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US virus toll nears 500,000 as Biden plans commemoration





A sign encourages visitors to wear face masks in Santa Monica, California, on Feb 19, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP)

LONDON / NAIROBI / SAO PAULO / MEXICO CITY / ADDIS ABABA / ROME / PARIS / BUENOS AIRES / VIENNA / RABAT / QUITO / ALGIERS / HAVANA / KIGALI / LOS ANGELES – The United States faces a dark milestone this week despite a recent decline in COVID-19 cases as it prepares to mark a staggering half-million deaths, with President Joe Biden planning to memorialize the lives lost.

The country has so far reported 28.13 million confirmed cases and more than 498,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The White House said on Sunday it planned a memorial event in which Biden would deliver remarks.

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases specialist, said the US isn’t out of the “stunning” coronavirus pandemic, even as cases fall sharply and vaccinations expand, although “normality” may be at hand by year-end.

He said that Americans may still need to wear masks in 2022 to protect against the coronavirus.

Less than 15 percent of the US population has received at least one vaccine dose, with nearly 43 million getting at least one shot and nearly 18 million getting a second shot, US statistics show.

Meanwhile, more localities are easing some restrictions, such as on indoor dining, and moving to reopen schools even as millions await their shots, sparking debate over the safety of teachers, students and others.

In another development, three Navy sailors aboard the US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who tested positive for COVID-19 were flown to Naval Base Guam Sunday, The Guam Daily Post reported.

According to USNI News Website launched by the US Naval Institute, the ship has tested about 900 members of the crew following the three positive tests.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 111.3 million while the global death toll topped 2.46 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: G7 pledges to work with G20 on fighting virus, climate change

Africa tally

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded on the African continent reached 3,822,470 as of Sunday evening, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The death toll stood at 101,053, Africa CDC data showed.

A total of 3,375,490 people infected with COVID-19 have so far recovered across the continent, the agency said.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia are the countries worst affected by COVID-19 in Africa in terms of the number of confirmed cases, according to the Africa CDC.

In this May 18, 2020 file photo, people use a hand-washing station installed for members of the public entering a market in Dodoma, Tanzania. (PHOTO / AP)

Tanzania

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) urged Tanzania on Sunday to share information on its measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, saying the authorities there had repeatedly ignored his requests.

President John Magufuli’s sceptical approach towards COVID-19 has caused alarm among WHO officials. A government spokesman told Reuters on Feb 12 that Tanzania had “controlled” the outbreak, but it stopped reporting new coronavirus infections and deaths in May last year. At that time it had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Tanzanians testing positive for COVID-19 abroad underscored “the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday that Tanzanians testing positive for COVID-19 abroad underscored “the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond”.

Tedros also repeated a call he made with Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa head, in late January for Tanzania to bolster public health measures against COVID-19 and prepare to distribute vaccines.

He added that since then he had spoken with several authorities there to no avail.

“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” Tedros said in a statement on WHO’s website.

In a statement later on Sunday, Magufuli’s office said the president wanted Tanzanians to follow measures to protect themselves against coronavirus. However, it also said that:

“Magufuli wants Tanzanians to … trust and put God first, given that wearing masks, social distancing and lockdowns have been seen to be insufficient as countries that implemented them have lost thousands compared to Tanzania.”

Magufuli said Tanzanians should wear only use locally-made face masks, saying foreign-made ones may be unsafe.

UK

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will plot a path out of COVID-19 lockdown on Monday in an effort to gradually reopen the battered US$3 trillion economy, aided by one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world.

Britain has started to drive down cases of the more infectious South African variant of coronavirus and will only emerge from lockdown in stages to make sure that does not change, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday.

Johnson will set out four tests to be considered before each new relaxation is taken, including the speed and success of the inoculation program, the state of infection rates and the impact of any new variants of the virus.

Johnson is expected to announce that all schools in England will reopen from March 8. In addition, people will be allowed to meet one-on-one to sit down for a coffee or picnic outdoors, and after-school activities outside can restart from the same date, according to a person familiar with the plans.

In a statement to Parliament on Monday, Johnson is also expected to allow more social contact from March 29 when outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households can take place, and outdoor sports such as tennis and football can resume.

Some 17.6 million people, over a quarter of the 67 million population, have now received a first dose of the vaccine. 

