An illustration picture shows a vial with COVID-19 vaccine sticker, a syringe and a globe. - AFP

PARIS: France is expected to loosen its coronavirus restrictions as the boss of a major airline said proof of vaccination will likely become the only way people can fly in a post-pandemic world. Hopes over COVID-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient. French President Emmanuel Macron will address the country - currently under lockdown - to announce a reworking of the rules following a drop in nationwide infections.

Macron's televised speech comes a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said thanks to a major vaccine breakthrough, "the escape route is in sight" from the coronavirus crisis. Johnson said that although the "scientific cavalry" was arriving, he warned "Christmas cannot be normal and there's a long road to spring". The world is still engulfed in the unprecedented health crisis which has shattered economies, infected almost 58.9 million people and left nearly 1.4 million dead.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Monday said their drug had proved on average 70 percent effective at stopping the virus after trying it on 23,000 people, days after tests of two other drugs suggested they were more than 90 percent effective. While World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the latest batch of results as light at the end of the "long dark tunnel", he cautioned that the world had to ensure drugs were distributed fairly. "Every government rightly wants to do everything it can to protect its people," Tedros said. "But there is now a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines."

Qantas vaccine rule
Australia's Qantas announced that international travelers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to fly, becoming the first airline to suggest rules could become common across the industry. Chief executive Alan Joyce said the carrier would implement the measure once a vaccine was made available to the public.

"Certainly, for international visitors coming out (to Australia) and people leaving the country, we think that is a necessity," he told Channel Nine. Joyce predicted the rule would likely become standard practice around the world as governments and airlines consider the introduction of electronic vaccination passports. However, other major regional airlines, such as Korean Air and Japan Airlines, said it was too early to comment on what travel requirements might be when a vaccine becomes widely available.

Following Qantas' announcement, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said "no final decision" had yet been taken on how to proceed when vaccines are available, but indicated vaccination or a strict two-week quarantine would be a condition for entry. "We would expect that people coming to Australia whilst Covid-19 is a significant disease in the world will either be vaccinated or they will isolate," he said. Australia's Victoria state announced its last coronavirus patient had been cleared of COVID-19 - a major milestone for what had been the epicenter of the country's second wave.

But in China, where the virus was first detected late last year, hundreds of flights at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport were cancelled after a small cluster of cases in the city was linked to several cargo handlers. And officials in Hong Kong ramped up already tight social distancing measures following a local spike in infections, shuttering bars, pubs, party rooms and nightclubs. All live performances and dancing have also been banned. Daily case numbers have approached three figures in recent days, prompting the stricter rules.

'Selfish deaf ears'
The United States - by far the worst-hit nation - celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday, and many Americans plan to spend the holiday with extended family despite authorities warning they risk exacerbating the disease raging across the country. Nearly 258,000 people have died nationwide and the caseload is edging towards 12.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Stopping short of issuing an outright ban, the US government's health protection agency has for the first time called on Americans not to travel for the annual holiday, which sees families get together over turkey, yams and cranberry sauce. Last weekend was the busiest since the start of the pandemic with more than three million people passing through US airports, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for security checks. "Our pleas for help have fallen on selfish deaf ears," tweeted Cleavon Gilman, an emergency doctor in Arizona, where he said hospitals were "overwhelmed" with Covid patients. - AFP