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Pandemic haunts the new year as Covid-19 outpaces vaccines

PTI London | Updated on January 06, 2021 Published on January 06, 2021

We are in a race to prevent infections, bring cases down, protect health systems and save lives while rolling out two highly effective and safe vaccines to high-risk populations, says WHO’s Director-General

Despite growing vaccine access, January is looking grim around the globe as the Covid-19 resurges and reshapes itself from Britain to Japan to California, filling hospitals and threatening livelihoods anew as governments lock down businesses and race to find solutions.

England is headed back into lockdown. Mexico City’s hospitals hold more virus patients than ever. Germany reported one of its highest daily death tolls to date on Tuesday. South Africa and Brazil are struggling to find space for the dead. Even pandemic success story Thailand is fighting an unexpected wave of infections.

As doctors brace for rising numbers of Covid-19 patients after end-of-year holiday gatherings, more and more countries are reporting cases of a new, more contagious variant that has already swept across Britain.

January is going to be “a tough one,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO).

While Britain rolled out a second vaccine this week and some US states are starting to give the second round of shots, access to inoculations globally is sharply unequal. The supply isn’t remotely close to meeting the epic demand needed to vanquish a foe that has already killed over 1.85 million people.

“We are in a race to prevent infections, bring cases down, protect health systems and save lives while rolling out two highly effective and safe vaccines to high-risk populations,” said WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is not easy. These are the hard miles.”

England is facing a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in infections and relieve hospitals, where some patients are left waiting in ambulances in a parking lot for access to overcrowded wards.

A strict lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tough new stay-at-home order for England took effect at midnight. It will shut schools, restaurants and all nonessential stores and won’t be reviewed until at least mid-February. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown that began Tuesday.

The two leaders said the restrictions are needed to protect the National Health Service amid the emergence of the new variant that has sent daily infections, hospitalizations and deaths soaring.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy and Germany extended their Christmas-time lockdowns, Spain is restricting travel, and Denmark lowered the number of people who can gather in public from 10 to five. France is likely to announce tougher measures on Thursday, and Ukraine is closing schools and restaurants starting Friday.

In Latin America, some warn the worst is yet to come.

“The boost we are experiencing here in Brazil is much more serious than what was happening months ago,” said Domingos Alves, an adjunct professor at the University of Sao Paulo.

Brazil’s number of patients in intensive care reached its highest level since August, just as the nation reopened shops and offices after the end-of-year holidays — and the vast country still hasn’t approved or received any vaccines. Some Brazilian hospitals reinstalled refrigerated containers outside to hold the corpses of Covid-19 victims.

Mexico’s capital has more virus patients than at any point in the pandemic and is flying in doctors from less hard-hit states.

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Published on January 06, 2021
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