Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million


Europe passed the grim milestone of one million coronavirus deaths on Monday, as the World Health Organization warned that infections are rising exponentially despite widespread efforts aimed at stopping them.

The death toll across Europe’s 52 countries, compiled by AFP from official sources, totalled at least 1,000,288 by 1830 GMT.

“We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

“The trajectory of this pandemic is growing… exponentially.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, when we have proven control measures,” she told reporters.

The coronavirus has already killed more than 2.9 million people and infected nearly 136 million across the world.

But despite the sombre news in Europe—the world’s worst-hit region—Britain eased curbs for the first time in months on Monday, allowing Britons to enjoy a taste of freedom with a pint and a haircut.

The changes illustrate how fast-vaccinating countries are leaving other—mostly poorer—nations behind.

In South Africa, the president called for African-made vaccines as the continent lags behind, struggling with inadequate supplies as well as a lack of financing and logistical problems.

“Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration,” Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa suggested India or Brazil could help after successfully developing their own generic pharmaceutical industries.

But both giants are battling severe COVID outbreaks, with India overtaking Brazil on Monday as the country with the second-highest number of infections after logging more than 168,000 new cases in a day.

Muslims prepare for second COVID Ramadan

Experts have warned that huge, mostly maskless crowds at political rallies and religious festivals have fuelled India’s caseload.

In the Himalayan city Haridwar, maskless Hindu pilgrims on Monday squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder on the banks of the Ganges River for a dip during the Kumbh Mela ritual.

Several Indian regions have tightened their coronavirus measures, with Maharashtra—India’s wealthiest state and current epicentre of its epidemic—imposing a weekend lockdown and night curfew.

Neighbouring Bangladesh has announced it will virtually seal itself off, shutting down both international and domestic transport starting Wednesday while shutting offices in an attempt to staunch its own spiralling outbreak.

Across the Muslim world, worshippers are gearing up for the start of their second Ramadan of the pandemic, with the holy fasting month due to kick off in many countries on Tuesday.

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, the sanitary measures are less strict than a year ago when mosques were shut completely and a curfew was in force.

The mood in Cairo was relatively cheerful as the city prepared for special prayers on Monday night, with bright lights festooning the streets. Many of those rushing around the city shopping for last-minute supplies were maskless, however.

Saudi authorities have meanwhile said that only people immunised against COVID-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramadan.

Glimmers of hope

In Britain, despite one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death tolls, there were glimmers of hope Monday as pubs and restaurants were allowed to serve people outside—a move welcomed by the hard-hit hospitality sector, despite wintry temperatures.

“It’ll be great to see everybody again and see all the locals,” Louise Porter, landlady of The Crown Inn in Askrigg, northern England, told AFP.

“Our lives have just been turned upside down, just like everybody else’s,” she said, adding: “We’re still here to tell the tale.”

England’s hairdressers, indoor gyms and swimming pools also got the green light to reopen.

Once the worst-affected country in Europe, Britain launched a successful vaccination campaign coupled with lockdown measures that cut deaths by 95 percent and cases by 90 percent from January.

Italy has also been one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, and on Monday, Rome saw the latest in a series of anti-lockdown demonstrations, with several hundred people turning out in protest against weeks of restaurant closures.

In France, now the European country with the most infections, an expansion of the vaccine rollout has buoyed optimism among lockdown-weary residents. Everyone aged over 55 years old is now eligible for a COVID vaccination.

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U.S. COVID Response Could Have Avoided Hundreds of Thousands of Deaths – Research

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States squandered both money and lives in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy and trimmed federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while still supporting those who needed it.

That is the conclusion of a group of research papers released at a Brookings Institution conference this week, offering an early and broad start to what will likely be an intense effort in coming years to assess the response to the worst pandemic in a century.

U.S. COVID-19 fatalities could have stayed under 300,000, versus a death toll of 540,000 and rising, if by last May the country had adopted widespread mask, social distancing, and testing protocols while awaiting a vaccine, estimated Andrew Atkeson, economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

He likened the state-by-state, patchwork response to a car’s cruise control. As the virus worsened people hunkered down, but when the situation improved restrictions were dropped and people were less careful, with the result that “the equilibrium level of daily deaths … remains in a relatively narrow band” until the vaccine arrived.

Atkeson projected a final fatality level of around 670,000 as vaccines spread and the crisis subsides. The outcome, had no vaccine been developed, would have been a far-worse 1.27 million, Atkeson estimated.

