At least 12 people in Denmark have been infected with the new strain, which was probably introduced to the mink population by humans before mutating and spreading back to the human population. Experts fear that current vaccines in production may prove ineffective against this version of the virus. Danish police and military personnel are expected to be deployed to carry out the mass cull, while authorities implemented new restrictions on movement between certain regions in northern Denmark.
Elsewhere in Europe, the surge of the coronavirus rages on. England reentered a national lockdown Thursday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that such measures were necessary to prevent the collapse of the country’s health system. Italy reported 445 coronavirus-related deaths Thursday, the country’s highest daily fatality count since April.
Also on Thursday, France reported a daily record for coronavirus infections, with the country’s health minister saying that coronavirus patients already accounted for some 85 percent of French hospitals’ intensive-care capacity. This week, Germany, Hungary and Poland also all posted daily records in new coronavirus cases. The Czech Republic, which has the highest coronavirus infection rate in Europe after Belgium, asked the World Health Organization to send an emergency medical team to the country because thousands of Czech medical professionals have been infected with the virus.
Though death rates are not as high as they were in the first wave of the virus, they are slowly climbing around the world. According to a tally by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Latin America now accounts for 1 out of 3 coronavirus-related deaths.
The picture is all the more alarming in the United States. Americans spent Wednesday glued to their televisions and social media, tracking the shifting fortunes of President Trump and Joe Biden as votes came in from a hotly contested presidential election. But Wednesday also marked a record for the United States, which reported 104,004 new daily coronavirus cases. On Thursday it blew past that number, reporting more than 117,000 new cases.
“With nearly 9.5 million coronavirus cases reported, the United States is adding new infections at an unprecedented rate,” my colleagues reported. “The seven-day average for new cases hit record highs in 20 states spanning every region of the country Wednesday, with the largest increases in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and Iowa.”
Trump’s record in managing the crisis has not helped. In public and private, he has feuded with many of the administration’s senior public health officials, blaming their warnings and assessments for stoking panic and hurting the American economy. An internal report put forward at the beginning of the week by Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, seemed to fault the administration for not adequately preparing for what could be a dark winter.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” said Birx’s report, which my colleagues reported on first. “This is not about lockdowns — it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
Birx contradicted Trump on many fronts. She counseled against large gatherings as Trump continued to hold rallies where attendees go without masks, observed that testing rates are in decline as Trump has complained that more testing (and thereby more confirmed infections) makes the United States look bad, and warned that things are going to get much worse, while Trump repeatedly insisted on the campaign trail that the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic. In victory or defeat, Trump doesn’t seem inclined to mount a robust effort against the pandemic through the end of the year.
“Even if Biden wins, we still have several months of the Trump administration in which the epidemic is at its worst,” Carlos del Rio, an infectious-disease expert at Emory University, told the New York Times. “Trump is not in charge. He’s given up, he has basically implied, ‘I don’t care about this’ and he has turned it over to the governors.”
The Biden camp has already assembled a coronavirus task force of leading public health experts, who will attempt to map out strategies for, among other things, an efficient, widespread delivery of vaccines and better coordination between federal agencies and the states, should there be a change in power. But their efforts may get stymied in the current smoldering political environment.
“The transition team has also discussed contingency plans for the possibility that the Trump administration would refuse to cooperate and share information during a transition, according to another source close to Biden,” Politico reported. “The prospect of dueling task forces in both outgoing and incoming administrations could create tension as the country races to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, as one or more of the candidates currently in clinical trials could be approved during the transition.”
Observers elsewhere can only shake their heads at America’s turmoil. “At a time when the nation should be pulling together with what the British would call Blitz spirit, the streets of many cities have been the setting for what appear to be the beginnings of civil strife,” noted an editorial in the National, an English-language daily in the United Arab Emirates.