Dec. 27 (UPI) — European Union nations on Sunday began mass inoculations of a vaccine to curb the spread of COVID-19 that has led to confirmed cases of more than 1 percent of the world’s 7.8 billion population.
The pandemic has grown to 80,944,933 infections and 1,769,932 fatalities, according to tracking by Worldometers.info since the first cases were announced one year ago in Mainland China.
On Sunday, the 27 European Union nations received doses of the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and unofficially dubbed “V-Day.” Plans are to inoculate 450 million of the 741.4 million people.
About 12.5 million doses of the vaccine will arrive in EU countries before the end of this year as part of a 300-million dose bulk order signed by the European Commission. Contracts have also been signed by five other drugmakers of 1.1 billion.
In Europe, a total of 521,327 people have died and 22,682,606 have been infected, more than any other continent. And a new strain of COVID-19 is spreading through Britain during the height of the winter season.
The rate of infection is higher in Europe at 2% with the death toll at 520 per million. The global death toll is 226.7 per 1 million.
For months, the United States has led the world with 332,000 deaths and 19 million cases. In the U.S., the cases percentage is nearly 6% with the death rate per million 1,024.
On Monday, the EU authorized the vaccine, which includes two spaced out doses per person and must be stored in ultra-low temperatures.
“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen posted Saturday on Twitter. “The vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries.”
Slovakia and Germany began vaccinations Saturday. Germany ranks 14th with the most deaths at 30,280, including 123 Sunday and a record 944 on Tuesday. Slovakia is 51st with 1,773 fatalities.
On Sunday, vaccinations began in the large nations of Italy, Spain, France and Portugal.
Being given priority are healthcare workers, nursing home residents and elderly.
Czech Republic’s Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, was the first person in the country to receive the vaccine.
In Italy, the first five people to be given it were frontline medical and research workers.
Italy has received 9,750 doses.
The nation, which became an epicenter after China, has the fifth-most deaths at 71,925 behind the United States at more than 300,000, Brazil at 190,815, India at 147,343 and Mexico at 122,026. The nation added 305 deaths Sunday, behind the record 993 on Dec. 3 and 8,913 cases Sunday, compared with the record 40,896 infections Nov. 13.
In France, a 78-year-old former housekeeper named Mauricette received the first dose at a public hospital in greater Paris. Second was a 65-year-old cardiologist, Dr. Jean-Jacques Monsuez
The French government plans to vaccinate 1 million people by the end of February, with a focus on the oldest, the most vulnerable and caregivers, at no charge.
France has the seventh-most deaths at 62,746, including 173 Sunday. The death record is 932 on Nov. 13 that was the most since a record of 1,437 in April with a record 86,852 cases on Oct. 31. Sunday’s cases were 8,822.
In Spain, the first person to be vaccinated was a 96-year-old resident in a nursing home with the second a staff member at the same home. The nation is 10th in the world at 49,824 deaths with no data reported over the weekend.
Britain, which left the European Union in January, was first the first nation in the world to begin distributing the vaccine on Dec. 8 with the first dose going to a 90-year-old grandmother.
Through Dec. 20, a total of 616,933 people have received the vaccine, according to the British government.
Like other European nations, Britain has experienced a surge in cases and deaths. On Wednesday, Britain recorded 744 deaths, which was the highest since April, including the record 1,166 that month. Cases reached a record 39,036 on Thursday. Sunday’s deaths were 316 and cases were 30,501.
Britain’s Office for National Statistics estimates about two-thirds of people testing positive in London, southeast England and the east of England could have the new variant.
Seven days ago, Britain went into a Tier 4 lockdown, including banning activities during Christmas, amid a newly identified strain of COVID-19 that a top health official describes as “out of control.”
Subsequently, several European nations banned or controlled travel from Britain.
But cases of the more contagious variant have been confirmed in several European countries, including Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and France, plus Canada and Japan.
Russia developed its own vaccine, called Sputnik V, and began inoculations earlier this month, starting with the most vulnerable people in Moscow.
Russia set a record for daily deaths on Thursday, 635, and passed Iran for seventh in the world at 54,778, including 552 Sunday. The nation has the fourth-most cases at 3,050,248, including 28,284 Sunday after a record 29,935 Thursday.
Although COVID-19 originated in Asia, the continent has the fourth-most deaths at 332,002 and third-most cases at 20,361,798.
Mainland China hasn’t reported a death since April 26 and has dropped to 42nd place with 4,634, behind Guatemala with 4,656 and Austria with 5,35. It added 22 cases Sunday.
The capital, Beijing, is testing 800,000 residents after detecting two locally transmitted cases Friday. Subsequently, the testing has so far identified five more infections.
South Korea and Japan have been experiencing record cases although at numbers far below other countries in the world.
Japan recorded a record 63 deaths Friday and added 40 more Sunday for a total of 3,287, including 13 on a cruise ship, and 2,949 cases one day after a record 3,881 for a total of 222,093. On Friday, Japan reported five people tested positive for the highly contagious new variant through airport screening when they arrived in Japan from Britain between Dec. 18 and Monday, the ministry said.
On Monday, Japan will ban new entry into the country of nonresident foreign nationals from around the world. The nation has confirmed its first cases of the variants.
Tokyo already barred entry to foreign nationals who have recently been to Britain and South Africa.
