Coronavirus Morning News Brief – May 18: Following Chinese Model, North Korea Faces Catastrophe, Apple Reinstates Mask Mandate

New York City Hits ‘High Alert’ Level

By Jonathan Spira on 18 May 2022
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The main staircase in Apple’s store in New York City, which reopened in lat 2019

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 769th day of the pandemic.

Public health experts are warning that Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s plan to emulate China’s “success” in fighting coronavirus outbreaks could lead the hermit nation down the road to catastrophe.

China has used a combination of mass testing, vaccinations, and strict lockdowns to keep case counts relatively low, but North Korea, which has admitted that cases are spreading “explosively,” lacks these tools, namely testing capability and vaccines.

Lacking access to Covid tests, North Korea is reporting new cases based on how many individuals are experiencing a fever.  Almost no one in the country is vaccinated (it is one of two countries in the world without a vaccine program in place) and it is virtually impossible to gauge the extent of the outbreak, especially in terms of asymptomatic cases.

In other news we cover today, New York City is now on “high” Covid alert, Apple is reinstating mask mandates, and White House Covid briefings return.

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

UNITED STATES

New York City, one of the original epicenters of the pandemic in North America, was put on “high Covid alert” Tuesday after rising numbers of new infections and hospitalizations reached a level that could put substantial pressure on the city’s healthcare systems.

The city’s health commissioner had issued an advisory for residents to don face masks indoors as the city on Monday neared the high-alert level, but unlike some other major cities in the country such as Philadelphia, which in April temporarily reinstated an indoor mask mandate when cases hit a similar level, Mayor Eric Adams has not yet done so.

In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, White House Covid briefings returned on Wednesday after a six-week hiatus.  The briefing will be the first formal on-camera session led by the country’s new coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

Meanwhile, a study by the non-profit Fair Health found that 76% of patients diagnosed with Long Covid and the diagnostic code U09.9 were not hospitalized for their initial infection.  The study looked at health records from 78,252 patients who were diagnosed with the U09.9 code from the International Classification of Diseases between October 1, 2021, and January 31, 2022.

The initial infection did not make these patients sick enough to require in-hospital care but, months later, they reported experiencing symptoms emblematic of Long Covid, including breathing issues, coughing, fatigue, and hypertension.

Finally, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for children ages 5 to 11.  Over eight million children in that age range have received their first two vaccination shots and will be eligible for the booster.

GLOBAL

Conditions in Shanghai continue to improve. The Chinese financial capital marked the third straight day with no community transmissions of Covid and the city is preparing to reopen, ending over six weeks of lockdowns.

TECH

Apple, given the resurgence of Covid-19 cases, reversed its decision to require that employees, starting this month, return to the office for at least three days a week and also reinstated mask mandates.

In a memorandum to employees sent Tuesday and viewed by the Morning News Brief, the Cupertino-based company said that it would proceed with a pilot program to bring some workers back to the office twice a week in the coming weeks, adding that anyone in that program who felt “uncomfortable coming into the office” would have the “option to work remotely.”

In addition, Apple reinstated a mask mandate for common areas and elevators for those workers who do come to campus as well as in over 100 of its stores in the United States, although customers are not yet being told to don face masks.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

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

As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 524.3 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.9 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and almost 6.3 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 494.2 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.8 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Wednesday is 23,767,279, an increase of 48,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 23,728,456, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 38,823, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical is unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 134,102 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday for the previous day, compared to 147,834 on Tuesday, 14,107 on Monday 25,065 on Sunday, and 107,010 on Saturday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The 7-day incidence rate continues to climb and is now 102,807.  Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) 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 100,732, a 61% 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 318, a decrease of 7% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 22,642, a 27% increase.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 84.5 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of over 1 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, over 43.1 million, and a reported death toll of 524,293.

New data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed at the end of April that the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now over 803,000, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, after the United States.  Rosstat reported that 35,584 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in the month of March, compared to 43,543 in February.

Meanwhile, Brazil now has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 666,277, and has seen 30.7 million cases.

France continues to occupy the number four position in total cases with 29.2 million cases, and Germany is in the number five slot with 25.9 million.  The United Kingdom, with 22.2 million cases, is now number six and is the only other country in the world with a total number of cases over the 20 million mark.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, 257.9 million people in the United States – or 77.7% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 66.5%, or 220.7 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 582.3 million. Breaking this down further, 89.1% of the population over the age of 18 – or 230.1 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 76.4% of the same group – or 197.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 49.9% of that population, or 98.5 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 65.7% 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, 11.74 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 7.03 million doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 15.9% 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.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

In addition, North Korea and Eritrea are now the only two countries in the world that have not administered vaccines.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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