Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged its one-millionth case on Friday, as Russia announced a partnership with India to mass-produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.
Like much of Europe, Germany is battling a resurgence of a pandemic that is filling hospitals and forcing countries to shut down for business while they wait for help from a clutch of vaccines that could start rolling out for use next month.
Some of the excitement about the new jabs dampened when Britain’s pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca admitted that further research was needed after a mixup in its third-stage trial.
But Russia unexpectedly stepped in with an announcement that an Indian generic drugmaker would start producing 100 million doses of its government-backed vaccine in early 2021.
Germany had largely contained the spread when the virus descended on Europe from China at the start of the year after first emerging in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Yet its careful approach failed to avert a second wave, imperiling the health of Europe’s biggest economy and dampening the mood heading into the winter holidays.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the country’s total beyond the one million mark.
More worryingly, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.
It has shuttered restaurants, bars, sporting facilities, and cultural venues, though schools and shops remain open.
– ‘I won’t take it’ –
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and nearly 61 million infections have been recorded, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until the new vaccines kick in.
Russia’s proposed solution for the global health crisis has been shrouded in mystery and speculation.
It became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, long before the candidate had undergone large-scale clinical trials.
Russia said this week that interim results showed Sputnik V — named after the pioneering Soviet satellite — was 95 percent effective, although crucial phase three trials are still underway.
The importance of these large trials was underscored when AstraZeneca admitted that its candidate — developed jointly with the University of Oxford — proved to be most effective when younger people were given half a dose by mistake.
“We need to do an additional study,” AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg.
One person not taking any of the vaccines approaching approval is Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who caught the virus after playing down its impact and refusing to wear a mask.
“I’m telling you, I won’t take it,” he said in a video posted to social media. “It is my right.”
– Black Friday –
In the meantime, much of the world faces a gloomy winter dampened by lockdowns, economic anxiety and mental strain.
Bulgaria allowed its stores to enjoy one last spurt of business on Black Friday — usually, the day shops are packed with people looking for holiday deals — before closing almost everything for three weeks shortly before midnight.
“People have only just started returning in the past three days and now we’ll be shutting down for three weeks,” one Sofia restaurant owner lamented.
The mood was just as sour in the West Bank, where police in face masks set up roadblocks on the first day of new restrictions that included weekend curfews.
“I doubt the curfew will be fully respected,” said Amer Salamin, an accountant in Ramallah.
Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.
Restaurant owners in Istanbul organised a protest after Turkey — hitting one-day records of 174 deaths and more than 29,000 infections on Thursday — switched to takeout and delivery service nationally.
– Ski break debate –
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without spreading the disease.
France took the unusual step Thursday of allowing its winter sports resorts to stay open but ordering ski lifts to stay shut.
“Four hundred people on a Paris metro won’t get infected but four people on a ski lift will,” Jean-Luc Boch, the head of France’s Alpine mayors’ association, fumed.
Playing it safe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU resorts to be closed until January 10, making Switzerland — which is outside the bloc and is staying open — the go-to destination for ski fans.
“I am very bitter because I’m convinced the ski stations could reopen safely,” said Giovanni Brasso, a ski lift operator in the Italian Olympic village of Sestriere.