Family members of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 line up with empty oxygen tanks in an attempt to refill them, outside the Nitron da Amazonia company, in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, Jan 15, 2021. (EDMAR BARROS / AP)
WASHINGTON / BRASILIA / LONDON / LA PAZ / GENEVA / PARIS / ROME / BUCHAREST / MEXICO CITY / BRUSSELS / RABAT / ALGIERS / HARARE / MADRID / OTTAWA / SANTIAGO / BUENOS AIRES / ATHENS / RIGA / BOGOTA / MOSCOW / BERLIN / KIEV / ZURICH - The world hit a frightening COVID-19 benchmark, with 2 million people dead and few expectations for infections to start dropping soon.
More than 93.9 million cases have been recorded across the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Overall, the United States is leading all countries in deaths with more than 392,000 fatalities, with Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK next in line.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday called for "far greater solidarity" in a video message after the world hit the grim milestone.
COVID-19 has already killed more people than malaria and tuberculosis combined in the past year, and is nearing the peak number of annual deaths seen from AIDS, which occurred in 2005
COVID-19 has already killed more people than malaria and tuberculosis combined in the past year, and is nearing the peak number of annual deaths seen from AIDS, which occurred in 2005.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation under the University of Washington projects that the world won’t get to about 3 million deaths by the end of 2021, meaning that fewer than 1 million people will die from coronavirus this year.
While the number of deaths is likely to recede as more and more people get vaccinated, herd immunity - which occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the person-to-person spread unlikely - won’t be achieved until at least 70 percent of the population is protected, experts have said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) puts the timeline globally at 2022.
“Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we’re not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” said the WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan at a Jan 11 news briefing.
Access to vaccines
WHO Director-General on Friday urged fairness of access to COVID-19 vaccines, saying he wants to "see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days."
Speaking at a virtual press conference from Geneva, Tedros stressed that efforts should be made to ensure that middle and low-income countries are equally protected.
I want to see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days, so that health workers and those at high-risk are protected first.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general
He recalled that in the H1N1 pandemic, which hit the world in 2009-2010, by the time low-income countries received vaccine supply, the pandemic was over. "We don't want this to be repeated," said Tedros.
"I want to see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days, so that health workers and those at high-risk are protected first," he said.
Mariangela Simao, WHO's assistant director-general for drug access, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, said that so far, 38 of the 46 countries that had started vaccinations are high-income countries.
Meanwhile, the WHO Emergency Committee on COVID-19 on Friday advised countries not to require proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry.
The advice is on the ground that "there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission" and that the current availability of vaccines is too limited, the committee said in a statement on its sixth meeting, which was held on Thursday.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday that a plane would be sent to India to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in two or three days at most, after the government had announced the flight would leave on Friday.
Bolsonaro said that there was little he could do about the pandemic in Brazil as a second wave of the new coronavirus tears through the country and that he “should be at the beach”.
Brazil researchers are warning that a new coronavirus strain spotted just days ago could be aggravating an outbreak in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon rainforest.
Brazil recorded 69,198 new cases and 1,151 deaths, the Health Ministry said Friday. It was the fourth straight day with more than 1,000 fatalities
“We suspect it’s more transmissible, based on data we have from the strains in the UK and South Africa,” said Felipe Naveca, a researcher at Fiocruz Amazonia that helped sequence the virus’s genome. “But the Manaus variant has many more mutations than the others.”
The new variant hasn’t yet been found in other areas of Brazil, though researchers see it only a matter of time. It was first detected in Japan on four people returning from Manaus last weekend.
Brazilian scientists have also found strains in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul. Fernando Spilki, a virology professor who’s been working on an initiative to sequence virus genomes, says there have been “three or four” new variants detected in Brazil.
Brazil had 69,198 newly confirmed cases reported in the past 24 hours, and 1,151 deaths from COVID-19, the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,000 fatalities, the Health Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry updated the data with 3,151 new cases and 113 deaths in the last 24 hours in the city of Manaus, which is running out of oxygen supplies. The ministry confirmed the country's first case of reinfection with the new Brazil variants.
In total, Brazil has now registered 8,390,341 cases and 208,133 deaths, according to ministry data.
Brazil’s Air Force flew emergency oxygen supplies to Manaus on Friday.
A nursing home resident receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine by a health worker at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, the United States, on Jan 15, 2021. (YUKI IWAMURA / AP)
US President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he would order increased production of syringes and other supplies to ramp up vaccinations against COVID-19 and improve upon the Trump administration rollout that he called a “dismal failure”.
Under Biden’s plan, federal disaster-relief workers would set up thousands of vaccination centers, where retired doctors would administer shots to teachers, grocery store workers, people over 65 years old and other groups who do not currently qualify.
