WSJ: More Americans died from COVID-19 this year

In this May 14, 2021 file photo, Colin Sweeney, 12, gets a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as his mother Nicole pats his shoulder at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena in Pasadena, Calif. (MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP)

VIENNA / BRUSSELS / KAMPALA / BRASILIA / NEW YORK – The number of US COVID-19 deaths recorded in 2021 has surpassed the toll in 2020, reported The Wall Street Journal on Saturday on the basis of data published by the federal government and Johns Hopkins University, demonstrating the virus's persistent menace.

The total number of reported deaths linked to the disease topped 770,800 on Saturday, Johns Hopkins data show. This puts the pandemic-long total at more than twice the 385,343 COVID-19 deaths recorded last year, according to the most recent death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total number of reported deaths linked to the disease topped 770,800 on Saturday, Johns Hopkins data show. This puts the pandemic-long total at more than twice the 385,343 COVID-19 deaths recorded last year, according to the most recent death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some communities were important factors," said the newspaper. "The milestone comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations move higher again in places such as New England and the upper Midwest, with the seven-day average for new cases recently closer to 90,000 a day after it neared 70,000 last month."

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has proven to be an enduring threat even in some of the most vaccinated places, many of which are confronting outbreaks again, as the world prepares to live with and manage the disease for the long term, it added.

The 2021 US death toll of the coronavirus caught some doctors by surprise. They had expected vaccinations and precautionary measures like social distancing and scaled-down public events to curb the spread of infections and minimize severe cases, said the report.

However, "lower-than-expected immunization rates as well as fatigue with precautionary measures like masks" allowed the highly contagious Delta variant to spread, largely among the unvaccinated, epidemiologists were quoted as saying. 

Austria

Tens of thousands of people, many of them far-right supporters, protested in Vienna on Saturday against coronavirus restrictions a day after Austria's government announced a new lockdown and said vaccines would be made compulsory next year.

Whistling, blowing horns and banging drums, crowds streamed into Heroes' Square in front of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in central Vienna, in the early afternoon, one of several protest locations.

Many demonstrators waved Austrian flags and carried signs with slogans such as "no to vaccination", "enough is enough" or "down with the fascist dictatorship"

Many demonstrators waved Austrian flags and carried signs with slogans such as "no to vaccination", "enough is enough" or "down with the fascist dictatorship".

By mid-afternoon the crowds had swelled to roughly 35,000 people, according to the police, and were marching down Vienna's inner ring road before heading back towards the Hofburg.

A police spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests, for breaches of coronavirus restrictions and the ban on Nazi symbols.

ALSO READ: Austria reimposes lockdown, to make virus vaccines compulsory

Roughly 66 percent of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.

With daily infections still setting records even after a lockdown was imposed on the unvaccinated this week, the government said on Friday it would reintroduce a lockdown on Monday and make it compulsory to get vaccinated as of Feb 1.

The Freedom Party (FPO) and other vaccine-critical groups had already been planning a show of force in Vienna on Saturday before Friday's announcement, which prompted FPO leader Herbert Kickl to respond that "As of today, Austria is a dictatorship".

Kickl could not attend because he has caught COVID-19.

"We are not in favour of our government's measures," said one protester, who was part of a group wearing tin foil on their heads and brandishing toilet brushes. Like most protesters who spoke to the media, they declined to give their names, though the mood was festive.

Demonstrators wave Austrian flags during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe against the measures taken to curb the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at Heldenplatz square in front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria on Nov 20, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Belgium

New measures to curb the spike in COVID-19 infections approved by the Belgian authorities have entered into force on Saturday, requiring the wearing of mask in areas where a COVID Safe Ticket (CST) is required.

A "COVID Safe Ticket Plus" rule, combining the CST with mandatory mask wearing, is now applied indoors for anyone above the age of 10.

The authorities, who are expected to meet again in January, have asked people to respect the 1.5-meter social distancing indoors, and limit social contacts outdoors, though no "bubbles" will be imposed for now.

Nightclubs, public and private events of more than 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors will also require the use of a CST and a mask.

Teleworking is compulsory four days a week until Dec. 13, and then three days a week, and no more than 20 percent of all staff who are required to work from home can be in the office at one time.

COVID-19 indicators in Belgium have been rising steadily for weeks and hospitals were overburdened by staff shortages and a rise in hospital admissions.

ALSO READ: 7 in Belgium nursing homes die from Colombian virus variant

Between Nov 13 and 19, there were an average of 268.3 hospital admissions per day, an increase of 29 percent compared to the previous reference period, according to the Sciensano Public Health Institute.

In total, 2,957 people are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 603 patients in intensive care.

On Monday, a total of 20,768 COVID-19 cases were recorded across the country, the highest since the end of October 2020, at the height of the second wave.

Brazil

Brazil has had 8,833 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 217 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Saturday, as vaccination reduces contagion and fatalities to levels not seen since the first weeks of the pandemic last year.

The ministry said 70 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated and 90 percent has received a first dose. On Saturday, the ministry launched a campaign to reach 21 million Brazilians who have not returned for a second shot.

The South American country has now registered 22,012,150 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 612,587, according to official data, in the world's third-worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest after the United States.

With vaccination advancing, the rolling 14-day average of COVID deaths has fallen to 228 a day, the lowest since April 26, 2020, which was one and a half months after the pandemic's first fatality in Brazil. That compares with a toll of almost 3,000 deaths a day in Brazil at the peak of the pandemic in April of this year.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, which was severely hit by the epidemic, did not have a single new case of a person with COVID-19 hospitalized at municipal hospitals on Saturday, the city's health authority said. It added that 76.5 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.

"Science is winning in the city of Rio de Janeiro," it said on Twitter.

France

France reported 22,678 new cases in the past 24 hours, up from 14,646 a week earlier. The total number of deaths rose by 24 to 118,446. France’s top health authorities on Friday advised that all people aged 40 or older get a booster six months after the previous shot. 

The French government will consider widening the booster shot campaign to this age range “soon,” Health Minister Olivier Veran tweeted on Friday.

Ireland

Ireland reported 5,959 cases, the highest daily tally since January. The country had 640 patients hospitalized, of which 121 were in intensive care, according to the Department of Health.

Uganda

Uganda on Saturday said it is aiming to vaccinate the entire adult population against COVID-19 ahead of the full reopening of the country's economy early next year.

In a televised address about the country's COVID-19 situation, President Yoweri Museveni said his government has expanded its target population for COVID-19 vaccination from the original priority groups such as health workers to all adults.

The move came after the country has stocked up more vaccines, Museveni said, adding the government is going to study COVID-19 vaccination for children.

According to the Health Ministry, the country has so far received more than 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. By Saturday, 6 million people have been vaccinated against the virus.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the East African nation has registered at least 127,000 infections, 97,000 recoveries from the virus and 3,247 related deaths.