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WORLD | 16-01-2021 07:37

Global Covid-19 death toll passes two million

The global death toll from Covid-19 passed two million on Friday, with the WHO urging mass vaccinations.

The global death toll from Covid-19 passed two million on Friday, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging mass vaccinations as the pandemic progresses at a record rate. 

As on Friday, at least 2,000,000 people worldwide had been confirmed dead of the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, central China, in late 2019, according to tallies kept by the AFP and John Hopkins University.

The grim milestone came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said shipments of its vaccines would slow for a period in late January – a blow to fledgling campaigns to immunise people against the virus.

The WHO on Friday called for a worldwide acceleration in vaccine rollouts – as well as a ramp-up in efforts to study the sequencing of the virus, to tackle troubling new strains emerging around the world. 

"I want to see vaccination under way in every country in the next 100 days so that health workers and those at high risk are protected first," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.

His call came as infections snowballed, with 724,000 new cases recorded on average per day globally over the past week, according to AFP's tally – a record 10 percent increase on a week earlier. 

Delays

In Europe, which has suffered more than 650,000 coronavirus deaths, there are concerns that delays to the Pfizer jabs could further slow a vaccine rollout that has already faced heavy criticism. 

Pfizer, which jointly developed its vaccine with German company BioNTech, said EU countries could expect delayed deliveries in the coming weeks due to works at its plant in Belgium. 

It promised that there would be "a significant increase" in shipments in March, and the European Commission said all vaccines ordered by the bloc for the first quarter would be delivered on time. 

Many countries have meanwhile doubled down on restrictions as the cases mount. Portugal entered a fresh lockdown Friday, and new curbs on populations were announced from Italy to Brazil.

Warnings

Brazil's northern Amazonas state announced a curfew from 7pm to 6am, with the health system in state capital Manaus at breaking point.

The city's hospital intensive care units have been at 100 percent capacity for the past two weeks, while medical workers are battling a shortage of oxygen and other essential equipment.

"This is a situation where your whole system begins to implode," said WHO emergency director Michael Ryan.

Fear has been growing that a new strain of the virus found in Brazil could be more contagious, just like the variants recently found in Britain and South Africa.

Britain has banned all arrivals from South America and Portugal, including Argentina, in a bid to prevent the new variant arriving, while also announcing Friday that all arrivals to the UK must show negative test results and quarantine.

– TIMES/AFP

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