The World Health Organization said the UK COVID-19 strain has spread to at least 60 countries after US President-elect Joe Biden led a tribute to American victims on Wednesday.
COVID-19 has claimed more than two million lives globally since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than a year ago, while the total number of reported cases is edging towards 100 million, according to an AFP tally.
The arrival of mass inoculation drives in the United States, Europe and Asia had brought hope that the end of the epidemic was in sight.
But deep concern over new variants of the deadly pathogen has triggered governments around the world to toughen constraints on restriction-weary populations as officials grapple with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.
In its weekly update, the WHO announced the strain first found in the UK was now in 10 more countries than seven days ago.
It said the South African variant — which similarly is believed to be more transmissible — has been reported in 23 countries and territories.
The number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous week, it added, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.
The US is by far the worst-hit nation with more than 400,000 deaths, and incoming Commander-in-Chief Biden focused on healing at a memorial for victims on the eve of his inauguration.
Almost a year after the US registered its first fatality, the pace of the pandemic has picked up with 100,000 deaths in the past month alone.
“It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” Biden said in sombre remarks on Tuesday in Washington at the National Mall reflecting pool, where lights were turned on as a memorial to those who have died.
“Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said.
The President-elect has made tackling the pandemic his top priority, as he prepares to take office in Washington on Wednesday.
He is already being forced to take action, with his aides contradicting an order from outgoing President Donald Trump to lift travel bans to Europe and Brazil designed to stop the spread.
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