US President Joe Biden on Friday said “well over 600,000” Americans could die of the coronavirus as he stepped up federal aid in the world’s worst-hit country, while less wealthy nations anticipated better access to tests and vaccines thanks to several international deals.
“The virus is surging. We’re at 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000,” Biden told a news conference, giving his highest estimate yet for the US outbreak’s eventual toll.
His new administration boosted stimulus handouts as well as payments to help families buy food, with more poor children going hungry after the school lunches they depended on disappeared as classrooms shuttered.
“The American people can’t afford to wait,” said Brian Deese of the White House’s National Economic Council, adding that many people were “hanging by a thread.”
Various US states meanwhile grappled with vaccine distribution, with New York reporting its supply of shots would run out Friday.
The country marked its third consecutive day of more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths, bringing the overall count to 413,000 with 24.8 million confirmed infections.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new strain of the virus that has swept his country and beyond could be more deadly as well as more transmissible, with the variant having spread to more than 60 countries already.
Around the world, there were new signs of the depth of damage dealt to the economy, with the closely watched PMI index showing that Europe is heading for a new recession, and Latin America suffering its steepest drop in foreign trade since the global financial crisis.
– Hungarian rebellion –
As vaccine rollouts gain pace around the world, Hungary announced it was going it alone and buying two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, frustrated by the European Union’s unwieldy strategy of buying shots in bulk on behalf of members.
“It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mouse,” Orban said of the different vaccines, despite wariness from some experts over the fact that Sputnik V was rolled out before large-scale clinical trials.
Brazil was meanwhile due to receive two million doses of a different jab developed by British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly warned that richer countries are hogging the vaccine.
But there was good news Friday for poorer nations, as the WHO and pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer announced a deal for up to 40 million initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be made available to them through the Covax global pool.
“We can only end the pandemic anywhere if we end it everywhere,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
A separate deal, brokered by international agencies working with the WHO, will supply developing nations with tens of millions of rapid antigen tests at half the usual $5 price.