The first Americans inoculated against COVID-19 began rolling up their sleeves for their second and final dose Monday, while Britain introduced another vaccine on the same day it imposed a new nationwide lockdown against the rapidly surging virus.
New York State, meanwhile, announced its first known case of the new and seemingly more contagious variant, detected in a man in his 60s in Saratoga Springs. Colorado, California and Florida previously reported infections involving the mutant version that has been circulating in England.
The emergence of the variant has added even more urgency to the worldwide race to vaccinate people against the scourge.
In Southern California, intensive care nurse Helen Cordova got her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center along with other doctors and nurses, who bared their arms the prescribed three weeks after they received their first shot. The second round of shots began in various locations around the country as the U.S. death toll surpassed 352,000.
“I’m really excited because that means I’m just that much closer to having the immunity and being a little safer when I come to work and, you know, just being around my family,” Cordova said.
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Over the weekend, U.S. government officials reported that vaccinations had accelerated significantly. As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 4.6 million shots had been dispensed in the U.S., after a slow and uneven start to the campaign, marked by confusion, logistical hurdles and a patchwork of approaches by state and local authorities.
Britain, meanwhile, became the first nation to start using the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, ramping up its nationwide inoculation campaign amid soaring infection rates blamed on the new variant. Britain’s vaccination program began Dec. 8 with the shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, received the first Oxford-AstraZeneca shot at Oxford University Hospital, saying in a statement: “I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary.”
The rollout came the same day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new lockdown for England until at least mid-February. Britain has recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past six days, and deaths have climbed past 75,000, one of the worst tolls in Europe.
Schools and colleges will generally be closed for face-to-face instruction. Nonessential stores and services like hairdressers will be shut down, and restaurants can offer only takeout.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” Johnson said.
Elsewhere around the world, France and other parts of Europe have come under fire over slow vaccine rollouts and delays.
France’s cautious approach appears to have backfired, leaving just a few hundred people vaccinated after the first week and rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic. The slow rollout has been blamed on mismanagement, staffing shortages over the holidays and a complex consent policy designed to accommodate vaccine skepticism among the French.
“It’s a state scandal,” Jean Rottner, president of the Grand-Est region of eastern France, said on France-2 television. “Getting vaccinated is becoming more complicated than buying a car.”
Health Minister Olivier Veran promised that by the end of Monday, several thousand people would be vaccinated, with the tempo picking up through the week. But that would still leave France well behind its neighbors.
French media broadcast charts comparing vaccine figures in various countries: In France, a nation of 67 million people, just 516 people were vaccinated in the first six days, according to the French Health Ministry. Germany’s first-week total surpassed 200,000, and Italy’s was over 100,000. Millions have been vaccinated in the U.S. and China.
The European Union likewise faced growing criticism about the slow rollout of COVID-19 shots across the 27-nation bloc of 450 million inhabitants. EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the main problem “is an issue of production capacity, an issue that everybody is facing.”
The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts with a variety of manufacturers. But only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use so far across the EU. The EU’s drug regulators are expected to decide on Wednesday whether to recommend authorizing the Moderna vaccine.
In the U.S., Dr. Mysheika Roberts, health commissioner in Columbus, Ohio, said demand has been lower than expected among the people given top priority for the vaccine. For example, the city’s 2,000 emergency medical workers are all eligible, but the health department has vaccinated only 850 of them.
She said some people were hesitant to get the vaccine and wanted to see how others handled it. The vaccine also arrived the week of Christmas, and a lot of people were on vacation and didn’t want to be bothered during the holiday, she said.
“I think we all assumed that people would want this vaccine so badly, that when it became available, people would just come get it,” Roberts said.
Roberts noted there has been no effective mass marketing campaign explaining why people should get vaccinated.
“From the president on down, so many people have been touting the fact that we’re going to have a vaccine and get this vaccine out. But so many of those same people who were talking about it now have gone silent,” she said. “That could help if those same people would be more vocal about it.”
Elsewhere around the globe, Israel appears to be among the world leaders in the vaccination campaign, inoculating over 1 million people, or roughly 12% of its population, in just over two weeks. The effort has been boosted by a high-quality, centralized health system and the country’s small size and concentrated population.
On Sunday, India, the world’s second-most populous country, authorized its first two COVID-19 vaccines — the Oxford-AstraZeneca one and another developed by an Indian company. The move paves the way for a huge inoculation program in the desperately poor nation of 1.4 billion people.
