ModernGhanalogo

FEATURED: Gender Crisis In Ghana: The Perceptive Controversy Over The Legalizati...

body-container-line-1
22.02.2021 Africa

US hits half million Covid deaths, UK to ease lockdown

By Sebastian Smith
US President Joe Biden will commemorate half a million deaths from Covid-19 in the United States.  By MANDEL NGAN (AFP/File)
LISTEN FEB 22, 2021
US President Joe Biden will commemorate half a million deaths from Covid-19 in the United States. By MANDEL NGAN (AFP/File)

The United States passed 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Monday -- the world's highest toll -- and President Joe Biden was set to mark the grim milestone with a national remembrance ceremony, even as signs of optimism emerged over an end to the pandemic.

With the US death toll hitting half a million Biden ordered flags on federal government buildings to be flown at half mast for five days.

The president was scheduled to address the nation from the White House before attending a candle-lighting ceremony and moment of silence with wife Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.

The event will "highlight the magnitude of the loss," Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. But "he will also speak to the power of the American people to turn the tide on this pandemic by working together."

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on February 22, 2021 in Israel, which maintains a tight blockade on Gaza, where some 20,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine doses have arrived from the United Arab Emirates.  By JALAA MAREY (AFP) A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on February 22, 2021 in Israel, which maintains a tight blockade on Gaza, where some 20,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine doses have arrived from the United Arab Emirates. By JALAA MAREY (AFP)

Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who often sought to minimize the disease, Biden has made the pandemic his top priority, simultaneously pushing an aggressive vaccine rollout and making frequent, public shows of empathy.

It is a strategy that could make or break the Biden presidency, already juggling high-stakes economic challenges and the tense political aftermath of the Trump era.

Biden has warned that the US toll could still go "well over" 600,000.

But signs are also emerging that progress is being made both in the United States and around the world, with infections dropping sharply and vaccine deliveries rising steadily.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a "gradual and cautious" approach to lifting curbs in England that could see life there return almost to normal by the end of June. The first step will be the return of children to schools from March 8.

There was also good news from a University of Edinburgh study finding that Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccinations have led to a "substantial reduction" in Covid-19 admissions to hospitals in Scotland.

Graphic highlighting the countries with the largest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the past week..  By Omar KAMAL (AFP) Graphic highlighting the countries with the largest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the past week.. By Omar KAMAL (AFP)

Despite the dramatic losses in the United States, the trend there is also sharply downward.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said US deaths are at their lowest since December, with a 39 percent drop in the latest seven-day average of new daily cases.

Globally, the toll is approaching 2.5 million.

India struggles

Shoppers wearing face masks keep their distance from one another at the Dupont Circle Market in Washington.  By Daniel SLIM (AFP) Shoppers wearing face masks keep their distance from one another at the Dupont Circle Market in Washington. By Daniel SLIM (AFP)

Meanwhile India, the world's second worst-hit nation in terms of infections, passed a bleak threshold on Monday by registering its 11 millionth case following a renewed rise in cases.

Fresh restrictions on gatherings came into force in the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, which has logged almost 52,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The vast nation's inoculation drive is creeping slowly, and India's Serum Institute -- the world's biggest vaccine maker -- has urged other countries to be "patient," saying it has been told to prioritize the home market.

In the capital New Delhi, vegetable vendor Radhekrishna Negi spoke for many around the world, telling AFP: "I am fed up of corona."

Australia delivers first shots

US President Joe Biden (L) appears alongside his top virus expert Anthony Fauci, who says a sense of normalcy may only return by the end of 2021.  By SAUL LOEB (AFP/File) US President Joe Biden (L) appears alongside his top virus expert Anthony Fauci, who says a sense of normalcy may only return by the end of 2021. By SAUL LOEB (AFP/File)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 61 million people have received at least one shot of vaccine in the United States, with some 18 million getting the full two doses.

In Australia, top officials Sunday were among a small group receiving the first vaccinations, a day before the program starts in earnest.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a medical center in Sydney, in what the government said was a bid to boost public confidence after some anti-vaccine protests.

And in Gaza on Sunday, some 20,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine doses arrived from the United Arab Emirates.

The shots came via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, meaning they did not pass through Israel, which has maintained a tight blockade on Gaza since 2007.

Britain's government has vowed to offer a first dose to every adult by the end of July. More than 17 million people have now received at least a first vaccine dose -- one third of the adult UK population.

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of German pupils returned to schools and kindergartens for the first time in two months on Monday.

In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam received a shot of the Chinese Sinovac drug after the financial hub last week fast-tracked its approval.

And Air New Zealand said it will trial a digital travel pass to give airlines and border authorities access to passenger health information, including their Covid-19 vaccination status.

But the World Health Organization criticized wealthy countries for hogging Covid vaccines, preventing availability for poorer nations.

Countries like the United States have contributed money for procurement to supply poor countries, but the WHO said funds are useless if no vaccines are available.

"Even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines, having the money doesn't mean anything," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

burs-sms/jm

Modern Ghana Links
body-container-line