Coronavirus Morning News Brief – March 23: Europe Ended Restrictions ‘Brutally’ and Caused Surge, Death Toll Hits 1 Million in U.S.

Australian Company Develops App That Uses Sound of Cough to Diagnose Covid

By Jonathan Spira on 23 March 2022
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Brussels as seen from the Mont des Arts

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 743rd day of the pandemic.

We pause for a moment to note that, somewhere in the United States on Wednesday, the 1 millionth person dies from the coronavirus.  The global death toll is now over 6.1 million.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the rise in new infections in 18 European countries is because they are easing pandemic restrictions too quickly.  Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said that the increase in new cases is directly linked to the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.2.

Many countries are seeing significant surges including Belgium and France while others, including Austria and Germany, are reporting record high numbers of new cases.

Kluge said that the countries “are lifting those restrictions brutally, from too much to too few,” as opposed to taking a more gradual approach.

In other words, Kluge was saying something I have oft written in this space, that countries are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when ending pandemic restrictions, tossing caution to the wind.

In other news we cover today, South Africa and New Zealand are easing restrictions, the White House press secretary has tested positive for the virus, and South Korea’s surging death toll means crematoriums need more burning capacity.

Here’s a look at what has taken place over the past 24 hours.


In Washington, D.C., White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that she tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.  The news comes on the eve of President Joseph Biden’s trip abroad.

“I had two socially-distanced meetings with the President yesterday, and the President is not considered a close contact as defined by CDC guidance,” she said in a statement.

Psaki had been in meetings with the president on Monday. He tested negative Tuesday on a PCR test.   She reported mild symptoms, saying she would “work from home and plan to return to work in person at the conclusion of a five-day isolation period and a negative test.”

Moderna said on late Tuesday that it will ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in children aged 6 months to 6 years, a group for which there are currently no authorized Covid vaccines.

Trials undertaken by the drugmaker found that the two-dose vaccine was approximately 44% effective at preventing infection from omicron in children 6 months to under 2 years old and 38% effective for children in the 2-to-5-year-old bracket.

In addition, Moderna said in a news release Tuesday that it was adding two development programs for vaccines, namely a combination respiratory candidate and a shot targeting all four endemic human coronaviruses that cause the common cold.

The respiratory combination candidate will go after the three most significant viruses that cause respiratory diseases in adults, namely SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. Known as mRNA-1230, the vaccine is designed to be used as an annual booster.

Administrators at the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, told 156 court employees and the four judges that they had failed to meet qualifications for employment by not providing proof of full vaccination. If they do not comply with the vaccination mandate in the next two weeks they would be fired.  The judges, who include Jenny Rivera, an associate judge on the state Court of Appeals, face referral to the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, which could decide to terminate the judges after confidential hearings are held.


In yet another sign that the pandemic is far from over, the death toll in South Korea, which has hit record highs in recent weeks, was 45% high in the week ended March 19 than in the previous week, according to government statistics.  In that period, the country recorded 429 deaths from the coronavirus.

The high death toll is overwhelming funeral homes and crematoriums and the government is asking the former to secure more refrigerators for bodies and the latter to increase their burning capacity.

The current surge there, fueled by the omicron variant, shows that the virus is “still a dangerous infectious disease with a high fatality rate for the elderly and unvaccinated,” said Son Young, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

In New Zealand, officials announced plans to eliminate vaccine passports, limits on social gatherings, and vaccine mandates for some government workers.  Vaccine passports will no longer be required to enter public facilities starting April 4, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a speech on Wednesday.  Vaccine mandates will be ended for education, health, police, and defense workers, she also announced, noting that the rules were no longer necessary given the country’s high vaccination rate.

Similarly, officials in South Africa will begin lifting coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Wednesday.  He said that the move marked the start of a “new era” in the country’s struggle against the virus.

Masks are no longer required outdoors there but will continue to be mandated in public indoor spaces including shops, offices, and on public transit. Indoor and outdoor venues that require a vaccine passport or negative Covid test result will be allowed to increase capacity to 50% of the space.  Venues that lack such requirements will continue to be limited to 1,000 people indoors or 2,000 outdoors.

An Australian technology company reported what it termed “positive results” for a new coronavirus screening test that uses the sound of the patient’s cough.  The initial clinical trial of 741 patients where 446 were positive for the coronavirus found that ResApp’s test would correctly detect the virus in 92% of those with an infection.


Now here are the daily statistics for Wednesday, March 23.

As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 475.1 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 2.5 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and 6.1 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 410.7 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1.6 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Wednesday is 58,327,394, an increase of 727,000 from the prior day. Out of that figure, 99.9%, or 58,266,062, are considered mild, and 0.1%, or 61,322, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical is largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 25,459 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday for the previous day, compared to 46,131 on Wednesday, 7,844 on Monday, 11,718 on Sunday, and 36,373 on Saturday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.   Weekend figures are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 29,288, a 26% decrease, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,009, a decrease of 30% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded over 81.5 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 999,792. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just over 43 million, and a reported death toll of 516,636. Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 657,773, and has seen almost 29.7 million cases.  France continues to occupy the number four position, 24.3 million cases, and the United Kingdom is in the number five slot with 20.4 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, over 254.9 million people in the United States – or 76.8% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 65.4%, or 217.1 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 558.6 million. Breaking this down further, 88.2% of the population over the age of 18 – or 227.8 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 75.3% of the same group – or 194.5 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 48% of that population, or 93.4 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 64.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Wednesday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 11.12 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 14.4% 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.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.


(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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