Argentines struggle under COVID-19 as toll nears 100,000

A national flag is wrapped around a cross on a gravesite in the COVID-19 section of the Chacarita cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 13, 2021. (VICTOR R. CAIVANO / AP)

BERLIN / LUSAKA / LONDON / RABAT / HARARE / ADDIS ABABA / HAVANA / QUITO / TUNIS / SANTIAGO / BUENOS AIRES / ATHENS / MADRID / MILAN / WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY / GENEVA / UNITED NATIONS / RIO DE JANEIRO / GABORONE / GUATEMALA CITY / JOHANNESBURG / MOSCOW / ADDIS ABABA / TBILISI / DAKAR / LISBON – Argentina has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the region in terms of cases and deaths per capita, with some 4.7 million confirmed infections and a death toll from the pandemic expected to pass 100,000 people later on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday the country registered 20,023 new cases and 387 deaths, the health ministry said.

Daily average cases have fallen since a peak last month and ICU bed occupancy is coming down, though still above 60 percent nationwide.

Argentina, a country of some 45 million people, has carried out over 25 million vaccine jabs, though only 5 million people are inoculated with the full two doses, mainly using Russia's Sputnik V, AstraZeneca's vaccine and China's Sinopharm.

The vaccine rollout is raising hopes that the country can control the pandemic, but the more contagious Delta variant is igniting surges in cases. 

The pandemic has sharpened an economic crisis already existing in Argentina, which has been largely stuck in recession since 2018 with rampant inflation, strict capital controls and a weak peso currency sparking an outflow of dollars.

"It's not just the pandemic drowning us in this country. There is also the huge economic crisis," said Gastón Rusichi, 34, from a team of firefighters in Cordoba who have taken charge of transferring the dead during the pandemic.

Ezequiel González, a 35-year-old worker in Buenos Aires suburb Tigre, said that it was hard to see how the country could have stopped the pandemic given the need to balance restrictions while battling rising poverty levels.

"We would all have had to lock ourselves up completely and that's very difficult. You have to go out to the street to earn money to be able to eat and survive," he said.

UN

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday that 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Pledges of doses and funds are welcome – but they are not enough. We need at least 11 billion doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the world and end this pandemic," the UN chief told the opening of the ministerial segment of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is the top platform for reviewing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Noting that there is "uneven access" to these tools, especially vaccines, around the world and within countries, the UN chief said that "a global vaccination gap threatens us all" because as the virus mutates, it could become even more transmissible, or even more deadly.

"The world needs a Global Vaccination Plan to at least double the production of vaccines, ensure equitable distribution through COVAX, coordinate implementation and financing, and support national immunization programs," said Guterres.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 6,027,574 as of Wednesday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll stood at 153,549 while the total number of recoveries reached 5,259,921, according to the Africa CDC said.

Austria

Austria Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urged people younger than 35 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting in a statement that this age group accounts for 70 percent of all new infections.

The case rate has grown to 15.1 per 100,000 people over the past seven days in Austria, almost triple the level seen earlier this month. 

On Wednesday, authorities reported 65 new cases related to Austrian and German students participating in a Croatian graduation trip.

Botswana

Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced on Tuesday that his government has taken a decision to close schools from this coming Friday until Aug. 16 as the country battles its deadliest COVID-19 wave.

Masisi made the announcement in a scheduled national address broadcast live on state television channel. He said the country found itself in a dire situation of rapidly rising cases and inadequate vaccines.

As of Monday, the country had registered a total of 80,153 confirmed cases and 1,253 deaths. Active cases reached an all-time high of 8,970 with an average of more than 1,000 daily cases in the past three days.

Brazil

Brazil registered 1,605 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising its national death toll to 535,838, the health ministry said Tuesday.

As many as 45,022 new cases were detected, taking the total caseload to 19,151,993, the ministry said.

Chile

Chile recorded the lowest number of daily COVID-19 infections since December 2020, after reporting 1,278 cases in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday, adding that there were also 36 more deaths.

