LUANDA: Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) prepare to conduct post-landing tests that Angola started to require for travellers from Brazil and Portugal, to stop the new COVID-19 strain, at the Luanda International Airport, in Luanda, yesterday. - AFP

GENEVA: China confirmed yesterday that it had detected the UK variant of the coronavirus, joining at least 60 other countries, as US President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration committed to rejoining the World Health Organization. COVID-19 has claimed more than two million lives globally since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than a year ago, while the total number of reported cases is edging towards 100 million, according to an AFP tally.

The arrival of mass inoculation drives in the United States, Europe and Asia had brought hope that the end of the epidemic was in sight. The latest good news on that front came from India, which yesterday exported its first batch of locally produced coronavirus shots. The "Pharmacy of the World will deliver to overcome the COVID challenge", Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeted, as India promised supplies to several other countries in the region.

More than 51 million vaccines have now been given out around the world, according to an AFP count, but the WHO has warned that rich countries are hogging most of the doses. Israel has vaccinated the highest percentage of its population by far, while the United States has administered the most shots, followed by China and the UK.

But the WHO warned yesterday that more than 60 countries were now grappling with the UK strain-and that 23 countries and territories had reported the South African variant, both of which are believed to be more infectious. The number of new deaths worldwide climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous week, it added, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period. Concern over the new variants has triggered governments around the world to toughen constraints on restriction-weary populations as officials grapple with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.

Biden to change tack

In the US, by far the worst-hit nation with more than 400,000 deaths, Biden focused on healing at a memorial for victims on the eve of his inauguration. "Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost," Biden said at Washington's National Mall reflecting pool, where lights were turned on as a memorial to those who have died. Yesterday Biden's aides said his administration would immediately reverse Trump's decision to leave the WHO.

Jeff Zients, the new president's point-man for fighting the pandemic, said Biden would also establish an office of COVID-19 response inside the White House. "America's withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics," Zients said. He added that leading US coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci will lead a delegation to take part in the WHO Executive Board meeting today.

Beijing lockdown

In China, 1.6 million residents were banned from leaving Beijing yesterday as two COVID-19 cases linked to the UK virus variant were found in the capital. The country is battling its largest resurgence in nearly a year, although the official figures are startlingly low compared to the rest of the world: just seven cases were reported in Beijing yesterday. Authorities ordered residents of the southern Beijing district of Daxing-which covers one of the city's two international airports-to remain indoors. - AFP