(CN) — Pushing vaccination as the means to both revive social and economic life before the start of summer, as well as prevent a fresh wave of death, Europe solemnly marked the milestone of 1 million deaths from Covid-19 on Friday.
The number also includes about 127,270 deaths in Russia that Rosstat, the country's statistics agency, counts as caused by Covid-19 but which do not show up on Russia's official coronavirus death toll.
Come midnight, Paris and other parts of France are set to begin new lockdowns that will last at least a month. The French capital resisted a lockdown as long as it could, but, with infections on the rise, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said it had to be done.
“More and more this is looking like a third wave,” Castex said at a news conference Thursday. A year ago, France imposed its first nationwide lockdown.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vehemently opposed a third national lockdown and instead said local lockdowns can work. The spike in Europe is linked to the spread of a more contagious strain that first emerged last year in southern England.
“Let's be clear, we're in a third wave mostly down to the rise of this famous British variant,” Macron said this week following a meeting with health officials. “The situation is critical. It's going to be very hard until mid-April.”
With 4.1 million cases detected since the pandemic started, France has recorded the sixth-highest number of infections in the world and the third highest in Europe, after Russia and the United Kingdom. In recent days, though, it has begun recording the highest number of infections in Europe with about 38,500 on Wednesday and nearly 35,000 Thursday.
Germany, too, is tightening restrictions and Hamburg, its second-biggest city, was set to go under a full lockdown on Saturday because of rising cases. German Health Minister Jens Spahn the increase in infections across Germany may require several more weeks of restrictions.
Similar lockdowns and restrictions remain in place across Europe, which along with the Americas has borne the vast majority of the pandemic's cruelty. The two regions account for about 82% of the global death toll. The death toll in North America stands at nearly 800,000, with most of those in the United States and Mexico, and at about 510,000 in South America, according to Worldometer.
In the Americas, Brazil remains the epicenter of the pandemic. The country simply can't get the pandemic under control and since November it has not enjoyed a respite. On Wednesday, it recorded 90,830 new infections, a new record. The past week was the worst yet in South America's largest country with 14,671 deaths.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is faulted for the tragic situation. When the virus emerged a year ago, he dismissed it as little more than another flu virus and refused to impose lockdowns. As the months progressed, neither physical distancing measures nor a mass vaccination plan received his backing.
This week, the country saw the resignation of its third health minister since the pandemic started.
During his 10 months as health minister, army General Eduardo Pazuello earned the nickname “Pesadello” (“Nightmare” in Portguese) for his terrible handling of the health crisis. Under his watch, about 260,000 Brazilians died from the virus. Two previous health ministers left office after disagreements with Bolsonaro.
Pazuello, who had no experience in health care when he took office, is under investigation for the collapse of the health system in the city of Manaus in the Amazon. The city endured a massive outbreak and hospitals ran out of oxygen for patients.
This new grim phase of the pandemic underscores just how difficult it will be to gain control of the virus.