With these figures, the country accumulated a total of 1,590,887 cases and 34,016 deaths.

On Monday, the ministry announced the lifting of quarantines in 10 communes and lockdowns in 32 areas of the country effective as of Thursday, due to the gradual decline in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of June.

Meanwhile, the national vaccination campaign has fully inoculated over 80 percent of the local population in several parts of the country.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Tuesday 5,613 new COVID-19 infections and 29 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 250,527 cases and 1,608 deaths.

In his daily report, national director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health Francisco Duran said that 36,840 cases are currently in the active stage, the highest figure since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of the total number of new infections, 5,527 were from community transmission, the official reported.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported 2,468 COVID-19 infections and two more deaths in the last 24 hours, for a cumulative total of 470,882 cases and 16,129 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said on Tuesday.

In the daily report, the ministry also reported another 5,703 deaths considered to be related to COVID-19, but not verified.

Starting on Thursday, Ecuador will implement new requirements for travelers over two years old arriving in the country to prevent the further entry of the Delta variant.

Ethiopia 

Ethiopia will launch COVID-19 vaccination drive for at-risk workers, the Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday.

In a statement, the ministry said the drive would target transportation sector workers, bank employees, customs workers, police officers, penitentiary staff, teachers, hospitality sector workers as well as media practitioners.

The ministry said at-risk sectors workers can receive COVID-19 vaccine jabs by showing their identification papers.

Ethiopia has registered 277,212 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday morning, including 4,347 COVID-19 related deaths.

EU

Europe's drug regulator on Wednesday refrained from making any recommendations on mixing shots of COVID-19 vaccines from different drugmakers and said it was too early to confirm if and when an additional booster dose would be needed.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), however, did say both doses of a coronavirus vaccine are needed to protect against the fast-spreading Delta variant.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has estimated that the Delta variant will account for 90 percent of strains in circulation in the European Union by the end of August.

Meanwhile, the EMA said it had assessed nine cases of an auto-immune blood condition following vaccination with Moderna COVID-19 shot, but no "clear causal relationship" could be established between the two.

The EMA said its safety committee would continue to monitor for cases of immune thrombocytopenia, an auto-immune condition with low blood platelet levels that can lead to bruising and bleeding, with Moderna's vaccine, Spikevax.

Georgia

Georgia on Wednesday reported 1,663 new COVID-19 cases, taking its tally to 381,336, according to the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health.

Data from the center showed 13 more people died in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 5,492.

Meanwhile, 769 new recoveries were reported, taking the total number of recoveries to 361,327.

In this photo dated June 22, 2021, a doctor vaccinates an employee with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a vaccination center in Leverkusen, western Germany, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reinforced the government’s urgent appeal for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the inoculation campaign will be the deciding factor for the future course of the pandemic.

“The more are vaccinated, the more free we can be again,” Merkel said Tuesday during a visit to the RKI public-health institute. Still, Germany won’t follow France in requiring compulsory vaccination for health workers, she said.

Merkel and government officials have long said the vaccine campaign is the only way Europe’s biggest economy can return to – and maintain – something resembling normality. Still, there is increasing evidence that the vaccination drive, which accelerated rapidly after a sluggish start, is beginning to slow.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,548 to 3,738,683, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 28 to 91,287, the tally showed.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 187.71 million while the global death toll topped 4.04 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Tourists watch the changing of the Presidential guards ceremony outside the Greek parliament in central Athens on July 12, 2021. (PETROS GIANNAKOURIS / AP)

Greece

Tourism is not to blame for a surge of COVID-19 infections in Greece, the tourism minister said on Wednesday after the government reintroduced restrictions aimed at saving the summer season.

"The opening of tourism was done very carefully, in the first 10 days of July just 74 out of 105,609 samples taken at the country's entry points were positive, just 0.07 percent," Haris Theoharis said at a Greek hoteliers conference.

"Our country does not have a problem with the opening of its borders," he said. "The rise in infections is not related to tourism."

The government is betting on at least a partial revival of its tourism sector this summer, but is worried about the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. 

