UN chief calls for vaccine equity as COVID-19 deaths exceed 5m

This file photo taken on April 15, 2021 shows the graves of COVID-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil. (MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP)

ROME / WASHINGTON / LONDON / ADDIS ABABA / KYIV / AMSTERDAM – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for vaccine equity and continued vigilance against the coronavirus as global COVID-19 deaths exceeded 5 million.

"Today, the human family crosses a painful new threshold: 5 million lives lost to COVID-19," he said in a statement. "This devastating milestone reminds us that we are failing much of the world."

While wealthy countries are rolling out third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, only about 5 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated. This is a global shame, he said.

The five-million threshold was reached less than two years after the novel pathogen was first documented, despite the arrival of vaccines that have slashed fatality rates across the globe.

The latest 1 million recorded deaths came slower than the previous two. It took more than 110 days to go from 4 million deaths to 5 million, compared to less than 90 days each to reach the 3- and 4-million marks

The latest 1 million recorded deaths came slower than the previous two. It took more than 110 days to go from 4 million deaths to 5 million, compared to less than 90 days each to reach the 3- and 4-million marks. The rate has returned to what was seen during the first year of the pandemic, when the virus was still taking hold.

Still, COVID-19 continues to kill thousands of people every day. Billions more remain unvaccinated either because they lack access to the shots or are unwilling to receive them, leaving them vulnerable to an infection that has grown more dangerous over time. Transmission of the virus continues, driven by the emergence of the more infectious Delta variant.

The US alone accounted for 14 percent of the last million deaths – the highest share of any country. Russia was 10 percent of the total, while Indonesia and Brazil were each responsible for 8 percent.

Scientists warn the pandemic is far from over. The world has already been through three major COVID-19 infection waves, and fatality rates have gradually fallen with each successive one. 

Many countries have started reopening their economies, easing pandemic curbs and reengaging with the rest of the world as they accept the virus is now endemic. The immunity gained from inoculations will be put to the test in the coming months, however, as the vaccinated in the northern hemisphere face their first full winter since getting the shots.

Each country, and sometimes individual regions within countries, face their own unique situations. Cases are surging anew even in highly-vaccinated places like the UK and Belgium.

In countries where vaccination rates are lagging behind, the situation is worse. With COVID-19 deaths at record levels in Russia, Moscow’s unvaccinated seniors have been asked to stay home. Romania ran out of intensive-care beds, while Latvia has returned to full-on crisis mode, shutting restaurants, hair salons and schools.

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Nurses administer jabs as Angolans queue to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Luanda on Oct 1, 2021. (OSVALDO SILVA / AFP)

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,494,634 as of Sunday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 218,228.

Some 7,892,669 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, according to the agency.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

In terms of the caseloads, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC. 

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Egypt

Egypt said it had used just over half its available vaccine supply, 38 million of 72 million doses. The nation is expecting another 26 million doses, from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinovac, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Almost 17 percent of the nation has been administered a first dose, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 384 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 364,960 as of Saturday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.

The ministry reported 14 new COVID-19-related deaths and 228 more recoveries during the same period, bringing the national death toll to 6,451 and total recoveries to 339,320.

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn called for a summit with state and federal leaders to discuss a uniform strategy on COVID-19 boosters, saying in a newspaper interview that the country must move quickly to halt another wave of infections.

“The current pace of boosters in German doctors’ practices isn’t quick enough,” Spahn was cited as saying in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Germany’s infection rate reached its highest since April on Sunday.

In this file photo taken on April 16, 2021 a medical staff member prepares a syringe with a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pop up vaccine clinic at the Jewish Community Center in the Staten Island borough of New York City. (ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

Moderna

Moderna said it was notified the US Food and Drug Administration will require additional time to assess the company’s emergency request to approve its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 17 as regulators examine the risk of a rare heart inflammation.

The FDA is still evaluating recent international analyses of post-vaccination risks of myocarditis, a condition affecting the wall of the heart, and the review may not be completed before January, the company said in a statement Sunday. Moderna said it’s fully committed to working closely with the FDA to support their review.

Russia

Russia has registered 40,402 COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, taking the national tally to 8,554,192, the official monitoring and response center said Monday.

The nationwide death toll grew by 1,155 to 239,693. Recoveries increased by 23,187 to 7,381,726.

