US death toll keeps jabs rollout in focus

Lillie McCray (R) receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from Walgreens healthcare professional Ghassan Ayyad (L) at the Victor Walchirk Apartments in Evanston, Illinois, US on Feb 22, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

On verge of 500,000 fatalities from virus, worst-hit nation sees encouraging signs

WASHINGTON-The United States stood on the brink of recording 500,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, a mark that is focusing minds as the hardest-hit nation joins others around the world in pressing on with vaccinations.

Despite the renewed attention on the catastrophic death toll, there are signs of hope emerging in the US, where millions have now been vaccinated and winter's massive spike in infections has dropped.

But the deaths keep coming, and US President Joe Biden last month warned that "well over" 600,000 people in the US could die from the coronavirus.

"It's terrible. It is historic. We haven't seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza," Biden's chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci told NBC's Meet The Press program.

As of Monday, the US toll on the Johns Hopkins University tracking website stood at more than 498,900. Globally, the figure was approaching 2.5 million.

Fauci noted the number of daily new infections was on a steep decline after peaking in January, but he added normal life may still be some way off. "I think we'll have a significant degree of normality…as we get into the fall and the winter, by the end of the year," Fauci said on CNN's State of the Union.

Biden was expected to speak on Monday about the death toll, and he was to be joined by Vice-President Kamala Harris at sunset for a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony.

The president said he did not want to give firm predictions of when the crisis will be curbed, but said that 600 million doses of vaccines were expected to be ready by the end of July.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 61 million people have received at least one shot of a vaccine in the US, with some 18 million getting the full two doses.

July target for UK

In Britain, the government vowed to offer a first coronavirus vaccine dose to every adult by the end of July, as it prepared to announce a gradual easing of its third lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement that he wants the rollout program to "go further and faster". He added that the July target would allow vulnerable people to be protected sooner and that this would help to further ease restrictions across the United Kingdom.

"But there should be no doubt-the route out of lockdown will be cautious and phased, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us," he said.

If the July target is fulfilled it would mean that the government achieves its aim two months earlier than previously promised, ITV News and others reported. More than 17 million people have now received at least a first vaccine dose-one third of UK adults.

Johnson was expected to set out a four-step plan, known as the roadmap for easing restrictions, on Monday. The prime minster has said that the lockdown will be eased cautiously, and will be guided by "data not dates".

In Australia, the broader vaccine rollout started on Monday morning with authorities expected to administer more than 60,000 doses by the end of the week.

The program is beginning with a vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech. A first batch of a vaccine from AstraZeneca is expected to reach the country in the next two weeks. New Zealand started inoculations days earlier than its neighbor.

Mongolia will begin vaccinations on Tuesday, with frontline workers in the health and security sectors going first, Deputy Prime Minister Sainbuyan Amarsaikhan said.

Jonathan Powell in London, agencies and Xinhua contributed to this story.




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