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South Africa's COVID-19 cases, deaths decline as variant spreads globally

By Allen Cone
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South Africa's COVID-19 cases, deaths decline as variant spreads globally
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa receives the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Cape Town on Wednesday as the nation begins a rollout. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/EPA-EFE/pool

Feb. 21 (UPI) -- COVID-19 cases have been declining in South Africa despite the nation battling to contain a more contagious variant that has spread globally.

Worldwide, the virus has killed 2,477,790 people with 111,953,292 cases in tracking by Worldometers.info. The United States continues to lead both categories, surpassing 28 million infections and fewer than 2,000 deaths from 500,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins tracking, ahead of two other North American nations, Brazil at 246,504 and No. 3 Mexico with 179,797. India had been No. 3 with its total now fourth at 156,302.

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On Sunday, the increased deaths in one day were 6,293 with the gain Saturday 8,493.

Cases also increased by 312,711.

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After reaching a peak of 839 fatalities on Jan. 19, South Africa's newly reported deaths have diminished to 113 Sunday. The nation is 14th in the world with 49,053 deaths.

Cases also dropped to 1,429 Sunday from a high of 21,980 on Jan. 8. South Africa ranks 16th worldwide in infections with 1,503,796.

The nation has nearly half Africa's 101,477 fatalities and more than half the 3,854,676 infections.

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Far behind are Egypt with 10,353 deaths, including 48 Saturday and 55 Sunday and Morocco with 8,554, including 6 new ones Sunday

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In early October the variant was first discovered in South Africa when daily fatalities were often fewer than 100 and cases were usually fewer than 2,000.

The strain has been found in more than 30 other countries, including the United States. Several nations have already put in place travel bans though there aren't restrictions across the continent.

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Complicating matters is the main two vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been less effective.

Dr. Richard Mihalgo of the World Health Organization, told PBS: "We are taking this quite very seriously because, from some preliminary data that are starting to emerge, it's clearly showing that the new variant is the force behind the new wave that we are seeing in many countries."

He said WHO and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set up COVID-19 genomic sequencing laboratories in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African countries "to help boost their capacity to detect the new variants."

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Another problem is the rollout of vaccines has been slow. South Africa paused distribution of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine because of ineffectiveness and instead plans to use the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. The nation has received 80,000 doses of the J&J vaccine.

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With a population of 59.8 million people, South Africa has only administered 6,524 shots, according to Bloomberg's tracker.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, last month said 270 million doses have been secured for the continent, which has 1.3 billion people.

"Getting sufficient vaccine supplies in Africa is somehow challenging because most of the companies manufacturing vaccines are based in rich countries. But efforts should be made to ensure Africa is not left behind in the global fight to combat COVID-19," Tharcisse Mpunga, Rwandan state minister for primary health care, told Anadolu Agency.

At the opposite side of the vaccine spectrum, 89% of Israel's population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine or are recovered from the virus, according to government data.

Overall, more than four million Israelis, which is about 46% of the country's total population, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 2.8 million have received both doses.

The virus has been dissipating in the nation from a high of 101 deaths on Jan. 20 to 51 Sunday. And cases have gone from a peak of 11,316 on Sept. 23 to 5,530

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The totals are 5,577 deaths and 750,43 cases.

On Thursday, Israel's Health Ministry launched the "Green Pass" certificate, which will enable those vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to take part in various reopened activities starting Sunday.

"The vaccinated and recovered will be able to enter gyms, events, hotels and synagogues that are registered under the Green Pass certificate from Sunday," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. "This is how the first stage will look in the return to your almost normal lives."

Israel had been in its third lockdown with most schools and businesses and government services, including libraries, closed.

Israel is considered part of Asia -- which has recorded 391,641 deaths and is fourth among the continents, and 24,496,502 cases, which is third.

The only Asian nation in the top 10 is India, which has dramatically declined from a record 1,283 deaths to 90 Sunday. And cases, which peaked at 97,859, were down to 14,264 for a total of 10,991,651, second behind the United States.

The nation requires mask wearing in public.

"There's nothing unusual about infections dropping in India. There's no miracle here," Dr. Shahid Jameel, a leading virologist, told the BBC.

