India reported a record number of single-day COVID-19 deaths Saturday as states imposed more stringent lockdown measures in the absence of a national lockdown plan.
India’s health ministry Saturday reported more than 401,000 new COVID-19 infections and nearly 4,200 deaths in the previous 24-hour period, although public health experts believe the staggering statistics are likely much higher.
The southern state of Tamil Nadu said it would shift from a partial to full lockdown after neighboring Karnataka state extended a full lockdown on Friday.
India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday to implement a national lockdown, accelerate the vaccination campaign and increase tracking of the virus and its mutations.
“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world,” Gandhi said to Modi in a letter.
US Criticism at EU summit
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.
Friday’s move was also the first time the global public health group granted emergency approval to a Chinese vaccine for an infectious disease.
The Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine has already been administered to hundreds of millions of people in China and in other parts of the world, along with a second Chinese vaccine.
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.
WHO has said it could decide on China’s second main vaccine, made by Sinovac Biotech, as early as next week.
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.
At the team's briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that by the end of the day, 110 million Americans would have been fully vaccinated and 150 million Americans, or 57%, would have had at least one shot.
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.
In Mexico City, health officials announced that the occupancy rate in public hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 care is 16%, the lowest rate since the pandemic began. The rate is a marked change from January, when COVID-19 infections peaked in the city.
Canada on Friday logged more than 400,000 doses in a single day, setting a new milestone for vaccinations, according to Toronto-based CTV news, which says an estimated 37% of all Canadians have received at least one shot.
But the Financial Times recently reported that cases of COVID-19 have risen nationwide amid a third wave of infections, with Alberta in the west and Ontario, Canada's most populous province, hardest hit. The country's case count adjusted for population now exceeds the United States for the first time since the pandemic began.
The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed nearly 3.3 million lives around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The U.S. has suffered the most deaths, with nearly 581,000. Brazil is rapidly catching up with the U.S. death toll, with more than 419,000 deaths, followed by India, with more than 238,200 deaths.
There have been more than 157 million global infections, according to Johns Hopkins. The U.S. remains the location with the most infections, with more than 32.6 million, followed by India, with nearly 21.9 million infections, and Brazil, with more than 15 million.