The stark global divide in the Covid-19 pandemic
Published 2:55 PM ET, Fri May 14, 2021
In the fight against the coronavirus, some countries are faring better than others.
In the United States, for example, cases have been dropping as more and more people get vaccinated. President Joe Biden has set a goal to have at least 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by the July Fourth holiday.
But in India, a second wave of Covid-19 has been devastating, killing thousands of people a day and setting world records for daily infections. Medical facilities have started to run out of oxygen, ventilators and beds, and workers have been stretched thin.
“After successfully tackling the first wave, the nation’s morale was high, it was confident,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his monthly radio program. “But this storm has shaken the nation.”
Here’s how various countries around the world are holding up in their fight against Covid-19:
India is in the middle of a coronavirus catastrophe while facing a second wave of cases. The South Asian country is experiencing the world's worst outbreak, with new cases surging past 400,000 per day.
Experts and patients say India's worst-hit cities feel like war zones. Hospitals have run out of basic medical supplies, with many patients dying due to oxygen shortages. Family members are driving from clinic to clinic, frantically searching for open intensive-care beds. Patients share beds or lie on the hospital floor.
Communities and volunteers have set up makeshift clinics, and makeshift crematoriums have been needed to handle the amount of bodies.
The government has been scrambling to respond to the crisis, with countries around the world offering aid.
President Joe Biden has circled the July Fourth holiday in the nation’s fight against Covid-19.
He announced a goal last week to have at least 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by that day, and he wants to see 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot by then.
“We’re going to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated,” Biden said.
As of Thursday morning, almost 59% of American adults had at least one shot and more than 117 million adult Americans — nearly 46% of that population — were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cases per day are falling. On Monday, for the first time since September, the 7-day average dropped below 40,000 new cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Unfortunately, vaccination rates have fallen as well. Vaccine hesitancy has been a challenge in some states. In Wyoming, for example, more than a quarter of adults said that they will “definitely not” or “probably not” receive the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a survey from the US Census Bureau. In four additional states — Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky and Ohio — more than 20% of adults said the same.
Argentina seemed to have been spared the worst of the pandemic last year.
But a second wave of the virus this spring has seen cases rise dramatically, provoking oxygen shortages that pushed hospitals across the country to the brink of collapse. More than 3.2 million cases have been diagnosed in Argentina so far, and more than 69,000 people there have died from Covid-19.
President Alberto Fernández extended lockdown measures until May 21. Social gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. The government has also agreed to postpone primary and midterm elections originally scheduled for the fall.
The United Kingdom started 2021 as one of the world’s worst-affected countries. Fast forward four months, and it seems as though the combination of a strict lockdown and a swift vaccination rollout has worked to bring infection levels down.
The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has been dropping fast. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland reported no new coronavirus deaths on May 9 — the first time that had happened in more than 14 months.
As of early May, more than two-thirds of all adults in the United Kingdom have received at least one dose of a vaccine. More than a third have been fully vaccinated.
The drop in new infections has allowed authorities to push ahead with their plans to reopen the economy, although international travel remains severely restricted.
South Africa has remained the epicenter of the pandemic in Africa, and disruptions in the country’s vaccination program have not aided the situation.
More than 1.6 million South Africans have been infected with Covid-19, while fewer than 500,000 people have so far been fully vaccinated. Confirmed Covid-19 deaths have also surged to more than 55,000.
In February, South African health authorities suspended the rollout of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot after a study found that it offered limited protection against mild and moderate disease caused by a virus variant first detected in the country.
Last month, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize also announced a temporary suspension of the country’s rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following global reports linking the shot to a rare and severe form of blood clots.
Although the country has since resumed the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot — in a large-scale trial for health workers — the country is yet to begin its full vaccine rollout. That is set to begin on May 17.
On May 17, Turkey will come out of its longest lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.
Its leadership has been very clear — its aim is to bring daily Covid-19 cases below 5,000 before the start of the summer tourist season.
Turkey reported a record number of new infections in mid-April, with more than 60,000 cases per day. Since then, increasingly strict measures since the start of the holy month of Ramadan have brought the spread down to around 15,000 daily cases.
But the recent drop in infections may not be enough to salvage the tourist season, with the United Kingdom putting Turkey on its visitor “red list” and Russia suspending flights. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tried to reassure travelers in a news conference last week, saying that everyone who works in the tourism industry will be vaccinated by June.
Turkey started its immunization campaign in January with China’s Biotech Sinovac vaccine and later added doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. Ankara has also inked a deal with Moscow for the procurement and later production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Turkey is also looking to develop its own vaccine.
The country of 82 million people has administered more than 25 million vaccine doses. More than 10 million people are fully vaccinated. The rollout has slowed in recent weeks, however, with Turkey’s health minister warning that May and June would be tough months for vaccine procurement.
Brazilians saw a parade of current and former health ministers testify last week about the country’s catastrophic Covid-19 handling, as lawmakers investigated whom to blame for one of the highest death tolls in the world. More than 430,000 lives have been lost to coronavirus in Brazil, second only to the United States.
