Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centers recorded 157.7 million global COVID-19 cases early Sunday, with 3.3 million deaths.
India reported Sunday that it had counted more than 403,000 new infections and more than 4,000 deaths in the previous 24 hours. Experts say the tolls are likely undercounted.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not imposed a nationwide lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus despite calls from politicians and public health officials. Some local governments have imposed lockdowns for their jurisdictions.
New Delhi has announced that it is extending its lockdown that began April 20 to May 17. The Indian capital also announced that Metro service will be suspended, starting Monday.
The southern state of Tamil Nadu said it would shift from a partial to full lockdown after neighboring Karnataka state extended its full lockdown Friday.
In an interview Saturday with AFP, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, warned that "the epidemiological features that we see in India today do indicate that it's an extremely rapidly spreading variant."
Swaminathan said the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was clearly a contributing factor to the catastrophe in India, her homeland.
"There have been many accelerators that are fed into this," the 62-year-old pediatrician and clinical scientist said, stressing that "a more rapidly spreading virus is one of them." She added, however, that large gatherings and a lapse in mask-wearing also played a role.
The B.1.617 variant was first discovered in India last October. The U.S. and Britain consider it a “variant of concern,” which indicates it is more dangerous than the original virus.
In addition to the number of cases and deaths, Swaminathan said another danger is the increasing likelihood of variants that could outwit vaccines.
"Variants which accumulate a lot of mutations may ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have," she said.
EU summit, US criticism
On the second day of a European Union Summit in Portugal on Saturday, the EU approved a contract extension with Pfizer-BioNTech to provide up to 1.8 billion additional doses of its vaccine through 2023.
Pfizer-BioNTech has already provided the EU with 600 million doses, as required in the initial contract.
Also at the EU summit, the U.S. faced mounting criticism from EU leaders over U.S. President Joe Biden’s surprise endorsement earlier this week of lifting COVID-19 vaccine patents to make more doses available to poorer countries.
“We don’t think, in the short term, that it’s the magic bullet,” said EU Council President Charles Michel.
Michel and other EU leaders said the U.S. should, instead, start boosting U.S. vaccine exports to have maximum impact on the global pandemic.
“I’m very clearly urging the U.S. to put an end to the ban on exports of vaccines and on components of vaccines that are preventing them being produced,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
The U.S., like Britain, has limited exports of domestically developed vaccines so it can vaccinate its population first. The EU has become the world’s leading vaccine provider, distributing about 200 million doses to the 27-nation bloc and roughly an equal number to nearly 90 countries around the world.
Pope Francis said that he supports the temporary suspension of vaccine patents, according to news reports. He added that market forces, as it relates to the vaccines, must not predominate.
WHO approves Sinopharm vaccine
The World Health Organization Friday approved a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China for emergency use worldwide.
The vaccine, from China’s state-owned drugmaker, Sinopharm, is the first vaccine manufactured by a non-Western country to be endorsed by WHO.
WHO’s decision allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX, an initiative to distribute vaccines to mainly low-income countries.
North American numbers
In Washington, the White House COVID-19 Response Team said Friday its focus is on meeting President Biden’s new goal of fully vaccinating 160 million Americans by July 4, as infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of Saturday, 151,315,505 people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 112,626,771 have been fully vaccinated.
At the team's briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that to help meet Biden's goal, the government will make walk-up, no-appointment shots available at 20,000 pharmacies around the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will also be shipping vaccines from high-volume vaccination centers around the country to smaller community-based sites, where they are more in demand.