By MORGAN WINSOR, ERIN SCHUMAKER, EMILY SHAPIRO and ROSA SANCHEZ, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 96.9 million people worldwide and killed over 2 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Here’s how the news is developing Thursday. All times Eastern:
Jan 21, 10:00 am
South African government minister dies from COVID-19
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Thursday that one of the ministers in his cabinet has died from COVID-19.
Jackson Mthembu, minister in the presidency, died earlier Thursday from complications related to the disease, according to Ramaphosa. He was 62.
“Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss.”
Mthembu played a prominent role in South Africa’s COVID-19 response and was often the public face during press briefings. He had announced via Twitter on Jan. 11 that he tested positive for COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has confirmed more than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19, including at least 38,854 deaths. The country has the highest tally of confirmed cases in Africa, accounting for 41% of the continent’s diagnosed infections, according to the latest data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jan 21, 9:12 am
US withdrawal from the WHO ‘was very disconcerting to everybody,’ Fauci says
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on the coronavirus pandemic, said rejoining the World Health Organization was “very important” and that the country’s withdrawal from the United Nations agency “was very disconcerting to everybody.”
“It’s going to be really very important. When you’re dealing with global pandemic, you have to have an international connectivity, and for us to not be in the WHO was very disconcerting to everybody, all the member countries including the health officials here in the United States,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News’ Michael Strahan in an interview Thursday on Good Morning America.
Earlier Thursday, Fauci announced via video link to the WHO’s executive board in Geneva that the United States will remain a member, will fulfil its financial obligations to the organization and will stop reducing its staff there.
Fauci also told the board that U.S. President Joe Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the country’s intent to join the COVAX Facility, a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of income.
The announcement came just hours after Biden, who was sworn-in Wednesday, signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO. Trump had accused the organization of failing to correctly respond to the coronavirus pandemic and of allegedly giving too much power to China.
“The official announcement that we are rejoining, we’re going to live up to our financial commitments and a whole bunch of other things, it was really a very good day. I mean, the response I’m getting from my colleagues all over the world is really very refreshing,” Fauci said on GMA.
Fauci, who is Biden’s chief medical adviser on the coronavirus pandemic, said he will meet with the president later Thursday to brief him on the U.S. outbreak and the vaccine situation.
“The president has made this his top priority,” he said. “His goal is to get 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of his presidency. I mean, I feel fairly confident that that’s going to be not only that but maybe even better.”
Fauci said the contractual agreements the U.S. has made to procure COVID-19 vaccines will help meet that goal, along with new initiatives to open community vaccination centers and make the vaccines available in pharmacies. He said Biden may also use the Defense Production Act “wherever he needs it.” The 1950 wartime law requires private companies to prioritize any product orders from the federal government over others.
“As he says, he’s going to do everything that he needs to do to make sure we have a successful roll out of the vaccines, get it into peoples arms and get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can,” Fauci said. “I think we can look forward to having more companies supplying vaccines in addition to the two now that are doing it, namely Moderna and Pfizer.”
Fauci said an RNA virus like the novel coronavirus can be expected to mutate but some of the new strains that have emerged are “concerning” and must be followed “very, very carefully.”
“There are some concerning variants, there’s one in the U.K. and we have that right now in the United States. It appears to be transmitted more efficiently, it doesn’t appear to be more virulent,” he said. “We’re looking very carefully to make sure that our vaccines that we’re distributing and putting into peoples arms [are] going to continue to protect against those variants.”
Jan 21, 9:09 am
900,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week
Some 900,000 workers in the United States lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.
This is a decrease of 26,000 jobless claims compared to the previous week.
The Department of Labor said Thursday that nearly 16 million people were still claiming some form of unemployment benefits through all government programs as of the week ending Jan. 2. During the same week last year, that figure was 2.2 million.
The coronavirus pandemic as well as measures to curb the virus’ spread have gutted the U.S. labor market. Before the pandemic hit, in February 2020, the national unemployment rate was at a half-century low of 3.5%. As of last month, the unemployment rate was 6.7%.
Jan 21, 7:33 am
CDC projects up to 508K virus deaths in US by mid-February
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects that the country will have recorded up to 508,000 COVID-19 deaths by mid-February.
The CDC on Wednesday published its latest national ensemble forecast, which predicts that 17,000 to 29,300 new fatalities from COVID-19 will likely be reported in the week ending Feb. 13. A total of 465,000 to 508,000 deaths from the disease are projected to be reported nationwide by this date.
Last week’s national ensemble forecast predicted there would be a total of 440,000 to 477,000 COVID-19 deaths reported nationwide by Feb. 6.
Jan 21, 4:40 am
Fauci announces US will remain member of WHO
The United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, made the announcement during a WHO executive board meeting Thursday morning.
“I am honored to announce the United States will remain a member of the World health Organization,” he said.
The news came hours after President Joe Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the United Nations agency.
Trump previously moved to withdraw the country from the WHO, accusing the organization of failing to correctly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and of allegedly giving too much power to China.
Now, under Biden, the U.S. will stop reducing staff at the WHO, and will pay its financial obligations to it, Fauci said at the WHO meeting.
Fauci also said that Biden Thursday will order the U.S. to support projects to deploy COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics to people in need around the world.
Jan 21, 4:09 am
US reports over 178,000 new cases
There were 178,255 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Wednesday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The latest daily case count is far less than the country’s all-time high of 298,031 newly confirmed infections on Jan. 2, Johns Hopkins data shows.
An additional 4,231 fatalities from COVID-19 were registered nationwide on Wednesday, just under the peak of 4,462 new deaths on Jan. 12, according to Johns Hopkins data.
COVID-19 data may be skewed due to possible lags in reporting over the holiday weekend and earlier holidays.
A total of 24,438,720 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 406,147 have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.
Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.
The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4, then reaching 200,000 on Nov. 27 before nearing 300,000 on Jan. 2.
Jan 21, 12:44 am
New CDC director extends eviction ban until end of March
Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who began her role after President Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, released a statement saying she is extending the eviction ban due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a protective public health measure, I will extend the current order temporarily halting residential evictions until at least March 31, 2021,” she said in the statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to our nation’s health. It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities.”
She said that as cases continue to rise, it’s important to “keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings — like shelters — where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold.”
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