Officials reported on Wednesday that a coronavirus strain that emerged in England has swept through more than 60 nations, including China, as Joe Biden cautioned during his inauguration as US president that the deadliest phase of the infection was yet to come.
Since the epidemic took root early last year, the United States has now suffered more than 4,00,000 deaths — almost one fifth of the global toll —.
“We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation,” said President Biden, who during his inauguration ceremony led a brief silent prayer for the victims.
His renewed commitment to combating the virus came as the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that more than 60 nations were now dealing with a UK strain and a South African version had been identified by 23 nations, both of which are thought to be more contagious.
The advent of new strains has tempered the hope that mass vaccines would help bring an end to the shutdowns and curfews that have devastated the world’s economies.
Much of Europe is still in an extreme phase of the epidemic, with the United Kingdom once again reporting record deaths on Wednesday, and the Netherlands declaring the first curfew since the pandemic started.
The world’s pharmacy
However, early reports from two trials looking at the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered at least some reason for optimism.
“Our results suggest that the majority of vaccine responses should be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant,” said one of the study groups, using the technical term for the British variant.
On Wednesday, with India exporting its first batch of locally manufactured coronavirus shots, the effort to inoculate the world’s population created more optimistic headlines.
The “Pharmacy of the World will deliver to overcome the COVID challenge” as India pledged supplies to many other countries in the region, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted.
According to the AFP count, more than 51 million vaccines have now been given out around the world, but the WHO has warned that most doses are being hogged by rich countries.
By far, Israel has vaccinated the highest percentage of its population, while the US, led by China and the UK, has administered the most shots.
The US has drawn strong criticism over its haphazard attempts under Trump to combat the virus, which has also ignored the advice of government experts on mask-wearing and other precautions.
The point-man for Biden’s battle against the pandemic said the new leader would set up a Covid-19 response office within the White House and rejoin the WHO.
“America’s withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics,” Jeff Zients said.
He added that a delegation will be led by leading US coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci to take part in Thursday’s WHO Executive Board meeting.
Wuhan’s ‘hard year’
In China, 1.6 million residents were barred from leaving Beijing on Wednesday due to the discovery in the capital of two Covid-19 cases related to the UK virus variant.
Although the official figures are startlingly low relative to the rest of the world, the country is fighting its largest revival in almost a year: only seven cases were registered on Wednesday in Beijing.
The authorities ordered residents of the Daxing district of southern Beijing, which covers one of the two international airports in the area, to remain indoors.
But in Wuhan, a city now synonymous with coronavirus with 11 million residents, wet markets thronged with shoppers, elderly dancers rehearsed in parks and bars sold “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer.
Wuhan had a tough year in 2020,
“Wuhan had a tough year in 2020,” handled the crisis very well”handled the crisis very well.
-Push-up penalty –
Despite increasing case numbers, organizers of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics said that this year they were “unwavering” to host the event.
Games CEO Toshiro Muto told AFP before the six-month countdown that the sporting showpiece was still probable, but acknowledged that people were “anxious” about Tokyo in a state of emergency.
“We are not discussing cancellation,” he said while acknowledging that organizers without spectators could not rule out staging the game.
Meanwhile, scores of foreigners found without masks on the Indonesian resort island of Bali have been subjected to an unusual punishment—push-ups in the street.
Video footage showed people doing intense exercise on pavements in the sweltering tropical sun in T-shirts and shorts, as masked security officers stood over them.