READ MORE: UK speeds vaccine push to offer all adults shot by July 31

Hancock said the first dose of a vaccine appears to reduce the chances of transmitting coronavirus by “about two-thirds”.

Hancock also said the country had recently succeeded in driving down cases of the more infectious South African variant. Overall daily coronavirus cases hovered around 11,000 a day last week, compared with a high of over 80,000 in late December.

Another 9,834 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cumulative caseload to 4,115,509, according to official figures released Sunday.

Daily fatalities were the lowest since December and less than half of the average of the previous seven days. Another 215 people died, compared to a weekly average of almost 500.

Leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also ease restrictions over the coming months.

Germany

Germany needs to further slow the spread of the coronavirus before the government can consider additional steps to loosen restrictions on Europe’s largest economy.

Primary school teachers and nursery workers in Germany could get a COVID-19 vaccine sooner than originally planned, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

His comments come as ten of Germany’s 16 federal states are set to reopen nurseries and elementary schools from Feb 22.

“Once we have firm footing, we can take another step” after reopening schools and daycares, Spahn said in an interview with ARD television.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 4,369 to 2,390,928, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday.

The reported death toll rose by 62 to 67,903, the tally showed.

Germany’s contagion rate rose to the highest level in more than a week on Sunday, the latest evidence that a steady decline since a peak before Christmas has ground to a halt.

France

The French health ministry reported 22,046 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, from 16,546 last Sunday, when new cases had dipped briefly.

The ministry also reported 160 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday, from 183 on Saturday, taking the cumulative toll to 84,306. The total number of cases now stands over 3.6 million.

The mayor of Nice in southern France called on Sunday for a weekend lockdown in the area to reduce the flow of tourists as it battles a sharp spike in coronavirus infections to triple the national rate.

Italy

Italy reported 232 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday against 251 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 13,452 from 14,931.

Italy has registered 95,718 deaths linked to coronavirus since the first outbreak in February, and has reported around 2.81 million cases of infection.

The number of patients in hospital, excluding those in intensive care, was 17,804 on Sunday, compared with 17,725 a day earlier.

There were 125 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 137 on Saturday. The total number of intensive care patients rose to 2,094 from a previous 2,063.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s administration is about to accelerate Italy’s COVID-19 vaccination program, taking inspiration from the UK campaign, La Stampa daily reported on Sunday, without citing sources.

According to the paper, in a cabinet meeting on Monday, the newly appointed Italian government will proceed with mass vaccinations using all available doses, without setting aside some for second shots.

READ MORE: Hungary 1st country in EU to approve Sinopharm vaccine

Brazil

Brazil registered 527 additional COVID-19 deaths and 29,026 new cases of the virus on Sunday, according to data released by the health ministry.

The South American nation has now recorded 246,504 total coronavirus deaths and 10,168,174 confirmed cases.

Bahia state Governor Rui Costa will tighten restrictions between 8 pm and 5 am, after occupancy of intensive-care beds rose to 80 percent in the state, he said on Facebook. Bars and restaurants will close at 6 pm, and transport operations will stop at 8:30 pm. Food delivery is permitted until 11 pm. The measures take effect Monday.

Mexico

Mexico on Sunday registered 310 additional fatalities due to the novel coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 180,107 deaths.

According to health ministry data, Mexico also registered 3,104 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infections for a total of 2,041,380 cases. 

Argentina

The Argentine government officially approved the emergency use of an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm, according to a resolution signed Sunday by Minister of Health Carla Vizzotti.

Vizzotti’s spokesperson stressed that clinical trials of the vaccine had shown that the shot is “safe and effective.”

China’s Sinopharm vaccine is the fifth authorized vaccine by Argentina, after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Britain’s AstraZeneca vaccine and Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.

According to President Alberto Fernandez’s social media account, “more than 700 thousand people have received doses of the vaccine against COVID-19. More than 400 thousand people have already received the two doses and they have been immunized”.

Argentina has registered 2,064,334 COVID-19 cases and 51,198 deaths as of Sunday night.

Senegal 

Senegal will its start its COVID-19 inoculation program this week after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China.

The West African nation plans to vaccinate about 100,000 healthcare and other frontline workers in the first round starting Wednesday, health ministry spokesman Mamadou Ndiaye said by phone from Dakar on Sunday. The elderly and those with chronic conditions will follow, Ndiaye said. The country aims to administer as many as 3.5 million inoculations in the first round.

