The EU's 27 member countries aim to start Covid-19 vaccinations on "the same day" in a sign of unity, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said.

Her statement to the European Parliament came as pressure mounted on the bloc to catch up with the United States and Britain, which have already started inoculating people with a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

"To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70% 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," Ms von der Leyen told MEPs.

The European Medicines Agency, which regulates the release of medicines in the EU, is bringing forward to next Monday a special meeting originally planned a week later to discuss conditional approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

As Europeans watched first Britain last week then the US this week start vaccinations, Germany - home to BioNTech and Ms von der Leyen - pressed for the EMA to allow the jab to be made available before Christmas.

EU states have the option of individually going ahead with vaccinations earlier under EMA emergency rules, but the European Commission wants a coordinated roll-out across the bloc to ensure no member state is left behind.

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Ms von der Leyen emphasised that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was only one of six potential jabs for which the EU has secured contracts.

"Finally, within a week, the first vaccine will be authorised so that vaccinations can start immediately, and more will follow in the new year," she said.

"In total, we have bought more than enough doses for everyone in Europe. And we will be able to support our neighbours and our partners around the world through COVAX so that no one is left behind."

COVAX is an initiative launched by the World Health Organization, the European Commission and France to ensure that vaccines proven to be effective and safe are made available to all countries, and not only rich ones able to preemptively buy up doses.

Berlin, a day before lockdown
Berlin, a day before lockdown

Meanwhile, Germany has entered a strict lockdown in an effort to get soaring coronavirus cases under control as the number of registered deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 952, the highest daily increase yet.

Fears that the pandemic is spiralling out of control in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state governors to announce on Sunday a tough lockdown until 10 January at the earliest.

Shops and schools will stay shut from today in a pre-Christmas tightening of restrictions following a partial lockdown in November, which closed bars and restaurants but failed to contain a second wave of the pandemic.

Germany was more successful than many European countries in keeping the coronavirus under control in the first wave in the spring but the situation looks very different now.

The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 1,379,238, an increase of 27,728. The total death toll in Germany is at 23,427.

The previous highest daily increase in deaths was 598 on Friday.

Ms Merkel told politicians yesterday she was worried by the coronavirus trend and warned them that January and February would be very tough months.