it's very clear: 'we're not responsible for any side effects'. If you turn into a crocodile, it's your problem."
Trials have been underway in Brazil. The vaccine will be free but Bolsonaro said he won't get the shot.
"If you become superhuman, if a woman starts to grow a beard or if a man starts to speak with an effeminate voice, they will not have anything to do with it," Bolsonaro said.
Last week, Mexico approved emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, joining Britain, U.S. and Canada.
Meanwhile, Mexico City will impose "extraordinary measures" on residents, Mexican Deputy Health Minister Dr. Hugo Lopez-Gatell said during a news conference on Friday.
The adjacent state of Mexico banned will all nonessential activity, starting Saturday and lasting until Jan. 10.
"We are now at the levels we were in during the highest moment in June," Alfredo Del Mazo, the governor of the state of Mexico, said last week.
In North America, Mexico is in fourth place in the world for deaths at 117,876, including 627 Sunday, and 13th in cases at 1,313,675, including 12,129, Sunday, closed to a record 12,253 last week. The nation reported 762 deaths Saturday compared with a high of 1,092 on June 4.
Canada ranks 23rd in the world for deaths at 14,228, including 114 Saturday and 74 Sunday. On Dec. 11, there were 142 fatalities, which is the most since a record 222 on May 31. The cases are 507,795, including 6,248 additional infections on Saturday and 6,201 on Sunday after a record 8,119 Monday. Between May 26 and Aug. 30 cases were never more than 1,000.
Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada's chief public health officer is urging tougher restrictions in parts of the country.
"You can have very stringent restrictive public health measures but the public has to be on board," she told reporters Friday. "We are still accelerating and we're still increasing, so that epidemic curve in many parts of the country is not bending."
Last week, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. extended their travel ban another month through Jan. 21.
All but around 19,000 of the total 475,509 deaths in North America are in those three nations. The total number of cases: 21,003,870.
Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 1,046 deaths and 47,341.
New Zealand's deaths have remained at 25 since Sept. 16 and Australia's toll has remained at 908 since Nov. 30.
New Zealand reported six cases Sunday, tallying 24 in one week, for a total of 2,116 and Australia was up 44 Sunday for 28,172, an increase of 147 in seven days.
But there has been an outbreak in the Sydney area, with Northern Beaches 30 new cases recorded in the previous 24 hours.
More than 250,000 residents have been banned from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes until Wednesday.
Throughout the Greater Sydney area, household gatherings are capped at 10 people and venues at 300.
At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Victoria, which includes Melbourne, will close its border to Greater Sydney and the Central Coast.
"We have taken this step because as it stands now, the kind of baseline public health measures we have in place in Victoria are in fact stronger than those that are in New South Wales at the moment," Premier Daniel Andrews said Sunday.
Melbourne's second lockdown began in July and ended last month.
In Africa, there have been 59,195, which increased by 2,400 in one week and 2,523,478 cases.
South Africa leads the continent with 24,691 deaths, which is 16th in the world, including 152 Sunday followed by Egypt at 7,069 after gaining 28 more Saturday. South Africa has the 18th-most cases in the world at 921,922, including 9,445
Officials don't expect the continent to begin getting vaccinations until April.
"Africa is often holding the short end of the stick," said Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, deputy director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report by The Washington Post.
Logistical challenges include the lack of cold rooms and other high-tech freezers to store the vaccines.
People in South Africa, Egypt and Kenya participated in trials of vaccines.