The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed to almost128 million on Tuesday, as global leaders called for an international treaty to bolster pandemic preparedness and ensure all countries have access to vaccines.
In a statement signed by world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as heads of the World Health Organization and the European Council, the pandemic was described as the biggest challenge facing the world since the 1940s, after the devastation of two world wars led to the creation of a new, multilateral system.
“Today, we hold the same hope that as we fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic together, we can build a more robust international health architecture that will protect future generations,” said the statement.
The main goal of a treaty is to improve international cooperation and sharing of such things as data, alert systems, research, as well as medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.
“It would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organization, drawing in other relevant organizations key to this endeavor, in support of the principle of health for all,” said the statement.
The move comes after stinging criticism from the WHO and United Nations of rich countries for hogging vaccines and leaving poorer countries behind. The risk is that a failure to vaccinate all will allow new variants of the virus to thrive and potentially undermine existing vaccines, threatening the entire exercise.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the news and said the time to act is right now.
“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,’ he said in a statement. “We must not allow the memories of this crisis to fade and go back to business as usual. The impacts on our societies, economies and health, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable, are too significant.”
The move comes amid growing concerns about the gap between vaccination programs in different countries with some still waiting to receive their first doses. So far, more than 564 million doses have been administered worldwide, according to a New York Times tracker, equal to 7.4 doses per 100 people.
Israel leads the world with 53% of its population fully vaccinated, the tracker shows, and 59% of its population receving at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Monday, 180.6 million doses had been delivered to states, 145.8 million doses had been administered and 95 million Americans had received at least one dose, equal to 28.6% of the population.
A full 52.6 million people are fully vaccinated after receiving two doses, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson
one-dose jab, equal to 15.8% of the population. In the 65 years old and above category, 26.9 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 49.2% of that group.
But the U.S. added at least 70, 265 new cases on Monday, according to a Times tracker, and at least 685 people died. The U.S. has averaged 65,382 cases a day in the last week, a 19% increase over over the average two weeks ago. That rising case tally is behind an emotional plea from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Monday, when she spoke of a sense of “impending doom” despite the progress being made with vaccines.
Walensky urged Americans not to let their guard down, but to continue to follow public safety measures, namely frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public.
In the meantime, more than a dozen states will open vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of COVID-19 shots, the Associated Press reported.
States opening eligibility to anyone ages 16 and older on Monday included Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Ohio, North Dakota and Kansas. New York, which has become a hotspot again along with neighboring New Jersey, opened its vaccine program to all adults over 30 on Tuesday.
The rapid expansion has fueled concerns that the number of eager vaccine seekers will far outstrip the available supply of shots, frustrating millions of newly eligible people who have waited since late last year for a chance to get an injection.
President Joe Biden said Monday that he expects 90% of U.S. adults to be eligible for vaccines by April 19 and to have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live.
“Of course, it’ll take time for everyone to get their appointment,” the president said during a brief speech at the White House. “But being at 90-90 just three weeks from today should give hope to the country.”
Biden also called on states to reinstate face mask mandates and urged some to pause reopening to contain the spread.
“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate,” he said.
In other news:
• About half the population of England now has antibodies against coronavirus, a key development showing the impact of the vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic, MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein reported. According to the Office for National Statistics, 54.7% of the population would have tested positive for antibodies in the week ending March 14. It was nearly as high in the other countries of the United Kingdom — 50.5% in Wales, 49.3% in Northern Ireland and 42.6% in Scotland. The data are based on a random sample of blood test results of individuals at least 16 years old, who can develop antibodies by either being vaccinated or infected.
• Canada on Monday suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca
coronavirus vaccine for people under age 55 following concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots, the AP reported. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization had recommended the pause for safety reasons and the Canadian provinces, which administer health in the country, announced the suspension. “There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Deeks said the updated recommendations come amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is now potentially as high as one in 100,000, much higher than the one in one million risk believed before.
• Germany’s vaccine regulator said nine people have died from a rare blood clot in the brain after taking the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, Reuters reported, citing a statement from the Paul Ehrlich Institute. Seven of the deaths were in women between 20 and 63 years old. Canada on Monday suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people under age 55 on blood clot concerns.
• Becton, Dickinson & Co.
has received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a rapid, antigen test that can detect SARS-CoV-2 and two types of influenza, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The test, which runs on the company’s BD Veritor System, takes about 15 minutes to produce results and is expected to be available this summer.
• The Italian government is expected to introduce a mandatory five-day quarantine for EU travelers amid a third wave of infections in a number of countries, BBC News reported. Previously, only arrivals from outside the bloc had to self-isolate. Tuesday’s decision comes as new rules requiring all air passengers to Germany to provide a negative coronavirus test come into effect. Germany remains under a partial lockdown but coronavirus cases continue to climb.
• AstraZeneca has told the European Union that it has no legal obligations to Britain or other buyers that would prevent the full supply of COVID-19 doses under its contract with the EU, a European Commission spokeswoman said on Tuesday, as Reuters reported. The comments contradict statements made by U.K. Health Minister Matt Hancock, who has insisted the Anglo-Swedish drug company has an exclusive deal with the U.K that justify prioritizing its supplies. The EU has launched talks with AstraZeneca under a dispute resolution mechanism included in its contract after the company said it would aim to deliver only 100 million doses by the end of June, instead of 300 million committed to in the EU contract.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 127.7 million on Tuesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, with the U.S. accounting for a quarter of that number at more than 30.3 million.
The death toll rose above 2.79 million with the U.S. accounting for about a fifth, or 550,036.
About 72.5 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data show.
Brazil is second globally in cases at 12.6 million and also second with a death toll at 313,866.
India is third worldwide in cases with 12 million and fourth in deaths at 162,114.
Mexico is third by deaths at 201,382 and 13th highest by cases at 2.2 million.
The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 126,857 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,699 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
Consumer confidence surged in March to a one-year high as more Americans got vaccinated and the government doled out $1,400 stimulus checks in a boost to the economy, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The index of consumer confidence shot up to 109.7 this month from a revised 90.4 in February, the Conference Board said Tuesday.
Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a smaller increase to 96.8.
The index stood close to a 20-year high of 132.6 in February of 2020 shortly before the coronavirus pandemic exploded in the U.S.
Separately, home prices continue to increase at an incredibly fast pace across the country, according to two separate indices released Tuesday, adding to the financial pressures home buyers face amid rising mortgage rates, MarketWatch’s Jacob Passy reported.
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city price index posted an 11.1% year-over-year gain in January, up from 10.2% the previous month. The separate and broader S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller national price index, which covers the entire country, demonstrated an 11.2% gain year-over-year in January, representing the highest gain in nearly 15 years.
On a monthly basis, the 20-city index increased 0.9% between December and January.