With the launch of inoculation campaigns around the globe, it seemed as though the pandemic was finally subsiding. However, a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in different parts of the world has made it clear that we are nowhere near out of the woods yet.
Nations around the world set new infection and mortality records as the disease even surged in countries that had managed to keep the virus in check. Brazil this week became just the third country, after the U.S. and Peru, to report a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths that exceeded 4,000. India hit a peak of almost 132,000 new cases in 24 hours Friday, and Iran set a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting nearly 22,600 new cases on Thursday.
Since the first reported case in 2019, there have been nearly 134 million cases of coronavirus worldwide. More than 2.9 million people have died, with the United States having the largest death toll at more than 560,000.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, emergency services are under their biggest strain since the pandemic began, with ambulances carrying patients of all ages to overcrowded hospitals struggling to care for everyone.
Authorities say over 90% of the state’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds are taken by COVID-19 patients, and many cities are reporting people dying at home due to lack of available medical treatment. "We’re already living the third wave. We have three times more calls," in comparison with previous waves, said Adriano Pereira, director of the mobile emergency care service in Duque de Caxias, an impoverished city outside Rio.
Brazil’s death toll has risen past 340,000, the second-highest total in the world behind the U.S. Rio state’s 14-day moving average of COVID-19 daily deaths climbed from 112 to 207 between March 1 and April 7, with some health analysts expecting even worse days in the next couple of weeks. Many hospitals warn about the risk of shortages of oxygen and sedatives for intubation.
As the country's President Jair Bolsonaro continues to resist lockdown measures even with COVID-19 deaths at new records, the Brazilian Senate will open an inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A judge from the country's supreme court on Thursday ordered the Senate to create a commission for the inquiry, after requests from 32 of Brazil's 81 senators.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to get vaccinated, writing in a tweet: "Vaccination is among the few ways we have to defeat the virus. If you are eligible for the vaccine, get your shot soon."
With several states having expanded curbs to control the rapid spread of the virus, migrant workers have started packing into trains heading toward their villages from major cities such as Mumbai, potentially risking a wider outbreak in smaller towns. The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as businesses gradually reopened since the middle of last year.
Leading hospitals in India's most coronavirus-hit state halted vaccinations Friday, citing shortages as infections across the country crossed 13 million. In financial and film hub Mumbai, 25 out of 71 private hospitals administering jabs ran out of supplies Thursday, city authorities said. The situation at government-run inoculation centers was not much better, with a giant 1,000-bed field hospital turning away people arriving for their first dose on Friday morning.
"There is a shortage of vaccines so the program has been halted," Heeba Patwe, a doctor at a facility normally inoculating 5,000 people daily, told Agence France-Presse (AFP.)
Health workers at the huge Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital were only able to vaccinate some 180 people before stocks finished, a doctor at the facility told AFP. Similar shortages were in evidence across Mumbai, according to Mangala Gomare, who oversees the city's vaccination program.
India's vast vaccination program – which has so far administered 94 million shots – is reportedly facing major supply snags in the quest to inoculate its huge population. The Times of India reported that states on average had just over five days of stock left, according to health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.
The health minister of Maharashtra state, the epicenter of the pandemic, warned on Wednesday that it would not be able to continue vaccinations beyond the weekend unless stocks were replenished. In the state's badly hit city of Pune, two leading private hospitals told AFP they had run out of vaccines and would be unable to inoculate anyone until fresh supplies arrived.
"We halted vaccinations yesterday and we expect to remain shut for the next two or three days," an official at Pune's Noble Hospital said Friday.
Deepak Baid, president of the Association of Medical Consultants in Mumbai, told AFP the situation was becoming increasingly dire. "Vaccination is the need of the hour, it is the best weapon we have against COVID," he said.
The U.S. has now fully vaccinated nearly 20% of its adult population, and New Mexico became the first state to get shots in the arms of 25% of its residents – milestones that are still far off for many hard-hit countries. In Brazil, less than 3% of the country's 210 million people have received both doses, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. South Korea reported 700 more cases Thursday, the highest daily jump since Jan. 5. Health authorities were expected to announce measures to strengthen social distancing following a meeting Friday.
Following European Medicine Agency's (EMA) announcement regarding a link between rare blood clots in the brain and the AstraZeneca vaccine, states across the world are taking precautions.
France's health ministry said recipients of the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine under the age of 55 should receive a second shot with a new type of RNA messenger vaccine, similar to that developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Spain and Italy have also decided to restrict the use of the vaccine for people over 60, while Belgium prohibited the vaccine for people over 56. In the United Kingdom, it is recommended that an alternative vaccine be offered to people between the ages of 18 and 29.
Australia and the Philippines have restricted the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, while the African Union has scrapped plans to purchase the vaccine.
In Thailand, which has reported only 95 deaths during the pandemic, health officials reported the country’s first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain. The news comes at a time when only 1% of the population has been vaccinated and as Thais prepare to celebrate the traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday next week, typically a time of widespread travel.
That variant is more contagious, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that it is now the most common variant in the United States, raising concerns it will drive infections and cause more people to get sick.
Michigan has averaged more than 7,000 new cases a day – a number that makes the state second in the nation behind New York. Michigan also has the highest number of new cases per capita, with 1 of every 203 state residents getting diagnosed with COVID-19 between March 31 and April 7, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In Detroit, which is about 80% black, officials said they plan to start visiting homes to talk about the importance of protecting themselves from the virus with vaccinations and how to sign up to receive the shots.
"We’re going to knock on every residential door in the city, making sure every Detroiter knows how to make an appointment,” Victoria Kovari, an executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, told The Detroit News.
Only 22% of Detroit residents have received at least one vaccine dose compared to 38% for all of Michigan, according to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Other Midwestern states have seen troubling signs in recent days, including a school district in Iowa where 127 students and five staff members tested positive for the coronavirus or are presumed positive. In Massachusetts, where the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen to over 2,100 new cases per day, the Massachusetts Public Health Association called on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to reinstate public health measures.
The group urged Baker to limit indoor dining capacity and other indoor activities, saying the rise in cases and hospitalizations followed Baker's decision to loosen those restrictions. "We are currently in a race between the vaccines and the variants,” Carlene Pavlos, the group's executive director said Thursday, according to The Associated Press (AP). "Without these public health measures, even more innocent lives will be needlessly lost.”
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