Georgia is rapidly approaching 10,000 deaths, according to its state Department of Public Health.
On Dec. 29, 2019, the first cases of unknown, pneumonia-like illnesses were reported to the World Health Organization. One year later, the illness that has come to be known as the coronavirus has claimed more than 1.85 million lives around the world, reaching every continent and wreaking havoc and despair in its wake.
Despite growing vaccine access, January is looking grim around the globe as the coronavirus resurges and reshapes itself from Britain to Japan to the U.S., filling hospitals and threatening livelihoods anew as governments lock down businesses and race to find solutions.
England headed back into lockdown. Mexico City’s hospitals hold more virus patients than ever. Germany reported one of its highest daily death tolls to date Tuesday. South Africa and Brazil are struggling to find space for the dead. Even pandemic success story Thailand is fighting an unexpected wave of infections.
And as doctors face or brace for rising numbers of COVID-19 patients after end-of-year holiday gatherings, more and more countries are reporting cases of a new, more contagious variant that has already swept across Britain.
January is going to be “a tough one,” said Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization. “This idea that seems to be ‘Ah, we’re all sick of it. We want to look at something else. Oh, this doesn’t apply to me’ ... that’s got to go away. It really is all hands on deck.”
While Britain rolled out a second vaccine this week and some U.S. states are starting to give the second round of shots, access to inoculations globally is sharply unequal. The supply isn’t remotely close to meeting the epic demand needed to vanquish a foe that has already killed more than 1.85 million.
“We are in a race to prevent infections, bring cases down, protect health systems and save lives while rolling out two highly effective and safe vaccines to high-risk populations,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is not easy. These are the hard miles.”
England is facing a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections and relieve hospitals, where some patients are left waiting in ambulances in a parking lot for access to overcrowded wards.
The U.S. could soon give at least 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations a day, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, even as he warned of a dangerous next few weeks as the coronavirus surges.
The slow pace is frustrating health officials and a desperate public alike, with only about one-third of the first supplies shipped to states used as of Tuesday morning, just over three weeks into the vaccination campaign.
“Any time you start a big program, there’s always glitches. I think the glitches have been worked out,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press.
Vaccinations have already begun speeding up, reaching roughly half a million injections a day, he pointed out.
Now, with the holidays over, “once you get rolling and get some momentum, I think we can achieve 1 million a day or even more,” Fauci said. He called President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days “a very realistic, important, achievable goal.”
It’s an optimistic prediction considering the logistical hurdles facing states and counties as they struggle to administer rationed vaccine supplies amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. Fauci pointed to California’s swamped hospitals and exhausted workers even before holiday travel and family gatherings added fuel to the outbreak.
Fauci estimated that between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity,” meaning enough people are protected that it’s difficult for the virus to continue spreading. That translates to as many as 280 million people.
He said he is hoping to achieve that by the start of next fall.
The coronavirus has killed more than 357,000 Americans, and the next few weeks could bring another jump in infections nationally that “could make matters even worse,” Fauci said.
The Trump administration had promised to provide states enough vaccine for 20 million people in December and fell short even as states struggled with their role — getting shots into people’s arms, starting mostly with health care workers and nursing home residents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 4.8 million doses of more than 17 million delivered had been used by Tuesday morning. That is probably an undercount because of delays in reporting, but it is far fewer than experts had hoped.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.