The United States, Russia, France and many other countries are setting records for coronavirus infections as a tidal wave of cases washes over parts of the Northern Hemisphere, forcing some countries to impose new curbs. The gloom weighed on global financial markets on Monday as surging infections clouded the economic outlook. US stocks had their worst day in four weeks over the double whammy of record coronavirus cases and political deadlock in negotiations to provide more economic aid.
Word that a vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc produced immune responses in both elderly and young people offered some positive news as autumn turns to winter in northern countries and more people socialise indoors.
But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that the vaccine would not be widely available until next year, and said, “We’re not there yet.”
Any vaccine faces both scientific and public relations hurdles. Surveys have shown only about half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccination due to concerns about safety, effectiveness and the approval process.
In the US, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is at a two-month high, straining health care systems in some states.
US President Donald Trump, facing a re-election battle on November 3, lashed out again at reports that the coronavirus is surging.
He repeated his unfounded claim that COVID-19 cases are rising because there is more testing, an assertion not supported by data and one that has been rejected by health experts.
“Cases up because we TEST, TEST, TEST. A Fake News Media Conspiracy. Many young people who heal very fast. 99.9 per cent. Corrupt Media conspiracy at all time high,” Mr Trump said in a Twitter post.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in the US last week rose 24 per cent while the number of tests performed rose 5.5 per cent, according to an analysis by news agency Reuters.
In Europe, the picture was unrelentingly grim, as a string of countries reported record increases, led by France, which posted more than 50,000 daily cases for the first time on Sunday while the continent passed the threshold of 2,50,000 deaths.
France may even be experiencing 1,00,000 new infections a day, professor Jean-François Delfraissy, who heads a council that advises the government, told RTL radio.
Governments have been desperate to avoid the lockdowns which curbed the disease earlier in the year at the cost of shutting down their entire economies. But the steady rise in new cases has forced many in Europe to tighten curbs.
“We are facing very, very difficult months ahead,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of leaders from her Christian Democrat party, according to daily Bild.
She plans “lockdown light” that will focus on closing bars, restaurants and public events, the newspaper said.
The Spanish government faced a backlash over its plans to put one of Europe’s worst COVID-19 hot spots under a six-month state of emergency. Opposition parties said six months was too long, epidemiologists said this may be too little too late and some citizens balked at nightly curfews.
Russia’s daily tally of new COVID-19 infections surged to a record high of 17,347 on Monday as the Kremlin warned the pandemic was beginning to take a greater toll outside Moscow.
Russia in August became the first country to grant regulatory approval for a vaccine against COVID-19 after less than two months of human testing, raising eyebrows among sceptical scientists in the West. Regulators approved a second vaccine earlier this month.
With 1.5 million infections, the country of around 145 million people has recorded the world’s fourth largest COVID-19 case load – after the United States, India and Brazil.
Italy, the country worst hit in the early stages of the crisis in March, imposed new restrictions, ordering restaurants and bars to close from 6 p.m., shutting cinemas and gyms and imposing local curfews in several regions.
More than 43 million people are reported to have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 1.15 million have died, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has the highest number of deaths and infections.