The global tally of COVID-19 cases climbed above 172 million on Friday, a day after the World Health Organization warned of a potential third wave in Africa with cases up 20% in the last two weeks compared with the previous fortnight.
Weak compliance with public safety measures, increased movement and interactions and the arrival of winter in South Africa are contributing to the spike, the WHO said on Thursday.
Cases are climbing in 14 countries and in the past week alone, eight countries experienced a 30% increase in cases. South Africa is reporting a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131% increase last week, driven by clusters in schools, rising cases among healthcare workers and intensive care units rapidly filling.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear—it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional. director for Africa.
Moeti noted that wealthier countries are already considering vaccinating children, while most Africans countries are starved of vaccine supply and are unable to give second doses to high-risk groups.
“I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care,” said Moeti.
President Joe Biden on Thursday outlined his administration’s plan to donate 80 million vaccine doses that will prioritize Covax, the WHO program that aims to get vaccine to lower-income countries.
The U.S. will donate 75% of the first 80 million doses to Covax, Biden said in a statement. The remaining 25% will go directly to countries in need, those currently experiencing surges in cases, immediate neighbors and other countries that have requested help. Neighboring countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will be prioritized, along with South and Southeast Asia, and Africa, in coordination with the African Union.
The U.S. has now fully vaccinated 136 million people, equal to 41.2% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker. That means they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
and German partner BioNTech SE
and Moderna Inc.
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among adults aged 18 and older, 134 million are fully vaccinated, equal to 52% of that population. Among those aged 65 and older, 41 million, or 75%, are fully vaccinated, while 47 million, or 86% of that group, has received at least one dose.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical officer, waded into the debate about the origins of the coronavirus in an interview with the Financial Times. Fauci called on the Chinese government to release the medical records of nine people who are reported to have fallen ill with COVID-like symptoms years before the pandemic and of three researchers in Wuhan who are reported to have fallen ill a month before the outbreak.
“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019,” Fauci said. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?”
In other news:
• The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.K, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on Friday. More than 2,000 children were involved in the clinical trial to determine the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines said. The European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for use in 12 to 15-year olds last week, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12-to-15 year-olds on May 10.
• Portugal has been removed from the U.K.’s quarantine-free travel list, just weeks after the popular holiday destination reopened to British tourists, amid concerns over rising cases and mutations of the virus, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The decision announced late Thursday sparked anger among airlines and travel companies, with Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye accusing the British government of “all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.” Britain allowed international travel to resume on May 17 after more than four months of lockdown, under a traffic-light system. Portugal was among a handful of countries placed on the government’s “green list,” allowing people to return home without the need to quarantine.
• Regeneron Inc.
said U.S. regulators have authorized a lower-dose and subcutaneous version of its COVID-19 antibody treatment, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The updated emergency-use authorization now says that patients will receive a dose that is half the size of the original dose of the monoclonal antibody. In addition, providers can administer the drug using a subcutaneous injection instead of intravenous infusion when needed. Regeneron’s antibody cocktail can be prescribed to people who are at least 12 years, have received a positive COVID-19 test, and have mild or moderate cases of COVID-19. The company also said it expects to get full approval for the antibody therapy from the Food and Drug Administration later this summer.
• France is allowing international visitors as long as they are fully vaccinated, ABC News reported. The government is removing the need for coronavirus tests for vaccinated Europeans. It also is allowing vaccinated tourists from most of the rest of the world, including the United States, much of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North and central America to come back, if they have a negative test.
• Japan has been backed into a corner over the Tokyo Games, a member of the country’s Olympic committee said Friday, arguing the virus-postponed event has “lost meaning” — but adding that it’s too late to cancel, AFP reported. In an opinion article for Kyodo News, Japan Olympic Committee member Kaori Yamaguchi, who won judo bronze in Seoul in 1988, described “anxiety and distrust” between the public and the government over the Games. “We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not,” said Yamaguchi. On Thursday, CNN reported that 10,000 of about 80,000 Olympics volunteers have dropped out for fear of becoming infected.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 172 million on Friday, while the death toll rose to 3.7 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. remained in the lead globally in cases with 33.3 million and deaths with 596,443, JHU data show, but the seven-day average for cases has fallen 48% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker, for deaths has dropped 28% and for hospitalizations has declined 22% as vaccinations continue to increase.
India is second in cases at 28.6 million, and third by fatalities at 340,702, numbers that are held to be vastly undercounted given a shortage of tests.
Brazil is third with 16.8 million cases, and second in deaths at 469,388.
Mexico is fourth by fatalities at 228,362 with 2.4 million cases.
The U.K. has 4.5 million cases and 128,075 deaths, the fifth-highest toll in the world and most in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 103,095 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.
What’s the economy saying?
The U.S. added a modest 559,000 new jobs in May even though most companies are eager to hire, signaling that widespread labor shortages are holding back an economic recovery,” MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The increase in employment in May fell short of Wall Street expectations. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast 671,000 new jobs.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, slipped in May to a pandemic low of 5.8% from 6.1%. Yet the official rate almost certainly understates the true level of unemployment by 2 to 3 percentage points, economists say.
The economy is strong and getting stronger thanks to a disappearing coronavirus pandemic, massive federal stimulus cash and a torrent of pent-up demand. Americans are rushing to do all the things they couldn’t do during the pandemic.
“It’s hard to hate this report, but it’s also hard to love it. It’s great to see a pickup to job growth, but it would have been better to see a larger acceleration,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed.
“Another disappointing rise in payrolls in May,” said chief economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics. “Ongoing pandemic-related issues including
childcare and health concerns are likely a constraint on job growth.”