The global death toll from COVID-19 passed 2 million on Friday, with the WHO urging mass vaccinations as the pandemic progresses at a record rate.
By Friday evening, at least 2,000,066 people worldwide had been confirmed dead of the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) tally.
The grim milestone came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said shipments of its vaccines would slow for a period late this month — a blow to fledgling campaigns to immunize people against the virus.
The WHO on Friday called for a worldwide acceleration in vaccine rollouts — as well as a ramp-up in efforts to study the sequencing of the virus, to tackle troubling new strains emerging around the world.
“I want to see vaccination under way in every country in the next 100 days so that health workers and those at high risk are protected first,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
His call came as infections snowballed, with 724,000 new cases recorded on average per day globally over the past week, according to AFP’s tally — a record 10 percent increase on a week earlier.
While countries from Spain to Lebanon have announced record caseloads, the surge has been most marked in Latin America and the Caribbean, where confirmed cases leapt 26 percent this week.
In Europe, which has suffered more than 650,000 COVID-19 deaths, there are concerns that delays to the Pfizer jabs could further slow a vaccine rollout that has already faced heavy criticism.
Pfizer, which jointly developed its vaccine with German company BioNTech, said EU countries could expect delayed deliveries in the coming weeks due to works at its plant in Belgium.
It promised that there would be “a significant increase” in shipments in March, and the European Commission said all vaccines ordered by the bloc for the first quarter would be delivered on time.
However, ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in a joint letter that the situation was “unacceptable” and “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process.”
France has said that its pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi could manufacture vaccines on behalf of other developers, including Pfizer-BioNTech, while awaiting approval of its own shot — not expected before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, many countries have doubled down on restrictions as the cases mount.
Portugal entered a fresh lockdown on Friday, and new curbs on populations were announced from Italy to Brazil.
At the Meissen crematorium in Germany’s Saxony state, coffins were stacked up to three high, awaiting cremation.
Manager Joerg Schaldach said that anyone still questioning the severity of the pandemic should take a look at the bodies piling up.
“This is heavy work, so why don’t the COVID-19 deniers come and do it,” he said. “We have a disastrous situation here.”
Brazil’s northern Amazonas state announced a curfew from 7pm to 6am, with the health system in state capital, Manaus, at breaking point.
The city’s hospital intensive care units have been at 100 percent capacity for the past two weeks, while medical workers are battling a shortage of oxygen and other essential equipment.
“This is a situation where your whole system begins to implode,” WHO Health Emergencies Program executive director Michael Ryan said.
Fear has been growing that a new strain of the virus found in Brazil could be more contagious, just like the variants recently found in the UK and South Africa.
The UK has banned all arrivals from South America and Portugal to prevent the new variant arriving, while also announcing on Friday that all arrivals to the UK must show negative test results and quarantine.
Warnings from cash-strapped companies and governments about the economic fallout of the crisis are also piling up.
Italy said it was seeking to borrow an extra 32 billion euros (US$38.65 billion), while senior French rail executive Christophe Fanichet said Eurostar was in “a very critical” state, as the pandemic has reduced its service to just one London-Paris connection per day.
Three years after a deadly virus struck India’s endangered Asiatic lions in their last remaining natural habitat, conservationists are hunting for new homes to help booming prides roam free. The majestic big cats, slightly smaller than their African cousins and with a fold of skin along their bellies, were once found widely across southwest Asia. Hunting and human encroachment saw the population plunge to just 20 by 1913, and the lions are now found only in a wildlife sanctuary in India’s western Gujarat State. Following years of concerted government efforts, the lion population in Gir National Park has swelled to nearly 700, according
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
DMZ SWIM: Over more than three hours, South Korean surveillance cameras caught him eight times and audible alarms sounded twice, but border guards did not notice A North Korean defector wore a diving suit and fins during a daring six-hour swim around one of the world’s most fortified borders and was only caught after apparently falling asleep, a Seoul official said. South Korean forces did not spot the man’s audacious exploit, despite his appearance several times on surveillance cameras after he landed and triggered alarms, drawing heavy criticism from media and opposition lawmakers. Even after his presence was noticed, the man — who used diving gear to make his way by sea around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula — was not caught for another
‘GRAVE CONCERN’: A critic of the government died immediately following his complaints of torture at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail. At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka. At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said. More protests were planned