Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Feb. 18: Omicron Cases Decline, But the Pandemic is Far From Over, Mask Mandates End in Much of the U.S.

Japan to Loosen Entry Restrictions for Some Business Travelers

By Jonathan Spira on 18 February 2022
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People crossing a street in Honolulu in pre-pandemic days

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 49th day of 2022.

The number of active cases fell below 70 million for the first time since January 26 of this year as the surge fueled by the highly-transmissible omicron variant receded.

As the headlines trumpet, cases are down in the United States.

Over the past week there have been 902,000 new cases, a dramatic decline from the 5.6 million recorded in the week ending January 16, 2022.

The decline is evident in every state in the union.

As such, it’s important to remember that there is a difference – a fairly large one – between a declining number of cases and a small number of cases.  While we are far away from January 18 of this year, when we recorded almost 1.2 million new infections in the country in the course of 24 hours – the current rate of approximately 150,000 new cases on average is still much higher than what was recorded on a typical day over the course of the past 780 days or so.

While some parts of the country have seen cases fall to levels that experts consider relatively safe – the New York metropolitan area is averaging, at the present time, fewer than 25 new infections per 100,000 members of the population per day to cite just one example, and the Washington, D.C. metro area is averaging just 12 – other parts of the country aren’t yet close to these figures.  Parts of Alaska, for example, are reporting 411 cases per 100,000 members of the population, and parts of Maine are at 114.  Alaska, incidentally, is averaging 100 cases per 100,000 members of the population, the highest figure in the country at the present time.


Presuming the omicron surge continues to retreat, there will soon be no mask mandates on the mainland of the United States.  Two of the last states to do so dropped mask mandates on Thursday, including New Mexico and Washington.

The moves leave Hawaii as the only state with a mask mandate.  Puerto Rico, the country’s largest territory, also has a mask mandate in place and has yet to make any changes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is warning Medicare recipients that they should not provide their personal information – which includes their Medicare numbers – when contacted by random phone calls, e-mail messages, or text messages, in order to receive at-home coronavirus test kits.  Scammers targeting the elderly are using the tests as a ruse in order to obtain sensitive personal information.


Japan will ease border controls to allow more business travelers and students into the country but will remain closed to tourists.

Starting in March, the country will allow 5,000 to enter each day, an increase from 3,500, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Friday.

The quarantine period for many arriving travelers will be reduced from seven days to three, and some people will not be required to quarantine at all, depending on vaccination status and which country they are arriving from.


Now here are the daily statistics for Friday, February 18.

As of Friday morning, the world has recorded 421 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 2 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and 5.88 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 345.3 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 2.8 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Friday is 69,810,566.  Out of that figure, 99.9%, or 69,726,859, are considered mild, and 0.1%, or 83,707, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical is largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 103,866 new coronavirus infections on Friday for the previous day, compared to 141,117 on Thursday, 115,509 on Wednesday, and 206,317 on Tuesday, according to data from 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 113,964, a 68% 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 2,306, a decrease of 13% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Friday, recorded over 79.9 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 955,497. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 42.8 million, and a reported death toll of 510,937. Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 641,997, and has seen 27.9 million cases.  France continues to occupy the number four position, with 22 million cases, and the United Kingdom is in the number five slot with 18.5 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Friday, 252.5 million people in the United States – or 76.1% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 64.6%, or 214.5 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 548.9 million. Breaking this down further, 87.6% of the population over the age of 18 – or 226.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 74.7% of the same group – or 192.9 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 46.4% of that population, or 89.5 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 61.9% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Friday, a figure that is largely unchanged in the past 24 hours, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 10.42 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 10.6% 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.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)



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