Biden would invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production of equipment needed to distribute the vaccines, such as glass vials, needles and syringes, according to a document released by his transition team. He would also use the law to support vaccine refrigeration and storage.
US President-elect Joe Biden called on all Americans to wear masks in public for 100 days to combat the spread of the coronavirus, saying it was “stupid” that face coverings had become a political issue
Meanwhile, Biden called on all Americans to wear masks in public for 100 days to combat the spread of the coronavirus, saying it was “stupid” that face coverings had become a political issue.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US are falling in 36 states, but the improvements were offset by a report that a faster-spreading variant of the virus that emerged in the UK could soon become dominant in the US as soon as March.
The UK variant has been detected in 10 US states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in the report.
In 11 states, current hospitalizations with COVID-19 are down more than 10 percent from a week earlier, while the other 25 saw more modest declines, according to COVID Tracking Project data.
Meanwhile, deaths are averaging more than 3,000 a day and projected to remain elevated for weeks. There have been almost 390,000 deaths through mid-Friday, the data show.
Nearly 90,000 people in the US may die from COVID-19 in the next three weeks, according to the US CDC's latest projections.
As of Friday afternoon, the country has recorded nearly 23.4 million cases with over 390,100 related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The UK said it will close its travel corridors, meaning all visitors from overseas will require a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of travel to enter Britain.
Visitors may be checked when they arrive in the UK and could face substantial fines if they don’t comply, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a televised press conference on Friday.
Meanwhile, Johnson said 3.2 million people across Britain have received vaccines.
Another 55,761 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 3,316,019, according to official figures released Friday.
Another 1,280 have died within 28 days of a positive test. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 87,295, the data showed.
Britain's virus reproduction number, also known as the R number, is estimated at between 1.2 and 1.3, the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said.
European governments said the credibility of their COVID-19 vaccination programs was at risk on Friday after US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer announced a temporary slowdown of deliveries of its vaccines.
BioNTech said on Friday a facility in Puurs, Belgium, will temporarily see a drop in the number of doses delivered in the coming week, as changes to some production processes were needed to scale up capacity.
“This situation is unacceptable,” the health and social affairs ministers of six EU states said in a letter to the EU commission about the Pfizer delays.
“Not only does it impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process,” the ministers from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said.
Germany, Europe’s largest purchaser of the Pfizer vaccine, called the decision surprising and regrettable, while Canada said it was also affected, because its supplies come from the Belgium factory.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Pfizer had reassured her that deliveries planned to the EU in the first quarter would not be delayed.
“We will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of Jan. 25, with increased delivery beginning the week of Feb. 15,” BioNTech said in a statement.
Cuba exceeded 17,000 infections from the novel coronavirus, after reporting 547 new cases and two deaths on Friday, according to the Ministry of Public Health.
In total, Cuba has recorded 17,096 cases and 162 deaths.
Official data showed the number of infections from sources from abroad has been reduced to 32 cases since a reduction in international flights and a requirement was imposed for all travelers to present a negative PCR test performed 72 hours before entering the country.
However, during the last seven days, the Caribbean nation registered close to 400 cases per day. Health authorities have expanded capacity at all health institutions after seeing a rise in hospitalizations, currently at 3,960, the highest level since the beginning of the pandemic.
All 15 Cuban provinces are experiencing active cases, although Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas and Villa Clara continue to be the areas with the greatest number of daily infections.
Bolivia's Minister of Health and Sports Edgar Pozo confirmed on Friday that he tested positive for COVID-19, bringing to the number of people in President Luis Arce's cabinet who have tested positive to four.
The ministry of health and sports has announced that the South American country is experiencing a second wave of infections, which has led to the tightening of restrictive measures and the reinforcing of hospital capacity.
As of Thursday, Bolivia had accumulated 181,016 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 9,530 deaths.
A healthcare worker looks at the X-ray of a patient's lung as he updates the patient's relative in the receiving area for people who suspect they are infected with the new coronavirus, at the General Hospital in La Paz, Bolivia, Jan 15, 2021. (JUAN KARITA / AP)
Mexico reported 21,366 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,106 more fatalities on Friday, according to the Health Ministry, bringing its total to 1,609,735 infections and 139,022 deaths.
Mexico City will remain under high alert given the rise in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, but ease lockdown conditions so restaurants and shops can operate more fully, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said on the same day.
The move will come into effect Monday. Under the move, outdoor dining will be allowed, and supermarkets can operate 24 hours to minimize crowded shopping aisles.
Outdoor gyms will also be allowed to reopen while essential businesses in the downtown area will be able to sell items, but only via phone or online with pick-up windows.
Mexico City, the epicenter of the national outbreak, has reported 387,517 confirmed cases and 24,357 deaths. Hospital occupancy in the capital is at 87.44 percent, with only 981 beds available as of Friday, according to city data.
