The United States surpassed 700,000 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. has now recorded more than 43 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and leads the world in its number of cases and deaths, according to the tally. Globally, more than 4.7 million deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The death toll in the United States is now roughly greater than the population of Nashville or Washington.
The U.S. has experienced a decline in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, providing some relief to overwhelmed hospitals, particularly in the South.
But administrators are bracing for another possible surge as cold weather drives people indoors. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, warned on Friday that some may see the encouraging trends as a reason to remain unvaccinated.
“It’s good news we’re starting to see the curves [coming down],” he said. “That is not an excuse to walk away from the issue of needing to get vaccinated.”
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday said the country’s seven-day average of cases and hospital admissions are both down about 15 per cent from a week earlier.
“While we have made tremendous progress in our campaign to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, we still have work to do to make sure that vaccination coverage is high and even across the country,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Figures released by the CDC showed the U.S. had a daily average of roughly:
The U.S. is on track to double the number of COVID-19 rapid-scale tests on the market in the months ahead, said White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Jeff Zients.
Health officials welcomed news that a pill developed by U.S. drugmaker Merck could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, but could not provide a timeline for when it could be approved by regulators.
“The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral is obviously very good news,” said Fauci. “The company, when they briefed us last night, had mentioned that they will be submitting their data to the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] imminently.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday also announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccination mandate for schoolchildren, a plan that will call for all elementary through high school students to get shots once a vaccine gains final approval for different age groups.
“We have to do more,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference at a San Francisco middle school.
“We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it.”
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 8:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
British Columbia is extending its mask mandate in elementary schools to children in kindergarten through Grade 3. Children must wear masks while working at their desks and while on school buses.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Jennifer Whiteside, the education minister, made the announcement Friday morning.
“This additional step gives families and parents more reassurance, I think, about the safety of the school environment,
Whiteside said in Vancouver.
The change comes after three school districts in the Vancouver area decided to tighten up masking rules on their own.
Henry had previously resisted calls from parents and teachers to make face coverings mandatory for younger students.
-From CBC News, last updated at 2:15 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday evening, more than 234.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, typhoon winds and rain dampened what might have been a more celebratory mood in Tokyo on Friday, as restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol and stay open later following the lifting of the latest COVID-19 state of emergency.
Japan is cautiously easing restrictions that have prevailed across much of the nation for almost six months. New COVID cases in Tokyo totalled 200 on Friday, a sharp drop from more than 5,000 a day in August amid a fifth wave driven by the infectious delta variant that brought the medical system to the brink.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has lifted a six-week national lockdown as coronavirus cases and deaths decline. However, movement restrictions remain in place.
The lockdown on Aug. 20 was extended three times as Sri Lanka grappled with an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths from the rapid spread of the delta variant. New daily infections have fallen below 1,000 and deaths under 100, from a peak of more than 3,000 cases and 200 deaths early September.
Despite the end of the lockdown Friday, people are only allowed out for work or to buy essentials. Public gatherings are banned and cinemas, schools and restaurants are still closed. Sri Lanka has reported more than 516,000 confirmed cases and 12,847 confirmed deaths.
In Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has eased restrictions to the lowest alert level, as the country looks to open up its economy ahead of the summer holiday season.
Egypt on Thursday received 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the United States as part of the COVAX initiative, the first batch of a total of five million doses.
In the Americas, beaches and recreation centres have reopened in Cuba’s capital, after authorities announced it is time to resume outdoor activities, including strolling on the Malecon coastal promenade that has long been a gathering place in Havana.
Officials say Thursday’s reopening was possible because 90 per cent of the city’s residents are vaccinated against the coronavirus and the number of new cases has been declining.
In Europe, about 1,100 doctors and dentists in Italy are currently suspended because they haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The National Federation of Doctors president Filippo Anelli stressed Friday that those who aren’t vaccinated are a minority of the federation’s 460,000 members (less than 1 per cent) and indicated “many are currently correcting their status” through vaccination.
In the Middle East, Israel’s health ministry has identified fewer than 10 cases of heart inflammation following a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine among millions administered, according to recently released data.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 6:55 p.m. ET