The economic response, while mammoth, also could have been better tailored, argued University of California, Berkeley economics professor Christine Romer. She joins former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and several others from the last two Democratic administrations in criticizing the spending authorized since last spring, including the Biden team’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

While she said the federal government’s more than $5 trillion in pandemic-related spending won’t likely trigger a fiscal crisis, she worries that higher-priority investments will be deferred because of allocations to initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program.

Those forgivable small business loans were “an interesting and noble experiment,” but were also “problematic on many levels,” including an apparent cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each job saved, she said.

“Spending on programs such as unemployment compensation and public heath was exactly what was called for,” she wrote, but other aspects, particularly the generous one-time payments to families, were “largely ineffective and wasteful.”

“If something like the $1 trillion spent on stimulus payments that did little to help those most affected by the pandemic ends up precluding spending $1 trillion on infrastructure or climate change in the next few years, the United States will have made a very bad bargain indeed,” Romer wrote.

Biden administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, argue the full package was needed to be sure all workers and families are kept economically intact until the job market recovers.

In a separate paper, Minneapolis Federal Reserve researchers Krista Ruffini and Abigail Wozniak concluded the federal programs largely did what they intended by supporting income and spending, with the impact seen in how consumption changed in response to the approval and lapse of different government payments.

But they also found room for improvement.

Evidence of the PPP’s effectiveness in job retention, for example, was “mixed,” they found, and increases in food assistance didn’t account for things like higher grocery prices.

“Food insecurity remained elevated throughout 2020,” they noted.

The aim now, they said, should be on determining what worked in order to make the response to any similar crisis more effective.

“The 2020 social insurance system response had many successes,” they said. “Given the scope and scale of the pandemic response, it is critical we continue to evaluate these efforts to understand the full extent of their reach, which populations were helped, who was left out.”

SOURCE: BPEA Spring 2021 Conference, March 25, 2021.

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Drugmaker Lilly says Covid treatment slashed hospitalization and deaths


US drugmaker Eli Lilly’s combination of two synthetic antibodies reduced hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients recently diagnosed with COVID-19 by 87 percent in trials, the company said Wednesday.

The results come from a Phase 3 clinical trial of 769 people aged 12 and over with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, who were considered high-risk because of their age or underlying conditions.

Among them, 511 received the combination treatment, which is authorized for emergency use in the United States, and 258 received a placebo.

There were four hospitalizations and no deaths in the treatment group, while four people died in the placebo group and 11 were hospitalized. This represented a statistically significant risk reduction of 87 percent.

The new results add to previous data reported by the company in January which used different dosing levels for the two antibodies and also showed a drastic risk reduction.

The new results came with 700 mg of the antibody bamlanivimab and 1400 mg of etesevimab while the previously reported data used a combination of 2800 mg of each.

“The consistent results observed in multiple cohorts of this trial over several months, even as new strains of COVID-19 have emerged, indicate bamlanivimab with etesevimab maintains its effects against a range of variants,” said Daniel Skovronsky, the company’s chief scientific officer.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made versions of the body’s natural infection-fighting defenses.

Our bodies develop these proteins in response to pathogens, and vaccines train the immune systems to be prepared without encountering the live microbe itself.

Giving people ready-made antibodies can help those who are at high risk of severe disease because of weak immunity or underlying conditions.

But their uptake has been limited by factors including a lack of patient interest, and not enough staffing and places inside hospitals to administer them.

It can also be challenging to identify candidates who are at high risk but haven’t yet progressed to severe COVID.

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Deaths from food allergy rare and decreasing in the UK, finds study

food allergy

Deaths from serious allergic reactions (“anaphylaxis”) due to food have declined over the past 20 years, an analysis of UK NHS data had found. This is despite an increase in hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis over the same time.

The analysis, conducted by scientists from Imperial College London and published in the BMJ also found that cows’ milk is the commonest single cause of fatal food-induced allergic reactions in school-aged children.

Around two million people are thought to live with a food allergy in the UK. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include an itching sensation inside the mouth, ears and throat, an itchy rash, and swelling of the face. In anaphylaxis, which can sometimes be fatal, a person can develop breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing or speaking. However, deaths from anaphylaxis are rare. It is estimated there are less than 10 fatalities due to food allergy per year in the UK.

