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WHO says UK strain in over 60 countries as Biden mourns Covid-19 victims

  • Published at 09:54 pm January 20th, 2021
Jil and Joe Biden
US President-elect Joe Biden and wife Dr. Jill Biden attend a Covid-19 Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2021 AFP

The President-elect Joe Biden has made tackling the pandemic his top priority, as he prepares to take office

The UK coronavirus strain has spread to at least 60 countries, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday, after US President-elect Joe Biden led a moving tribute to American victims.

Covid-19 has claimed more than two million lives globally since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than a year ago, while the total number of reported cases is edging towards 100 million, according to an AFP tally.

The arrival of mass inoculation drives in the United States, Europe and Asia had brought hope that the end of the pandemic was in sight.

But deep concern over new variants of the deadly pathogen has triggered governments around the world to toughen constraints on restriction-weary populations as officials grapple with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.

In its weekly update, the WHO announced the strain first found in the UK was now in 10 more countries than seven days ago.

It said the South African variant -- which is believed to be more transmissible -- has been reported in 23 countries and territories.

The number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous week, it added, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.

Biden leads tributes

The US is by far the worst-hit nation with more than 400,000 deaths, and incoming Commander-in-Chief Biden focused on healing at a memorial for victims on the eve of his inauguration.

Almost a year after the US registered its first fatality, the pace of the pandemic has picked up with 100,000 deaths in the past month alone.

"It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation," Biden said in sombre remarks on Tuesday in Washington at the National Mall reflecting pool, where lights were turned on as a memorial to those who have died.

"Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost," Biden said.

The President-elect has made tackling the pandemic his top priority, as he prepares to take office in Washington on Wednesday.

He is already being forced to act, with his aides contradicting an order from outgoing President Donald Trump to lift travel bans to Europe and Brazil designed to stop the spread.

Beijing lockdown

In China, a partial lockdown was imposed on the capital Beijing on Wednesday, with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving the city.

The country is battling its largest resurgence of Covid-19 cases in nearly a year, although the official figures are startlingly low compared to the rest of the world: just seven cases were reported in Beijing on Wednesday.

Authorities ordered residents of the southern Beijing district of Daxing -- which includes one of the city's two international airports -- to remain indoors. 

But in Wuhan, the city of 11 million people now synonymous with the coronavirus, there were scenes of relaxation and travel freedoms this week.

Wet markets throng with shoppers, elderly dancers rehearse in the parks, and bars sell "Wuhan Stay Strong" craft beer.

"Wuhan had a tough year in 2020," Wang Chen, a 20-year-old resident, told AFP outside the exhibition, adding that China "handled the crisis very well."

Olympic spirit

Despite mounting case numbers, organizers of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics are "unwavering" on holding the event this year.

In an interview with AFP ahead of the six-month countdown, Games CEO Toshiro Muto insisted that the sporting showpiece was still possible, but conceded people are "anxious," including in Japan where Tokyo is under a state of emergency.

"We are not discussing cancellation," he said, while admitting organizers could not rule out staging the event without spectators.

"Holding the Games is our unwavering policy, and at this point in time we're not discussing anything other than that."

However, his view was in contrast to that of a senior official from the London 2012 Games Keith Mills, who told the BBC Tokyo officials should be making plans to cancel.

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