PARIS (AFP) — The global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed two million on Friday, with the World Health Organization (WHO) urging mass vaccinations as the pandemic progresses at a record pace.
As of 1825 GMT on Friday, 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 AFP tally.
The grim milestone came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said shipments of its vaccines would slow for a period in late January — 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, in order 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,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.
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.
US President-elect Joe Biden said Friday he would harness the full strength of the federal government in a vaccine blitz: creating thousands of immunization sites, deploying mobile clinics and expanding the public health workforce.
“You have my word: we will manage the hell out of this operation,” said Biden, five days before he assumes leadership of the world’s hardest-hit country, where the death toll is approaching 400,000.
Pfizer delays to hit Europe
In Europe, which has suffered more than 650,000 coronavirus 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 work being done 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.
But 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”.
Many countries have meanwhile doubled down on restrictions as COVID-19 cases mount.
Portugal entered a fresh lockdown 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.
Warnings over Brazil
Brazil’s northern Amazonas state announced a curfew from 7:00 pm to 6:00 am, 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.
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 Britain and South Africa.
Britain has banned all arrivals from South America and Portugal in a bid to prevent the new variant arriving, while also announcing Friday that all people arriving in 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, 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.
The UN aviation agency on Friday predicted “prolonged depressed demand” for air travel and more financial woes for airlines, following a year of fewer flights and big losses blamed on the pandemic.
Air travel plunged 60 percent in 2020 as nations closed borders and restricted travel to slow the spread of COVID-19, the International Civil Aviation Organization said in a report.
The pandemic has also slowed global migration by nearly 30 percent, with around two million fewer migrants between 2019 and 2020, according to a UN report released on Friday.