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The UK’s coronavirus vaccination program topped the 15 million mark on Sunday, hours after New Zealand, largely spared the pandemic, closed its largest city.

The European Union, criticized for the slow roll-out of its own program, meanwhile confirmed that it would accelerate the approval of vaccines that have been updated to target variants of the original virus.

Germany partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian Tyrolean Sunday after the number of cases with new coronavirus variants increased and a quick reprimand was drawn from Brussels.

And Lebanon started its vaccination campaigns weeks after the richer countries got their vaccination campaigns started.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the “significant milestone” of 15 million shocks just over two months after the country launched its largest vaccination program to date.

“This country has done an extraordinary job,” he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

The country has achieved its goal of vaccinating everyone in its top four priority groups: those over 70, residents and employees of nursing homes, health care workers and those who are clinically extremely susceptible to the virus.

“The vaccine is our path to freedom,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday. “We will defeat this virus one blow at a time.”

New Zealand’s Auckland new lock

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the country’s largest city, Auckland, to be locked down for the first time in almost six months.

The action was taken after three members of an Auckland family tested positive. Authorities were concerned about the “new and active” infections as there was no obvious source of transmission.

Almost two million residents were ordered to stay home from midnight on Sunday. Schools and shops should be closed except for essential services.

Arden appealed to all residents of the city to stay at home.

“I know we all feel the same when this happens – not again,” she said.

“But remember, we’ve been here before, which means we know how to get out of here – together.”

The Pacific island nation has been widely lauded for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths out of a population of five million.

EU to speed up vaccine updates

Amid growing concerns about more contagious variants of the original virus, the European Union has agreed to accelerate the approval of vaccines that have been updated in this way, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Sunday.

“We examined the process together with the European Medicines Agency (EMA),” said Stella Kyriakides to the German daily Augsburger Allgemeine.

“And we have now decided that a vaccine that has been improved by a manufacturer to combat new mutations based on its previous vaccine no longer needs to go through the entire approval process.

The launch of the EU vaccines has been hampered by delays and controversy, leaving it lagging behind the US, UK and Israel in particular.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen admitted last week that mistakes had been made in sourcing vaccines on behalf of all 27 member states.

Germany has now mobilized a thousand police officers for strict controls on the border with the Czech Republic and the Austrian Tyrol.

At the Kiefersfelden intersection in southern Bavaria, masked officers in yellow safety vests were out and about in freezing temperatures and stopped every vehicle from Austria.

The restrictions aim to slow the spread of communicable variants, which were first identified in the UK and South Africa and which have created new virus hotspots along the Czech border and in the Austrian region of Tyrol.

Kyriakides condemned the German measure in comments to the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, according to which vaccines and preventive measures are “the only things that work”.

Beginning of the end … hopefully

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,395,044 people since the outbreak in China in December 2019, according to official sources compiled by AFP at 1800 GMT on Sunday.

According to an AFP record from official sources, more than 172 million doses of vaccine have been administered in at least 95 countries or territories.

But most of these cans went to the richer countries.

Lebanon launched its vaccination campaign on Sunday, putting health workers and the elderly at the fore.

The country has been under lockdown since mid-January, after seeing an unprecedented surge in cases stemming from holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients.

The first push went to Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the intensive care unit at Rafik Hariri Hospital, which was at the forefront of fighting the outbreak.

“Hopefully this will mark the beginning of the end of this plague in the country,” he told AFP.

Japan, meanwhile, approved its first coronavirus vaccine on Sunday, paving the way for mass vaccinations as the nation prepares to host the postponed 2020 Olympics.

Japan is expected to start using the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine as early as Wednesday for 10,000 to 20,000 medical workers.

Follow the latest news on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

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