India approved the emergency use of two Covid-19 vaccines on Sunday, as nations across the world raced to get their populations inoculated to beat back surging infection numbers.
More than a year after Covid-19 first emerged it has killed more than 1.8 million people out of 84 million confirmed cases. Governments hope that recently approved vaccines can staunch the spread of the virus and stop a cycle of economically crippling restrictions.
Britain on Sunday became the latest country to warn of tougher measures to come, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitting he was “reconciled” to the prospect hours after his country registered a new daily record of 57,725 Covid-19 cases.
But he told the BBC “we can see the way ahead”, revealing that 530,000 doses of the newly approved AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine would be available from Monday.
He also told parents that they should “absolutely” send their young children to school when term begins, despite objections from teachers unions and some parents who argue that they are major vectors of infection.
Britain has already vaccinated around one million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and Johnson said he hoped tens of millions would get the new jab in the next three months.
Different countries, different speeds
India, the world’s second-most infected nation, on Sunday authorised the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine as well as one produced by local pharmaceutical firm Bharat Biotech.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest manufacturer of vaccines, has said it is making between 50 and 60 million doses a month of the former vaccine.
India's drugs regulator approves Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin for restricted emergency use
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) January 3, 2021
India has already held nationwide drills to prepare for one of the world’s biggest vaccination programmes, aiming to inoculate 300 million of its 1.3 billion people by mid-2021.
Israel has claimed the fastest start to vaccinations so far, saying on Sunday that two million people — around a fifth of its population — would have received both the required shots by the end of January.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute said Sunday that 238,809 people have been vaccinated there, but neighbouring France’s government has come under pressure over a slow rollout.
“The whole healthcare community does not understand why there is such a difference with Germany: Germany vaccinates 20,000 people a day, we are at 50,” Professor Mehdi Mejdoubi of the Valenciennes hospital centre in France’s north told BFMTV.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Sunday announced an acceleration of the vaccine programme and more resources to get the resident’s in elderly care home inoculated.
Trump doubts US death toll
The situation in the United States, already the world’s worst-hit country, has continued to deteriorate as it saw the highest number of infections recorded in one day on Saturday, with more than 277,000. The death toll there stands at 350,215, according to official figures — the highest in the world.
President Donald Trump poured scorn on the official figures for cases and deaths, claiming they were “far exaggerated” because of a “ridiculous method of determination”. He accused the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of a policy of “When in doubt, call it Covid.”
But top US scientist Anthony Fauci told ABC that “those are real numbers, real people and real deaths”. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who was nominated by Trump, also stood by the CDC figures.
Dr. Fauci to @chucktodd when asked to respond to Pres. Trump's tweet disputing covid death #s said there could some variation in numbers but "Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths." https://t.co/IGWt3y9nXk
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) January 3, 2021
As the US Senate delayed approving a long-awaited $900 billion pandemic relief package, vandals targeted the home of its Republican leader Mitch McConnell, writing “Were’s [sic] my money,” and “Mitch kills the poor,” US media reported.
Veteran talk show host Larry King meanwhile became the country’s latest high-profile case as he was hospitalised in Los Angeles.
Egypt approved the use of a vaccine developed by Chinese pharma giant Sinopharm on Sunday, with its rollout expected later this month.
Hungary also turned its attention to the Chinese vaccine, having earlier considered acquiring Russia’s controversial Sputnik V jab.
Russia said it had vaccinated more than 800,000 people and distributed 1.5 million doses.
The new president of Switzerland, which borders both countries, admitted the country had underestimated the pandemic between July and September.
“We thought we could bring the virus under control… we were far from it,” Guy Parmelin, who took office on January 1, told the newspaper SonntagsBlick.
South Africa, the worst-hit country on the continent, hopes to have its first vaccine supplies by February, depending on ongoing talks with the drugs companies, said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
The country has recorded more than 29,000 coronavirus deaths so far.
Several countries announced or imposed new restrictions over the weekend to counteract rising infections.
Zimbabwe reintroduced a national lockdown with immediate effect on Saturday. Gibraltar also imposed a second lockdown, while Greece extended its own strict measures until January 10.
Nightlife shut down in Bangkok, Tokyo’s governor asked for a state of emergency to be declared in the Japanese capital, and curbs were extended in North Korea’s Seoul until January 17.
France brought the start of its overnight curfew from 8:00 pm to 6:00 pm in hard-hit eastern areas.
Norway, with one of the lowest contagion rates in Europe, on Sunday announced new restrictions, banning the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants and limiting the number of people allowed to gather at private indoor events to five.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk