Moderna's coronavirus vaccine was set for imminent approval in the United States on Thursday, as the death toll from COVID-19 climbed around the world, with Europe becoming the first region to surpass 500,000 fatalities. FILE PHOTO: A small shopping basket filled with vials labeled "COVID-19 - Coronavirus Vaccine" and a medical sryinge are placed on a Moderna logo in this illustration taken November 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] The Moderna jab is now expected to become the second vaccine allowed in a Western country, after a panel of US experts recommended emergency use approval－advice the country's Food and Drug Administration is likely to act on. The committee voted 20-0 with one abstention that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed its risks in people aged 18 and older. The Financial Times reported that the US FDA had decided to approve Moderna's vaccine candidate on an emergency basis. It cited people close to the process and added that the emergency approval will be granted in the coming days. In the US, where a one-day high of 3,580 deaths was reported on Wednesday alone, emergency approval of the Moderna vaccine would pave the way for six million doses to potentially start shipping as soon as this weekend. Overall, more than 311,000 people have died of the disease in the US, according to the data of Johns Hopkins University on Friday. On Thursday, the US logged its latest record-high number of new coronavirus cases in a day－more than 239,900. The US began rolling out the Pfizer jab on Monday, hoping to have 20 million people immunized this month. Hospitals across the country are reporting shortages of intensive care unit beds, and hospitals in California, the most populous state in the US, may be in the worst shape. California reported 52,000 new cases in a single day on Thursday－equal to what the entire US was averaging in mid-October－and a one-day record of 379 deaths. More than 16,000 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms across the state. In Texas, many intensive care units are either full or approaching capacity. On Wednesday, authorities reported having only about 700 ICU beds open statewide. Massive pressure French President Emmanuel Macron became the latest national leader to test positive for coronavirus, forcing several other European politicians into quarantine. Europe is battling a winter surge that has placed it at the heart of the pandemic once again, with the disease biting harder in countries like Germany than it did during the first wave in March and April. The European Union is under massive pressure to approve potential vaccines after Britain and the US began rolling out a drug produced by Pfizer and BioNtech. The bloc has promised to begin inoculations with the Pfizer drug before the end of the year. The EU said on Thursday it would fast-track the Moderna vaccine, with approval now scheduled for Jan 6, a week earlier than previously planned. Macron's symptoms were said to include a fever, cough and fatigue. The French leader's positive test results group him with US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who were both treated in hospital after contracting the virus. Other politicians who have had contact with him have also gone into isolation, including European Council chief Charles Michel, the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg, and Macron's own prime minister Jean Castex. Several European countries are returning to lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions as fears grow of an explosion in cases after the Christmas holidays. Germany, which began a new partial lockdown this week, reported a record 30,000 new infections on Thursday. Denmark, France, Turkey and the Netherlands have all strengthened curbs recently and Bulgaria said on Thursday its restrictions would carry on until the end of January. In Brazil 1,092 new fatalities over the past 24 hours took the country's total deaths to almost 185,000－a number surpassed only by the US. Agencies and Ai Heping in New York contributed to this story.