India has confirmed more than 10.3 million cases of the virus, second in the world behind the U.S. It also has reported about 150,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Johnson said people must stay at home again, as they were ordered to do so in the first wave of the pandemic in March, this time because the new virus variant was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” way.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said in a televised address.
From Tuesday, primary and secondary schools and colleges will be closed for face to face learning except for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February. People were told to work from home unless it’s impossible to do so, and leave home only for essential trips.
All nonessential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only operate takeout services.
As of Monday, there were 26,626 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England, an increase of more than 30% from a week ago. That is 40% above the highest level of the first wave in the spring.
Large areas of England were already under tight restrictions as officials try to control an alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, blamed on a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than existing variants. Authorities have recorded more than 50,000 new infections daily since passing that milestone for the first time on Dec. 29. On Monday, they reported 407 virus-related deaths to push the confirmed death toll total to 75,431, one of the worst in Europe.
The U.K.’s chief medical officers warned that without further action, “there is a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
Hours earlier, Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, also imposed a lockdown there with broadly similar restrictions from Tuesday until the end of January.
“I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Sturgeon said in Edinburgh.
The announcements came on the day U.K. health authorities began putting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine into arms around the country, fueling hopes that life may begin returning to normal by the spring.
“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle,” Johnson said.
Britain has secured the rights to 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to use than some of its rivals. In particular, it doesn’t require the super-cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine.
The new vaccine will be administered at a small number of hospitals for the first few days so authorities can watch out for any adverse reactions. Officials said hundreds of new vaccination sites — including local doctors’ offices — will open later this week, joining the more than 700 vaccination sites already in operation.
A “massive ramp-up operation” is now underway, Johnson said. The goal was that by mid-February, some 13 million people in the top priority groups — care home residents, all those over 70 years old, frontline health and social workers, and those deemed extremely clinically vulnerable — will be vaccinated, he said.
Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, received the first Oxford-AstraZeneca shot early Monday at Oxford University Hospital.
“The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant, and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife, Shirley, later this year,” Pinker said in a statement released by the National Health Service.
But aspects of Britain’s vaccination plan have spurred controversy.
Both vaccines require two shots, and Pfizer had recommended that the second dose be given within 21 days of the first. But the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said authorities should give the first vaccine dose to as many people as possible, rather than setting aside shots to ensure others receive two doses. It has stretched out the time between the doses from 21 days to within 12 weeks.
While two doses are required to fully protect against COVID-19, both vaccines provide high levels of protection after the first dose, the committee said. Making the first dose the priority will “maximize benefits from the vaccination program in the short term,” it said.
Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said policymakers are being forced to balance the potential risks of this change against the benefits in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
“As has become clear to everyone during 2020, delays cost lives,” Evans said. “When resources of doses and people to vaccinate are limited, then vaccinating more people with potentially less efficacy is demonstrably better than a fuller efficacy in only half.”
Monday’s urgent announcement was yet another change of course for Johnson, who had stuck with a regional alert system that stipulated varying restrictions for areas depending on the severity of local infections. London and large areas of southeast England were put under the highest level of restrictions in mid-December, and more regions soon joined them.
But it soon became clear that the regional approach wasn’t working to tamp down the spread of the virus, and critics have been clamoring for a tougher national lockdown.
And while schools in London were already closed due to high infection rates in the capital, Johnson had said that students in many parts of the country could return to classrooms on Monday after the Christmas holidays, to the dismay of teachers’ unions.
“We are relieved the government has finally bowed to the inevitable and agreed to move schools and colleges to remote education in response to alarming COVID infection rates,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
British diplomat Brian Urquhart, an early leader of the United Nations who played a central role in developing the U.N. practice of peacekeeping, has died, according to his family. He was 101.
Urquhart’s son, Thomas, confirmed he died at his home in Tyringham, Massachusetts, on Saturday but didn’t provide a specific cause, the New York Times reported.
Urquhart, born in Bridport, England in 1919, served in British military and intelligence during World War II before becoming the second official hired by the U.N. after its formation in 1945. He went on to be a principal adviser to the first five U.N. secretary-generals.
Urquhart worked for the commission that set up the United Nations Secretariat in 1945, arranged the General Assembly's first meeting in London and settled on New York City as the U.N.'s permanent home. But he was best known for creating and directing U.N. peacekeeping operations in war zones around the world.
Urquhart called peacekeeping forces an army without an enemy and decided they should wear blue helmets to distinguish them from combatants. He said they should enter a war zone only with broad political support, with the goal of ending hostilities and facilitating negotiations.
