MUNICH: Excursionists cavort on a frozen canal in front of Nymphenburg Palace on Sunday, one day before most parts of Germany come under lockdown.—AP
MUNICH: Excursionists cavort on a frozen canal in front of Nymphenburg Palace on Sunday, one day before most parts of Germany come under lockdown.—AP

LONDON: Britain on Sunday raced against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible while Germany warned of the “hardest” days yet to come with Europe battling to contain soaring coronavirus infections.

January 11 marks one year since China confirmed its first death from Covid-19, a 61-year-old man who was a regular at Wuhan city’s market, where the pandemic emerged before spreading around the world.

Nearly two million deaths later, the pandemic is still thriving, with new variants again prompting governments from Israel to Australia to impose lockdowns, curfews and restrictions — even with mass inoculation drives underway.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that every adult in Britain will be offered a jab by autumn, with officials vaccinating 200,000 people daily in a race to meet a target of 15 million of the most vulnerable by mid-February.

The vaccine drive comes as Britain recorded another 1,035 fatalities from the virus, bringing its deaths to nearly 81,000, one of the highest tolls in Europe.

Soaring cases are forcing UK medical chiefs to try to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and the government to reinforce its campaign for people to abide by stay-at-home orders.

“Of course we are all tired of restrictions, but we must find the collective strength to get through this critical stage and save as many lives as we can,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty wrote in the Sunday Times.

Germany topped 40,000 fatalities on Sunday, the centre for disease control announced. Chancellor Merkel warned in a weekly video message that the country had yet to feel the full impact of socialising over the Christmas and New Year.

The coming weeks will be “the hardest phase of the pandemic” so far, she said, with hospitals stretched to their limits. More than 1.9 million people have been infected so far, with almost 17,000 new cases in Germany since Saturday.

Belgium also passed a significant threshold on Sunday, topping 20,000 deaths, more than half in retirement care homes, health officials said.

With vaccines deemed the only way to end to the health crisis, governments across the globe are ramping up inoculations while being forced to reintroduce economically painful shutdowns and restrictions to curb the virus spread.

Pope Francis and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth became the latest high-profile figures to join the global vaccination campaign as officials try to overcome scepticism over jabs developed in record time.

Pope Francis urged people to get the vaccination and said he would be inoculated himself next week when the Vatican begins its campaign, while denouncing opposition to the jab.

“There is a suicidal denial which I cannot explain, but today we have to get vaccinated,” the pontiff told Canale 5 in an interview.India will launch one of the world’s most ambitious coronavirus free vaccination drives next Saturday, aiming to reach 300 million people by July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. Cuba said it would test its most advanced Covid vaccine candidate in Iran, after Tehran banned the import of already-proven US and British-produced vaccines.

While more vaccine programmes start up, governments are being forced to reintroduce restrictions that helped slow the spread of the virus last year, but badly disrupted their economies.

Israel on Sunday began its first work week since new restrictions were imposed to tighten the third national coronavirus lockdown, which was declared last month.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2021

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