US nears 500,000 Covid deaths, expert says normal life some time away

WASHINGTON: The US was on the brink on Sunday of the grim milestone of 500,000 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, as the nation's top virus expert warned a semblance of normalcy may not return until the end of the year.

Signs of hope were emerging in the roll-out of vaccines and the dropping off of a massive winter spike in infections, but the heavy toll continues to mount in a nation that has the most fatalities and cases in the world.

"It is terrible. It is historic. We haven't seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza," Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, said on NBC.

"It is something that is stunning when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable, but it is true," he added, as the Johns Hopkins University tracker stood at some 498,000 deaths.

Dr Fauci noted that the number of daily infections was on a steep decline after peaking last month, but he added normal life may still be some way off. "I think we'll have a significant degree of normality... as we get into the fall and the winter, by the end of the year," he said on CNN.

More than 61 million people have received at least one shot of vaccine, with some 18 million getting the full two doses. The freezing weather and snow storms have slowed the vaccine effort, but Dr Fauci projected that by the middle of the week, it will have caught up.

He also sounded a hopeful note on whether another surge was coming. "I don't think at all it is inevitable," he said. "The vaccines we are distributing now, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, work very well against the UK variant." - AFP