Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 19: Free Masks and Test Kits, U.K. Bets Covid Has Peaked

Tokyo Under State of Emergency, Tonga Faces ‘Tsunami of Covid’

By Jonathan Spira on 19 January 2022
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A couple poses for wedding photographs in Kurashiki, Japan

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected without comment a request to block the federal mask mandate for public conveyances such as planes, trains, and buses as well as at airports and train stations.  The news came just as the percentage of Americans who had received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine hit the 75% mark.

UNITED STATES

The U.S. government launched its free online Covid test kit offer one day early on Tuesday.  The test kits will be delivered by the United States Postal Service within seven to ten days of an order being placed.  The government is sending four test kits to each residential address that places a request.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration will launch a program to distribute 400 million high-quality non-surgical N95 face masks.  The masks will be available at local pharmacies and community centers at no charge.

A survey by the Partnership for New York City found that 75% of major employers surveyed in the period January 10 through January 18 said that they had delayed their return-to-office plans because of the impact of the omicron variant.  Less than 66% of those surveyed felt confident that at 50% of their employees would be back in the office by the end of March.

GLOBAL

The Japanese government placed Tokyo and 12 other prefectures under a quasi state of emergency Wednesday. The measure goes into effect on Friday and will last through at least February 13.  The action comes amidst a dramatic rise in infections fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant. The country recorded 32,197 cases on Tuesday, a pandemic high.  Tokyo reported 7,3777 new infections, also a pandemic high.

Actual restrictions will vary by prefecture and will likely include the shortening of office and shop hours and a halt to the sale of alcohol.

Betting that the omicron variant-fueled surge of Covid cases has peaked, U.K.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in Parliament that the country’s requirements for mask wearing and using a vaccine passport to gain entry to certain venues would be lifted.  In addition, the government lifted its guidance that recommended people telecommute wherever possible.

The move comes as the number of new infections haltingly declines from its peak on January 4 of 218,175 although the number trended upward in recent days, with the number of cases on Tuesday at 93,890, compared to Monday’s figures, 86,130, and Sunday’s, 70,160.

Museums and theaters in the Netherlands plan to protest the ongoing lockdown by opening Wednesday as hair salons and fitness centers in what is being described as a playful protest to call attention to a continued lockdown in the arts sector while restrictions were lifted elsewhere.

A senior Tongan diplomat in Canberra told Australian public radio that Tonga could face a “tsunami of Covid” after the underwater volcanic explosion wreaked havoc on the archipelago of 190 islands.  Foreign aid workers headed their in droves to help the country deal with the hazards of volcanic ash and a lack of clean drinking water but officials are working on touchless ways in which the aid can be rendered.

TRAVEL

The Hawaiian government announced changes to its policies that allow visitors to skip a five-day quarantine upon arrival.  Previously, being “fully” vaccinated, or having had two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine sufficed.  Now, under the Aloha State’s “Safe Travels” program, travelers will have to have had a third or booster shot in order to avoid quarantine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved 22 new destinations into its highest-risk level Tuesday.  The change impacts Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Egypt, Israel, Panama, Qatar, Saint Lucia, and Uruguay.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Wednesday, January 18.

As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 335.8 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 3.8 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and almost 5.6 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 271.5 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 2.2 million.

Worldwide, the number of active cases as of Wednesday is 58,781,503.  Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 58,685,099, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 96,404, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical was largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 1,178,403 on Wednesday for the previous day, compared with 712, 051 on Tuesday, 337,984 on Monday and 818,418 on Sunday, 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 756,752, a 38% 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 1,889, an increase of 43% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 68.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 877,240. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 37.9 million, and a reported death toll of 487,226.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 621,578, and has seen 23.2 million cases.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, 249.4 million people in the United States – or 75.1% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 63%, or 209.3million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 529.3 million. Breaking this down further, 87% of the population over the age of 18 – or 224.8 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 73.6% of the same group – or 190 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 41.8% of that population, or 79.5 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 60.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Wednesday, a figure that is up 0.1 percentage point in the past 24 hours, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.75 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 9.6% 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. 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)

Accura News

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