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As the US starts a return to normal, some countries have their worst COVID outbreaks yet

As the US starts to return to normal, COVID19 cases are surging in some countries in Asia & South America.

The authorities in Malaysia have barred people from venturing more than about six miles from home. Covid-19 patients are spilling into the hallways of overcrowded hospitals in Argentina. In Nepal, 40 percent of coronavirus tests are positive, suggesting that the virus is racing through the population.

All three nations are experiencing their worst coronavirus outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, joining countries across Asia and South America where infections have surged to record levels — a stark counterpoint to the optimism felt in the United States as summer dawns.

Deep into the second year of the pandemic, the emergence of coronavirus variants and the global gaps in access to vaccines have plunged parts of the world back into the anxious stages of Covid-19. Argentina, Malaysia South Africa and others have reimposed lockdowns. Thailand and Taiwan, which kept the virus in check for much of 2020, have closed schools and nightspots in the face of new waves.

Scores are dying daily in Paraguay and Uruguay, which now have the highest reported fatality rates per person in the world, according the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. India’s catastrophic second wave has killed more than 3,000 people every day for the past month, according to official statistics, and experts believe the true toll is far greater.

The reasons for the surges vary across countries, but together they reflect “the challenge of maintaining vigilance against a highly transmissible, airborne virus for long periods of time, balanced against economic and social considerations,” said Claire Standley, an assistant research professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University.

Globally, new infections have declined from their peak of more than 800,000 recorded cases a day in late April. Still, half a million people are reported infected with the virus daily. And countries that have kept cases low for more than a year, such as Australia and Singapore, are seeing small pockets of infections that have prompted partial lockdowns and delayed plans to reopen borders.

The only way to stamp out such surges, experts say, is to rapidly increase vaccinations, which have raced ahead in the United States and Europe while the rest of the world falls behind. In North America, 60 vaccine doses have been administered for every 100 people, compared with 27 in South America and 21 in Asia, according to data from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. In Africa, the rate is two doses per 100 people.

“Global vaccine access has been woefully inequitable, with a handful of high-income countries dominating procurement agreements and receipt of initial batches,” Dr. Standley said.

The gap leaves many countries vulnerable.

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