About 41 percent of Greeks are fully vaccinated so far. Tourists need to show they have been vaccinated or present a negative PCR test to enter the country.

Greece reported 3,109 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a level last seen in early April, bringing the total number of infections since the first case was detected in February last year to 444,783. COVID-19 related deaths have reached 12,806.

Guatemala

The Guatemalan government declared on Tuesday a "state of prevention" for the entire country, limiting outdoor meetings and public demonstrations, after a dramatic spike in the number of COVID-19 cases last week.

Mass events were suspended for several months during the start of the epidemic to avoid crowds, but restrictions had eased since September as the impoverished Central American nation began to reopen its economy.

Guatemala reported 3,000 new infections of COVID-19 last Thursday, its highest number of infections in a single day.

So far, Guatemala has recorded 322,120 cases and 9,756 deaths. Only 5.1 percent of its population has received at least one dose of the vaccines that are available in the country.

A health worker sanitizes outside Town Hall on the second day of a four-day lockdown, decreed by local authorities to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Kaqchikel Indigenous town of San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala, Friday, July 9, 2021. (MOSISES CASTILLO / AP)

Ireland

Ireland reported the most new coronavirus cases since February 1, as the Delta variant takes hold in the country. 

There were 783 newly diagnosed cases on Wednesday, the Irish health ministry said.

Hospitalizations are now at their highest in more than a month, though still far below the peak of January. 

While modeling of the virus’ spread gives “cause for considerable concern” it’s not yet clear what impact the variant will have on hospitalizations, health ministry adviser Philip Nolan told reporters in Dublin.

Italy

Italy approved the temporary distribution of a coronavirus antibody treatment by Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and US company Vir Biotechnology, the health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The therapy, named Sotrovimab, can be distributed until Jan 31, 2022, it said, adding the authorizations for all the other monoclonal treatments already in use in the country had also been extended to the same date.

Antibody treatments are designed to decrease the severity of COVID-19 among patients diagnosed with the infection.

ALSO READ: France eases virus restrictions on international travelers

Mexico

Mexico on Tuesday reported the biggest daily increase in new COVID-19 infections since February, as a fresh wave of contagion threatened to undermine the government's efforts to vaccinate the population.

Health ministry data showed that coronavirus cases jumped by 11,137 to 2,604,711, while fatalities were up by 219 to bring the total death toll to 235,277.

Mexico's coronavirus czar, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said in a statement that in comparison to two earlier waves of infection, there were 75 percent fewer hospitalizations and deaths thanks to advances in vaccination.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Tuesday 1,897 new COVID-19 cases, taking the caseload in the North African country to 545,016.

The death toll rose to 9,395 with 11 new fatalities reported during the last 24 hours, while 338 people are in intensive care units.

Portugal

Portugal reported more than 4,000 daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday for the first time since February, official data showed, as hopes of a robust, tourism-driven economic recovery fade amid a surge in infections.

Case numbers have been rising steadily in recent weeks, returning to levels last seen when the country was under a strict lockdown.

Wednesday's 4,153 infections bring the total to 916,559 cases since the pandemic started. Daily deaths remain well below February levels with new cases primarily reported among younger, unvaccinated people.

Russia

Russia reported 786 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, the most confirmed in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic, and 23,827 new cases nationwide.

Russia faces a surge in cases that authorities have blamed on the more infectious Delta variant and a slow rate of vaccinations.

The government’s coronavirus task force said the official national COVID-19 case tally now stood at 5,857,002 while the death toll had risen to 145,278.

Senegal

Senegal is experiencing an "unprecedented" surge in COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Wednesday, after reporting a new daily record of 733 cases.

The previous record was 529 cases recorded on Sunday.

"The situation is unprecedented. We have never seen such an increase in cases," said health ministry spokesman Mamadou Ndiaye.

"Measures must be taken urgently to reverse the trend… We hope that more energetic measures will be taken well ahead of Tabaski (Eid al-Adha)," Ndiaye said, referring to the Muslim holiday that will be celebrated next week.