Dr. Paul Turner, lead author of the study from Imperial’s National Lung and Heart Institute said: “This study raises two important points. The first is that despite hospital admissions increasing, the number of deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis has fallen. However, the second, more worrying point, is that cow’s milk is now the single most common cause of fatal allergic reactions in children. There is now a lot of awareness of allergies to peanut and tree nut, but many people think milk allergy is mild, perhaps because most children outgrow it. However, for those who don’t, it remains a big problem because milk is so common in our diet, and people don’t realise how dangerous it can be.”

The study, funded by the Food Standards Agency and Medical Research Council, analysed UK hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis between 1998-2018, and how these compare to fatal anaphylaxis events.

Food Standard Agency ‘s Head of Policy and Strategy for Food Hypersensitivity, Sushma Acharya, said: “These important findings help us understand the trends of severe food induced allergic reactions, like who is most at risk and which foods are responsible. This research is part of a wider study we have commissioned to support our ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to be a food hypersensitive consumer. We want to improve the quality of life for people living with food hypersensitivity and support them to make safe informed food choices.

“We note that young adults are most at-risk from severe and fatal allergic reactions to foods. Our upcoming promotion to encourage young people to ask for allergen information when ordering food is one example of how this valuable data will be used to inform our campaigns and policy making.”

The team at Imperial are now investigating why some people may be more susceptible to severe allergic reactions, and whether factors such as genetics may play a role.

During the study period from 1998 to 2018, hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis increased by 5.7% per year, or three-fold (from 1.23 to 4.04 admissions per 100,000 population per year).

Over the same time, the case fatality rate (number of fatalities compared to hospital admissions) for food-anaphylaxis more than halved, from 0.7% in 1998 to 0.3% in 2018. This may be due to better awareness of food allergy, and how to quickly recognise and treat serious allergic reactions.

Deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis are rare. The study also assessed food-related anaphylaxis fatalities, recorded since 1992, when data first became available. There had been 187 fatalities since 1992 where the cause of death was likely to be food-induced anaphylaxis. At least 86 (46%) of these were due to peanuts or tree nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts.

Sixty-six deaths were reported in children, of which 14% were caused by peanuts, 9% by tree nuts and in 12% of cases, the nut could not be identified. However, the most common single cause of fatal anaphylaxis was cows’ milk, responsible for 26% of cases. Furthermore, there was a trend towards a greater proportion of reactions being caused by milk since 1992.

The research team add that cow’s milk is quite protein-rich, meaning a small amount of cow’s milk can result in a significant exposure.

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US COVID-19 deaths hit another one-day high at over 4,300

US COVID-19 deaths hit another one-day high at over 4,300

Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. hit another one-day high at over 4,300 with the country’s attention focused largely on the fallout from the deadly uprising at the Capitol.

The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has eclipsed 380,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, and is closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II, or about 407,000. Confirmed infections have topped 22.8 million.

With the country simultaneously facing a political crisis and on edge over threats of more violence from far-right extremists, the U.S. recorded 4,327 deaths on Tuesday by Johns Hopkins’ count. Arizona and California have been among the hardest-hit states.

The daily figure is subject to revision, but deaths have been rising sharply over the past 2 1/2 months, and the country is now in the most lethal phase of the outbreak yet, even as the vaccine is being rolled out. New cases are running at nearly a quarter-million per day on average.

More than 9.3 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine, or less than 3% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is well short of the hundreds of millions who experts say will need to be inoculated to vanquish the outbreak.

The effort is ramping up around the country. Large-scale, drive-thru vaccination sites have opened at stadiums and other places, enabling people to get their shots through their car windows.

Also, an increasing number of states have begun offering vaccinations to the next group in line—senior citizens—with the minimum age varying from place to place at 65, 70 or 75. Up to now, health care workers and nursing home residents have been given priority in most places.

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Pandemic is tied to big rise in U.S. heart deaths

Pandemic is tied to big rise in U.S. heart deaths

In a finding that highlights another health consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers report that the risk of dying from heart disease increased during the coronavirus lockdowns last spring, likely because people were too scared to go to the hospital.

But the dangers of not seeking treatment for a medical emergency far outweigh that of catching COVID-19, especially now that precautions are in place to make hospitals and health care facilities safer for everyone, said study author Dr. Rishi Wadhera, a cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Wadhera and his colleagues culled data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics to compare death rates from heart-related causes in the United States after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic (mid-March to June 2020) to the 11 weeks before the pandemic and also to the same period in 2019.

Deaths from heart disease including heart attacks and those related to complications of high blood pressure increased by 11% and 17%, respectively, compared to 2019, the study showed.

