Virus Outbreak China

A worker wearing protective clothing enrolls a patient at a facility for coronavirus vaccinations Friday in Beijing. A city in northern China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Global death toll from COVID-19 tops 2M amid vaccine rollout

The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million Friday as vaccines developed at breakneck speed are being rolled out around the world in an all-out campaign to vanquish the threat.

The milestone was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The number of dead, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna. It is roughly equivalent to the population of the Cleveland metropolitan area or the entire state of Nebraska.

While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and the many fatalities that were inaccurately attributed to other causes, especially early in the outbreak.

It took eight months to hit 1 million dead. It took less than four months after that to reach the next million.

“Behind this terrible number are names and faces — the smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He said the toll “has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort.”

“Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed,” he said.

China builds new quarantine center as virus cases rise

BEIJING | A city in northern China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the annual Lunar New Year travel rush.

State media on Friday showed crews leveling earth, pouring concrete and assembling prefabricated rooms in farmland in an outlying part of Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province, which has seen the bulk of the new cases.

That recalled scenes from early last year, when China rapidly built field hospitals and turned gymnasiums into isolation centers to cope with a then-spiraling outbreak in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019.

The spike in northern China comes as a World Health Organization team prepares to collect data on the origin of the pandemic in Wuhan, which lies to the south. The international team, most of which arrived Thursday, must undergo two weeks of quarantine before it can begin field visits.

Two of the 15 members were held up in Singapore over their health status. One, a British national, was approved for travel Friday after testing negative for the coronavirus, while the second, a Sudanese citizen from Qatar, again tested positive, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

China has largely contained domestic spread of the virus, but the recent spike has raised concern due to the proximity to the capital, Beijing, and the impending rush of people planning to travel large distances to rejoin their families for the Lunar New Year, the country’s most important traditional festival.

Pfizer temporarily reduces European deliveries of vaccine

COPENHAGEN, Denmark | U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed Friday it will temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion doses per year.

The EU Commission chief said she’d immediately called Pfizer’s CEO. But in an indication the issue might go beyond Europe, Canada’s government said it was also affected.

Line Fedders, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Denmark, said that to meet the new 2 billion dose target Pfizer is upscaling production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, which “presupposes adaptation of facilities and processes at the factory which requires new quality tests and approvals from the authorities.”

“As a consequence, fewer doses will be available for European countries at the end of January and the beginning of February,” she said.

“This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Germany’s Health Ministry said Friday Pfizer had informed the European Commission, which was responsible for ordering vaccines from the company, that it won’t be able to fulfill all of the promised deliveries in the coming three to four weeks.

The ministry said German officials took note of the unexpected announcement by the Commission “with regret” because the company had made binding delivery commitments by mid-February.

—From AP reports