The United Kingdom and the United States crossed sombre milestones in the past few days as the COVID-19 crisis continues an unrelenting sweep across the world, slowed only by the roll-out of vaccines.
The US marked half a million deaths (500,000) from the virus - the highest in the world - while the figure in the UK topped 120,000 - the most in Europe and the highest death rate globally.
Flags on US federal government building were ordered to be flown at half-mast for the five days from Monday to Friday this week and the bells of The National Cathedral in Washington tolled 500 times on Monday evening to honour the lives lost.
President Joe Biden remarked that the loss of life in the US attributed to the disease was more than American fatalities in the two World Wars and the Vietnam war combined.
He called it “a heartbreaking milestone”.
The UK passed over 120,000 COVID-19-related deaths this week, a reflection of an ominous warning issued by scientists last July that the country faced that prospect.
Following a spike in January into earlier this month, the rates of infection and fatalities are now declining.
Both the US and UK are ramping their vaccine roll-out with the UK taking a global lead in approving and embarking on its vaccination programme.
This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown with a phased easing of restrictions starting with the reopening of schools planned for March 8th with a timeline for business and social gatherings through to the summer.
However, the Prime Minister cautioned that each phase would be assessed "based data not dates”.
Several Caribbean countries are currently struggling with a spike in infections and deaths linked to the reopening of their borders and quarantine breaches.
Particularly hard hit are Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia, St Maarten and St Vincent, leading those countries to intensify local restrictions on movement. A quarantine breach in Montserrat which hasn’t had a COVID case since last July forced the country into lockdown with seven reported cases this month.
Vaccination programmes are getting underway in the region with drugs donated by the UK and other countries and also via the World Health Organisation’s COVAX scheme.
The number of deaths attributed worldwide to COVID-19 was heading towards 2.5 million with 2.47 million people reported to have succumbed to the virus earlier this week.
CAYMAN MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Here in the Cayman Islands, a vaccination target indicated by Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin as a gauge for further reopening, was edging closer this week.
The Premier had recently stated that having 90 per cent of persons over 60 years of age receiving at least one dose of the vaccine would be a reference point for relaxing more of the current COVID protocols.
A reduction of the current mandatory quarantine period from 14 to 10 days was stated as a first step in the process.
Close to 90 per cent of persons aged over 70 years and more than 80 per cent of persons over 60 have now had at least one vaccination shot.
With the continuing good response to the vaccination campaign, the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered was expected to surpass 20,000 this week with close to two-thirds having received their two doses.