"We still don't have causal explanations. But we do know India as a nation is far from herd immunity," says Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan who has been closely tracking the pandemic.

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India, which has the second-greatest population in the world at 1.4 billion, has administered 10.8 million vaccine doses though the nation hopes to inoculate about one-quarter of the population, including medical personnel.

The Serum Institute of India is manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and has contracts with three other developers: Novavax, Codagenix and SpyBiotech.

Though the virus originated in mainland China, the nation has reported only a few deaths since April and stands at 4,636 behind Bosnia and Herzegovina in 50th. China added seven cases Sunday.

More than 43 million doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine have been distributed, including 34 million in China, which leads the world with a population of 1.4 billion.

Also in Far East Asia, Japan and South Korea are beginning to roll out vaccines.

On Wednesday, Japan began inoculating an initial group of health workers. And people aged 65 or older will start to be vaccinated in April.

Japan has reported 7,417 deaths, including 84 Sunday with the record 120. Cases are 1,196 with the record 7,882.

In South Korea, health officials plan to begin vaccinations Friday with Astra-Zeneca and one day later with the Pfizer dose.

The nation initially secured 117,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine for medical staff with Astra-Zeneca to be used for staff members and patients under 65.

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South Korea's record is 40 deaths on Dec. 29 with four announced Sunday for a total of 1,557, as well as 418 cases, behind the mark of 1,241 on Dec. 25.

Europe remains the continent with the most deaths at 791,080 and is fewer than 200,000 cases ahead of North America with 32,974,707.

In Europe, six nations are in the top 10 for most deaths: No. 5 Britain at 120,580, No. 6 Italy at 95,718, No. 7 France at 84,306, No. 8 Russia at 83,293, No. 9 Germany at 68,443 and No. 10 Spain at 67,101. Also in the top 20 is Poland in 16th with 42,171.

Two weeks ago, deaths on the continent rose by 29,890, compared with 24,536 over the past week.

Fatalities have been declining despite the emergence of the more contagious B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant that originated in Britain.

Britain reported a high of 1,820 deaths on Jan. 20 but they had dropped to 215 Sunday. New cases have been dramatically dropping from a peak of 68,053 on Jan. 8 to 9,834 most recently.

Britain has administered 17.9 million vaccines for its population of 66.7 million. Britain was the first country to authorize the vaccine jointly produced by U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech in December. The nation also approved the other main vaccine, U.S.-based Moderna, but supplies are not expected to be available in Britain until later in the spring.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been spending the weekend developing a "roadmap" for easing the lockdown in Britain, including reopening schools.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the government is "crunching the numbers" ahead of an expected announcement Monday.

On Saturday, Italy marked the one-year anniversary of the first reported case with church services and other commemorations also Sunday. Italy quickly became the epicenter of the virus.

Since then, the nation has recorded 2,809,246 infections, as well as 95,718 deaths. Italy reported 232 deaths Sunday, compared with a record 993 Dec. 3, and 13,452 cases after a record 40,896 on Nov. 13.

On Sunday, the regions of Campania, which includes Naples, as well as Emilia Romagna and Molise face tougher COVID-19 restrictions from lower-risk "yellow zones" to medium-risk "orange zones."

"The UK [variant] is more widespread and will become dominant, but we must do everything to limit the others," Silvio Brusaferro, of Italy's public health institute, said in a report by Wanted in Rome on Friday.

The nation has vaccinated 3.4 million of its 60.4 million population.

France, with a population of 65.4 million, has administered 3.7 million vaccines.

The nation reported 183 deaths Saturday after 932 on Nov. 13, which was the most since a record of 1,437 in April. In addition, there were 22,371 cases after a record 86,852 on Oct. 31.

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On Sunday, France reported 159 deaths and 22,046 cases for a total of 3.6 million infections and 84,306 live lost.

Summer festivals will take place with spectators but will be limited to 5,000, the government announced Thursday.

Russia announced 417 deaths and 12,742 cases Sunday after records of 635 fatalities and 29,935 infections on Dec. 4, ranking fourth overall in cases with 4,164,726.

On Friday, Russia has approved its third domestically produced coronavirus vaccine developed by state-run Chumakov Center though Phase 3 trials don't begin until next month.

