The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 125.5 million on Friday, a day after President Joe Biden pledged to double his target for shots in arms to 200 million in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Speaking at his first news conference since taking office, Biden said he expects to reach that goal, after his administration succeeded in achieving 100 million shots in just 58 days.
The U.S. is currently administering about 2.5 million shots a day and vaccine supply is expected to be sharply boosted in April.
“I know it’s ambitious — twice our original goal — but no other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we’re doing,” the president told reporters. “I believe we can do it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Thursday, 173.5 million doses had been delivered to states, 133.3 million shots had been administered and 87.3 million people had received at least one dose, equal to 26.3% of the population.
So far, 47.4 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with two doses, equal to 14.3% of the population.
In the over 65-years-old category, 24.6 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 44.8% of that group.
Globally, more than half a billion people have now been vaccinated, according to a New York Times tracker, with Israel leading the push having fully vaccinated 53% of its population.
But many countries have yet to receive a single dose and international agencies continue to clamor for greater vaccine equity and to urge wealthier countries not to sew up supply.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly slammed wealthier countries for hogging vaccines and pointed out that inoculation must cover the entire world to be effective. The WHO has urged developed economies to support its Covax program, which aims to make sure developing countries get their share of supply.
That program was facing a setback Friday in the news that the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, will delay deliveries of doses to Covax in March and April due to increased demand in for vaccines in India where the government is battling a new wave of infections. SII has agreed to make the AstraZeneca AZN,
“COVAX retains its objective of supplying initial doses of vaccines to all participating economies in the first half of the year before ramping up significantly in the second half of 2021,” the WHO said in a statement. “To date, COVAX has shipped vaccines to over 50 countries and economies.”
In Europe, meanwhile, EU leaders bickered on COVID-19 vaccine distribution among member states and gave lukewarm support to a plan to better control the exports of shots to the rest of the world, as new restrictions are looming to avoid a third wave of the pandemic, as MarketWatch’s Pierre Briançon reported.
Leaders wrapped up a second day of debating the issue with a statement that they said “both “underlined the importance of transparency and the use of export authorizations” but also “recognized the importance of global value chains” in the distribution of vaccines.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has suggested a tougher export control on vaccines, noted on Thursday that since December, the EU has exported 77 million doses of vaccines, 21 million of which were destined for the U.K. It has imported none in return.
In other news:
• German Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to put France on the list of high-risk countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. If confirmed today, this would trigger new measures to restrict travel between the two neighboring countries. France is emerging as the problem spot of Europe, and travelers from the country could also soon face new, stricter restrictions to enter the U.K, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned this week.
• The former head of the CDC Robert Redfield said Friday he believes the coronavirus originated in a laboratory in China, repeating a theory that was recently deemed unlikely by a WHO team that visited China. ‘I still think the most likely … is that this pathogen came from a laboratory that escaped,” he told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The virus is understood to have originated in a wet market in the city of Wuhan, and passed from an animal to humans. Redfield stressed that this was his “opinion” and that he was not suggesting “intentionality.”
•Norway is joining Denmark in suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for another three weeks as it continues to investigate reports of a potential link to blood clot-related deaths, the Financial Times reported. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said on Friday that it needed to conduct further studies into the unusual combination of symptoms found in four people who died after taking the AstraZeneca jab: severe blood clots, low level of blood platelets and bleeding. “It is a difficult but correct decision to extend the pause for the AstraZeneca vaccine. We believe it is necessary to carry out more investigations into these cases so we can give the best possible advice,” said Geir Bukholm, infection control director at the institute. Use of the jab was now on hold until April 15, it added.
• Brazil surpassed 100,000 new Covid-19 cases in one day on Thursday, adding another grim record in country where the pandemic has killed more than 300,000 people, AFP reported. At least 12.3 million people are now known to have been infected with the coronavirus in Brazil, making it the second hardest-hit country in the world after the U.S. The toll has risen steadily since February, due to factors including people’s abandoning social distancing norms and a new virus variant that emerged here and is believed to be more contagious than the original strain.
•GlaxoSmithKline PLC GSK,
•More than 40,600 people in England were likely infected with COVID-19 while in hospital being treated for another illness, the Guardian reported. In one in five hospitals at least a fifth of all patients found to have the virus caught it while an inpatient, the paper reported, citing NHS data. octors and hospitals claim that many of the infections were caused by the NHS’s lack of beds and limitations posed by some hospitals being old, cramped and poorly ventilated, as well as health service bosses’ decision that hospitals should keep providing normal care while the second wave was unfolding, despite the potential danger to those receiving non-COVID care.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 125.6 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, with the U.S. accounting for a quarter of that number at more than 30 million.
The death toll rose above 2.75 million with the U.S. accounting for about a fifth, or 546,880. More than 71 million people have recovered from COVID.
Outside of the U.S., Brazil is second globally in cases at 12.3 million and also second with a death toll at 303,462.
India is third worldwide in cases with 11.8 million and fourth in deaths at 160,949.
Mexico is third by deaths at 200,211 and 13th highest by cases at 2.2 million.
The U.K. has 4.3 million cases and 126,684 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,634 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
Americans are the most upbeat about the economy and their own financial well-being since the start of the pandemic, a new survey shows, thanks to declining coronavirus cases and more stimulus payments from Washington, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The final reading of consumer sentiment in March rose to 84.9 points from 83 earlier in the month, according to a survey produced by the University of Michigan. Seldom does the index show such big improvement in the same month.
“Consumer sentiment continued to rise in late March, reaching its highest level in a year due to the third disbursement of relief checks and better than anticipated vaccination progress,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the survey.
The overall consumer sentiment index is still about 16 points below its precrisis peak, however.
Separately. the U.S. trade deficit in goods widened 2.5% to $86.7 billion in February, the Commerce Department said Friday.
Economists expected the deficit to expand this year as the U.S. economy outpaces other advanced economies.
Advanced figures also showed wholesale inventories rose 0.5% in February while retail inventories were flat.
U.S. consumer spending, meanwhile, posted the biggest decline in February in 10 months owing to harsh winter weather and a temporary respite in government stimulus payments, but new federal checks are expected to spawn a rebound in the next few months.
Consumer spending sank 1% last month, the government said Friday, marking the biggest drop since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year. That matched the forecasts of economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.
Outlays had surged a revised 3.4% in January after the government sent out $600 stimulus checks to families and boosted unemployment benefits. So spending was expected to retreat in February.
Incomes tumbled 7.1% last month after leaping 10.1% in January.
The government is sending out $1,400 checks this month to most Americans and that’s expected to boost spending in March and April.