Several European countries tightened restrictions and Germany registered a record death toll on the first day of its new lockdown Wednesday, as the United States set a new daily record of Covid-19 infections.
The tougher measures came as EU members agreed to start coronavirus vaccinations on the same day.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told European deputies: "To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 percent of the population vaccinated.
"This is a huge task, a big task. So let's start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start at the same day."
Pressure has been mounting on the bloc to catch up with Britain and the United States who have both started their programmes, using a vaccine made in the EU jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Several European countries on Wednesday imposed tighter coronavirus restrictions ahead of Christmas.
Swathes of England came under stricter curbs, and Denmark extended its restrictions.
France and Turkey have also announced restrictions over the holiday season, and on Tuesday, the Netherlands shut down schools and non-essential shops for five weeks.
Germany also closed non-essential shops and schools on Wednesday, as its Robert Koch Institute announced that a record 952 people had died of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours.
Pressure for vaccine approval
Germany, which coped relatively well with the first wave in the spring, has struggled to contain a surge in recent months.
Its health minister has joined calls on the European Union's health regulator to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine "before Christmas".
Although Britain has already started using it, high infection numbers forced London on Wednesday to join large parts of central and northern England under tough, economically painful restrictions.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites will close, apart from takeaways, as will theatres and other entertainment venues.
"The hospitality business needs this week, and it's devastating. It is devastatingly awful," said Lesley Lewis, owner of The French House, a London pub.
"But if this is what it takes to save lives, that's what we have to do."
A Chinese pharmaceutical company said Wednesday it had agreed to buy at least 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from German company BioNTech, subject to Beijing approving its use.
Hopes for an end to the pandemic have also been boosted by positive assessments of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
New measures from US -
The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued an upbeat briefing about Moderna, ahead of a meeting of experts on whether to grant it emergency approval.
The United States has already started using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and on Tuesday the FDA also approved the country's first rapid at-home coronavirus test for Covid-19. Available over-the-counter, it produces a result in around 20 minutes.
The need is urgent, as the United States remains the hardest-hit nation, setting a record for new daily infections on Tuesday with more than 248,000 cases.
The Washington National Cathedral rang its bells 300 times Tuesday in memory of the 300,000 people who have lost their lives to coronavirus in the United States. The current toll stands at 303,797.
In California, officials ordered 5,000 extra body bags as Los Angeles was left with fewer than 100 available intensive care beds for a county of 10 million people.
"I don't want... to scare folks" said Governor Gavin Newsom. "But this is a deadly disease, and we need to be mindful of where we are."
President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will be vaccinated in public.
Poorer nations left behind?
Worldwide, more than 73.4 million infections and over 1.6 million deaths have been recorded so far.
But with wealthy nations reserving more than half of next year's potential doses, there are fears the poorer parts of the world will be left behind.
Even if the drug makers all produce effective, safe vaccines and meet their maximum global manufacturing targets, a study published Wednesday by researchers from Johns Hopkins University warned that "at least a fifth of the world's population would not have access" until 2022.
The World Health Organization has said it is in talks with Pfizer and Moderna about including their vaccines at affordable prices for poor countries.