MAIN FRANKFURT AM: Germany on Friday passed two million coronavirus cases as the World Health Organization’s emergency committee prepares to issue suggestions to stem the spread of a new, more contagious strain of disease.
Europe’s biggest economic boom comes as countries on the continent have again tightened restrictions, with Portugal entering a new lockdown and Britain requiring a negative test to enter.
Despite the launch of a vaccine – India’s giant program is due to kick off on Saturday – many countries are doubling down on efforts to stop a pandemic that has now claimed nearly two million lives.
New population curbs were announced from Brazil to Lebanon, and Mexico has been hit by the deadliest week of the pandemic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday pushed for “significant” tightening of restrictions to slow infection rates as the European Union’s most populous nation added more than 22,000 new cases.
The chancellor said he wanted to carry crisis talks with regional leaders into the coming week, attendees at a meeting of the center-right CDU party told AFP.
They quoted his statement as saying that the virus could only be stopped by “significant additional measures” and that people were urgently needed to reduce social contact.
At the Meissen crematorium in the state of Saxony, coffins were piled up to three high or even stored in an aisle awaiting cremation. The eastern region has become one of the worst hit regions in Germany in recent weeks.
Manager Joerg Schaldach, 57, said anyone who still denied the severity of the pandemic should come and take a look at the piled up bodies.
“This is tough work, so why don’t the Covid-19 deniers come and do it,” he said.
“We are facing a catastrophic situation here.”
Germany fared better than many of its European neighbors in the pandemic, with France, Italy, Spain and Britain recording more infections despite smaller populations.
Britain on Thursday said it would ban all arrivals from South American countries from Friday over concerns about importing a new strain of the coronavirus.
“I have taken an urgent decision … to follow evidence of a new variant in Brazil,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter.
The new strain, known as E484K, has raised awareness among researchers of its possible impact on immunity.
London will also start Friday asking all arrivals to show evidence of clean coronavirus tests taken in the past 72 hours to enter the country.
Brazil’s northern Amazonas state announced a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. as the health system pushed to a breaking point in the state capital Manaus.
Global health experts are expected on Friday to issue recommendations to stem the spread of this variant and other new strains, which the WHO has called “alarming.”
WHO emergency committees usually gather every three months but meetings move forward in two weeks.
“When you first met nearly a year ago, only 557 cases of the disease that we now call Covid-19 have been reported to WHO,” said director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his opening remarks at Thursday’s emergency meeting.
Scientists say large-scale vaccination is the only way out of the crisis but 95 percent of the doses given so far are restricted to 10 countries, the WHO’s European branch said.
Progress in vaccine delivery is often slow, as in the United States, where about 10 million people have received their first injection, even 4,000 people die from the virus each day.
American policymakers on Thursday focused on tackling the economic damage from the pandemic, with President-elect Joe Biden announcing proposals for a $ 1.9 trillion aid package aimed at revitalizing the world’s largest economy.
Biden aims to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, help struggling state and local governments reopen schools safely, ramp up vaccination campaigns and increase the size of stimulus checks that Congress approved last month.
“At this time of crisis … we cannot tolerate inaction,” said Biden.