Global COVID-19 death toll surpasses 3 million amid new infections resurgence

By Roshan Abraham and Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – Coronavirus-related deaths worldwide crossed 3 million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, as the latest global resurgence of COVID-19 infections is challenging vaccination efforts across the globe.

Worldwide COVID-19 deaths are rising once again, especially in Brazil and India. Health officials blame more infectious variants that were first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, along with public fatigue with lockdowns and other restrictions.

According to a Reuters tally, it took more than a year for the global coronavirus death toll to reach 2 million. The next 1 million deaths were added in about three months.

Brazil is leading the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported and accounts for one in every four deaths worldwide each day, according to a Reuters analysis.

The World Health Organization acknowledged the nation’s dire condition due to coronavirus, saying the country is in a very critical condition with an overwhelmed healthcare system.

“Indeed there is a very serious situation going on in Brazil right now, where we have a number of states in critical condition,” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove told a briefing last Thursday, adding that many hospital intensive care units are more than 90% full.

India reported a record rise in COVID-19 infections on Monday, becoming the second nation after the United States to post more than 100,000 new cases in a day.

India’s worst-affected state, Maharashtra on Monday began shutting shopping malls, cinemas, bars, restaurants, and places of worship, as hospitals are being overrun by patients.

The European region, which includes 51 countries, has the highest total number of deaths at nearly 1.1 million.

Five European countries including the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Italy and Germany constitute about 60% of Europe’s total coronavirus-related deaths.

The United States has the highest number of deaths of any country at the world at 555,000 and accounts for about 19% of all deaths due to COVID-19 in the world. Cases have risen for the last three weeks but health officials believe the nation’s rapid vaccination campaign may prevent a rise in deaths. A third of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.

At least 370.3 million people or nearly 4.75% of the global population have received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Sunday, according to latest figures from research and data provider firm Our World in Data.

However, the World Health Organization is urging countries to donate more doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines to help meet vaccination targets for the most vulnerable in poorer countries.

 

Spain’s rising COVID-19 rate gathers pace

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s coronavirus infection rate rose by more than 10 since Friday, with 15,500 cases added to the tally, Health Ministry data showed on Monday, as a gradual uptick in contagion from mid-March lows gathered pace.

The rate, which is measured over the preceding 14 days, rose to 149 cases per 100,000 people from 138 cases on Friday, the data showed.

It had been inching higher since dropping below 130 cases per 100,000 people in mid-March and remains well below the peak of nearly 900 cases recorded in late January.

Monday’s infection numbers brought the total since the start of the pandemic to 3.27 million cases. The death toll climbed by 189 since Friday to 75,199.

“At a national level we are in a phase of expansion” of new cases, Health Emergency Chief Fernando Simon told a news conference, adding that the trend was likely to continue in the coming days.

Though bars and restaurants remain open in much of the country, Spain has banned travel between different regions and limited social events to four people during Holy Week to prevent Easter celebrations triggering a fresh resurgence in contagion.

“If we manage to follow the Easter restrictions, we may not be talking about a fourth wave,” Simon said.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Number of COVID patients in intensive care in France at highest level this year

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people with COVID-19 in French intensive care units rose by 84 on Tuesday to a new 2021 high of 4,634, health ministry data showed.

But the number of new infections, at 14,678, was the lowest since Jan. 3, excluding Mondays, when case numbers dip because fewer tests are done over the weekend.

A third of France’s population, including the Paris region, has since Friday been under a lockdown that is due to last four weeks. Experts generally say it takes two weeks for restrictive measures to take effect.

The total number of people in hospital for COVID-19 rose by 268 to at 26,756, the highest since Feb. 11.

The COVID-19 death toll rose by 287 to 92,908, the seventh-highest in the world.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Italy 2020 death toll is highest since World War Two as COVID-19 hits

ROME (Reuters) – Italy registered more deaths in 2020 than in any other year since World War Two, according to data that suggest COVID-19 caused thousands more fatalities than were officially attributed to it.

Total deaths in Italy last year amounted to 746,146, statistics bureau ISTAT said, an increase of 100,525, or 15.6%, compared with the average of the 2015-2019 period.