The cumulative death toll from the coronavirus in France rose by 636 to 69,949 on Monday as the country added a three-day batch of retirement home deaths to the tally, health ministry data showed on Friday.
France reported 280 deaths in hospitals, down from 282 on Thursday, and 356 deaths in retirement homes.
National statistics institute INSEE said France’s overall mortality rate in 2020 - inflated by the pandemic - was 9 percent higher than in the previous two years, with a total of 667,400 deaths from all causes, or 53,900 more than in 2019.
The health ministry also reported 21,271 new ases over the past 24 hours, after 21,228 on Thursday and 19,814 last Friday.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 was up by 26 to 25,043 and the number in intensive care rose by 14 to 2,740, well within the government target of 2,500 to 3,000.
Italy passed a positive milestone on Friday, with 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine having been administered just 19 days after the country launched its nationwide vaccination program.
Italy reported 477 coronavirus-related deaths and 16,146 new cases on Friday, the health ministry said.
In total, Italy has registered 81,325 COVID-19 deaths and 2.352 million cases to date, the ministry said.
Earlier on Friday the government issued a new decree extending curbs to keep lid on infections after the ministry warned that the epidemic was getting worse.
Restrictions will be tightened to the maximum “red-zone” level in three of Italy’s 20 regions, including northern Lombardy around Milan, the country’s wealthiest and most populous area.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis received a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, kicking off the second vaccination campaign in the country.
"I want to emphasize that this vaccine is safe, effective and I recommend vaccination to everyone," he told the media after getting his first jab at the "Dr. Carol Davila" Central Military Emergency University Hospital in Bucharest.
The second phase of the national vaccination campaign will target people most threatened by COVID-19, including those working in key and essential areas.
Romania started its first phase of vaccination campaign on Dec 27, inoculating frontline medical-sanitary personnel from infectious disease hospitals across the country
According to the latest release of from the National Committee for the Coordination of anti-COVID Vaccination, a total of 167,612 people have been vaccinated as of Thursday evening.
Belgium will tighten its COVID-19 rules for travelers arriving by train or bus, said Antoine Iseux, an inter-federal spokesman for the National Crisis Center, on Friday.
"For travelers not having a residence in Belgium, they should take a preliminary test before their arrival on Belgian territory," said Iseux.
In addition, "all travelers, including Belgians who have been abroad, will have to follow the quarantine rules that are included on the PLF (Passenger Location Form)," Iseux added.
"Until Jan 13, about 50,000 people have already been vaccinated," said Yves Van Laethem, an inter-federal spokesman for the fight against COVID-19, on Friday.
Belgium has so far reported 672,886 cases and 20,294 deaths.
Algeria on Friday registered 254 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 103,381.
The death toll rose by five to 2,827, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
Morocco on Friday reported 1,291 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 457,625.
The total number of recoveries increased by 1,409 to 432,576 while the death toll rose by 34 to 7,888, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
There were 1,002 people in intensive care units, it said.
Zimbabwean Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga on Friday assured the nation that there are enough hospital facilities for COVID-19 patients for the time being.
As of Jan 14, the country had recorded a cumulative total of 25,368 confirmed cases, including 14,714 recoveries and 636 deaths. At least 47 people died on that day.
Chiwenga, who is also the minister of health and child care, hinted that the 30-day national lockdown imposed earlier during the month to flatten the virus curve could be extended if the rate of infection did not slow down.
On vaccinations, he said the government was following the development and dissemination of COVID-19 vaccines by other states with keen interest. Vaccinations will be voluntary, according to Chiwenga.
He also said that the government was eager to enhance its testing capacity, which currently stands at 6,000 people per day.
A man walks past a temporarily closed restaurant in downtown Barcelona, Spain, Jan 15, 2021. (EMILIO MORENATTI / AP)
Spain reported a record 40,197 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, while the incidence of the disease as measured over the past 14 days hit a new high of 575 cases per 100,000 people, climbing from 522 cases the previous day, Health Ministry data showed.
The latest update brought the cumulative tally of infections to 2,252,164, while the death toll rose by 235 to 53,314.
Spain's northeast Autonomous Community of Catalonia on Friday postponed its parliamentary election scheduled for next month.
Catalonia acting leader Pere Aragones signed a decree to change the date of the regional election from Feb 14 to May 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Thursday, the region had reported a total of 448,887 COVID-19 cases and 17,867 deaths , according to the latest data.
Canada could see up to 796,630 COVID-19 cases and 19,630 deaths by Jan 24, as the coronavirus continues to surge rapidly across the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Friday.
The PHAC said in its latest report that the number of daily cases could more than triple to 30,000 if people increased their contacts during a time of widespread community transmission.
Unless the extent and severity of COVID-19 restrictions are further intensified, Canada will not be able to suppress the current rate of spread, said Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam in Ottawa on Friday.
