Russia on Monday began offering its coronavirus vaccine to any citizen that wants one, while Britain enforced a quarantine on incoming travellers as it battles a new COVID-19 variant.
The UK also joined France in widening inoculations to all elderly people, after Brazil and India—two of the worst-affected countries—got their schemes underway over the weekend, with a total of 40 million doses so far injected worldwide.
At a clinic doling out the homegrown Sputnik V jab in Vladivostok, eastern Russia, Valery Grishin told AFP it was the duty of every Russian to get the vaccine so as “not to infect others”.
Fearing for its battered economy, Russia has resisted reimposing a nationwide lockdown despite recording the fourth-highest case total in the world, at 3.5 million—betting instead on mass vaccination to throttle the pandemic.
But while the vaccine is widely available in Moscow, many regions have reported receiving only between 5,000 and 15,000 doses so far in the country of 146 million people.
After residents of retirement homes and health workers, France is looking to cover all over-75s, hoping to issue up to four million doses by February.
Britain meanwhile extended its own campaign to people over the age of 70, while Belgium began injecting health workers, adding to a scheme targeting care home residents.
Growing concerns over different strains of the virus have prompted governments to tighten curbs, hoping to stem a global death toll that has already crossed two million since the pandemic first emerged in China a year ago.
Britain imposed a 10-day isolation on all arrivals, who will have to provide a negative COVID test taken at most 72 hours before departure or be banned from entering the country.
New strains of the virus, which first emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil and have since been detected elsewhere, have set off alarm bells.
Curbs on travel have also had a harsh economic impact, with cross-Channel rail operator Eurostar asking for British state support like that already offered to airlines as traffic has slowed to a trickle.
“Without additional funding from government there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar,” the company said in a statement.
‘Moral failure’ on vaccine fairness
Delays in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the US drugmaker scales up production at its Belgian plant have further hampered the European Union’s campaign, already condemned as less agile than in the United States or Britain, a recently-departed EU member.
Pfizer said that deliveries should be back to the original schedule to the EU from January 25.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned rich countries against hogging doses while the poorest suffer, blasting vaccine manufacturers for chasing regulatory approvals there rather than seeking global WHO approval.
“I need to be blunt. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros said. “And the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”
India faced homegrown problems as its vaccination campaign got started, revealing that almost one-third of the 300,000 people invited for a shot on the opening day didn’t turn up.
“People are very scared. We can’t force anyone to take the vaccine, it is voluntary,” said a doctor who asked to remain anonymous in Rohtak district, in the northern state of Haryana.
He said only 29 out of 100 people had come for the jab.
Fresh doubt on Olympics
In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged Monday to tackle surging cases as polls showed plunging support for his government.
The latest wave in Japan and abroad has also cast doubt on whether the pandemic-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics can go ahead, but Suga repeated he was still committed to holding the Games as “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.
In the US, the world’s worst-hit country, top scientist Anthony Fauci said President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of seeing 100 million vaccine doses injected within his first 100 days in office is “absolutely” achievable.
Biden has unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to revive the economy of the US, where the new coronavirus has claimed over 397,000 lives.
Tennis stars quarantined
Countries across the globe are still relying on lockdowns, curfews and social distancing until vaccination is widespread.
Slovakia began a new round of mass testing and Malawi said it would impose its first restrictions, including an overnight curfew, a cap on gatherings and mandatory face masks in public.
Nearly three million people in China’s northeastern Jilin province were put under lockdown Monday after a surge in cases linked to a travelling salesman.
And 72 top tennis players are quarantining in hotel rooms after positive tests on flights bringing them to the Australian Open in Melbourne, delaying the tournament for three weeks.