The increases were greatest in areas that were the hardest hit by the pandemic: New York City saw a 139% spike in deaths due to heart disease and a 164% rise in deaths related to high blood pressure. Other areas that saw spikes in heart-related deaths during the spring included New York state, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois, the study found.

“Patients with cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks—which typically require urgent treatment—avoided seeking care at hospitals due to fear of contracting the virus,” Wadhera said.

But there may be more to it, he noted. “People with cardiovascular conditions may have faced challenges in accessing timely care, or experienced delays in receiving cardiovascular procedures, simply because hospitals in hard-hit regions were overwhelmed and strained.”

And “it’s possible that some of these deaths reflect the cardiovascular complications of undiagnosed COVID-19 because testing was quite limited during the initial surge of cases in the U.S.,” Wadhera noted.

“We need further research to understand the extent to which cardiovascular deaths increased during the second wave of the pandemic, if at all,” he said. Wadhera added that he hopes that with public health messaging, patients with urgent medical conditions become less fearful of seeking medical care and hospitals are better equipped to handle any surge in patients.

A related international study spanning 108 countries found fewer people underwent their scheduled heart-related diagnostic tests during the pandemic. These tests included heart imaging exams, stress tests and coronary angiography, a procedure that can detect blockages in your heart arteries. The number of these tests decreased by 42% from March 2019 to March 2020, and by 64% from March 2019 to April 2020.

These declines were even greater in countries with fewer resources, the study found.

“These findings may be due to a diversion of resources to COVID-19 care, limitations in the availability of personal protective equipment, and fears of engaging with the health care system during a pandemic peak,” said study author Dr. Andrew Einstein, director of nuclear cardiology, cardiac CT and cardiac MRI at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, in New York City.

Skipping scheduled exams may result in heart disease not being picked up in its most treatable stages, Einstein warned.

“Keep in close contact with your health care provider to ensure that you are getting the optimal care under the unique circumstances posed by COVID-19, and that any cardiac diagnostic testing or preventive care which is deferred gets provided at the earliest time possible,” Einstein advised.

Both studies were published in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The new findings may be just the tip of the iceberg, said Dr. Samir Kapadia, chair of the department of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Kapadia was not involved in the new studies.

There was no increase seen in deaths from heart failure in the U.S. study, as these conditions are not always immediately life-threatening, he said. But “if you have heart failure and don’t seek care, you won’t necessarily die, but it may have very significant and meaningful complications down the road that are not reversible,” Kapadia said.

Individuals may not be refilling their medications or seeing their doctor for all types of preventive or follow-up care out of fear of COVID-19, he noted. “Over time, this can amount to very significant and life-threatening liver problems, kidney problems, heart problems and lung problems,” Kapadia said.

But “hospitals have understood what needs to be done to make emergency rooms, hospital procedural suites, operating rooms and inpatient services safe,” he added. There is now adequate testing and personal protective equipment, and sanitizing and social distancing protocols are in place to keep everyone safe from COVID-19. “Preventive care is safe and emergency care is essential,” Kapadia said.

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U.S. tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus for 1st time


The U.S. has topped 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier, with the surge being driven in several Sun Belt states that experienced spikes over the summer.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. had 4,085 deaths Thursday. The U.S. had nearly 275,000 new coronavirus cases on the same day.

The numbers are another reminder of the worsening situation following travel for holidays and family gatherings, along with more time indoors during the winter months.

Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1,500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday—figures that were comparable to nationwide totals in October.

Many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep up and warned they may need to ration care as intensive care beds dwindle. Many nurses already stretched thin are now caring for more patients than typically allowed under state law after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict nurse-to-patient ratio law.

The biggest fear is that hospitals will be tipped into rationing care in a few weeks when people who ignored social distancing rules to gather with friends and relatives for Christmas and New Year’s Eve start showing up for medical care.

In Los Angeles County at the Henry Mayo New Hall in Valencia, nurse Nerissa Black says her hospital is overwhelmed with patients, comparing the situation to New York at the beginning of the pandemic.

She has worked there for seven years and staffs the telemetry unit where she is assigned six patients. She essentially can spend 10 minutes with each of them per hour, which includes the time it takes for her to change her personal protective equipment and document and coordinate their care.

“It’s very hard to decide which one should I go see first: the patient who has chest pain or the patient whose oxygen level is dropping,” she said, speaking on a day when she where she wasn’t working after getting the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

At St. Joseph Hospital south of Los Angeles, nurses in the COVID-19 ward describe being overwhelmed as the death toll mounts.

