Germany hits million cases; Russia, India sign deal for vaccine



BERLIN: Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged its one millionth case on Friday, while Russia signed up India to mass produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.

Although the virus spread is slowing thanks to weeks of tough restrictions, Europe remains at the heart of the pandemic, recording more cases than the United States in the past week.

The pandemic is gaining strength fastest in Asia and Latin America, and is up by a worrying 113 percent over the week in Mexico.

Germany had offered a degree of reassurance when the disease reached Europe from China at the start of the year, showing that reasonable precautions could keep life resembling normal in pandemic times.

But its measured approach failed during the second wave, imperilling 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.

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The country has shuttered restaurants, bars, sporting facilities and — while traditionally opposed to public debt — approved more than 300 billion euros in borrowing to help companies and workers cope.

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 a clutch of promising new vaccine 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 III trials are still underway.

The Russian military also announced that President Vladimir Putin has ordered the mass inoculation of 400,000 servicemen, offering no explanation as to why soldiers are getting Sputnik V first.

The importance of transparent clinical trials was underscored when the pharma giant 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.

Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and 61 million infections have been officially recorded, although real numbers are unknown since testing and reporting methods vary greatly.

With the virus on the march and the rollout of the first vaccines not expected until next month, much of the world faces a gloomy winter under more lockdowns, with increased 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 road blocks 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, with Cyprus announcing a nightly curfew.

Alcohol vendors organised a protest after Turkey — hitting one-day records of 177 deaths and nearly 30,000 infections on Friday — ordered them to close two hours earlier than other shops to help minimise socialising.

“We have reached the point where we cannot afford our rent,” said shop owner Ozdal.

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 making things worse.

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