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World passes three billion vaccine mark

MOSCOW: People queue up to receive the Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center set up in a shopping mall in Moscow yesterday. – AFP

PARIS: More than three billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, an AFP tally found yesterday, as countries race to contain the virulent Delta variant that is fuelling outbreaks all over the globe. Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections are rising again in Europe after falling for two and a half months, mainly because of the Delta variant in the UK and Russia, according to the tally.

The two countries have experienced not only the most new cases in Europe, but also the most rapid spread among those that have recorded more than 1,000 cases per day. Russia has recorded 20,400 daily cases for the last seven days, or a 25 percent increase in a week, while the United Kingdom has registered 16,400 daily infections, up 70 percent, according to the tally based on official sources. Russian and UK officials blame the Delta strain first identified in India for the vast majority of new cases.

Driven by the situation in both countries, infections in Europe are rising again, now at the rate of 56,800 new cases per day — 21 percent more than a week ago. At least 3.9 million people have died from COVID-19, and while some wealthy countries are succeeding in bringing infections down thanks to strong vaccination drives, others where shots are not as readily available are struggling. According to the tally, high-income countries as defined by the World Bank have administered an average of 79 doses per 100 inhabitants, with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain taking the lead.

In low-income nations, the figure is just one shot per 100 people. Yesterday, foreign ministers from the Group of 20 major economies stressed the need for greater global cooperation in the face of the pandemic. “Multilateral cooperation will be key to our collective ability to stop this global health crisis,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the ministers in the ancient Italian city of Matera. Western leaders have pledged to donate one billion doses to poorer countries, but have been widely criticized for being too slow to help.

‘They’re just irresponsible’
Vaccine hesitancy has also played a part in slow uptake. In Russia, which recorded its highest daily death toll yesterday since the outbreak of the pandemic, officials have introduced mandatory shots for some groups of citizens to counter skepticism. The country reported 652 coronavirus fatalities over the past 24 hours, with a record-high number of daily deaths — 119 — in Saint Petersburg, which is due to host a Euro 2020 quarter final on Friday.

Meanwhile, Australian public anger is growing at the slow pace of vaccinations in a country that had been broadly successful in eliminating local transmission and leading an almost-normal life. The Delta variant has pushed Sydney, Perth, Darwin and Brisbane into lockdown, meaning a total of more than 10 million Australians are having to stay home. But so far, less than five percent of adults are believed to have received both vaccine doses.

Brisbane resident Nicola Hungerford, 57, said she expected lockdowns to keep happening “until the government gets their bloody act together” on the vaccine rollout. “It’s gobsmacking and they’re just irresponsible. It shows how little respect they have for people,” she said.

Human tragedies
The speed of transmission of the Delta variant has fuelled concerns over ongoing or upcoming sporting events. Yesterday, Germany urged the British government to reduce the number of fans allowed into Wembley stadium for the final Euro 2020 matches. “I think it’s irresponsible for tens of thousands to gather in close proximity” in countries where the Delta variant is spreading, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Germany’s Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. UEFA and the British authorities have said some 45,000 supporters will be allowed to attend a game between England and Germany yesterday afternoon, equivalent to 50 percent of capacity.

Attendance will be increased to 75 percent, or more than 60,000 fans, for the semi-finals and final at Wembley, in what will be the largest crowds at a sports event in Britain since the start of the pandemic. “It was really sad to see poor people burying their loved ones in an undignified manner, but the rising water level has made it worse,” Sonu Chandel, a boatman, said. “There is always the fear of (a body) hitting the oar or (my boat) running over a dead body as the water level goes up.” – AFP

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