Brazil’s death toll from the novel coronavirus on Thursday surpassed Italy’s to become the third-highest in the world as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “people’s vaccine” to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bleak figures from Brazil underlined the grim toll the disease is taking in Latin America, the latest epicenter in the pandemic, even as Europe seeks to re-emerge from lockdowns — including with a massive new 600 billion euro (US$679.5 billion) economic stimulus measure announced by the European Central Bank.
However, on the medical side, the outlook remains blurry.
Even as researchers worldwide race to develop and test vaccines, new — sometimes contradictory — information on the coronavirus continues to emerge.
In the latest case, the medical journal Lancet retracted a study that raised safety fears about hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, after the paper’s authors said that they were no longer confident in underlying data provided by a Chicago-based healthcare analytics firm.
The paper had led the WHO to suspend clinical trials of the drug, and its retraction added fuel to a politically charged debate over how to respond to the pandemic.
Since emerging in China late last year, the coronavirus has infected at least 6.6 million people, killed more than 390,000 and wreaked havoc on the global economy by forcing millions to stay inside their homes.
Brazil reported a new 24-hour record death toll, bringing the total number killed in the nation to more than 34,000.
That was behind only the US, with more than 108,000 deaths, and Britain, with nearly 40,000.
Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fiercely criticized stay-at-home measures, even as the number of infections and deaths continues to soar, saying that they are needlessly hurting the economy.
Brazil is the hardest-hit country in Latin America, although the tolls are also rising sharply in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
Mexico reported a record number of new infections for the second straight day at 4,442.
In Peru, desperate residents lined up to buy oxygen tanks for their loved ones, while the government declared oxygen a “strategic health resource” amid an acute shortage.
With the pandemic starting to hit the developing world with full force, Guterres said that a new vaccine had to be available to everyone worldwide.
“A vaccine must be seen as a global public good — a people’s vaccine, which a growing number of world leaders are calling for,” he said in a message to a virtual summit hosted by Britain that aims to raise funds for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The talks brought together more than 50 countries and people such as billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
Governments pledged US$8.8 billion for Gavi’s work.
Italy on Wednesday welcomed travelers from elsewhere in Europe, while Austria on Thursday scrapped entry checks at its borders — except for the one with Italy.
The US remains the hardest-hit nation and its economic losses continued to pile up.
With new jobless claims filed last week, the number of US workers laid off amid the pandemic now exceeds 42 million, the US Department of Labor said.
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