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Europe's vaccine row escalates

Europe's fight to secure Covid-19 vaccine supplies sharpened on Thursday when Britain demanded that it receive all the shots it had paid for after the European Union asked AstraZeneca to divert supplies from the UK.

The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, Britain, and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West's biggest drug makers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.

As vaccination centres in parts of Germany, France and Spain cancelled or delayed appointments, the EU publicly rebuked Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca for failing to deliver, even though the vaccine has not yet been approved by the bloc.

India says it has contained spread

India said on Thursday it had curbed an increase in infections, with a fifth of its districts reporting no new cases for a week.

The country of 1.35 billion has recorded the highest number of cases in the world after the United States, though the rate of infection has come down significantly since a mid-September peak. Some studies have suggested pockets of India have attained herd immunity through natural infection.

"India has successfully contained the pandemic," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, noting that fewer than 12,000 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours.

WHO team in Wuhan leaves quarantine

A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the pandemic left its quarantine hotel in Wuhan on Thursday to begin field work, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city where the virus emerged in late 2019.

The mission has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

China has been promoting a narrative that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan.

New Zealand and Vietnam most successful against Covid

New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan rank as the top three in a Covid Performance Index of almost 100 countries for their successful handling of the pandemic, with Britain and the United States near the bottom of the pile.

The Lowy Institute said its index, published on Thursday, excludes China due to a lack of publicly available data.

The other countries in the top 10 are Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia and Sri Lanka.

Portugal in 'terrible' phase

Portugal is in a terrible phase of the pandemic, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said, warning that it would be some weeks before things might start to improve and that only limited help could be expected from abroad.

With a total of 668,951 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11,305 deaths, including a record 293 dead on Wednesday, Portugal has the world's highest seven-day per capita average of new daily cases and deaths.

Costa told the broadcaster TVI the situation was not bad but "terrible".
(Reuters)

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