“Just today we had two deaths on this unit. And that’s pretty much the norm,” said Caroline Brandenburger. “I usually see one to two every shift. Super sad.”

“They fight every day, and they struggle to breathe every day even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die,” Brandenburger said. “They just die.”

The outbreak has taken another turn for the worse in Arizona, with the state now leading the nation with the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week. From Dec. 30 to Jan. 6, one in every 115 people was diagnosed with the virus.

More than 132,000 people nationwide are hospitalized with the virus.

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Nursing homes begin COVID-19 vaccinations as US cases, deaths soar

Walgreens VP discusses efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccine

Walgreens Vice President of Pharmacy Operations Rina Shah discusses the pharmacy chain’s cooperation with nursing homes to get the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable seniors.

Vulnerable residents in nursing homes across some U.S. states began to receive COVID-19 vaccinations within the last two days, while the vast majority await shots from a collaboration between large pharmacy chains. 

The news coincides with additional record highs in virus cases and deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. saw a high of 247,403 daily new cases reported Dec. 17, with a record-setting daily death toll at 3,656. The nation’s positivity rate is exceeding 11%, and Southern California in particular is distinguishing itself as a hard-hit area of new case spread.

California's Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday the state distributed 5,000 body bags to San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo counties, while 60 53-foot refrigerated storage units were on standby amid the state's "most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic," per Newsom.



Nursing home residents in Florida began receiving shots Wednesday after nearly 2,000 such vaccinations were administered in West Virginia on Tuesday. Thousands more are scheduled there in the coming days. Other states are expected to follow soon. Officials have estimated that residents in long-term care facilities have accounted for 40% of the nation’s over 300,000 virus deaths.

In working with smaller, local pharmacies, West Virginia has outpaced many other states in administering shots to its most vulnerable elderly residents. 

On a call with reporters this week, federal officials said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with Walgreens, CVS and the states, created a campaign strategy for vaccine execution in long-term health care facilities. This week will involve a scaling start into distribution, and Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed chief operating officer, said four states were ready to go in partnership with CVS and Walgreens to start scaling vaccination.


A spokesperson with CVS Health told Fox News in an email Thursday that the national rollout of its COVID-19 vaccination effort would start on Dec. 21 and will include skilled nursing and assisted living facilities nationwide.

CVS was not able to specify the exact timing for each state. Walgreens did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday morning, though it previously announced that it teamed up with 35,000 nursing and assisted living facilities nationwide to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, marking a "historic milestone and important step toward ending the pandemic."

In Florida, Mark Rayner, director of health services at skilled nursing facility John Knox Village near Fort Lauderdale, told the Associated Press that 120 of 200 facility staffers are declining the shot, most of whom are African Americans with distrust in the vaccine.

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"They are frightened," he said. "There is that culture line even as much as we educate them."

Earlier this week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said states are encouraged to begin vaccinations in long-term care facilities sooner if pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS are ready to go faster.


"We expect to see vaccinations in nursing homes this week, and literally then by next week these pharmacy chains will have the ability to execute vaccination programs daily in thousands of long-term care and assisted living facilities," Azar said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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CDC Director Warns of Dire Winter Ahead for COVID Hospitalizations, Deaths

THURSDAY, Dec. 3, 2020 – The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that the coming winter months might be the darkest period yet in the coronavirus pandemic.

“I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the Chamber of Commerce Foundation on Wednesday morning, adding that perhaps 450,000 Americans might be dead from COVID-19 by February. Right now, that number now is about 273,000, The New York Times reported.

Another record-breaking day of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths underscored Redfield’s grim warning.

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday passed 100,000, nearly double the highest point seen last spring. The daily death toll hit 2,760, surpassing the previous record set in April, the Times reported. With hospitals filling up in multiple states, the days ahead do appear bleak.

Still, Redfield offered some hope. Americans, he said, could cut their losses with simple measures like wearing a mask.

“It’s not a fait accompli,” he said. “We’re not defenseless. The truth is that mitigation works. But it’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. Probably not even if three-quarters do.”

As staggering as it is, the death toll reported Wednesday will likely worsen as the delayed effects of Thanksgiving travel start to surface, experts say.

“This is a much worse situation [than the spring],” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told the Times. “Summer is not going to bail us out. Things are not shut down.”

One positive? Though coronavirus cases have exploded recently, with new infections topping 1 million a week, a far smaller proportion of people who get the virus now are dying from it. CDC data shows that the share of cases resulting in death dropped from 6.7 percent in April to 1.9 percent in September, the Times reported.

