UK vaccine news gives hope as US plans mass rollout

London: The developers of a coronavirus vaccine in Britain on Monday claimed success after mass testing, as the United States announced plans to give jabs to 20 million people before the end of the year to combat surging infections.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University 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 had more than 90 percent effectiveness.

The bright news on vaccines comes as Europe and the Americas battle rising caseloads that are pushing health systems to the brink, forcing governments to issue stay at home orders and close businesses even as the crucial Christmas period approaches.

Canada's biggest city Toronto will become the latest area to shut down later on Monday, as officials ban private indoor gatherings and limit the size of weddings and funerals -- similar to measures already in place in France and other European countries.

"We can't risk overwhelming our hospitals," said Doug Ford, premier of Ontario province, earlier this week.

At the other end of the confinement cycle, Australia's second-largest city Melbourne continued to emerge from a gruelling four-month lockdown with authorities lifting a ban on travel across state borders.

"When I went across the border I beeped the horn, 'Yahoo!'," said Melbourne resident Margaret Forster after being allowed to drive from Victoria into New South Wales for the first time since June.

The virus has killed almost 1.4 million people worldwide since emerging in China late last year.

The latest vaccine results are particularly important as the Oxford drug can be transported easily at normal refrigerator temperatures unlike some of the other candidates, which need extremely cold storage.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said despite the vaccine's lower effectiveness compared with the other candidate drugs, it would still be highly effective and would have an "immediate impact".

The firm said it planned to develop up to three billion doses of the vaccine in 2021 if it passes the remaining regulatory hurdles.

Two other leading  candidates -- one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and another by US firm Moderna reported 95 percent effectiveness in trials.

The European Union said it could approve vaccines for use by the end of the year, following a statement from US officials that a vaccination programme could be started as soon as next month. - AFP �