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Global COVID-19 cases surpass 80 million

Global COVID-19 cases surpass 80 million
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The total number of global coronavirus cases on Saturday surpassed 80 million as countries around the world are experiencing surges of the disease amid the holiday season. 

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, about 472,000 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Christmas Day globally, with the number of deaths due to the virus now standing at more than 1.75 million. 

The U.S. far surpasses other countries in the number of total cases with more than 18.8 million infections as of Saturday. The U.S. is followed by India with nearly 10.2 million cases and Brazil, which has recorded 7.4 million infections.

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The U.S. also leads the world in coronavirus-related deaths with more than 330,000, followed by Brazil at 190,488 and India at 147,343. 

The grim milestone comes as some countries are now battling a new strain of the virus that British scientists this week found to be 56 percent more contagious than the original. 

The first reported cases of the new strain were found in the United Kingdom, prompting several European countries and others around the world to limit foreign travel. 

On Saturday, Japan announced that it would temporarily ban nonresident foreign nationals from entering the country, citing the risk of the new COVID-19 strain. 

Japanese officials confirmed that a more contagious strain of the virus from the U.K. had entered the country, with the first detected cases involving passengers arriving from Britain.

Despite the surges in coronavirus infections and deaths, the approval of vaccines in several countries could signal an eventual end to the pandemic.

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Pharmaceutical company Moderna said in a statement on Wednesday that its vaccine will likely be able to protect people from the new, highly infectious strain, adding that it planned to run tests to confirm the vaccine’s efficacy. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has so far approved the Moderna vaccine as well as the candidate developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for emergency use. Millions of doses of the these vaccines have already been distributed for health care professionals and other front-line workers. 

Several public figures and elected officials, including Vice President Pence and President-elect Joe Biden, have received the vaccine publicly to promote public confidence in the safety of the inoculation. 

Countries in the European Union began receiving their first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine this weekend ahead of a massive rollout planned for Sunday.

Efforts will be underway Sunday to vaccinate at-risk populations and and medical workers in some of the countries that experienced the brunt of the virus's first wave this spring, including the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain, The Associated Press reported.