Brazil vaccinations start as country faces vaccine ingredient shortfall

By Eduardo Simões

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil kicked off a nationwide COVID-19 immunization program on Monday by distributing doses of a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech following an emergency use authorization, although the pace of vaccination will depend on delayed imports.

After weeks of setbacks, many Brazilians cheered the first wave of inoculations, from bustling clinics in Sao Paulo to a spectacular shot planned at the foot of the Christ Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

The Health Ministry gave states the green light to start immunizing at 5 p.m. (2000 GMT). Although some began administering shots before that, the majority of Brazil’s 26 states had yet to receive vaccine shipments as of Monday evening, delaying the start of vaccinations for the elderly and frontline health workers.

Minutes after federal health agency Anvisa approved the Sinovac vaccine on Sunday, Monica Calazans, a 54-year-old nurse in Sao Paulo, became the first person to be inoculated in the country, as Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria looked on.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 skeptic who has refused to take a vaccine himself, had faced fierce criticism for the lack of immunization in Brazil, which has lost more than 200,000 lives to COVID-19 – the pandemic’s worst death toll outside the United States.

On Sunday, Anvisa approved emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine and one from AstraZeneca Plc, although a plan to get 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine was hamstrung by a lack of export approval from India.

That was one of several hurdles threatening to slow Brazil’s already lagging immunization efforts, as local manufacturing partners for both vaccine makers wait on active ingredients from abroad in order to fill and finish doses for distribution.

The Butantan Institute run by Sao Paulo state needs another shipment of Sinovac’s ingredients by the end of the month in order to hit its target of 46 million doses by April, the head of the institute told a news conference.

The federally-funded Fiocruz biomedical center in Rio de Janeiro is still awaiting its first shipment of ingredients for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, pending Chinese export approval.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello scolded Doria on Sunday for what he called an illegal “marketing ploy” for allowing vaccinations to begin in Sao Paulo prior to the official rollout.

Bolsonaro, who had taunted Doria over the disappointing 50% efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine in Brazilian trials, added an indirect criticism on Monday.

“So it’s been approved for use in Brazil. It is Brazil’s vaccine. It doesn’t belong to any governor,” he told supporters outside the presidential palace.

(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Sabrina Valle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Bill Berkrot)

As coronavirus stalks Brazil’s Amazon, many die untreated at home

By Bruno Kelly and Gabriel Araujo

MANAUS (Reuters) – Shirlene Morais Costa died at her home in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday, likely the latest victim of a devastating new wave of COVID-19 that has returned to this isolated city deep in the Amazon rainforest.

The 53-year-old went to hospital with a cough and a fever, both symptoms of the coronavirus, but was sent home, according to her stepfather, Esteliano Lopes Filho, 74.

“Her death was swift… We called the ambulance, but it only arrived after she was dead,” he said. “We’re seeing death after death… It really is a terrible calamity.”

Brazil is home to the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak after the United States, and Manaus was one of the first Brazilian cities to creak under a spiraling death and caseload from the first wave of the pandemic last year.

So many were infected that some scientists thought the city of 2 million people might have been approaching herd immunity. But that projection has proved well wide of the mark.

The state of Amazonas, where nearly 6,000 people have died from COVID-19, is now suffering a devastating second wave that is pushing emergency services to breaking point. Many people, like Morais Costa, are dying at home.

Beds for COVID-19 patients in the state reached an occupancy rate of over 98% this week, according to data from the Amazonas state health department. Occupancy in temporary facilities that provide assistance to critical patients for later referral to other points of the health network was at 131%.

There are currently 1,391 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, in addition to a further 603 people hospitalized with suspected cases, the data shows.

Last week, refrigerated containers were placed outside the main hospitals in Manaus for the first time since the pandemic’s April peak. The containers are used to store bodies as the city’s healthcare and burial services again become overwhelmed.

(Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Rosalba O’Brien)

India’s coronavirus infections rise to 6.69 million

India’s total coronavirus cases rose by 61,267 in the last 24 hours to 6.69 million on Tuesday morning, data from the health ministry showed.

Deaths from COVID-19 infections rose by 884 to 103,569, the ministry said.

India’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose past 100,000 on Saturday, only the third country in the world to reach that bleak milestone, after the United States and Brazil, and its epidemic shows no sign of abating.

