Global COVID-19 cases top 133 million as Brazil and India become flashpoints

The number of global confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 133 million on Thursday, and the death toll edged closer to 3 million, as India and Brazil became flashpoints amid record death levels and concerns about the spread of more infectious variants.

Brazil reported almost 4,200 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, the highest number in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The country has struggled to contain the P.1 variant and is now also dealing with the variant first found in South Africa.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his cavalier approach to the crisis, which has left Brazil with the second highest case number in the world after the U.S., according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and the second-highest death toll. Brazil’s population, at some 212 million, is about two-thirds that of the U.S.

Officials in Brazil’s most populous city, São Paulo, say they are now adding 600 new graves to municipal cemeteries each day.

India has the third highest case load and fourth highest death toll, the Johns Hopkins data show. India counted more than 126,000 new cases on Thursday, a record one-day surge. The country of 1.36 billion people is reported to be short of vaccines to the tune of about 700 million, after exporting doses made by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

The government is blaming the spike on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as shops and offices have reopened, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi received his second jab of a two-dose regimen on Thursday.

Europe’s vaccine woes continued on Thursday, with Spain and Italy opting to limit use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University to people aged over 60, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. That is expected to further slow the European Union’s sluggish immunization program, which lags countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Israel. The U.S. and U.K. have been criticized as having hogged vaccines with both countries slow to export doses.

Italy and Spain made the decision on Wednesday after the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, said it had found a possible link between AstraZeneca’s AZN, +2.22% AZN, +2.03% vaccine and very rare cases of blood-clotting issues in adults. The EMA recommended no age restrictions, as it stressed that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

Last month, French and German health officials restricted the use of the AstraZeneca shot for the over-55s and over-60s, respectively, following concerns over unusual blood clotting in some recipients.

The U.S. added 73,200 new cases on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 2,564 people died. That death toll is artificially boosted by “many deaths from unspecified days,” the tracker is showing.

But the seven-day average of 65,556 cases is up 14% from the 14-day average, a trend that has health experts worried as more younger people fall ill and are contracting more infectious variants.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the U.K., is now the most dominant form of the coronavirus circulating in the U.S. Walensky said that communities with high rates of community transmission should no longer allow youth sports that take place indoors or don’t allow six feet of spacing. She also said large events in those communities should be deferred.

Australia recommends the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for people younger than 50 in preference to the shot made by AstraZeneca, the government said on Thursday, changing its advice for those deemed most at risk, Reuters reported. The move is a hurdle for Australia’s faltering inoculation effort, which relies heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia would advise health providers to only give a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to adults younger than 50 when the benefit clearly outweighs the risks. Those who have already had a first AstraZeneca dose without any serious adverse events “can safely be given their second dose,” he said.

Medical regulators in Slovakia said that doses of the Russian vaccine dubbed Sputnik V that have been received did “not have not have the same characteristics and properties” as the version of Sputnik V reviewed by prestigious medical journal the Lancet, the New York Times reported. A peer-reviewed article in the journal that was published in February found Sputnik V to be 91% effective against the virus, a statistic that helped persuade Slovakia to become one of just two EU member countries to use it.

The vaccine maker, the Moscow research institute Medgamal, appeared unimpressed by the claims:

The death toll from COVID-19 has passed 100,000 in Scotland, according to figures from the National Records of Scotland, as reported by the Guardian. Figures from the records bureau show 38 deaths relating to COVID-19 were registered between March 29 and April 4, bringing the total number of fatalities up to Sunday to 9,997. Since then, six deaths have been recorded in the daily figures from Public Health Scotland, PA Media reports.

Eli Lilly & Co. LLY, +0.12% and Incyte Corp. INCY, -0.62% said Thursday a Phase 3 trial of rheumatoid arthritis treatment baricitinib plus standard of care (SoC) versus placebo plus SoC failed to meet its main goal. The trial’s primary endpoint was defined as a difference in the number of patients needing noninvasive ventilation including high flow oxygen, or invasive mechanical ventilation or death by Day 28. Patients treated with baricitinib were 2.7% less likely than those receiving standard of care to progress to ventilation or death, a difference that was not statistically significant. The trial, involving 1,525 patients, showed 38% reduction in mortality by Day 28 in patients that were treated with baricitinib plus standard of care, including corticosteroids and remdesivir.

Church leaders and the government in France expressed indignation Tuesday after images showed a major church in Paris holding a packed Easter service, with few masks worn and without social distancing in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, AFP reported. The outcry over the service at Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile in the 9th arrondissement comes on the heels of an explosive television report on secret high-end restaurants were flouting rules and operating in the French capital. Paris prosecutors told AFP that that an investigation had been opened into accusations of putting the lives of others at risk over the religious service.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 133 million on Thursday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.89 million.

Almost 76 million people have recovered from COVID.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 30.9 million, or about a quarter of the global tally, and fatalities, at 559,494.

Brazil has had 13.2 million cases and a death toll of 340,776.

India’s case total is 12.9 million, with 166,862 fatalities.

Mexico is third by deaths at 205,598 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has had 4.4 million cases and 127,224 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,963 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be underreported.
What’s the economy saying?

Initial jobless-benefit claims filed through U.S. states rose by 16,000 to 744,000 in the week ended April 3, the Labor Department said Thursday, as MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

Weekly claims averaged around 220,000 in the year before COVID-19’s arrival.

Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims would fall to 694,000.

Claims were revised up to 728,000 in the prior week from the prior estimate of 719,000.

Another 151,752 applications for benefits were filed last week through a temporary relief program.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.11% was down slightly Thursday, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.39% reached a new intraday record.

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