Despite growing vaccine access, January is looking grim around the globe as the coronavirus resurges and reshapes itself from Britain to Japan to California, filling hospitals and threatening livelihoods anew as governments lock down businesses and race to find solutions.
England headed back into lockdown. Mexico City”s hospitals hold more virus patients than ever. Germany reported one of its highest daily death tolls to date Tuesday. South Africa and Brazil are struggling to find space for the dead. Even pandemic success story Thailand is fighting an unexpected wave of infections.
And as doctors face or brace for rising numbers of COVID-19 patients after end-of-year holiday gatherings, more and more countries are reporting cases of a new, more contagious variant that has already swept across Britain. J
anuary is going to be “a tough one,” said Dr Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.
“This idea that seems to be ”Ah, we”re all sick of it. We want to look at something else. Oh, this doesn”t apply to me” … that”s got to go away. It really is all hands on deck.”
While Britain rolled out a second vaccine this week and some US states are starting to give the second round of shots, access to inoculations globally is sharply unequal. The supply isn”t remotely close to meeting the epic demand needed to vanquish a foe that has already killed over 1.85 million people.
“We are in a race to prevent infections, bring cases down, protect health systems and save lives while rolling out two highly effective and safe vaccines to high-risk populations,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is not easy.
These are the hard miles.” England is facing a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections and relieve hospitals, where some patients are left waiting in ambulances in a parking lot for access to overcrowded wards.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson”s tough new stay-at-home order for England took effect at midnight. It will shut schools, restaurants and all nonessential stores and won”t be reviewed until at least mid-February. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown that began Tuesday.
The two leaders said the restrictions are needed to protect the National Health Service amid the emergence of the new variant that has sent daily infections, hospitalizations and deaths soaring. The NHS “is going through probably the toughest time in living memory,″ said Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst of the King”s Fund think tank.
Elsewhere in Europe, Italy and Germany extended their Christmastime lockdowns, Spain is restricting travel, and Denmark lowered the number of people who can gather in public from 10 to five. France is likely to announce tougher measures Thursday, and Ukraine is closing schools and restaurants starting Friday.
In Latin America, some warn the worst is yet to come. “The boost we are experiencing here in Brazil is much more serious than what was happening months ago,” said Domingos Alves, an adjunct professor at the University of Sao Paulo.
Brazil”s number of patients in intensive care reached its highest level since August, just as the nation reopened shops and offices after the end-of-year holidays — and the vast country still hasn”t approved or received any vaccines. Some Brazilian hospitals reinstalled refrigerated containers outside to hold the corpses of COVID-19 victims.
Mexico”s capital has more virus patients than at any point in the pandemic and is flying in doctors from less hard-hit states. Its beach resorts are readying for more cases after thousands of U.S. and European tourists visited over the holidays.