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WHO rules out Covid herd immunity this year

The virus has infected more than 90 million worldwide.

Image: Shutterstock/hedgehog94

SCIENTISTS AT THE  World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that mass vaccinations would not bring about herd immunity to the coronavirus this year, even as one leading producer boosted its production forecast.

England meanwhile launched the first of its mass-inoculation sites in major cities, racing to get ahead of the rapid spread of a new strain of the disease there.

The pandemic has infected more than 90 million people and the death toll has passed 1.94 million since China confirmed the first death in the central city of Wuhan a year ago.

China has largely brought the virus under control, but is tackling a number of local infections.

More than half a million people were placed under lockdown in Beijing today as the government imposed strict measures to stamp out a handful of cases.

Infection numbers were, however, surging across Europe, particularly as Britain coped with a new strain of the disease that could see hospitals being overwhelmed.

Russia yeterday confirmed its first case of the new UK coronavirus strain, which scientists fear is significantly more contagious.

The virus has also exploded across the United States, the hardest-hit country, where US President-elect Joe Biden publicly received his second dose of the vaccine.

‘Worst weeks’ to come

German company BioNTech said it could produce millions more doses of its coronavirus doses than originally expected this year, boosting production forecast from 1.3 to two billion.

The announcement by BioNTech, which partnered with US firm Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved in the West, was a boost to countries struggling to deliver the jabs.

But the company also warned that Covid-19 would “likely become an endemic disease”, and said vaccines would need to fight against the emergence of new viral variants and a “naturally waning immune response”.

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Later Monday, the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned it would take time to produce and administer enough vaccine doses to halt the spread of the virus.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” she said, stressing the need to maintain physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing to rein in the pandemic.

Britain, the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, opened seven mass vaccination sites across England today.

But England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told BBC television: “The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS (National Health Service).”

“What we need to do, before the vaccines have had their effect… is we need to really double down” on observing lockdown measures, he added.

© – AFP, 2021

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