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Coronavirus digest: Global death toll tops 2 million

The deaths of over 2 million people can be traced back to COVID-19, according to the latest statistics. The number is equal to the population of Brussels, Vienna or Mecca. Follow DW for the latest.

Nurses look after a coronavirus patient in the city of Essen

German hospitals have been put under strain with the increase number of COVID-19 hospitalizations

The global death toll from COIVID-19 passed 2 million on Friday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The milestone came even as vaccines are being rolled out around the world in an all-out campaign to stop the pandemic.

While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real toll is believed to be significantly higher because of poor testing and many inaccurately recorded deaths, especially during the first months of the outbreak.

It took eight months to reach 1 million dead and less than four months after that to reach the next million. 

"Behind this terrible number are names and faces — the smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He said the toll "has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort.

"Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed," he added.

Infographic showing global death rates

Here's a roundup of the other major developments around the world.

Americas

In the United States, President-elect Joe Biden announced plans to ramp up the vaccination drive against COVID-19. The plans include efforts to open thousands of vaccination sites, deploy mobile clinics, and utilize retired doctors to administer the vaccine.

Biden, who is set to take office next week, wants 100 million Americans to receive vaccine doses within the first 100 days of the rollout.

"You have my word: we will manage the hell out of this operation. This is a time to set big goals and pursue them with courage and conviction because the health of the nation is literally at stake," said Biden on Friday.

Biden also picked David Kessler, a former chief of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the chief science officer of the White House coronavirus response team.

Kessler is to take over at the helm of Operation Warp Speed, the program to accelerate the vaccine roll-out set up by the outgoing administration of Donald Trump, US media including Politico reported.

Amazonas state in northern Brazil has admitted it is running short of oxygen to help those hospitalized with COVID-19 to breathe as the country struggles with a new variant of the coronavirus.

Doctors in Manaus, a city of 2 million people were choosing which patients to treat, officials said, as overloaded hospitals waited for fresh supplies of oxygen cylinders.

The governor of Amazonas Wilson Lima has declared a statewide curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m to curb a fresh surge in coronavirus cases, partly as a result of a new variant found in Brazil.

Watch video 02:34

Brazil: Health care system in Manaus nears collapse

Europe

Greece announced an easing of some of its lockdown measures, starting with the reopening of malls, retail stores and hair salons starting on Monday. 

The lockdown had been imposed since November 7, to fight a surge in cases. A night curfew, domestic travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders are still in place. Greece also reopened primary schools and kindergartens this week. High school classes are still being held online. 

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned: "I want to be absolutely clear, every opening of economic activity harbors the danger of an increase in cases." He said each month of lockdown cost more than €3 billion ($3.6 billion) to the Greek economy.

Pfizer will temporarily reduce shipments to Europeof its coronavirus vaccine, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said and other nations confirmed on Friday.

The FHI said in a statement that the pharma giant wants to upgrade its production capacity to 2 billion vaccine doses per year from 1.3 billion currently,

"We had expected 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses," the agency said.

The FHI added that it is as yet unclear how long it will take before Pfizer is up to maximum production capacity again.

The European Union backs the idea of a certificate identifying people vaccinated against the coronavirus, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Friday, although she held back on whether it could offer privileges to holders.

"It is a medical must to have a certificate that you have been vaccinated," von der Leyen told reporters ahead of a visit to the Portuguese capital Lisbon, offering her support to a proposal from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

But she added that "whether that gives a priority or access to certain goods, this is a political and legal decision that has to be discussed on the European level."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will call for a bigger push to get people to work from home as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread despite strict measures. Over 2 million people in Germany have been infected by the coronavirus, statistics released Friday showed.

The president's appeal follows a similar one made by a group of German and Austrian activists and academics who called for a brief but complete shutdown of the economy in order to achieve "ZeroCovid."

Watch video 03:36

Expert: Germany should shut down completely for two weeks

The national German statistics agency Destatis announced on Friday that the total deaths in the country between December 14 and 20 were up by 24% in comparison to the yearly average between 2016 and 2016.

In that week 23,550 people died, an increase of more than 4,500 over the average death rate for that period.

France will increase border controls, demanding a negative test from all travelers arriving in the country.

Prime Minister Jean Castex also announced that the 8 p.m. night-time curfew will be brought forward by two hours to 6 p.m.

The UK's transport minister, Grant Shapps, said on Friday that, in regards to the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant discovered in Brazil, "scientists think it will work."

He added that the discovery of the mutation was a valid justification for stopping flights from South America as a precaution.

Latvia is now requiring all travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country. The test must not be older than 72 hours and would need to be shown to the airline or other transport company before departure. Passengers would still be required to enter a 10-day quarantine upon arrival.

Africa

Nigeria warned Friday against the circulation of fake coronavirus vaccines in the country, where 10 million real doses of the shots are expected in March. 

"We are pleading with the public to beware. No Covid Vaccines have been approved," Mojisola Adeyeye, Director-General of the National Agency for Food Drug and Administration Control (NAFDAC) "Fake vaccines can cause COVID-like illnesses or other serious diseases that could kill."

In April last year, black market coronavirus tests flourished in Nigeria because citizens were reluctant to be subjected to mandatory quarantine among other reasons. 

South Africa delayed the start of the new school year by two weeks under fears that schools would become new transmission centers for the virus.

Daily cases in the country have hovered around 20,000 during the past week.

Ghana is set to reopen its schools on Friday after they had remained closed for 10 months.

Watch video 12:01

Blood plasma saves lives but it's in short supply

Asia

China reported its highest number of daily infections since March on Friday with 144 new cases recorded nationwide.

While the rate of infection is relatively low in comparison with the outbreaks in Europe and the US, authorities are worried about rapid spreading with the lunar new year celebrations approaching.

Currently, around 28 million people are in lockdown in the northeast of the country as the government grapples to bring the outbreak under control.

Indonesia recorded its highest-ever increase in COVID-19 cases, registering 12,818 in 24 hours, bringing the country to a total of 882,418 recorded infections since the pandemic began.

Japan has banned foreign athletes from training in the country in the run-up to the delayed Summer Olympics as the country goes through a new wave of infections.

mm, ab/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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