Global COVID-19 cases exceed 100 million

Global COVID-19 cases exceed 100 million

Family members say their last goodbyes to their relative Emilio Valencia, who died from the coronav
Family members say their last goodbyes to their relative Emilio Valencia, who died from COVID-19, at a local cemetery on the outskirts of Mexico City on Jan 25, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

WASHINGTON: More than 100 million COVID-19 cases have now been recorded worldwide, according to an AFP tally on Tuesday (Jan 26), as newly inaugurated President Joe Biden pledged to ramp up the United States' struggling vaccine program.

The number of cases, compiled from data provided by national health agencies, represents just a fraction of the real infections as the coronavirus has spread around the globe.

The US, which passed 25 million confirmed cases last weekend, remains the country with the largest outbreak - and the largest death toll of over 420,000.

Biden is seeking to turn around the fight against the virus, which took a ferocious grip on the country during Donald Trump's presidency when the risks were downplayed and officials gave mixed messages on mask-wearing and socialising.

Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

Biden said vaccinating the entire US population was a daunting challenge, and the program inherited from the Trump administration "was in worse shape than we anticipated or expected".

"This is a war-time undertaking. It's not hyperbole," he said, announcing the US was buying an additional 200 million doses and will have enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans - virtually the entire population - by early fall.

READ: COVID-19 pandemic could last 4 to 5 years: Lawrence Wong

In another day of grim milestones, the United Kingdom surged past 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, and other European nations looked to tighten their borders, hoping to keep out new, more transmissible virus strains.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was "hard to compute" the loss felt by British families after his country became the first European country to surpass 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.

But he said his government, which faced criticism over its initial response to the outbreak, "did everything that we could to minimise suffering and minimise loss of life."

Workers dig graves at a cemetery in London
A worker digs graves at a cemetery in London, amid the spread of COVID-19, on Jan 11, 2021. (File photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)

"DRASTIC MEASURES"

The UK has struggled to counter a brutal third wave blamed on a new variant that emerged there before Christmas before spreading to dozens of countries around the world.

Neighbouring Ireland said on Tuesday it would enact mandatory travel quarantines for the first time, as well extending its third national lockdown until Mar 5.

READ: EU proposes more travel restrictions to stop coronavirus variants

Among other European nations looking to strengthen border controls was Germany, which said it is considering almost completely halting flights into the country.

"The danger from the numerous virus mutations forces us to consider drastic measures," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Bild newspaper.

Iceland meanwhile started to issue vaccination certificates to ease travel for those who have had both required doses.

The new measures came as anger rises over grinding anti-coronavirus restrictions, with the Netherlands rocked by nightly riots since it imposed a curfew last Saturday.

Protesters clash with Dutch anti-riot police officers
Protesters clash with Dutch anti-riot police officers during a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions on 18 Septemberplein square in Eindhoven on Jan 24, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Rob Engelaar, ANP)

More than 400 people were arrested after the worst unrest to hit the country in four decades, but the Dutch government said it would not back down.

"You don't capitulate to people who smash shop windows," Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said, calling the rioters "scum".

Israeli police also clashed with protesters, arresting 14 people after ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated against lockdown measures.

READ: EU contract did not leave time to fix vaccine hiccups, says AstraZeneca CEO

With the global death toll at 2.1 million, the world has looked to vaccines to break the gloom, but bickering over access to doses has intensified.

Tensions have in particular mounted between the European Union and pharmaceutical firms over delays to deliveries.

"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen told the virtual World Economic Forum (WEF). "And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations."

Vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine of the medical staff, in Br
A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at the CHIREC Delta Hospital in Brussels on Jan 21, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Yves Herman)

"VACCINE NATIONALISM"

Europe's vaccination campaign stumbled after British-Swedish drugs company AstraZeneca warned it would not be able to meet promised targets on EU shipments - a week after US group Pfizer said it was also delaying delivery volumes.

AstraZeneca's CEO insisted on Tuesday that the company was not selling vaccines ordered by the EU to other countries at a profit.

READ: Stop hoarding COVID-19 vaccines, South Africa's Ramaphosa tells rich countries

The widening gap for vaccine supplies between rich and poor countries led both South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to lash out at "vaccine nationalism".

Ramaphosa told the WEF that low- and middle-income countries were being shouldered aside by wealthier nations able to acquire "up to four times what their population needs".

Virus Outbreak New York Vaccines
Elaine Chambers goes over a coronavirus vaccination pamphlet while resting after receiving the first dose of the vaccine at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site at St Luke's Episcopal church in the Bronx borough of New York on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021. (Photo: AP/Mary Altaffer)

The row over access to vaccines at the WEF - normally held at the Swiss ski resort of Davos - comes as the pandemic compounds economic inequality.

Despite Lebanon being under one of the world's strictest lockdowns, father-of-six Omar Qarhani told AFP he was still selling vegetables on the side of a road in Tripoli because he is desperate to support his family.

"I'm not scared of corona - what scares me is being in need and poverty," he said.

Virus Outbreak Bolivia
Traditional doctors wear masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic at one of four exhibition booths set up by the government to promote the use of medicinal herbs as a preventative measure to avoid getting the coronavirus in Plaza Bolivia, La Paz, on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021. (Photo: AP/Juan Karita)

Brazil banned flights from South Africa - both countries have their own new variants - while virus deaths in Mexico passed the 150,000 mark on Monday just a day after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he tested positive.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now predicts a "cumulative output loss" of US$22 trillion - the equivalent of the entire US economy - from 2020 to 2025.

Nevertheless, optimism that vaccines will bring the pandemic under control and allow economic activity to resume, coupled with stimulus in major economies, boosted the IMF's growth forecast this year to 5.5 per cent.

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Source: AFP/kg

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