COVID-19 Global Update: 1-31 May 2021

Burnet Institute

02 June, 2021

This two-volume edition analyses the situation from 1 – 31 May 2021:

Volume 1: Global Epidemiology and Trends, Science Snapshots

COVID-19 May 2021 Update


  • 171 million global COVID-19 cases reached, 3.6 million deaths.
    Cases per capita

  • Case numbers continue to surge in Asia and South America; decline in Europe and North America.
    Cumulative COVID-19 Case Numbers

  • Seven-day rolling average of daily global cases has declined 39 per cent from 828,000 on 29 April to 508,000 on 29 May.

  • Daily new cases are down 37 per cent in the USA in the past two weeks.
  • Japan and South Korea are experiencing fourth waves while Taiwan is dealing with its first significant wave of community cases.
  • The situation in Papua New Guinea remains highly unstable, with low testing rates.
  • Two cases detected in the state of Victoria have led to a cluster, which has seen the Australian state impose a seven-day ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.
  • Stillbirths, maternal deaths, ruptured ectopic pregnancies and maternal depression have all increased during the pandemic.
  • WHO and the US CDC have updated their guidance to acknowledge the SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne.

Implications for the Australian response

  • Steep declines in Europe are likely due to the imposition of restrictions rather than vaccines, as coverage is not yet sufficient to provide herd immunity.

  • Analysis of case and death counts over time in India in The New York Times estimates the true scale of devastation, with the most likely scenario suggesting there have been 539 million infections and 1.6 million deaths due to COVID-19 in India.

  • Taiwan’s current situation serves as a stark warning for Australia. The two countries have similar populations and have enjoyed low levels of virus in the community, but have both experienced a slow vaccine rollout. Now Taiwan is in lockdown and scrambling to vaccinate its population after an outbreak in May. Taiwan COVID-19 cases

  • One in 108 infected returned travellers in Australia since November 2020 has led to a breach in hotel quarantine and caused widespread disruption in the community.
    Hotel Quarantine breaches in Australia

  • With WHO and CDC acknowledgement of airborne transmission, Australian healthcare and quarantine workers must be provided respiratory N95 or P2 masks.

Volume 2: Updates on Vaccines and Viral Variants

COVID-19 Variants May 2021


  • As of 30 May, 1.67 billion vaccine doses have been administered, equivalent to 22 doses for every 100 people.
    COVID-19 vaccine coverage May 2021

  • Current variants of concern of COVID-19 are B.1.1.7 (originally detected in the UK, now known as Alpha), B.1.351 (South Africa, Beta), P.1 (Brazil, Gamma),

  • B.1.617 (India, Delta) and B.1.427 and B.1.429. (California, Epsilon).
    Delta COVID-19 variant spread

  • Leading vaccine candidates update, benefits of vaccination, technical update on blood clotting effects, effects on pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals.

  • Analysis of vaccines in development in India and Cuba.
  • Analysis of new viral variants of interest first detected in Angola and Vietnam.

Implications for the Australian response

  • COVAX is missing its targets with just 69 million doses delivered at the end of May. The ban on exports of Indian manufactured vaccines and delays in regulatory approval of the Novavax vaccine threaten COVAX deliveries.

  • Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective against the B.1.617 variants in the UK, early trials show.

  • A tweaked Moderna vaccine has successfully neutralised the B.1.351 and P.1 variants in laboratory trials. Results of the small trial suggest that boosters against the variants will be feasible and could be rolled out this year.

  • One dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca cuts risk of passing on infection by as much as 50 per cent in the UK and an 80 per cent lower COVID-19 death risk.

  • What do we know about India’s Bharat Biotech Covaxin vaccine and Cuba’s vaccine candidate?

  • A global shortage of raw materials required for vaccine production threatens to slow rollouts in all countries.

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Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Michael Toole AM

Associate Principal Research Fellow


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