Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 23: Active Cases Climb to Unprecedented Levels, ‘Extraordinary Progress’ in New York

Tough New Restrictions Put into Place in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Pakistan

By Jonathan Spira on 23 January 2022
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The new Long Island Rail Road entrance on Seventh Avenue

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 23rd day of 2022.

It now looks as if omicron variant-fueled coronavirus cases have peaked in parts of the United States, with the number of new cases now far below the 1.4 million reported on January 10, but the number of new daily infections in recent days is still significantly higher than in any prior surge.

The decline is most noticeable in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, while other regions continue to see daily cases figures rise.

Worldwide, however, the number of active cases continues to climb to unprecedented levels and has more than doubled since the start of the new year.  On Sunday, that figure was 66 million and the 7-day average number of new daily cases was 3.3 million.  The number of active infections on January 1, 2022 was 29.4 million.

UNITED STATES

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it had expanded its approved use of remdesivir to high-risk patients who have not been hospitalized.

Remdesivir is the infused antiviral medication from Gilead Sciences that has been prescribed for hospitalized coronavirus patients since October 2020.   Results from trials for the drug have been decidedly mixed: An early trial found that the drug modestly reduced the recovery time from severe illness while a study by the World Health Organization found that remdesivir does not reduce mortality or the time SARS-CoV-2 patients take to recover.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the state’s positivity rate had fallen below 10% for the first time since the omicron variant-fueled surge began to really take hold.  “This is extraordinary progress,” the governor said at a news conference on Saturday.

Also in New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported that sales of monthly passes for its two commuter railroads, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, were down by over 7% compared to the same period in 2019.  The MTA said it had collected $49 million from commuters in 2021, down from $346 in 2019.

A study published by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville showed that cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabis compound commonly known as CBD, is a potent blocker of SARS-CoV-2 replication in human cells. The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, found that, in a population of 1,212 U.S. patients taking prescribed CBD, those patients tested positive at much lower rates than control groups with similar medical profiles who did not take CBD.

GLOBAL

Officials in New Zealand said that they would impose the country’s “highest” level of coronavirus restrictions after nine cases of coronavirus with the omicron variant were detected in the country.  The news of the new cases was the first outside of workers connected to the international airport there or the airport’s quarantine hotel.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that some of the infected individuals had attended a large wedding in Auckland, the country’s largest city.

“This means that omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly in the Nelson-Marlborough region, if not elsewhere, Ardern said at a news conference where she announced the restrictions.

The restrictions bar non-vaccinated individuals from houses of worship and establishments serving food and drink.  Weddings and funerals will be limited to 100 vaccinated attendees and the prime minister announced that she and her fiancé were delaying their own nuptials as a result of the new restrictions.

Meanwhile, the remote island-nation of Kiribati went into lockdown for the first time since the start of the pandemic.  The move came after dozens of passengers flying into the country tested positive for the coronavirus. The country had only reported three cases since the start of the pandemic, something largely attributable to its strict entry controls.

Officials in Pakistan announced tough new coronavirus restrictions after a new pandemic high in daily coronavirus cases was reached.  The government banned indoor gatherings including weddings and only vaccinated individuals may enter mosques.

Authorities in Hong Kong placed six apartment buildings into lockdown mode and ordered testing for some 37,000 people. The actions came after more than 100 new cases of the omicron variant were reported in the housing complex.

“We are worried in an exponential increase of Omicron cases, like we’ve seen in other parts of the world, now happening in this estate,” said Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, on Saturday.

SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

The Olympic torch’s final journey to the opening ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing will be a lowkey affair.  The torch relay has been scaled down to three days, versus a period of months across continents.  The torch will make stops at the Great Wall, the Summer Palace on its journey to Beijing National Stadium, arriving on February 4 at the start of the Games.

The cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo said they would delay their world-renowned Carnival parades to the end of April amidst a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths fueled by the omicron variant.

Health officials in the two cities said in a joint statement that they hoped for “safer” conditions in April.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Sunday, January 23.

As of Sunday morning, the world has recorded 350.4 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 2.8 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and over 5.6 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 278.7 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1.9 million.

Worldwide, the number of active cases as of Sunday is 66,073,495.  Out of that figure, 99.9%, or 65,977,588, are considered mild, and 0.1%, or 95,907, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical fell by 0.1 percentage point  over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 337,388 new cases on Sunday for the previous day, compared with 825,052 new cases on Saturday, 748,484 reported on Friday, and 851,781 on Thursday, 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 705,878, an 8% 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 2,152, an increase of 41% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Sunday, recorded 71.7 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 888,623. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 39.2 million, and a reported death toll of 489,422.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 622,979, and has seen 23.9 million cases.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Sunday, 250.6 million people in the United States – or 75.5% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 63.3%, or 210.2 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 533.9 million. Breaking this down further, 87.3% of the population over the age of 18 – or 225.6 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 73.8% of the same group – or 190.6 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 42.9% of that population, or 81.7 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 60.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Sunday, 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, 9.87 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 9.4% 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.

Paul Riegler contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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