Germany is in ninth place in deaths, including 100 Sunday after moving from 14th in late December with 30,502. Germany posted a single-day record of 1,244 deaths and 31,553 cases in December with 6,098 infections reported Sunday.

Germany has administered 4.9 million vaccines among its population of 84 million.

"For too long the country basked in the glow of its early success," the left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung said in an editorial. "Now the coronavirus has laid bare that Germany has dramatic deficits; in its governance, in its administration and with its politicians."

Germany's lockdown has been extended to March 7 though schools in some states will reopen earlier.

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Spain, which doesn't report data on the weekend, reported 397 deaths Friday, lower than a winter peak of 766 Feb. 6 and a record 996 April 2. Cases reported were 11,435, behind the mark of 35,118 in January.

Despite the surge, some of the country's regions began rolling back restrictions, including later curfews.

"In the third wave, the descent has been very fast, but it is also true that it has been more evident in regions where tougher measures have been taken," Health Minister Carolina Darias said Thursday during a commission hearing in the Congress of Deputies.

Spain has restricted travel from Brazil and South Africa, where variants have been detected.

Brazil is among four nations from South America in the top 15 for most deaths. Besides Brazil in second, Colombia is in 12th with 58,834, Argentina in 13th with 51,198 and Peru in 15th with 45,097.

On Saturday, Brazil reported 1,051 deaths compared with a record 1,554 and 57,455 cases vs. a record 87,134.

On Sunday, it reported 554 deaths and 29,026 cases.

Overall, the continent has reported 454,079 deaths and 17,432,455 cases.

Brazil has administered 6.6 million doses for its population of 215 million.

Supply issues have forced a pause in vaccinations in Rio de Janeiro, which has a population of 6.7 million, and several other Brazilian cities. Critics are blaming mismanagement by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has contracted coronavirus but vowed not to take a shot himself.

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The United States is banning non-U.S. citizens from traveling from Brazil.

Also, a travel ban has existed since March between Mexico, the United States and Canada for non-essential movement. The current ban lasts through March 21 after it was extended one month on Friday.

On Saturday, Mexico had 832 deaths after a record 1,803 Jan. 21. Cases were 7,785 after the record 22,339 Jan. 21. Four days last week deaths exceed 1,000 with a high of 1,329 Wednesday.

Although Mexico was the first Latin American nation to begin vaccinations, the country has only inoculated 1.6 million of its 130 million population.

On Saturday, Mexico's coronavirus czar, Mexican Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, posted on Twitter he has tested positive for COVIS-19.

North America has the second-most deaths of the continents, 738,414, behind Europe, and the second-most cases with 32,974,707 cases, slightly behind Europe.

All but around 26,000 of the total deaths in North America are in Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

Canada is 21st in the world with 21,674 deaths, including 44 Sunday, as well as 2,351 cases. Canada set a record for deaths, 257, on Dec. 29, and cases, 11,383, on Jan. 3.

The North American nation has a total of 845,652 cases.

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Canada has administered 1.4 million doses among its 37.9 million population.

Canada, with 1.9% of its population getting its first dose, is at a much slower pace than the United States at 12.9%. The United States leads the world with 61.3 million shots administered.

Canada has been dealing with shipping delays and disruptions from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said provinces are preparing to roll out almost a million and a half doses over the next three weeks, which is about the level in the United States of 1.7 million daily.

Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 1,084 deaths and 50,739 cases.

New Zealand's deaths increased by 1 to 26 on Tuesday, the first since Sept. 16 and Australia's toll stands at 909 with the last two deaths occurring on Nov. 30 and Dec. 29.

New Zealand reported no cases Sunday, tallying 20 in one week, for a total of 2,350, and Australia was up six Sunday for 28,926, an increase of 28 in seven days.

Australia officially begins vaccinating residents on Monday though Prime Minister Scott Morrison received a Pfizer shot Sunday during a public appearance on television. Some frontline health workers and care home residents received vaccines Sunday. The nation's medical regulator last week granted provisional approval for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca.

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At the Australian Open in Melbourne, crowds weren't allowed during a five-day lockdown that ended Wednesday due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

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