UN: Humanitarian needs 'skyrocketing' amid COVID-19

United Nations (UN) officials said today that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the number of people needing humanitarian assistance up by 40% from last year, a record high.

The UN and its partners said the combination of the virus and the secondary impacts of lockdowns and the global recession, including falling incomes, rising food prices, and interrupted vaccination programs, will result in 235 million people worldwide needing humanitarian aid and protection in 2021.

"The COVID-19 crisis has plunged millions of people into poverty and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing," UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a press release. "Next year we will need $35 billion to stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school."

The statements were made in conjunction with the release of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021, a report that sets out humanitarian aid response plans for 56 vulnerable countries. According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the first rise in extreme poverty in 22 years, made life harder for already vulnerable groups, and could wipe out 20 years of progress against HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, potentially doubling annual death tolls from those conditions.

"We can let 2021 be the year of the grand reversal—the unravelling of 40 years of progress—or we can work together to make sure we all find a way out of this pandemic," Lowcock said.

Global case incidence remains high

In its weekly epidemiologic update, the World Health Organization today said that global COVID-19 case incidence remained high, at approximately 4 million new cases for the week, although a slight downward trend was observed. The Region of the Americas was the largest contributor of new weekly cases, followed by the European Region, where a second wave of infections has been surging since September.

But Europe also reported a continued decline in new weekly infections, a trend that's been attributed to the various mitigation measures that European countries have imposed to reduce the spread of the virus.

In France, which has been among the hardest hit European countries in the second wave and has the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 infections in the world, new infections remained below 10,000 for the third day in a row, Reuters reports. That's the first time that's happened since the middle of September. Hospitalizations fell below 28,000 for the first time since Nov 4.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the nationwide lockdown, which began on Oct 30, could be lifted on Dec 15 if the number of new infections falls below 5,000 and the number of patients in intensive care units declines to between 2,500 and 3,000.

In other global COVID-19 developments:

  • Pfizer and BioNTech announced today they were submitting applications for conditional marketing authorization from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for their COVID-19 vaccine, a day after Moderna announced it was applying for European approval of its COVID-19 vaccine. The Associated Press reports that the EMA will meet on Dec 29 to review the safety and efficacy data on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and on Jan 12, 2021, to review the data on Moderna's vaccine.

  • Austria launched a mass COVID-19 testing program for its 9 million citizens today, CNN reports. Austrian officials say the aim of the program is to get a better sense of where active infections are occurring so they can break chains of transmission. Austria has recorded 282,456 infections and 3,184 virus-related deaths.

  • Vietnam will ban commercial flights from entering the country, a day after reporting its first locally transmitted COVID-19 case in more than 80 days, according to the Washington Post. Vietnamese health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said the new infection to was linked to a flight attendant who violated quarantine rules after returning from Japan.

  • Globally, there have been 63,636,008 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 1,476,139 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

This story was corrected on Dec 2 to reflect Emmanuel Macron's correct title (president, not prime minister).

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