Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 12: Omicron Could Infect Half of Europe, Covid Nowhere Near Becoming Endemic, Says WHO

Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 12: Omicron Could Infect Half of Europe, Covid Nowhere Near Becoming Endemic, Says WHO


Atop Muottas Muragl in Switzerland



The World Health Organization, in the course of issuing a warning to Europe, said that it was far too early to treat the coronavirus as an endemic disease, saying that it would require some sense of predictability.


“We are still ways off,” Catherine Smallwood, a WHO senior emergencies officer, said at a news conference Tuesday.  “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty.”


The WHO further warned that more than half of the population in Europe could be infected with the omicron variant in the next six to eight weeks amidst “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region.”


UNITED STATES


The omicron surge may have peaked in New York City.  New York State Governor Kathy Hochul said that the city’s core viral rates continue to improve. The positivity rate in the state has declined over the past few days as well, and is now less than 20%, a figure not seen for over a month.


“Yes, it is actually going downward,” the governor said, speaking from her office in Manhattan. “[It] looks like we might be cresting over that peak. We are not at the end, but I want to say that, to me, this is a glimmer of hope.”


The United States Postal Service is preparing to deliver approximately 500 million at-home coronavirus tests as part of a program announced by President Joseph Biden.  The White House said it plans to begin shipments on or about January 15.


Meanwhile, in Texas, a well-known conservative activist who actively peddled Covid-19 vaccine misinformation died of complications from the virus after attending a “symposium” that focused on anti-vaccine messaging.  Kelly Canon was hooked up to a ventilator and died of double pneumonia on Monday.


Finally, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s chief medical advisor, said in the course of a Senate Health Committee hearing that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky continually puts him in danger with personal attacks.  Paul has criticized Fauci on numerous occasions, blaming him for school closures and conflating e-mails Paul claimed were about the origins of the virus, among other topics.


“This happens all the time,” Fauci told the committee, while directly addressing Paul. “You personally attack me, with absolutely not a shred of evidence of anything you say. So, I would like to make something clear to the committee: You’re doing this for political reasons.”


GLOBAL


Officials in Hong Kong announced plans to suspend in-person instruction for Kindergarten and elementary schools from the end of the current week until the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in early February. The move comes as the special administrative region tries to stem the spread of the omicron variant.


ENTERTAINMENT


The Berlin International Film Festival said it would shorten its screening schedule in 2022 by three days.  It also introduced new coronavirus measures including the requirement that attendees be fully vaccinated or recovered from a recent Covid infection as well as producing a recent negative coronavirus test.  Berlin 2022 will now take place from February 10 through February 16.


TRAVEL


The CEO of London Heathrow Airport warned that a return to normal “could be years away,” after the country’s busiest airport saw just 19.4 million passengers pass through its portals in 2021, the lowest figure in 50 years and one that was 12.3% lower than 2020, the first year of the pandemic.


Three more cruise lines said they would require passengers to have had three doses of the coronavirus vaccine before sailing. The list includes UnCruise Adventures, a small-ship cruise line owned by InnerSea Discoveries Alaska; Hapag-Lloyd; and Grand Circle Cruise Line, a river cruise line.


Finally, China suspended dozens of U.S flights after numerous passengers tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival.


The Civil Aviation Administration of China, under its pandemic rules, ordered the cancellation of 22 scheduled U.S. passenger airline flights destined for Shanghai.   This breaks down to ten that would have been operated by Delta Air Lines, six from United Airlines, and six by American Airlines.


EDUCATION


Students at multiple New York City high schools including Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant staged a walkout Tuesday, citing inadequate coronavirus measures to protect them from the virus.  The students want more testing, better health-screening measures, and a return to remote or blended instruction. A video posted on Twitter shows what appears to be at least one hundred students walking out of Brooklyn Tech at 11:52 a.m. local time.


TODAY’S STATISTICS


Now here are the daily statistics for Wednesday, January 12.


As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 314.5 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 3 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and over 5.5 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 261.9 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1.1 million.


Worldwide, the number of active cases as of Wednesday is 47,086,016.  Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 46,990,391, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 94,665, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical was largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.


The United States reported 767,547 new cases on Wednesday, a significant drop from the 1.4 million new cases reported on Tuesday.  On Monday, the number of new cases reported had been 445,684, and on Sunday, 894,490, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 761,122, a 185% increase, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,738, an increase of 40% over the same period.


In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 63.4 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 863,896. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 36.1 million (a lower figure than the previously reported 36.9 million), and a reported death toll of 484,655.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 620,281, and has over 22.6 million cases.


VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, 247.3 million people in the United States – or 74.5% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 62.6%, or 207.9 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 521.2 million. Breaking this down further, 86.5% of the population over the age of 18 – or 223.4 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 73.3% of the same group – or 189.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 39.8% of that population, or 75.4 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.


Over 59.4% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Wednesday, a figure that is up 0.2 percentage points in the past 24 hours, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.53 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.


Meanwhile, only 9.5% 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)