The current mortality rate stands at around 2.8 percent, the data of the center showed.

Moscow has reported 7,103 new cases, taking the city's caseload to 1,824,494.

More than 55.6 million Russian citizens have received at least one dose of a vaccine and over 47.6 million of them have been fully vaccinated, according to media reports. 

The Netherlands

The Netherlands will impose new coronavirus restrictions this week in a bid to curb a recent surge in infections, health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Monday.

"We can't escape having to take new measures", De Jonge said. "The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is rising fast."

De Jonge did not give details of the new measures, which he said would be decided on Tuesday. Broadcaster NOS said the government was likely to require face masks in many public places and broaden the use of a "corona pass" showing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or recent negative coronavirus test.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have been rising for a month, and reached their highest level since July in the past week. Cases on Monday were 45 percent higher than a week ago at 7,700. More than 1,200 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, the most in five months.

Many hospitals are cutting back on regular care again to make room for urgent COVID-19 cases.

Most coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands were dropped on Sept 25, as the "corona pass" was introduced as a requirement for visitors to bars, restaurants, clubs or cultural events.

Most coronavirus patients in hospital have not been vaccinated, Dutch health authorities said last week. According to government data, around 84 percent of the Dutch adult population has

been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ukraine

The Ukrainian capital Kyiv implemented tough new restrictions on Monday in an attempt to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that is affecting many countries across eastern Europe amid a low take-up of vaccinations.

Ukraine had registered 2.94 million infections and 68,027 deaths as of Nov. 1. Only 7.4 million people, or less than a fifth of the total population of around 41 million, has been fully vaccinated so far.

From Monday residents of Kyiv will have to present vaccine certificates or evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to use restaurants, cafes, gyms, entertainment facilities and shopping malls. Staff working in those places must have been vaccinated.

City authorities have said special teams will monitor compliance with the restrictions on public transport.

Reuters correspondents saw police and National Guard members stationed at entrances to the metro checking people's vaccination certificates. Restaurant and cafe staff carried out similar checks on their customers.

"I consider all this a necessity because otherwise people unfortunately do not understand. You need to be vaccinated. They need to motivate people somehow," Julia Lisok, a bank employee, told Reuters.

"Unfortunately Ukraine has one of the lowest levels of vaccination and this does not bring us closer to Europe," she added.

The government has made vaccinations against COVID-19 compulsory for some state employees, and authorities hope the new requirements will speed up vaccination.

Neighboring Russia has also imposed tough new lockdown measures as COVID-19 deaths hit a record daily high. In Poland, which also borders Ukraine, the total number of cases passed three million on Friday.


In this file photo taken on July 31, 2021, a pedestrian walks past a sign advising members of the public of a "Free COVID-19 Testing" site in south London, on July 31, 2021. (NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP)

United Kingdom

Britain has reported 38,009 new cases of COVID-19, government data showed on Sunday, meaning cases reported between Oct 25 and Oct 31 were down by 13.5 percent compared with the previous seven days.

A further 74 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for COVID-19, meaning the seven-day total was up by almost 16 percent from the previous week.

Changes in the number of deaths typically lag those for cases.

In this file photo taken on Oct 22, 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

United States

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, she said in a statement, adding she had last seen US President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Psaki, 42, who stated she was vaccinated and experiencing mild symptoms, said she and the president sat outside more than 1.8 m apart and wore masks on Tuesday. Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday, said a person familiar with the matter.

Psaki decided not to join Biden on his trip to Rome and Glasgow this week because a member of her household tested positive for the virus, after which she quarantined, she said.

She has been in quarantine since Wednesday and repeatedly tested negative before testing positive on Sunday, she said.

Psaki planned to return to work at the end of a 10-day quarantine period following a negative rapid COVID-19 test, she said in the statement.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of New York City employees — including police, fire and sanitation workers —  could face unpaid leave Monday as a contentious vaccine mandate goes into effect.

The consequences could be dramatic on the essential services the city depends on: Some 24,200 employees subject to the mandate hadn’t received a shot as of Friday. More than 2,000 firefighters called in sick over the last week, and trash has been reported piling up on sidewalks.

Tensions are high, with Mayor Bill de Blasio saying he won’t back down and city workers protesting in front of his home at Gracie Mansion. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigiro on Saturday said that some firefighters were already engaged in a work slowdown.