Last week, India further eased restrictions and permitted states to open schools and movie theatres.

Coronavirus deaths rise above a million in ‘agonizing’ global milestone

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – The global coronavirus death toll rose past a million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim statistic in a pandemic that has devastated the global economy, overloaded health systems and changed the way people live.

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus this year is now double the number of people who die annually from malaria – and the death rate has increased in recent weeks as infections surge in several countries.

“Our world has reached an agonizing milestone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.”

It took just three months for COVID-19 deaths to double from half a million, an accelerating rate of fatalities since the first death was recorded in China in early January.

More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on September averages, overwhelming funeral businesses and cemeteries.

That equates to about 226 people an hour, or one person every 16 seconds. In the time it takes to watch a 90-minute soccer match, 340 people die on average.

(Reuters interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2VqS5PS)

“So many people have lost so many people and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“…Many, many of the people who died died alone in medical circumstances where it’s a terribly difficult and lonely death.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world had to unite to fight the virus.

“History will judge us on the decisions we do and don’t make in the months ahead,” he said in the Independent newspaper.

INFECTIONS RISING

Experts remain concerned that the official figures for deaths and cases globally significantly under-represent the real tally because of inadequate testing and recording and the possibility of concealment by some countries.

The response to the pandemic has pitted proponents of health measures like lockdowns against those intent on sustaining politically sensitive economic growth, with approaches differing from country to country.

The United States, Brazil and India, which together account for nearly 45% of all COVID-19 deaths globally, have all lifted social distancing measures in recent weeks.

“The American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned on Monday. U.S. deaths stood at 205,132 and cases at 7.18 million by late Monday.

India, meanwhile, has recorded the highest daily growth in infections in the world, with an average of 87,500 new cases a day since the beginning of September.

On current trends, India will overtake the United States as the country with the most confirmed cases by the end of the year, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pushes ahead with easing lockdown measures in a bid to support a struggling economy.

Despite the surge in cases, India’s death toll of 96,318, and pace of growth of fatalities, remains below those of the United States, Britain and Brazil. India on Tuesday reported its smallest rise in deaths since Aug. 3, continuing a recent easing trend that has baffled experts.

In Europe, which accounts for nearly 25% of deaths, the WHO has warned of a worrying spread in western Europe just weeks away from the winter flu season.

The WHO has also warned the pandemic still needs major control interventions amid rising cases in Latin America, where many countries have started to resume normal life.

Much of Asia, the first region affected by the pandemic, is experiencing a relative lull after emerging from a second wave.

The high number of deaths has led to changes burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest, while in Iraq former militiamen dropped their guns to dig graves at a specially created cemetery and learned how to conduct both Christian and Muslim burials.

In some parts of Indonesia, bereaved families have barged into hospitals to claim bodies, fearing their relatives might not be given a proper burial.

The United States, Indonesia, Bolivia, South Africa and Yemen have all had to locate new burial sites as cemeteries fill up.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; additional reporting by Shaina Ahluwalia, Seerat Gupta and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

The ventilators never came: How graft hampered Brazil’s COVID-19 response

By Gram Slattery and Ricardo Brito

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – As COVID-19 patients flooded Rio de Janeiro’s public health system from early April to late May, Dr. Pedro Archer found himself making gut-wrenching decisions.

People struggling to breathe needed ventilators, he said, but there weren’t enough to go around; those with a slim chance of recovery were passed over.

“Every shift it was like that,” said Archer, a surgeon at a municipal hospital in Rio de Janeiro, a metropolis of 6.7 million people anchoring a state of the same name. “Sometimes, I would give them sedatives just so that they didn’t suffer. Eventually, they would pass away.”

Some of those deaths, state and federal prosecutors now say, may have been avoidable. They allege that top officials here sought to pocket up to 400 million reais ($72.2 million) via corruption schemes that steered inflated state contracts to allies during the pandemic. The deals, they said, included three contracts for 1,000 ventilators, most of which never arrived.

Rio state Health Secretary Edmar Santos was arrested July 10 and charged with corruption in connection with those contracts. A lawyer for Santos did not respond to a request for comment. Santos admitted to participating in various illicit schemes involving rigged public tenders, according to confidential court documents prepared by federal investigators laying out the alleged scams, which were reviewed by Reuters. He is now a cooperating witness in the probe, the documents said.

