EUROPE

A 90-year-old grandmother became the world’s first person to receive a fully-tested COVID-19 shot on December 8th, as the United Kingdom began mass-vaccinating its people. About 800,000 doses are expected to be available for immediate use, with the priority given to care home residents and carers, people in their 80s and some health service workers. According to the latest ‘Guidelines for COVID-19 Testing and Quarantine of Air Travellers’, published jointly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on December 2, people travelling by air during the COVID-19 pandemic should not automatically be considered as high-risk for spreading infection. The document states that air travellers should rather be treated in the same way as members of the local population who have not had any direct contact to a person infected with COVID-19. On December 4th, Italy and Libya defense ministers signed a collaboration agreement in training, health care and demining activities. Among other things, the "Joint Technical Military Cooperation Agreement" calls for identifying new ways of collaborating in health care, starting with the training of Libyan medical staff by members of Italy's field hospital in the northwestern Libyan city of Misrata. Thousands of residents from the Gallus district of Germany's financial capital, Frankfurt, were told to leave their homes in preparation for the safe removal of a British 500 kg World War II bomb on December 6th. Discoveries like this are regular occurrences in the countries that were regularly bombed by Allied forces during the World War II. Two UXOs were found in the United Kingdom early December. EOD experts from the Northern Diving Group (NDG) detonated a 350 kg World War II mine in the waters around the Firth of Clyde while an EOD team from the military removed an unexploded wartime bomb from the Smethwick Canal. Military personnel of the International Mine Action Center of the Russian Defence Ministry deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh have cleared more than 45 hectares of terrain, more than 14 kilometres of roads, and declared that more than 1,120 explosive objects have been found and neutralised.

THE AMERICAS

Deaths from COVID-19 in the United States have reached more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April, and cases per day have surpassed 200,000 on average for the first time on record. The virus has now caused more than 285,000 deaths and 15 million confirmed infections in the United States. Rochelle Walensky, currently the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, United States and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is the major contender to be appointed Director of CDC in the Biden administration’s fight against the coronavirus. On December 8th, an explosion at a West Virginia (United States) chemical plant injured 4 people. Officials believe the explosion involved chlorinated dry bleach and methanol.

Canada will start receiving its first doses of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December, with millions more to follow in early 2021. Brazil’s government is in advanced talks with Pfizer Inc to buy 70 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine and a Memorandum of Intent should be signed by December 11th. The vaccine will be delivered next year, while President Jair Bolsonaro said that the government will offer COVID-19 vaccines to all Brazilians free of charge. Researchers of the National Institute for Standardsand Technologies of the United States' Department of Commerce have developed a faster way to infuse PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane) with vapors. In the journal Forensic Chemistry, they describe warming compounds found in explosives, causing them to release vapors more quickly, then capturing those vapors with PDMS that is maintained at a cooler temperature. This allows it to absorb vapors more readily. This two-temperature method cut the time it took to “charge” PDMS training aids from a few weeks to a few days.

ASIA

India - the world’s second-hardest hit country from the virus outbreak - is accelerating its review of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca to authorize it for emergency use. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer by volume, lodged the first formal application for emergency-use approval of AstraZeneca’s shot on December 7th. 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by China's Sinovac Biotech have arrived in Indonesia in the first week of December. The government is waiting for emergency use authorization to start the vaccination program. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, published this month, the largest fall in the impact of terrorism occurred in Afghanistan, which recorded 1,654 fewer deaths from terrorism in 2018, a 22.4 per cent decrease from the prior year. However, Afghanistan remains the country most impacted by terrorism, after overtaking Iraq in 2018. A car bomb exploded near the Daman district police HQ and the governor's compound in southern Kandahar, Afghanistan on December 7th. Over 30 people were wounded, including at least 22 civilians and a police chief. No group, including the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the blast. Vietnam boosted its cooperation with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) by completing legal documents on handling bombs and mines left over from wartime, including National Technical Regulations, National Standards and Quality Management Process. Vietnam has helped speed up operations of the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre (ARMAC) and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021, has coordinated with GICHD and international partners in solving post-conflict bomb and mine consequences. An improvised explosive device went off outside a general store in Pirwadhai, Pakistan on December 4, killing one person and injuring seven others.

MIDDLE EAST

Iran will not accept preconditions from a new Biden administration over its nuclear programme and the US must return to a 2015 deal before talks can take place, according to its foreign minister. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the nuclear deal and lift sanctions if Tehran returns to "strict compliance with the nuclear deal". Both sides appear to want the other to readopt the agreement's terms first. In May 2018, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal negotiated under his predecessor, Barack Obama. The Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (Masam) in Yemen lead to the dismantlement of 49 antipersonnel mines, 115 anti-tank mines, and 1,218 unexploded ordnance and 3 explosive devices — totaling 1,385 mines — during the fourth week of November. A total of 201,385 mines have been extracted in the country since the beginning of the project.

AFRICA

According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria recorded the second largest reduction in deaths from terrorism in 2019, with the number falling from 2,043 to 1,245, a 39.1 per cent reduction, which was mainly due to a fall in terrorism deaths attributed to Fulani extremists. This reduction occurred despite a small increase in deaths attributed to Boko Haram, which has the been the most active terrorist group in the country over the past decade. Deaths from terrorism in Nigeria are now 83 per cent lower than at their peak in 2014. The largest increase in deaths from terrorism occurred in Burkina Faso, where deaths rose from 86 to 593, a 590 per cent increase. The rise was mainly driven by three groups: the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Burkina Faso branch of Ansar al-Islam. A new network in Africa aims to combat the “infodemic” of misinformation online surrounding COVID-19 and other health emergencies on the continent. The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), an umbrella of 13 international and regional organizations, together with fact-checking groups, is working to detect, disrupt and counter damaging misinformation on public health issues in Africa. AIRA will also work to counter false information around COVID-19 vaccines.

OCEANIA

Australia’s international border will remain closed until March 2021, after health minister Greg Hunt extended the biosecurity act emergency declaration on December 7th. The Royal Commission of Inquiry issued a new report on the 2019 Christchurch attack in New Zealand. There were no clear signs that an attack on the two mosques was imminent. However, the police should have done a better job vetting the lone gunman when he applied for a gun license, and intelligence agencies should have focused more on threats such as white supremacism. Among 44 recommendations, the 800 pages report released on December 8th also says the government should establish a new national intelligence agency.