Senegal is also in talks with Russia and India, among others, to acquire additional doses of vaccine to achieve its goal of inoculating as much as 90 percent of the targeted 3.5 million people by the end of 2021. The country expects to receive 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility in the first week of March, Ndiaye said.

The health ministry on Sunday reported 297 new COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 32,927 cases with 808 deaths,

Austria

COVID-19 vaccination is picking up speed in Austria due to growing delivery quantities, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Sunday.

Currently, one person gets vaccinated every 5.5 seconds on average in the Alpine country, said Anschober in a press release published by the Austrian Press Agency (APA).

More than 200,000 people have been fully immunized all over the country, according to the minister.

Anschober expects more than a million vaccine doses to be available in March, and in the second quarter, the delivery volume will almost triple compared to the first quarter.

Anschober cited the falling infection rate in nursing homes as “the first positive result of the vaccination,” noting that at the end of November, there was a peak of 4,300 active cases while currently there were only 359. The number of deaths in nursing homes has also fallen dramatically at the same time, he added.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Sunday 207 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally in the North African country to 481,155.

The total number of recoveries increased by 621 to 464,664 while the death toll rose by six to 8,554, according to the health ministry.

The ministry also reported 21 new cases involving the new COVID-19 strains, raising the total number of such cases to 24.

The new variants that were first detected in South Africa and Brazil have not been detected in Morocco yet, the ministry said.

Ecuador

Ecuador on Sunday reported 1,576 fresh COVID-19 cases and 21 more deaths, bringing the cumulative caseload to 274,673 and the death toll to 10,796.

According to the Ministry of Public Health (MSP), 238,817 patients have recovered from the disease so far, while 490 remain hospitalized with a reserved prognosis.

The city of Quito in the province of Pichincha has been the most affected by the pandemic, having recorded a total of 89,157 cases as of Sunday.

“Crowds and non-civic behavior have caused an increase in the number of patients and in deaths,” the ministry said in its report, adding that “one of the main sources of transmission is family gatherings.”

Chile

Chile has reported more than 20,000 deaths from COVID-19, the  Ministry of Health reported on Sunday.

According to the Department of Statistics and Health Information (DEIS), 68 additional deaths were logged in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities to 20,042.

In addtion, 3,618 new cases were registered in that period, bringing the country’s tally to 799,460.

Cuba

Cuban health authorities on Sunday reported 1,039 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths.

The national director of hygiene and epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, Francisco Duran, said the death toll has reached 296 while the tally rose to 44,523.

The daily tally was the second highest since Feb 2.

The 1,039 infections reported this Sunday constitute the second highest daily figure of the month, only surpassed by the 1,065 reported on Feb. 2.

Duran said that 5,046 patients were hospitalized, with 26 in critical condition and 40 in serious condition.

Algeria

Algeria on Sunday reported 153 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the North African country to 111,917.

The death toll from rose to 2,961 after three more fatalities were added, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Meanwhile, another 136 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 77,136, the ministry said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has recorded more than 5,000 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the official count on Sunday.

Over the past week, the country reported 270 to 500 new cases on a daily basis, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The new cases were mostly registered in the capital Sarajevo, as well as in the Tuzla area in the country’s north and in the southern area of Mostar.

To date, BiH has recorded 128,342 confirmed cases and 5,007 deaths, according to official data.

The COVID-19 incidence rate in the Federation of BiH (FBiH), one of the two entities of BiH, is four to five times lower than during the peak of the pandemic in November last year, but current indicators showed an increase in the number of new infections in Sarajevo Canton, which still requires more strict compliance with epidemiological measures, said Sanjin Musa, an epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health of FBiH.

Rwanda

Rwanda’s Ministry of Sports on Sunday announced the resumption of some sporting activities in the country after more than one month of suspension following a Cabinet resolution on COVID-19 restrictions in the country.

Individual and non-contact outdoor sports activities such as jogging, athletics, individual physical fitness, hiking, cycling, golf, tennis, badminton, skate, archery and squash will be allowed to resume from Feb 23, the ministry said in a statement.

Martial arts will be allowed for only individual fitness exercises and practice, it said, adding that group practice and competitions are prohibited.

Gyms, recreational centers and swimming pools will remain closed, except those in hotels, where the facilities will be allowed to open for guests with negative COVID-19 test results, according to the statement.

Rwanda has reported more than 18,053 cases and 249 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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