LONDON • Britain became the first country in western Europe to report more than three million coronavirus cases, as it grapples with a new strain that is putting pressure on its health service.
It reported an additional 59,937 cases last Saturday, taking the total to 3,017,409. That is the most in Europe, and fifth-highest in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country passed one million cases on Oct 31, which doubled seven weeks later on Dec 19. It took just three weeks to reach three million cases.
A further 1,035 people were reported to have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, bringing the total to more than 80,800, also the most in Europe.
The new strain of the coronavirus has led to a surge in new cases, forcing the government to place the country under a third national lockdown, closing schools and non-essential businesses.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a "major incident" in the capital last Friday as he warned that the state-run National Health Service (NHS) was at risk of being overwhelmed.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned that the surge in cases has left the NHS in a "very, very serious situation".
"The pressure on the NHS is very, very bad and we need to bring the case rate right down," he told Sky News. "These rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit of what people should be doing."
He said about two million of Britain's population have been vaccinated so far. Around 200,000 were currently being vaccinated every day, including one-third of the over-80s regarded as the most vulnerable group to the disease as Britain is on course to meeting the target and offering an opportunity to start easing restrictions in the spring. Mass vaccination centres are set to open this week to accelerate the roll-out.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to inoculate 15 million elderly and vulnerable people by the middle of next month.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, both in their 90s, received the first dose of Covid-19 vaccinations at Windsor Castle, according to a statement from Buckingham Palace issued last Saturday.
The government said yesterday that it has helped raise US$1 billion (S$1.33 billion) towards a drive to help "vulnerable countries" access coronavirus vaccines, by match-funding contributions. It said it has also committed £548 million (S$986 million) to the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC), after matching with £1 every US$4 pledged by other donors. Canada, Japan and Germany are among the countries to make contributions that it matched, helping the AMC raise more than US$1.7 billion in total so far.
The fund will allow for the distribution of one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to 92 developing countries this year, according to Britain's Foreign Office.
"We'll only be safe from this virus when we're all safe - which is why we're focused on a global solution to a global problem," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
The announcement came as Britain marks the 75th anniversary of the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in London, hosting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a so-called virtual visit set to begin yesterday.
He will meet Mr Raab and Mr Johnson, as well as Mr Alok Sharma, who last week was designated full-time president of the UN's next major climate summit, COP26, in November. Mr Sharma had previously done the role part-time alongside his British government job of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, which he left last Friday.
Ahead of the virtual visit, Mr Guterres said he was honoured to "renew our cause of overcoming global challenges together, and celebrate a country that was instrumental in creating the United Nations".
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE