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CDC chief warns Americans face ‘rough’ winter amid Covid-19 surge

President-elect Biden says another 250,000 Americans could die by January

UNITED STATES: The head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the Covid-19 pandemic, still raging with unprecedented fury nationwide, will pose the country's grimmest health crisis yet over the next few months, before vaccines become widely available.

The US on Tuesday registered more than 2,500 deaths in a 24-hour period, the highest total since late April, Johns Hopkins University said.

More than 180,000 new infections were recorded on Wednesday. The last time the daily death toll was higher than Tuesday's total of 2,562 was in late April, at the height of the pandemic's first wave in the country.

The number of hospitalisations hit 99,000 on Tuesday, a new record.

CDC director, Dr Robert Redfield, urged stricter adherence to safety precautions such as wearing face coverings, social distancing and good hand hygiene to slow the spread.

The sober message from one of the nation's top health officers followed Thanksgiving holiday observances in which millions of Americans disregarded warnings to avoid travel and large gatherings, even as Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations surged largely unchecked.

"The reality is that December, January and February are going to be rough times," Dr Redfield told a live-streamed presentation hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

"I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

President-elect Joe Biden amplified the bleak forecast during a roundtable with workers and small business owners hard hit by the devastating economic fallout of the pandemic.

"Christmas is going to be a lot harder. I don't want to scare anybody here, but understand the facts - we're likely to lose another 250,000 people dead between now and January. You hear me?" Mr Biden said.

More than 270,000 Americans have died to date.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected the toll could reach nearly 450,000 by March 1 without greater attention to social distancing and mask-wearing.

The dire warnings came as US health experts on Wednesday welcomed Britain's emergency approval of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, a sign that US regulators may soon follow suit.

HIGH-RISK

Britain said it would start inoculating high-risk people early next week, a move that could help reassure Americans about the prospect of an expected mass-vaccination program reminiscent of the anti-polio campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.

"This should be very reassuring. An independent regulatory authority in another country has found this vaccine to be safe and effective for use," US Health Secretary Alex Azar told Fox on Wednesday.

The British approval is also likely to "put a little pressure on" US regulators to move swiftly, said immunology and virology expert Kirsten Hokeness at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

A CDC advisory committee recommended on Tuesday that medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line to receive initial doses of the vaccines. - REUTERS, AFP

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