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 273.3 million coronavirus cases and 5.35 million deaths. The US, UK, and France reported the highest counts of new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours. Russia, the US, and Poland reported the highest number of pandemic-related deaths in that same period.
The WHO said the omicron variant is spreading at a rate unprecedented among prior variants and is now likely in all countries. Health ministers of the Group of Seven nations declared the omicron variant the “biggest current threat to global public health.” The omicron variant has now been confirmed in 77 countries, including China. The omicron variant has now been detected in Washington DC and more than 38 states in the US. The UK raised its COVID alert to level 4, the second-highest level, on Sunday due to the rapid spread of omicron. The spread of the omicron variant in some parts of the UK is doubling every two days.
New studies showed that while vaccines do not offer significant protection from the omicron variant, Pfizer and Moderna boosters demonstrated significant increases in protection against omicron. The effectiveness of boosters compared to standard vaccines rose from 40% to 80% against omicron.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US warned of a wave of omicron cases hitting the US as early as January.
The European Union predicted the omicron variant could become the dominant strain of the virus in that region by January 22. Denmark recorded more than 1,000 confirmed omicron cases in a single day.
The UK reported its highest single day of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 78,000 new infections on Wednesday. That record was broken again on Thursday with more than 88,000 newly confirmed infections. Britain’s health minister estimated 200,000 people in Britain contracted omicron in a single day this week. While the Prime Minister warned of a coming tidal wave of new infections, the government voted against a new round of restrictions.
The French government banned nonessential trips from the UK and added required mandatory self-isolation periods for those still allowed to travel.
The US surpassed 50 million total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, including 800,000 deaths. That means more Americans have died of the coronavirus than the total in every war that America fought in the 20th century combined. That death total was hit in less than two years. Two-thirds of America’s pandemic deaths have been among people 65 and older.
Those numbers are rising again. In New York City, positive test rates have tripled since December 9, and average daily infections are now higher than the surge of spring 2020. Nationally, new cases have risen by 40% in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations have increased 21% in that same period.
Only 55% of US nursing home residents have received boosters. California reinstated its indoor mask mandate. The US Air Force discharged 27 service members for their refusal to receive vaccines.
US public health officials are stockpiling the one monoclonal antibody that remains effective for use when the variant becomes dominant.
Universities on the country’s east and west coasts are moving toward restrictions in the face of the latest pandemic surge. While several universities have moved to remote learning in the final week of the semester, many are hinting at the same move when the spring semester starts in January.
The CDC advised that vaccines other than Johnson & Johnson should be preferred after advisers cited increasing evidence that the company’s shots can trigger a rare blood clot disorder now linked to dozens of cases and at least nine deaths in the United States in the last year.
Pfizer and BioNTech will replace AstraZeneca in 2022 as the leading suppliers of vaccines to COVAX, the global initiative to get doses to the world’s poorer countries.
Pandemic Headlines from Around the World This Week
- Australia will reopen its borders to vaccinated travelers with no quarantine on February 5. New South Wales reported its highest number of single-day new cases since the start of the pandemic, but the governor does not plan to return to lockdown.
- Cyprus authorized vaccinations for children ages 5–
- Russia canceled many restrictions imposed upon the unvaccinated in the last month following widespread outrage. Russia remains a global hot spot for the spread of the coronavirus even as vaccine resistance endures in that country.
- On Wednesday, South Africa reported more than 26,000 new cases, breaking its prior record from the delta wave in July.
- The government of South Korea announced plans to reimpose restriction and social distancing regulations in the face of new record-breaking numbers in the spread of the coronavirus there.
- The WHO said the continent of Africa could miss the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population until 2024.
- Ghana announced its plans to fine airlines $3,500 for each passenger arriving on the country’s soil unvaccinated.
- This week, Kenya reported its highest new case counts since reducing pandemic restrictions in the fall. Kenya’s high court suspended the country’s vaccine mandate.
- Five Republican governors are seeking exemptions from vaccine mandates among National Guard troops.
- The United Nations has launched a coronavirusvaccination campaign for stranded migrants in war-torn Yemen.