Coronavirus Morning News Brief – March 20: The Calm Before the Next Covid Storm, Austria Brings Back Indoor Mask Mandate

Germany to Eliminate Virtually All Restrictions Despite Rising Cases

By Jonathan Spira on 20 March 2022
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A Spar supermarket in Vienna – masks now required

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 740th day of the pandemic.

If you’ve noticed it’s been particular quiet on the Covid news front, you haven’t been looking in the right place.  In what serves as the proverbial canary in a coal mine for coronavirus cases in the United States, namely case numbers in Western Europe, notably Austria, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have been climbing amidst the growing presence of the new BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant.

Case numbers have been dropping in the United States, although, in New York City, one of the earliest epicenters of the pandemic, those figures are up by 40% over the past two weeks.

Officials at all levels have been relaxing or even eliminating coronavirus-related restrictions such as masking and social distancing as they try to bring a semblance of normalcy back to daily life. In larger cities including New York, officials have eliminated the need for a vaccine passport in order to enter museums or restaurants

Given the figures in Europe, we at the Coronavirus Morning News Brief are bracing for another surge in the United States and, at the same time, hoping it won’t happen.

While the country is better prepared in some respects than ever with new antiviral medications that can treat Covid infections and vaccines that protect incredibly well against severe illness and death, only 48% of those who are fully vaccinated have received a booster, or third, dose and studies have shown over and over that the efficacy of the vaccines wanes after four to five months.  Of equal import, the funding to provide individuals who test positive with the new antiviral medications has stalled

Meanwhile, the good news is that, as of Sunday, 400 million worldwide have recovered, according to data from Worldometer, even as the United States is just days away from hitting the 1 million mark in Covid deaths, and it appears that the current vaccines appear to protect people from the BA.2 subvariant as well as they have protested against omicron and earlier variants.

In other news we cover today, Austria is bringing back an indoor mask mandate, multiple states in the United States are closing mass testing sites, and cases continue to surge in parts of Europe and Asia.

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

UNITED STATES

A number of states are closing their mass testing sites, even as experts fear a new surge is on the horizon.   Utah has been closing them since February and New Hampshire closed all state-run sites on Tuesday.  South Carolina has been gradually closing them over the current month, and Massachusetts officials say they will have closed most of theirs by April 1.

Vice President Kamala Harris tested negative for a second time after Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive for Covid earlier in the week.  The case had marked the first time a member of the first or second families had tested positive since the inauguration of Joseph Biden in January 2021.

Before leaving office, then President Donald Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, both tested positive for the coronavirus.  The president was hospitalized a few days later in serious condition.  The blood oxygen levels of the then 74-year-old president had plunged and his doctors feared he was on the verge of being placed on a ventilator.

GLOBAL

Austrian officials brought back the face mandate for all public indoor spaces in light of the latest surge of coronavirus cases.  Health officials in the Alpine nation reported a new pandemic high on Saturday, 41,999, which translates to 3,600 per 100,000 members of the population.  Gesundheitsminister Johannes Rauch said Friday that the mask mandate will go into effect in the middle of the coming week.

At the same time as it is reintroducing the mask mandate, Austrian authorities said they were considering reduce mandatory quarantine times due to an acute lack of nurses and other hospital staff members as cases rise, resulting in the cancellation of operations and other procedures.

Most coronavirus restrictions in Germany will end Sunday after a heated debate in the Bundestag Friday despite record numbers of new infections there.  Cases hi a pandemic high on Thursday, with almost 300,000 new infections posted.

While still relatively small, the number of cases in China has been dramatically increasing in recent weeks.  The country hit a two-year high Saturday, reporting 3,613 new cases.

The increase is notable given China’s “zero Covid” policy, although that policy may be evolving.  Last week, Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, urged local officials across the country to try to to reduce the impact of the country’s Covid response on people’s ability to earn a living.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Sunday, March 20.

As of Sunday morning, the world has recorded 470.3 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 1.5 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and just under 6.1 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 400.8 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Sunday is 63,316,117, an increase of almost 453,000.  Out of that figure, 99.9%, or 63,254,049, are considered mild, and 0.1%, or 62,068, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical is largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 11,718 new coronavirus infections on Sunday for the previous day, compared to 36,373 on Saturday, 35,852  on Friday, and 39,006 on Thursday, 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 29,715, a 35% 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 1,127, a decrease of 27% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Sunday, recorded over 81.4 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 997,845. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just over 43 million, and a reported death toll of 516,510. Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 657,157, and has seen 29.6 million cases.  France continues to occupy the number four position, 24.1 million cases, and the United Kingdom is in the number five slot with 20.1 million.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Sunday, 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 217million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 558.4 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, 47.9% of that population, or 93.2 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 64% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Sunday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 10.99 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.

Paul Riegler contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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

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