US, EU say vaccine rollout on track


European Union leaders gather on Thursday, via videoconference link, to try to inject new energy into the 27-nation bloc's lagging coronavirus vaccination effort. [Photo/Agencies]

It comes as global COVID-19 deaths surpass 2.5 million

WASHINGTON-The United States on Thursday hailed progress in turning around its troubled COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and the European Union said it was on track to meet jab targets as global coronavirus deaths surpassed 2.5 million.

US President Joe Biden declared the country's rollout is now "weeks ahead of schedule" as he celebrated 50 million vaccines administered since he took office on Jan 20. But he warned the public to keep masking up.

"We're moving in the right direction despite the mess we inherited,"Biden said, referring to the program under his predecessor Donald Trump.

The US is the world's hardest-hit country, with coronavirus deaths crossing the 500,000 mark earlier this week.

Biden said that there would be "enough supply" for all adult Americans by the end of July.

The EU announced on Thursday it expected to vaccinate 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer, after months of problems and friction.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said fully vaccinating just under three-quarters of adults by late summer was a "goal that we're confident with".

EU leaders warned though that tight travel restrictions must remain as the bloc stepped up "efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines", although it would take months, not weeks, to build enough vaccine supplies.

Some leaders like Austria's Sebastian Kurz want Europe to develop a so-called "green passport" for those who have been vaccinated to travel and socialize.

The United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II, 94, said in a video message on Thursday that her coronavirus jab "didn't hurt at all" and encouraged those reluctant about receiving the vaccine to "think about other people".

The monarch was vaccinated along with her husband Prince Philip in January.

Britain, which has forged ahead with its vaccine drive, said on Thursday it was lowering its alert level from the highest tier, citing a decline in cases.

In total, 2,501,626 deaths and more than 112.7 million cases worldwide had been reported by Johns Hopkins University by Thursday.

The US remains the worst-hit nation, with 28,348,259 cases and 506,500 deaths, accounting for more than 25 percent of the global caseload and more than 20 percent of the world's death toll.

Brazil recorded 249,957 deaths. Mexico replaced India to become the country with the world's third largest number of fatalities at 182,815.

Vaccine rollouts have been patchy so far. Most of the 217 million vaccine doses administered globally have gone to wealthier countries.

In France, hopes of a return to normal on the sports front were dashed after more than a dozen rugby players and staff tested positive, forcing Sunday's Six Nations match against Scotland to be scrapped.

Biggest drop in 45 years

In another sign of the toll the pandemic is taking on populations, the number of babies born in France in January also fell by 13 percent, the biggest drop in 45 years.

In Asia, South Korea on Friday administered its first available shots of coronavirus vaccines to people at long-term care facilities, launching a mass immunization campaign health authorities hope will restore some level of normalcy by the end of the year.

Health authorities plan to complete injecting the first doses to nearly 344,000 residents and workers at long-term care settings and 55,000 frontline medical workers by the end of March.

But there's criticism over the government's decision to delay the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for people over 65 until the developers provide more data that suggests the shots would be effective in that age group.

The Japanese government is looking to end a state of emergency in all but Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures at the end of this month, a week earlier than scheduled, the minister in charge of coronavirus countermeasures said on Friday.

Under emergency measures, Japan asks bars and restaurants to close by 8 pm and companies to strive for more telecommuting. It also suspended a popular "Go To Travel" subsidized domestic tourism program.

Agencies - Xinhua


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