By G9ija

The European Union started the approval process for its third vaccine on Tuesday after WHO scientists warned that herd immunity from coronavirus was unlikely this year even with mass inoculation schemes.

The 27-nation EU — under fire for lengthy approval processes and slow national rollouts of drugs — promised an “accelerated timeline” after confirming drug company AstraZeneca had applied for approval for the jab it developed with Oxford University.

The EU’s medicines agency said a decision would still not come before January 29, even though the drug is already being used in countries including Britain.

And even with mass vaccinations, World Health Organization scientists warned that coverage would still not be wide enough for population-level immunity this year.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” said WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan of a disease that has already infected more than 90 million people worldwide and killed almost two million.

The United States remains the worst affected country, posting daily death tolls in multiple thousands, but European hospitals are increasingly warning of stretched resources and Asian countries are also facing upsurges.

Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as fears grow that its health system is close to being overwhelmed, after China and Japan took measures against localised clusters.

China added a city of five million to a growing lockdown area near Beijing on Tuesday, as WHO experts arrive in the central city of Wuhan to probe the origins of the disease.