Moscow (AFP) - Russia on Monday reported more than three times more coronavirus deaths than previously announced, making it the nation with the third-highest number of fatalities, as countries across the globe ramped up vaccination campaigns in a bid to beat the pandemic.
More than 1.76 million people have died since the virus crisis erupted in China a year ago, upending lives and casting the global economy into chaos, with the United States and Brazil counting for the most fatalities.
Russia's Rosstat statistics agency said on Monday that the number of coronavirus deaths between January and November was 186,057 -- a huge jump from previously reported numbers from health authorities of 55,265 deaths from the disease.
It gave no explanation for the difference, but Russia's official figures usually come from health officials based on deaths where Covid was found to be the cause only after an autopsy. Monday's figures from Rosstat and Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova appeared to include all deaths linked to coronavirus.
Russian health officials have registered more than 3 million infections since the start of the pandemic, placing the country's caseload at fourth-highest in the world. But they have only reported a much lower fatality rate than in other badly hit countries.
Moscow hopes to protect a struggling national economy by avoiding a new shutdown and instead curb Russia's outbreak by vaccinating people en masse with its homemade Sputnik V jab.
Belgium on Monday also joined a growing list of countries to launch Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, while a new coronavirus variant believed to be more infectious spread further, forcing more nations to reimpose economically damaging restrictions.
"I think it's a relief... Covid was a true trial for residents and staff," Brussels region health minister Alain Maron said as old-age home residents and carers and medical staff were given jabs.
Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has boasted of a "world record" vaccination drive that inoculated 380,000 of its 8.7 million people by Monday, began issuing shots to soldiers at 17 centres nationwide.
While the Israel Defence Forces is "one of the first militaries in the world to launch a vaccination campaign for its soldiers," it will be "months" before all are protected, doctor Yael Arbel of the army medical corps said.
Israel began its third coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, while Poland on Monday entered three weeks of new restrictions.
Fears have been raised by a new strain of Covid-19 first detected in Britain and believed by experts to be potentially more transmissible.
After it spread to several European countries as well as Japan and Canada, South Korea became the latest nation Monday to detect the virus variant, in three individuals from a London-based family who arrived in the country last week.
Five cases were identified in Spain's southern Andalusia region. Finland health officials also said they had detected two cases of the UK variant and one of a new strain from South Africa -- all three from people returning from abroad.
Itself hard hit by the strain, South Africa became the first African nation to log one million cases, official data showed Sunday.
Authorities there considered reimposing restrictions to battle the second wave of infections, with leaders worldwide facing similar dilemmas over unpopular and economically devastating lockdowns.
Plans to let thousands of Australian frontline workers celebrate the new year around Sydney Harbour are ditched as authorities worked to suppress a growing cluster of virus cases in the country's most populous city.
Most European countries began their vaccination campaigns over the weekend, boosting hopes of an end to the pandemic, especially in some of the hardest-hit parts of the continent.
"Today is a big moment when you think back to all that we have been through," said Isabella Palazzini, an Italian nurse in Cremona who lost three colleagues to Covid-19.
But pharmaceutical company Pfizer warned of delays to some shipments of the vaccine to eight European nations from its factory.
A "minor logistical issue" meant some vaccine deliveries were "rescheduled", Pfizer spokesman Andrew Widger said, but insisted the problems had been "resolved".
High-profile leaders including US President-elect Joe Biden have been stepping forward to get the vaccination in a bid to fight scepticism over jabs developed in record time.
Spain, which said Monday that its coronavirus death toll has topped 50,000, plans to set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus and share it with other European Union nations although it will not be made public, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
Vaccination campaigns have also begun in China, Canada, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, and there was hope for one more successful vaccine on the horizon.
But there are still worries over vaccine hesitancy or outright refusal among the public -- especially because of anti-vaccine misinformation campaigns.
Polls have shown many Europeans are unwilling to take the vaccine, which could impede efforts to beat the virus and reach widespread immunisation.