Separately, a federal judge suspended Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel from office on August 28 out of concern he might interfere with the investigations. Witzel is also facing impeachment proceedings over alleged graft.

He denied wrongdoing in a statement to Reuters. Vice-Governor Claudio Castro, who took over for Witzel in August, did not respond to a request for comment.

Latin America has been hit hard by the pandemic, with over 8.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases as of September 24, according to a Reuters tally. Brazil alone has registered over 139,000 COVID-19 deaths, second only to the United States.

If the city of Rio were a country, its per capita mortality rate from the coronavirus would rank as the world’s worst, according to a Reuters calculation based on John Hopkins University data. More than 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in this postcard city of sea and sand, and more than 18,000 statewide.

The region’s response to the pandemic has been hobbled by various factors, experts say, including poverty and crowded urban living conditions. Some leaders, including Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, have played down the pandemic’s severity.

But the virus has also been aided by greed.

Similar to Brazil, investigators in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru have likewise alleged that officials there lined their pockets through pandemic-related graft schemes.

In court documents detailing the alleged scams in Rio, Brazilian prosecutors describe a series of inter-related criminal enterprises, in which emergency contracts for masks, coronavirus tests – even hand gel – were allegedly rigged.

Reuters reviewed hundreds of pages of prosecutors’ allegations, many confidential and not previously reported; and it interviewed more than a dozen medical professionals and good-government experts who condemned the opportunism they say has compounded coronavirus misery in Rio.

“The pandemic allowed governments to spend significant resources very quickly while internal controls were relaxed due to the emergency,” said Guilherme France, research director for Transparency International in Brazil. “It ended up creating a perfect storm for corruption.”

A representative of Witzel said the suspended governor increased internal controls in the Rio state government, adding that he had fired many public servants accused of “irregularities” during his time in power.

GHOST HOSPITALS

Rio state’s pandemic response called for seven field hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. Officials at the state health ministry, known as SES, awarded contracts worth 836 million reais ($151 million) to a nonprofit health organization named IABAS to build the structures, which were to open by April 30. Just two have  opened so far, one in mid-May, the other in late June, well after the initial COVID-19 surge.

In late July, as the pandemic eased in Rio, one of those structures located in the working-class city of São Gonçalo was dismantled amid a lack of patients. All that remains is a large field, stripped of grass and littered with debris.

The IABAS contracts are part of an alleged kickback racket spearheaded by Mario Peixoto, a local entrepreneur arrested in May for reputedly defrauding the Rio state health system. Federal court documents submitted by prosecutors describe a complex scheme in which associates of Peixoto allegedly arranged for bribes to be routed to government officials to secure a variety of public health contracts, including the field hospitals.

Lawyers for Peixoto said he is innocent and did not participate in the field hospital deal. His trial is pending.

Federal prosecutors have not charged IABAS. But in confidential court documents they filed asking a judge to authorize the arrest of additional suspects, they said there was no “room for doubt” that IABAS’ winning bid was tainted by graft. Among the various irregularities cited by prosecutors: IABAS drafted its winning proposal before SES solicited offers.

IABAS told Reuters it won the hospital contracts by offering the lowest price. It said SES made frequent changes to the agreement, which slowed construction. IABAS said six of the seven structures were either completed or nearly finished in early June, when Rio state canceled its contract and took control of all the project sites.

In a statement to Reuters, SES disputed IABAS’ characterization of the progress it had made. It said four of the seven field hospitals were far from complete when the state took over.

SES declined to comment on IABAS’ allegation that the health ministry made frequent changes to the construction agreement. SES said it had saved more than 500 million reais ($90.3 million) by suspending payments to IABAS following the corruption allegations made by prosecutors. The ministry said it is cooperating with the investigation.

MISSING VENTILATORS

Prosecutors say Rio’s state government also rushed out ventilator contracts to three companies that had little or no relevant experience.

According to court documents summarizing prosecutors’ findings, Rio on March 21 awarded a little-known firm, Arc Fontoura, a contract worth 68 million reais ($12.3 million) to provide 400 ventilators for immediate delivery. State auditors have since determined Rio’s health ministry paid a nearly 200% markup from the market price.

