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Covid live updates: Global Covid-19 death toll tops 2 million, Vaccine access expands

Global Covid deaths surpass 2 million as city mayors call on President-elect Joe Biden for direct vaccine supplies.
Image: Employees work on the production line of CoronaVac, Sinovac Biotech's vaccine against ovid-19 coronavirus at the Butantan biomedical production center, in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Employees on the production line of CoronaVac, Sinovac Biotech's vaccine against Covid-19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday.Nelson Almeida / AFP - Getty Images

The number of deaths across the world from Covid-19 passed the 2 million mark Friday, just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The number of dead, is about the equivlent of the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna.

In the U.S., the mayors of some three-dozen cities have asked the incoming Biden administration to send Covid-19 vaccine shipments directly to them, bypassing state governments, saying local officials were best positioned to ramp up lagging inoculations.

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A different kind of opening day for Dodger Stadium

People wait in vehicles at a Covid-19 vaccination site in the Dodger Stadium parking lot in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2021.Bing Guan / Bloomberg via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Friday marked a different kind of opening day for Dodger Stadium, where health care workers are now able to get a Covid-19 vaccination at what local leaders say is the largest such site in the country. 

When operating at full capacity, county officials estimate roughly 12,000 people a day will be vaccinated at the stadium. Additional large-scale vaccination sites will also be opened at other popular venues such as Six Flags Magic Mountain and The Forum, formerly home to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"As more doses are manufactured and as the county receives them, we will keep ramping this [effort] up," Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "The City of Los Angeles is here to help."

As of Friday, L.A. county has recorded nearly 990,000 coronavirus cases, but public health officials estimate that 1 in 3 residents have been infected since the start of the pandemic. 

With a continued surge in cases that has overwhelmed hospitals throughout the region, Los Angeles could face more business closures in an effort to slow the virus spread, officials said. 

FEMA, National Guard to be deployed in national vaccination plan

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he would deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to help set up vaccine clinics across the U.S as part of an ambitious plan to get shots to millions of Americans.

Reminding the public that help is soon on the way in a speech from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden outlined a five-part plan to turn “frustration to motivation” that will get the U.S. out of the pandemic.

Under the plan, the White House would enlist the support of FEMA and the National Guard to set up thousands of community vaccination sites to help states vaccinate more people. To support states, Biden said the federal government would fully reimburse states for their use of the National Guard.

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No stockpile? Governors hit Washington as vaccine chokepoints pile up

If you ask New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy why Covid-19 vaccinations are happening so slowly, he’ll say the answer is simple.

“The constraint is 100 percent right now supply from the feds,” Murphy, a Democrat, told a local TV station Thursday.

Ask the feds, and they’ll say they’ve distributed far more doses than the states have used, leaving vaccines on the shelf.

“Some states’ heavy-handed micromanagement of this process has stood in the way of vaccines reaching a broader swath of the vulnerable population more quickly,” Alex Azar, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, said at a Tuesday briefing, without singling out particular states.

And if you ask the vaccine makers, they’ll say the problem is not on their side, either.

“I don’t think that we have an issue of offering less vaccines than the countries frankly need. We have much more than they can use right now,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC Tuesday.

One month into a vaccine rollout that has fallen short of everyone’s expectations, the blame-shifting over who’s at fault for the bottlenecks is multiplying and threatening to disrupt vaccinations even further. And that is frustrating public health experts who say that the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccination team seems to be sleep-walking through its final days.

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U.K. scraps travel corridors over fears of new virus strains

The U.K. is to close all travel corridors from Monday, to protect against the risk of new strains of coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference Friday.  

Introduced last summer, travel corridors allowed people arriving from some countries with low Covid numbers to avoid having to quarantine for 10 days.

Johnson said that they would be revoked in response to the rollout of coronavirus vaccines. "It's precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country," he said. 

The new policy came a day after the U.K. banned all travel from South America and Portugal. It means arrivals from every destination will need to self-isolate for 10 days, or receive a negative result from a coronavirus test taken at least five days after they enter Britain. 

CDC says U.K. coronavirus variant could become predominant strain in U.S. by March

The U.K. variant of the coronavirus could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday.

So far, only 76 cases of the variant, called B.1.1.7, have been identified in the country, in 10 states, the CDC said.

But models project that the variant could see "rapid growth" in coming months, putting further strain on the health care system.

"We are very concerned about this variant," said Michael Johansson, one of the study's authors and co-lead of the modeling team for the CDC's Covid-19 response.

Johansson said the CDC is working to increase efforts to do more testing for such variants in the U.S.

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Thousands of Covid-19 vaccines wind up in the garbage because of fed, state guidelines

A hospital Covid-19 vaccination team shows up at the emergency room to inoculate employees who haven’t received their shots.

Finding just a few, the team is about to leave when an ER doctor suggests they give the remaining doses to vulnerable patients or nonhospital employees. The team refuses, saying that would violate hospital policy and state guidelines.

Incensed, the doctor works his way up the hospital chain of command until he finds an administrator who gives the OK for the team to use up the rest of the doses.

But by the time the doctor tracks down the medical team, its shift is over and, following protocol, whatever doses remained are now in the garbage.

Isolated incident? Not a chance, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told NBC News.

“This kind of thing is pretty rampant,” Jha said. “I have personally heard stories like this from dozens of physician friends in a variety of different states. Hundreds, if not thousands, of doses are getting tossed across the country every day. It’s unbelievable.”

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Global Covid-19 death toll tops 2 million

The global death toll from Covid-19 topped 2 million Friday, just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.   

The number of dead, is about the equivalent of the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna.

The figure was reached as vaccination drives continue to be rolled out in countries around the world. 

However, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the terrible number of deaths "has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort."

He added: "Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed." 

Instagram influencers are a vaccine priority in wary Indonesia

Among the first in the line for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia has been one conspicuous group — social media influencers.

Alongside President Joko Widodo as the world’s fourth most populous country kicked off its vaccination drive on Wednesday was Indonesian television personality, Raffi Ahmad, who boasts almost 50 million followers on Instagram.

“Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] a vaccine ... Don’t be afraid of vaccines,” the 33-year-old celebrity wrote under a video of him receiving the shot, next to a heart emoji and another of Indonesia’s red and white flag.

Deciding who should be first in line for limited vaccine doses has been a challenge around the world, with many countries prioritizing vulnerable medics and the elderly.

Senior health ministry official, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the decision to include influencers alongside almost 1.5 million healthcare workers in the first round of inoculations was a deliberate government communications strategy.

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