A succinct summation of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the global pandemic news this week. This brief pandemic update is featured every week at the End of History. Click on the links for deeper dives into the stories that tell what happened this week in the historic global pandemic of our generation.
At the time of this post, the world has reported more than 264.5 million coronavirus cases and 5.25 million deaths.
The confirmed detections of the omicron variant continued to spread across the globe along with more measured responses from governments and world leaders than what was expressed in the days after South Africa initially alerted the World Health Organization to the new variant of concern. Nearly three dozen countries have now confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant. Several states in the US are included on this list. Nigeria and the Netherlands are also on that list, and both nations confirmed the omicron specimens identified within their borders predated the announced detections in South Africa.
While the jury is still out on whether omicron presents more severe symptoms, South African scientists confirmed that omicron is three times more likely to cause reinfection of the coronavirus for those already recovered from the disease.
Health experts say as large segments of the population remain unvaccinated, continued mutations in the coronavirus, like omicron, are inevitable. Distribution inequity between rich and poor nations is no longer the primary obstacle. COVAX delivered 11 million vaccine doses in a 24 hour period this week, the highest distribution to poorer nations to date. Countries throughout southern Africa have turned away vaccines in recent weeks because they did not want their stockpiles to ruin. The problem in many countries now is vaccine hesitancy.
New cases are booming in South Africa. Ten days ago, South Africa recorded around 300 new cases a day. Monday, that number was at 2,200. Yesterday South Africa recorded more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases.
Even while the world’s focus is pointed toward omicron, Europe remains the epicenter of the latest surge of the virus. In Germany, 1 out of every 100 people currently has the virus. Germany recorded more than reported 73,000 cases yesterday. The German government is considering a vaccine mandate to be voted on in January. Only 68.8% of Germans are fully vaccinated. Germany has identified four cases of the omicron variant so far within its borders.
France reported nearly 50,000 new cases on Thursday alone. The number of reported cases per 100,000 people has soared from less than 100 to more than 300 over the past month.
In the face of the surge in Europe and fears of the omicron variant, the Biden administration imposed and extended travel restrictions in the US to March 18. All international travelers must take a coronavirus test 24 hours before arriving in the US. All domestic travelers, starting December 6, must wear facemask on airplanes, trains, and buses.
Five states in the US have now confirmed the presence of the omicron variant – New York, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Colorado.
The delta variant remains the more significant threat in the US. For the past seven weeks, beds have been full of unvaccinated patients in many Minnesota hospitals. The delta variant is responsible for some of the worst spikes of the pandemic in the US over the last six months. Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania led the country with the highest reported new cases in the last 24 hours. The northeast and upper Midwest appear headed toward a significant winter surge.
A new study showed many of the vaccines demonstrate effectiveness, but Pfizer and Moderna showed the highest success rates.
Scientists believe they have identified how the AstraZeneca vaccine is causing rare blood clots. The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Science Advances, suggest that the problem is linked to the vaccine’s use of another, harmless virus — an adenovirus — to deliver a coronavirus gene into human cells to train the immune system to recognize and battle the virus.
Merck downgraded the efficacy of its long-awaited experimental COVID19 pill. The company said the final analysis of trial results showed molnupiravir led to a 30% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, compared with about 50% in the interim study.
China pledged to deliver 1 billion vaccine doses to the African continent. The global vaccine initiative COVAX announced it had allocated more than 4.7 million doses of the COVID19 vaccines for North Korea. It is believed North Korea has not administered any shots yet.
Officials in Mexico reversed their previous position against giving coronavirus booster shots and said Tuesday they are studying a plan to administer third doses to people over 60.
Pandemic Headlines from Around the World This Week
- Global leaders announced plans to be developing a global pandemic treaty.
- South Korea broke its daily record for new coronavirus cases twice this week.
- The Philippines initiated an ambitious campaign to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 over three days. The effort was scaled back from the original target of 15 million.