The holiday, the most important of the year in Senegal, is celebrated with large family gatherings. There are currently no measures in place to restrict such events.

Senegal has reported 47,596 cases and 1,203 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

It has inoculated just 590,969 people out of population of more than 16 million.

Serbia

Serbia is looking to allocate budget money for a lottery that would reward people who take COVID-19 vaccines, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday as he outlined efforts to speed up the Balkan country’s inoculation campaign.

About half of Serbia’s population is vaccinated, reducing the number of new daily cases to double-digits in past weeks. But the campaign has now slowed to just a few thousand a day, with infections on the rise in the Balkan country of 7 million.

In this file photo dated July 6, 2021, a patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 in Hammanskraal, South Africa. (ALET PRETORIUS / FILE / AP)

South Africa

South Africa’s vaccination program and other healthcares services have been partially halted as violent protests following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma rage in two key provinces. State-administered inoculations have been suspended in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, the economic hub, said Nicholas Crisp, a consultant to the National Health Department who helps oversee the program.

Spain

Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that a national state of emergency, which included a strict home confinement to curb the first wave of COVID-19 infections last year, was unconstitutional, the court said in a statement.

The court said in a statement it had annulled by a simple majority some articles of the state of emergency decree related to free movement of citizens. The complete ruling will be released in a few days.

By voiding the emergency decree, the ruling opens the door to the cancelation of fines for breaching lockdown restrictions imposed during the period.

Introduced last March, the state of emergency allowed the government to temporarily suspend civil liberties, confining almost all Spaniards to their homes and shutting down all but essential industries.

Spain surpassed 4 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began on Tuesday after adding 43,960 new cases, as the more contagious Delta variant drives a surge of infections among unvaccinated young people.

The nationwide 14-day infection rate reached nearly 437 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, up from 368 cases a day earlier, health ministry data showed. Among 20 to 29-year-olds, that figure was 1,421 per 100,000.

"With the end of the school year, increased mobility, greater social interaction and super-spreader events, the cumulative incidence curve has risen again," Spain's Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Tuesday.

Cases began to surge again in the middle of June after a long decline, propelled by the Delta variant and more socialising among younger groups.

Although infection numbers have been rising steadily, daily deaths remain low, with the new cases primarily reported among younger, unvaccinated people who are less likely to fall seriously ill.

The country reported 13 more fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll total to 81,033. Darias said the current pressure on the country's health system was nothing like it was in previous waves of the pandemic.

Tunisia

Tunisia is classified by France as a "red zone" country from July 16 due to the worsening COVID-19 situation, the French Embassy in Tunisia said Tuesday.

Placing Tunisia on the "red zone" list means unvaccinated Tunisians will not be able to enter France without a compelling reason, Gabriel Attal, the spokesman of the French government, was quoted as saying in a statement released by the French embassy.

A negative PCR test for COVID-19 of less than 48 hours will be required at the entrance to French territory and 10-day isolation will be mandatory on arrival, with a fine of 1,000 euros (US$1,178) for violators, Attal said.

France will deliver 800,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and essential health equipment to Tunisia in the coming days to support its fight against COVID-19, according to the statement.

On Tuesday, a plane loaded with 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Tunis Carthage Airport from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to a statement released by the Tunisian Presidency.

On the same day, Morocco's foreign ministry said Rabat planned to send 100 intensive care beds and a similar number of ventilators to help Tunisia tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Tunisia's health ministry on Tuesday reported 8,473 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally in the North African country to 510,396.

The death toll from the virus rose by 157 to 16,651 in Tunisia, while the total number of recoveries reached 406,349, the ministry said in a statement.

ALSO READ: UK to track virus variants with genomic sequencing across world

UK

Masks will remain mandatory on London's public transport network after July 19, the city's mayor said on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government plans to lift most COVID-19 restrictions from that date in England despite rising cases.

The public will be expected, rather than compelled by law, to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces across the country from next week, as rules decided upon by the Conservative administration are eased.

