WHO on Thursday criticized the “unacceptably slow” deployment of the vaccine in Europe, warning of a worrying increase in cases as France became the latest country to impose new restrictions to fight rising infections .
As European nations scrambled to contain third waves across the continent, Brazil marked a grim milestone with more than 66,000 deaths in March – by far the highest since the start of the pandemic.
On the vaccine front, there was a silver lining as Pfizer / BioNTech said their vaccine was highly effective against the South African variant, and Israel pledged to inoculate children after promising trial data at young people.
Governments hope vaccines will be the path to a return to normalcy more than a year after the start of the pandemic that has now killed more than 2.8 million people and subjected much of humanity to restrictions punitive.
But Europe has struggled with its vaccine campaign, and the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that the slow pace is prolonging the pandemic.
“Vaccines are our best way out of this pandemic … however, the deployment of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” said WHO director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
“We need to speed up the process by speeding up manufacturing, reducing barriers to vaccine delivery and using every vial we have in stock. ”
Reluctance to vaccines
The EU has blamed the supply problems on its slow rollout, but several countries also face high rates of vaccine reluctance, even in the face of rising infections.
Italy has been significantly below its vaccine targets after receiving almost 30% fewer doses than expected, data showed Thursday.
Only 10 percent of the total European population received one dose of the vaccine and four percent received two, the WHO said.
By comparison, world leader Israel has already shot more than half of its population twice, while in the United States nearly 16% of the population has received both.
Israel announced Thursday that it plans to expand its vaccination campaign to children between the ages of 12 and 15 from May, after a study showed its effectiveness for this age group.
It uses jabs from Pfizer / BioNTech, which released promising new data on Thursday showing it was highly effective against the South African variant of the virus that has ravaged that country.
No cases of the disease were seen in South Africa in a phase three study among participants who received a second dose, the companies said.
‘Precious weeks of freedom’
But as some countries turned to a post-pandemic reality, others were mired in new antivirus measures.
A wave of infections in France has forced President Emmanuel Macron to reimpose the national restrictions he rejected in January.
“We have gained precious weeks of freedom,” he said in a national speech Wednesday night, but current measures “were too limited at a time when the epidemic is accelerating”.
The limited lockdown already in place in regions, including Paris, would be extended nationwide from Saturday evening for the next four weeks, he said.
Schools will close for three or four weeks depending on age, and alcoholic beverages will be banned in parks and other outdoor public spaces.
For some parents, the new rules were not welcome, but considered essential.
“It was absolutely necessary to close the schools, even if it will be complicated for parents, and especially young children, to manage this situation,” explains Laure, a 44-year-old researcher with two young boys in Paris.
‘Many of them die’
In hard-hit Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has been rocked by a political crisis over his handling of the pandemic, death rates reached an alarming high last month.
Officials said 66,500 people died from Covid-19 in the country in March, more than twice as many deaths as the country’s second deadliest month of the pandemic, July 2020.
At a field hospital in suburban Sao Paulo, a doctor said he was alarmed at the way the virus has swept the country – no longer targeting only the elderly and vulnerable.
“It took us by surprise. Our patients now tend to be young, with no pre-existing conditions. The disease hits them hard and many of them die, ”said Marise Gomes, a 53-year-old surgeon.
She said she was frustrated to see many of her compatriots ignore face masks and social distancing guidelines and even flock to underground parties.
“I don’t see any difference in the behavior of people. People don’t seem to understand the magnitude of this, ”she said.
Elsewhere, there was evidence of a return to normal as Taiwan and Palau launched a vacation travel bubble to revive their struggling tourism industries.
About 100 excited Taiwanese tourists arrived at Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei on Thursday, checking in five hours before their afternoon flight to be tested for the coronavirus.
“I’m really excited, but I also feel a little sentimental because it’s been a long, long time since I last went abroad,” tourist Andy Yang told AFP.
© 2021 AFP
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