World

3,250 Covid-19 deaths in US in a single day

ICUs across the country are reported to be at or near capacity

WASHINGTON : The US on Wednesday crossed an ominous new threshold of more than 3,250 lives lost to Covid-19 in a single day while public health officials stepped up preparations for a vaccine campaign of historic scope ahead of final regulatory review.

Steady movement toward a vaccine roll-out on the eve of a critical review by leading US medical experts comes as caseloads surged alarmingly higher, straining healthcare systems in some pandemic hot spots to breaking point.

Intensive care units (ICUs) at hundreds of hospitals in cities and rural communities across the country were reported to be at or near capacity, US Department of Health and Human Services data showed.

Ten mostly rural counties scattered across California reported having no ICU beds on Wednesday, according to state health figures analysed by Reuters. In Fresno County, home to one million people, only seven ICU beds remained unfilled on Wednesday. Largely agricultural San Joaquin County just to the north was down to just five ICU beds.

The number of Covid-19 patients hospitalised nationwide grew to a new all-time high of 106,217 by late Wednesday.

The US also has documented an average of 2,259 deaths and 205,661 new infections each day over the past week, a toll that US health officials warn is likely to accelerate in the coming months.

At least 3,253 US patients died on Wednesday alone, according to a Reuters tally of state-by-state data.

The latest figure surpassed the previous Dec 3 record of 2,861 deaths and marked the first time the virus has claimed 3,000 American lives or more in a single day - exceeding the death toll from the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

VACCINATIONS

Offering a glimmer of hope, some officials said vaccinations could begin as soon as this weekend.

A panel of independent medical experts was due to meet yesterday to decide whether to recommend the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTechreceive emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Documents released by the FDA ahead of the advisory review raised no new red flags over its safety or efficacy.

FDA consent could come as early as today or tomorrow, Mr Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed vaccine development programme, told Fox News.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CBS This Morning that he expected inoculations to be reaching the general public in February, March and April, with enough vaccine supply "for all Americans" during the second quarter of next year. - REUTERS

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