"We need to keep reducing in-person contacts. For the moment that's the only way to get these numbers down," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday.
As of Friday afternoon, Canada has reported a total of 694,026 COVID-19 cases and 17,703 deaths, according to CTV.
Chile reported 4,471 new COVID-19 cases and 75 more deaths on Friday, bringing the tally to 661,180 and the death toll to 17,369, the Ministry of Health said.
The rate of incidence and transmission at the regional level is very high, Minister of Health Enrique Paris warned, adding that more restrictive measures have not been ruled out.
Argentina's capital Buenos Aires faces a "significant increase" in novel coronavirus infections, local authorities warned on Friday.
"We have been seeing a significant increase in the number of cases for several weeks. Before Christmas we were at 465 cases per day and today we are at 1,200. That is happening as a result of year-end gatherings," Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta said in a statement issued by the mayor's office.
However, hospital occupancy "remains low ... because the profile of those infected is milder than it was in July-August, and also because the number of tests has tripled, which means that the proportion of asymptomatic patients is much higher," the official said.
Argentina has so far confirmed 45,125 deaths and 1,770,715 cases of infection as of Thursday, including 191,081 cases in Buenos Aires.
Greece will loosen some lockdown restrictions on Monday, letting retail shops and hair salons reopen for the first time in more than two months after signs that pressure on the public health system from COVID-19 is easing, officials said on Friday.
Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis said that from Monday shops could re-open, although customers must wear masks and no more than four shoppers would be allowed per 100 square metres of floor space.
Vana Papaevangelou, a member of the committee of experts advising the government, told a briefing that the number of coronavirus infections had steadied in the last three weeks, and the number of people hospitalised had fallen. The occupancy rate in intensive care units was now down to 55 percent.
Health authorities reported 610 new cases on Friday and 34 related deaths, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections to 147,860 and the death toll to 5,421.
The Latvian Welfare Ministry has been taken to task over inaction that has resulted in dozens of COVID-19 deaths in the Baltic country's long-term care facilities.
According to a scathing report released by the Ombudsman's Office on Friday, the lives of nursing home residents were being put at risk because of the sluggishness and inaction of the ministry and local authorities.
Statistics from the Latvian Center for Disease Prevention and Control showed that more than 3,000 residents of nursing homes contracted the coronavirus and several dozens died of the virus in 2020.
Ombudsman Juris Jansons said that the ministry has not been taking all the necessary measures to prevent COVID-19 infections and deaths at Latvia's nursing homes.
"The lack of a centralized oversight is the greatest problem," the Ombudsman's Office said, noting that social care and rehabilitation institutions often fail to seek timely support and deny their inability to ensure proper protection of their clients.
Colombia will keep its land and river borders closed until March 1 as it tries to curb the spread of coronavirus, its migration agency said on Friday, following a decision to extend a so-called selective quarantine through February.
International air travel, which resumed in September, will not be affected by the decision to close the mentioned borders, agency director Juan Francisco Espinosa said in a video message.
The Andean country, which closed its borders in March last year, was due to open its borders on Saturday.
Humanitarian corridors on the border will remain open, and border crossings of goods will continue, Espinosa said.
Colombia has reported over 1.8 million coronavirus infections, as well as more than 47,000 deaths.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 18,678 to 2,019,636, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday.
The reported death toll rose by 980 to 45,974, the tally showed.
Russia on Saturday reported 24,092 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 4,674 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,544,623, the world’s fourth largest.
Authorities also confirmed 590 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 65,085.
Russia will fully reopen schools across the country from next week and the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak may have passed its peak, authorities said on Friday, as the national case tally passed the 3.5 million mark.
All schools are now reopening apart from 10 that have been specially quarantined, Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Natalya Pshenichnaya, an official at the Rospotrebnadzor consumer watchdog, said the epidemic appeared to be stabilising overall despite localized discrepancies.
Meanwhile, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said on Friday that Paraguay had become the eighth country outside Russia to approve the Sputnik V vaccine for domestic use.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal on Friday said he expected Ukraine to start coronavirus vaccinations in February.
In a televised interview with Ukraine 24, he also said he expected a spike in coronavirus infections after the January holiday period but that the health system was equipped to handle it. He ruled out extending a national lockdown beyond Jan 24.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine could win Swiss regulatory approval as early as this month, the NZZ newspaper reported on Saturday, citing two unnamed sources.
According to the report, the watchdog Swissmedic has planned a meeting at the end of the month to sign off on the jab. It has already approved vaccines from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, and from Moderna.
“If everything proceeds in an exemplary manner and we get the necessary data soon, the next approval decision can come very quickly,” the paper cited a Swissmedic spokesman as saying without giving a date.
Switzerland has ordered 15 million vaccine doses in total after setting aside 400 million Swiss francs (US$449 million) for shots.
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