Coronavirus Morning News Brief – June 22: Start of Summer Brings New Covid Wave in Europe, New York Downgrades Alert Level

A Straßenbahn in Vienna near the Schwarzenberg Platz


Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 804th day of the pandemic


Observant readers will have noticed the now daily and significant increases in new cases in the European countries we track, as the new omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 take hold throughout the continent.  The rising numbers raise fears of a new global wave of the virus just as the summer travel season revs up.


The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control last week warned that the “growth advantage reported for BA.5 and BA.5 suggest that these variants will become dominant” there and likely cause a surge in cases.


We don’t’ have to look far to see the rising number of daily cases.  The 7-day incidence in Austria, which was at 1,807 at the end of May, now stands at 5,965, while in Germany, it’s moved from 28,004 to 63,828.  Similarly in France, the 7-day incidence has risen from 16,787 to 45,783, and in Switzerland from 990 to 24,770.


The situation is similar in Greece, Italy, and cases in Spain are starting to inch up.


Only Portugal appears to be on the other side of a recent wave.  The Iberian nation hit a three-month peak on May 27 with almost 62,000 new infections, but case figures have been slowly dropping since then.


What’s troubling about the two subvariants is that they are even more transmissible than earlier ones and seem to be particularly good at evading the body’s immune system.  This means that neither vaccines nor immunity from prior infection provides strong protection against them.


Nonetheless, the ECDC is warning of an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, although this may be tempered by the fact that the variants do not seem to cause illness that is more severe than their immediate predecessors.


In other news we cover today, New York City is lowering its Covid alert level and Broadway is ending its mask mandate.


Here’s a look at what has taken place over the past 24 hours.


UNITED STATES


New York City is no longer a hotbed of Covid.  Officials there announced that the transmission risk level was now “medium,” one month after it had been escalated to “high” amid a fifth wave fueled by the most contagious omicron subvariants that had yet to become prevalent in the United States, BA.2 and BA.3.


A small study conducted by the National Institutes of Health offers encouraging news on the antiviral Paxlovid.  Amidst concerns over rebound cases of Covid after patients take Paxlovid, see symptoms subside, and test negative, the study found no evidence of Paxlovid-resistant mutations of the virus or a faltering immune response in data from seven rebounding patients.


GLOBAL


Australia said it plans to provide money to a new global fund intended to help  protect countries against future pandemics in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The intermediary fund was created by the World Bank and World Health Organization.


“Few events have had greater impact than the pandemic on our way of life,” the country’s health minister, Mark Butler, said in announcing the move.


ENTERTAINMENT


Broadway theaters will end a requirement for theater patrons to don face masks when attending performances, adopting what it, without a hint of irony, termed a “mask optional” policy.


The mask requirement, which went into effect when theaters reopened in the city, will end on June 30.


TODAY’S STATISTICS


Now here are the daily statistics for Wednesday, June 22.


As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 545.9 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.9 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and 6.34 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 521.8 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1.5 million.


Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Wednesday is 17,697,974, a decrease of 621,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 17,661,739, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 36,235, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical is unchanged over the past 24 hours.


The United States reported 209,738 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday for the previous day, compared to 54,156 on Tuesday, 14,607 on Monday, 14,212 on Sunday, and 116,485 on Saturday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The 7-day incidence rate is now 97,998.  Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.


The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 96,218, a decrease of 15%, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 289, a decrease of 11% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 29,934, a 2% increase.


In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 88.2 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.04 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 43.3 million, and a reported death toll of 524,903.


New data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed at the end of May that the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 812,890, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, after the United States.  Rosstat reported that 11,583 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in April, down from 35,584 in March and from 43,543 in February.


Meanwhile, Brazil now has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 669,436, and has recorded 31.8 million cases.


France continues to occupy the number four position in total cases with 30.3 million cases, and Germany is in the number five slot with 27.2 million.  The United Kingdom, with 22.5 million cases, is now number six and is the only other country in the world with a total number of cases over the 20 million mark.


VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, over 259.2 million people in the United States – or 78.1% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 66.8%, or 221.9 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 592.3 million. Breaking this down further, 89.5% of the population over the age of 18 – or 231 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 76.8% of the same group – or 198.2 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 50.6% of that population, or 100.2 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.


Over 66.3% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Wednesday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 12 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 6.33 million doses are now administered each day.


Meanwhile, only 17.8% 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 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.


Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.


In addition, North Korea and Eritrea are now the only two countries in the world that have not administered vaccines.


Anna Breuer contributed to this story.


(Photo: Accura Media Group)