But in the capital, operator Transport for London (TfL), which is chaired by Mayor Sadiq Khan from the Labour Party, will continue to require face coverings on buses, trains and other parts of the transit system to keep down infections.

Commuters wearing protective face coverings to combat the spread of the coronavirus, travel on a Transport for London (TfL) Underground train in central London on July 5, 2021. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

Whilst the government cites Britain's vaccination drive as having largely broken the link between cases and serious illness or death, some scientists and public health officials are urging greater caution amid fears daily infections could reach 100,000.

In another development, one in nine state-school students in England were out of school last week due to the coronavirus – the most since classrooms reopened in March following the pandemic lockdown.

More than 821,000 children did not attend school for COVID-19-related reasons on July 8, the vast majority because they were self-isolating due to a possible contact with a positive case, the Department for Education said Tuesday.

Current rules mean children have to quarantine for 10 days if another pupil in their “bubble” – a class or even a whole year group – tests positive for coronavirus. That has hurt businesses and the public sector workforce because parents have to stay home to look after them.

Britain has reported another 36,660 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 5,191,459, according to official figures released Tuesday.

It is the seventh day in a row where the daily cases have been more than 30,000.

The country also recorded another 50 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest daily increase since April 9. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,481. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

United States

Singer and actress Olivia Rodrigo will visit President Joe Biden and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci at the White House on Wednesday to record videos to encourage young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said.

The visit is part of the Biden administration's effort to convince more young people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as cases increase nationwide.

"The Biden-Harris administration is making a continued push to get more young people vaccinated, including working with schools, pediatricians, summer camps, and leveraging social media and celebrity influencers," a White House official said.

Younger adults are getting vaccinated at much lower rates than older adults, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) June report.

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

WHO

The World Health Organization's chief scientist has advised individuals against mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines from different manufacturers, saying such decisions should be left to public health authorities.

"It's a little bit of a dangerous trend here," Soumya Swaminathan told an online briefing on Monday after a question about booster shots. "It will be a chaotic situation in countries if citizens start deciding when and who will be taking a second, a third and a fourth dose."

Swaminathan had called mixing a "data-free zone" but later clarified her remarks in an overnight tweet.

"Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can, based on available data," she said in the tweet. "Data from mix and match studies of different vaccines are awaited – immunogenicity and safety both need to be evaluated."

The WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on vaccines said in June the Pfizer Inc vaccine could be used as a second dose after an initial dose of AstraZeneca, if the latter is not available.

A clinical trial led by the University of Oxford in the UK is ongoing to investigate mixing the regimen of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. The trial was recently expanded to include the Moderna Inc and Novavax Inc vaccines.

Zambia

Zambia has seen an improvement in the availability of oxygen following a critical shortage due to increased COVID-19 cases as the third wave rages on, a government official said on Tuesday.

Kennedy Malama, Permanent Secretary in charge of Technical Services in the Ministry of Health has since thanked local producers for responding to the oxygen shortage by making the commodity available.

"We continue making good progress in commodity security to ensure enhanced quality of care in our health facilities. We are pleased to report that we have greatly improved our oxygen availability," he said during a COVID-19 update press briefing.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is aiming to vaccinate 1 million people against COVID-19 in the next two weeks, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday as he extended tough lockdown measures by another 14 days.

Faced with rising infections and deaths, Mnangagwa on June 29 introduced tough lockdown measures that included a dusk to dawn curfew and curbs on inter-city travel.

Mnangagwa said infections were rising at "an alarming rate" as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads locally. He said the government would inoculate 1 million people during the extended lockdown period.

The southern African nation has to date recorded 70,426 infections, a quarter of them in the past two weeks and 2,236 deaths, official data showed. More than 900,000 Zimbabweans have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Latest genomic sequencing results received last week indicate that approximately 80 percent of the fresh cases in Zimbabwe are now due to the Delta variant," Mnangagwa said in a televised address.

Zimbabwe received its single biggest shipment of 2 million COVID-19 doses last week that it hopes will boost its vaccine drive. It expects another 3.5 million shots by the end of July.