The Latest: WHO chief calls growth in virus cases ‘worrying’

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A health worker collects a swab samples to test for COVID-19 in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, in Mumbai, India, Friday, April 16, 2021. On Friday, India recorded another high of 217,353 new cases in the past 24 hours, pushing its total since the pandemic began past 14.2 million. The Health Ministry also reported 1,185 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising deaths to 174,308. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said coronavirus cases are continuing to rise globally at “worrying” rates and noted that the number of new cases confirmed per week has nearly doubled during the past two months.

At a press briefing on Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of new cases “is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far in the pandemic.”

Tedros said some countries that had been able to avoid widespread COVID-19 outbreaks are now seeing steep increases, citing Papua New Guinea as an example.

“Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases and nine deaths,” Tedros said. The noted. The country has now identified more than 9,000 cases and 83 deaths, half of which were reported in the last month.

“Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important,” Tedros said, adding that the Pacific island nation has relied on vaccine donations from Australia and the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

To date, COVAX has shipped about 40 million vaccines to more than 100 countries, or enough to protect about 0.25% of the world’s population.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— China’s success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak leaves its public reluctant to get vaccinated

— Shortage of intubation drugs is the latest problem the pandemic has brought in Brazil

— Louisiana is making a full-court press to get shots in arms, with creative outreach to make it easy to get vaccinated

— Tokyo Olympicorganizers again say postponed games will open in just 100 days despite Japan’s virus surge

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

NEW DELHI — The chief executive of India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a critical supplier of the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, asked U.S. President Joe Biden to lift an embargo on exporting the raw materials needed to makeCOVID-19 vaccines.

Adar Poonawalla wrote to Biden on Twitter: “If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up.”

Poonawalla told the The Associated Press earlier that the unavailability of certain raw materials, such as the specific medium needed to grow microorganisms, was going to affect the Serum Institute’s production of a vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Novavax. The Serum Institute and Novavax have inked a deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of vaccine to COVAX.

India on Friday confirmed over 200,000 new virus cases in 24 hours. Amid a surge that has overwhelmed hospitals and left unprepared authorities scrambling, the country has been trying to vaccinate enough people to slow the spread of the virus.

To do so, India has paused vaccine exports to other nations.

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MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said it’s uncertain when the Philippines can get adequate COVID-19 vaccines while warning more people will die and “the worst of times” is yet to come.

Duterte said his administration has done its best despite criticism and he could use emergency power, for example, to take over hotels if hospital room shortages worsen. But he said wealthy nations control the vaccine supply and other countries could hardly do anything but wait.

“When will we have that stocks sufficient to vaccinate the people? I really do not know. Nobody knows,” Duterte said in a televised meeting Thursday night with key Cabinet members. “I think before it gets better, we’ll have to go to the worst of times.”

“There’s no sufficient supply to inoculate the world. This will take a long time. I’m telling you many more will die here.”

The Philippines has received more than 3 million doses of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, most of it donated by China and through the COVAX arrangement by the World Health Organization. At least 1.2 million people have been given initial doses. The government aims to purchase at least 148 million doses to inoculate about 70 million adult Filipinos but the plan has faced supply problems and delays.

The vaccination delays have coincided with an alarming surge in coronavirus infections that the government has been scrambling to ease in the hard-hit capital and four outlying provinces.

The Philippines has long been a coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia with more than 904,000 infections and 15,594 deaths.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is opening up faster than initially planned and allowing restaurants to serve patrons indoors starting next Wednesday providing they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or can show negative test results.

The limit on outdoor public gatherings will also be raised to 50 from 10 on April 21. Soccer fans will also be allowed to return to stadiums.

A vast majority of Danish lawmakers agreed Friday on the reopening plan for next week. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said, “It will shape our daily lives in a positive direction.”

Denmark’s coronavirus outbreak is largely under control. Hair salons and smaller shopping malls already have reopened, and as of Monday, people will be able to go to larger shopping malls and department stores.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom says nearly half of Californians eligible for vaccination have received at least one shot against the coronavirus.

He is urging more residents to sign up for appointments and not let apprehension get in the way of getting protected against the illness.

The nation’s most populous state on Thursday began vaccinating anyone age 16 and over regardless of occupation or health condition.

The move comes as California and other states have seen vaccine supplies rise in recent weeks. But officials are working to address hesitancy, particularly in some of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

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NEW YORK — New U.S. government data show the country saw around 600,000 more deaths than usual during a 13-month span. COVID-19 was blamed for most of those deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the estimate Thursday. It covers Jan. 26, 2020, to Feb. 27, 2021. COVID-19 was first detected in the U.S. in late January of last year.

CDC researchers said the biggest spikes in the deaths occurred in early April, late July, and the very end of December.

At least 75% of the deaths were directly tied to COVID-19, but the estimate includes deaths from all causes.

This week CDC released provisional data through the end of September 2020 that suggested drug overdose deaths for the year were far exceeding tallies seen in any previous year. The CDC said more than 87,000 deaths were reported over a 12-month period.

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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