Looking at the period from when Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 to the end of the year, the “excess deaths” were even higher at 108,178, an increase of 21% over the same period of the last five years.

The Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Italy’s top health institute, officially attributed 75,891 deaths to the new coronavirus last year, some 70% of this total excess mortality.

Italy has continued to register hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day this year. Its updated tally stood at 98,974 on Thursday.

Officially, COVID-19 accounted for 10% of deaths in Italy last year from Feb. 21, with marked regional disparities.

It was the cause of 14.5% of all deaths in the northern regions where the outbreak was first reported in Italy. In central areas it was responsible for 7% of all deaths and in southern ones it accounted for 5%.

Of the 100,525 excess deaths last year, 76% of the total were among people over the age of 80 and 20% were among those aged between 65 and 79, ISTAT said.

(Reporting By Gavin Jones, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

World Bank threatens to cut Lebanon’s vaccine aid over line-jumping

By Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The World Bank threatened on Tuesday to suspend its multi-million dollar financing for Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination drive over politicians jumping the line.

The controversy, which echoed favoritism by elites in other countries as the world rushes to inoculate against the coronavirus, added to frustration among Lebanese over delays and violations in the vaccination campaign.

Local media and politicians said that some lawmakers got shots in parliament on Tuesday – despite not necessarily being in priority groups.

“Upon confirmation of violation, World Bank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted, saying it would be a breach of the national plan.

“I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”

The World Bank’s reallocation of $34 million has enabled Lebanon to receive its first two batches of about 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses this month. The bank had said it would monitor the vaccine rollout and warned against favoritism in Lebanon, where decades of waste and corruption brought a financial meltdown and protests.

‘SELFISH’

One lawmaker, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that some older current and former lawmakers, as well as administrative staff, were vaccinated in the parliament hall.

“What’s the big deal? … They’re registered,” he said, referring to an online platform for vaccines. He added that doses were also sent last week to the Baabda palace for President Michel Aoun and about 16 others.

Aoun’s office said it would issue a statement.

Deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, who at 71 is not in the first phase priority group, tweeted that he got a shot.

The doctor who heads Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination committee, Abdul Rahman Bizri, said it was unaware vaccines would be sent to parliament. “What happened today is unacceptable,” he told reporters.

Around the nation, outrage spread.

“My grandfather is an 85-year-old decent man suffering from heart and cardiovascular problems. My grandfather is a priority and he still did not get the vaccine,” tweeted Jad al-Hamawi.

“What are you? Bunch of hypocrites. Selfish. Criminals.”

Jonathan Dagher added on Facebook: “As our loved ones gasp for oxygen in COVID-19 wards, MPs cut the line today to take the vaccine.”

The health ministry did not immediately comment.

A surge in infections since January has brought Lebanon’s death toll over 4,300.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Africa COVID-19 deaths surpass 100,000 after second wave

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa’s reported COVID-19 death toll surpassed 100,000 on Friday, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.

The continent’s reported deaths, at 100,354, compare favorably with North America, which has registered more than half a million, and Europe, which is approaching 900,000, a Reuters tally shows.

But deaths are rising sharply across Africa, driven by its southern region, especially economic powerhouse South Africa, which accounts for nearly half. South Africa was ravaged by a second wave caused by a more contagious variant that has jammed up casualty wards.

“The increased number (of infections) has led to many severe cases and some of the countries really found it quite difficult to cope,” Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the immunization program at the World Health Organization’s Africa office, told Reuters.

“We have seen some countries getting to their limit in terms of oxygen supply, which has got a really negative impact in terms of case management for severe cases.”

Mihigo said the rise in deaths was pronounced in countries near South Africa like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, raising the possibility that the 501Y.V2 variant identified in South Africa late last year had spread through the southern Africa region – although more genomic sequencing needs to be carried out to prove that.

International aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this month called for urgent vaccine distributions in southern Africa to counter the spread of the new variant, as most African countries have lagged richer Western nations in launching mass vaccination programs.

Reuters data show Africa’s case fatality rate is now at around 2.6%, higher than the global average of 2.3%, and marginally up on the 2.4% rate after the first wave of infections – which at the time compared favorably with other continents.

