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GLOBAL COVID SITUATION

US reports 290,000 Covid cases in single day; Asia faces new lockdowns

Hospital staff treat Covid-19 patients (illustration)
Hospital staff treat Covid-19 patients (illustration) AFP

The United States logged a record new daily virus caseload as president-elect Joe Biden slammed the Trump administration's vaccine roll-out as a "travesty" and millions in Asia woke up to new lockdowns. 

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Almost 1.9 million people worldwide have now died from the Covid-19 virus, with new variants sending the number of cases soaring and prompting the re-introduction of curbs on movement.

Almost 290,000 new cases were reported in the US within 24 hours Friday according to Johns Hopkins University, a day after the world's worst-hit country with a daily record of nearly 4,000 deaths.

"Vaccines give us hope, but the roll-out has been a travesty," Joe Biden told reporters, warning that distribution of the vaccine would be "the greatest operational challenge we will ever face as a nation".

Brisbane ordered back to base

On Saturday the streets of the Australian city of Brisbane were quiet as its more than two million residents were ordered back into lockdown after authorities detected a single infection of a new strain from Britain, which is thought to be more infectious.

China sends 18 million people home

In China, where the original coronavirus emerged in late 2019, authorities have tightened restrictions on two cities near Beijing in an effort to stamp out a growing cluster.

The new week-long stay at home orders affecting about 18 million people in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai come as cases spike ahead of the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions criss-cross the country to visit family and friends.

On Saturday Beijing's National Health Commission said authorities had so far given out more than nine million vaccine doses, but warned the upcoming holiday would "further boost the risk of transmission."

WHO calls for an end to vaccine deals

As the race to inoculate heats up, the World Health Organisation has urged rich countries to stop cutting their own deals with manufacturers to snap up the first wave of vaccines.

"Fifty percent of the high-income countries in the world are vaccinating today," said Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO co-led vaccine procurement and distribution effort.

"Zero percent of the low-income countries are vaccinating. That is not equitable."

The comments came as the European Union said it had agreed an option for a further 300 million jabs from Pfizer/BioNTech, doubling its supply of the vaccine.

Number of infections on the rise 

Despite nearly a year of intermittent restrictions across the globe, many countries are still reporting record coronavirus numbers, including Britain which on Friday announced new highs of 1,325 deaths and 68,053 cases over 24 hours.

Fears have been rising over the new virus variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa, but BioNTech brought some relief on Friday, confirming its vaccine was effective against a "key mutation" found in the strains.

Two vaccines for 'bankrupt' Brazil

In Brazil, which has the second-highest death toll after the United States, two vaccine makers -- China's Sinovac and AstraZeneca/Oxford -- have applied for approval for their jabs.

Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has said his country is "broke" and he is unable to do anything about it, attributing the crisis to "the press-fueled" coronavirus.

The pandemic has so far killed almost 200,000 Brazilians.

Meanwhile Iran said it was banning the import of any US or British-produced vaccines, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying they were "completely untrustworthy".

China to welcome WHO team to Wuhan

China said Saturday that preparations were still ongoing for a WHO mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of Covid-19, following a rare rebuke from the UN body over a delay to the long-planned trip.

"As long as these experts complete the procedures and confirm their schedule, we will go to Wuhan together to carry out investigations," National Health Commission vice minister Zeng Yixin told reporters.

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