America should prepare for a “wave on a wave” in cases of coronavirus when millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, warned top American researcher Anthony Fauci on Sunday.
The United States is the most affected country, with 266,074 Covid-19 deaths, and President Donald Trump’s government has issued conflicting reports on mask wear, travel and the dangers posed by the virus.
“It will almost certainly be an uptick because of what has happened to the trip,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union.
Travel around Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday made this the busiest week at US airports since the pandemic began.
“We can see a wave on a wave” in two or three weeks, Fauci added. “We do not want to scare people, but that is the reality.”
The trend is ominous, said Fauci and other government researchers, and the Christmas weekend will soon come with more trips and family gatherings.
Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, noted a sharp increase in Covid-19 after a weekend in May.
“Now we are entering this post-Thanksgiving increase with three, four and ten times as much illness across the country,” she told CBS: “Face the Nation.”
“We are deeply concerned.”
The US Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, was just as blunt.
“I want to be straight with the American people,” he told Fox News Sunday. “It will get worse in the next few weeks.”
Desperately waiting for vaccine
Elsewhere, thousands of health workers in Madrid marched in support of the public health system in Spain, one of the European countries hardest hit by the pandemic.
And the guards opened fire to quell a prison riot in Sri Lanka, in which four prisoners were killed while protesting against a wave of coronavirus infections.
In France, the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the government to loosen rules that allow no more than 30 people at services, in the face of angry objections from church leaders.
About 9,000 runners – some wearing face masks – took part in the Shanghai International Marathon, according to Chinese media, a mass sporting event that was rare during the pandemic.
And New York City took another small step back to normalcy when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that elementary schools would reopen for personal education on December 7.
The American news media meanwhile reported that the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 – one of the first to claim high efficiency together with a Moderna product – had arrived in the USA from a Pfizer laboratory in Belgium.
Pfizer used charter flights to preposition vaccines for rapid distribution when it received a US emergency – expected as early as December 10 – the Wall Street Journal and other media reported.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both said to be safe and perhaps 95 percent effective, have brought a glimmer of hope after months of gloomy news.
“This is the way we get out of the pandemic. The light is at the end of the tunnel,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official who oversees coronavirus testing, told CNN.
But like Fauci and the other researchers, he expressed serious concern for the coming months.
“About 20 percent of all people in the hospital have Covid, so this is a really dangerous time,” Giroir said.
Europe is struggling to reopen
Until a large number of Americans have been vaccinated – Giroir said half of the eligible population could be in March – much depends on people taking precautions, including mask wear and distancing, he and Fauci say.
Giroir said it could take until the second or third quarter of next year for most Americans to be vaccinated, but that significant benefits would be added much sooner.
By first vaccinating those at the highest risk, he said, “we can definitely get 80 percent of the benefit of the vaccine by vaccinating only a few percent of the population.”
Adams, the US Surgeon General, also expressed cautious optimism, saying: “We are only a few weeks away from starting to vaccinate the vulnerable, and we can significantly protect people at risk of this virus.
“So hang on a little longer.”
The new coronavirus has killed at least 1,453,074 people worldwide since the outbreak in China in December last year, according to an official source compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
Europe on Saturday crossed a gloomy barrier and registered 400,649 deaths.
Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, reached more than a million cases on Friday.