Arc Fontoura had not previously contracted with the state, and tax documents indicated the firm’s annual revenue was no more than 4.8 million reais ($870,000), prosecutors said. The company’s registered address, Reuters found, is a small residence in a working-class part of the city.

When Rio received a small batch of the ventilators from the company at the end of March, hospital workers complained to SES that the machines lacked key components, prosecutors said in the court documents summarizing their findings. The documents did not make clear in which hospital the health workers were stationed.

Arc Fontoura did not respond to phone calls or e-mails or receive Reuters at its listed address.

On April 1, SES awarded contracts worth a combined 116 million reais ($20.9 million) to two other firms – MHS Produtos e Servicos and A2A Comercio – to supply 300 ventilators each.

Rio prosecutors quickly identified irregularities, according to court documents, starting with the timing of the companies’ bids.  The little-known enterprises submitted their proposals less than an hour after SES opened the tender, which was not advertised beforehand, a sign the firms had been tipped off, prosecutors said.

By May 8, Rio’s state health department said publicly that of the 1,000 ventilators it had ordered, just 52 had been delivered, all from Arc Fontoura. SES said in early May it had canceled its contract with A2A because of “the company’s inability to deliver” the ventilators. A2A did not respond to requests for comment.

MHS owner Glauco Guerra  denied wrongdoing. He said in an email that his company had significant experience providing services to federal agencies. He said he submitted his bid a day after the tender was opened, not within a few hours, as prosecutors had alleged. Guerra said SES entered his bid documents into its computer system in a way that led prosecutors to misinterpret the timeline.

He said 97 ventilators were delivered to SES on June 6, and that the agency later canceled the contract for the remainder. State prosecutors confirmed in public documents seen by Reuters that 97 ventilators ordered by MHS had arrived at a Rio airport in early June.

SES said in a statement to Reuters that all contracts signed “during the pandemic are being audited and revised,” adding that any irregularities will be punished. The ministry declined to comment on  MHS’ claim that its bid documents were entered into the SES system in a misleading fashion, citing ongoing investigations into the matter.

Archer, the surgeon, says his experience battling COVID-19 without enough ventilators has left him bitter.

During the peak of the pandemic in April and May, he said as many as 30 patients in his care were waiting for the machines. Many were too unstable to move to hospitals elsewhere and ultimately died, he said.

How many patients could have been saved, he wondered. How many did corruption kill?

“It’s very difficult to accept things you know are wrong,” Archer said.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro and Ricardo Brito in Brasília; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Marla Dickerson)

U.S. surpasses grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of the coronavirus in the United States exceeded 200,000 on Tuesday, by the far the highest number of any nation.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and were closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 42,000 new infections on average each day and saw cases last week rise on a weekly basis after falling for eight weeks in a row.

Deaths rose 5% last week after falling for four weeks in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 137,000 fatalities. India has had the world’s highest daily death rate over the last week with total deaths now approaching 100,000.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. to surpass grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of coronavirus in the United States was approaching over 200,000 lives on Monday, more than double the number of fatalities in India, the country reporting the second-highest number of cases in the world.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress that a face mask would provide more guaranteed protection than a vaccine, which would only be broadly available by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

The CDC currently predicts that the U.S. death toll will reach as high as 218,000 by Oct. 10.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and was closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 40,000 new infections on average each day.

As it battles a second wave of infections, the United States reported a 17% increase in the number of new cases last week compared with the previous seven days, with deaths rising 7% on average in the last, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 136,000 fatalities.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Biden rejects Trump claim that vaccine is imminent

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday bluntly contradicted President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine may be only weeks away, warning Americans they cannot trust the president’s word.

“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Moosic, Pennsylvania.

Trump again said on Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for distribution ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Most health experts, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until mid-2021.

Israel imposes second lockdown

Israel will enter a second nationwide lockdown on Friday at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new coronavirus cases.

The country’s initial lockdown was imposed in late March and eased in May as new cases tapered off, reaching lows in the single digits.

But in the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of over 5,000, and Israeli leaders now acknowledge they lifted measures too soon.

The new lockdown will last three weeks and coincides with the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, traditionally a time for large family gatherings and group prayer.

