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One year on since the first recorded COVID-19 death, the world continues the battle

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Palestinian artists draw a mural in the form of a globe wearing a protective mask, during awareness campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, in Gaza city, on April 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Rizek Abdeljawad)

LONDON (AFP) –Yesterday marks one year since China confirmed its first death from COVID-19, a 61-year-old man who was a regular at Wuhan city’s market, where the pandemic emerged before spreading around the world.

Nearly two million deaths later, the pandemic is still thriving, with new variants again prompting governments from Israel to Australia to impose lockdowns, curfews and restrictions – even with mass inoculation drives underway.

Russia announced yesterday that 1.5 million people around the world had received its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine as part of an initiative.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has financed the development of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, confirmed the figure to AFP without offering a breakdown of where the jab was distributed.

“We cannot say how many of them are in Russia and in the rest of the world,” RDIF spokesman Arseny Palagin said, adding that individual nations could release data separately.

Russia became the first country last August to register a vaccine, months ahead of western competitors, and Moscow has boasted of more than one billion orders for the jab abroad.

Britain on Sunday raced against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible while Germany warned of the “hardest” days yet to come with Europe battling to contain soaring coronavirus infections.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that every adult in Britain will be offered a jab by autumn, with officials vaccinating 200,000 people daily in a race to meet a target of 15 million of the most vulnerable by mid-February.

The vaccine drive comes as Britain recorded another 563 fatalities from the virus, bringing its deaths to over 81,400, one of the highest tolls in Europe.

Soaring cases are forcing UK medical chiefs to try to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and the government to reinforce its campaign for people to abide by stay-at-home orders.

“Of course we are all tired of restrictions, but we must find the collective strength to get through this critical stage and save as many lives as we can,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty wrote in The Sunday Times.

Germany topped 40,000 fatalities on Sunday, the centre for disease control announced.

Chancellor Merkel warned in a weekly video message that the country had yet to feel the full impact of socialising over the Christmas and New Year.

The coming weeks will be “the hardest phase of the pandemic” so far, she said, with hospitals stretched to their limits. More than 1.9 million people have been infected so far, with almost 17,000 new cases in Germany since Saturday.

In France, where there has been criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations, more than 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were due to arrive yesterday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Australia’s third-largest city lifted stay-at-home orders yesterday, after mass testing and tracing across Brisbane found no new coronavirus cases despite fears over a contagious strain entering the community.

More than two million people were ordered into a snap lockdown Friday after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel contracted the UK variant of COVID-19 from a returned traveller.

Russia, meanwhile, confirmed its first case of the UK strain of the virus.

And Britain said it had helped raise $1 billion from global donors towards the drive to help “vulnerable countries” access coronavirus vaccines, by match-funding contributions.

 

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