GENEVA, Switzerland -The UK coronavirus strain has been detected in at least 60 countries, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, 10 more than a week ago.
With the global death toll now well past two million, and new variants of the virus causing deep concern, countries across the world are grappling with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.
The South African strain, which like the UK one is believed to be more infectious, has now been reported in 23 countries and territories, the WHO also announced in its weekly updateIt added that the number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous seven days, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.
The UK strain, first detected in mid-December, is thought by the WHO to be between 50 and 70 percent more infectious than the original.
While more transmissible, the two variants are not thought to be more deadly and Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have said their vaccines are effective against the mutation found on the British virus variant, known as B117.
The arrival of mass vaccination campaigns in the US and Europe had brought hope that the end of the pandemic was in sight; the European Union said Tuesday it was aiming to inoculate 70 percent of its adult population before the end of August. But many EU countries — and other nations including India and Russia — have struggled to get their inoculation programmes off the ground.
The United States remains home to the world’s worst outbreak in overall numbers, and US President-elect Joe Biden made clear he would be taking no chances following his inauguration on Wednesday.
Recent days have also seen a renewed focus on the initial outbreak a year ago, with China defending its handling of the virus on Tuesday after independent experts criticised the speed of its response.
US deaths top 400,000
More than 400,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday, the eve of the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden, who has made the fight against the coronavirus a priority of his first term.
As Donald Trump prepares to leave power, Biden’s spokeswoman quickly dismisses the outgoing leader’s announcement that a ban on travellers arriving from much of Europe and Brazil will be lifted.
“In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” tweets Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki.
Record toll for Britain
Britain registers a record high 1,610 daily deaths from coronavirus. And one in eight people in England had been infected by December last year, up from nine percent in November, according to official antibody data.
Germany’s tighter curbs
Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany’s 16 states are expected to extend and tighten a partial lockdown beyond January, as fears grow over more contagious virus strains.
The European Union aims to inoculate 70 percent of its adult population against the coronavirus before the end of August, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas says.
Portugal registers a record 218 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, as Prime Minister Antonio Costa comes under fire after being forced to tighten the latest lockdown measures.
And with nearly 70,000 new cases confirmed over the past week, it has become the country with the highest infection rate relative to the size of its population, according to an AFP tally.
Serbia launches a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign, becoming the first European country to use the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab.
Denmark, currently among the quickest in the European Union in terms of jabs per capita, announced it will include homeless people among those given priority for Covid-19 vaccines.
Two million plus dead
At least 2,041,289 people have died of the virus since it first emerged in China in late 2019, according to a tally compiled by AFP on Tuesday based on official figures.
The US has suffered the highest death toll with 399,003 fatalities, followed by Brazil with 210,299 and India 152,556.
The number of deaths globally is broadly under-estimated.
The toll is calculated from daily figures published by national health authorities and does not include later revisions by statistics agencies.