Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 1: Omicron May Peak in Mid-January, Europe Reports Record New Cases, and Today’s Statistics

FAA Says Flight Cancellations Will Continue

By Jonathan Spira on 1 January 2022
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Time to open the Champange on a Virgin Atlantic flight to the U.S.

Following news from South African that it has passed the peak of its omicron-driven coronavirus case surge, scientists at Columbia University said they believe that the peak there will crest in the second week of January.

The research from Columbia indicates that the country could very well peak by January 9 with a rate of 2.5 million new infections per week, although researchers cautioned that that number may be as high as 5.4 million.

The scientists there believe that cases in New York City, the first U.S. major metropolitan area to see an omicron variant-driven surge, will peak in the first week of 2022.

Meanwhile, researchers across the globe including Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, believe they have determined why the omicron variant causes milder disease than previous mutations of the coronavirus.

In studies conducted using mice and hamsters where the variant was introduced, it produced less damaging infections that were largely confined to the upper airway, namely the nose, throat, and windpipe, and never reached the lungs.

Other mutations – notably the delta variant – caused breathing issues as well as scarring to the lungs

A large group of researchers in the United States and Japan led by Michael Diamond at Washington University in St. Louis released a study conducted on mice and hamsters that had been infected with either the omicron or an earlier variant.  The report indicated that the rodents infected with omicron had less lung damage and were less likely to die from the virus.

In addition, a report from the UK Health Security Agency released on the final day of 2021 found that people who had contracted the omicron variant of the coronavirus were half as likely to require hospitalization as those who had the delta variant.  They were one-third as likely to need emergency care,

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned travelers that omicron-fueled flight delays and cancellations will continue for the foreseeable future.  The FAA said it is seeing rising numbers of cases among air-traffic controllers in addition to the significant number of airline employees who have been sidelined due to Covid.

There were over 1,600 cancellations on Friday, New Year’s Eve, for flights within, flying into, or departing from, the United States and hundreds more were delayed, according to FlightAware, a service that tracks such information.  As of 11:30 a.m. EST, there have been 2,435 cancellations and 1,351 delays, with more projected as the day continues.  In addition, airlines have already cancelled over 800 flights originally scheduled for Sunday, January 2.

Meanwhile, multiple European countries including France, Greece, and Italy ended 2021 with new daily records of infections. France reported 232,200 new cases, a pandemic high for all of Europe, the country’s health ministry said.   Italy reported 144,243 positive tests, its highest number yet, and Greece said there had been 40,560 confirmed cases Friday.

Finally, over 30 colleges and universities are changing the start of the spring semester amidst the surge of the omicron variant.  Duke University is extending its use of remote instruction by an additional week due to an “incredibly high” number of positive cases among faculty and students.  The original date to return to campus was January 10.  Michigan State University will start the winter semester remotely on January 10 and continue on a remote basis for at least three weeks.

Other schools that have either pushed back the start of the semester or moved classes online amidst the omicron surge including Columbia University, Princeton University, Harvard University, and Yale University.

Now here are the daily statistics for Saturday, January 1.

As of Saturday morning, the world has recorded 288.7 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 1.6 million new cases, and 5.46 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 253.9million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.5 million.

The current number of infections as of Saturday is 29,367,521.  Out of that figure, 99.7%, or 29,278,854, are considered mild, and 0.3%, or 89,667, are listed as critical.

The United States recorded 587,644 new coronavirus cases on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, the third pandemic record in the week.  Prior to this period, the previous pandemic high of 294,015 was reached on January 8, 2021.

Friday’s figure is believed to be a vast undercount due to delays at testing clinics, the rise in use of at-home tests, and holiday reporting delays.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 378,516, a 201% increase, based on data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,242, a decrease of 4% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Saturday, recorded 55.7 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 846,905. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, over 34.8 million, and a reported death toll of 481,486.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 619,109, and has almost 22.3 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Friday, 243.5 million people in the United States – or 73.3% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 62%, or 205.8 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 507.7 million. Breaking this down further, 85.5% of the population over the age of 18 – or 220.7 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 72.8% of the same group – or 188 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 36.3% of that population, or 68.3 million people, has already received a booster shot.

Please note that interruptions in testing and data reporting have affected vaccination data that the CDC makes available during the New Year’s holiday period.

Over 58.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, a figure that is largely unchanged from the prior day, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.18 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 8.5% 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)


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