Colored scanning electron micrograph of a dying cell (blue) severely infected with SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes COVID-19. Photo credit: NIAID Integrated Research Facility, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The world posted a new daily record of coronavirus cases, largely due to an explosion of the virus in India, but COVID shocks also neared a billion worldwide on Saturday, offering hope after months of pandemic misery.
As of Friday, more than 893,000 cases were affected worldwide, more than a third of the infections in India.
Authorities there announced 332,730 new cases on Friday and a further 346,786 cases on Saturday, also a record for a single country since the pandemic began, according to an AFP count.
India reported another 2,624 hours of death, bringing the official toll to nearly 190,000 since the pandemic began.
India has become the new pandemic hotspot – queues of COVID-19 patients and their fearful relatives have accumulated outside of major city hospitals – and acute oxygen starvation has been reported from across the country.
An increase attributable to a new variant of the virus and the recent public events of the “Super Spreader” has devastated the country of 1.3 billion people. Charities had to erect makeshift pyres to ease the burden on the crematoria.
Indian social media and WhatsApp are hot for volunteer calls for ICU beds available and medication, and the central government is trying to organize special trains to keep oxygen supplies to the hardest hit cities.
An “oxygen express” with 30,000 liters of oxygen arrived in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, at dawn on Saturday, where armed guards were waiting to take trucks to hospitals.
The Indian Air Force is also deployed to transport oxygen tankers and other relief supplies across the country and to bring oxygen equipment out of Singapore.
West is accelerating rollouts
Kuwait and Iran restricted flights and passengers from India on Saturday until further notice. Canada has suspended flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days while the U.S. Department of State urged Americans to avoid traveling to India even if they are vaccinated.
The dark scenes from India contrasted sharply with the accelerated vaccine rollouts in much of the western world. US regulators approved the restart of a launch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines that have been halted due to blood clotting concerns.
According to an AFP figure based on official statistics, the number of bumps is approaching a billion worldwide.
Health officials had proposed stopping a number of millions of Americans who had received the sting for severe blood clots – a decision overturned after a panel of experts said the benefits of the gunshots exceeded the potential dangers.
In Europe, Belgium announced on Saturday that it would approve the J&J shot for all adults after receiving 36,000 doses and expecting a total of 1.4 million between April and June.
Meanwhile, the country became an outlier in Europe by saying it would use the AstraZeneca vaccine “as soon as possible” for people aged 41 and over, where most have restricted it to the elderly.
“The best I’ve done”
“It’s really the best I’ve ever done,” said 91-year-old British grandmother Margaret Keenan, who became the first person in the western world to receive an approved coronavirus vaccine on December 8th.
“I tell everyone to get it … I hope everyone comes forward,” she said.
Fear of blood clots also threatened to hamper vaccine rollout in Europe, where medical regulators said the benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine increase with age and still outweigh the risks for adults, despite links to very rare side effects .
The news came when the European Union also said it would have enough vaccines to immunize 70 percent of its adult population by the end of July.
EU boss Ursula von der Leyen had already set a goal at the end of September, but announced the new date during a visit to a Belgian vaccine facility that is ramping up the production of the Pfizer / BioNTech sting.
Despite the optimism, the threat from the virus remains ubiquitous. Germany faces a tough new lockdown on Saturday, including curfews and school closings, after the government passed a controversial new law to slow down infections.
The controversial new rules, which were passed during major protests in Berlin this week, apply in all regions with an incidence rate of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people in the last seven days.
Rising cases have also forced Japan to declare a state of emergency in some areas just three months before the Olympic Games begin.
The country’s Virus Response Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura warned of a “strong sense of crisis” and said the current restrictions are inadequate.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Saturday that more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients are waiting to be hospitalized as the kingdom grapples with a spiraling case load.
“If the outbreak becomes more severe, [the government] might consider reducing hospital quarantine for asymptomatic people from 14 days to 10 days, “he said in a move aimed at releasing hospital beds.
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