GENEVA: China confirmed Wednesday that it had detected the UK variant of the coronavirus, joining at least 60 other countries, as US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration committed to rejoining the World Health Organisation.
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 epidemic was in sight.
The latest good news on that front came from India, which on Wednesday exported its first batch of locally produced coronavirus shots.
More than 51 million vaccines have now been given out around the world, according to an AFP count, but the WHO has warned that rich countries are hogging most of the doses.
Israel has vaccinated the highest percentage of its population by far, while the United States has administered the most shots, followed by China and the UK.
But the WHO warned Wednesday that more than 60 countries were now grappling with the UK strain — and that 23 countries and territories had reported the South African variant, both of which are believed to be more infectious.
The number of new deaths worldwide 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.
In the US, by far the worst-hit nation with more than 400,000 deaths, Biden focused on healing at a memorial for victims on the eve of his inauguration.
“Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said at Washington’s National Mall reflecting pool, where lights were turned on as a memorial to those who have died.
In China, 1.6 million residents were banned from leaving Beijing on Wednesday as two Covid-19 cases linked to the UK virus variant were found in the capital.
The country is battling its largest resurgence 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.