But deaths in the United States are still climbing.

“It’s terrible, because it was avoidable,” said Dr. Leora Horwitz, an associate professor of population health and medicine at the N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine, told the Times. “We are a world outlier in this regard.”

Britain First to Approve Emergency Use of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine

Britain became the first Western country to allow emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, approving Pfizer’s candidate in the race to inoculate millions of people around the globe.

Having beat the United States to emergency authorization may pressure American regulators, who are already taking heat for not moving faster to get doses to people, the Times reported. And it has stirred up a global debate about how to balance the dire need for a vaccine against the importance of looking for clear signs that a vaccine is safe.

“Help is on its way with this vaccine — and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,” British health secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday.

Though Britain has an early jump on distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, it will have no effect on the distribution of the hundreds of millions of doses that other wealthy countries like the United States have bought in prepaid contracts, the Times said.

But there are daunting obstacles to the vaccine’s delivery to the masses.

The Pfizer vaccine, developed with BioNTech, a smaller German firm, must be kept at the unspeakably cold temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit until shortly before shots are given. However, Pfizer said in a statement released Wednesday that it has developed shipping containers that use dry ice to keep the vaccine cold. GPS sensors will allow the company to track each shipment and ensure they stay cold, the company added.

“Pfizer has vast experience and expertise in cold-chain shipping and has an established infrastructure to supply the vaccine worldwide, including distribution hubs that can store vaccine doses for up to six months,” the company said.

Still, the temperature requirement could dictate who will be vaccinated first in Britain: While nursing home residents were supposed to be the top priority under an advisory committee’s plans, efforts to limit transportation of the vaccine to ensure it remains cold may mean that National Health Service staff will receive the shots first, the Times reported. The British government said Wednesday that 800,000 doses would be available by next week for health workers to begin administering.

In the United States, an advisory panel on Tuesday approved a vaccine distribution plan that recommends health care workers and nursing home residents and staff be the first to receive any approved coronavirus vaccine. The recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP), if heeded, will steer the initial short supply of vaccines to about 21 million health care personnel and 3 million Americans working or living in long-term care facilities.

An FDA advisory panel is set to meet on Dec. 10 to decide whether the agency should grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine, the Times reported.

The global race to develop a vaccine is poised to shatter records for time to market. Around the world, researchers are testing 57 vaccines in clinical trials, and nearly 100 others are being tested in animals or cell, the Times reported. China and Russia have both approved vaccines without waiting for the results of late-stage trials, which experts say raises safety concerns.

A global scourge

By Thursday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 13.9 million while the death toll passed 273,500, according to a Times tally. According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday were: Texas and California with nearly 1.2 million cases each; Florida with just over 1 million cases; Illinois with more than 750,000; and New York with over 669,000.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

Many European countries are tightening restrictions, the Associated Press reported. France has entered a nationwide lockdown, and Germany and Austria have started partial lockdowns as government officials across the continent scramble to slow a sharp rise in infections that threatens to overwhelm their health care systems.

England has followed suit, while Italy, Greece and Kosovo also announced new measures, the AP reported.

Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 9.5 million on Thursday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. More than 138,600 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population. Still, the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, Brazil passed 6.4 million cases and had over 174,500 deaths as of Thursday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 64.6 million on Thursday, with nearly 1.5 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

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Iran passes grim milestone of 40,000 deaths from coronavirus

Iran on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 40,000 coronavirus deaths, with the latest 10,000 added in less than a month, as the country struggles to contain its most widespread wave of infection yet.

The Iranian health ministry announced 457 new fatalities on Thursday, along with 117,517 new infections, pushing the total case count past 726,000, although officials have warned that’s a significant undercount.

The death toll has soared in recent weeks, shattering records in the nation that for months has suffered the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

Nearly half of Iran’s coronavirus deaths are recorded in the capital of Tehran, according to health officials, where medical workers have warned that the health system may soon be overwhelmed and demanded a strict month-long lockdown in all provincial capitals to slow the virus’ spread.

But the government has resisted shutting down the country, desperate to salvage an economy cratered by unprecedented American sanctions that effectively bar Iran from selling its oil internationally. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions in 2018 after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Earlier this week, authorities ordered a month-long nightly business curfew in Tehran and 30 other major cities and towns, asking nonessential shops to keep their workers home. Still, enforcement in the sprawling metropolis remains a challenge.

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