The remains of a woman who died from COVID-19 are placed into a niche by cemetery workers in Rio de Janeiro. File / AP
The global COVID-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as the pandemic continues to speed up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiralling infection numbers.
It is the latest grim milestone after the novel coronavirus surfaced in central China in December 2019 and went on to infect more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past three million at around 0830 GMT on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.
For comparison, three million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia, and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war which raged from 1980-1988.
Two visitors show their virus negative tests at the entrance of Madame Tussauds wax Museum in Amsterdam. AFP
And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP's tally.
The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.
India's capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world's second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.
India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world's worst-hit nation, and families are clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
A woman receives a dose of virus vaccine in Athens. AFP
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
Udaya Regmi of the international Red Cross said the "truly frightening" South Asian surge was a "wake-up call to the world." "Vaccines must be available to everyone, everywhere, rich and poor to overcome this terrible pandemic," Regmi added.
Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet. Britain, which has given 60 percent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day — down from 1,200 in late January.
Thailand recorded its fourth consecutive day of more than 1,000 new cases on Saturday, with spiralling infections linked to a nightlife district of the capital Bangkok earlier this month.
Alcohol sales will be banned in Bangkok restaurants from Sunday, while entertainment venues will be shuttered across the country for two weeks.
In Japan, rising virus cases have stoked speculation that the Olympic Games -- postponed last year due to the pandemic — could be cancelled.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first meeting with US President Joe Biden, said his government was listening to experts and doing its "utmost" to prepare for the Tokyo games in July.
'Cautious optimism' in Europe
But there was better news in Europe, where some countries are easing their lockdowns in response to not only fatigue, but falling infection numbers and progress with vaccinations.
Italy announced Friday it will ease coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26. Expressing "cautious optimism", Prime Minister Mario Draghi said his government was taking a "calculated risk."
Italy will also allow up to a thousand spectators at outdoor events from May 1, when it eases its stadium fan ban in regions less affected by the coronavirus.
In more good news for Britons after the partial reopening of society this week, Germany on Friday removed the United Kingdom from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travellers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.
Spain meanwhile extended the mandatory quarantine of passengers arriving from 12 countries in South America and Africa, including Brazil and South Africa, over concerns about more transmissible variants.
More than 8.53 million people have been reported infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 453,834 have died, a Reuters tally showed as of 1326 GMT on Friday.
Like millions of other Britons, the prime minister will be able to have a trim and a tipple on Saturday, when the country takes its biggest step yet out of coronavirus lockdown with the reopening in England of restaurants, pubs and hairdressers, along with secular and sacred venues including cinemas and church.
Mask-wearing outdoors will no longer be required, restaurant seating will be unlimited and discos and dance clubs can re-open, although entry will be restricted to those with COVID-19 certificates.
Elsewhere in Europe, frustrations with COVID-19 curbs were spilling over, with scuffles breaking out at a large anti-restrictions protest in the German city of Kassel, and thousands joining a similar demonstration in Liestal, Switzerland.
The message reads, "While it is under sorrowful circumstances, I offer my sincere and warmest congratulations on your appointment as President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
In a congratulatory message, Xi said that he stands ready to work with the new president to deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership for the benefit of the two countries and their peoples.
"On the occasion of your election to the Presidency of the Federation of the United Arab Emirates, I would like to convey to you, on my own behalf and on behalf of the entire Italian people", says the Italian president.