The world passed the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as several countries planned to deliver heavily jumped on vaccines early next year to break the cycle of blockages and restrictions.
US President-elect Joe Biden said that on his first day in office, he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days to reduce the transmission of the virus, which is returning to the country with the world’s largest number of deaths and infections.
“I will ask the public for 100 days to mask. Only 100 days to mask – not forever, “Biden said in an excerpt from an interview broadcast on CNN later Thursday.
But even when the latest positive news about a vaccine was announced, with the Moderna candidate showing that it provides immunity for at least three months, several countries marked new Covid-19 records.
The United States, for example, published a record high of more than 210,000 new cases over a 24-hour period by Thursday night, and in the meantime notch more than 2,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And Italy recorded 993 deaths and topped its previous record of 969 earlier in the year when it was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic.
Italy registers 993 new deaths in Covid-19, a record high
To build confidence in vaccines after they have been approved, the 78-year-old Biden said he was willing to be vaccinated in public – by following similar commitments from former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden also used the interview to say that he had asked the government’s leading infectious specialist Anthony Fauci to join his Covid team and serve as chief health adviser.
But as a sign of the hard work ahead, California announced new state bans on gatherings and non-essential activities, as hospitals in the country’s most populous state face overwhelming.
The pandemic is showing some signs of slowing down, with more than 10,000 new deaths recorded worldwide every day since November 24 – a rate never reached before, according to an AFP census.
As the world grows tired of economically crippling constraints, attention has turned to the race for a vaccine.
On Wednesday, the United Kingdom became the first Western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, forcing other countries to follow suit quickly.
But Fauci said Britain was “speeding up” its approval process.
“To be so fair to so many of my British friends, you know, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it on the final mile,” he told CBS News.
He later retracted his comments, saying he had “great confidence in what Britain is doing both scientifically and from a regulatory point of view.”
On Thursday, a study also showed that the Moderna vaccine, which was recently shown to have a 94 percent effect, causes the immune system to produce potent antibodies that last for at least three months.
Pending the approval of such vaccines, France announced that its vaccinations will be free and begin in January for one million elderly people in nursing homes, in February for 14 million people at risk and in the spring for the rest of the population.
France also mourned the latest high-profile figure that gave way to Covid-19, the former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who died at the age of 94.
The Belgian government also said it intends to start vaccinating the most vulnerable in January.
But the high hopes did not only attract the attention of governments – IBM said on Thursday that hackers are targeting the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain.
The technology giant said it was “unclear” whether a series of cyberattacks it uncovered on companies involved in trying to distribute doses around the world had been successful.
IBM could not identify who was behind the attacks, but said the precision of the operation signals “the potential hallmarks of nation-state craftsmanship.”
‘Vaccine can not undo damage’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that even if vaccines were approved quickly, the world would still be fighting the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Let us not deceive ourselves. A vaccine can not undo damage that will last for years, even decades, “Guterres said as he opened a special UN summit on the virus.
Guterres reiterated his demand that vaccines be considered a “global public” that is shared worldwide.
More than 180 countries have joined Covax, a global collaborative initiative of the World Health Organization to work with manufacturers to distribute vaccines fairly.
A reminder of the pandemic’s social change effects came again Thursday with a landmark announcement from the Warner Bros. studio, which said it will release the entire 2021 film on HBO Max streaming and in theaters at the same time.
But some British football fans were reminded of pre-pandemic days when Arsenal welcomed a crowd of 2,000 for Thursday’s Europa League victory over Rapid Vienna.
It was the first time in 270 days that fans were back inside a Premier League ground.