The global case tally of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 81.4 million on Tuesday, and the World Health Organization said the pandemic is not necessarily the big one that the world should brace for and urged people everywhere to learn from this crisis.
Speaking at the agency’s final press briefing for 2020, the WHO’s head of emergencies, Mike Ryan, said the coronavirus pandemic has been severe and affected every corner of the planet.
“But this is not necessarily the big one,” he said. “This is a wake-up call. We are learning now how to do things better — science, logistics, training and governance, how to communicate better. But the planet is fragile. We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there is one thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, [it] is [that] we need to get our act together. We need to honor those we’ve lost by getting better at what we do every day.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the cooperation between the private and public sectors that has led to the development of several vaccines in record time, which are now being rolled out around the world. That “is an incredible scientific achievement,” he said.
The WHO is working closely with scientists to understand the new variants of COVID-19 that have emerged in the U.K. and South Africa and evaluate whether they spread more quickly or make people sicker and have any potential impact on testing, treatments and vaccines.
“Specifically we are working with scientists in the U.K. and South Africa who are carrying out epidemiologic and laboratory studies, which will guide next steps,” he said.
In the meantime, the WHO is working to make sure the vaccines are made available to “those in need everywhere” and reminding people that, even with vaccines being distributed, they must adhere to public safety measures — frequent hand washing, socially distancing and wearing a face mask in public.
‘This [failure to meet vaccine targets in the U.S.] feels like a let-down in so many ways, but I’m not surprised, sadly, given how testing has gone, tracing is not existing at all, and how we’re getting caught off-guard by this new [virus] variant because of our lack of genomic surveillance.’
The U.S. has so far vaccinated 2.1 million people and distributed more than 11 million doses of the two vaccines that have been granted emergency-use authorization, one developed by Pfizer Inc.
with its German partner BioNTech SE
and one developed by Moderna Inc.
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That is far below the early predictions made by “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal program created to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines against COVID-19, according to Kavita Patel, a primary-care physician and health-policy expert who served in the Obama White House.
Patel’s clinic is one of the sites that is part of the vaccination strategy in the District of Columbia, she said in an interview on MSNBC.
“In October, we heard from Operation Warp Speed that we would have 100 million doses by year-end,” she said. “We kind of thought that was unreasonable. Then the expectation dropped to 40 million and then to 20 million by the end of December. We have dosed 2.2 million, which is far short of that 20 million.”
The failure to meet vaccine targets, “feels like a let-down in so many ways, but I’m not surprised, sadly, given how testing has gone, tracing is not existing at all, and how we’re getting caught off-guard by this new [virus] variant because of our lack of genomic surveillance,” she said.
The U.S. recorded at least 188,934 new cases of COVID on Monday, and at least 1,899 people died, according to a New York Times tracker. In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 183,124 cases a day.
The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals rose to a record of 121,235 on Monday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, topping the record of 120,151 set on Dec. 24.
The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 19.3 million, and fatalities, at 334,967, or about a fifth of the global tallies for each, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
In other news:
• Israel has now vaccinated more people against COVID-19 than have been infected with the virus since the start of the outbreak, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing data from Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. Just nine days into the country’s vaccination campaign, 495,000 Israelis have been dosed, compared with 407,285 confirmed cases of the illness. Israel is expecting to vaccinate 150,000 people a day, allowing it to vaccinate 2.25 million people in a month and a half, or about a quarter of the full population.
• The new COVID variant hitting the U.K. has likely been in Germany since November, according to health officials cited by the Guardian, following the death of a patient with that variant in the north of the country. The patient was an elderly man with underlying health conditions, whose wife was also infected but survived. The couple are understood to have contracted the virus from their daughter who had traveled to the U.K. in mid-November.
• Shares of biotech company Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings Inc. fell 55% Tuesday, as investors responded to results from a Phase 1/2 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate that one analyst said were disappointing. San Diego–based Arcturus
said late Monday that it had received approval from the Singapore Health Sciences Authority to move ahead with a Phase 2 study of its ARCT-021 vaccine candidate that will enroll up to 600 volunteers. The approval is based on Phase 1/2 trial data that showed the vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies after one dose although at lower levels than rival vaccine candidates. Arcturus is hoping its vaccine will not require a booster shot, making it easier to administer than vaccines that require two doses. Raymond James said the data were “underwhelming.“ “While this latest dataset does not completely impair single-shot ARCT-021, which may provide protection against COVID-19 infection in Phase 3, the lack of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody (NAb) titers at or above levels seen in convalescent sera reduces our confidence that ARCT-021 will be able to achieve competitive levels of vaccine efficacy with single-shot dosing,“ analysts led by Stephen Seedhouse wrote in a note to clients.
• South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant, the Associated Press reported. Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas. In addition, South Africa is extending its nighttime curfew by four hours, requiring all residents must be at home from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., the president said. “Reckless behavior due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” Ramaphosa said in a nationwide address.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 81.4 million on Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.77 million. At least 46 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 191,570 and is third by cases at 7.5 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 10.2 million, and third in deaths at 148,153.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 122,855 and 13th highest case tally at 1.4 million.
Italy has 72,370 fatalities, the highest in Europe, and 2.0 million cases. The U.K. has 2.3 million cases, the most in Europe, and 71,217 deaths, second-highest in Europe and sixth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 95,773 confirmed cases and 4,777 deaths, according to its official numbers.