COVID cases surge in South American, European hot spots

Oxygen tanks in warehouse

A number of global COVID-19 hot spots in South America and Europe reported new daily records, including Brazil, Chile, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) officials today repeated an urgent call for 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for countries that haven't started vaccinating health workers and other vulnerable groups.

Surges affecting broad age-groups

At a WHO briefing today, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the group's technical lead for COVID-19, said six of Brazil's states are in critical condition, and most states have intensive care unit (ICU) occupancies of more than 90%. She said more than 6,000 COVID-19 patients in Brazil are waiting for ICU beds.

Van Kerkhove said the more transmissible P1 SARS-CoV-2 variant is predominant in 13 of Brazil's 26 states, and the rise in ICU occupancy involves all age-groups.

Yesterday, Brazil reported a record daily high number of deaths, with 3,869 fatalities, according to Reuters.

Elsewhere in South America, Chile reported a new single-day high for new cases, with 7,830 reported, and the government today announced new restrictions, including closing its borders in an attempt to slow the spread of variant viruses, according to Reuters. The country has vaccinated about 35% of its population, but cases have spiked in recent weeks in the wake of summer holidays. Much of the country is under lockdown to ease the pressure on ICUs.

In Europe, officials from the WHO's European regional office said yesterday that the region is at the most worrying point in the past few months, with variants spreading at a time when people are celebrating religious holidays, hospitals are feeling pressure, and countries are struggling with vaccine deployment.

Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, who directs the WHO's European regional office, said, "Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. Not only do they work, they are also highly effective in preventing infection. However, the roll-out of these vaccines is unacceptably slow."

Officials said cases in Europe are increasing in all age groups, except for those ages 80 and older, reflecting an early sign of the vaccine's impact.

Officials called on countries to take early public health measures based on health data while vaccination coverage grows. They noted that 27 countries in the European region are in partial or full lockdown, with 21 ordering night curfews. Currently, 23 have stepped up their restrictions, while 13 have eased measures.

Bulgaria and Turkey are among the countries in Europe reporting new daily highs for cases, while others including Ukraine and Hungary reported new daily highs for deaths.

Renewed push for vaccine donations

At today's WHO briefing, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, repeated his urgent request for countries to share 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, a stop-gap measure that would help 20 countries begin to start vaccinating health workers and older people.

Earlier this year, Tedros set out a goal to begin vaccination in all countries by the 100th day of the year, which falls on Apr 10. He also asked vaccine makers to help ensure that countries can donate the doses.

"This challenge has been heard but we’re yet to receive commitments for these doses," he said, while also acknowledging that rising cases and hospitalizations pose challenges for many countries.

In a related development, yesterday the WHO announced that Carl Bildt, Sweden's former prime minister, has been appointed as a special envoy to the ACT Accelerator, a mechanism to speed the development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics and ensure their equitable access. Bildt will be mobilizing support and resources for the effort.

In other global headlines:

  • In the Middle East, Iraq yesterday reported a record 6,664 new cases, and Jordan reported a new daily record for deaths, with 111 new fatalities.

  • Australia's 3-day lockdown for the city of Brisbane ended, following the identification of a new local cluster. Only one new case was reported, quelling fears of a wider outbreak, according to Reuters.

  • Italy yesterday announced that all health workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19, a move designed to protect patients and counter antivaccine sentiment, according to Reuters. The controversial move comes amid the recent detection of clusters in hospitals where health workers refused the vaccine.

  • The global total today topped 129 million cases, rising to 129,259,761 cases, along with 2,821,004 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

This week's top reads