UK COVID hospital admissions double every eight days

Britain’s health minister said that the novel coronavirus was accelerating across the country, with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, but he refused to say if another national lockdown would be imposed next month.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. More than 10 million people are already in local lockdowns.

China reports highest new cases since Aug. 10

Mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.

Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since Aug. 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travelers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.

The National Health Commission said that all new cases were imported infections. Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.

Canada’s Ontario clamps down on parties

Canada’s most populous province will clamp down on social gatherings to prevent “reckless careless people” from spreading the coronavirus at illegal parties, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

His warning came as the nation’s top medical officer said authorities could potentially lose the ability to manage the pandemic.

Indoor social events in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city – along with Ontario’s Peel and Ottawa regions – would be authorized to include no more than 10 people, down from a previous limit of 50, Ford said.

“This is a serious situation, folks. We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” he told a news conference.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Latin American nations seek more time to join WHO vaccine plan

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Several Latin American countries have informed the World Health Organization (WHO) they intend to request more time to sign up for its global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan known as COVAX, an official at the WHO’s regional branch said on Thursday.

Countries have until midnight on Friday to formalize legally binding commitments to COVAX, a mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

A representative for the GAVI Alliance, the COVAX secretariat, said by email that details of which nations have joined COVAX will only be made public after the deadline.

Health officials in Mexico, which has the worst outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, said their country would sign the commitment on time. Brazil, which has the world’s most severe outbreak outside the United States and India, was still studying what to do, a ministry spokesperson said.

More than 170 countries have joined the global vaccine plan to help buy and distribute immunization shots for COVID-19 fairly around the world, WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan-American Health Organization, said in a briefing on Wednesday that Latin American countries were having trouble meeting the deadline and some wanted to push back the date.

Barbosa said all countries in the Americas except the United States had expressed interest in the vaccine facility, even those that have separate agreements with vaccine makers, because it gives them an added guarantee of access to doses.

Ten Latin American countries are among 90 poor nations in the world that will not have to pay for the vaccine, while the others in the region will pay an “accessible” price through COVAX, Barbosa said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque confirmed on Wednesday that his government was joining COVAX and Paraguay’s health ministry said it has already signed, even as it plans to buy the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Diego Ore in Mexico City, Julia Cobb in Bogotá, Daniela Desantis in Asunción; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama)

Global coronavirus cases surpass 30 million: Reuters tally

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases exceeded 30 million on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, with the pandemic showing no signs of slowing.

India was firmly in focus as the latest epicenter, although North and South America combined still accounted for almost half of the global cases.

Global new daily case numbers reached record levels in recent days and deaths neared 1 million as the international race to develop and market a vaccine heated up.

The official number of global coronavirus cases is now more than five times the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to World Health Organization data.

Around the world, there have been almost 1 million deaths, considered a lagging indicator given the two-week incubation period of the virus. That has well exceeded the upper range of 290,000 to 650,000 annual deaths linked to influenza.

India this week became only the second country in the world, after the United States, to record more than 5 million cases. On Thursday, it reported another record daily rise in cases of almost 98,000.

The south Asian nation, the world’s second most populous country, has been reporting more new daily cases than the United States since mid-August and accounts for just over 16% of global known cases.

Reported deaths in India have been relatively low so far but are showing an uptick, and the country has recorded more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.

The United States has about 20% of all global cases, although it has just 4% of the world’s population. Brazil, the third worst-hit country, accounts for roughly 15% of global cases.

It took 18 days for global cases to surge from 25 million to more than 30 million. It took 20 days for the world to go from 20 million to 25 million and 19 days to go from 15 million to 20 million.

The global rate of new daily cases is slowing, reflecting progress in constraining the disease in many countries, despite a few big surges.

Australia on Thursday reported its lowest single-day case rise since June as strict lockdown measures in its second largest city of Melbourne, the center of the country’s second wave, appeared to pay off.

Health experts stress that official data almost certainly under-reports both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.

The race to develop and bring to market a novel coronavirus vaccine has grown increasingly frenetic in recent weeks with about 200 candidates in development globally.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said his country could have a vaccine ready for distribution before the U.S. election on Nov. 3, while a Chinese health official this week said China may have a vaccine ready for public use as early as November.

While the trajectory of the coronavirus still falls far short of the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people, killing at least 10% of them, experts worry the available data is underplaying the true impact of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; editing by Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)