South Korea will extend social distancing rules until Jan. 3, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a briefing on Sunday. Seoul Metropolitan Area is at the second-highest level of required social distancing with the rest of the country at the third-highest level.
On Thursday, South Korea reported a record 1,216 local and 25 imported infections. The total number of infections is 56,872, while the death toll at 808, including 15 more Sunday.
India and Iran are in the top 10 for most deaths.
On Sunday, India reported 279 deaths, the second day in a row it was under 300.
And its cases were 18,732, the lowest since June and 12th day in a row under 30th, for a total of 10,169,118, second in the world behind the U.S.
The nation, which has the second-biggest population in the world with 1.37 billion, plans to vaccinate 300 million people with the first vaccine doses from three candidates. These include 30 million essential workers and 270 million who are vulnerable.
Serum Institute of India is collaborating with the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine. The SII has already manufactured 40 million doses of the vaccine.
Iran is in ninth place for most deaths at 54,693, including 119 Sunday after a record 486 on Nov. 16 and 5,502 cases after a record 14,051 on Nov. 27. In Brazil, trials are underway for Pfizer’s vaccine that will be free though President Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who contracted the virus, said he won’t get it because he said side effects could turn people who take it into “crocodiles.”
“If you become superhuman, if a woman starts to grow a beard or if a man starts to speak with an effeminate voice, they will not have anything to do with it,” Bolsonaro said.
Cases have been spiking in Brazil with 68,437 reported Dec. 16 and twice last week more than 50,000. Between mid-August and late November, it hadn’t exceeded 50,000. The high was 70,869 on July 29. Saturday’s increase was 17,246 and the total of 7,465,806 is third in the world.
On Saturday, 300 deaths were reported after surpassing four digits on Dec. 17 with 1,054. The high was 1,554 on July 29.
South America has the third-most deaths, 355,933, and fourth-most cases, 12,856,852.
The continent has three spots in the top 20 for most deaths: Argentina in 11th with 42,501, Colombia in 12th with 41,943, Peru in 13th with 37,414. Chile, which is 21st with 16,404, became the first nation in South America to begin vaccinating with the Pfizer-BioNTech drug Thursday with the first five health workers.
It will be the fourth nation in Latin America after Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica, which is 66th with 2,086 deaths.
“Mexico is the first country in Latin America to have this vaccine,” Mexico’s president said in the news briefing Thursday. “Pfizer is fulfilling its commitment.”
The head of nursing at an ICU unit in Mexico City’s General Hospital received the first dose during the live news briefing. Close to 3,000 were vaccinated that day.
Mexico is expected to ship 50,000 more doses this week.
Also in North America, the U.S. and Canada have been vaccinating people.
In North America, Mexico reported 627 cases Saturday ranking 13th with 1,313,675 infections, including 12,129, Sunday, close to a record 12,253 last week.
Mexico reported 189 deaths Saturday, compared with a high of 1,092 on June 4 in fourth place. Cases were 4,974 two days after record 12,485.
Canada is 23rd in the world for deaths at 14,800, including 81 Saturday. On Wednesday, there were 172 fatalities, which is the most since a record 222 on May 31. The cases are 541,616, including 6,403 additional infections on Saturday after a record 8,119 on Dec. 14. Between May 26 and Aug. 30 cases were never more than 1,000.
On Thursday, Canada received its first shipment of Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. In all, there will be 168,000 doses by the end of the month with 40 million total guaranteed. Canada joined the U.S. as the first nations to approve this vaccine.
Canada has already been administering the Pfizer vaccine to healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities but the Moderna vaccine doesn’t have to be stored in as cold conditions as the Pfizer one.
“The different storage and handling requirements of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine mean that it can be distributed to isolated and remote communities, including the territories,” Health Canada said this week.
Canada, Mexico and the U.S. remain in a mutual travel ban through Jan. 21.
All but around 18,000 of the total 496,771 deaths in North America are in those three nations. The total number of cases: 22,369,880. North America is second behind Europe in those categories.
Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 1,052 deaths and 47,867.
New Zealand’s deaths have remained at 25 since Sept. 16 and Australia’s toll has stayed at 908 since Nov. 30.
New Zealand reported 16 cases Sunday, tallying 28 in one week, for a total of 2,144 and Australia was up 15 Sunday for 28,312, an increase of 140 in seven days.
In New South Wales, more than 250,000 people are in lockdown.
A decision on whether public New Year’s Eve festivities could take place in Sydney would come by Wednesday, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
On Sunday, Northern Beaches will be again barred from indoor gatherings after a three-day reprieve during Christmas time.
Antarctica recorded its first COVID-19 case after 36 people, 26 army personnel and 10 civilians, tested positive on a research base, according to a statement released by the Chilean Army last week.
The continent’s population varies between 1,000 and 5,000 depending on the season.
In Africa, there have been 62,832 deaths, which increased by 3,300 in one week and 2,675,178 cases.
South Africa leads the continent with 26,735 deaths, which is 16th in the world, including 214 Sunday followed by Egypt at 7,352 after gaining 43 more Saturday and Morocco at 7,204 with an additional 34 Saturday. South Africa has the 18th-most cases in the world at 994,911 including 11,552 more Saturday, behind the record 14,796 Friday.
On Thursday, Africa and Nigerian Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a new strain that is different than the ones found in South Africa and Britain, has been found in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country but only 1,247 deaths.