By VOA News
Germany surpassed 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 Friday, while Europe’s vaccination effort was dealt another setback when drugmaker AstraZeneca announced a slower rollout than planned because of production issues.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday that he would begin leaving a light in a window at his official residence, Bellevue Palace, to remember those killed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steinmeier called on Germans to do the same as a remembrance that “the dead in the corona pandemic are not just statistics for us.” He added, “Even if we don’t know their names and families, we know that every figure stands for a loved one whom we miss infinitely.”
With more than 850 deaths from the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, German officials said Friday that the country’s death toll stood at 50,642.
Less than two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press report, Germany’s death toll was 40,000.
‘Slightly positive trend’ in infections
German health officials noted Friday that although the country had surpassed 50,000 deaths, its infection rate was slowing.
At a news conference in Berlin, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said he saw a “slightly positive trend” in the numbers and credited the drop to a partial lockdown introduced in November and since tightened.
Also Friday, European countries were dealt another blow when AstraZeneca announced that initial deliveries of its vaccine to the region would not meet its projected targets.
A company statement said, “Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.” The statement did not give further details.
Europe is already struggling to roll out vaccines to its citizens after vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech announced a temporary shortfall in the supply of their vaccine in order to improve a manufacturing site in Belgium to boost output.
Actions by Biden
In the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders aimed at providing financial and food security to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The orders boost food assistance, protect unemployment benefits for job seekers and lay the groundwork for federal employees and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage.
“We have to act now,” Biden said Friday in remarks at the White House before he signed the orders.
Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan to Congress to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, but it is not clear if the bill has enough support from lawmakers to pass. Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill in December and some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether there is a need for another large relief bill.
Also Friday, U.S. retailer Walmart said it was preparing to expand its vaccination program to seven more states, using its network of pharmacies.
The world’s largest retailer said it would start providing inoculations in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas as well as in Chicago and Puerto Rico. The company was already providing vaccines to health care workers in New Mexico and Arkansas.
Vaccination efforts in the United States have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles, bureaucratic failures and a shortage of vaccines, which led to residents across the U.S. seeing their vaccine appointments canceled.
In Geneva, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday formally welcomed back the United States, after Biden signed an executive order this week to retain U.S. membership.
Speaking at the agency’s regular briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed Biden’s commitment, “not just to remaining part of the WHO family, but to working constructively with the WHO, its member states and the multilateral system to end the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many health challenges we face globally.”
The director-general also noted that the U.S. committed to joining the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative COVAX, which seeks to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.
Former President Donald Trump announced in May that he was withdrawing the United States from the WHO, accusing the agency of helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.