Experts caution against reading too much into the data – the real toll may be much higher or lower. For instance, South Africa’s excess deaths – deaths considered over-and-above the normal rate – during the pandemic have reached over 137,000, almost three times its official COVID-19 death toll.

Then again, in some cases Africa’s low testing rates could inflate its true case fatality rate (CFR), said Professor Francisca Mutapi, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh.

“If deaths being registered as COVID-19 deaths are not necessarily contingent on a positive test … as is the case in South Africa, then this can drive up CFR,” she said.

Even with these caveats acknowledged, African countries look like they are struggling with COVID-19 more than last year.

“Are we counting all the deaths on the continent? No … but most people on the continent do know somebody who has died of COVID during this second wave,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters last week.

“Hospitals are being overwhelmed due to health systems that are fragile.”

(Reporting by Alexander Winning, Tim Cocks and Wendell Roelf; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Jane Wardell)

Cuomo aide apologizes to lawmakers for withholding COVID-19 death toll in New York nursing homes

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A senior aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apologized to state lawmakers this week for the governor’s office withholding requested data showing the death toll in nursing homes from COVID-19, according to transcripts of the conversation published by local media.

The aide, Melissa DeRosa, told Democratic lawmakers in a call on Wednesday that Cuomo’s office feared the death toll information would be “used against us” by federal prosecutors, according to the New York Post, which first reported the call.

“And basically we froze,” DeRosa said, the Post reported. The comments came about two weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James published a report saying the true death toll of nursing home residents between March and August last year may be twice as high as the 6,400 officially reported.

Angered by what they perceive as a cover-up, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said they are reconsidering their decision to grant Cuomo emergency powers last year to contend with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a betrayal of the public trust,” Andrew Gounardes, a Democratic state senator, wrote on Twitter. “There needs to be full accountability for what happened.”

Cuomo rebuffed efforts by state lawmakers last summer to force greater disclosure over the number of nursing home residents who died after contracting COVID-19.

Nursing home residents who were taken to hospitals were not counted in the state’s break-out of nursing home deaths, which lawmakers viewed as masking the true extent of the crisis.

Around the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice also began seeking data on deaths of nursing home residents.

In a statement on Friday, DeRosa said her office decided the federal request must be the priority before turning to the request by state lawmakers.

“As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked,” her statement said.

Cuomo’s administration also unsuccessfully sought to withhold the data when it was requested through transparency laws by the Empire Center, a conservative think tank.

A judge ordered the disclosure of the numbers this month, and the state has released data showing that thousands more nursing home residents than was previously known died from COVID-19, even if their deaths occurred after being transferred to a hospital.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Dozens collapsed glacier after Himalayan glacier’s collapse, scores still missing

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Rescuers raced to free around 35 Indian construction workers trapped in a tunnel, two days after the hydroelectric dam they were helping to build was swept away by a wall of water from a collapsed glacier that barreled down a Himalayan river.

The workers were among 197 people who officials said were still unaccounted for as the death toll from the disaster – which also broke apart bridges, cut off villages and scarred tracts of mountain landscape – rose to 28.

Packing rocks, dirt and construction debris and thought to have been triggered when a glacier lake fed by India’s second highest peak, Nanda Devi, collapsed, the flood swept down the Dhauliganga river on Sunday.

Officials said most of those still missing were shift workers at either the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project, where the tunnel was situated, or at Rishiganga, a smaller dam which was swept away in the flood.

Soldiers using bulldozers had cleared away rocks at the mouth of the 2.5-km (1.5-mile) tunnel, and video posted by the Indo-Tibetan border police service showed rescuers checking the water level deeper inside.

Rescuers hoped to open the tunnel up by Tuesday afternoon, said Ashok Kumar, director general of police in Uttarakhand state, where the flash flood occurred.

Officials said thermal imaging equipment had also been deployed to help locate would-be survivors, and Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, said 28 bodies had been recovered so far.

Thirteen villages had been cut off by the floodwaters were being resupplied from the air, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.

A government official said many locals had apparently managed to escape the waters by fleeing to higher ground as soon as they heard the rumble of the water racing down the valley.

“The workers in the tunnel may not have heard anything and got stuck,” the official said.

