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Virus ‘apocalypse’

Michael Roth
Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth gives a speech about the preparation of an EU Strategy on vaccination against the novel coronavirus Covid-19 at European Parliament, in Brussels, on December 16, 2020. JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

– Europe pushes for vaccine rollout, US deaths hit new peak

BERLIN, Dec 17, 2020 (AFP) – European nations vowed Wednesday to get their coronavirus vaccination campaigns rolling before the end of the year, while the United States recorded a shocking new peak of more than 3,700 deaths in one day.

As surges in infections prompted tighter restrictions across several countries, Germany said it will begin vaccinations on December 27 — a date expected to be matched across the European Union.

France said it would receive around 1.16 million vaccine doses by year-end, with a further 2.3 million coming over the next two months.

The vaccination drive cannot come too soon to the embattled continent, which is fast approaching 500,000 deaths from the disease.

“It feels like a Sunday,” said Ines Kumpl, 57, observing the deserted streets of Berlin on the first day of a new partial lockdown. “These measures are necessary but it’s stressful.”

Germany saw a record high of 952 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday, a figure that could rise as the hard-hit Saxony region was not included.

But the toll was dwarfed by the US, which set a grim double record registering more than 3,700 deaths and over 250,000 new cases in 24 hours, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Denmark, France, Turkey and the Netherlands have all tightened restrictions and Spain’s prime minister expressed alarm at rising infection numbers there.

“To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 percent of the population vaccinated,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs.

Pressure has been mounting on the European Union since Britain and the US started their immunisation programmes, using a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The British government said more than 137,000 people had received a first dose in the week since inoculations began.

Pleas for holiday restraint

The World Health Organization’s European wing warned of a resurgence of the virus on the continent early next year, urging special precautions over the holiday season.

“It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe,” it said.

As the US flounders in its efforts to control the virus, the White House announced Vice President Mike Pence and his wife will get the vaccine on Friday in a public display designed to boost fragile national confidence.

The event comes in the first week of the mass vaccination program in the US, which has recorded over 300,000 Covid-19 deaths.

President Donald Trump is “absolutely open to taking the vaccine,” a spokeswoman said.

Since he recently recovered from a bout of Covid-19, he is thought to be currently immune.

Pfizer said Wednesday it was investigating after a health worker in Alaska suffered a serious allergic reaction after getting its vaccine and is now hospitalised but stable.

US officials also said Wednesday that sixth or even seventh doses could be squeezed out of vials that were supposed to contain only five doses, to avoid wasting any precious unused vaccine.

Building trust in vaccine

As much of the world waits to get a jab, Twitter said that it would crack down on false posts and conspiracy theories about vaccines.

The policy will include action against claims that the vaccine is being used to intentionally cause harm or control people.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro performed an about-turn on Wednesday as he backed the national mass immunization campaign.

His support came a day after he told a well-known television presenter that “I won’t get vaccinated. It’s my problem. Full stop.”

Bolsonaro contracted the coronavirus in July but recovered quickly.

Brazil on Wednesday set a new record of infections — 70,574 cases in one day, though officials admit the true number is far higher.

Peru, which has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 mortality rates, admitted it had no idea when it would be able to get hold of sought-after vaccine stocks.

In contrast, New Zealand roared back from a coronavirus-induced recession with record economic growth of 14.0 percent in the July-September quarter.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the recovery was a payoff for New Zealand’s success in containing the virus, with only 25 deaths among a population of five million.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,642,345 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Wednesday. bur-bgs/bfm Agence France-Presse