Coronavirus Update: Global tally of COVID-19 cases tops 160 million as U.S. gears up to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds

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The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 160 million on Thursday, as the U.S. braced for the start of a vaccination program for 12- to 15-year-olds after an authorization from the nation’s main public health agency.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approved the recommendation made Wednesday by a CDC committee to expand the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.

and German partner BioNTech SE
The move is expected to restore momentum to the U.S. vaccine program, which has slowed sharply in recent weeks with many older people now fully inoculated.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Wednesday, 117.6 million Americans, or 35.4% of the population, were fully vaccinated, meaning they had received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech 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.

A full 153.9 million Americans have received at least one dose, equal to 46.4% of the population.

Among Americans 65 years and older, 39 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 71.9% of that group. Almost 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 84% of that population.

Don’t miss: ‘Vaccine envy is real,’ says a Cleveland Clinic pediatrician. Here’s what she’s telling parents and teens about the COVID-19 vaccine

The crisis in Asia continues, meanwhile, with the highly infectious variant first detected in India spreading fast. The International Federation of the Red Cross said cases are exploding in Asia and the Pacific regions with more than 5.9 million new confirmed cases in the past two weeks.

“COVID-19 is exploding across much of Asia, overwhelming hospitals and healthcare,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director for the Red Cross, in a statement. “More people have been diagnosed with the disease in Asia over the past two weeks than in the Americas, Europe, and Africa combined. 

“Right now, we need global solidarity for regional support with more medical equipment, support for prevention and urgent access to vaccines,” he said.

It took Laos just 12 days to see cases double, while the number in India has doubled in less than two months to more than 23 million, Matheou said. The World Health Organization said this week that the variant, called B.1.617, has been detected in 44 countries.

See: COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘preventable disaster,’ made worse by a lack of global coordination and dithering, independent panel finds

India recorded 362,727 new cases on Thursday and 4,120 deaths, according to its health ministry. Both numbers are held to be vastly undercounted, given the stress on the nation of almost 1.4 billion people’s healthcare system. India’s vaccine program continues to stutter with just 3% of the population fully vaccinated so far.

Authorities in the eastern state of Bihar have set up a net across the Ganges River after scores of bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims washed up on the banks earlier this week, CNN reported. There are growing concerns that poorer people are resorting to placing bodies in rivers as India’s crematoria are overwhelmed and the cost of cremations has soared.

Officials found 71 corpses on Monday, the Associated Press reported, and images on social media of the bodies floating in the river prompted outrage. Authorities performed postmortems on Tuesday but said they could not confirm the cause of death due to the decomposition of the bodies.

Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of the crypto network ethereum
 donated more than $1 billion in that currency on Wednesday to a relief fund to combat the spread of COVID-19 in India, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In other news:

• Mixing doses of COVID-19 vaccines increases the risk of mild to moderate side effects when compared with administering two shots of the same vaccine, but is safe, according to data from a key U.K. trial, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The Com-Cov study, led by the University of Oxford, was launched in February to compare the effect of administering a first dose of the vaccine developed by Oxford and drug company AstraZeneca followed a few weeks later by the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. The trial involved 830 volunteers aged over 50, who received four different combinations of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer–BioNTech shots. The first full results are expected to be published in June.

• Ohio will end its pandemic restrictions on June 2, and will give away $1 million in prizes and college scholarships as incentives to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, MarketWatch’s Mike Murphy reported. Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced the unusual vaccination incentives Wednesday, in an effort to improve vaccination rates before the state fully reopens. Starting May 26, adult Ohioans who have received at least one vaccine dose will be entered into a drawing, with the winner getting $1 million. The lottery will run every Wednesday for five weeks, with five winners.

Saudi Arabia is allowing tens of thousands of Muslims to visit Mecca and Medina during Ramadan, as long as they obtain digital health passes. WSJ’s Donna Abdulaziz reports from the religious sites, where the system could help revive the tourism industry. Photo: Amr Nabil/Associated Press

• California is likely to have “guidelines and mandates” for wearing masks indoors after the state fully reopens next month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, appearing to walk back comments from the previous day that indicated masks would be gone in nearly all situations, the AP reported. California’s mask requirements took effect in June 2020. Last month, Newsom announced he would lift most restrictions on business and activities on June 15 if the state’s coronavirus cases remained low but said mask orders would stay in effect.

• China supports a proposal by the World Trade Organization for a waiver on intellectual property related to COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reported. Drug makers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages. “China supports the WTO’s proposal on IP exemptions for anti-epidemic materials such as the COVID vaccine to enter the text consultation stage,” Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao FengGao said at a regular news conference in Beijing.

• A union of Japanese hospital doctors has warned that it would be impossible to hold the Olympic Games while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, AFP reported. “We strongly oppose holding the Tokyo Olympics at a time when people around the world are fighting the new coronavirus,” the union said in a statement submitted to the government. “It is impossible to hold a safe and secure Olympics during the pandemic.” The union, which represents staff doctors at hospitals, is one of a number in Japan for different medical professionals. It does not list the size of its membership.

Read now: Will corporate greed prolong the COVID-19 pandemic?

Opinion: For just $25 billion, the U.S. could jump-start a project to quickly vaccinate the entire world against COVID

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 160.5 million on Thursday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 3.3 million.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.8 million cases and 583,690 deaths, or about a fifth of the worldwide tallies. 

India is second to the U.S. by cases at 23.7 million and third by fatalities at 258,317.

Brazil is third with 15.3 million cases and second by fatalities at 428,034.

Mexico has the fourth-highest death toll at 219,590 and 2.4 million cases, or 15th highest tally.

The U.K. has 4.5 million cases and 127,901 deaths, the fifth-highest in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,674 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

What’s the economy saying?

 U.S. wholesale prices increased sharply again in April and signaled that more inflation is bubbling up in the U.S. economy, just a day after another government report showed the cost of living rose at the fastest pace in 13 years, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The producer-price index jumped 0.6% last month, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.3% gain.

What’s more, the rate of wholesale inflation in the past 12 months climbed to 6.2% from 4.2% in the prior month. That’s the highest level since the index was reformulated in 2009.

Back then a record spike in oil prices drove most of the increase in wholesale prices. Now the cost of many raw and partly finished goods are rising, ranging from farm crops to precious metals to computer chips.

Prices for a variety of goods and services have soared this year as the economy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic. Massive government financial aid to Americans, rising vaccination rates, and falling coronavirus cases have underpinned a rapid recovery and businesses can’t keep up with demand.

The Federal Reserve, the nation’s guardian against high inflation, insists the price surge is a temporary phenomenon tied to the reopening of the economy. Top central bankers say inflation will fade by next year and settle around the Fed’s 2% goal.

Investors aren’t entirely sure. Stocks sank Wednesday after the consumer-price index posted its biggest one-month increase since 2009.

Separately, applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week to a fresh pandemic low, reflecting more aggressive efforts by companies to hire new workers amid a rapid economic recovery.

Initial jobless claims in the states dropped by 34,000 to 473,000 in the seven days ended May 8, the government said Thursday. It was the fifth decline in a row.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims to total a seasonally adjusted 500,000.

Businesses are trying to hire more people as the economy moves toward a full opening and consumers itch to satisfy cravings for many purchases they put off during the pandemic. Massive federal stimulus has put more cash in people’s pockets and dwindling coronavirus cases has given them the confidence to spend it.

Yet despite record job openings, the economy only created a paltry 266,000 new jobs in April. Wall Street had a forecast a much larger increase of 1 million.

Read: A jobs report whodunit: The prime suspects for weak hiring gains in April

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500

were higher Thursday.

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