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May 19, 2021, 2:54 p.m. EDT

As Europe relaxes COVID-19 restrictions and U.S. cases fall, India suffers deadliest single day of the pandemic

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Ciara Linnane

The uneven state of the pandemic across the world was on full display Wednesday, with India setting a global record for one-day fatalities, while the U.S. reported continued declines in cases and deaths and the European Union said it would open its borders to vaccinated travelers after months of restrictions.

The divergent state of affairs highlights the extent to which wealthier countries have snapped up vaccines for their own populations and left poorer countries behind, a move that has been repeatedly criticized by health experts.

“The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this week.

The WHO said the number of new cases and deaths across the world continued to fall in the week through May 16 but remained at undesirably high levels with just over 4.8 million new cases and just under 86,000 new deaths, down 12% and 5%, respectively, from the previous week.

All regions reported declining case numbers except the Western Pacific region, where cases were flat, the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update. Europe reported the biggest decline in cases, followed by the eastern Mediterranean.

Those regions also reported the biggest decline in fatalities. But Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific had roughly the same number of deaths. India had the highest number of new cases, followed by Brazil, the U.S., Argentina and Colombia.

The crisis in India continues with the nation of almost 1.4 billion recording 4,529 deaths in a single day on Tuesday, according to official figures. That’s the most in a single day for any country since the start of the outbreak and is still likely vastly understated, given a shortage of testing and the overall stress on India’s healthcare system. The previous one-day record was the 4,468 deaths counted in the U.S. in January.

Other Asian countries that were praised for their apparent success in containing the spread of the virus earlier in the pandemic are now seeing fresh case surges, and some are being forced to reimpose restrictions.

Taiwan has recorded more than 1,000 new cases since last week, as the Associated Press reported, and has put more than 600,000 people in two-week medical isolation.

See:  COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘preventable disaster,’ made worse by a lack of global coordination and dithering, independent panel finds

The surge is being driven by the more easily transmissible variant first identified in the U.K., according to Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist and the island’s former vice president, who led the highly praised pandemic response last year.

Senior citizens who frequent slightly racy “tea salons” in Taipei’s Wanhua neighborhood are another contributing factor, said the AP. They accounted for about 375 of the new cases as of Tuesday, Chen said. The tea shops are known for providing adult entertainment with singing and dancing.

Singapore has imposed stringent social distancing measures until June 13, restricting public gatherings to two people and banning dine-in service at restaurants. That’s after the number of infections of untraceable origin rose to 48 in the past week, from 10 cases the week before.

See also: Waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents would be disastrous

Neighboring Malaysia set a record of 6,075 new cases on Wednesday, according to its health ministry. The previous record was 5,728 on Jan. 30, according to The Straits Times.

Thailand reported 35 deaths, the highest since the outbreak started, on Tuesday, and an additional 29 on Wednesday. That brought its number of fatalities to 678, of which 584 have been reported in the latest wave. About three-quarters of Thailand’s more than 116,000 cases have been recorded since the beginning of April. Thailand had about 7,100 cases in all of last year in what was regarded as a success story, the AP reported.

Europe, meanwhile, is set to reopen to fully vaccinated people and will increase the level of new cases a country has to be recording to be deemed unsafe. France opened café terraces on Wednesday, along with museums, cinemas and theaters.

In the U.S., New York officially reopens on Wednesday, with businesses allowed to return to full capacity and vaccinated people no longer have to wear face masks indoors or outdoors, unless individual companies require them.

Read: New York sees a rush of reopenings, including the end of the indoor mask mandate

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