The coronavirus pandemic has “slowed down” in the past week although death rates continued to rise, with more than 67,000 new deaths reported, the World Health Organisation said.
The UN health agency said in its latest epidemiological update that even though there was a “downward trend” in the number of cases in Europe, the region still has the biggest proportion of new cases and deaths globally.
The WHO noted that Africa reported the highest increase in new cases and deaths, driven by South Africa, Algeria and Kenya.
In the past week, the WHO said the number of new cases reported in Europe dropped by about 6% after a 10% decline the previous week, suggesting that lockdowns across the continent are effectively slowing transmission, although the region still accounts for about half of new global deaths.
Meanwhile, a top European Union official said that the first citizens in the bloc could be vaccinated against coronavirus by Christmas, but she warned that member countries must urgently prepare their logistical chains for the rollout of hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines.
Claiming that “there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel”, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told EU legislators that “the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December”.
The commission has agreements with six potential vaccine suppliers and is working on a seventh contract. The deals allow it to purchase over 800 million doses, more than the population of the bloc, which stands at around 460 million people.
In Asia, the WHO noted that Japan reported the largest number of daily cases since the beginning of the outbreak, with more than 2,000 reported every day for five consecutive days, a 41% increase from the previous week.
Tokyo’s governor has asked bars and other places where alcohol is served to close earlier for three weeks to help prevent the resurgence from turning explosive.
Yuriko Koike, after meeting with officials to discuss ways to combat the upsurge, said bars, karaoke outlets and restaurants serving alcohol in the city are being requested to close by 10pm, beginning on Saturday until December 17.
“In order to prevent a further spread of infections and protect the lives of the residents of Tokyo, we are taking brief and intensive measures,” Ms Koike said, asking for business owners’ co-operation.
The measures are Tokyo’s first since it made a similar request at the end of August to eateries, karaoke bars and other drinking places.
Ms Koike also urged residents to avoid non-essential outings, return to remote working as much as possible and be mindful of safety measures if they still choose to eat out during the upcoming holiday season.
Parties should be limited to small groups and be brief, with participants not sharing food, talking quietly and using masks while talking, she said.
In India, 44,376 new confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded in the past 24 hours.
The latest increase has taken the total number of cases to 9.22 million, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday. Deaths rose by 481, driving the total fatalities to 134,699.
India’s confirmed daily toll has remained below 50,000 for a few weeks after peaking in September.
But several cities have witnessed a surge in cases, prompting some state governments to clamp additional restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
In Mumbai, travellers from New Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat will have to undergo mandatory coronavirus tests before entering the city. The three northern states are witnessing the latest surge in infections.
The situation remains grim in New Delhi, which is recording the highest number of cases in the country. The capital is reporting nearly 100 deaths on average every day for the last two weeks.