While the probe grinds on, Covid-19 is still spreading through the population, fueled by extra-contagious local variants and widespread disregard for social-distancing rules — a behavior modeled at the highest levels of government by bombastic President Jair Bolsonaro. More than a third of all deaths since the year began have been linked to Covid-19.
Prospects are slight for a national recovery and reconciliation anytime soon. Despite the country’s one-time reputation as a public-health powerhouse, Brazil’s vaccination rollout has also been slowed by lack of supply. Less than 8% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Earlier this year, Kenya was held in the throes of a third wave of the pandemic, with the majority of cases recorded in the capital Nairobi.
The country went under partial lockdown, with travel blocked to the worst-hit areas to curb the spread of Covid-19.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also temporarily suspended all public gatherings in the worst-affected areas. Schools were shut, except for those taking part in exams. Many of these restrictions have now been mostly lifted.
So far, more than 164,000 people have been infected with Covid-19 in Kenya, with nearly 3,000 deaths recorded.
The vaccine rollout in the country has also been hampered by delays, and many Kenyans are unable to get a second dose of the vaccine.
Through the COVAX scheme, a vaccine-sharing initiative that helps lower-income countries access Covid-19 shots, Kenya received at least 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March.
COVAX has relied heavily on Indian developers for supplies, but deliveries have now stalled as India grapples with a violent resurgence of the pandemic.
With more than 930,000 people inoculated in Kenya so far, vaccines are expected to be exhausted in the coming days.
Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing in Nepal, which shares a long, porous border with India. The virus' rapid spread has raised fears that Nepal is teetering on the brink of a crisis just as devastating as India’s.
Nepal, one of the world’s poorest counties, has a fragile health system, and hospitals are overwhelmed. This week, the country’s Prime Minister was forced to step down following public anger over his response to the Covid-19 issues.
Just a month ago, the Himalayan nation of 31 million people was reporting about 100 Covid-19 cases a day. On Tuesday, it reported 9,483 new cases and 225 virus-related fatalities, according to its health ministry — the highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began.
Although Nepal has tightened borders and imposed lockdowns in its worst-hit regions — including the capital Kathmandu — some fear that won't be enough to contain the virus as it spreads, even as far as Everest Base Camp.
Iran is struggling to contain its fourth wave of the pandemic, with its daily count of new infections higher than ever before.
Hundreds of Iranian cities and towns have been categorized as "Red Zones" and placed under semi-lockdown with all nonessential businesses closed.
Last month, the country’s semi-official news agency ISNA reported that intensive-care units at hospitals in Tehran were running at 100% capacity.
Then the Iranian health ministry warned that the coronavirus variants first identified in India and South Africa have been detected in the country, adding that an outbreak of one of those strains would lead to a nationwide lockdown.
Iran is vaccinating its population with the Russian Sputnik V shot, but the country is also developing its own Covid-19 vaccine. The ministry of health said last month that Phase 3 trials of its Barekat vaccine had begun.
Russia has been among the world’s worst-hit countries. As of May 14, it had reported 4.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 112,000 deaths.
The real number of victims is likely much higher though. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has estimated that the number of deaths in Russia is more than five times higher than officially reported. The IMHE analysis is based on a comparison of excess death rate and expected death rates.
Last August, Russia became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, called Sputnik V, even before large-scale human trials had been completed.
The vaccine has since been authorized for use in more than 60 countries, yet demand among Russians has been lukewarm. According to the government, the country of 145 million has fully vaccinated fewer than 10 million people as of early May.
After months of suffering, the Covid-19 situation is starting to look somewhat brighter in France.
Infection levels have been declining steadily, and the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus in intensive-care units recently dropped to below 5,000 for the first time since March.
The country initially struggled to get its vaccination campaign up to speed, lagging behind other European nations. In March, French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to admit the start of the campaign was a failure, saying: “We weren’t fast enough, strong enough on it.”
The rollout has since improved, and starting this week all adults are eligible to book appointments to receive their shots.
This has allowed France to sketch the way out of its current restrictions. Schools have reopened and domestic travel restrictions have been lifted, although curbs on events and a nightly curfew remain in place.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is witnessing a gradual surge in Covid-19 infections, although the numbers remain relatively low compared to global infection rates.
More than 165,000 people have caught the virus and at least 2,000 have died from related complications, according to government figures.
So life in Nigeria appears unabated by pandemic worries, and large events and religious gatherings have once again become the norm.
In recent days, and perhaps worried by developments in India, the Nigerian government has reintroduced fresh restrictions against movement and mass gatherings nationwide. Bars and nightclubs remain closed, and a nationwide 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. curfew was reintroduced.
A presidential task force on Covid-19 has already approved the commencement of the second dose of inoculation, though many are yet to receive their first shot.
Last month, Nigeria restricted travel from Brazil, India and Turkey, citing the high incidence of coronavirus infections and deaths in those countries.