Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 30: WHO Warns of New Variants and ‘Tsunami of Cases,’ Life in N.Y.C. Grinds to a Halt

Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 30: WHO Warns of New Variants and ‘Tsunami of Cases,’ Life in N.Y.C. Grinds to a Halt

Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital

The head of the World Health Organization issued a warning saying that new variants could emerge that are fully resistant to current vaccines, rendering them useless, and called for nations to work together to improve access to Covid vaccines.

“Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, at a news conference in Geneva. “I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

Once again, cases in Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, among others, set records for the number of new coronavirus infections, while Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Russia continued on a downward trajectory, seeing fewer and fewer new cases each day.

The surge of cases in New York City is bringing life in the Big Apple to a grinding – and possibly dangerous – halt.  Not only is one subway line, the W, which connects Manhattan with Queens, closed because so many transit workers were ill, but other lines posted numerous delays. The Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, a division of the city’s Fire Department that is responsible for responding to medical emergencies, saw one-third of paramedics out sick and begged New Yorkers not to call 911 unless it was a true emergency.

At least 20 CityMD medical clinics that were offering Covid tests were temporarily closed as of Wednesday due to staffing shortages occasioned by the virus.

In addition, normal daily life from courtrooms to public libraries to restaurants has been curtailed as well, also thanks to the surge in Covid cases.

Following a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that as many as 88 cruise ships may have had outbreaks of the coronavirus on board, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called for the agency to halt such voyages.

“Our warnings have proved sadly prescient and continuously compelling,” the Connecticut senator said on Twitter. “Time for CDC and cruise lines to protect consumers and again pause – docking their ships.”

Meanwhile, a school teacher from Michigan tested positive while en route to Iceland and isolated herself for the remaining five hours of the flight in the tiny lavatory of the Boeing 737 Max 8.  Marisa Fotico was on an Icelandair flight from Chicago to Reykjavík and used an at-home test after experiencing some symptoms.  She credited Icelandair flight attendant Ragnhildur “Rocky” Eiríksdóttir for helping her by making sure she had everything she needed.  The crew member frequently checked on her, Fotico told NBC News reporter Steve Patteron, and told her she would be all right.

“There’s 150 people on the flight, and my biggest fear was giving it to them,” she said.

In Oklahoma, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot ruled that National Guard members must get vaccinated and comply with the Biden administration’s order to that effect, rejecting Governor Kevin Stitt’s contention that the Pentagon had overstepped its authority with the mandate.

The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center cancelled all remaining performances of the holiday favorite, “The Nutcracker.”  The show had been expected to run through early January.  The ballet, composed by George Balanchine, is a stable of holiday celebrations in New York City.

Meanwhile, “The Music Man,” which recently started previews on Broadway, was forced to cancel numerous performances after its star, Hugh Jackman, tested positive for the coronavirus, just days after his costar, Sutton Foster, had to be replaced by an understudy for several performances after also testing positive.

The show “Ain’t Too Proud,” a jukebox musical about the group the Temptations, said it would close on January 16, 2022, following numerous cancellations due to the coronavirus. The show is the fourth – after “Jagged Little Pill,” “Waitress,” and “Thoughts of a Colored Man” – to be shuttered as a result of the resurgence of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a bartender at Joe’s Bar and Grill in Seattle was slashed by a patron who behaved in a hostile manner after being asked for proof of vaccination status, which is required in King’s County, where Seattle is located. Felicite Ogilby was treated for a laceration to her face, according to a news release issued by the Seattle Police Department.

Finally, a “self-proclaimed” “plague spreader” died of the coronavirus in a Verona hospital less than one month after telling radio listeners on a call-in program that he was out mingling in public while seriously ill. Maurizio Buratti said that he had made maskless visits to supermarkets while he was likely contagious.

Now here are the daily statistics for Thursday, December 30.

As of Thursday morning, the world has recorded 285.1 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 1.7  million new cases, and 5.44 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 252.8 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.7 million.

The current number of infections as of Thursday is 26,850,522.  Out of that figure, 99.7%, or 26,761,082, are considered mild, and 0.3%, or 89,440, are listed as critical.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 301,472, a 153% increase.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,207, a decrease of 7% over the same period.

The United States recorded 489,267 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a figure only surpassed by Tuesday’s record of 512,553 cases.  Prior to Tuesday, the previous pandemic high of 294,015, which was reached on January 8, 2021.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Thursday, recorded 54.7 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 844,272. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, over 34.8 million, and a reported death toll of 480,860.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 618,870, and has almost 22.3 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 243.2 million people in the United States – or 73.2% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 61.9%, or 205.6 million people, are now fully vaccinated, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 505.3 million. Breaking this down further, 85.4% of the population over the age of 18 – or 220.5 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 72.8% of the same group – or 187.9 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 35.9% of that population, or 67.5 million people, has already received a booster shot.

Over 58.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 0.4percentage points from the prior day, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.1 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 8.4% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.

It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.

Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity.  Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.


(Photo: Accura Media Group)