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Poonam Singh

Washington: The total number of global COVID-19 cases has surpassed the 65 million mark, while the deaths have surged to more than 1.50 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

In its latest update on Friday, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed that the current global caseload and death toll stood at 65,127,355 and 1,504,443, respectively.

The US is the worst-hit country with the world's highest number of cases and deaths at 14,124,678 and 276,148, respectively, according to the CSSE.

India comes in second place in terms of cases at 9,534,964, while the country's death toll soared to 138,648.

The other countries with more than a million confirmed cases are Brazil (6,487,084), Russia (2,354,934), France (2,310,271), the UK (1,678,418), Spain (1,675,902), Italy (1,664,829), Argentina (1,447,732), Colombia (1,343,322), Mexico (1,133,613), Germany (1,128,742), Poland (1,028,610) and Iran (1,003,494), the CSSE figures showed.

Brazil currently accounts for the second highest number of fatalities at 175,270.

The countries with a death toll above 20,000 are Mexico (107,565), the UK (60,210), Italy (58,038), France (54,231), Iran (49,348), Spain (46,038), Russia (41,173), Argentina (39,305), Colombia (37,305), Peru (36,076) and South Africa (21,803).

NYC Covid-19 infection rate tops 5%: Mayor

New York City's Covid-19 infection rate on a seven-day average surpassed 5 per cent for the first time in months, reaching a new high of 5.19 per cent, compared with 4.8 per cent one day earlier, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted.

The rate has been above 3 per cent since November 18, and topped 4 per cent for the first time on Monday. Three per cent is deemed by the municipal government as a threshold for a second wave of the pandemic, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

"We need every New Yorker to do their part to fight back #COVID -- wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and get tested. For a FREE test," added the mayor in his tweet.

France to launch COVID-19 vaccination program in "a matter of weeks"

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said a three-phase COVID-19 vaccination program will be launched in "a matter of weeks" and people will have the jabs free of charge and voluntarily.

At a weekly briefing on the epidemic situation, Castex on Thursday said the vaccination campaign would be deployed gradually "according to a simple logic: priority is given to the most vulnerable people and those most likely to develop serious forms of the disease", Xinhua news agency reported.

Involving one million people, the first stage in early January will target the elderly in nursing homes and their medical staff who are at risk.

In the second phase in February, the government expects to inoculate 14 million people with age-related health risks or chronic diseases. A broader vaccination aimed at the general public is planned for the spring.

"We will be ready for the first vaccinations as soon as the vaccines are available," Castex told reporters.

France has ordered some 200 million doses from different pharmaceutical companies to inoculate 100 million people, more than France's 67 million inhabitants as "a margin of safety," he added.

The vaccines, which cost 1.5 billion euros (US $1.82 billion), would be free for all and not mandatory, Castex said, noting that the vaccination plan was based on three pillars -- "security, transparency and proximity."


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