The 520 MW Tapovan project, being built by state firm NTPC, is one of many run-of-river projects being developed to upgrade Uttarakhand’s power network.

Officials have yet to conclusively determine what caused the disaster, though scientists investigating it believe heavy snowfall followed by bright sunshine combined with a rise in temperatures may have triggered the glacier’s collapse.

A clearer picture of the circumstances is expected to emerge later this week, officials said.

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by John Stonestreet)

Shops boarded up as Dutch brace for fourth night of coronavirus riots

By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands braced on Tuesday for a fourth consecutive night of coronavirus anti-lockdown riots, with some shops boarding their windows and sending staff home early for safety.

Dutch police detained more than 180 people on Monday night, where roaming groups set fires, threw rocks and looted stores in several cities.

The Netherlands’ first curfew since World War Two was imposed on Saturday despite weeks of falling infections, after the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said a faster-spreading variant first found in England was causing a third of cases.

A hospital in Rotterdam warned visitors of patients to stay away, after rioters tried to attack hospitals in various cities in the past days.

“We have had riots in the past, but it’s rare to have this for several nights across the entire country,” said National Police spokeswoman Suzanne van de Graaf. “It’s not only in known problem areas, but much more widespread.”

Riot police with shields and batons were called out in more than 10 cities, many of which had issued emergency decrees to provide officers with greater powers to conduct searches.

Police had scuffled with rioters in several cities late into the night, chasing them down narrow streets with vans or on foot as helicopters hovered overhead.

In Amsterdam on Monday, groups of youths threw fireworks, broke store windows and attacked a police truck, but were broken up by a massive police presence.

Ten police officers were injured in Rotterdam, where 60 rioters were detained overnight after widespread looting and destruction in the city center, a police spokeswoman said. Supermarkets in the port city were emptied, while rubbish bins and vehicles were set ablaze.

Two photographers were hurt after being targeted by rock-throwing gangs, one in Amsterdam and another in the nearby town of Haarlem, police said.

Coronavirus infections have been falling in recent weeks, with the number of new cases down by 8% over the past week. A little under 4,000 new infections were reported on Tuesday, the smallest daily increase since Nov 24.

But the RIVM said the situation in the Netherlands was still very serious as a result of the more contagious variant that has caused a massive surge in cases in Britain.

Van de Graaf said much of the aggression during the three days of unrest had been targeted at police officers. More than 470 people have been arrested, with riot police deploying water cannon and officers on horseback in several places.

Schools and non-essential shops across the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December. Bars and restaurants were closed two months earlier. The country’s death toll stands at 13,664, with 956,867 infections to date.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

France’s new COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU treatments rise sharply

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people hospitalized in France for COVID-19 rose by more than a 1,000 over the last two days, a trend unseen since Nov 16, and the number of patients in intensive care units for the disease exceeded 3,000 for the first time since Dec 9.

A growing number of medical experts have called for a third lockdown in France but French media report that President Emmanuel Macron is trying to avoid such a measure.

Macron hopes a 6 p.m. curfew put in place 10 days ago will be enough to rein in the surge in new infections prompted by the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus.

Getting the number of patients treated in ICUs for COVID-19 below the 3,000 limit was the main justification for replacing the second lockdown with the national curfew on Dec 15.

At 3,041, the ICU total is less than half its all time high of 7,148 on April 4, but has grown almost every day since Jan 7.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Bloomberg Television that a new lockdown would make it very difficult for the country to reach its 2021 target of 6% economic growth.

The government had also aimed to bring the average new daily cases below 5,000 before lifting the second lockdown. After a 54,440 high on Nov 7, the seven-day moving average of daily new infections, which averages out reporting irregularities, fell to 10,348 on Dec 4 but is now at a two-month high of 20,447.

The daily tally of new COVID infections was 4,240 on Monday, down from Sunday’s 18,346 but higher than last Monday’s 3,736. France’s cumulative total of cases now stands at 3,057,857, the sixth-highest in the world.

The country’s COVID-19 death toll was up by 445, at 73,494, the world’s seventh highest, versus a rise of 172 on Sunday. The seven-day moving average of new fatalities increased to 401, the highest since Dec. 9.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Philippa Fletcher)