Coronavirus digest: US hits new record for COVID hospitalizations

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As well as setting daily records for infections and deaths, more than 100,000 people in the United States are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Germany’s daily death toll remains stubbornly high. Follow DW for more.

The United States on Friday set a worrying new coronavirus record with a total of 100,667 people hospitalized, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The country also recorded a record 217,664 new infections and 2,879 deaths — the latest in a weeks-long streak of record-setting daily figures.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is increasing in the populous states of California, Florida, New York and Texas, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The surge has led parts of California to issue fresh lockdown orders and the governor said on Thursday that the state could run out of intensive care unit capacity within weeks.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said this week that the state of over 40 million people is on track for full lockdown orders by mid-December.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that vaccines will be no magic bullet as nations gear up for a massive rollout to tackle surging infections.

The Geneva-based health body said there was an erroneous belief that the COVID-19 crisis would be over with jabs on the horizon.

“Vaccines do not equal zero COVID,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan, adding that not everyone will be able to receive it early next year. “Vaccination will add a major, major, powerful tool to the tool kit that we have. But by themselves, they will not do the job.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said progress on vaccines signaled “light at the end of the tunnel.” But he cautioned against the “growing perception that the pandemic is over” with the virus still spreading fast, putting enormous pressure on hospitals and health care workers.   


Europe

Germany continues to see a relatively high daily death count from the pandemic. On Saturday, the country recorded 483 new deaths, taking the overall fatality rate to 18,517. The country has recorded more than 400 deaths for five of the past 10 days.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry said on Friday that the coronavirus vaccine would be offered free of charge to all residents.

Germany is setting up hundreds of vaccination centers ahead of the regulatory go-ahead from the European Union for the inoculation, which is expected at the end of the month. Old people and front-line health workers are to take priority in the first stage of vaccination.

Meanwhile, the premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, has called his cabinet to a special meeting on Sunday to discuss “further measures.”

Observers expect the meeting to formalize a further tightening of curbs, amid concerns the restrictions could affect Christmas and New Year celebrations in the state.

Belgium, France and Spain have said the jabs will begin in January for the most vulnerable.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Friday he hopes at least a third of the country’s 47 million residents would receive the jab by June.

The improving situation in France also continued its general trend on Saturday with a further fall in the number of COVID-19 hospital deaths. Hospital admissions also fell, although the total still numbered in the tens of thousands. A little over 26,000 people were in French hospitals on Saturday due to COVID-19 problems.

The European Union police agency Europol has issued a warning about the risk of organized crime scams linked to COVID-19 vaccines, including the possibility criminals will try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines or hijack shipments of genuine shots.

“Once a legitimate vaccine enters the market, counterfeited versions of the specific vaccine brand are expected to circulate rapidly,” the agency’s warning said, citing a phony flu vaccine that the World Health Organization discovered in Mexico in October.

It warned that the fake vaccines could be toxic and lead to new outbreaks in communities assumed to be vaccinated.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands has expressed outrage after scientists advising the government about the pandemic received threats.

Multiple experts on the OMT scientific committee found threatening letters had been left in their letterboxes at home, Dutch media said. One of the experts given police protection.

“These people do a good and important job, and they do it with their souls and their conscience,” Rutte told a weekly press conference. “People can disagree with our political choices or disagree with the advice … but we will never accept intimidation and threats.”

In Russia, Muscovites from high-risk groups such as health care workers have begun registering for a locally made COVID-19 vaccine.

The online registration allows eligible residents to book free vaccination appointments at 70 points around the city, starting from Saturday, the mayor’s website said.

Sputnik V, one of two Russian-made vaccines to have received regulatory approval in Russia despite clinical trials being incomplete, requires two injections. Interim trials showed it is 92% effective at protecting people from COVID-19.

Mass testing for the second Russian vaccine, EpiVacCorona, began on Monday.

Russia reported a record high of 28,782 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, including 7,993 in Moscow.

Middle East
Dozens of people attended the lighting of the Christmas tree in Bethlehem — believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus — in the Palestinian territories on Saturday. In normal times thousands of tourists regularly take part in the event, bringing a much-needed economic boost to the area. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the vast majority were obliged to view the ceremony online.

Turkey entered a full weekend lockdown on Saturday, the first since May, as deaths in the country soared with the toll reaching a record 196, bringing the total to 14,705 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country has also moved into fourth place globally for the number of daily new infections, behind only the USA, India and Brazil, all countries with much larger populations. On Saturday Turkey recorded 31,896 new cases, just below Friday’s record of 32,736 daily reported infections.

Asia
Authorities in South Korea have urged vigilance as small virus clusters emerged in a third wave, centered in the Seoul area, with infections near nine-month highs. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 583 new cases, close to the 629 reported on Friday, which was the highest since the first wave peaked in February and early March.

This wave of infections is different from the first two, which were driven by large-scale transmission, said KDCA official Lim Sook-young. After implementing tighter restrictions in Seoul on Saturday, the government is to decide Sunday whether to further tighten nationwide curbs.

China has reported 17 new COVID-19 cases, unchanged from a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Saturday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 15 of the new cases were imported infections. It reported 12 new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, also unchanged from a day earlier.

Americas
United States President-elect Joe Biden said a new “grim” jobs report published Friday shows the economic recovery is stalling, and urged Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill immediately and follow up with “hundreds of billions of dollars” in more aid in January.

“If we don’t act now, the future will be very bleak. Americans need help and they need it now. And they need more to come early next year,” said Biden, who takes office on January 20.

Biden also warned that his inauguration next month will be a scaled-down affair due to the pandemic.

“We’re gonna follow again the science and recommendation of the experts on keeping people safe,” he told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware. “So, it is highly unlikely there’ll be a million people on the [National] mall going all the way down.”

In Mexico, the public has been told to cancel Christmas celebrations and even avoid exchanging presents to beat the virus.

“Let’s leave Christmas presents for another time,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, urging people to scale down or forego traditional family gatherings over the holidays.

He said people should stay at home unless they had something “truly important to do” as he announced hospitals would increase patient capacity, equipment and staff. However, he said there would be no mandatory lockdowns.

Mexico reported 12,127 new cases on Friday, a record number for a single day rise, barring one day in October the government has said was due to a statistical blip.

Argentina has passed a new tax on about 12,000 of the country’s richest people, to pay for coronavirus measures including medical supplies and relief for the poor and small businesses.

Under the scheme — dubbed the “millionaire’s tax” —people with declared assets greater than 200 million pesos will pay a progressive rate of up to 3.5% on wealth in Argentina and up to 5.25% on wealth outside the country.

The government of President Alberto Fernandez hopes to raise 300 billion pesos ($3.75 billion, €3.09 billion) with the one-off levy. The pandemic has exacerbated already high unemployment and poverty rates in a country that has been in recession since 2018.

Africa
South Africa said it expects to receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the WHO in the second quarter of next year.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it was on track to sign an agreement with the COVAX program by December 15, by which date it would also make the first payment.

The country, which has been the worst affected by the pandemic on the African continent, is seeking to buy vaccines for 10% of its population of roughly 58 million people via COVAX.

DW

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