Fans in the audience react as The Foo Fighters reopen Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 20, 2021.
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As the US presses on its reopening, easing masking requirements and lifting public health restrictions, much of the rest of the world is experiencing an alarming spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths.
The stark contrast underscores how unevenly the coronavirus pandemic has spread and is now hitting low-income countries harder as they struggle with access to vaccines, the rapid spread of new variants, and heavily stressed health systems.
It also shows why the global health crisis is far from over, even if nations like the US, China and the UK are seeing relatively low levels of Covid infections and deaths thanks to a mass vaccination campaign.
According to the World Health Organization, more people died of Covid this year than in the whole of 2020. The official worldwide death toll was 1,813,188 at the end of 2020. More than 2 million people have died as a result of Covid so far this year.
Covid cases in the US have fallen well below the winter peak in recent weeks, with new diagnoses now falling a seven-day average of around 11,310 per day, compared to more than 250,000 at the start of the year. Fewer reported infections were associated with fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths.
It has paved the way for most states to pursue plans to return to business as usual, with California and New York lifting most of their public health restrictions in the past few days.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state “turned the page on this pandemic,” while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “We don’t just survive – we thrive.”
Fans break out after Phoenix Suns striker Mikal Bridges (25) shot a three-pointer over LA Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) late in the first game of the NBA Western Conference Finals at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
Robert Gauthier | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
Mississippi and Texas both lifted all Covid restrictions in March, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott adding additional threats of fines in May for cities and local officials who still impose mask requirements.
In the US, amusement parks, sports stadiums and bars are reopening and operating at full capacity since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased their mask guidelines in May. The country’s leading health agency said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to take off their masks whether they were outside or inside.
The latest Axios Ipsos coronavirus index found that the country’s fears of Covid continued to decline as people increasingly left their homes. In the week ending June 8, about two-thirds of Americans saw family and friends, and 61% went to eat.
Both numbers have risen since the end of May and are said to represent “the highest level of out-of-home activities since the beginning of the pandemic”. The Axios-Ipsos survey was conducted from June 4th to 7th and was based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,027 adults.
The return to normal in the US was encouraged by the country’s relatively high vaccination rates. More than 177 million doses have been given in the US, which according to US data, 53% of the population gives at least one dose. In contrast, some of the poorest countries in the world still have to register a single dose.
White House Health Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a press conference on the pandemic Tuesday, said the highly transmissible Delta variant is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempt to eradicate Covid.
Delta, which was first identified in India, now accounts for about 20% of all new cases in the United States, up from 10% about two weeks ago, Fauci said. He previously warned the country should not fall into the trap of believing the coronavirus crisis is over and no longer needs to be addressed.
In the global battle for Covid vaccines, high-income countries have, as predictably, first tried to secure supplies for their own people. It has created a situation where millions of people in countries like the US, UK and China have been given doses, largely thanks to domestic vaccine development and through pre-purchase agreements with manufacturers.
In comparison, parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands have so far had low vaccination rates. Less affluent countries rely on Covax, the WHO vaccine exchange initiative. Vaccine diplomacy has also played an important role in the race for security of supply, despite health professionals raising questions about the effectiveness of vaccines made in China.
Ireland’s Health Minister Stephen Donnelly appeared to have gotten to the heart of why high-income countries are taking a “first-person” approach to vaccines when he spoke to the country’s Newstalk radio station earlier this year.
The idea that countries would be willing to vaccinate other countries before vaccinating their own populations “obviously doesn’t hold up,” Donnelly said. Referring specifically to the UK, he added, “You are not doing it. We would not be doing it.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks after Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2021.
Christopher Black | WHO | via Reuters
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described persistent global inequality as “vaccine apartheid” and a “catastrophic moral failure” that has led to a “two-pronged pandemic”.
The WHO has warned that Covid is spreading faster than the global distribution of vaccines. The common goal of the world must be to vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population by the next meeting of the G-7 in Germany next year. Tedros has announced that it will take 11 billion doses of vaccine to meet this goal.
The heads of state and government of the G-7 promised on June 11 that they would secure an additional 1 billion vaccine doses either directly or through Covax over the next 12 months.
“This is a big help, but we need more and we need it faster. More than 10,000 people die every day,” Tedros said at a press conference on June 14th.
“These communities need vaccines now, not next year,” he added.
Access to the vaccine
Health experts have warned billions of people worldwide may not have access to vaccines this year, a prospect that increases the risk of further mutations in the virus – potentially undermining the effectiveness of existing vaccines – and prolong the pandemic.
“The very unequal access to vaccines between rich and poor countries is probably the most glaring example of how global inequalities manifest themselves during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand told CNBC.
Many groups have pushed for the surrender of certain intellectual property rights in Covid vaccines and treatments, including the WHO, health experts, former world leaders and international medical charities.
President Joe Biden’s administration has thrown its weight behind the demands, but a small number of governments – including the UK, the EU and Brazil – have blocked a groundbreaking proposal submitted to the World Trade Organization.
A Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) officer manages the crowd while people line up in Phnom Penh on May 31, 2021 as part of the government’s campaign to curb the rising number of cases of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 coronavirus Get vaccine.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY | AFP | Getty Images
The latest WHO figures show that the number of new cases has fallen worldwide for eight straight weeks, but that trend obscures worrying increases in cases and deaths in many countries.
“The decline has slowed in most regions, and in every region there are countries that are seeing rapid increases in cases and deaths. In Africa, the number of cases and deaths rose by almost 40% in the past week, and in some countries the number of deaths has tripled or quadrupled, “Tedros said at a briefing on Monday.
A study published on May 22nd in the medical journal The Lancet found that Africa has the world’s highest mortality rate among seriously ill Covid patients, although fewer cases are recorded than most other regions.
“While a handful of countries have high vaccination rates and are now experiencing fewer hospital admissions and fewer deaths, other countries in Africa, America and Asia are now facing severe epidemics. These cases and deaths are largely preventable, ”said Tedros.
Warning delta variant
Health professionals are concerned about the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant. The Covid variant first identified in India is believed to be well on the way to becoming the dominant strain of the disease worldwide.
Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC Thursday that the spread of the Delta variant in the US was “very worrying,” noting that its prevalence in the country is currently doubling every 10 to 14 days.
“It will become the dominant strain in the United States. Now the question is, will it be 90% of 10,000 infections a day or 90% of 100,000 infections a day?” said Gottlieb.
“I think as far as the summer is concerned, even with this new variant, we probably won’t see a major flare-up of infections, but this is a significant risk for the fall,” said Gottlieb.