Before he retired in 1986, Urquhart had directed 13 peacekeeping operations, recruited a force of 10,000 troops from 23 countries and established peacekeeping as one of the U.N.’s most visible and politically popular functions. The U.N. peacekeeping forces won the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize.
Urquhart served 12 years as the U.N.'s No. 2 official, succeeding Ralph J. Bunche as under secretary general for political affairs in 1974.
“Sir Brian’s imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the organization’s history,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres said in a statement. “As an aide to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, he helped to define the U.N.’s scope of action in addressing armed conflict and other global challenges. And as a close associate of Ralph Bunche, the renowned U.N. official and Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner, Sir Brian helped to establish and then propel international peacekeeping into wide-ranging use.”
Urquhart joined the Ford Foundation after he retired and wrote books and frequent commentaries for The New York Review of Books and other publications. His books include a 1987 autobiography, “A Life in Peace and War,” as well as books on United Nations leaders and operations.
He is survived by his wife, his five children, a stepson, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday said that more than 371,500 children would be born on the first day of 2021.
“The children born today enter a world far different than even a year ago, and a New Year brings a new opportunity to reimagine it”, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
As always, the Pacific island nation of Fiji will welcome the first baby of the new year and the United States the last one.
Over half of these global births are estimated to take place in the 10 countries of India – 59,995; China – 35,615; Nigeria – 21,439; Pakistan – 14,161; Indonesia –12,336; Ethiopia – 12,006 – US (10,312), Egypt – 9,455; Bangladesh – 9,236; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – 8,640.
In total, UNICEF estimates an 84-year average life expectancy for the 140 million children it projects will be born throughout 2021.
More to celebrate
The year will also mark the 75th anniversary of UNICEF.
Over the course of 2021, UNICEF and its partners will be commemorating the milestone anniversary with events and announcements celebrating three-quarters of a century of protecting children from conflict, disease and exclusion, and championing their right to survival, health and education.
“Children born today will inherit the world we begin to build for them today”, reminded the UNICEF chief.
“Let us make 2021 the year we start to build a fairer, safer, healthier world for children”, she added.
Meanwhile, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to soar, so do the needs of children and their families, the UN agency said.
From delivering life-saving health supplies to building water and hygiene facilities, to keeping girls and boys connected to education and protection, UNICEF is working to slow the spread of the pandemic and minimize its impact on children worldwide.
COVID is continuing its spread across the world, with total cases crossing the 83.9 million mark on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
The total caseload across the globe stood at 83,959,994, with 1,827,176 fatalities, as of Saturday morning.
In the US, the death toll stood at 347,787 as of Saturday morning, with 20,128,359 people being infected with the virus, according to JHU data.
Also Read: Covid-19: Global cases exceed 83 million
The confirmed coronavirus cases in the US topped 20 million on Friday as the discovery of a highly contagious new virus strain in the country increased pressure on the government to speed up the vaccination process, reports Xinhua.
The country, which makes up about 4 percent of the world's population, now accounts for nearly one-quarter of over 83.8 million cases and 19 percent of 1.8 million deaths reported worldwide, according to the data.
Also Read: Global COVID-19 cases near 82 million
It took 292 days for the US to reach its first 10 million cases, but only 54 more days for the figure to double.
Brazil's Covid death toll reached 195,411 after 462 more patients died in the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said Friday.
Meanwhile, tests detected 24,605 new cases, bringing its total to 7,700,578.
While Brazil celebrated New Year without festivities and fireworks amid the ravaging pandemic, local authorities were still struggling to prevent the public from flocking to beaches on January 1.
In neighboring India, the total cases reached 10,286,709 as of Saturday morning, with 148,994 fatalities.
Situation in Bangladesh
Bangladesh recorded 17 new deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours till Friday morning, pushing up the national tally to 7,576.
Also Read: Covid-19 in Bangladesh: Death toll now 7576
“The mortality rate is 1.47 percent while the recovery rate is 89.15 percent,” the Directorate General of Health Services said in a handout.
With 990 new cases, the caseload now stands at 514,500, of which 4,58,656 have recovered -- 1,197 in the past 24 hours.
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The government has been warning of a second wave of infection in the winter and urging people to properly follow the health protocols.
Bangladesh confirmed its first Covid-19 cases on March 8 and the first death on March 18. So far, 3,239,701 tests have been conducted, including 12,103 in the past 24 hours.