The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 edged closer to 160 million on Wednesday, as an independent panel said the crisis was preventable if world leaders had better coordinated their response and moved faster to limit illness and deaths.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), a team of experts convened by the World Health Organization’s member states last May to review the world’s handling of the crisis, found weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response.
“Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded,” the panel said in a report. “The alert system was too slow—and too meek. The World Health Organization was under-powered. The response has exacerbated inequalities. Global political leadership was absent.”
The panel called on world leaders to move fast to end the crisis and said wealthier countries should donate at least 1 billion vaccine doses to the 92 low- and middle-income countries of the Covax Gavi Advance Market Commitment, the WHO program set up to ensure vaccine equity, by Sept. 1, and commit to provide more than 2 billion doses by mid-2022.
The World Health Organization said the B.1.617 variant that first emerged in India has now been detected in 44 countries and it has received reports of detections from five additional countries. The agency said earlier this week that it was a “variant of concern” and appears to be more transmissible than other variants.
But in its latest weekly epidemiological update, the WHO said resurgence of that variant in India had several contributing factors, including religious and political mass-gathering events that increased social mixing and a failure to follow public health and safety measures, such as wearing face masks. “The exact contributions of…each of these factors on increased transmission in India are not well understood,” said the update, given a lack of genomic sequencing.
The potential impact of B.1.617 on vaccines and therapies is also uncertain, although studies suggest vaccines are still offering protection, said the agency.
The number of new COVID cases and deaths globally fell slightly in the latest week, but remain at high levels.
“While India continues to account for 95% of cases and 93% of deaths in the South-East Asia Region, as well as 50% of global cases and 30% of global deaths, worrying trends have been observed in neighboring countries,” said the update. “In all WHO Regions there are countries which have been showing a sustained upward trend in cases and deaths over several weeks.”
India recorded more than 360,000 new cases on Wednesday and 4,205 deaths, the most since the start of the pandemic, according to its health ministry. Those numbers are understood to be widely undercounted, given the strains on India’s healthcare system.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Tuesday, 116.6 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 35.1% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
and German partner BioNTech SE
and Moderna Inc.
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
The tracker is showing that 153.4 million Americans have received at least one dose, equal to 46.2% of the population.
Among Americans 65 years and older, 39 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 71.6% of that group. Almost 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 83.8% of that population.
In other news:
• Poland will bring forward the reopening of cinemas and start to vaccinate 6- and 17-year-olds, as COVID-19 cases decline, Reuters reported. The country reported 4,255 new cases on Wednesday, part of a marked decrease since the peak of the third wave in May, when there were as many as 35,253 daily cases. “We are accelerating the opening of cinemas, theaters, concert halls and cultural institutions by 1 week, or exactly 8 days, to May 21, so that … these sections of social and socio-economic life can start earlier,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.
• Malaysia counted a record 39 Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday and the highest daily cases in more than three months on the same day that the South-east Asia country went into a new lockdown, the Straits Times reported. The record-high death tally came just three days after a record 26 deaths were reported on Sunday. The Covid-19 death tally now stood at 1,761. Malaysia recorded 4,765 new cases to bring the cumulative Covid-19 cases 453,222.
• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an inquiry will be held next year into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, that is expected to focus on why the country suffered Europe’s worst death toll and was slow initially to impose a lockdown, the Guardian reported. Boris Johnson and his ministers said there are lessons to be learned from the worst public health crisis in decades, but point to the United Kingdom’s swift vaccine rollout as evidence that there were also successes. “This process will place the state’s actions under the microscope,” Johnson told parliament.
• The White House announced a new partnership with ride-sharing companies Uber Technologies Inc.
and Lyft Inc.
to make all rides to and from vaccination sites free until July 4, the Wall Street Journal reported. White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients detailed the new steps in a Tuesday call with governors as part of the Biden administration’s effort to meet a target of 70% of the U.S. adult population getting at least one vaccine dose by July 4.
• Pope Francis said he was “happy” to finally be able to deliver his weekly audience at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard in person on Wednesday after more than six months of speaking to the public online and via video link amid the global health crisis, the Washington Post reported. “I am happy to resume this face-to-face because I tell you one thing — it is not nice to talk in front of nothing, in front of a camera,” the 84-year-old told those in attendance after hosting the audience online since November.
• Moderna has a new agreement to supply 25 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Australia, MarketWatch’s Tomi Kilgore reported. The agreement includes 10 million doses of the biotechnology company’s mRNA-1273 vaccine to be delivered this year and 15 million doses of its variant booster vaccine candidate to be delivered in 2022. The agreement is subject to approval of mRNA-1273 and the booster vaccine candidate by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 159.7 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 3.3 million. Almost 96 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data show.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.8 million cases and 582,867 deaths, or about a fifth of the worldwide tallies.
India is second to the U.S. by cases at 23.3 million and third by fatalities at 254,197.
Brazil is third with 15.3 million cases and second by fatalities at 425,540. Mexico has the fourth-highest death toll at 219,323 and 2.4 million cases, or 15th highest tally. The U.K. has 4.5 million cases and 127,890 deaths, the fifth-highest in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,662 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.
What’s the economy saying?
Consumer prices rose sharply again in April and drove the rate of inflation to the highest level in nearly 13 years, signaling greater stress on the economy as businesses grapple with supply shortages that are raising the cost of many goods and services, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The consumer price index soared 0.8% to match the biggest monthly increase since 2009, the government said Wednesday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a milder 0.2% advance.
The rate of inflation over the past year jumped to 4.2% from 2.6% in the prior month — the highest level since 2008.
The pace of inflation has surged after years of languishing at unusually low levels largely due to the rapid reopening of the U.S. economy.
Businesses can’t keep up in demand, a problem exacerbated by ongoing bottlenecks in the global trading system tied to the pandemic. Computer chips are especially in short supply and that’s held up production of new autos and other manufactured goods.
Americans are also rushing to dine out, travel or go far away for vacation, activities they shied away from during the pandemic. That’s also driving up prices at popular vacation resorts and other venues where people plan to congregate.
Senior Federal Reserve officials, who are supposed to protect the U.S. from high inflation, insist the increase is temporary. They contend inflation will subside by next year once the pandemic fades, most people go back to work and the global economy is largely recovered.
Investors are less sure. U.S. interest rates have risen in the past six months on worries about inflation and they could go even higher.
“The stimulus checks, job market dislocations, and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic are short-term drivers of inflation, and the Fed will look past them in setting interest rates,” said senior economist Bill Adams of PNC Financial Services.
“But there are ways to see how this temporary inflation could turn more permanent: Higher wages employers are using to attract workers could be inflationary over time; buoyant consumer demand could fuel a faster recovery than expected; or the upward price shocks could fuel higher inflation expectations.”