In the US, the scourge has left more than 365,000 dead and caused nearly 22 million confirmed infections.

Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday.

Thursday ranks as one of the deadliest days in US history, with the COVID-19 toll far outstripping the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11 and exceeding the combined total of nearly 3900 US lives lost on D-Day and at Pearl Harbor.

Many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep up and warned they may need to ration lifesaving care. Many nurses are caring for more sick people than typically allowed under the law after the state began issuing waivers to the strict nurse-to-patient ratios.

In Los Angeles County’s Henry Mayo New Hall in Valencia, nurse Nerissa Black said the hospital was overwhelmed with patients, likening the situation to New York’s at the beginning of the pandemic.

She was assigned six patients but could spend only about 10 minutes with each of them per hour, including the time it takes for her to change her protective gear.

“It’s very hard to decide which one should I go see first: the patient who has chest pain or the patient whose oxygen level is dropping,” she said.

The outbreak has taken another turn for the worse in Arizona, with the state now leading the nation with the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week.

More than 132,000 people nationwide are hospitalised with the virus.

London declares a major incident

Britain has the world’s fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 at nearly 80,000, and the 1325 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test on Friday surpassed the previous daily record from last April.

“Each life lost to this virus is a tragedy, but sadly we can expect the death toll to continue to rise until we stop the spread,” said William Welfare, director for the COVID-19 response at Public Health England.

A further 68,052 COVID-19 cases were reported – also a new daily high – meaning almost three million people have now tested positive for the disease in the United Kingdom, which has a total population of around 67 million.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, from the opposition Labour Party, said hospital beds in the capital would run out within the next few weeks because the spread of the virus was “out of control”.

“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point,” Khan said.

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The designation of “major incident” is usually reserved for attacks or grave accidents, notably those likely to involve “serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security”.

London’s last “major incident” was the Grenfell Tower fire in a high-rise residential block in 2017, when 72 people died.

Khan said there were parts of London where 1 in 20 people had the virus. The pressure on the ambulance service, which was now dealing with up to 9000 emergency calls a day, meant firefighters were being drafted in to drive vehicles, and police officers would follow.

London, which vies with Paris for the status of Europe’s richest city, has a population of more than nine million.

The Office for National Statistics estimated that 1.1 million people in England had the coronavirus in the week to January 2, the equivalent of one person in 50.

Britain, the first country to approve vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca, on Friday approved Moderna’s shot, which it hopes to begin administering in the northern spring. It also agreed to purchase an additional 10 million Moderna doses.

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However, transport minister Grant Shapps said there were fears that some vaccines might not work properly against a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa.

“This is a very big concern for the scientists,” he told LBC radio.

A laboratory study by the US drugmaker Pfizer, not yet peer-reviewed, indicated that the vaccine it is making, developed by Germany’s BioNTech, does work against one key mutation in the new variants found in Britain and South Africa.

AP, Reuters

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