President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that all adults across America will be eligible for Covid-19 shots within two weeks, while economic powerhouse California set a June 15 target to fully reopen businesses.
The positive news from the United States — which has reported the most coronavirus deaths of any country but is now a leader in the vaccine rollout — contrasted with a record daily toll in Brazil and Europe’s troubled rollout of the AstraZeneca shot.
Biden announced in a White House speech that he is moving up the deadline for all over 18 to be eligible for vaccines to April 19. The previous target had been May 1.
“Our vaccine program is in overdrive. We’re making it easier to get a vaccination shot,” Biden told the nation. “We’re the first country to administer 150 million shots and the first country to fully vaccinate over 62 million people.”
Biden’s April 19 deadline means ending restrictions by age, health issues or other categories for people wanting to get vaccinated. It would not necessarily mean that anyone could get a shot immediately, as distribution remains a work in progress.
Visiting a vaccination site in Virginia earlier, Biden said that while the worst of the pandemic is “not over yet,” vaccines mean it soon could be.
“Get one quickly. That’s how we’re going to beat this,” he said.
– California poised to reopen –
California will fully reopen by June 15 if the current rate of vaccinations continues, lifting all Covid-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
The nation’s most populous state has now administered 20 million vaccine doses, and will end its tier-based reopening blueprint if there are no spikes or vaccine shortages.
“We are announcing today that on June 15… we’ll be getting rid of the blueprint, as you know it today. That’s on June 15 if we continue the good work,” said Newsom, adding that mask-wearing requirements would remain.
The California plans reinforced expectations that the mighty US economy will be vital to leading the globe back to post-pandemic business.
The International Monetary Fund said accelerated vaccines and a flood of government stimulus spending, especially in the United States, mean it now predicts global economic growth this year of 6.0 percent, up from a forecast of 5.5 percent in January.
This would be in contrast to the contraction of 3.3 percent in 2020 caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — the worst peacetime downturn since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.
“Even with high uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said.
– Focus on vaccines –
The pandemic has now killed more than 2.8 million people worldwide, upended economies and lifestyles everywhere and put huge pressure on health care systems.
On a global scale it has not abated, despite more than 660 million shots having been administered worldwide.
The coronavirus claimed 4,195 lives Tuesday in the deadliest day of the pandemic yet for hard-hit Brazil, whose total reported death toll is now nearly 337,000, second only to the United States.
Meanwhile India, a vaccine producing powerhouse, is struggling to contain a record surge in daily infections.
New Delhi on Tuesday imposed an immediate nighttime curfew, and the financial hub Mumbai imposed similar measures.
Britain is among the pace-setters for inoculations with almost half its population having received at least one jab.
In sharp contrast, many other countries in Europe are lagging behind for vaccinations and have been forced to reimpose deeply unpopular shutdowns to battle stubbornly high caseloads.
One problem in Europe has been a wave of concern over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine and its reported links to blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency said Tuesday it has not yet reached a conclusion on whether there is a causal link. It said it plans a press briefing later this week.
A British trial for the vaccine on children was paused Tuesday to give regulators more time to assess possible links to the rare blood clots.
Oxford University, which helped develop the vaccine, said in a statement that there were “no safety concerns” in the trial, but acknowledged public fears.
– Concerns over US caseloads –
Despite US progress, there is concern over a steady rise in Covid-19 infections, as people let down their guard, following more than a year of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Over 556,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, by the far the highest toll reported in any country. On Monday, the Johns Hopkins University tracker reported 79,075 new confirmed cases and 607 deaths.
Biden warned that the United States remains in a “life and death race” between the virus and the vaccination program.
But across the globe there was a rare breakthrough in reopening international travel when Australia and New Zealand — both largely free of the coronavirus — announced a two-way, quarantine-free travel corridor starting the night of April 18.
“This is the lifeline we needed; this is what we’ve been asking for,” said Jim Boult, the mayor of Queenstown in New Zealand.